One of Auchincloss' elegantly burnished medallion portraits, this time of an New England WASP princeling (Yale '38) of dazzling charisma, who over the years was absorbed in a solitary, majestically staged drama of soul-shriving and self-fulfillment while ""like some ineluctable glacier he moved on relentlessly over the frozen bodies"" of family and friends. Chip Benedict, pampered heir of Elihu, monarch of the family glass-works in Benedict, Connecticut, had always supposed he could ""fool people."" But what was behind that mask of blue eyes and golden hair, that irresistible invitation to friendship? Scarlet thoughts? Putrid fantasies? Getting rid of the ""rottenness"" in himself is lifelong work. At St. Luke's school, the lie that causes the expulsion of a friend with whom he shared a sexual experiment expunges the shame (along with the boy) and comforts that saintly headmaster, Chip's grandfather. Later Chip, rounding off the purifying of his escutcheon, postures through an ethical stratosphere to see to it that the St. Luke's tainter is expelled from law school. Then there's the masterly series of strokes from college days on, which not only severs the parental umbilical cord, but skewers the parental heart. (There's a certain thrill in the ""dark pleasure"" he feels watching his father's shriveling smile.) As for his wife Alida, mother of their two children, a bright, rowdy spirit in her youth, she finally comes to realize (when Chip is a Special Assistant in Washington, to promote cooperation in the Vietnam War) that their marriage has simply been a dry run for marriage Number Two and a new family. At the last, the warrior rests from his soul journey (his naval career in WW II was the easiest--he loved its rousing simplicity) tended by wife-to-be and widowed mother, who's exulting in her new vocation of service to the prince. Although less rich in depth and interplay of character than Watchfires (1981), this is a cool, witty and cutting portrait--like the author's The House of the Prophet (1980)--and an acidic analysis of the faint Calvinist thunderations and caste-ridden shibboleths underpinning an absolutism that can spawn powerful--and dangerous--men.