Based on David Belasco’s play, an old man wants his pretty ward to marry his nephew; but after he dies, he changes his mind and works to get her to break the promise she made to him.
Six people are sitting around a table at a séance led by Dr. Andrew Macpherson (Edward Ellis). Peter Grimm (Lionel Barrymore) is skeptical. Mayor Everett Bartholomew (Donald Meeks) and his wife Martha (Ethel Griffies) are trying to cooperate. Dr. Macpherson complains they are not open to science. Peter says he would like to get a hold of a ghost. Young Catherine (Helen Mack) says goodbye to Mrs. Bartholomew. Dr. Macpherson asks James (James Bush) if he would have rather held hands with Catherine under the table; he says they broke the circle. Peter persuades the doctor to stay for dinner. Peter says they have another guest coming.
At the train station little William Van Dam (George Breakston) gives out free flowers to those getting off the train, compliments of Peter Grimm. Frederik (Allen Vincent) accepts one and asks where Peter is. William says Peter does not like trains. William gives Frederik a ride on a wagon. William is an orphan being raised by Peter. Frederik learns that the wagon is carrying fertilizer and decides to walk.
In the garden at a table Peter tells Catherine not to skip reading the family history in his new flower catalog. Peter says their house has been in the family for seven generations. Peter feels at peace and says it is because he brought Catherine into their house. Dr. Macpherson takes credit for placing her there. William arrives on the wagon and says Frederik is walking. Peter asks Catherine to put on her prettiest dress for Frederik. Peter says Frederik has been in Europe, and he is glad he has come home. Peter tells the doctor that Frederik will marry Catherine, but the doctor asks if they know that. He asks about their freedom, and Peter says freedom can be a dangerous thing. Catherine picks some flowers, and William asks her not to put on her prettiest dress for Frederik. He tells her not to let him kiss like James did. James comes out, and William asks if they are going to marry. Peter tells the doctor that Frederik and Catherine will have as many children as he says. The doctor warns Peter about his health. He says whoever dies first should come back and talk to the other. Peter asks him if he ever saw one ghost. Peter says he will not die yet. The doctor advises him to make a will. Peter says Catherine is his will.
Peter is spraying his roses to kill pests. The doctor says roses keep growing after others die. They hear music, and William says it is the circus coming. Peter recognizes the clown who invites them to the show tonight. The doctor tells William to rest.
James is on the phone and then opens the mail. Peter comes in and says they must work. He dictates an insulting letter to Hicks who wants to buy his nurseries. Peter sees Catherine and Frederik outside and waves to them. He tells James he hopes they kiss each other, and he says they will be engaged soon.
Outside Catherine rejects Frederik’s proposal suggested by Peter. Inside the doctor tells William not to run around too much. The Bartholomews come in, and Martha asks the doctor if Mr. Grimm may die soon. The doctor complains about who told her. Peter comes in, and Martha thanks him for his donations to the poor. She refers to him in the past tense, and William says she means he is going to die. Peter says most die some time. William says he is sorry and cries. Peter tells him to get tickets for the circus. Peter invites them all to dinner and aims to show them how alive he is by how much he eats. The Bartholomews rush out, and Peter thanks them for coming. The doctor tells Peter not to think about dying. Peter says he will miss fighting with his friend. He asks the doctor if there are flowers in the hereafter. He says it is nonsense about being able to return. The doctor requests that he come back, and Peter promises even though he won’t do it. Peter calls in Catherine and asks her to sing a song, and Freddy will turn the pages for her. She sings “In the Gloaming.” Peter sits down, opens a Bible and writes something. He asks her and Frederik to come to him. He says he wants them to marry and be happy. Catherine wants to make Peter happy. Frederik proposes to her, and she promises Peter, who gives her a wedding ring that was his mother’s. She continues singing and playing piano. Peter smokes a pipe and slumps over in his chair. The doctor checks his vital signs and says he is gone. William has just come in.
At the funeral service a minister preaches about life after death.
Martha is instructing children at the wedding rehearsal. They sing the wedding march. Catherine watches from a window upstairs. She goes downstairs and in the bedroom where William is in bed she tells the maid to lie down. The doctor says they will know tonight; his temperature is still 104. The doctor asks if she will be happy, but engagements can be broken and weddings called off. He says her life is her own and not to let anyone dictate to her. She says Peter asked her to marry Frederik.
Frederik asks James if he will stay on working there. James says he has no right to sell the property. Frederik asks if he will take it up with Catherine. Frederik tells her it will be a June wedding with a honeymoon in Italy. He asks her where she wants to go. She likes this house and does not want to leave it. She says they must take care of William. She asks if her marrying him will make him happy, and he says it will. She says Peter had faith in her, and she runs upstairs. Martha comes in and tells Frederik how happy she is. She wants to show Catherine Peter’s last wishes. Frederik says it is not a will.
That night Frederik says he found the paper by accident and reads what Peter wrote about each person. He left a clock to the maid Marta. He left a miniature picture of himself for Martha. She is upset that is all. Frederik reads some other trivial gifts. Outside the old dog is barking. The dog opens the gate, and the ghost of Peter walks in and speaks to the dog. The maid cannot see or hear him. Peter talks to her. Peter is in the room and listens to their conversation, but they cannot see or hear him. Frederik says he would have inherited more if Peter had not given to charity to please his vanity. The Bartholomews leave in a huff. Frederik gives Col. Tom Lawton (Lucien Littlefield) a cigar and asks his legal help in selling the house. Frederik says he has an odd feeling. Peter says the buyer will not live to close the deal. Peter sees Catherine watering the flowers and blesses her. He sees she is crying and talks to her. He asks her to smile and says he is not really dead. She picks up a book, and he thinks it is because James gave it to her. He tells her to break the promise she made him so that he can be at peace. He wonders where the doctor is, and he walks in, asking Catherine if she summoned him. Peter says he will apologize for the first time. Catherine says she felt as though someone is there. The doctor says they may hear from Peter soon. He tells them to get busy. The doctor speaks of her marriage. Peter tells him to talk to her about changing her mind. The doctor starts to leave the room, and Peter warns him not to fail him. Peter asks Catherine to understand. He tells her to find James, and he goes with her outside in the moonlight.
She sits under a tree, and James comes to her. Peter advises him to tell her he loves her. She admits she does not want to marry Frederik. Peter tells him to kiss her. James sits next to her and says she does not love Frederik. He does not want her to have an unhappy life to obey a man who is dead or maybe has changed his mind. James takes her in his arms and kisses her. He asks if she loves him. She says that does not change things. She says she will not break her promise to Peter. James says he will take her away. She asks why he makes it so hard. Peter orders him to stay there and says he made a terrible mistake. Catherine cries, and Peter sits next to her. Peter prays that he can be heard for a moment. He tells her to burn her wedding dress. He says he is freeing her. He asks her for a sign.
Peter stands by William’s bed, and the doctor is sleeping too. Peter says he has to finish what he came to do. He will try harder. He asks William to help him. He hears the music of the circus and asks William if he hears it. William responds and asks for water. William gets out of bed and pours some water and drinks it. Peter suggests a cookie, and William takes the one Peter suggests. Peter hopes the clown will sing. William goes back to bed and eats the cookie. Peter asks him to remember how they heard the clown together. He gets the boy to say “Uncle Peter.” Peter asks if he can see him. William says, “No, sir.” He takes his hand and says he feels something. William says he cannot really hear him. He supposes it is a dream. Peter says he had to come back because of what he left undone. Peter says he has to go back. William asks him to take him with him. Peter says he must see him first. He asks William to deliver a message to Catherine. He gets William to recall his mother and asks who came to see her. William says he can’t remember. Peter says his mother told him, and William can name him. He tells William to call the doctor. William calls him, and the doctor wakes up. He tells the doctor that Peter is in the room. The doctor asks why he believes that. William says Peter spoke to him. William says he asked about his mother and the man who came. The doctor asks if Peter is still there. The doctor asks William to think. Peter says he is coming in, and Frederik comes in.
Frederik tells the doctor he does not know what happened to William’s mother. Peter talks to him. Frederik asks the doctor if he feels it. The doctor asks about Holland, which Peter mentioned. Frederik admits she followed him to Holland. The doctor asks if he cared about the child. Peter says the mother is dead from suicide, and Frederik repeats it. The doctor says he will tell Catherine. Frederik says the contract was to be signed today. He goes to the door and receives a telegram. He opens it and says Hicks is dead. The doctor says he had no right to sell the property. Frederik says he slaved for it. Peter says it is Catherine’s. Peter stands by the Bible and asks for a moment of strength. The lock falls off the Bible, and the doctor opens the book. He and Frederik read that Peter left all his property to his beloved ward, Catherine, and to her husband and children. The doctor says that will not be Frederik.
Martha complains that a wedding has been cancelled. Everett asks her what the telegram should say.
Catherine and James wonder if Peter knows what they are doing. Peter says he had a time doing it. In bed William calls to Peter who is still there. William wants to be with him always. Peter asks if he can see him. William says he can. Peter says he will wait for him. William says he could not find his way without him. William says he will take a nap first. He lays back and falls asleep. Peter wishes him pleasant dreams. The circus is heard. Peter calls William, and his ghost gets up and goes with Peter, who says he will never be sick again. Peter blesses the doctor and walks out with William.
This spiritual drama portrays how a departed soul may attempt to communicate after passing out of the body at death. The lesson is also that young people should decide for themselves who they are to marry based on their love, not to please someone else.