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THE NORTH DOOR

CHAPTER I

LOST LAMBS

a

TPON a foggy November midnight, a century and

quarter ago, a pulling with all his might at the single bell-rope of his church-tower, wrenching out one full harmonic clang every five seconds.

In the intervals he leaned against the round arch between tower and nave, listening for a boat's grind upon the beach below and the voices of men. So low was this arch, so diminutive the nave, that his five feet six inches gave little hint of his stature. A horn lantern stood by the Norman granite font, roughly carved with grim angels at each corner and crawling reptiles on its plinth. Beside the lantern lay a huge black dog, smooth and long-tailed, with nose fast between his paws—except at each clang when, with uplifted nose and back-pressed ears, he howled not inharmoniously. In spite of the sea-fog, flashes of light penetrated the deep-splayed, round-arch windows of the nave, flung thither from a beacon on the octagonal tower which stood at the very edge of the cliff and was held back from destruction, as it seemed, only by the giant embrace of ivy looking as old as its pre-Norman self. Wood and pitch were ablaze in a cresset reaching so far out from the tower's broken battlements that ashes and embers dropped on to the shore below.

The church was St. Neot's. It stood high above Mullinstow Haven on the south coast of Cornwall and

was dilapidated. Its only practicable entrance was by the south transept, over which was built a little room or parvise, and beneath the round arch of whose doorway was rudely carved on the granite tympanum a Pascal Lamb with full almond eye and cross-like banner. True, there was a bell-ringers' disused door in the western tower with its flight of battered steps without, as well as, and of more moment, a narrow North Door in the nave, close to the tower, also with dog-tooth, round arch and a granite tympanum, on which outside was cut in low relief a monstrous ugly head. The path leading to this door was overgrown with nettles, burdocks and bracken; and, though the neighbouring grass was closely cropped as if by sheep, the few graves on this north side had no headstones. Immediately inside this door stood the font.

Mr. Trevenna was a fantastic figure as he laboured at his task. But in spite of his incongruous dress—a full cloak of dark-blue homespun, square-toed and steelbuckled shoes, coarse grey stockings, yet the black knee-breeches of gentility_his white neck-bands proclaimed his office. He wore no wig, and the abundant, prematurely grey locks were fallen over his great forehead with his exertions. In this dim light his eyes looked deep and black; and his large nose dominating a full, firm-lipped mouth suggested some earnest purpose in hand. But his weight was barely a match for the bronze monster's inertia : it lifted him on tip-toe with every back swing, and he was tired.

Almost every duty connected with the church fell upon him. Certainly there was Simon Muggetty, once

captain ” in a Cornish mine, now the half-blind sexton and perhaps the oldest inhabitant thereabouts ; but with one foot in his own grave for many years, he had dug so many graves for others, many more indeed than the village without the sea's help could have furnished, that he was good for no other work. Yet with back bent at right angles to his unsteady

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