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Laura Reynolds, a freethinking artist, lives with her 9-year-old illegitimate son, Danny, in a beach house near Monterey. The boy's uninhibited upbringing has brought him into conflict with the law, and Laura is ordered by the court to enroll him in the private school headed by Episcopal clergyman Edward Hewitt or risk losing him. Convinced that she can better educate the boy herself, she complies reluctantly, resentful of the judge's interference. She is surprised, however, at the ease with which Danny settles down to the school routine. Despite the initial hostility between Laura and Hewitt, who is married and the father of two boys, they are drawn into a passionate love affair. Antagonized by her nonconformist friends, Hewitt nevertheless yields to his passion, though he is tormented by guilt and humiliation. He reveals his affair to his wife, Claire, who withdraws, brokenhearted; and he subsequently makes a public admission. Laura condemns him for making their private relationship into public gossip, and they sever their liaison. Hewitt now confronts the self-seeking politicians who have been using him and his school for their own ends, and he resigns his headmastership. Leaving both Claire and Laura behind, he sets off to regain his former ideals as a minister.