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The Mayor’s Dovecot: A Cautionary Tale
by [?]

‘You infernal young thief!’ shouted Mr Pinsent.

As his voice broke upon the night across the silent garden, the hand paused suddenly in the act of dragging forth a pigeon which it had gripped by the neck. The bird, almost as suddenly set free, flapped across the platform, found its wings and scuffled away in flight. The thief–Mr Pinsent had been unable to detect his features-slid down the mast into darkness, and the darkness, a moment later, became populous with whispering voices and the sound of feet stealing away towards the yet deeper shadow of Mr Garraway’s wall.

‘Who goes there?’ challenged Mr Pinsent again. ‘Villains! Robbers! You just wait till I come down to you! I’ve a gun here, by George! and if you don’t stand still there and give me your names–‘

But this was an empty threat. Mr Pinsent, though nothing of a sportsman, did indeed possess a gun, deposited with him years ago as security against a small loan. But it hung over the office chimney-piece downstairs, and he could not have loaded it, even if given the necessary powder and shot. Possibly the boys guessed this. At any rate, they made no answer.

Possibly, too (for a white nightcap and nightshirt were discernible in almost pitchy darkness), they saw him strut back from the window to slip downstairs and surprise them. Mr Pinsent paused only to insert his feet into a pair of loose slippers, and again, as he unbolted the back door, to snatch a lantern off its hook. Yet by the time he ran out upon the garden the depredators had made good their escape.

He groped inside the lantern for the tinder-box, which lay within, handy for emergencies; found it, and kneeling on the grass-plot beside the mast, struck flint upon steel. As he blew upon the tinder and the faint glow lit up his face and nightcap, a timorous exclamation quavered down from one of the upper windows.

‘Oh, sir! Wha–whatever is the matter?’ It was the voice of Mrs Salt, the housekeeper.

For a moment Mr Pinsent did not answer. In the act of thrusting the brimstone match into the lantern his eye had fallen on a white object lying on the turf and scarcely a yard away–a white fan-tail pigeon, dead, with a twisted neck. He picked up the bird and stared around angrily into the darkness.

‘Robbery is the matter, ma’am,’ he announced, speaking up to the unseen figure in the window. ‘Some young ruffians have been stealing and killing my pigeons. I caught ’em in the act, and a serious matter they’ll find it.’ Here Mr Pinsent raised his voice, in case any of the criminals should be lurking within earshot. ‘I doubt, ma’am, a case like this will have to go to the assizes.’

‘Hadn’t you better put something on?’ suggested another voice, not Mrs Salt’s, from somewhere on the left.

‘Eh?’ Mr Pinsent wheeled about and peered into the darkness. ‘Is that you, Garraway?’

‘It is,’ answered Mr Garraway from his bedroom window over the wall. ‘Been stealin’ your pigeons, have they? Well, I’m sorry; and yet in a way ’tis a relief to my mind. For, first along, seeing you, out there, skipping round in your shirt with a lantern, I’d a fear you had been taken funny in the night!’

‘Bless the man!’ said Mr Pinsent. ‘Do you suppose I’d do this for a joke?’

I don’t know,’ responded Mr Garraway, with guarded candour. ‘I feared it. But, of course, if they’ve stolen your pigeons, ’tis another matter. A very serious matter, as you say, and no doubt your being mayor makes it all the worse.’

Now this attitude of Mr Garraway conveyed a hint of warning, had Mr Pinsent been able to seize it. The inhabitants of Troy have, in fact, a sense of humour, but it does not include facetiousness. On the contrary, facetiousness affronts and pains them. They do not understand it, and Mr Pinsent understood nothing else. Could he have been told that for close upon twenty years he had been afflicting his neighbours with the pleasantries he found so enjoyable, his answer had undoubtedly been ‘The bigger numskulls they!’ But now his doom was upon him.