The early 19th century unrest and violence that followed when Napoleon dethroned the Spanish King is concerned here with the break in the colonial order in Chile and the menace that all but wiped out the Aldana family. Manuel, the youngest, frailest and ugliest, tells the story -- of his solitary childhood, his murder of his guardian bird, his killing of a puma and of the man he killed to save his mother's life, when they were en route to visit her sister. There the word that the Spanish King has been replaced by Napoleon's brother comes to fire a divine disobedience among the downtrodden Indians and there they are held hostages by Dona Catalina's brother-in-law. They effect a dengerous escape only to find their hacienda, Tres Caminos, Don Fradique and the eight other sons wiped out by fire and gun at the order of the brutal Col. Zarate, acting on a rumor or edition. Dona Catalina commits Manuel to a duty of honor -- to assassinate Col. Zarate -- and his ordeal of a reign of horror in which his friends are killed and he almost loses his life ends in a high price success and complete liberty for himself. The great colonial families, and their illustrious kinships, hatred as a weapon for evil, the great plains and the high mountains -- all in vivid color and concentrated narration.