Bethia Mayfield, growing up in a tiny settlement amid pioneers and Puritans, is restless and curious, yearning for an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. When she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, the two forge a secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe's shaman. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite, closely observed by Bethia.