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Alma Winemiller is the fragile, lonely, and oversensitive daughter of a minister in a small Mississippi town shortly before the first World War. From childhood she has harbored an almost spiritual love for John Buchanan, who, though a physician like his father, resents being forced to follow in his father's footsteps. But the unruly John prefers livelier company than the timid Alma; in particular, he is attracted by Rosa Zacharias, the tigerish daughter of the owner of Moon Lake Casino. One night, John becomes intrigued by Alma's shy, inhibited gropings toward love, and he takes her to the casino. When he tries to seduce her, the horrified girl hysterically denounces him and runs away. A short time later, the elder Dr. Buchanan is called out of town, and John uses the occasion to throw a wild party celebrating his betrothal to Rosa. Alma frantically telephones Dr. Buchanan, who quickly returns, quarrels with Zacharias, and is accidentally shot and killed. Shattered by the tragedy caused by his carousing, John reforms and takes over his father's practice. As the months pass, Alma's brooding love erupts into passion; and she goes to John and offers herself to him. But it is too late; it is John who now regards their relationship as a spiritual one. After learning that John plans to marry Nellie Ewell, a young girl, the heartbroken and frustrated Alma wanders down to the park. There she strikes up an acquaintance with a lonely traveling salesman, Archie Kramer. When he asks what excitement can be found in the town, Alma smiles at him and suggests they take a taxi to Moon Lake Casino. As they drive off, Alma watches the dying leaves of summer blowing across the pavement.