With immense charm and high spirits, the author enters what is at the outset an orchard of rural delights--exurbanites Rachel Baker (nee Maddux) and her husband King undertake strenuous yet rewarding apple and goat husbandry in Tennessee. But sad and chill.ing experiences await them. Impulsively--though with the support (or acquiescence) of the families involved--the Bakers take on the foster care of two abandoned children of the town. Marilyn, five, and Robbie, three, had been ""dumped"" twice by their immature separated parents; untended, they had wandered around trailer camps or been shut in a car outside a bar. The Bakers give the frightened children a close and loving family life, and Marilyn and Robbie settle in, become plump, cheerful, and ""normal."" Committed to parenthood, the Bakers apply for adoption--and are defeated. Court testimony, together with a bleak chronology of threats, bribes, spying-even the warning arrival of a gun--mark the upswelling of misplaced town and family pride, the closing of ranks against outsiders, however liked or well meaning. The children, expendable merchandise, are sent away to their (briefly) reunited parents in Chicago. Rachel makes futile attempts to contact them and finally accepts her loss, though nothing can soften the anguish of the promise broken: that the Bakers would never leave them. The epilogue points up happier days--the adoption of another baby, the success of farm and orchard--but suffering has left its scars, and this is a searing witness to the cruelties visited upon children by adults, acting in common and through the law.