Based on Rumer Godden’s novel, three girls in India hope to have their first love with a neighbor who lost a leg.
A large English family lives by the Ganges River. Harriet (Patricia Walters) goes over the wall to give a letter to Captain John (Thomas E. Breen). Melanie (Radha) has also come home. They celebrate a festival in October with fireworks. Harriet is shy, but beautiful Valerie (Adrienne Corri) dances with Captain John. Harriet and Melanie watch them. Harriet tells Melanie that she wants to be loved.
Mother (Nora Swinburne) tells Harriet that she is not ugly. Father (Esmond Knight) has a business exporting jute. Captain John talks with his philosophical cousin Mr. John (Arthur Shields). Harriet follows Captain John in the bazaar. They meet in an abandoned house by the river. She takes him to her house and shows him her diary. He sees Valerie on a horse and goes to her.
On a swing Harriet tells Valerie that she can have Captain John. Harriet and Captain John fly a kite. Women come to a tree to pray. Melanie decorates an urn and talks with her father, Mr. John, who is married to an Indian. Harriet writes a poem for Captain John and tries to win him with tales. Harriet tells Captain John and Valerie of a child who grows into a beautiful girl. She sees a man she likes; but her father decides who she is to marry, and it is the same man. She dances as Radha for Krishna. Valerie grabs Harriet’s diary and reads it to Captain John, making Harriet angry.
Valerie and Captain John toss a toy, but he falls and hurts his leg. Mother tells Father that the girls are in love with Captain John. The housekeeper Nan (Suprova Mukerjee) suggests they take flowers to him. Harriet’s little brother plays a flute for a cobra in the woods. Captain John tells Melanie that he spoils everything. Melanie goes into the woods, but he is unable to follow her far. Valerie comes to Captain John with flowers, and he kisses her. Valerie cries and says she is both happy and sad. Harriet takes her flowers home, and her Mother consoles her by saying that she loves her Father.
The family sleeps in the afternoon. Kanu leads Harriet into the forest. She finds the flute and sees that her brother is dead. The girls watch the funeral procession. Mr. John philosophizes with Captain John about what we do to boys. At the dinner table Harriet gives the flute to her Mother. Nan complains, and Mother sobs. Harriet goes out in a boat alone, and Father realizes she is missing. Captain John tells Melanie that he lost his leg in a rebellion.
Captain John tells Harriet to begin again. She puts her head on his shoulder, and he embraces her. Everyone celebrates spring. Harriet, Valerie, and Melanie each get a letter and read them. They hear a baby being born, and Nan says it is a girl.
Narration explains Indian culture in this subtle drama of young women learning about early romance. Harriet realizes that Valerie is prettier, and Valerie is not sure she is happy getting what she wants. Melanie surely wonders what chance she has being half-Indian while Captain John must fear he will be rejected because of his leg.