This novel starts out0 with a bang as Ernest Maltravers, on a walking tour, becomes lost in the dark and arrives at a peasant's cottage. The surly cottage occupant isn't very helpful, even after he is offered money for directions. That is, until he sees Maltravers' nice watch. Our lost hero is then invited to eat and spend the night. Mine host is planning to murder the traveler as he sleeps to obtain the watch and money, then hide the body. The events of this night change Maltravers' life forever.