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On Christmas Eve, 1938, Susie Parkington, the eighty- four-year-old matriarch of a wealthy New York family, learns that her great-granddaughter, Jane Stilham, is about to elope with Ned Talbot, a former employee at her father Amory Stilham's investment firm. Susie presses Jane to introduce her to Ned before they depart and, while she is waiting for them, remembers the first time she met her now-deceased husband, Major Augustus "Gus" Parkington: In 1872, Gus, an infamous playboy tycoon, arrives in Leaping Rock, Nevada, to inspect his silver mine and spies eighteen-year-old Susie Graham in her mother's boardinghouse. Gus insists on staying at the full boardinghouse, and Susie eagerly gives up her room to him. Susie impresses Gus with her resourcefulness and beauty, and she is equally entranced by his wealth and power. When her mother is killed in an explosion at Gus's unsafe mine, however, Susie is overcome with grief. Feeling responsible for Susie, Gus convinces her to marry him and takes her back to New York City. As soon as they arrive there, Gus breaks the news of his marriage to his former lover, Baroness Aspasia Conti. Although hurt, the sophisticated French woman befriends Susie and teaches her how to act like a rich man's wife. Back in the present, Ned arrives at Susie's mansion, and Susie, sensing trouble, coaxes him into confessing that he quit his job because he knew that government agents were investigating Amory and were about to arrest him for theft and fraud. When Amory shows up, Ned confronts him with his crime, then prevents him from shooting himself. Feeling protective of her father, Jane denounces Ned, who storms off in anger. Amory admits that he embezzled his investors' money in a desperate attempt to recoup Wall Street losses and asks Susie for a thirty-one million dollar loan to prevent his arrest. Noting that the money constitutes her grandchildren's inheritance, Susie orders all of her relatives to come to her home to discuss the situation. Before their arrival, Susie recalls more about her life with Gus: On their third wedding anniversary, Gus surprises Susie with a palatial house decorated by Aspasia, and Susie surprises him by announcing she is pregnant. Thrilled by the news, Gus decides to host an elaborate ball in Susie's honor. Only a few guests show up, however, and Susie learns from lawyer John Marbey that earlier in the day, Gus inadvertently insulted one of their invited guests, the influential George Beaumont, who then demanded that Gus be blackballed. Furious, Gus orders the hired musicians and servants to eat the prepared feast and drives the guests away. The upset Susie suffers a miscarriage, and Gus blames Beaumont and his friends for the loss and vows revenge. Four years later, Susie finally learns about Gus's plot to ruin everyone who stayed away from the ball and denounces him for it. Defying his orders, she then moves out and, with Marbey's and Aspasia's help, uses Gus's money to restore the fortunes of some of his victims. When Gus hears what she has done, he is at first enraged, but then admits he is impressed with her cleverness. The two reconcile and Gus pledges to make Susie his partner both in business and love. Back in the present, Susie's extended family meets to decide Amory's future, and all vote to deny him their inheritance. When Amory announces he is giving himself up, Jane, his only ally, embraces him. After Amory leaves, Susie comforts Jane and remembers a dark time in her own life: Overwhelmed with grief over the accidental death of her only son, Susie has become a recluse. Having just returned from Europe, a concerned Aspasia visits her one day and reports that Gus, from whom Susie has been separated for a year, is thriving in his English home and has become involved with Lady Norah Ebbsworth. Revived by jealousy, Susie sails immediately with Aspasia, first to France, where her daughter Alice lives, and then to England. Susie arrives at Gus's place unannounced, and while Gus engages in a fox hunt with the much-younger Lady Norah, Susie meets Edward, Prince of Wales. Taken with Susie, Edward helps her to win back Gus by asking Lady Norah to become his mother Victoria's new lady-in-waiting, an offer he knows she is socially obligated to accept. After Lady Norah makes a hasty departure, Aspasia tells Susie that she is returning permanently to France and confesses what Susie has long known--that she has always loved Gus. Gus and Susie then reunite and contemplate the future of their grandchildren. Inspired by her memories, Susie advises a weeping Jane to go after Ned and, after accusing her grandchildren of being weak and selfish, announces that she is going to repay Amory's debt with their inheritance and is moving back to Leaping Rock.