The long, high-handed, and obdurate life of Matilda Duncastle, who lies dying while her nearest and dearest talk of war. El Alamein now, but the military tradition that Matilda inherited goes back to Wellington's army: a young Hillary Duncastle fell at fifteen, a drummer boy at Salamanca. When Matilda's story proper commences, in the 1890s, the family manse, Sanctuary--where that drum is reverentially preserved upstairs in the ""Death Room""--will be forfeited unless Mattie boosts the Duncastle finances by marrying rich, ordinary Joshua Webb. She does so (after failing to scare him away by cutting off her hair), and four children confirm the union. Son Hillary, Mattie's favorite, doesn't cotton to his namesake's legacy (""I blame the precocious little sod for this whole bloody myth of our brave family"") and dies ungloriously in the Great War. Matilda's only half-daunted by this setback and continues to demand heroic grandeur from her motley litter, whose fates roll along to WW II in regularized installments; you may even recognize a few Upstairs, Downstairs insets. ""Papa, don't look so like doom. . . ."" ""Sorry, little one. I was thinking of our Balkan railway debentures."" Ah, yes--Imogen, Lally, and even Rudi von Klein await you in what is, after all, an upper-middle-class offering from Dorothy Eden. And Deidre, and Desmond, and Patrick, and Johnnie. . . .