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In 1894, Brant Royle returns to the tobacco growing community of Kingsmont, North Carolina, years after cigar magnate James Singleton drove his family off their tobacco farm. As he walks through town, Brant is almost run down by a carriage driven by Singleton's daughter Margaret. To the horror of her aunt, Tabitha Jackson, Margaret speaks with Brant, although not very kindly, and Brant makes it clear that he is romantically interested in her. Meanwhile, Singleton meets with John Barton, the inventor of a machine that rolls and packages cigarettes. Singleton, who prefers cigars to cigarettes, refuses to buy the machine. When Singleton hears that Brant has returned, he forbids Margaret to speak with him, and when Margaret insists that she will do as she pleases, he determines to run Brant out of town for the second time. Tabitha then accuses Margaret of deliberately stirring up her father, and Margaret does not deny it. In town, Singleton and Brant quarrel over Margaret. Barton overhears the argument and takes advantage of Brant's hostility to Singleton to try to sell him the invention. Although interested, Brant is impoverished and approaches Sonia Kovac, an old friend who used to work for his father and now owns a women's rooming house. Sonia, who is in love with Brant, is disappointed that he has only come for money, but eventually agrees to become his partner. Then, when Christopher Malley, a patent medicine salesman, takes refuge at Sonia's house after angry customers attack him, Brant offers him a job selling cigarettes. Several years later, using the motto "The Royle Cigarette Company--Fit for a King," the partners have become very successful. Brant's affluence enables him to drive many of the local cigar manufacturers out of business, leaving only Singleton as his major competitor. After Margaret learns that Brant is planning to celebrate Sonia's birthday, she invites him to visit her instead. Brant does, and Singleton kicks him out of the house. When Brant announces that he intends to marry Margaret, she replies that this is impossible as long as he is friends with Sonia. Later, Brant bluntly reminds Sonia that he never made any promises to her and that he plans to marry Margaret because she is a "lady." Chris then tries to tell Sonia that he loves her, but she takes it as a joke. Eventually, Brant takes over Singleton's loans and offers to exchange them for Margaret. Although Singleton angrily rebuffs him, Margaret informs her father that she will marry Brant and get their money back from him. Disgusted by his daughter's plot, Singleton challenges Brant to a duel and, when Brant refuses, kills himself. Brant, who over the years has become increasingly greedy and selfish, then drives Barton out of the company. Even loyal Chris is troubled by Brant's behavior. Margaret and Brant marry and move into the redecorated Singleton house, which they call Bright Leaf, but their marriage is unhappy. When the Attorney General brings a monopoly suit against Royle, Inc., Brant is too involved with his marital problems to take care of it. After Chris reveals that Margaret has sold all her shares in the company and is leaking information, Brant confronts her, and Margaret admits everything, stating that now that she has avenged her father's death, she wants a divorce. In his fury, Brant falls and accidentally sets the house on fire. Writing a finish to this part of his life, Brant lets the house burn. He apologizes to Sonia, admitting that the Singletons are now out of his system. Sonia sadly responds that his apology is years too late and watches him ride out of Kingsmont, as he came into it ten years earlier, with nothing.