The story of a waif's progress to adulthood, a zigzag affair with startling changes of venue featuring lively people who talk -- and talk -- about troubles familial and national, particularly the miserable fact that love is a many-splintered thing. Left at the dock in 1913 is seven-year-old Salome, whose frantic parents, in steerage, sail off for Africa. The girl is swept off the dock by wealthy Protestant Marion Culham-Browne, wife of hateful ""C-B,"" who has just lost her seven-year-old. Salome, from a poor (and large) Irish Catholic family, is suddenly the sole child, cherished by all except C-B, who is generally rotten to all but male peers. Salome adores visiting the nearby Castle Moore, a thrilling mâ€šnage headed by novelist Richard Bellingham (lifted from one of Macdonald's many other novels -- in this case the lad, now grown, who saw his family slaughtered in A Woman Scorned, 1992). Salome and Hereward, Richard's son, pledge a blood bond. Meanwhile, in South Africa, Salome's parents are profitably involved in an ostrich farm, but there are also deaths and a spot of sinning. Not until after a kidnapping (when Salome is 11), five years in a Catholic convent school, rescue (in all ways) by a nun of great wisdom, and Good Works in a school for the disabled, is the girl reunited with those who love her. As always from Macdonald: a marvelous jabber of people and a lightly tart commentary on the excesses of nationalism and piety.