Una, who shows promise for studying mathematics at university, has only two more years to prepare, having fallen behind because of all her moves between different schools with her diplomat father. Then, just as she’s feeling she will stay at Cerne, her father suddenly summons her and her sister Hal to India. They are to have a governess.
Una is sorely disappointed at this behavior that is so unlike Edward. Then she meets the governess, Alix, a beautiful Eurasian who orders around the servants and calls her father Edward. Soon she figures out that Alix is woefully uneducated. She does not know the difference between mathematics and arithmetic, and her idea of studying literature is to look at pictures of works cut from a magazine, not to read the works themselves. It becomes clear to Una that the girls are in India to hide from society that Edward and Alix are lovers.
Unbeknownst to anyone in the house, the second gardener, Ravi, is an ex-university student and poet on the run from the law after a demonstration. When he realizes Una is struggling to teach herself calculus, he offers help. He cannot help her, but his friend Hem can. So, Una begins sneaking out to meet Hem and Ravi.
This novel was another stunner from Godden. It overloads the senses with sights and smells as Alix tries to hide her past and Una strays from her goals.