Injured when his horse stumbles and falls over a sea cliff, young Lee Cauldwell is nursed back to health by his sister, Tamar. Lee, who has lived a wild and dissolute life, vows to give up his drinking and debauchery. He and Tamar become devoted to each other during his convalescence, so much so that Lee jealously warns a former suitor of his sister to stay away from her. Old David Cauldwell, Lee and Tamar’s father, fears what might result from the isolation of his family. His fears are confirmed when the brother and sister, after swimming in the river, are drawn to each other.
The Cauldwell family members are a peculiar group. In addition to David and his two children, the family includes two old women: Jinny Cauldwell and Stella Moreland. Aunt Jinny, the mentally disabled sister of David, is cared for by Aunt Stella, the sister of David’s dead wife. Through the confused mumblings of Jinny, Tamar realizes that an incestuous relationship occurred years before between David and his sister Helen.
A short time later, Tamar discovers that she is pregnant. Rather than admit that Lee is the father of her child, she deliberately seeks out and seduces her former suitor, Will Andrews. Disgust and revulsion grow in her until she hates her two lovers and, most of all, herself. She feels that she will lose her mind if she does not talk to someone.
Aunt Stella is a medium through whom the voices of the dead sometimes speak. In desperation, Tamar appeals to Stella to let her speak to Helen. That evening she and Stella, with Jinny between them, steal down to the seashore so that they will not be discovered by the men. Stella gradually falls into a trance, and through her lips Tamar hears the voice of a man who tells her that the coastline country was once the land of the Indians, where their gods used to come to them. He orders Tamar to strip and dance so that the gods will come again. Against her will, Tamar dances to strange guttural chants from the lips of the entranced woman. After a while the chanting ceases, and Tamar returns slowly to her senses. Then through the lips of Stella she hears the voice...
(The entire section is 870 words.)