powered by AFI
At the close of the Civil War, former Union soldier Luke Fargo walks to his small Southern town home with two neighbors, former Confederates Floyd and Jake Miller, only to find his house burned and the townspeople bitter over his choice to fight with the Union. Luke seeks out the abandoned church but finds it also burned down. In the surviving parsonage, Luke discovers Lissy, a young girl dressed in boy's clothing, who warns him away with a shotgun and insists that she has squatter's rights to the dwelling. Luke informs Lissy that he intends to rebuild the church and live in the parsonage as the new preacher. Luke then goes into town and is forced to a fight some men by the resentful supply store owner, Yancy Huggins, whose crippled hand kept him from the war. Back at the parsonage, Luke offers Lissy half of the house until he can get her into an orphanage. Later that evening, Colossus, the Decrais family steward, summons Luke to their faded mansion. There Luke tells Mrs. Decrais of his plan to rebuild the church and his turn to religion after the carnage of Vicksburg. Former belle Georgina Decrais insists on driving Luke home and recalls their romantic relationship before the war, but Luke advises her that is part of the past. When Georgina hints that she has offered herself to Huggins in exchange for food and supplies, Luke says nothing. The next day Lissy helps Luke capture a large white stallion, and later, when Luke frets over how to raise money for rebuilding the church, Lissy goads him into racing, but he refuses. Nevertheless, Luke goes to town where he meets Albert Loomis, the head of the lumber mill and a keen gambler. Luke asks Albert to extend him credit for a supply of wood, but Albert encourages him to race for it and Luke finally agrees and wins the race. Then Selma, the town madam, enthusiastically welcomes Luke home only to learn, with dismay, of his religious conversion. Selma nevertheless gives Luke a black suit, money and another supply of wood. Luke and Lissy begin rebuilding the church, and are eventually joined by Colossus and later the Miller family. Georgina reveals to Luke that Huggins has demanded she move in as his housekeeper and pleads with Luke to take her away, but he refuses. Upon returning home, Luke finds Lissy battling a fire outside the church. She relates how several men started the blaze and claims to have shot one as they escaped. Outraged, Luke heads off to challenge Huggins, but stops to tend to Lissy's wounded victim, Swallow. The following Sunday Luke is surprised when several townspeople arrive for the church service. Huggins also arrives with his bookkeeper, who reads aloud the congregation's debts, as Huggins declares that no one who attends church will receive further supplies until he is paid. At the dedication, the congregation is sparse and when Matty Miller begins singing a hymn, Huggins' cohorts counter with a raucous song, until Floyd, Jake and eventually Luke start a fight with them. Later, Lissy finds Luke alone and despondent, wishing that he could inspire people to come to church for the message, not out of friendship for him. He laments that he has none of the qualities he hoped to teach and, believing that he has failed, decides to leave. As Lissy angrily accuses him of quitting, Mrs. Swallow arrives with her numerous children and insists on a baptism for her latest child. Startled, Luke complies and humbly decides to stay on. Soon the church settles into a regular routine for the town and although Lissy refuses to attend, she watches Luke with pride. Meanwhile, Georgina moves in with Huggins, but on the day of her arrival, Huggins beats her for having a haughty attitude. Luke teaches Lissy to read and write, but she remains upset that he fails to recognize her feelings for him. Just as she informs him that she plans to move out, however, Georgina arrives, bruised and bleeding, and begs Luke to take her in. Lissy leaves in a jealous rage, but is turned away by Selma and Albert at the gambling saloon. Later, however, Selma takes Lissy under her wing when she realizes the younger girl is in love with Luke. Luke brings help for Georgina, but finds Huggins and the Millers at the parsonage. Huggins accuses Luke of beating Georgina and sends for the bishop. The bishop arrives in a few days and holds an inquiry at which Matty and others testify for Luke, although admitting that he gambled and fought, and has been living alone with Lissy since his return. A recovered Georgina, now married to Huggins, insists that Luke beat her and informs the bishop that Lissy is not a child, but eighteen years old. Lissy then arrives in a fancy gown trimmed with feathers, borrowed from Selma, and meets with the bishop. Announcing his decision, the bishop chides Luke for his unorthodox behavior, but as Luke has never been formerly ordained, he is absolved. When the bishop later overhears Lissy telling Luke she was not aware they were living in sin, however, he hastily insists upon marrying them.