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In May 1937, Londoners Roderick "Rick" Fitzgerald and his sister Pamela are at the end of their vacation on the Cornwall coast when they discover an uninhabited cliffside mansion. Drawn inside, Pamela becomes determined to buy the house and convinces composer Rick that he could live there and continue his work. When they go to see the owner, Commander Beech, his charming twenty-year-old granddaughter, Stella Meredith, insists that the mansion, called Windward House, is not for sale. Beech, however, agrees to sell after advising the Fitzgeralds that the previous residents complained of strange occurrences in the house. The next day, a shopkeeper tells Rick that years earlier, Beech's daughter, Mary Meredith, fell from the cliff in front of the house and died. When Rick then encounters Stella in the street, she apologizes for her previous behavior, and he decides to take the serious young woman sailing. During the sail, Stella distracts a seasick Rick by telling him about how her mother, Mary Meredith, who wore mimosa-scented perfume, lived at Windward for three years after Stella was born. Before he leaves for London on business, Rick asks Stella to visit Pamela at the house, but when Rick returns with his housekeeper, Lizzie Flynn, he finds out that Beech rejected Pamela's invitation to have Stella over for tea. That night, Rick is awakened by the sound of a woman sobbing, and Pamela confesses that she has heard this crying every night just before dawn. Although Stella later tells Rick that her grandfather refuses to allow her to go to Windward, she accepts Rick's dinner invitation and argues with Beech about it. After the confrontation, Beech makes an appointment with Miss Holloway, Mary Meredith's best friend, who now runs The Mary Meredith Retreat for the mentally disturbed. That night in Windward's upstairs studio, where Rick and Pamela have felt strange chills and a malevolent presence, Rick plays a serenade that he has written for Stella called "Stella by Starlight." At first, Stella is touched by the music, but when the candles flicker, she becomes obsessed with the thought that she has been cruel by enjoying herself in the house where her mother died. Stella runs out of the house toward the cliff, and Rick follows, grabbing her before she falls. Just then, Lizzie screams from inside and reports having seen a woman standing by the studio door. Stella wanders alone into the studio, and Rick later finds her lying unconscious on the floor. Rick and Pamela send for the town doctor, Dr. Scott, who treats Stella for shock and suggests that she spend the night. Scott, who met Pamela after finding her dog, stays up all night with her and Rick, and relates what he knows about the history of Windward: Mary's husband, an artist, fell in love with his Spanish gypsy model, Carmel. The affair was a public scandal, and Carmel was sent to live in Paris. The Merediths accompanied her there and returned from Europe with their baby, Stella. Soon after, Carmel followed them to Windward and died of pneumonia a week after Mary fell from the cliff, while trying to save Carmel from suicide. Just before dawn, Pamela, Rick and Scott smell the scent of mimosa in the den and find Stella out of her bed, insisting that she felt her mother's presence. Later, Rick, who has fallen in love with Stella, urges her to move to London with him, but Stella is convinced that her mother awaits her at Windward. Rick conceives of a plan to disenchant Stella from Windward by holding a séance at which Stella's "mother" will tell her to stay away. The séance calls up a real ghost, however, who transmits through an anagram the words "I guard" and "Carmel." After a glass flies from the table and smashes, Stella goes into a trance, during which she speaks fluent Spanish as a mimosa scent fills the chilled room. Beech, who has returned from his trip to see Holloway, breaks into the house and, seeing the proceedings, takes Stella home, and dismisses Dr. Scott as her physician. After Stella is sedated, Beech asks Holloway to cure her and puts his granddaughter in her custody. Rick becomes convinced that Stella will never be well until the house is purged of its ghosts, and decides to discover all the facts surrounding the death of Stella's mother. Learning about Miss Holloway from the gardener, Rick and Pamela go to see her at the retreat, unaware that Stella has been incarcerated there. Holloway tells them her version of the Meredith story: Mary, an extraordinary person, took the evil Carmen to Paris and saw her well-situated, but Carmel returned for Mary's husband. One stormy night, desperate to hurt the Merediths, Carmel picked up three-year-old Stella and raced to the edge of the cliff. After Mary struggled with Carmel and was pushed over the edge, Carmel disappeared and returned with pneumonia. Holloway grudgingly nursed her, but Carmel died. Stella, meanwhile, realizes that she has been institutionalized and grows resentful. Pamela and Rick consult with Dr. Scott, who digs up the records of the previous town physician. The records reveal that the physician suspected Holloway of criminal neglect in the death of Carmel. After Beech suffers an attack, Scott is called to his house, and gives the medical book to the Fitzgeralds. When they learn that Stella has been admitted to Holloway's retreat, Pamela calls Holloway and makes an appointment to see her that night. Holloway, in the meantime, sends Stella to Windward. When the Fitzgeralds and Dr. Scott arrive, Holloway, now completely mad, tells them that Stella is following her mother over the cliff in accordance with Mary Meredith's wishes. As the Fitzgeralds rush back to Windward, Stella arrives at the empty house and finds her grandfather dying in the studio. Beech warns her to get away from the house because it is dangerous and collapses when the vaporous form of Mary Meredith materializes by the studio door. Stella screams and runs from the house just as the Fitzgeralds pull up. As Stella reaches the cliff's edge, the earth gives way, but Rick reaches her in time. Back in the den, Dr. Scott reads through the medical records and finds an entry which confirms Carmel's pregnancy. Other entries reveal that Mary asked the physician to keep Carmel's pregnancy a secret, and that the physician, knowing that Mary feared and refused motherhood, presumed that she intended to adopt the child as hers. With all the information in place, Rick speculates that the Merediths took Carmel to Paris on the condition that she never return, and adopted Stella, but that Carmel was unable to stay away from her child. Stella recalls that when her father wrote in a journal that her mother always wore mimosa-scented perfume, she had assumed he was talking about Mary. When Rick opens the doors to the study, he senses a cold, malevolent presence, and insists that the others go outside. Rick then confronts the ghost of Mary Meredith and tells her that he is no longer frightened of her. Mary Meredith's angry ghost then permanently disappears, and the mimosa-scented ghost of Carmel, knowing that her daughter is now safe, also vanishes. With the spirits now banished from the house, Dr. Scott and Pamela plan to marry, and Rick tells Stella that he is relieved that Mary Meredith would not have been his mother-in-law.