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In 1895, ten years after the fall of Khartoum and the slaughter of General Charles George Gordon and his men by the Dervishes, the British army returns to reconquer the Sudan. Among the officers assigned to join Sir Horatio Herbert Kitchener, the commander of the Anglo-Egyptian forces, is Harry Faversham, a sensitive lad who rebels at the bloodshed and army life being forced upon him by his family legacy. He resigns and is branded a coward by his fiancée, Ethne Burroughs, and by his fellow officers, John Durrance, Thomas Willoughby and Peter Burroughs. As the regiment debarks, Harry receives a package with three white feathers, a traditional symbol for cowardice, attached to the calling cards of his fellow officers. He plucks one himself from Ethne's fan, knowing that she feels the same way. Realizing that he has ruined his own life and brought disgrace upon those close to him, Harry makes up his mind to atone. Disguised as a Sengali, Harry makes his way up the Nile to Durrance's encampment. There, he finds the troops slaughtered and Durrance, the sole survivor, blinded by sun exposure. Harry wordlessly rafts down the Nile with the helpless Durrance and deposits him, along with a white feather, at another encampment. Permanently blinded, Durrance returns to England and to Ethne, who discovers the feather. In disguise, Harry continues his journey to Omdurman, where Willoughby and Burroughs are held prisoner by the ruling Mahdi. While attempting to free his friends, Harry is captured as a spy, but after he is thrown in jail he rallies the prisoners to overthrow their chains and captors. Meanwhile, the Mahdi flings his entire force against the British in the desert plains, and as the Dervishes flee the British in defeat, Harry and the prisoners seize command of the arsenal and turn fire on the Mahdi's men. Hailed as a hero, Harry returns to England and Ethne, and returns the three last feathers in triumph.