One of the author's forays into the not-so-distant past (Out of the Blackout, 1985), this slight, sometimes sluggish story is set in rural England in 1936, with flashforwards to later decades. Sarah Causeley has come to the Hallam family as governess to their youngest child Chloe. Sarah, daughter of a cold, mean-spirited father and downtrodden mother, is overwhelmed by the warmth, beauty, and intellectual focus of the Hallams and their riverside domain. Dennis Hallam--book critic, pacifist, supporter of liberal causes--heads the household with calm, charming wife Helen; son Oliver is on vacation from Oxford; his brother Will soon departs to fight Franco in Spain; and daughter Elizabeth is about to ""do"" her coming-out season in London. Disturbing the idyll, however, is Major Coffey, a newcomer to Chowton village, who is busy instilling his fascistic ideas and military skills into some of the local yokels--and, at the same time, fanning their unmerited contempt for Dennis Hallam's WW I record into a series of nasty pranks that ends with the shooting death of young villager Chris Keene. Not until years later will Sarah discover the culprit in the tragic incident that changed her life and that of all the Hallams. The resonance, tension, and rich texture of Barnard's best work are much diluted in this near-poignant evocation of a time gone by; but, still, the story has an ironic edge and the temporarily bedazzled Sarah has charm. Even middling Barnard is not to be scorned.