This novel, long out of print, is a powerful successor to Testimonies, Patrick O'Brian's first novel written for adults. It is set in that corner of France that became O'Brian's adopted home, where the long dark wall of the Pyrenees runs headlong to meet the Mediterranean. Alan Roig returns to Saint-Feliu after years in the East, and finds his family in crisis. His dour, middle-aged cousin Xavier, mayor and most powerful citizen of the town, has fallen in love and plans to marry the young daughter of the local grocer. The Roig family property is threatened by this union, and Madeleine's relatives object on different grounds.
Xavier is a tragic figure, damned by what he perceives as a lack of feeling; Madeleine is to be his salvation. Unfortunately she does not return his affection, and as the feasts and harvest festivals of Saint-Feliu are played out, she finds herself falling in love with Alain.