This is the second volume in what Miss Johnson calls her ""Helena"" trilogy -- the first, Too Dear for My Possessing, reappeared last year and all were written in the middle '40's while both volumes are told through the eyes of Claud, the stepson of Helena -- the object of his early resentment and later admixed admiration. And whereas the first book dealt primarily with Claud's marriage and love affair (the ""too easy romanticism"" which she perhaps underestimates here in her introduction in terms of its more calculable interest) -- this book is almost exclusively Helena's whose early, stormy attractions have given way to a ""lace vested respectability."" But she is still a supreme survivor, vigorous, tenacious and shrewd in her '60's. She takes in, for a time, a young man who becomes a sort of surrogate son and might-once-have-been lover and fastens on him in her usual predatory fashion only to lose him twice in betrayals unworthy of her. Slowly, inexorably, she is diminished by both the years and circumstances and the likelihood of death which she has always discountenanced crowds her with the loss of a friend here, a cat there. While the story itself is more desultory than the first, it is also more consistent and -- again another paradox -- Helena dominates it increasingly as she begins to lose her hold on those around her. It is once again to Miss Johnson's credit that she returns us to a genre where people still count for both the sum of their virtues and the deficit of their weaknesses.