A classic children's story by E. Nesbit
, the story of the Bastable
children in turn-of-the-century London, whose Mother is dead and whose Father is fallen on hard times due to some unspecified unpleasantness
with a business partner. The children
, young and idealistic and always trying to be good, and often annoyingly foolish with it, and stuffed full of imagery from books, want to repair the fortunes of the fallen house of Bastable.
They are in order of age Dora, Oswald, Dicky, Alice and Noël (twins), and H.O. (Horace Octavius). Oswald is the narrator and is trying to hide the fact by switching between "I" and "Oswald" all the time, an authorial device that becomes too twee after a while. I love E. Nesbit and cry like billyo at almost anything she writes, but the stupidity of these children annoyed me too much.
They all suggest good ideas to seek their fortune: becoming highwaymen or marrying princesses or rescuing rich childless gentlemen or dowsing for gold, and eventually try them all. One or other of them is bound to point out some reason why they can't do it, such as the immorality of becoming bandits, or having promised their Father not to write off to strangers and go into business any more, so they inevitably find some perfectly innocent way of doing it anyway and getting into trouble.
This results in embarrassment, confession, contrition, and just possibly a punishment so mild as to cause them nothing but moral distress. Some grown-up they deeply respect talks to them in that serious voice that makes them feel bad inside. Then they do something equally stupid once the fortuitous few shillings they earnt from the last racket run out.
Usually their wide-eyed wiles are played put on irascible old men: the eccentric Lord, the Jewish moneylender, the Indian uncle, and in one case a Balliol-educated non-irascible robber who helps them catch a genuine working-class burglar. Inevitably these people are insulted by the children's mistaken assumption that they are poor, in need of help, or some such thing, and the children all unconsciously spill out that they have no Mother and their Father is fallen on hard times and they were trying to be honourable in... and the irascible old gentleman is secretly touched and relents and sends them big parcels of dried figs and suchlike.
The Story of the Treasure Seekers, published in 1899, was E. Nesbit's first major success. I have been harsh on it here. Her later works really touch the heartstrings, though many of the details of the plots are not unlike those here. She is always contrasting her own protagonists' real life humorously with the sort of thing they (children around 1900) would have read in the rather unrealistic books of that time.
The adventures of the Bastables continued in The Wouldbegoods (1901) and New Treasure Seekers (1904).
Public domain, so available on the Web: see for example