Mister Scrimgeour's Aviary

Last Tuesday, Mr Scrimgeour realised his lifelong ambition. Five hundred yards to the south of the Pang Hill Orphanage, he threw open the gates of his aviary. The tots had been gathered outside for three hours, the tinier ones literally wetting themselves with excitement. The big fat sun battered down: it was a cloudless day.

Mr Scrimgeour had announced the opening of his aviary only the day before, but work had been going on for months, if not years. The parentless infants had grown used to the sight, from the orphanage windows, of a gigantic fence of corrugated iron. Suddenly, overnight, it was gone, the outer walls of the aviary visible at last. As they ate their breakfast porridge, they were told that they would be the very first visitors. Mr Scrimgeour did not even want to be paid.

And now, at noon, they marched solemnly in, their excitement replaced by awe. At first, there were no birds to be seen. Beyond the main gate, at the end of a muddy pathway, were two further gates: huge, of beaten bronze, and each with a sign upon it, a single word, black on white, in letters so plain and clear that even the most myopic infant could read them, if they could read at all, and many of them could not, because the Pang Hill Orphanage was a notoriously ill-run institution, the principal an unscrupulous ex-mariner who picked his staff from wretched sinks of iniquity down by the docks. Between the gates stood Mr Scrimgeour, wearing a peculiarly dainty hat.

"Hello, hello, oh hello children!" he cried, his jollity somewhat forced. "You must come and see my birds! But you must choose. You may only enter through one gate. On one side, you will find cages containing specimens of all the birds that the Bible says are clean. And on the other, the birds that the Bible says are unclean. The choice is yours!"

The poor little Godless tinies looked at each other, and at Mr Scrimgeour, and at the gates. Whatever may lie behind them, the gates themselves were identical - neither glistening and shiny nor stained and splattered with muck. They did not know that behind one gate they would find turtle doves, pigeons, quails, sparrows, swallows, cocks and hens, partridges and cranes, and that behind the other were eagles, ossifrage, ospreys, vultures, gledes, kites, ravens, owls, great owls, little owls, hawks, nighthawks, cuckoos, cormorants, swans, pelicans, gier eagles, storks, herons, lapwings, bats, ostriches, peacocks and bitterns. The poor little mites had no idea at all, and they could certainly not ask for guidance from the ruffians in whose charge they languished. No doubt, dear reader, you have read your Bible and can run to the orphans' aid, and while you are about it, release the bats!