When a rich man named Ballard comes to town during the 1930s, the little place that is Poplar Springs, Missouri, takes notice. Ballard builds a house on a prominent but distant hill; he stops by the drug store and the post office weekly to treat the locals to a few choice enigmatic utterances. But most notorious of all is the sheer bad luck that soon attaches to the house on the hill. A local boy drowns in the well there; then the lady of the house is no longer seen (a casket is ordered); a second, later wife walks out a window to her death. Furthermore, town gossip has it that incest between Ballard and daughter Ophelia is the murderous motive behind all those deaths. So, yokel by yokel, the speculation goes on, largely in mountain dialect. (""He knowed then not to push her any further, and so that's the way they done. And he paid the money for the box so's that girl wouldn't be able to get 'round callin' him cheap."") But, in the end, it appears that Ballard was simply an eccentric free spirit with bad fortune: the few bare facts were transformed into legends with a life of their own. A fairly thin and obvious idea, stretched out into an exercise in regional fiction--with droning, uninvolving results.