Love and Salt Water

by Ethel Davis Bryant
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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 496

Ellen ldquo;Gypsy” Cuppy is devastated by the death of her loving mother, on whom she has greatly depended. Her older sister, Nora, is married, and her father is mostly away from home, traveling in connection with an oil business. To console Ellen, her father takes her on a long freighter voyage, down the West Coast, through the Panama Canal, and to London.

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The voyage is momentous, first, because the sea, usually so calm and charming in Vancouver, becomes a raging monster in a storm; a boy member of the crew is swept overboard and lost, and several members of the crew and a few passengers are injured. Second, Ellen’s father meets a sympathetic woman on the ship whom he later marries. This further isolates Ellen. She, of necessity, becomes independent and somewhat selfish. At the outbreak of World War II, she joins the Canadian navy as a Wren.

Ethel Wilson passes rapidly over the war period. The novel takes up again with Ellen back in Vancouver, where she takes an office job and begins to date and then becomes engaged to Huw Peake, the stepbrother of Nora’s husband, Morgan, who has been a prisoner of war for three years. She soon realizes that Huw can be bad-tempered and morose. After a particularly unpleasant car trip into the interior of British Columbia in pouring rain, she breaks off the engagement, to the dismay of her family. To get away from them, she takes a job in Saskatoon as secretary to an elderly, rich, and miserly financier. There, she meets George Gordon, who comes to the city on business and with whom she later falls in love.

After the financier’s death, Ellen moves back again to Vancouver: Her nickname, Gypsy, is quite appropriate. Ellen and George plan a vacation together in British Columbia, but at the last minute George finds that he cannot leave Montreal, as his boss is sick. In place of that vacation, Ellen agrees to take her young nephew, Johnny, to the Gulf Islands while her sister takes a trip with her husband on Vancouver Island. This chain of circumstances results in a boating accident which is almost fatal for both Ellen and little Johnny. Ellen thoughtlessly rowed out in a dinghy with Johnny into Active Pass in search of seals, forgetting the danger that can result from a combination of a tide rip and a ferry wake. They are rescued at the last minute. Johnny fully recovers, but Ellen is deeply scarred on the face from being hit by the dinghy as it sinks.

She writes to George to explain the accident and to release him from any commitment to her. He insists on his devotion, so she asks him to make the trip to Vancouver to see her before she goes into plastic surgery. She meets him at the train station; he kisses the “seamed and puckered skin,” and “this was the beginning of their happy chequered life together.”

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