1870: although Europe is beset by war and revolution, England is prosperous and calm, and it isn't political misbehaviour which threatens the Morland fortunes.
Benedict, on one last adventure to Egypt, succumbs to fever abroad, and his son, George, is left to manage Morland Place. He believes himself more than equal to the challenge, but his immaturity shows when he falls for the icily beautiful Alfreda Turlingham, a woman with a shady past and an iron resolve. Against all advice, George marries her, and embarks on a spending-spree the estate cannot afford, to satisfy his new bride.
Bowing to his wife's will, George allows his innocent young sister Henrietta to be rushed into a marriage to an elderly rector, thereby removing her from the newly fashionable Morland Place, but condemning her to a perverted destiny. Even with her unsophisticated sister-in-law out of the way, Alfreda is not content, and the Morland fortune continues to run like sand through her fingers.