In the English coastal village of Sewels in Sussex, twelve-year-old Velvet Brown and her older sisters, Edwina and Malvolia, happily finish their last day of school before summer vacation. While walking home, Velvet meets young drifter Mi Taylor and strikes up a conversation with him. As the horse-crazy girl is talking to Mi, she sees a beautiful, rambunctious gelding, The Pie, being chased by its owner, farmer Ede, and is awestruck. When Ede then questions Mi about his business in Sewels in Sussex, Velvet, who is impressed by Mi's knowledge of horses, insists that he has been invited to dine with her family.
That evening at dinner, Mrs. Brown asks Mi, whom she has never before met, about an address book with her name written in it, and he reveals that it belonged to his now-deceased father. Although Mrs. Brown is deliberately secretive about her relationship with Mi's father, she does invite Mi to spend the night in the stable. Velvet then tries in vain to convince her father Herbert, a butcher who prides himself on his thrift and self-control, to hire Mi as a delivery boy. When he and his wife discuss the matter later, however, the wise, persuasive Mrs. Brown easily changes his mind.