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In late 1940s Hong Kong, American Carol Carwin is spending a romantic afternoon with her lover, French diplomat Paul Duvelle, when she hears someone in the house. Fearing that her husband Walter, a reserved English doctor, has returned home and will discover her affair, she searches the house, but finds only Paul's briefcase, which he accidentally left in the living room. Later, however, the houseboy hands Carol several novels, which her husband left for her. That night over dinner Walter mentions the books with disdain, but does not directly mention the affair. At a private tearoom the next day, Carol tells Paul that Walter will never discuss the indiscretion but she is sure that he knows of it. Despite his being married with children, Paul assures her that he will stand by her regardless of Walter's reaction. Days later, Walter leaves his office early to tell Carol that he has volunteered to take over a doctor's practice at a cholera-ridden Chinese village and suggests that if she does not join him there, he will file for divorce and create a horrible scandal. Infuriated that she is being blackmailed into isolating herself in the countryside, Carol denounces their marriage. Walter reminds Carol that jealousy of her younger sister's marriage drove Carol to marry the first eligible bachelor and, although Walter deeply loved her, Carol only accepted his proposal in hopes of escaping her family by following him to Hong Kong. When Carol retorts that only Paul unlocked her real potential for love, Walter puts her relationship with Paul to the test. He agrees to divorce Carol quietly if Paul will divorce his wife and marry Carol within a week. Carol immediately visits Paul at his office to tell him the proposal, but Paul refuses to abandon his wife and children for her. Crushed, Carol concludes that all his previous devotion was only "sales talk" and then announces she will prevent the scandal by accompanying Walter to the distant village. Returning home, a defeated Carol finds that Walter, having anticipated Paul's rejection, has already ordered the servants to pack her bags. The next morning, the couple take a rickety boat to the village, where the suspicious Chinese elder orders the doctor to leave, but Chinese military, by order of the government, escort the doctor and his wife past dozens of corpses and open graves to their new home, the furnished house of Watson, a deceased missionary. While Walter makes his rounds, witty Englishman Tim Waddington, an old friend of Paul, introduces himself to Carol and suggestively compliments her while inviting himself to dinner. Over dinner, Tim is shocked when both Walter and Carol eat fresh salad. Knowing that the watery greens can easily spread cholera, Tim cynically asks if they have a suicide pact and warns the couple that, although Watson was inoculated, he died of the disease. Days later at the house, Tim tells a bored and restless Carol that her husband's tireless efforts inoculating the villagers have won him respect and mentions a wound Walter received when a scared parent attacked him. He then recounts Paul's various affairs with women and insinuates that Carol's ignorance of her husband's wound, their separate bedrooms and her childishly suicidal behavior prove that their marriage is a failure. Infuriated by the accusations, Carol orders Tim to leave, but then offers her hand in friendship to the one man who has seen through her selfishness. The next day, Tim escorts Carol on a walk through the village, where she discovers a dead man, his body racked with cholera, among the marketplace stands. Tim takes her to Walter's dispensary, telling her that although the locals believe Walter is a hero, Tim knows that the doctor is working himself to death to avoid his own pain. They then visit the convent, where the Mother Superior introduces Carol to the many orphans created by the epidemic. Shaken by the dead man and the vulnerable children, and humbled by the Mother Superior's lauding of her husband's work, Carol rushes home where she apologizes to Walter and offers him sandwiches "without lettuce" as a gesture of goodwill. Walter, however, cannot forgive her infidelity. Her apology only serves to release Walter's anger, which leads him to rape her. The next morning, seeking redemption for the wrongs against her husband and the hopelessness of their relationship, Carol asks to work at the convent, but Mother Superior suggests that she has no skills to offer them and only wants an escape. However, Walter soon intervenes and convinces Mother Superior to give Carol a job. Weeks later, Tim finds a content Carol bathing children at the convent and invites her to his home, an exquisitely kept mansion in the village. Carol is shocked when Tim's demure Chinese wife greets them at the door. Tim explains that regardless their cultural differences he is very much in love with her and despite his own infidelities, he has learned to return his wife's love and devotion over time. Weeks later, when Carol discovers she is pregnant, she is forced to tell Walter that the child could be either his or Paul's, but insists that she wants to stay with him. Later at the convent, Carol admits her infidelity to the Mother Superior, who advises her to find her own path and wait for her husband's forgiveness. Late one night, soldiers find Carol at home and urgently escort her to the hospital, where Walter lies emaciated from the ravages of cholera. As Carol begs him to forgive her, Walter weakly tells her "the dog it was that died" and then dies. Days later, upon hearing about Walter's last words, the Mother Superior suggests to a distraught Carol that her husband died in peace. She explains that Walter's final words come from the last lines of a poem by Oliver Goldsmith. She interprets the lines to mean: A dog bit his owner to hurt him. Instead of the man dying, the dog died of remorse for having harmed the man he loved. Days later, Carol leaves the village telling Tim that she likes herself now and wants to continue to find her own path. As Tim waves goodbye, he whistles the same approving catcall that he greeted her with when she arrived.