A dark drama of the despoliation of the English countryside, pitting a good-mad against a bad-mad fanatic, provides the impetus for young Richard Clifford's self-discovery. In a Poe-etic prelude that anticipates future events, Richard retrieves a scrap of paper dropped by a gaunt elderly clergyman in a London museum; on it is written, in Latin, ""as ye have destroyed, so shall ye be destroyed, for these are all my little ones."" The truth of the prophecy is borne out on the Norfolk marshes, where Richard, visiting his aunt and uncle, discovers the clergyman to be the Reverend Henry Pendregan, engaged in a bitter vendetta with Major Abbot, the Director of Mercian Farms, a large commercial operation which is buying up the land and cutting down the trees and hedges. Between the two, as proprietor of an old family farm--and guardian of an old way of life-- is Richard's uncle. The major is a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants; the Reverend is a man who will let nothing stop his inner conviction. Both are annihilated in a crashing climax that is more expedient than explained: the farmyard of Mercian Farms lies in smoking ruins, the Major lies dead in the grass beneath the church tower, Reverend Pendregan lies dead of drowning on the beach. (The first two happenings are not accounted for.) Richard's uncle will join hands with a new, humanized Mercian Farms and Richard will one day inherit his holding. The beauty of the land and its wild inhabitants, celebrated in many descriptive passages, and the awesome power of inner conviction, confer some distinction on an overwrought opus, but Richard's personal dilemna is too lightly sketched, too little developed, to give psychological satisfaction.