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After wandering the globe for twenty years, Jim Masters returns home to Carmel, California, where his wife Nan and daughters Buff, Tinka, Linda and Cora still live. Just before Jim's unexpected return, Nan had won the approval of her daughters to marry Sam Sloane, a prosperous pillar of the community. At first the girls resent the intrusion of this stranger who calls himself their father, and make a pact to ignore him so that he will leave. However, Jim gradually wins them over with his worldly understanding of life. Buff is fascinated by Gabriel Lopez, the son of a Portuguese fisherman, but her mother, who knows Gabriel's troubled history well because she is often called upon to intervene between him and Judge Hornsby, disapproves of the match. Despite her mother's warnings, Buff begins dating Gabriel. When Jim lies to Nan about Buff's whereabouts after a missed curfew, Buff thanks him for helping her out. Jim gains even more respect when he secretly brings Nan flowers and a cake for her birthday, which everyone else had forgotten, and allows Sam to take the credit. Regardless, Sam tells Jim that he is concerned that his presence is disrupting the family and persuades him to leave. Before he goes, Nan begs Jim to take back his advice to Buff that she elope with Gabriel, sensing that Gabriel will do to Buff what Jim had done to her. In Gabriel, Jim sees his own nonconformist attitudes and wanderlust, and through Jim's persuasion, Gabriel comes to realize that he is not cut out for a conventional family life. In the end, Gabriel and Jim, two kindred spirits, go off to travel the world together, leaving Nan behind to marry homebody Sam, and preventing Buff from repeating her mother's mistake.