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In Venice in 1866 as war threatens to erupt between Austria and Italy, the Countess Livia Serpieri is present when her patriot cousin, Marquis Roberto Ussoni, has a bitter exchange of words with a young Austrian lieutenant, Franz Mahler, because of the latter's disparaging remarks about the Italians. When Ussoni is subsequently arrested and sent into exile, Franz vows to Livia that he had nothing whatsoever to do with the charges. Although skeptical at first, Livia is so taken by the young officer's charm that she accepts his explanation. Despite her awareness that war is imminent, she suppresses her loyalty to both husband and country and becomes Franz's mistress. Ussoni secretly returns to the city and consigns to Livia a large sum of money for the Venetian patriot rebels. Despite her determination to end her affair with Franz, Livia once more succumbs to his charm and gives him the money intended for the rebels so that he can bribe his way out of military service. After he has left, war is declared, and Livia decides to join Franz in Verona; but bitter reality awaits her. Franz has taken another mistress, and when Livia finds him he is drunk and disillusioned, conscious of his baseness as a man and cowardice as a soldier. With brutal frankness, Franz admits to Livia that he only wanted her money and that he was responsible for Ussoni's arrest. For revenge, Livia impulsively delivers a letter to the Austrian command in which she exposes Franz as a deserter. Victimized by her own vengeance, Livia lapses into insanity, and after Franz has been executed by a firing squad, she runs through the streets calling his name.