To help get the family pianola out of hock for a street party honoring war vets, Ruby takes a job selling corsets, training all the while for the Olympic swimming tryouts. But brother Billy finds that not all of the returning soldiers are welcomed as heroes.
When Iris falls head over heels for a young magician who comes to the door in search of rabbits, the rest of the family must face the unpromising prospect of running the household without her competence and self-sacrifice at the center.
At tea with her employer, Mr. Brazendale, May meets a charming photographer with obvious designs on the trusting girl. Meanwhile, Billy finds a stray stallion in the woods, which Dadda schemes to keep for the upcoming Orange Parade.
Scarlet fever invades the district, and the Mosses scramble to provide for seven orphaned children and stay one step ahead of the dreaded housing inspector. But, in secret, May becomes more occupied with Mr. Brazendale's renewed attentions.
Billy's best friend from the war returns to Liverpool, and a maelstrom of long-suppressed emotions threatens to engulf them both. May learns that she is expecting and then discovers that things aren't what they've seemed in the Brazendale household.
As May makes every effort to conceal her condition, Ruby takes up with a group of newfound friends who introduce her to liberating modern ideas: feminism and vegetarianism. May, however, seeks release of a different sort from her predicament.
When Billy inadvertently brings home a snake, a local teacher invites Mr. Moss to discuss the exotic reptile in her class. But their relationship soon turns romantic--to the horror of his daughters. Then, to his horror and rage, Dadda learns of May's condition.
After a life-threatening delivery, May rejects her baby, awaiting the return of Mr. Brazendale. The turmoil created by Dadda's flight, the neighbors' scorn, and Iris's pursuit of a vocation reaches a climax in a confrontation at the Brazendale estate.