As a child, Flora (nicknamed 'Pug') used often to visit the Routh family at Lewes. She returns as a young woman, to help the parents with their daughter, Margaret, who has had a nervous breakdown mysteriously linked with Katmandu, and is being treated by the local doctor. Margaret's brother Timothy turns up unexpectedly from abroad: her sister Constance is the mainstay of the household.
But it is their parents on whom Pug's attention is most often fixed. They had been figures of great power and glory to her as a girl: Mr. Routh is now a radio personality, a man up to his elbows in countless good causes, whose winning charm is steadied by his wife's good sense, her equal devotion to him and to her multifarious public duties. Gradually, though, Pug begins to see through the façade of this perfect couple to the characters beneath it. When the family becomes involved in a scandal, the utter self-deception of Mr. Routh and the almost sublime self-centredness of his wife are at last mercilessly exposed.