Welcome to the Age of Elegance on the
Muskoka Lakes and in the fictional world of
The Summer Before The
Storm and Elusive Dawn.
My name is Victoria Wyndham, known to
close friends and family as Ria. I'd like to introduce you to some of them.
Well, perhaps a few words about me
Grandmother says I'm incorrigible and impulsive. Father
calls me "willful and thoughtless", as well as "utterly selfish, inconsiderate,
and disobedient". My mother died when I was born and he has never forgiven me
Prickly Aunt Phyllis has condemned me as a "brazen
troublemaker" and "undisciplined hoyden", but of course, she has never liked
me, nor I, her. Luckily, Aunt Olivia and Uncle Richard have always been
generous and loving, so that I feel very much a part of their large brood, and
particularly close to my twin cousins, Zoë and Max, who are my age. Max is
such a card, and Zoë is clever and wonderfully outspoken, even with
Grandmother. They're onboard for any adventures that I dream up.
Stuffy cousin Henry claims that I'm reckless and always
venture beyond the bounds of his imagination. His younger sister, Phoebe, is
surely more inclined to do that, since she is quite mad, and talks to her
sinister two-faced doll - who apparently replies. Their brother, Edgar, is
easily the most likeable of Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Albert's children, although
Grandmother thinks him too self-indulgent.
I should explain that we have a summer home on Wyndwood
Island on a pristine lake in Muskoka, about 100 miles north of Toronto, where
we live the rest of the year. We Wyndhams spend three or four months together
at the cottage every summer, which doesn't always make for harmonious
relationships. Especially after Jack arrived.
None of us knew, until this summer of 1914, that we had
more Wyndham cousins! Jack's father was disowned for marrying a "showgirl".
Jack is a charmer, and devilishly handsome - "divine," as Lydia Carrington
remarked. Grandmother admires him as well, although she doesn't trust him. She
thinks that because he grew up so poor, he will be ruthless, and use everyone
to get ahead. She would be scandalized if she knew how Jack and I first met. He
has three younger sisters, one whose remarkable voice has already impressed a
Broadway composer. The eldest, Lizzie, is a bit harder to like, although I
can't put my finger on why.
Cousin Bea - Lady Beatrice Kirkland - who is visiting us
from England this summer, is truly sympathetic, but she thinks that I have "the
unfortunate habit of running away when things get tough". She just doesn't
understand how soul shattering some "things" are!
Chas Thornton told me at a ball that I have "the most
stunning eyes. Like azure pools. A chap could drown in them." Chas is an
outrageous flirt! And tremendous fun. He enjoys life and radiates joy. His
family owns a neighbouring island, and his father is one of the richest men in
Canada. Our friend, Ellie, thinks he's "absolutely beautiful" and adores him,
even though she detests his lifestyle and lack of ambition.
Of course Ellie - Eleanor Carlyle - doesn't approve of
conspicuous wealth. A medical student, she is also something of a crusader,
with perhaps too much of a social conscience. She would populate our homes -
which she finds obscenely large - with unwed mothers and orphans. But I like
her down-to-earth honesty, and she is the staunchest of friends.
Her brother, Blake, is already a doctor, and very much
the love of Zoë's life, if only he would realize it!
Chas's younger brother, Rafe, is rather dissolute, and
he unsettles me with his rapacious attentions. He seems to be a frustrated boy
living in the shadow of his charismatic older brother. Perhaps his
aggressiveness is a reaction to Chas's gentility.
Justin Carrington, on the other hand, is the kindest and
most gentlemanly friend. I had a terrific pash for him when I was fifteen, and
now I fear that he has rather fallen for me. Grandmother is trying to encourage
our marriage, maintaining that "friendship and mutual respect are far better
than passion for building a good marriage." But she doesn't know where my heart
I have many more friends, whom you can meet if you read
The Muskoka Novels - The Summer Before The Storm and Elusive
And I fear for my dear friends, as several are going
off to war, Jack and Chas to become daring aviators. But we girls are not about
to be left behind! We are as patriotic and plucky as the men. Zoë intends
to become a VAD - a volunteer nurse. Ellie is almost finished her studies as a
doctor. And I fancy driving an ambulance. Vivian Carrington and I are going to
England aboard the Lusitania, the fastest and most elegant ship on the seas.
Vivian did her VAD training and is using this as an excuse to meet up with her
forbidden love, who's already overseas in the Veterinary Corps.
I do wonder why our generation is being so severely
tested. Have we been living in a fool's paradise?
As for Muskoka, it's our sanctuary. Once you visit our
island with its stately pines, sparkling granite, and distant vistas of craggy,
tufted islands floating on the cobalt blue lake, you might understand why my
soul hungers for it.