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In the spring of 1882, Scott Macauley, a young, Episcopal vicar, arrives in the small, western coalmining town of Carbon City to take charge of the church. As there is no parsonage and the hotels in town are either saloons or bordellos, Scott finds lodging with Mrs. Leonard, a young widow with three children, Davey, Laurie and Mark. Davey accompanies Scott when he goes to inspect the ramshackle church, which needs repairs both inside and out. The floor has collapsed as a mineshaft runs directly under it. After telling Scott that his father died in a cave-in at the mine, Davey shows him the grand house where Kate Peacock, the town's owner, lives. Later, at night, the town bullies, the Jones Boys, Silas, Seth and Sam, force Fuzzy, the town drunk, to dance for them by throwing knives at his feet. Joanne Tashman, a singer in the saloon, finds Scott in a café run by Harry, a black man, and asks him to intervene. Scott knocks all three men down and relieves them of their knives. When the men come to retrieve the knives, Scott puts them to work repairing the church, promising to return their property when they finish. Eventually, Scott preaches his first sermon in the renovated church to a very small congregation, including the local doctor and his wife, the Jones Boys and Joanne, who plays the organ. After the service, Miss Willowbird, the schoolteacher, tells Scott that the school burned down the previous year and has not been rebuilt, then Davey, accompanied by his dog Tiger, runs up to explain to Scott that the children could not attend because their mother is ill. When Scott discovers that Mrs. Leonard is racked by coughs and that there is no hospital in town, he decides to appeal to Mrs. Peacock but, before he can do so, Fuzzy brings news that miner Lucky Morgan is trapped under a beam in the mine. Milo Estes, the mine foreman, warns the miners that a further collapse is imminent, but Scott and Fuzzy stay with Lucky, who suspects that his back is broken, until he succumbs. Scott then goes to see Mrs. Peacock, a former prostitute, who inherited the town from her late husband. Scott tells her that Mrs. Leonard probably has consumption, then complains that the town has no hospital or school and that the mine needs ventilation, drainage and more attention paid to safety precautions. Mrs. Peacock offers no help and shows him out. Scott returns to his lodging to learn from Dr. Tuttle that Mrs. Leonard has died. The two youngest children are sleeping, but Scott comforts Davey and, later, officiates at Mrs. Leonard's funeral. With Joanne's help, Scott then "adopts" the children. When the miners march to the Peacock house to protest conditions and throw a burning torch through a window, Scott appeals to them to form a committee to meet with Mrs. Peacock and guarantees that she will do so. Mrs. Peacock is grateful to Scott for defusing a difficult situation, but when he tells her of his plans to officially adopt the Leonard children, she states that they should be in an orphanage and threatens to take them away from him. The next day, Allison Wingate, Mrs. Peacock's lawyer and niece, goes to the church and informs Scott that her aunt will send the children to an orphanage. The children, who have been hoping that Scott and Joanne will marry to give them a father and mother, overhear the conversation and hide in the mine. While Allison, whose aunt has paid for her education, attempts to persuade her not to take the children, Scott tries to find them. Suddenly, the ground is shaken by another cave-in and the mine is flooded. Most of the miners manage to escape and many of the townsfolk go to the church to pray. In church they hear Davey calling from beneath the church floor and rip out the floorboards. Scott realizes that the children are in danger of drowning, jumps down into the tunnel and, while up to his shoulders in water, finds the children trapped on a ledge. After a contrite Mrs. Peacock arrives and joins the others in prayer, Fuzzy goes down an old mine shaft and finds a trapdoor dam that he closes to partially reduce the water level, enabling the children, as well as Tiger, to hang onto Scott as he walks toward the hole in the church floor. Scott passes the children up to members of the congregation and later, as the children recover from their ordeal, Mrs. Peacock tells them that they will remain with Scott. She also announces that she will rebuild the school and the mine and construct a hospital. Fuzzy will be her building superintendent and one of his first jobs will be to extend the children's house to make room for Scott and Joanne, who to the children's delight, plan to marry.