A country doctor, whose wife died, adopts a girl and raises his son to be a doctor. He misses the chance to study more, but he takes care of people with kindness and skill and is eventually appreciated for his work.
Dr. Eli Watt (Lionel Barrymore) and his young son Jimmy (Buster Phelps) walk into a small town, and Eli goes into a bank. He tells the banker John Radford (Oscar Apfel) he had a bad time and came home. He asks for $500 to fix up his old place. Radford gives him $250 for a mortgage, and Eli signs a blank contract.
At home Eli is cooking and has a model of a human brain. He explains to Jimmy what each part does. Eli serves farina, but neither one likes it. McGinnis (David Landau) comes in and asks the doctor to go with him because his wife is going to have a baby. McGinnis offers him two sacks of potatoes.
Eli drives a buggy and brings Jimmy because he has no one to leave him with. Mrs. McGinnis is in pain and says she wants to die. Eli tells McGinnis it is a girl. McGinnis says he wanted a boy. Eli tells him his wife died. McGinnis is angry and tells the doctor to get out before he kills him. Eli tells him that when his son was born, his mother died. Eli says he knows how he feels. He offers to tell him how to take care of the baby. McGinnis says he will give the child to an orphanage. Eli shows the baby to McGinnis and tells him it is his own flesh and blood. McGinnis tells him to get out. Eli carries the baby to the buggy. His bag of instruments is thrown behind him.
Eli takes care of the baby at home. Jimmy has been taking care of the dog Beans. Jimmy has the dog help him mind the baby. Sarah (May Robson) comes in and offers to be Eli’s housekeeper. He says he cannot pay her in money, but she says she is not asking for money. Sarah says she has been living in the past for twenty years. She wants something to love. Eli hopes he will get another chance. She says people always need a doctor. Sarah sees the dog with the baby and makes him leave the crib. She picks up the baby. Jimmy says it is his baby, but she says it is theirs. A man is asking for Eli’s help, and Eli tells Sarah that he offered squash. Sarah takes care of the baby while Eli goes out. Eli checks a baby, and the mother says it was wheezing.
The four are celebrating the fourth birthday of Lettie. McGinnis comes to the door and asks to come in. He asks to talk to Eli. He says he is sorry, and he has changed. He has been working hard, and he wants his little girl back. Sarah says Eli and her have been slaving for her. McGinnis says he has a fine woman coming in to take care of her. Eli says no. McGinnis reminds him that she is his own flesh and blood.
The banker Radford tells Eli he has to have his money. Radford complains he is making jokes. A woman comes in with her son who cut his hand. Sarah upbraids the banker for hounding the doctor. She shows him a basket of potatoes as his savings from the last month. Eli gives the woman some money to pay for an x-ray. Eli takes them into town in his buggy.
In a montage Eli treats various diseases and has days with no patients. He cannot pay his mortgage to Radford. In the snow Eli falls out of his buggy.
Years later Eli is driving a car with his son Jimmy Watt (Joel McCrea). They make a call, and a man says he thinks it is the water. A woman says her boy is sick too. Eli takes his temperature. Eli tells Jimmy to get his smallpox vaccine and Sarah and the ladies to help.
Eli tells men that smallpox is a disease of dirt, and they have to clean. He organizes a scrubbing brigade. People are washing clothes and a cow, painting an outhouse, clearing brush and leaves, bathing children and men, and scrubbing floors. Eli says an old mattress must be burned. A bonfire burns many items.
Jimmy tells Eli that he heard that typhoid has broken out, and other doctors cannot come. Eli gives vaccinations. The sick are carried in, and the dead are carried out. Letty McGinnis (Dorothy Jordan) comes in with flowers and insists on helping them. She tells Eli not to treat her like a child. He is concerned something will happen to her. She says he would let anyone else stay. She says she has to help. Eli tells a boy not to scratch. The quarantine is lifted. Letty tells stories to children. She says Dr. Eli is very kind, and he tells her not to spread propaganda. He admits he could not have done it without her. She tells him to get some rest.
Jim tells his father he still wants to be a doctor. He shows Eli an article about his excellent smallpox campaign.
Eli tells an older man that his son is going away to medical school to become a specialist. At night Eli drives a car and praises Sarah’s use of chloroform. They see a car, and she says it belongs to young Radford. By a tree Bill Radford (James Bush) and Lettie are embracing and talking. He says he loves her. She says she must go, but he holds her and kisses her. Sarah tells Eli she is worried about them.
Bill is driving a car and asks Lettie if she is sorry. She says she loves him. He kisses her, and the car goes off the road and overturns. Lettie gets up off the ground and calls to Bill. She sees he is badly hurt and flags down a car.
Eli answers the phone, and Lettie tries to talk to him. A man tells Eli where they are. Sarah treats Lettie’s hand, and men carry in Bill. Eli has a man take Lettie home. Eli calls a hospital, and Jim says he will arrange everything. Sarah is using chloroform on Bill. John Radford comes in and asks about Bill. He asks Eli to call in a specialist.
Dr. Tillinghast (Hale Hamilton) is operating while students watch. Jim assisted Tillinghast and commends him for saving the boy’s arm. Tillinghast learns Eli has been practicing for 19 years. Eli says doctors should go back to school every five years. Tillinghast offers Eli a place in a good clinic. Jim urges his father to accept. Eli says he does not make much money. He says Jim is going to Vienna to study.
Eli has put up his place for rent, and they are packing. Eli tells people that Dr. Jenkins will look out for them. They say he won’t. Sarah complains that they did not appreciate him before. They say goodbye to Eli. The people leave, and Letty comes in to say goodbye to Eli. He asks her what is the matter. She cries, and he asks her to talk to him. She says she and Bill love each other. Eli tells Sarah he is going over to see Radford.
John Radford complains the New York doctor sent him a bill for $2,000. John is grateful for what Eli did for his son, and he rips up his mortgage. John says he does not want his son to marry a McGinnis. Eli says she is like his own daughter. Eli says the $250 mortgage was not worth his boy’s arm. Eli says a desperate woman is going to have a baby. He asks John to make it easier on them. John answers the phone and hands it to Eli. Sarah tells him of an emergency.
Eli finds a poison bottle and says she could not have drunk too much of it because it burns. Jim says he notified Jenkins who will take care of her. They hear the train whistle. Eli tells Jim he is staying there, but Jim must catch a boat. Jim leaves. Letty calls to Uncle Eli.
Years go by. Letty and Bill had another baby. Eli writes that he is just a country plug. At a New Year’s celebration for 1933 Eli is playing cards. Sarah is playing an organ but stops when young people turn a radio. Letty goes over to Eli, and John says he appreciates her more than his son. Bill makes fun of Eli’s resolution to go away. Letty complains and turns off the radio. She defends Eli and is sorry for what he has missed. She gets upset and collapses.
Eli is with Letty in a hospital. He says she has a good doctor. After the operation Eli tells Jim he did a good job. Jim says he is engaged to Joan Stockton.
Eli is writing a card to Joan and picks out a flower. Jim tells Joan Stockton (Frances Dee) he has to go to another meeting. He says he is doing what he can to make himself known. Jim leaves. Joan receives the flower at the door from a messenger. She reads the note from Eli.
Joan visits Eli, and he thanks her. She says she is not going to marry Jim because he does not understand what is important, being kind. Eli says Jim is a great success, but she says he is like a machine. He is sorry she cannot love him. He says Jim never had a mother. Eli answers the phone, McGinnis tells him that Jim brought specialists from New York, but he wishes Eli were there.
Jim is consulting with Dr. Roger Babcock (Sam Hinds) and Dr. Tillinghast. Jim goes out of the room and tells Eli he hates to lose this case. Eli says it is Letty, not just a case. Eli asks Jim if he can go in. Eli sees her sleeping and talks to Bill. Eli says she does not want to live, and he asks Bill why. Eli says the doctors have done all they can do. Eli says Letty has a heartache, and he asks Bill for any clue. Bill confesses that he has another girl, and Letty knows about her. Eli goes out to the others and takes Lettie’s little girl in his arms. He carries her in to see her mother. He tells the girl to pat her head and steps away. The girl asks her mother to wake up and touches her face. She sings that she wants her mommy. Letty opens her eyes. Bill comes over and asks her to forgive him.
Eli is sitting by sleeping Letty, and the other doctors come in. Dr. Babcock says he wants to meet Eli. Jim invites him to stay over for their medical meeting.
Eli comes late to the banquet and says he delivered twins. He says he used Babcock’s books for years. Jim introduces the guest of honor, Dr. Babcock. They stand and applaud. Dr. Babcock stands up and says that the real guest of honor has labored without glory or profit in an obscure place. He praises that doctor for doing what others have neglected, the wisdom of the human heart. He says that man is the guest of honor even though he came late. He says it is Eli Watt, and they stand up and applaud. Eli stands and says nothing like this ever happened to him before. He says he is just a country plug trying to do his best. Dr. Babcock asks him about Letty. Eli says he cannot take credit for that. Eli says he could not keep up with the mind, and so he used horse sense. Eli says he will never forget this, and he sits down. Jim comes over and says he wants to honor his father. Jim says he learned that his father is a great physician and a great man.
Eli tells Joan that his son is not just a machine, and he says that he needs someone like Joan. He urges her to go in and tell him. She goes to Jim, and he takes her on his lap. Sarah tells Eli he is always doing something for others. She asks what he has to say about them. He asks where they are going, and she says they are going to Niagara Falls.
This drama portrays a humble physician who cares about helping people more than furthering his career or making money. Although he is in a small town, he helps people in significant ways so that they can become better people.