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Pestilence follows the troops of Greece home from the Balkan Wars. Watching helplessly as his men are ravaged by the plague is General Ferides, who is known as the "watchdog" because of his zeal for guarding his country and its laws. Deciding to visit his wife's grave on a nearby island, the general invites journalist Oliver Davis to join him, but when they arrive at the crypt, they find it empty. Drawn by the sound of distant singing, the two men follow the tune to the house of Albrecht, a Swiss archaelogist. After explaining that the coffins were despoiled by peasants seeking antiquities, Albrecht introduces the men to Kyra, his housekeeper, and his guests: St. Aubyn, the British counsel; Mrs. St. Aubyn, the counsel's invalid wife; Thea, Mrs. St. Aubyn's companion; and Avery Robbins, a homesick British tin salesman. After Robbins, unsteady from illness, excuses himself, Thea denounces the general for his cruelty to the Greek people and refuses to pour him a glass of wine. Despite Thea's denunciation, the general and Oliver accept Albrecht's invitation to spend the night. Later that evening, Thea hears her mistress moaning and goes to fetch her medicine. In the hallway, she meets the general and upbraids him for killing his countrymen for failing to pay their taxes. The next morning, Robbins is found dead, and the general, suspecting plague, sends for Dr. Drossos. Arriving from the mainland, the doctor confirms the general's diagnosis and quarantines the island. The doctor's conclusion is disputed by Kyra, who claims that Robbins' death was caused by a "varvoloka," or evil spirit, among them. Her accusation that Thea is a varvoloka is scoffed at by the doctor, who asserts that the plague is carried by fleas and will be driven away when the South wind begins to blow. When St. Aubyn becomes the next victim, Mrs. St. Aubyn insists that her husband is still alive, but later apologizes, explaining that she has fears of premature burial because she suffers from death-like trances. After the doctor is felled, Kyra insists that the disease is a contagion of the soul, a result of Thea's evil spirit haunting the island as she sleeps. Desperate to stop the march of death, the general, who is susceptible to the ancient superstition regarding the varvoloka, tries to prevent a meeting between Thea and Oliver. After Mrs. St. Aubyn reassures Thea of her inherent goodness, however, she defies the general's orders and joins Oliver. Their embrace is interrupted by the general, who vows to destroy Thea if she is the varvoloka. The general's threat prompts Oliver to decide to take Thea off the island, but the next morning, they discover that their boat has been destroyed. After Mrs. St. Aubyn denounces the general for destroying the vessel, she collapses into a trance. That night, as Thea sits by her mistress' bedside, Kyra taunts her, calling her a varvoloka. The next morning, the general breaks down the door to Mrs. St. Aubyn's room and finds her lifeless body. Unaware that she is in a trance, they entomb her alive. Soon after, the South wind begins to blow, but it is too late for the general, for he has contracted the plague. That night, as Mrs. St. Aubyn struggles to free herself from the grave, Thea sits vigil at the general's bedside, listening in terror to the sounds of a creaking coffin. To shield Thea from the general's delirious accusations, Oliver sends her outside, and there she sees the figure of a woman wandering in the night. Entering the house, the woman, Mrs. St. Aubyn, who has been driven insane by her entombment, takes a fishing spear from Albrecht's desk and thrusts it into Kyra's body. Hearing noises, the general drags himself from his bed and discovers Kyra's dead body. Pursued by Oliver and Albrecht, Mrs. St. Aubyn flees the house and plunges to her death in the sea. Afterward, the general, still believing that Thea is an evil spirit, collapses in Albrecht's arms, ranting that the varvoloka must be destroyed. With the threat of plague ended, Oliver and Thea leave the island and return to the mainland.