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Lord Arnold Boult, a wealthy Canadian businessman living in London, addresses the audience, remarking that they may be familiar with him and his expansive empire, but for all his wealth and success he is unable to discern the reason for his son Edward's early death and wonders if the audience might be able to offer him an explanation. Boult begins his story just after the first World War, as he and his wife Evelyn celebrate Edward's first birthday with their friend and physician, Larry Woodhope. Boult is also enthusiastic about embarking upon a promising new career in finance with Harry Simpkin, who has just been released from prison after serving time on fraud charges. Five years later, however, with the retail credit business barely thriving, Edward is diagnosed with a serious ailment that only an expensive operation abroad can remedy. Boult decides to burn down the business building to collect the insurance money to pay both for the operation and the reinvestment. Simpkin protests, but reluctantly goes along with the plan, which is successful. As Edward moves into adolescence, Boult develops into a prosperous, titled financier who is capable of buying the mortgage of the prep school that threatens to expel Edward for his reckless behavior. A few years later, Evelyn meets with Larry to express her concern that Edward, although still young, drinks heavily and has very little sense of morality. Larry, out of love for Evelyn, advises Boult to curb Edward, but Boult scoffs at the suggestion. When Boult's old partner, Simpkin, who has again finished serving time for financial fraud, comes to Boult to plead for a job, Boult remains evasive. Despondent, Simpkin throws himself from the top of Boult's office building. Boult's secretary, Eileen Perrin, provides a cover story downplaying Boult's connection with Simpkin during the subsequent police inquiry. Shortly thereafter, Eileen and Boult become lovers. A year later during a rendezvous at Eileen's flat, the couple realize they are being watched. They invite the observer into the flat to discover he is a detective for Evelyn's attorney. Boult, outraged at Evelyn's audacity, hastily breaks up with Eileen, to avoid any further cause for a possible divorce action. Evelyn, in Switzerland with Edward, is startled when Boult abruptly arrives and challenges her. When she declares she wants Boult ruined publicly so Edward can fully understand his father's true character, Boult counters that he knows that Larry is in love with her and that he would create a scandal that would ruin Larry. Evelyn gives in to this threat and as the years pass, sinks into bitterness and drinks for consolation. Some time later, Boult invites Larry to his office, where Larry finds out from the new secretary that Eileen killed herself after Boult's breakup with her. Boult offhandly admits to Larry that Edward's drinking has increased steadily and that although his son has deteriorated, he nevertheless has gotten engaged to Phyllis Mayden, who is from a socially prominent family. Boult then introduces Larry to another young woman, Betty Foxley, who has also been seeing Edward and is pregnant and believes Edward will marry her. Larry refuses to take Boult's thinnly veiled suggestion that he provide Betty with an abortion and instead offers her assistance after she declines Boult's offer of money. A few years later during World War II, Larry visits the Boults to console them about the accidental death of Edward, who, as an RAF pilot, crashed his plane while stunting, killing the entire crew. After the war Boult, who became a widower soon after Edward's death, calls upon Larry seeking the whereabouts of Betty and her child, but Larry refuses to tell him. Boult, again addressing the audience, asks if they would have done any differently for their child and, despite the fact he has spent the last ten years jailed for burning down his business, he is determined to do whatever necessary to find Edward's child.