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In a small town in the South, Jim Preston resents his stepfather, Judge Calhoun Davis, in spite of everything the judge has done to be a father him. "Cal" is the most respected man in town, and makes his judgements in court with authority and generosity. He married Jim's mother Martha after her first husband died, having loved her since their childhood. Both Cal and Martha are mystified as to how to transform Jim from a rebellious and lazy youth to a responsible, hard-working adult. One day Jim borrows the car of his neighbor's boarder, so he can take Mary Lee Calvert, the girl next door, for a ride. Mary Lee resists his attempts at lovemaking because she is in love with Bob Stuart, a young man from a wealthy family. Jim accidentally crashes the car, and although he and Mary Lee are unharmed, Varius Trigg, who owns the car, demands full payment for repair. Jim is reluctant to ask Cal for the money, so sells Bob a rifle that he found in the trunk of Trigg's car. Unaware of what kind of trouble Jim is in, Cal offers to buy a car for Jim if he will maintain a job for one month. Jim refuses, further frustrating Cal's warm-hearted hope that he will be accepted as a father. While Jim is playing at a shooting gallery at the county fair, he sees Bob and Mary Lee together and flies into a jealous rage. Bob quietly asks Jim why he sold him someone else's rifle, but Jim hits him and, in the struggle, accidentally shoots him with one of the guns. Jim leaves the scene and hides in the attic of his house. When the sheriff arrives to arrest Jim, Cal promises to bring him in himself, knowing the boy is desperate and may shoot someone else. Confronting a hysterical Jim, Cal tells him he would run away with him if that would mean he could be a father to him. Overwhelmed with the consequences of this offer, Jim has a change of heart and turns himself in. At the trial, Bob, who has recovered, drops the charges in an effort to renew his friendship with Jim. Jim continues to plead guilty, however, so Cal sentences him to six months on parole. Cal adjourns court, and in a moment that clearly reveals that he now looks up to Cal, Jim offers to get his stepfather his fishing tackle for the afternoon.