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On a beautiful day in the South Pacific, the inhabitants of the island of Manukura welcome Captain Nagle's arriving schooner. One of the passengers is Germaine, the wife of the island's governor, Eugene DeLaage, who is a strict believer in law and order. Also aboard is the first mate, Terangi, who is to marry Chief Mehevi's lovely daughter Marama that day. The DeLaages, Nagle and Dr. Kersaint attend the wedding, which is presided over by Father Paul. After a brief honeymoon with Marama on the nearby uninhabited island of Motu Tonga, Terangi returns to his ship as it sails for Tahiti. In Tahiti, Terangi and his friends go to a local bar, where an antagonistic white man provokes Terangi into fighting with him. After Terangi breaks the man's jaw, he is sentenced to six months in jail, despite Nagle's assertions that Terangi acted in self-defense. Nagle explains to the Tahitian governor that six months in jail to a Manukuran native is a death sentence, but the governor states that the injured man has powerful friends and Terangi therefore must serve his time. While he is working with a hard labor crew, Terangi sees the ship departing and tries to swim out to it. He is captured, however, and the escape attempt adds a year to his sentence. Despite the urgings of Nagle, Kersaint, Father Paul and Germaine, DeLaage refuses to help Terangi, saying that he must not undermine the law's authority. Marama, who is pregnant, takes the news badly and refuses to be comforted. As eight years pass, Terangi suffers many hardships and repeatedly tries to escape, until finally sixteen years have been added to his sentence. DeLaage coldly refuses to help Terangi and is severely reproached again by Germaine and the others. One day, Terangi attempts to hang himself, and when a guard interferes, Terangi succeeds in escaping, although he unintentionally kills the guard. In a grueling journey, Terangi travels the six hundred miles to Manukura in a canoe. He is picked up by Father Paul, who arranges for Terangi to meet Marama at Motu Tonga. There Terangi also meets his daughter Tita for the first time. Meanwhile, DeLaage has received news of Terangi's escape and angrily begins to search for him. Despite the growing winds, DeLaage commanders Nagle's schooner to carry out the search. Realizing that the winds are the beginnings of a hurricane, Terangi brings his family back to Manukura for safety. The island's inhabitants frantically seek protection, and while Kersaint delivers a baby in a boat, Father Paul and the faithful pray in the church. Soon the savage hurricane rips through the island and huge waves destroy the church. Terangi has tied Marama, Tita, Germaine and himself to a giant tree, but the violence of the storm uproots the tree and deposits it on a distant spit of land. The next morning, Kersaint and the inhabitants of his boat are among the few survivors, and a frantic DeLaage returns in the schooner, which weathered the storm out at sea. He sets off again in search of Germaine, and Terangi lights a signal fire to alert the schooner. As it approaches, Germaine urges him to escape before DeLaage sees him. The little family sets off in a canoe, and after DeLaage joyfully embraces his wife, he notices their footprints in the sand. He then sees the canoe, but Germaine insists that it is merely a floating log. Realizing that Terangi saved his wife, DeLaage agrees with her and lets Terangi and his family sail to a new life.