As the postmaster's boat sails to take him back home to Calcutta and away from the village of Ulapur, he feels "a pain at heart" when he thinks of the orphan girl, Ratan, who he is leaving behind. He pictures her "grief-stricken face" and thinks that her face represents "the great unspoken pervading grief of Mother Earth herself." The postmaster thinks about going back to Ratan to take her home with him. He feels pity for Ratan, who he thinks of as a "lonesome waif, forsaken of the world." However, by the time he is through thinking these thoughts, the boat is already far out to sea, and the village and Ratan already far behind.
The postmaster, thinking no more of turning back for Ratan, begins to think more generally, and more philosophically, upon all of the "numberless meetings and partings going on in the world." These thoughts inevitably lead to thoughts about death, "the great parting, from which none returns." Meanwhile, back in Ulapur, Ratan has no such philosophical thoughts to comfort or distract her. She is inconsolable, "in a flood of tears," and nurtures a vain hope "in some corner of her heart" that the postmaster, her surrogate father, will one day return.