Choosing to lock up a sinful past doesn't mean that it will always stay put. As old lovers emerge and a new female minister joins Oakdale Baptist threatening to steal Denise's spotlight, there is more head-spinning drama surrounding her than can be found in the pages of a gossip magazine. Faced with some major decisions, Denise must decide whether to give up her old ways once and for all and be the woman that she's promised to be, or if she will go back to the life that she knows all too well.
With higher stakes on the line this time, will the price she has to pay be too expensive for even her fabulous pockets to handle? Holy Revenge gives you an inside look at a woman who has always played the game to her advantage but in turn might be the very one who gets played. The girl is tall and shapely, somewhat slight of figure, small-handed, small-footed; so that, were her cheek a little less rosy, her hands a little whiter, and her step a little less elastic, she might be a lady born.
It is just eighteen years to-day since that red blustering morning when her father, running into port with the biggest haul of fish on record that season in the little fishing village, found that the Holy Virgin, after giving him four strong sons had at last deposited in his marriage bed a maid-child, long prayed for, come at last; and the maid's face is still beautiful with the unthinking innocence of childhood.
Mark the pretty, almost petulant mouth, with the delicious underlip Woman she is, yet still a child; and surely the sun, that touches this moment nearly every maiden cheek in every village for a hundred miles along this stormy coast, shines upon no sweeter thing. Like Queen Bertha of old she bears in her hand a distaff, but not even a queen's dress, however fair, could suit her better than the severe yet picturesque garb of the Breton peasant girl--the modest white coif, the blue gown brightly bordered with red, the pretty apron enwrought with flowers in coloured thread, the neat bodice adorned with a rosary and medal of Our Lady; and finally, the curious sabots, or wooden shoes.
The girl puts down her distaff beside a pair of sabots and a broad felt hat which lie already on one of the blocks of stone; then, placing herself flat upon her face close to the very edge of the cliff, and clasping with one hand the rope which is suspended from the horn of rock close to her, she peers downward.
Half-way down the precipice a figure, conscious of her touch upon the rope, by which he is partially suspended, turns up to her a shining face, and smiles. She sees for a minute the form that hovers beneath her in mid-air, surrounded by a flying cloud of ocean birds--she marks the white beach far below her, and the red stains of the weedy pools above the tide, and the cream-white edge of the glassy moveless sea--she feels the sun shining, the rocks gleaming, for a little space;--then her head goes round, and she closes her eyes with a little cry.
A clear ringing laugh floats up to her and reassures her. She plucks up heart and gazes once again. What a depth! She turns dizzy anew as she looks into it, but presently the brain-wave passes away, and her head grows calm. She sees all now distinct and clear, but her eyes rest on one picture only! All these she sees for a moment as in a magician's glass; all these vanish, and leave one vision remaining--the agile and intrepid figure just under her, treading the perpendicular crags like any goat, swinging almost out into mid-air as from time to time he bears his weight upon the rope, and moving lightly hither and thither, with feet and hands alike busy, the latter hunting for sea-birds' eggs.
Thick as foam-flakes around his head float the little terns; past him, swift as cannon-balls, the puffins whizz from their burrows for the comic little sea-parrot bores the earth like a rabbit, before she lays her eggs in it like a bird , and sailing swiftly for a hundred yards, wheel, and come back, past the intruder's ears again, to their burrows once more; round and round, in a slow circle above his head, a great cormorant--of the black, not the green species--sails silently and perpetually, uttering no sound; and facing him, snowing the surface of the cliffs, sit the innumerable birds, with their millions of little eyes on his.
The puffins on the green earthy spots, peering out with vari-coloured bills; the guillemots in earth and rock alike, wherever they can find a spot to rest an egg; the little dove-like tern; male and female, sitting like love-birds beak to beak, on the tiny little coignes of vantage on the solid rocks below the climber's feet.
Of the numberless birds which surround him on every side, few take the trouble to stir, though those few make a perfect snow around him; but the air is full of a twittering and a trembling, and a chattering and rustling, which would drive a less experienced cragsman crazy on the spot. As he slips nimbly among them, they grumble a little in their bird fashion; that is all.
Occasionally an infuriated would-be mother, robbed of her egg, makes belief to fly at his face, but quails at the first movement of his fowler's staff; and now and then an angry puffin, as his hand slips into her hole, clings to his finger like a parrot, is drawn out a ruffled wrath of feathers, and is flung shrieking away into the air.
The fowler's feet are naked--so his toes sometimes suffer from a random bite or peck, but his only answer is a merry laugh. He flits about as if completely unconscious of danger, or if conscious, as if the peril of the sport made it exhilarating tenfold. It is exciting to see him moving about in his joyous strength amid the dizzy void, with the sunset burning on his figure, the sea sparkling beneath his feet. His head is bare; his hair, of perfect golden hue, floats to his shoulders, and is ever and anon blown into his face, but with a toss of his head he flings it behind him.
The head is that of a lion; the throat, the chin, leonine; and the eyes, even when they sparkle as now, have the strange, far-away, visionary look of the king of animals. His figure, agile as it is, is herculean; for is he not a Gwenfern, and when, since the memory of a man, did a Gwenfern ever stand less than six feet in his sabots? Stripped of his raiment and turned to stone, he might stand for Heracles--so large of mould is he, so mighty of limb. But even in his present garb--the peasant dress of dark blue, shirt open at the throat, gaily-coloured sash, and trousers fastened at the knee with a knot of scarlet ribbon--he looks sufficiently herculean.
He plies his trade. Secured to his waist hangs a net of dark earth-coloured eggs, and it is nearly full. The sunset deepens, its flashes grow more blinding as they strike on the reddened cliff but the fowler lifts up his eyes in the light, and sees the dark face of the maiden shining down upon him through the snow of birds.
And through the flying snow he slowly comes, till it is no longer snow around his head, but snow around his feet. Partly aided by the rope, partly by the hook of his fowler's staff, he clings with hands and feet, creeps from ledge to ledge, crawling steadily upward. Sometimes the loose conglomerate crumbles in his hands or beneath his feet, and he swings with his whole weight upon the rope; then for a moment his colour goes, from excitement, not fear, and his breath comes quickly. No dizziness with him! Slowly, almost laboriously, he seems to move, yet his progress is far more rapid than it appears to the eye, and in a few minutes he has drawn himself up the overhanging summit of the crag, reached the top, gripped the horn of rock with hands and knees, and swung himself on to the greensward, close to the girl's side.
All the prospect above the cliffs opens suddenly on his sight. The cloudy east is stained with deep crimson bars, against which the grassy hills, and fresh-ploughed fields, and the squares of trees whose foliage hides the crowning farms, stand out in distinct and beautiful lines. But all he sees for the moment is the one dark face, and the bright eyes that look lovingly into his. Gurlan's Craig is not fit for a man to climb!
To creep where foot of man has never crept before, to crawl on the great cliffs where even the goats and sheep are seldom seen, to know the secret places as they are known to the hawk and the raven and the black buzzard of the crags, this is the joy and glory of the man's life--this is the rapture that he shares with the winged, the swimming, and the creeping things. He swims like a fish, he crawls like a fly, and his joy would be complete if he could soar like a bird!
His animal enjoyment, meantime, is perfect. Not the peregrine, wheeling in still circles round the topmost crags, moves with more natural splendour on its way. All the peasants and fishers of Kromlaix are cragsmen too, but none possess his cool sublimity of daring. Rohan Gwenfern will walk almost erect where no other fowler, however experienced, would creep on hands and knees.
In the course of his lifelong perils he has had ugly falls, which have only stimulated him to fresh exploits.
He began, when a mere child, by herding sheep and goats among these very crags, and making the lonely caverns ring with his little goatherd's horn. By degrees he familiarized himself with every feature of the storm-rent terrible coast; so that even when he grew up towards manhood, and joined his fellows in fishing expeditions far out at sea, he still retained his early passion for the crags and cliffs.
While others were lounging on the beach or at the door of the calozes, while these were drinking in the cabaret and those were idling among their nets, Rohan was walking in some vast cathedral not made with hands, or penetrating like a spectre, torch in hand, into the pitch-black cavern where the seal was suckling her young, or swimming naked out to the cormorant's roost on the base of the Needle of Gurlan.
Even in wildest winter, when for days together the cormorants sat on the ledges of the cliffs and gazed despairingly at the sea, starving, afraid to stir a feather lest the mighty winds should dash them to pieces against the stones; when the mountains of foam shook the rocks to their foundation; when the earthquakes of ocean were busy, and crag after crag loosened, crumbled, and swept like an avalanche down to the sea,--even in the maddest storms of nature's maddest season, Rohan was abroad,--not the great herring-gull being more constant a mover along the black water-mark than he.
Hence there had arisen in him, day by day and year by year, that terrible and stolid love for Water which wise critics and dwellers in towns believe to be the special and sole prerogative of the poets, particularly of Lord Byron, and which, when described as an attribute of a Breton peasant or a Connaught "boy," they refer to the abysses of sentimentality. Does a street-girl love the street, or a ploughman love the fields, or a sailor love the ship that sails him up and down the world? Even so, but with an infinitely deeper passion, did Rohan love the sea. It is no exaggeration to say that even a few miles inland he would have been heartily miserable.
And that he should love the sea as he did, not with a sentimental emotion, not with any idea of romancing or attitudinizing, but with a vital and natural love, part of the very beatings of his heart, was only just.
He was its foster-child. Weird and thrilling superstitions are still afloat on this wild coast; grotesque and awful legend; many of them full of deep faith and pathetic beauty, still pass from mouth to mouth; but among them there is one which is something more than a mere legend, something more than a fireside dream. It tells of the sore straits and perils on the lonely seas during "the great fishing," and how, one summer night, a fisher, Raoul Gwenfern, took with him to sea his little golden-haired child.
That very night, blowing the trumpets of wrath and death, Euroclydon arose. Lost, shrieking, terror-stricken, the fleet of boats drifted before the wind in the terrible mountainous sea; and at last, when all hope had fled, the crew of this one lugger knelt down together in the darkness for the last time--knelt as they had often done side by side in the little chapel on the cliff; and invoked the succour of Our Blessed Lady of Safety;--and no less than the others prayed the little child, shivering and holding his father's hand.
And at last, amid all the darkness of the tempest and the roaring of the sea, there dawned a solemn shining, which for a moment stilled the palpitating waters around the vessel; and that one innocent child on board, he and none other beside, saw with his mortal eyes, amid that miraculous light, and floating upon the waters--all spangled and silver as she stands, an image, up there in the little chapel of Notre Dame de la Garde--the face and form of the Mother of God!
Be that as it may, the storm presently abated, and the fleet was saved; but when the light dawned, and the fishers on board the lugger came to their senses again they missed one man. The child cried "Father! It was then that the child, wailing for his beloved parent, told what he had seen upon the waters in that hour of prayer.
Whether it was a real vision, or a child's dream, or a flash of memory illuminating the image he had often seen and thought so lovely, who can tell? But that day he ran and flung himself into his mother's arms, an orphan child; and from that day forth he had no father but the Sea. His mother, a poor widow now, dwelt in a stone cottage just outside the village, and under the shelter of a hollow in the crag. Her son, the only child of her old age, the child of her prayers and tears, obtained by the special intercession of the Virgin and her cousin St.
Elizabeth, grew fairer and fairer as he approached manhood, and ever on his face there dwelt a brightness which the mother, in her secret heart, deemed due to that celestial vision. Now, tales of wonder travel, and in due course the legend travelled to the priest; and the priest came and saw the child, and being a little bit of a phrenologist examined his head and his bumps, and saw the shining of his fair face with no ordinary pleasure. It is not every day that the good God performs a miracle, and this opportunity was too fine a one to be lost. Elizabeth was her friend indeed.
It was this--that Rohan should be trained in holy knowledge, and in due season become a priest of God. Of course the offer was joyfully accepted, and Rohan was taken from the solitary crags, where he had been herding goats to eke out the miserable pittance that his mother earned, to live in the house of the priest. He evinced, on the other hand, an altogether stupendous capacity for idleness and play.
As he grew older his inclinations grew more irrepressible, and he would slip off in the fishing boats that were going out to sea, or run away for a long day's ramble among the crags, or spend the summer afternoon on the shore, alternately bathing naked and wading for shrimps and prawns.
When most wanted he was often not to be found. One day he was carried home with his collar-bone broken, after having in vain attempted to take the nest of an indignant raven. Twice or thrice he was nearly drowned. This might have been tolerated, though not for long; but presently it was discovered that Master Rohan had a way of asking questions which were highly puzzling to the priest. It was still Revolution time.
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Though the kingdom was an Empire, and though the terrible ideas of '93 had scarcely reached Kromlaix, the atmosphere was full of strange thoughts. The little acolyte began secretly to indulge in a course of secular reading; the little eyes opened, the little tongue prattled; and the good priest discovered, to his disgust, that the child was too clever. When the time came for the boy, in the natural course of things, to be removed from the village, Rohan revolted utterly.
He had made up his mind, he said, and he would never become a priest! That was a bitter blow for the mother, and for a space her heart was hard against the boy; but the priest, to her astonishment, sided with the revolter. The life of a priest is a hard one, see you, at the best. The priesthood is well enough, but there are better ways of serving the good God. The truth is, the priest was glad to be rid of his bargain.