A rustic, gothic tale takes much of its character from the isolated, ingrown Cotswold farm which is its scene and it is here that Isaac Shipton exercises his furious tyranny and lust over his wives- and the sons which are the issue of a patriarchal gratification. The five sons of his second wife (his first marriage had been childless) are reared in ignorance of the world beyond and in complete submission, save for the eldest- Benjy who questions but does not defy him. At 67, Isaac brings home a new wife- a girl their age, who had married him in the fear of a young man's love but soon found that an old man's passion was even more distasteful. The household widens to include Mary, a stray, and with it disharmony- as Benjy falls in love with his stepmother, and two brothers are tempted by Mary. Isaac, his powers weakening along with his authority, prays for and predicts the end of the world- and it is for him- as he drops dead. But for the ones who are left there is the first promise of peace ahead..... A bleak but not austere, cheerless but compassionate view of the backward reaches, where, for one man's power and pride and primitive appetite, a living sacrifice is entailed.