On a summer morning in 1926, a young woman alights from a bus in a Cape Cod village and embarks on an odyssey she cant foresee. Chatham is a tiny seacoast town, boasting a main street with a few shops, a white-spired church, and Chatham School, an elite boys' academy dedicated to turning boisterous or insolent boys from good families into dutiful, moral young men. The school's new art teacher, Elizabeth Channing, has come from a world barely imaginable by the townspeople of Chatham to live in a small cottage beside Black Pond. She has spent her life traveling with her father, educated by him in the plazas of Madrid, along the canals of Venice, in the apartment overlooking Rome's Spanish Steps where John Keats died. Life must be seized, the passion of the artist must be served, morals are a restraint to the spirit - these are the lessons her father taught her. These are the lessons that will bring catastrophe to Elizabeth Channing, to the Chatham School headmaster's young son, and to Chatham itself.