In October, a band of Anglo-Catholic nuns from the Order of the Servants of Mary set out by pony from Darjeeling for the rural highlands of India. There, they intend to found a school and clinic for women and children at Mopu Palace, which rests on land claimed by the British under colonial rule. By offering the palace rent-free, wealthy Indian general Toda Rai hopes to atone for the excesses of his late father, an impetuous ruler who kept courtesans on the remote estate. Clodagh, the youngest sister superior in the order, heads the mission. Father Roberts and the Reverend Mother Dorothea advise her by letter.
Upon arrival, the nuns suffer altitude sickness, the chill of the incessant wind, and skepticism from those on whom they must depend. Mr. Dean, the English emissary who delivers supplies, servants, and advice, cautions that Mopu is no place for a nunnery, and he predicts that the nuns will take their leave by the next rainy season. Longtime Mopu caretaker Angu Ayah expects failure, too; earlier, the brothers of St. Peter abruptly abandoned their own St. Saviour’s School at the palace.
Anxious for success, General Toda Rai pays otherwise indifferent villagers to attend the convent school and hospital before the nuns have unpacked. Mr. Dean foists Kanchi, a voluptuous orphan, into convent care. Later, Dilip Rai, the general’s bejeweled nephew who is aiming to secure an English education at Cambridge University, requests lessons at the convent school. The nuns quickly assume their designated roles in the classrooms, dispensary, garden, kitchen, and chapel of the newly named Convent of St. Faith. Sister Ruth, however, resents being assigned minor duties.
By Christmas, the nuns, students, household workers, and an intoxicated Mr. Dean—by then, the object of Sister Ruth’s untoward affections, although he...
(The entire section is 755 words.)