April, 1982. Ninety year old Nell Golightly receives a surprising letter from Tahiti. A 67 year old woman would like to know something of her father, whom she never met. Somehow her letter finds its way to Nell, who worked as a maid, many years ago, at the Orchard House in Grantchester where the lady's father lived for a time. The man she is inquiring about is the English poet, Rupert Brooke.
This letter forms the basis for Nell's story. Beginning in 1909, she relates her life as a young woman working to support her brothers & sisters after their parents have died, and her meeting and infatuation with the young Cambridge student who comes to live at the Orchard. Rupert Brooke (his picture is above, beautiful isn't he?) is charismatic, charming, talented, even slightly wicked. Nell watches his interactions with women (and men) and despite both she finds herself romantically captivated and intellectually challenged by this fascinating man:
"Here we stop...and I acknowledge to myself the one hard fact that, despite my nature, it has taken me so long to face. There is no request Rupert could make of me that I would refuse. Whatever the pledge between me and God, this is the truth."
As a counterpoint to Nell's story, we get Rupert's own, told from his perspective in alternating sequences. Here it is revealed how much of his outer persona is a sham. He is terribly unsure of himself, sexually inexperienced, not confident of himself as a lover or a writer. He longs for peace, time to think and be alone with his thoughts, though he is constantly and almost randomly infatuated with different people.
"...There are only two ways of approaching relationships. One is only to allow love on the supposition that it may lead to marriage-the other is- the wandering way. And there are people made for the first way and perhaps people made for the second. But to introduce those made for the first to people made for the second is to invite pain and endless trouble....I'm a wanderer."
~Rupert Brooke, in a letter to Phyllis Gardner, 1913
The impetus to escape leads him to the Orchard House and eventually to Tahiti, where some of his best poems were written.
~The Soldier~ Rupert Brooke
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.