Set in Norfolk in the nineteenth century, the story begins with the murder of a deckhand by the first mate of a British ship in the Far East. This tragedy has a tremendous impact on the lives of the murderer's wife and son who, particularly, is influenced in his sense of values in business and family life. Taught to believe that his father, who absconded from custody, might still be alive somewhere in the Far East, he sets forth at the age of sixteen to find him. Ten years later he returns alone. A silent man with an air of brooding mystery, compounded by the fact that, although leaving as a penniless boy, he returned with sufficient wealth to open business premises among the rich merchants and ship owners of the town. In 1895 at the age of seventy-four, he decides to make spectacular changes in his business, with sensational effects on the lives of his family.