A Bun Dance

Donald Shephard

Pumpernickel yawned; he had been milking since four, an hour before sunrise. It would be seven in the evening before he finished the second milking. There did not seem to be a day without pulling on the teats of a cow nor could he anticipate anything else until he died. Then they would bury him across the fence there in the churchyard of Newtonia in Sheepshire. He hated cows, calling them “damned dairies” and cursing them as he caressed the milk from their udders.

The only respite was when Pumpernickel took a few minutes to bite his lunch. On this the second Tuesday before Michaelmas, he leant on the pasture gate as he chewed his mangel-wurzel and cheese sandwich. His tiffin also contained two rather stale muffins. He was idly watching Rosie, the lead cow to see if she was “bulling” any of the heifers. She had led the herd down to the corner of the field to the pond next to the church yard yew tree. Two heifers were cooling their heels and down-danglers in the water of the pond while ducks and geese stood by. Knowing the red berry of the yew is poisonous tempts cows to stray from their regular grass, grass and more grass. That diet is the reason why you never hear a cow ask, “What’s for dinner?”

Pumpernickel’s diet was almost as predictable, a sandwich of some kind of root and some cheese, and a bun or two. As he bit into the second of the rock-hard muffins he snapped a tooth and threw the offending bun into the pasture. He muttered a few words of Anglo-Saxon origin for his poverty and privations. Why was he so poor? Why did his herd not produce more milk? What evil spirits lurked on his farm? Pumpernickel had no idea.

At that same moment, three worthy stalwarts of the countryside, Hob, Nob and Glob-the-Obese, stumbled across the pasture, the tips of their conical caps barely visible above the lush grass. They were on their way to the turnip field to meet and greet Metro-Gnome, a visiting metro-sexual from San Francisco. When you are only eighteen barleycorns tall, it is a challenge to walk through a cow paddock. Oh! It is not the patties. With a nose only fifteen barleycorns from the ground, it is easy to detect them. No, it is getting baled into a mouthful of grass that is the major danger.

Donkeys’ years ago the cows and gnomes of the village of Newtonia had agreed that gnomes would always wear a cap of a complementary color to green, that is to say a red hat, a tall red hat. For their part, cows would kindly refrain from eating anything red. The gnomes wanted to add that red included any shade, tint or hue of red or any admixture of red and any other color by which the gnomes meant any color at all but the cows did not understand that subtlety so it was omitted.

Over the years the agreement had been fairly well observed until the citified Metro-Gnome turned up in the turnip field. He wore gold lame trousers, a purple shirt and a pink-polka dot cap. The first thing Hob, Nob and Glob-the-Obese noticed about Metro-Gnome was a chartreuse notebook he carried in the manner of any angst-ridden teenager posing as a poet. Here in the rustic recesses of Sheepshire gnomes reserved the great effort of writing to the Book of Laws. All else was committed to memory and passed on in the oral tradition. Returning with their visitor, Hob, Nob and Glob-the-Obese retraced their path among the cows. They bumped into the stale muffin, a feast fit for a king! It would sustain them all for a week. They would not have to rise early to get the dough to rise for their daily bread. The discovery of the abundant bun called for a celebration. The fact that they had a visitor from the city doubled their excitement. Hob rallied the entire gnome village to come to the party. Glob-the-Obese tested the quality of all the arriving victuals. He decided that the bun would need soaking in a tasty liquid to make it palatable. Nob rolled out a barrel of elderly Elderberry wine. The little village folk joined hands in sheer joy and danced around the bun to the beat of Metro-Gnomes feet until they collapsed next to their treasured muffin, puffin’ and panting.

“Come,” said Glob-the-Obese, “Let us show Metro-Gnome the finer points of stealing milk from a cow.” Hob climbed on Nob’s shoulders directly under Rosie. Glob-the-Obese lay on the ground beside Nob’s feet. Hob wrapped his arms around a teat and slid down expertly squirting milk into the gaping mouth of his fat friend. They directed Metro-Gnome to lie in the grass beneath Rosie. Nob and Hob hoisted Glob-the-Obese onto their shoulders. They knew from Newtonia’s Second Law of Physics that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The mass of milk ejected by Rosie was proportionally larger because Glob-the-Obese was proportionally larger than Hob. Metro-Gnome was nearly drowned in raw milk.

Many people pay good money for fancy facials but Metronome was a fussy fellow. He was more of a beat poet than a milk thief although the distinction is a fine one. With milk dripping from his face and clothes, he ducked under a goose and goosed a duck with the tip of his cap as he emerged with goose down sticking to his milky face. He ran for the pond to wash off the warm liquid and feathers. Giggling sapped all their strength so Hob, Nob and Glob-the-Obese fell in a heap beneath Rosie, laughing at the spectacle of the citified poet dealing with this strange sport.

“I’ve heard of tarring and feathering,” said Nob, “but never milking and feathering.” They sat laughing, their faces turning as red as their caps. Rosie stood patiently masticating a mass of grass waiting for the mischievous imps to finish. As they recovered their breath, the three worthies also recovered their manners. They plodded over to the pond.

“Are you alright?” asked Hob?

“We will clean your clothes,” offered Nob.

“Have some more bun and Elderberry wine,” suggested Glob-the-Obese.

Metro-Gnome took the wine and headed towards a patch of daisies to admire their bucolic beauty. He was catching some rays in the daisy patch, resting from the excesses of the bun dance when he was swallowed whole by Maisy the daisy-chewing heifer.

He came to in Maisy’s rumen. The gasses from her omasum, abomasum and reticulum were foul. They would have choked a horse. With Metro-Gnome sloshing about in her digestive juices Maisy lay down to chew the cud, shoot the breeze and shoot the bull with the other heifers. Rosie, an old experienced cow, was just explaining to the innocent heifers that they should not waste their time flirting with the handsome bullocks but instead they should wiggle their buttocks at Charlie-the-Bull.

“Those young ones,” mooed Rosie, “lack the ability to get you lactating.” Metro-Gnome, listening to the mellow echoing sounds of mooing and chewing was lulled into an almost comfortable stupor. A rush of methane-laden air pushing before it a wad of cud forced Metro-Gnome up Maisy’s esophagus and into her mouth. The heifer had no manners as she chewed with her mouth open. Before her molars could mash him, Metro-Gnome hurled himself out onto the grass, gasping for fresh air. Even though he was without his pink-polka dot hat, Rosie recognized his cud-covered self as a species of elf. Maintaining a commendable degree of calm for a cow, she hoisted herself onto her hoofs, in the prescribed manner of hind legs first and forelegs last. The method is described in a large tome for lady-like cows written by Emily Gatepost and available at all Noble Barns. Rosie hustled Metro-Gnome out of the pasture to safety.

The Metro-Gnome incident, as it was called, presented certain difficulties to the worthy gnome elders, Hob, Nob and Glob-the-Obese. The triumvirate met to discuss the implications of Metro-Gnome’s adventure. They formulated a plan which called for a committee to determine firstly, if any action should be taken; secondly, such action as was determined wise, germane, necessary and politic should be reported to them; thirdly, they would accept, modify or reject said recommendation; and, fourthly, only if found absolutely necessary, they would actually take action. You should be aware that all the minutes to the meetings of the elders were written by Glob-the-Obese in rhyming runes, gnome tunes if you will. It took several days for him to create the minutes of their meetings because rhymes and runes were not made for each. He performed this duty while eating which inspired him and he always washed down his food with elderberry wine.

Some weeks after the meeting of Hob, Nob and Glob-the-Obese, the minutes were posted on the tin bulletin board by the pen of Charlie-the-Bull.



  1. Hob, Nob and Glob-the Obese would select a committee to nominate emissaries to negotiate with duly elected representatives of the cows.

  2. Said emissaries would negotiate changes to ensure that the fate of Metro-Gnome would not be repeated.

  3. The committee to nominate the emissaries would consist of Hob, Nob and Glob-the-Obese.

  4. The emissaries to the cows nominated by Hob, Nob and Glob-the Obese were Hob, Nob and Glob-the Obese.

  5. The emissaries would meet with Rosie, Maisy and a heifer to be named later, at a date and time to be mutually agreed upon later still.

The issue prolonged itself in this manner from two Tuesdays before Michaelmas until the cows came home on All Saints’ Eve, which was long after Metro-Gnome had returned to San Francisco for an emergency pedicure. The emissaries, Hob, Nob and Glob-the-You-Know-What, proposed that red should mean red and pink-polka dot. Meanwhile out in the pasture, havoc had reigned. Rosie spent hours reading and translating runic rhymes and formulating diplomatic responses. She simultaneously consulted with the lawyers for Pumpernickel’s farmer’s insurance who were responding to Metro-Gnome’s claim for post traumatic sinned-gnome syndrome. This tedious work led her to neglect her trusted formula for making milk. Since Rosie was the lead cow, the others followed suit like a flock of sheep. They moped around, mooing with sad cow eyes, gathering wool. They ceased lactating and interrupted estrus. Pumpernickel was beside himself at once with grief because he had no milk and also with joy because he did not have to milk his “damned dairies”. Charlie-the-Bull saw red. Every time Pumpernickel put him in the pasture with the cows he charged the slightest sign of a red hat.

Eventually, a tactful pact was passed. It read, “For the purposes of the traditional agreement between the Bovine Board of Cows (hereinafter the BBC) and the Noble Order of Gnomes in Newtonia (hereinafter NOGIN) whenever a cow or a gnome reads the word ‘red’ it shall mean ‘red’.” Both the cows of the BBC and the gnomes of NOGIN felt this pact was a win-win compromise. That is why to this day gnomes wear red hats and bulls charge anything red. Tradition has been preserved. Shortly after the entente was reached, both Rosie and Glob-the-Obese received a notice that Metro-Gnome’s claim had been denied. The insurance agents and their lawyers left Newtonia. As Hob, Nob and Glob-the-Obese were preparing the New Year celebration, they received a copy of Metro-Gnome’s published poems entitled, “Sonnets from the Peasants” and a note saying he had dropped his insurance claim in the interest of good relations between the urban sophisticates and the rustic rural citizens. Glob-the-Obese sent him a short note thanking him for his “Perfect, useful and supportive work”. He neglected to mention that its use was as a prop for the bottom left corner of his outhouse seat which had been wobbling at inappropriate moments of late. Neither did he say that the perfection was in the thickness of the Gnome tome which exactly fit the gap under his two-holed seat. The pulse of life in the village of Newtonia returned to its normal buttery beat. Pumpernickel went back to his yoke of milking his “damned dairies”. Rosie resumed her cud-chewing class for Maisy the daisy-eating heifer. Charlie the bull had frequent reasons not to see red. The worthy Elders, Hob, Nob and Glob-the-Obese, supervised the transfer of elderberry wine from casks to barrels carefully sampling each operation. Peace and harmony were restored.

The moral of this story is a bun dance can lead to excesses and a mess of troubles.

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