Claude, an Oxbridge radical poet and a wanderer in war- torn Italy, is haunted by memories of Elspie, the Highland lassie he has communed with in her cosy Highland hut and deserted, the mirthful voices of his reading party companions on the mountains, and bouts of philandering on his travels. Accompanied by his college pal Eustace he witnesses scenes of carnage and suffering in Rome while going in quest of Mary, a young lady from his parts. After failing to make contact with her, he moves to Venice where he meets with the loss of his buddy and is lured by a Stranger into a kind of Faustian compact prior to an intimate encounter with a patriotic brunette and hard-won espousal of the insurgents' doomed cause. Some time later, as Lord Chief Justice in London, he is visited by his Roman old flame with devastating consequences, but the spectacle of a primordial family beset with sin and yearning for redemption puts him back on the path leading to the hut of yore and hopefully salvation.

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