Serge Mouret, the younger son of Francois Mouret, is ordained to the priesthood and appointed Cure of Les Artaud, a squalid village in Provence, to whose degenerate inhabitants he ministers. He has inherited the family taint of the Rougon-Macquarts, which in him takes the form of a morbid religious enthusiasm bordering on hysteria. Brain fever follows, and bodily recovery leaves the priest an amnesiac. Dr. Pascal Rougon, his uncle, hoping to save his reason, removes him from his accustomed surroundings and leaves him at the Paradou, the neglected demesne of a ruined mansion-house near Les Artaud, where he is nursed by Albine, niece of the caretaker. The Abbe falls in love with Albine, and, oblivious of his vows, breaks them.