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On presidential election night in 1904, Louise, Helen and Grace Elliot, daughters of Silver Bow, Montana pharmacist Ned Elliott, excitedly prepare for the town's ball. Serious Louise, the eldest, plans to marry as soon as Tom Knival, a stodgy but stable young man, asks her. Helen, the prettiest of the sisters, yearns for the romance and excitement of life beyond Silver Bow, and Grace, the youngest, secretly wants Tom. At the ball, as Theodore Roosevelt's election is announced, Tom is about to ask Louise to marry him when Frank Medlin, a restless young sports reporter visiting from San Francisco, asks her to dance. The two fall in love at first sight, and stay out late, to the displeasure of Louise's parents. Frank extends his stay for several days, and at Sunday dinner with the Elliotts, impulsively announces that he and Louise are going to be married. Despite her family's disapproval, Louise and Frank elope to San Francisco that night. Soon Grace marries Tom, to whom she is well suited, and gives birth to a son. Helen also marries, after the wealthy Sam Johnson, father of Helen's friend Stella, proposes, promising to let her go anywhere she wants and not demand love in return. As the months pass, life for Frank and Louise is difficult. Although Louise does not complain about their finances, and encourages Frank to write the novel he has dreamed of, he becomes restless, chafing at his loss of freedom. On the night that Louise plans to tell Frank she is going to have a baby, he comes home drunk and lashes out at her. The next morning, guilt and his love for Louise make him stop drinking and start to work hard, but Louise keeps her pregnancy a secret. Several weeks later, when Louise accompanies Frank on an assignment to cover a boxing match, the smoke and smells of the arena make her ill, forcing her to leave. When Frank goes to her, she tells him about the baby. Delighted, Frank promises to work ever harder and wants to accompany her home, but she insists that he stay to finish his assignment. Climbing several stories to their apartment, Louise collapses and has a miscarriage. Frank is shattered and blames himself. Months later, on Christmas Eve, Frank, who has been drinking heavily, is angry when his friend and fellow sportswriter, Tim Hazelton, criticizes part of Frank's book. Depressed because doctors' bills are overwhelming him and he cannot afford to buy Louise a Christmas gift, Frank goes to his editor and demands a raise. Because of Frank's belligerence, his editor angrily fires him, saying that he is drinking too much and his work is no longer good. Later, at home, Louise surprises Frank with a Christmas tree, furthering his feelings of inadequacy. Louise is understanding when Frank confesses that he was fired, but when she tells him that she has found a job at Benson's department store, his pride is hurt. He forbids her to work, which precipitates a bitter argument that ends when he leaves to get drunk. As the months pass, Frank is unable to find work, while Louise is thriving at her job as secretary to store owner William Benson. In a final attempt to save their love, Louise promises to quit her job, and Frank goes from newspaper to newspaper trying, without success, to find work. Later, Tim finds Frank in a saloon and tells him that he must leave San Francisco and get a fresh start, but when Frank later listens to sailors exchanging stories about life at sea, he decides to hire on to a ship bound for Singapore. That afternoon, Frank goes to see Louise and asks Benson, whom Frank senses is in love with Louise, to take her out for a celebratory dinner after work that night. When Louise arrives home, there is a note from Frank, stating that he is sailing at midnight because their love is dying, and it is his fault. Louise rushes to stop Frank, but a policeman who misunderstands why she is roaming the docks arrests her. By the time Louise is released, it is two in the morning. A few hours later, a tremendous earthquake shakes San Francisco, destroying her apartment. Her friend Flora, a floozy who lives across the hall, goes to her during the quake, then gives Louise her mother's address in Oakland, and invites her to stay. As news of the earthquake is telegraphed around the world, and there is no word from Louise, Ned travels to San Francisco to find her. Louise does not want to leave her apartment, but soldiers force her to evacuate so that they can dynamite her street in an effort to stop the fires raging through the city. Exhausted and feverish, Louise makes her way to Oakland, where Flora and her mother, a kindly madam, take care of her. Meanwhile, when Frank's ship receives a wireless message about the quake, he becomes hysterical and tries to jump overboard after the captain refuses to heed the maritime order to return to San Francisco. Days later, Benson discovers where Louise is, and, with Ned, takes her back to San Francisco. Within two years, Benson's department store, like most of San Francisco, has been rebuilt. Louise now has her own secretary, and is a confident of Benson. When Louise receives word from Grace that Tom has been unfaithful with Mrs. Taylor, a notorious woman in town, Louise returns for a visit Silver Bow, and wires Helen to return as well. Back home, Louise convinces Grace to give Tom another chance. Then, with her sisters, convinces other men who have had liaisons with Mrs. Taylor, to force the woman to leave town. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Tim, who has received a letter from Frank revealing that he had not found what he was looking for, meets him when his ship docks. Weak and ill, Frank goes with Tim to Benson's to see Louise. Learning that she has gone to Silver Bow, Frank and Tim decide to follow her. Benson also travels to Silver Bow, arriving before them. It is now election night, 1908, and the Elliotts again prepare for the election night ball. Helen's new fiancé, Englishman Anthony Bittick, joins them, as does Tom, Helen and Benson. At the ball, Frank, who is sober but weak, watches Louise from the mezzanine and asks Tim to go to her first. He does, and when Frank overhears Louise tell Tim that if Frank ever returned she would love him on his terms, Frank, chastened, goes to her and they pledge to begin again.