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In July 1900, twelve-year-old Leo Colston accompanies schoolmate Marcus Maudsley home for the summer holiday to Brandham Hall, the Maudsleys' estate in Norfolk, England. The aristocratic Maudsleys are cordial, though somewhat distant to Leo, who is the son of a respectable but impoverished widow. Leo is fascinated by the huge estate and family, but especially Marcus' beautiful older sister Marian, who makes a fuss over him. When the summer heat makes Leo's woolen suit unbearable, Marian suggests that she buy him a new suit for his upcoming thirteenth birthday. The pair enjoy their outing in Norwich, then separate briefly, enabling Marcus to explore. Just before they meet in the town square, Marcus sees Marian talking with a man. Later, when Mrs. Maudsley casually asks if they were together the entire time, Marian lies that they were, and Leo concurs. Because a case of measles has confined Marcus to his room, Leo accompanies the family to church, where Hugh Trimingham, a kind young viscount who has a badly scarred cheek, chats with him and playfully asks him to be his "Mercury" and deliver a message to Marian. The next day, while Leo explores the grounds of the estate, he comes upon the farm of Ted Burgess, whom he had seen earlier swimming in the river. When Leo hurts his knee sliding down a haystack, Ted cleans the cut and, after questioning the boy about the Maudsleys, asks him to deliver a letter to Marian, telling him that it must be given to her in secret. Later, when Marian bandages his wound, Leo gives her the note, and is puzzled when she furtively places it in her sleeve, imploring him not to tell anyone. Soon Leo becomes Marian and Ted's "postman," as they call him, happily delivering notes between Ted and Marian, whom he has come to idolize. A few days later, when Hugh asks Leo to find Marian, the boy goes into the woods and sees Marian emerge from some bushes. She initially snaps at Leo, but then softens when he says that he has been sent by Hugh to find her. As the days pass, Leo continues to be a postman for Ted and Marian, basking in his role as their go-between and confidant. One afternoon, when Leo is waiting for Marian to finish a note for Ted, Hugh enters her sitting room, forcing her to hurriedly slip the note to Leo without sealing it. On the way to deliver the note, Leo reads it and, realizing that it is not an exchange between secret friends, but actually a love note, he starts to cry and becomes angry. When he delivers the note to Ted, Leo says that he can no longer act as their postman because he will be spending his time with Marcus, who is now well. Sensing the boy's feelings for Marian, Ted tells Leo that Marian likes him and suggests that she will cry and be unhappy if she cannot depend on him to deliver her letters. Leo then scoffs that Ted and Marian's relationship is about "the kissing thing," and wants to know what the rest, which he calls "spooning," is. Although annoyed, Ted says that he will tell Leo, but only if he continues to be the postman. Some days later, at a village cricket match, Leo becomes the star player when he catches a ball hit by Ted, who is the best player in the village. At a banquet that evening, when Ted is coaxed into singing a song, Marian plays the piano for him, arousing her mother's curiosity over her nervousness. On the way home, Marcus tells Leo a secret, that Marian is engaged to Hugh. The next day, when Marian asks Leo to deliver another note, he refuses, saying it is because of Hugh. She then lashes out at him, accusing him of ingratitude, and asking if he wants to be paid for his service. Although hurt, Leo takes the note and goes to Ted, who refuses to tell Leo about spooning. Leo then writes a letter to his mother asking to return home sooner than planned. Later, Leo goes to Hugh and questions him about a story he has read in which two men duel over a woman, and Hugh tells him that the woman is never at fault. Leo then asks Hugh what he thinks of Ted. Hugh calls Ted a decent man, but wild and "a bit of a lady-killer," which later is confirmed by Mr. Maudsley. The next day, Leo goes to Ted again, and Ted apologizes for his earlier behavior, promising to tell him what he wants to know, but Leo declines, saying that he will soon be leaving. When they shake hands, Leo offers to take one last message to Marian, and Ted asks him to tell her "Friday at half past five, same as usual." When Leo delivers the message to Marian, he asks her why she must marry Hugh, prompting her to cry and embrace him, saying she cannot explain. After Leo receives a response from his mother stating that it would be rude to the Maudsleys to leave early, he goes into the garden and gathers belladonna to make a magic potion. While Marian is in London buying a dress for her engagement party, Marcus reveals to Leo that she is also buying him a bicycle for his birthday. On the morning of his birthday, Mrs. Maudsley tells Leo that they will have his cake at seven that night. He and Marian then go for a walk, and she asks him to deliver another message. As they playfully chase each other in the garden, her mother approaches and, seeing the note, asks what it is. Marian then says that it is a note for Nanny Robson, who is retired and lives nearby, to tell her that she will visit in the afternoon. Mrs. Maudsley is suspicious, and insists that Leo walk with her in the gardens, but Leo, who is fearful of her manner and questioning, says that he has dropped the note when she asks to see it. That evening, as the time for Leo's cake approaches, Marian has not returned. Because the weather has turned stormy, Mr. Maudsley suggests that the bad weather has kept her from walking home and sends the family's carriage for her. When the carriage returns empty, Mrs. Maudsley is told that Marian never visited Nanny Robson at all that day. Mrs. Maudsley now bitterly says that Leo knows where Marian is and grabs the boy's hand, then pulls him from the dining room, past the gardens and through to the estate's outbuildings. Inside one of the outbuildings, they interrupt Ted and Marian making love, stunning the young Leo. Decades later, the now middle-aged Leo returns to Norfolk after being summoned by Marian, who married Hugh and became Lady Trimingham after Ted's suicide. Although Hugh remained loyal to Marian, she became ostracized from her family because she bore Ted's child. Now an elderly woman, Marian only remembers her love affair as beautiful and happy and asks Leo, who, in her words, witnessed their happiness, to be her postman one final time and deliver a message to her estranged grandson. Although admonishing Leo for never marrying and being "dried up inside," Marian asks him to tell her grandson that he should be proud to be descended from such a beautiful love. Leo then leaves on his final errand as a go-between.