In the small town of Stoneville, Connecticut, former commercial artist John Hamilton pursues his dream of becoming a successful creative artist, sketching and painting several local children, including Emily and Angel Jones, Buck Ritter, Timmie Moreland and Leroy. Having left behind a hectic position in nearby New York City to realize his ambitions and help his high-strung wife Linda combat her dependence on alcohol, John nevertheless finds himself an outsider with the townspeople. One afternoon, a bored Linda criticizes John for spending all his time with the children and complains about their sedate country life. When John reveals he has refused a job offer with a substantial salary from the Charles Raines agency in New York, Linda is furious and demands he reconsider. John reminds Linda that the stress of their lives in the city drove her to drink, but she remains inconsolable. In spite of their argument, Linda insists that John attend a party given by Brad and Vickie Carey. John reluctantly goes and although uncomfortable with the unpleasant gossip of the other guests, including Brad’s wealthy father, Mr. Carey, and Timmie’s parents, Gordon and Roz Moreland, he stays out of consideration for Vickie. Just before dinner, a drunken Linda, sporting a black eye, arrives at the Careys where she derides John as a failure and claims that he struck her during an argument over his refusal of the job offer. The guests are startled when, in explanation, John reveals that Linda has long been an alcoholic. As the Hamiltons take their leave, Vickie offers to help if she can. In the car, Linda confesses that she received the bruised eye after falling in the woods. Later at home, Linda admits that she called Raines to set up a meeting with John the next day in New York. When an angry John hesitates, Linda becomes hysterical, declaring that she and Buck’s father, policeman Steve Ritter, have been having an affair, prompting the necessity to leave Stoneville. John agrees to meet with Raines on the condition that Linda resumes seeing a psychiatrist. The next day, while John packs for his overnight trip, Linda apologizes and admits that she lied about Ritter. On the train, John runs into Brad, who is also making a business trip, and agrees to meet him later in the city for cocktails. In the city, John refuses Raines’s offer, then goes to the offices of Linda’s former doctor, Dr. Allistor, but learns he is on a long vacation. Upon returning home the next day, John is shocked to find the house and his studio in shambles and Linda missing. John then finds a typewritten note from Linda declaring she has left him, and telephones Vickie for help. Later, Gordon calls John to inform him that a suitcase with Linda’s clothes has been found at the dump. John joins Ritter and the Morelands there, but there is no sign of Linda. Ritter summons Capt. Green, who meets them at the Hamilton house to begin an investigation. Ritter and Green, aware of the revelations made at the Carey party, question John harshly and imply that he is lying about not knowing Linda’s whereabouts. When a pair of John’s pants is found with holes and stains on them, Green insists on taking them for police analysis and orders John to remain at home. Later that evening, Vickie visits John to relay the rumor spreading throughout town that he killed Linda. The next morning, young Emily delivers John’s mail and describes overhearing everyone discussing John’s guilt. Among his mail, John is puzzled to find a bill from an out-of-town hardware store for a large amount of quick-dry cement. Suspicious, John searches the house and, near the shed that houses his art studio, finds a trail of cement powder that leads to a wood pile, under which he finds a large hole cemented over. Vickie calls John to warn him that an agitated group of men from town are heading toward his home. The men arrive and begin throwing rocks at the house, calling John a murderer. Frightened, John manages to escape out of the back door just as Ritter arrives and organizes the men into search parties. Hurrying through the woods, John is spotted by Emily, who takes him to a secret cave that she and Angel have discovered. John asks Emily to tell Ritter that she loaned him her bike to ride out of town and after she leaves, Angel surprises John by calling Linda a liar. At John’s prompting, Angel reveals coming upon Linda two weeks earlier leaving an abandoned house known by everyone as “the chimney house” with a man Angel could not identify. Linda asked Angel not to tell anyone about seeing her and when the child admired a fancy gold bracelet with letters spelling out Linda’s name, the woman promised to get her one. After telling Ritter that John bicycled out of town, Emily rounds up the other children and takes them to the cave, where they all agree to help John. The next day, John asks Buck and Leroy to go with him to search his house for the bracelet Angel described, as he believes Linda's lover and murderer gave it to her. The boys accompany John to his house where each boy distracts the police guard while John finds the bracelet, along with other pieces of jewelry and an audio tape reel. Upon listening to a portion of the tape, John hears Linda addressing a man endearingly and suspects the man’s voice belongs to Gordon. Later at the cave, John asks Emily to hide the box with the jewelry and a blank tape reel at the chimney house, then attend Timmie’s birthday party, where she is to make sure Gordon sees the bracelet and tell him she found it while playing at the abandoned house. At the party, after Emily loudly shows off the bracelet, attracting the attention of all the adults, Timmie inadvertently mentions John, and Gordon forces his son to reveal John’s location. Emily tells Vickie that John wants to meet her at the chimney house, and they hasten to get John. At the chimney house, John, Vickie and Emily wait to see if Gordon will arrive to get the incriminating tape, and all are stunned when Brad appears and takes it. Meanwhile, Ritter stops Buck near the cave and demands he lead them to John. The entire group confronts John at the chimney house but he refuses to surrender until they hear the entire contents of the tape. On the tape Brad declares his love for Linda and that his father made him marry Vickie for her money to save the family business. Ritter then orders those involved to go to headquarters where, in front of Green, John accuses Brad of having help in killing the demanding Linda. Mr. Carey breaks down and admits he killed Linda for the weak, incompetent Brad and framed John. Months later, just after winning an award for his painting of the children, John picnics happily in the park with Vickie and the youngsters.