Psycho-dramatics in the North of England. Tall, diffident, 15-year-old Daniel Jones is smarting from his latest visit to his recently remarried, loathsome (neglectful, materialistic) mother when he and his reticent gardener-father find themselves in the cheering company of the Evertons: nice, homebody-ish Mrs. E; joshing Michael, 17; and shy Sally, 13. But something is awry at wholesome Hill-burn Farm--witness screaming overhead in the night, Sally's cut lip in the morn, Michael's periodic roughness toward her--and his obvious hatred for ailing, absent Mr. E.'s old service buddy, Billy Combo. Mr. E. dies; Mrs. E. and Daniel's father grow predictably closer; Daniel goes to spend part of his vacation at the farm; and, following a vicious fight between Billy Combo and Michael (in which Daniel proves himself no coward), the secrets start tumbling out. Not that, in more temperate circumstances, they'd be secrets at all: cocky Michael is an adopted child, which Billy Combo knew--hence his hold over the family; wistful Sally (""She couldn't have any fun, not like other girls"") has epilepsy, which the family has been trying to conceal--so she sleeps in the attic, when visitors come, to muffle her screams. Then Daniel's mother turns up and, after a bruising confrontation, he runs off and is captured by the vengeful Combo (who's also into some ""dirty business"" with sheep). His efforts to escape, and the others' search for him, occupy the rest of the story--except for Daniel's mother's contrite reappearance and his agreement to pay her a visit. . . if he can take deserving Sally along. Eminently dispensable.