A winter evening. Vanessa, a still-beautiful middle-aged woman, 20 years before had an affair with a married man, Anatol. When he refused to leave his wife for her, she shut herself up in her house. Now she awaits Anatol’s return. With her are her mother, the Baroness, and her niece Erika, an attractive young woman. Finally a man appears silhouetted at the door. Vanessa, with her back turned to him, tells him that, unless he still loves her, she will not let him look on her face and will ask him to leave at once. The man replies, “Yes, I believe I shall love you”. But when Vanessa turns around, she sees that he is a stranger. She rushes out of the room, calling for Erika. After helping her aunt out, Erika returns to confront the impostor. He explains that he is Anatol, the son of the man whom Vanessa had loved. A month later Erika tells the Baroness, her grandmother, that on the night of Anatol’s arrival, he seduced her. It was the only night she slept with him and now she finds she both hates and loves him. Anatol and Vanessa come in for breakfast, glowing with happiness. Vanessa offers a gushing confession to Erika: She has fallen in love with young Anatol and he, it seems, with her. When Anatol enters, Erika demands to know if he has in fact implied to Vanessa that he wishes to marry her. He points out that he has asked Erika to marry him. But he also makes it clear that his idea of love is easy-going, and most likely temporary. He is waiting for her answer when Vanessa summons everyone to the chapel for Sunday service. Erika decides to let Vanessa have Anatol.
New Year’s Eve. There is a big party to announce: Anatol and Vanessa’s engagement. Vanessa is upset her mother and Erika have refused to join the party. The guests are shepherded off to the ballroom. As the hallway clears, Erika slowly makes her way down the stairs, listening to the announcement. Suddenly, as if very ill, Erika faints on the steps. The Major-Domo finds her and offers to fetch the doctor, but she asks him to leave. Erika runs out into the winter night murmuring that Anatol’s child “must not be born”.
Erika’s bedroom, a few hours later. Search parties are out looking for her. Anatol finds her and carries her back to the house. Vanessa asks Anatol if he knows why Erika acted so rashly. He is evasive, saying he knows Erika doesn’t love him. When they have left, Erika calls her grandmother and tells her the child will not be born. The drawing room, two weeks later. Anatol and Vanessa are going to live in Paris. Vanessa has willed the house to Erika. Regarding her actions on the night of the engagement, Erika says evasively, “I thought I loved someone who did not love me”. Erika summons the Major-Domo and asks him to make everything as it was before. It is now her turn to wait.