The story centers on the redemption of its lead female character. Tom Ransome is an artist who leads a rather dissolute if socially active life in the town of Ranchipur. His routine is shattered with the arrival of his former lover, Lady Edwina Esketh who has since married the elderly Lord Esketh. Lady Edwina first sets out to seduce, then gradually falls in love with, the Indian surgeon Major Rama Safti who represents the "new India."
Ranchipur is devastated by an earthquake and flood, followed by an epidemic. Lord Esketh dies and Lady Esketh renounces her hedonistic life in favor of helping the sick alongside Major Safti. Unfortunately, she becomes infected and dies, making it possible for Safti to become the ruler of a kingdom that he will presumably reform. In the course of the story, a missionary's daughter, Fern, and Ransome also fall in love.