John Knowles' short, suggestive and finally insufficient novel begins with another all too perfect and proprietary Servant -- a British Canadian called Neville who comes with the house in the south of France which Brendan Lucas takes -- to be joined there by his morally rigid mother, his prima ballerina sister Mimi and by his old friend Xavier whom Mimi has decided to marry. There is an edgy uncertainty everywhere -- more than just the brush fires which devastate the Cote d'Azur at this time of year. Are Brendan's feelings for his sister Mimi other than brotherly? does the high-strung wastrel Xavier deserve her? and what of Neville, so vigilant about his little kingdom where he overworks from morning until night until he runs amok with a meat cleaver? As the mother comments austerely -- ""The stain of course endures."" Not quite. Mr. Knowles catches and retains your curiosity throughout with hooded inferences, but it's just another kind of kindling which burns out much too quickly, whether in fact or retrospect.