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In 1895, the inhabitants of Glansarno, a small village in the Welsh countryside, are taken aback when they learn that L. C. Moffat, their newest neighbor, is a forty-year-old English woman named Lily Cristobel, not a man as her Master of Arts degree had led them to expect. The other members of Moffat's household are her housekeeper, Mrs. Watty, a reformed thief, and Mrs. Watty's daughter Bessie. Despite the opposition of the village squire, Moffat intends to establish a school for the children who work in the nearby coal mines and drafts Miss Ronberry, a middle-aged woman, and Mr. Jones, a minister, to help her. She encounters stiff opposition to her plans, first from the mine owners, including the Squire, who refuse to release the boys from their long hours in the mines, and then from the owner of the barn she had planned to use for a schoolhouse. Discouraged, Moffat is about to give up her plans, when she reads an essay written by Morgan Evans, one of the boys, and is so moved by his rough poetry that she decides to hold classes in her house. Although many villagers attend the classes, Moffat focuses her efforts on Morgan. After a while, she believes that Morgan is smart enough to attend Oxford. Using flattery, she makes friends with the Squire and then asks him to vouch for Morgan to enable him to apply for a scholarship to the university. In the meantime, Morgan's friends make fun of his efforts to become educated. One day, feeling out of place, a drunken Morgan tells Moffat that he intends to return to the mines. She scolds him, but concedes that the decision to continue is his. Confused, Morgan leaves the house and outside, encounters Bessie. She flirts with him, taking his side against Moffat, and ends by seducing him. Morgan goes back to the mines, but eventually, decides to try for Oxford. Moffat coaches him steadily for the examination, but on the morning of the test, Bessie, who has been sent away into service, returns and tells Moffat that she is pregnant with Morgan's child. Moffat keeps this news a secret from Morgan. After the examination, Morgan tells Moffat how much he now wants to attend the university. While Morgan celebrates with Moffat, the Squire, Miss Ronberry, Mr. Jones and Mrs. Watty, Bessie arrives at the house. Mr. Jones spots her and, on a pretext, sends Morgan to the kitchen. Bessie then tells the assembled group about her pregnancy and Mr. Jones offers to marry her, but she laughs in his face, saying that she already has a man who will marry her, provided the child does not come with her. Mrs. Watty then persuades Moffat to adopt the child. When Morgan learns that he is to be a father, however, he insists on marrying Bessie, despite Moffat's attempts to dissuade him. After a telegram arrives, announcing that Morgan has won the scholarship, Moffat convinces him to attend the school and forbids him to see her again as she will be caring for his child. Morgan agrees to her terms and leaves her house for the last time to celebrate with the other villagers.