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In the early 1850s, Rev. Ethan Wilkins moves from a prosperous parish in Maryland to an impoverished village on the banks of the Ohio River. Though his devoted wife Mary knows that a minister's family must make sacrifices, their son Jason cannot adjust to their austere new life. He idolizes Dr. Charles Shingle, the alcoholic local physician, and is resentful when Ethan refuses to let him accept the magazines that Shingle offers. When Mary sells some silver spoons to buy the boy a subscription to Harper's Monthly , Ethan finds even that magazine inappropriate for a minister's son and creates a serious breach between himself and Jason. Ten years later, the now-grown Jason is still resentful of his father. When Ethan insists that his son accompany him on a backwoods tour of distant parishoner's cabins, Jason refuses to wear a shabby second-hand coat that an elderly woman kindly gives to him. After a bitter argument, Jason leaves home and goes to study medicine in Virginia. Over the years, the broken-hearted Mary sells all of her family mementoes to send money to Jason, but she never complains, nor does Ethan, whose health gradually deteriorates. Just before Jason becomes a doctor, Mary writes to him that Ethan is dying, but by the time Jason returns home, his father is dead. Now an impoverished widow whose only happiness is her son's infrequent letters, Mary must take in sewing to survive. One winter, Jason writes to say that he is coming home for Christmas, then sends another letter saying that he must stay in Virginia during the holidays and needs more money. Mary sells her last possession of value, her gold wedding ring, to greedy general store-owner George Ames in order to send Jason the money. When Dr. Shingle finds out, however, he convinces Ames that his health requires a "bleeding" by leeches, and slips the ring off Ames' finger and gives it back to Mary. Some time later, as the Civil War rages, Jason is called to duty and stops writing to his mother. One day, he receives a summons to the White House and is astonished to meet President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln tells Jason that Mary had written to him asking for information on her son's grave; because Jason had not written for so long she was certain he was dead. Lincoln then admonishes Jason for being such a selfish son and makes him promise to write to his mother every week. As Jason returns to his post, he sees Pilgrim, his family's faithful old horse, and finally realizes how dire his mother's straits must be to have sold the animal. When Jason saves the arm of his superior, Captain Griggs, his reward is a leave to see Mary. Jason then rides home on Pilgrim and is reunited with his grateful mother. At supper, Jason dines with Mary, Dr. Shingle and his childhood sweetheart, Annie Hawks, and Mary thanks God for her blessings.