From the very first breast bared in 1851 Northumberland (and ""those who had been bred within the rigours of its bosom"") right through three splendid one-shot pregnancies to which Mrs. Cookson's relentlessly ovulating females are prone -- the author is in full shudder and cry. The male Mallens of the Hall not only were apt to carry the Mallen streak -- a tuft of white hair coursing from crown to temple -- but tended not to die in their beds, or in this tale, to propagate in them. Thomas (""Turk"") Mallen shelters two young nieces, Barbara and Caroline, unrelated by blood (fortunately) and an unpleasant son Dick; and he is comforted by the governess, Miss Brigmore. But debt and disgrace rout him from the Hall to a humble cottage and he consents to the wedding of niece Caroline with his local by-blow, Donald, who has inherited the tuft and the determination. But Caroline and her future brother-in-law conceive all in one stormy night, and Barbara is seduced in a stable by Uncle Thomas -- a quite dreadful mistake, and there's a murder, a suicide, other deaths and three shameful upsurges of passion. Mrs. Cookson belts it all out with gusto even if the silly streak shows.