Character Development – Mrs. Catherine Lois Cutsell nee Warren (1864-1924)

 

She was the daughter of the Honourable Algernon William Warren of Middleton Manor in Westmeston, near Ditchling in Sussex and his wife Cecil and the wife of the Reverent George Cutsell. She was a special kind of woman. She was the kind of woman that leaves kith and kin and everything familiar to go far away to preach to the heathen of the world. She gave up everything in her desire to redeem her soul for Christ.

Once upon a time she had been a carefree rather superficial young woman that loved garden parties and dancing. The suitors were many for she was a pretty lass, her hair a inky black, her skin a milky white, her eyes a verdant green and her lips a rosy red. Her gay laugh and the twinkle in her eye gave her the animation of a pretty puppet.

Then one day she fell in love. She was from Ditchling and he was from Keymer, the neighbouring village.  We can’t help who we fall in love with, right? They met one day at the East Sussex Annual Cricket Tournament held at Streat Place. He was tall, blond and had the chiselled good looks that come from centuries of pedigree and good breeding.  He looked at her with his penetrating blue gaze across the cricket green and her heart melted.

They met several times after that while riding along the many public bridle ways but she was always accompanied as was appropriate for a young woman of her class. Once or twice they even managed to slip away together and meet  in the abandoned barn behind her home Middleton Manor where he would take her in his arms and bring bright spots of colour to her cheeks with the ardour of his kisses.

When she was alone she constantly thought of him, she counted off the days till she would see him again, she wrote him silly little love notes and poems that she left for him in a hollow tree  along Wapple Way in the Sedlow Wood and there she would anxiously search for his replies. She wrote breathlessly of her desire and passion, he replied extolling her beauty.

He could not call on her at Middleton Manor. Her father was the lord of Westmeston  but Ditchling and Keymer had a feud that had been going on for decades maybe even centuries and  the lord of Middleton Manor had supported his closest neighbour.  No one could remember what the feud was about any more but that didn’t stop them from remembering the feud.

Boys and girls from Ditchling did not fall in love and if they did the boy was sure to get a hazing from the other village and a dunking in the local pond. It was even rumoured that a boy had died of a heart attack once while being held under the frigid waters during a particularly cold February. So Catherine dared not let her love for him be known but prayed with all the fervour and innocence of youth that they would find a way to be together.

In the late summer Catherine attended an afternoon ball at Plumpton Place. He was there with the young men from Keymer and other surrounding villages. The boys stood on one side of the ball room of the old manor and the girls on the other. He huddled with three other young men. By their dress she could tell that they were not from the villages but probably from Brighton or maybe even London.

Her love and his friends huddled together, whispering among themselves and occasionally looking in her direction. She smiled demurely behind her fan and dropped her gaze every time her eyes met his. Her dance card was full but she could not be seen to dance with him. The young men from her village would be watching.  While they attended the same social events in neutral villages the segregation was total.

After a while Catherine slipped into the garden pretending she needed some fresh air, she hoped  he would notice and follow her. She walked out the French windows, through the formal gardens and through the orchard looking back discreetly to see if he was coming. She saw him at the French doors looking for her and when he waved to someone inside before following her.

He caught up with her at the little wooden bridge that crossed the lake just beyond the orchard into the wood beyond. Her heart beat swiftly as she took his arm and they walked along the path that ran through the little wood. She looked up into his eyes with a wide smile and joy in her face. He kissed her softly on the lips.

They hadn’t gone very far when she heard a twig snap not far behind them, startled she looked back. The three young men he had been with in the ballroom were walking toward them.  Modestly she tried to retrieve her arm from his but he held her firm. She looked up into his face and was puzzled to see it hard, the smile gone, and the eyes suddenly cold.

She looked back at the approaching company, they wore broad leering smiles.

‘So this is the country lass. How are you lass? Come give us a kiss then’ one of them said to her as he reached them and grabbed her by the elbow. She made to resist and protest to him but he pushed her towards his friends

‘Won’t you give my friends a kiss? Aren’t they good enough for you to kiss? Go on now, be a good girl.’

She stumbled backward with the shock of his words.

‘What?’

‘Give them a kiss like the ones you’ve been so generous to give me now’ he said cruelly.

‘She writes the nauseating little poems ‘ he said to his friends scornfully.

She stared at him aghast. Her hand did not seem to be her own as it connected with his cheek in a resounding slap that seemed to echo in the wood. She picked up her skirts to flee but one of the other young men grabbed her around the waist and pulled her back, she fell to the grass.

Thoughts raced through her mind, what was happening? How had her gentle blue eyed lover become this cold monster that stared down his nose at her and lifted not a finger to help her or protect her honor from his three foppish friends?  Was this the same man she had written sweet words of love for? Was this the man that she had imagined spending the rest of her life with?

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