Shell Bluff, a renovated mansion somewhere south of Savannah, had been the home of the Warren family since 1898. St. Julien Warren, timber merchant and Susan, daughter of the Boston shipping Winthrops, intended it to become the ancestral home of a Warren dynasty. Their son, Winthrop Warren, near manhood, handsome and accomplished, and four daughters destined to be Southern beauties seemed a secure foundation But the House of Warren was not to be. St. Julien became a victim of the 1918 influenza plague and, in 1920, the sudden inexplicable death of his widow put the orphaned children in the care of their Aunt Claudia. The mischief was set to begin. The Warren fortune was substantial and the terms of its inheritance were unusual; it could only pass to the oldest male child of one of the orphans. Perhaps Aunt Claudia was tempted to advance her own cause in the matter. Perhaps others with real or perceived interests were drawn into the ensuing turmoil of arson, embezzlement and seduction.
The legal machinery of the time was put to an exacting test. It might have done better. Or perhaps, in retrospect, it could have done worse.