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The citizens of the small town of Wakely, Massachusetts pride themselves on the Puritan heritage of their founder, minister Nathaniel B. Wakely. That upstanding reputation is maintained by his ancestor, Katherine Standish, who is on her way to her job at the town library when Peter Van Arden, a visiting commercial artist who is painting the pub sign in exchange for free beer, drips paint onto her hat. Peter tries to charm Katie with an impromptu portrait painted on her hat, but the prim Katie spurns his advances, interesting him further. While Clarence Spivvins, the town gossip, regales tourists with tales of Katie's beloved uncle, Nathaniel Wakely VI, a former lawyer whose taste for alcohol and showgirls has ruined his reputation, Katie finds young Steven Goodrich reading comic books and escorts him into the library, where she presents him with a book about King Arthur. Peter then enters the library and, to Katie's annoyance, whets Steven's interest by describing the book's violence and bawdiness. Peter then apologizes and presents Katie with a new hat, and after he leaves, she admires the hat in the mirror. Later, Peter meets Nathaniel in the pub and, taking an immediate liking to the older man, invites him to accompany him the next day to buy two racing horses. Nathaniel returns home, where his stuffy sister, Aunt Priscilla, is entertaining Rev. Turner and banker Merill T. Grumby, who announces that his son Stuart, whom he and Priscilla hope Katie will marry, is returning to town soon. Not noticing Katie's lack of enthusiasm, Merill directs Nathaniel to join him the next day to review the new church-repair contract, but Nathaniel, eager to join Peter, lies that Peter is his new client and that he must check on the legality of his "babies." Assuming that the babies are human, Priscilla and Katie are horrified, and even more so after they see Peter's advertising illustrations of scantily clad women. When Peter arrives the next morning to pick up Nathaniel, Katie soundly scolds the confused man. At the stables, Peter urges Nathaniel to place a bet on a horse race, but Nathaniel mistakenly bets five hundred instead of five dollars on the losing horse. After church the next day, "Odds" Burton, the bookmaker, informs Nathaniel that he has just one week to come up with the money. Nathaniel is forced to ask Merill for a loan. Merill agrees, but only if Nathaniel will convince Katie to marry Stuart. Although Nathaniel tries to persuade her, he breaks down and confesses everything. After Katie decides to help her uncle by traveling to New York City to sell some songs she has written, Peter, upon hearing about her trip, boards the same train car as her. There, he convinces the conductor that she is his mentally confused wife, so when Katie complains to the conductor about Peter's aggressive flirting, the conductor insists that she allow him to stay. In the city, she tries to sell her songs, but discovers that the publishing company is a sham operation that asks her to pay to have the songs "edited." In desperation, she shows up at Peter's and offers to model for pay. He asks her to pose in a bathing suit, as part of a soap ad, and although at first she is stiff, she soon relaxes. On her last day of work, Katie finally agrees to join Peter for dinner, and he presents her with a beautiful dress and takes her to a fancy restaurant. When he asks her to stay in New York, she haughtily brings up his "children," and an amused Peter explains that they are his horses. They are interrupted by Stuart, who is checking up on her and now commands her to return home. A furious Katie informs him that she finally wants to live, and happily drinks her first glass of champagne. The next morning, Peter's sister-in-law Irene and nephew Peter, Jr. visit. When Katie shows up, Peter and Irene are in the back room, and, assuming that the boy is Peter's son, Katie runs out in dismay. Peter finds her on the train back to Wakely, but this time she proves to the conductor that she is single, and Peter is thrown off the train. Over the next few months, Katie refuses all of Peter's phone calls and flower deliveries. One day, she, Nathaniel and Clarence see a huge advertising billboard featuring Katie in her bathingsuit and reading "Use Circe soap¿Katie did!" A shamed Nathaniel realizes how Katie paid off his gambling debt, and also that the Wakely-ites will ostracize her if they see the scandalous image. The three work all night to find all the billboards near town and deface them until Katie is unrecognizable, but they are finally caught and arrested. Soon, gossip spreads through the town about "what Katie did," causing her to quit her job. When Stuart visits, she assumes he will chastise her, but instead he denounces the rumormongers and proposes. Although she does not love him, she knows he is a good man and so accepts, and the wedding takes place the next day. As the ceremony ends, Peter, who has been alerted by Nathaniel, arrives and reveals that Peter, Jr. is his nephew. Katie kisses him in delight, and as the townspeople react in shock, Peter, a New England history buff, informs them that the first Nathaniel Wakely was never ordained as a minister, a fact which means that the entire second generation of Wakely-ites were illegitimate. He promises to keep this scandal a secret, as long as everyone leaves Katie alone. After a gracious Stuart steps aside, the marriage is dissolved and Katie is free to marry Peter.