On Jan.6, 1855, on his 30th birthday, Count Mikhail Diebitsch-Zabalkansky is critically wounded by Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaievich and, in self defense, cuts off the grand duke’s right hand.
Now forced to flee Vladivostok, assisted by his uncle, Mikhail boards a Chinese slave ship bound for San Francisco where a Chinese doctor, Chiang Po, and his teenage daughter, Chiang SuLin, treat his wounds and nurse him back to health.
The Yankee clipper reaches San Francisco’s Barbary Coast late at night. Chiang SuLin and Chiang Po, both free, depart for Weaverville and Mikhail is alone.
He ventures onto Pacific Street Wharf, gets mugged and divested of his money, and finds refuge at Tommy Chandler’s Boardinghouse. Under San Francisco law, sailors are allowed to build credit to a point where their debt can be sold to sea captains and the sailors are returned to the sea. When Mikhail refuses to be bonded over, Tommy Chandler, self professed middleweight champion of America, knocks Mikhail into a stair landing, thinks him dead and dumps his body into the briny slime under the wharf.
Chiang Po and Chiang SuLin arrive in Weaverville and find that their relative has been shot over a game of cards and his mining claim seized for unpaid debt. Their only hope is that Chiang Po’s medical skills can provide a living.
Partially eaten by crabs and near death, Mikhail finds his way to the White Chapel Saloon, a boardinghouse owned by the benevolent Widow Molly O’Brian.
While nursing him back to health, Molly and her two helpers, Sally Portman and Martha Scott, weary of the count’s rude and demanding manner. Overhearing their complaints and realizing their truthfulness changes Mikhail’s attitude. While continuing his recovery, he finds ways to help Molly and her business.
Chiang Po and Chiang SuLin are growing in the Chinese community of Weaverville, helping sick Chinese and Wanda Bray, a white woman. When Sheriff Randy Bartow learns that a Chinese doctor is helping Wanda Bray, he seizes Chiang Po’s medical supplies and threatens his life. What he is really after is Po’s pretty Chinese daughter, SuLin.
Chiang SuLin writes a letter to Mikhail, telling of how this sheriff and his deputies pressure Chinese families to sell their daughters into slavery and how the sheriff then forces them into prostitution.
Molly O’Brian has faith in Mikhail’s future and gives him her dead husband’s lifetime membership to the Olympic Club where San Francisco’s wealthy meet to exercise and discuss business. Mikhail becomes friends and exercises with William Tell Coleman, shipping magnate, Abe Warner, owner of the Palace, a restaurant on Meigg’s Wharf, John Downey, California legislator, and James King of William, editor of the Daily Evening Bulletin.
Mikhail gets in shape, works out with Raul, a tough Portuguese sailor, and goes to work at the Palace with Abe Warner. He reads SuLin’s letter.
Sheriff Randy Bartow forbids Chiang Po to practice medicine without a license but offers to issue the license in exchange for SuLin’s seven year servitude as his slave. She writes another letter to her count.
When James King of William is shot down in front of his now good friend Mikhail, Colonel Coleman forms San Francisco’s second Committee of Vigilance. The vigilantes seize the jail, take James King’s murderer and the killer of U.S. Marshal Richardson, try them and hang them.
The wake of James King of William is interrupted by the Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaievich and his henchmen. When the grand duke shoots at Mikhail and misses, three others in attendance shoot and kill the grand duke.
Mikhail and Molly realize they are in love and spend the night together.
Mikhail takes SuLin’s second letter to a California Supreme Court Justice, is deputized and goes to Weaverville to investigate.
In Weaverville, Bartow’s deputies start a fire that destroys much of the Chinese community and try to kill Mikhail. Mikhail prevails in this struggle and kills Sheriff Randy Bartow.
When Mikhail returns to San Francisco, the grand duke’s henchmen are waiting. For fear of the czar, they cannot return to Russia. They will form an investment group with Mikhail.
Mikhail will return.