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Sara Davis, who prefers to be called "Salome," is a beautiful seventeen-year-old who helps her poor father to care for his many children in the rural community of Pine Alley, Texas. Salome is deeply in love with musician Chad Bixby, whose father, the local minister, has just died. In defiance of her father, Salome runs out of the house and attends a dance with Chad, who bitterly confesses that his father had beat him for hanging around with "niggers" in nearby Deep Elm. Later, Chad takes Salome and a black friend to a Deep Elm honky-tonk, where Rose Jones, the owner of the club, asks the young man to "play what he feels" on the trumpet. Chad picks up his instrument and plays a mournful tune, saying, "This is the love I had for my father and couldn't tell him about." While he performs, wealthy young Tony McDowall descends the stairs and approaches Salome, assuming that she is one of the club's "hostesses." Salome avoids him and spends the rest of the night with Chad, who declares that he is frightened of the dark. Some time later, Salome tells Chad that she is pregnant. Although he offers to marry her, she refuses, saying that despite their mutual love, she knows they would be miserable together. Uncertain of where to go, Salome boards a train, where she again meets Tony. Strongly attracted to her, Tony offers to take her to Connecticut, where he attends Yale University. There the two are secretly married. Meanwhile, Chad returns to Deep Elm and becomes acquainted with Rose's sister, Ruby Jones, a celebrated jazz singer who, since being abandoned by her trumpet-playing sweetheart, has settled into a drunken depression and swears she will never sing again. Ruby is impressed with Chad's playing, but when he asks her to take him to New York, she exclaims, "I don't carry on with no white boys!" Nevertheless, she and Chad eventually move into a New York apartment, and Ruby persuades her agent to get the young musician a job. At Yale, Tony and Salome receive a visit from Tony's attractive but spoiled sister Catherine, who frequently complains that she is bored. In the spring, Salome has her baby, but when she one night hears Chad's trumpet playing on a record, she becomes agitated and suggests that they all visit New York City. At the nightclub at which Chad performs, Ruby agrees to sing a selection of blues laments to please the trumpet player, but afterward, she mutters, "I've sung for you, Chad, but that's it." Chad is overjoyed to see Salome in the audience, but Catherine also finds herself attracted to him and soon persuades him to leave with her. The next morning, Catherine triumphantly announces that she and Chad are mad about each other, whereupon Salome, consumed with jealousy, secretly visits her old flame. Chad asks Salome to leave Tony, and when she explains that her husband believes the child is his and that she is unable to leave him, Chad becomes enraged. Soon after this exchange, Catherine marries Chad and moves into the apartment he shares with Ruby, who is now dying. Catherine declares that she loves Chad, but sensing that his feelings for her are lukewarm, becomes restless and exclaims, "There's nothing but niggers around here!" Although Chad slaps her, the couple moves into a separate apartment, leaving Ruby alone. Catherine next angers her husband by beating her horse with a riding whip. Furious, Chad reveals that he, not Tony, is the father of Salome's baby and only married her to hurt Salome. Dismayed, Catherine slashes her wrists. Realizing that he does care for his wife, Chad rushes her to the hospital and prays fervently for her recovery. When Tony asks Salome if she loves Chad, she finally confesses that she did, and that the child is the musician's son. Shaken by this news, Tony leaves her, whereupon she gets drunk and admits to Chad that she now loves Tony. In reply, Chad writes a message on the wall for Catherine: "Chad loves Catherine. I'm sorry." Having learned that Ruby is dead, Chad then takes her body back to Deep Elm for burial. After returning to New York, Chad declares his love for Catherine and the two embrace. Salome, having returned to her father's small Texas house, is surprised when Tony enters and announces that he wants her back.