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Shortly before she is to marry, Therese Du Flos learns that her fiancé, Lieutenant Andre Verlaine of the French army, has been promoted to captain and assigned to a penal colony in remote Lao Bao, China. Although she longs to go with him, Therese agrees to stay in Paris until Andre's return, but after a year's separation, she changes her mind. Inspired by her father, Colonel Du Flos, who urges her never to forget her "prestige" as a white woman, Therese travels to Saigon, where she meets up with Captain Remy Bandoin, a longtime friend and admirer. From Saigon, Therese travels to the jungle interior of China and eventually arrives in the Lao Bao colony. To her horror, she finds Andre sick with fever and despair, and alone with his only friend, a black servant named Nham. After Andre recovers, he and Therese are married in a native ceremony, and Therese settles into a new life. Soon, however, both Andre and Therese succumb to the rigors of the penal colony, where tension between Andre and his native troops is intense. Therese, sensing that Andre is on the verge of a breakdown, writes to her father and begs him to engineer a transfer. In response, Remy shows up and tells Andre that Therese's petitions have angered the army hierarchy and that he is to stay at the colony indefinitely. Depressed, Andre gets drunk and insults both Therese and his guest. Although disappointed by Remy's news, Therese orders Andre to "carry his burden with his head up." A few days later, Therese, who has been propositioned by Remy, receives a letter from her father stating that the transfer has been approved. Andre, still filled with anger, refuses to read the letter, however, and, rebuking Therese for being a martyr, orders her to leave. As Therese prepares to go with Remy, she discovers that Nham has killed the Frenchman out of loyalty to Andre. At his trial, Nham refuses to defend himself, and Andre coldly sentences him to die. Before Nham's execution, however, the guards mutiny and release the prisoners. Confronted by dozens of rioting soldiers, one of whom kills Nham, Andre finally finds his courage and, enduring a gunshot wound, whips his men into submission. The battle won, Therese stands prouldy next to Andre, "head up, eyes front."