From the perspective of half a century later, Sarah Jane Fearing, the unwilling heiress of Fearing’s Bank, tells the slender tale of how her beloved Uncle Frank, eager to pay off his many debts at the same time he accommodated the family frantic for a male heir, entered a bargain in 1893 to marry Mary Coverdale, impeccably pedigreed, coldly attractive, and professionally focused on reigning as chatelaine over Blakemere. The bargain turns into a disaster for everyone concerned when Frank and Mary’s firstborn son turns out to be retarded; Frank and his family clash over whether Frank has fulfilled his promise to provide them with a male heir; and a ceremonious family conference erupts in what Sarah is convinced is a murder--followed by the disappearance of Frank (to Australia, so they say) and Mary (back to her older, and now wiser, family), and by the suspicious enrichment of potential witnesses. Robert Barnard, writing in his Bastable guise (Too Many Notes, Mr. Mozart, 1996, etc.) adroitly uses his story to point a familiar moral about the poisoned alliance between self-regarding old British families and the money they demand to support themselves, though the moral turns out to have an extra point at the end. A miniature so exquisitely crafted that you almost forget it’s really a Robert Barnard short story writ large.