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

He ate his breakfast that morning in silence. Mrs Salt, burning to discuss the robbery, set down the dishes with a quite unnecessary clatter, but in vain. He scarcely raised his head.

‘Indeed, sir, and I’ve never known you so upset,’ she broke out at length, unable to contain herself longer. ‘Which I’ve always said that you was wonderful, the way you saw the bright side of everything and could pass it off with a laugh.’

‘Good Lord!’ said Mr Pinsent testily. ‘Did I ever call midnight robbery a laughing matter?’

‘No–o,’ answered Mrs Salt, yet as one not altogether sure. ‘And I dare say your bein’ mayor makes you take a serious view.’

Breakfast over, the mayor took hat and walking-stick for his customary morning stroll along the street to Butcher Trengrove’s to choose the joint for his dinner and pick up the town’s earliest gossip. It is Troy’s briskest hour; when the dairy carts, rattling homeward, meet the country folk from up-the-river who have just landed at the quays and begun to sell from door to door their poultry and fresh eggs, vegetables, fruit, and nosegays of garden flowers; when the tradesmen, having taken down their shutters, stand in the roadway, admire the effect of their shop-windows and admonish the apprentices cleaning the panes; when the children loiter and play at hop-scotch on their way to school, and the housewives, having packed them off, find time for neighbourly clack over the scouring of door-steps.

It might be the mayor’s fancy and no more, but it certainly appeared to him that the children smiled with a touch of mockery as they met him and saluted. For aught he knew any one of these grinning imps– confound ’em!–might be implicated in the plot. The townsmen gave him ‘good-morning’ as usual, and yet not quite as usual. He felt that news of the raid had won abroad; that, although shy of speaking, they were studying his face for a sign. He kept it carefully cheerful; but came near to losing his temper when he reached Trengrove’s shop to find Mr Garraway already there and in earnest conversation with the butcher.

‘Ah! good-mornin’ again! I was just talkin’ about you and your pigeons,’ said Mr Garraway, frankly.

‘Good-morning, y’r Worship,’ echoed Butcher Trengrove. ‘And what can I do for y’r Worship this fine morning? I was just allowin’ to Mr Garraway here that, seein’ the young dare-devils had left you a bird with their compliments, maybe you’d fancy a nice cut of rumpsteak to fill out a pie.’

‘This isn’t exactly a laughing matter, Mr Trengrove.’

‘No, no, to be sure!’ Butcher Trengrove composed his broad smile apologetically. But, after a moment, observing Mr Pinsent’s face and that (at what cost he guessed not) it kept its humorous twist, he let his features relax. ‘I was allowin’ though, that if any man could get even with a bit of fun, it would be y’r Worship.’

‘Oh, never fear but I’ll get even with ’em,’ promised his Worship, affecting an easiness he did not feel.

‘Monstrous, though! monstrous!’ pursued the butcher. ‘The boys of this town be gettin’ past all control. Proper young limbs, I call some of ’em.’

‘And there’s the fellow that’s to blame,’ put in Mr Garraway, with a nod at a little man hurrying past the shop, on the opposite pavement. This was Mr Lupus, the schoolmaster, on his way to open school. ‘Hi! Mr Lupus!’

Mr Lupus gave a start, came to a halt, and turned on the shop door a pair of mildly curious eyes guarded by moon-shaped spectacles. Mr Lupus lived with an elderly sister who kept a bakehouse beside the Ferry Landing, and there in extra-scholastic hours he earned a little money by writing letters for seamen. His love-letters had quite a reputation, and he penned them in a beautiful hand, with flourishes around the capital letters; but in Troy he passed for a person of small account.