It is Ireland, 1816. Twenty year old John Melmoth visits his uncle's death bed in the Wicklow Mountains. He learns of his ancestor, Melmoth the Wanderer, who has roamed the earth for 200 years as part of a pact he made with the Devil. An ancient manuscript reveals how the Wanderer tormented an Englishman called Stanton and drove him to suicide. Further stories concerning the Wanderer are provided by a Spaniard who John rescues from drowning. Now, in 1816, The Wanderer's time has run out and he needs someone to take over the pact so that his soul may be saved from eternal damnation. John, now dying of consumption, does not want his newborn son to be fatherless and takes over the Wanderer's contract with the devil.