Laid in the Andes, this chronicles the effects of a vicious stranger's influence on an isolated, hidden mountain town, San Cobar. Werden, posing as an American, through his fluent stories and practiced dissimulation, overcomes the obstacles of legend and rumor to get a guide from his last stopping place, makes the perilous mountain trip successfully, and murders his companion. He proceeds to establish himself with the Padre, eventually with the people, But his fear, his arrogance, his choice of a mistress, pollute San Cobar's former innocence, create major discords throughout the village, and finally force the people to send him back. At the jumping off place, another stranger looking for the hideaway, is halted, arrested, while, Werden, lost on the down trail, realizes his dreams of a return to Germany, to power again, are over as he falls to his death. Individual as well as community disintegration through the poisonous seepage of distrust and fear in a well contrived mosaic.