A sense of adventure and the thrill of outwitting the grown-ups are driving forces in the lives of the four Cares children. Theodore, at thirteen, can be bossy and mean, and the others find ways to rebel against him. To ten-year-old Jane her big brother is both a tower of strength and a source of endless frustration and outrage. Eight-year-old Hubert can bring forth amazing nuggets of insight, and five-year-old Edie is always scrambling to keep up with the others and ready to tattle to Nurse or Father. Because their mother is dead and their father is often away from home, the Cares children have the freedom to hatch their schemes and fight their battles with little interference. Theodore catches a fox and hides it in the woodshed; Jane and Hubert sneak away for a day in the city; the boys train their ponies for a real steeplechase over the fields. When the drugstore in town is robbed, they all set to work to apprehend the burglar. The novel portrays very real children and their world of nearly a century ago.
A year has passed since the events recounted in A Lemon and a Star. The grownups are making valiant efforts to educate the children and turn them into ladies and gentlemen, but the kids put up a fierce resistance. First a French governess arrives to fill the gaps in Jane's education. Later she is packed off to a girls' school. Aunt Charlotte insists on dancing lessons for Jane and Hubert, and requires all three of the older children to attend a fancy costume ball - with disastrous results.
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