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Novelist MacMillan "Mack" Forester, at work on his next novel, is looking for a possible subject for a character study in a downtown night court with his friend, Judge O'Flathery. As they examine the parade of petty criminals, Mack becomes interested in The Brat, a seventeen-year-old street urchin who has been charged with stealing food, and pays her bail in order to win her favor. The Brat accepts Mack's offer to live in the Forester country estate, which is occupied by his mother, his two live-in lovers and his brother Steven. Making herself at home, The Brat offers her city-smart wisdom to Mack and his family, and eventually gains acceptance by the Foresters. When Steven makes known to The Brat his feelings of alienation and disillusionment, she advises him to follow his heart and go West, where his deceased father has left him a ranch. Although grateful for the advice, Steven realizes he has fallen in love with The Brat and hesitates to take it. The Brat also admonishes Steven's mother on her lack of compassion in dealing with Steven when he comes home drunk one night. When The Brat begins to fall in love with Mack, Mack's live-in lovers become jealous of her, and a fight ensues. Responding to protests from his mother, Mack reassures her that as soon as he finishes the book, The Brat will go, leaving him free to court the kind of women of which she approves. When The Brat learns that Mack and his mother have devised a plan to sell Steven's ranch in order to buy Mack a yacht, she becomes incensed. Later, a fight between Steven and Mack over The Brat ensues, and when Steven loses, he decides to leave for the West. The Brat becomes troubled by his absence, realizing that Mack's love is insincere and Steven's genuine. Mack, wracked with guilt over his poor treatment of The Brat, proposes to her, but she rejects him and asserts her love for Steven. Mack takes pity on her and convinces his mother to forgo the yacht purchase so they can turn over the ranch to Steven and The Brat as a wedding present.