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Madrigal, an Englishwoman recently released from prison after serving time for murder, arrives at the home of Mrs. St. Maugham to apply for the position of governess and companion to the elderly woman's 16-year-old granddaughter, Laurel. She is hired, despite her lack of references, primarily for her knowledge of gardening because Mrs. St. Maugham has difficulty raising anything in the chalky earth of her garden. Madrigal keeps her past a secret, but Laurel, who lives in a partial fantasy world (she hates her mother whom she believes abandoned her when she divorced and remarried) tries to uncover the secrets of her new governess. Maitland, the butler, becomes attracted to Madrigal and tells her that Laurel's wild tales are untrue. When the judge who convicted Madrigal comes to lunch, he does not recognize her, but they get into a heated discussion about the case. Laurel suspects that Madrigal is the murderess in question but makes a pact with Maitland never to reveal her suspicion. Madrigal realizes that Laurel is much the same as she was at 16 and fears that Laurel might make the same mistakes if she is not told the truth about her mother. She tells Mrs. St. Maugham that Laurel's mother should be allowed to have her, and Laurel, overhearing them, realizes that she was never abandoned. When her mother arrives, Laurel is ready to go with her, and Madrigal remains at the house as companion to Mrs. St. Maugham.