Nora Simms is a prostitute who comes to San Francisco in 1848, during the Gold Rush. She starts as a "crib girl," working in a row house with several other prostitutes. One of Nora's aims is to work in a parlor house. Parlor houses are more upscale bordellos, frequented by men with more education than the miners Nora serviced. To achieve this goal, Nora begins speaking with a fake French accent. She takes lessons from another crib girl and meets a professor who sweeps her off her feet. Nora also wins the affections of Abe, a gentle, mildly retarded man.