“What’s going on there! Step away from her if you please!”
The four young men, startled to hear a gruff male voice behind them, turned away from Catherine sprawled out on the grass. They saw a well-built man dressed in grooms livery and holding a horse whip standing a few yards away. For a minute they were unsure what to do. They figured they could have taken him out and denied whatever report he may make to the lord of the manor but his size and the cold flinty look in his eyes dissuaded them. Catherine sprang up and ran towards him. She knew him well; he was one of her father’s groomsmen. How he had managed to materialize here at this moment she did not pause to wonder, she was too grateful to see him.
“It’s alright miss” He soothed her as she fell sobbing against him, he didn’t take his eyes off the four young men that stared at him for one minute.
“Galahad!” he shouted over his shoulder. “Galahad!” he shouted even louder. A horse cantered into view on the wide path and stopped next to him. He helped Catherine up into the saddle before getting up himself behind her, he never once took his eyes off the four young men, alert and ready for any trouble. He turned the horse in the direction of Middleton Manor and rode off with Catherine who continued sobbing in his arms. The young men stood speechless and thwarted watching him ride off.
When they rode up to her father’s stable’s the grooms man set Catherine down gently. He didn’t ask her what had happened or how come she was alone in the woods with four men. He just let her cry against his shoulder for a long time while he held her with all the gentleness he would have for his own daughter. He had known about her notes and poems to the lad had frequently found them and read them before returning them to their hiding place.
He had also investigated who the young man was and found out that he was the son of the Keymer man that had been killed many years ago during a hazing by Ditchling and Westmeston boys. He had instinctively known that no good would come of the dalliance but had kept his tongue. He had five daughters of his own and knew that once they thought themselves in love, words of caution and wisdom had little effect. But he had kept an eye out for the young mistress.
Once or twice when the young lovers had thought themselves alone in the barn he had stepped on and snapped a twig or rustled around outside to alert them that they were not alone or safe from discovery before anything more than a kiss could happen. He had brought the mistress to the Plumpton place ball with the horse and buggy but when he was instructed to pick her leave her and pick her up later he had gone home and rode back on his horse to keep a discreet eye out for her.
He had seen her walk out into the gardens and from there to the woods and he had seen the young men follow her lover shortly thereafter. He had armed himself with the only thing he could find, a horse whip, said a prayer and gone in on foot after her. He hadn’t expected to find her so vulnerable and for a moment or two he had doubted that he could take her away safely, still he wasn’t about to leave her there.
Eventually Catherine stopped crying and the groom snuck her into the manor through the kitchen so her mother and father would not see her tear stained face and her grass stained clothes and ask questions. If the cook and house keeper noticed they didn’t say anything. Catherine went up to her room and stayed there the rest of the day, crying and praying. At dinner time when her mother came to enquire why she hadn’t come down for dinner Catherine pretended to be ill. She certainly looked it, her skin pale and her eyes swollen from all the weeping.
The next day was Sunday and the whole family went to church. Catherine couldn’t excuse herself from church but she refused breakfast and wore a drab dress and bowed her head down low throughout the day. She couldn’t look the groomsman in the face as he walked with them to church and she couldn’t smile or look her parents. She had shamed them with her behaviour she knew.
She knew that well brought up young women did not contrive to be alone with young male suitors. That was enough of a scandal but to have been corned by four men in the woods was beyond excuse, nothing she could possibly say could redeem her honour. If word got out about what happened her reputation would be completely ruined. Her mother wouldn’t be invited for tea with the fashionable dowagers. Her father would have to bear the disgrace among his peers.
She blamed herself for her attack. She blamed her lust for making her succumb to the attentions of a beautiful but wicked man. She felt evil, tainted, trapped and sinful. Listening to the vicar’s eloquent sermon that beautiful Sunday morning she realized that the only way to freedom from lustful and carnal desires was through service to Christ and so she resolved to redeem her soul by giving her life to Christ.
If anyone noticed that the young gay thing she had been, had suddenly became a devout Christian going to morning mass and shunning the seasons parties and social events in the county they didn’t say anything to her. She became withdrawn, quite, thoughtful and melancholy. Her mother commented about it to a neighbour who came round for tea once and her father questioned her mother why she did not go out any more. Otherwise they said nothing and watched their daughter anxiously.
They had expected her attract a good suitor and marry well but she had refused to see any of the young men that came calling for her. Her sudden withdrawal from the social scene further reduced the number of suitors that she met but they could not argue with her sudden religious devotion. When she announced at the end of the summer that she wanted to teach at the local school house they expressed some reservations but loved her too much to forbid her or insist that she marry a suitable husband instead.
Her piety was great indeed and she came to have the aspect of a ghost floating around the house in her drab dresses clutching a prayer book or a school book. At the end of the school year she went to Lewes for a teacher’s course and she met Mr Cutsell, a student at the local theological institute. He wasn’t exciting to look at but he had a calm soothing manner, kind eyes and called respectfully on her at the boarding house where she stayed. He was a vicar’s son and not of her class but she looked forward to his company.
They talked about faith, discussed the books they read and what they might do in the future after school. Catherine had read The Life of David Brainerd and it had set her mind on the condition of the heathen people’s around the world. George himself was drawn to missionary work after reading Dr. Buchanan’s Star in the East. They spoke of their common desire to give their lives away to Christ. They married the day before her 21st birthday and set sail for their first missionary assignment in West Africa the very next day.