“Next door to this estate I’m told there’s ten thousand acres almost entirely grass and covert, owned by Lord Baltimore, who lives in Norfolk, London, Cannes, and anywhere else that the whim takes him. He comes down here twice a year to shoot. The case is extremely common. Surely it spells paralysis. If land is to be owned at all in such great lumps, owners ought at least to live on the lumps, and to pass very high examinations as practical farmers. They ought to be the life and soul, the radiating sun, of their little universes; or else they ought to be cleared out. How expect keen farming to start from such an example? It really looks to me as if the game laws would have to go.” And he redoubled his scrutiny of the Bigwig’s face. A little furrow in its brow had deepened visibly, but nodding, he said:
“The absentee landlord is a curse, of course. I’m afraid I’m a bit of a one myself. And I’m bound to say—though I’m keen on shooting—if the game laws were abolished, it might do a lot.”
“You wouldn’t move in that direction, I suppose?”
The Bigwig smiled—charming, rather whimsical, that smile.
“Honestly, I’m not up to it. The spirit, you know, but the flesh—! My line is housing and wages, of course.”
‘There it is,’ thought Felix. ’Up to a point, they’ll move—not up to the point. It’s all fiddling. One won’t give up his shooting; another won’t give up his power; a third won’t give up her week-ends; a fourth won’t give up his freedom. Our interest in the thing is all lackadaisical, a kind of bun-fight of pet notions. There’s no real steam.’ And abruptly changing the subject, he talked of pictures to the pleasant Bigwig in the sleepy afternoon. Of how this man could paint, and that man couldn’t. And in the uncut grass the peacock slowly moved, displaying his breast of burning blue; and below, the gardeners worked among the gooseberries.
Nedda, borrowing the bicycle of Clara’s maid, Sirrett, had been over to Joyfields, and only learned on her return of her grandmother’s arrival. In her bath before dinner there came to her one of those strategic thoughts that even such as are no longer quite children will sometimes conceive. She hurried desperately into her clothes, and, ready full twenty minutes before the gong was due to sound, made her way to her grandmother’s room. Frances Freeland had just pulled this, and, to her astonishment, that had not gone in properly. She was looking at it somewhat severely, when she heard Nedda’s knock. Drawing a screen temporarily over the imperfection, she said: “Come in!”
The dear child looked charming in her white evening dress with one red flower in her hair; and while she kissed her, she noted that the neck of her dress was just a little too open to be quite nice, and at once thought: ‘I’ve got the very thing for that.’