Donald Shephard

When Snab-of-the-Valley first held Nob’s hand as she stepped down from the style, she had hesitated long enough for him to study her assets. While Nob was so occupied, she thought about her future home. She discovered he had considerable carpentry skills because she had asked him, “Are you good with wood?” as she steered him into the nearest copse. Snab, despite her name, was a maid of the hills to the valley below. She wanted nothing subtle about the rolling curves of her home. Comfort and easel, if not actual luxury, had to rule. She chose springtime flower colors for the interior and the exterior browns and greens blended so well into the surrounding trees and glades that they disappeared.

Nob, earned his living as a cooper of shire-wide renown. He built a series of interconnected domes beneath her favorite beech. He ran his hands over the many and various curves of Snab-of-the-Valley morning, noon, and night to inspire him to carve, chisel and spoke-shave beech wood into corresponding lines. Snab encouraged him in all his endeavors. Their home rose and fell in undulations which could have been made by mother nature even to the slight asymmetry of two of the mounds. They knew the central living space would need an extension once their children were born. But little did they know.

He labored long and hard to cover the domes with sod. Snab searched for the perfect area of turf for each dome. She favored a fine fescue interspersed with wild flowers. Thrush, woodpecker and titmouse families frolicking above them had the impression that this new house was decorated with a fine floral-patterned dress with a lacy white border of meadow foam and lady’s bedstraw. In summer, grasses camouflaged their home. In autumn, a blanket of fallen leaves insulated them from the cooler weather and in early spring, a carpet of beech seedlings protected them from showers.

A series of reflective tubes provided sunlight to all rooms in the house. Nob constructed a system of wooden ducts, octagonal in section, to provide water to bathroom and kitchen. He disguised the intake pipe as a root in the gravel of a stream and continued the deception as surface roots until it dipped into his home. He darkened one set of pipes with tannins so the sun heated the water.

Snab had Nob build their furniture from new elderberry wine barrels. Cutting a cask in two, he added a cushion to produce curved-backed chairs. He supported his table at each end by a barrel cut vertically down the middle creating a curved nest for Hobnobgoblin legs at each end. Light fixtures, doors and their handles, window frames and the cabinet for his fishing tackle were all sawn, carved and shaved from good oak barrel staves.

Nob invented a ventilation system for the house. He wrapped an ivy vine around a low limb of the beech and ran it to a piston that moved to and fro as the beech branch waved in the breeze. The stroke of the piston governed the size of the aperture into the house allowing fresh air to enter. On windy days, when the piston thrusted wildly, a double X-shaped device reduced the air inlet to a minimum. On calm days, the smaller stroke of the piston made the device enlarge the air intake. The resulting flow of fresh air was independent of wind strength. In time, the demand for this and other Nob inventions brought him fame throughout Sheepshire, Elseshire, and the Rodings.

After their initial lack of success starting a family, Snab-of-the-Valley produced twins on an annual basis. The house expanded into a series of domes, one for ech set of twins. First came Bob and Bab, followed by Cob and Cab, then Dob and Dab. When Gob and Gab arrived, Snab suggested they abandon their long twice-a-night habit. Nob was not convinced of the connection until Lum came into his world alone. His four sets of twin siblings spoiled him.

One night, Grandmother Hab babysat the children. Nob sent them all to bed early when his youngest protested, Nob shouted above the hubbub, “Bed, Lum!” Hab patted his arm and sent her daughter and son-in-law off for a quiet evening with Glob-the-Obese and Ab.

Grandmother Hab, as was her habit, gathered all the pajama-clad children about her before the hearth fire and told them a story. “Your father,” she said, “ is a trifle upset by his adventure today. That is why he shouted at you. That is why your parents have gone to celebrate their successful handling of Pumpernickel.”

The children’s eyes widened at the name of the human. “Tell us, Grandmother Hab, tell us what happened,” said Bob and Bab. “As you know, Pumpernickel has a prized bull of little brain. As your father, Hob and Glob-the-Obese followed rabbit tracks through the snow to Four Acre Pond, they heard a bellowing enough to wake Grandfather Ob after a night with his friend Sam Bucus.”

“Who? Asked Lum.

“Shush.” Said the twins.

Grandmother Hab continued, “When they reached the pond, Hob, Nob and Glob-the-Obese saw a bull’s head, barely above the waterline, bellowing for its life. The stupid animal had walked onto the ice edged pond and fallen in. Your father being the smartest of the three, told Hob and Glob to hold the bull’s nose above water while he ran for help. Hob and Nob pushed Glob down the slope to the pond, his cap plowing through the snow. At the last moment, Hob stopped and gave Glob a final shove. Nob jumped atop Glob’s ample belly and they sailed out to the bull. By removing Glob’s expansive belt and looping it through the bull’s nose ring, Hob managed to tie the other end to a weeping willow branch and secured the dumb animal.

“Aren’t you freezing?” Nob asked Glob.

“Far from it, there is an upwelling of warm water beneath me. That’s why the center of the pond does not ice over and that’s why the bull tried to reach the water for a drink.”

Meanwhile, your father gathered all the Hobnobgoblin wives and we hid in Pumpernickels garden singing to him. The farmer heard our siren song:

Your silly old bull while not thinking

Went to the ice-covered pond for his drinking

The water’s up to his ear

And we sadly fear

You must recue him now for he’s sinking

“You should know humans are not all stupid all the time. Pumpernickel heard our voices and without seeking their source, rushed to harness his shire horses, Beauty and Beast. He took along a length of chain. When Glob and Nob saw his approach, they slipped the belt from the bull’s nose and climbed up it to hide in the willow tree. Once Pumpernickel passed the chain around the bull’s rear end, a cold and wet process to be sure, the horses easily pulled bull and master to safety.”

The children swelled with pride for their father’s cleverness. “Off to bed, now, all of you.”

The twins in a perfectly synchronized move, all turned to Lum. The youngest of the family stood before Grandmother Hab and opened his baby blues wide. “Please, Grandmother Hab, how is it that Glob-the-Obese did not freeze?”

The twins chirped in, “Yes, please tell us that story.”

Their Grandmother relented. “Very well, but this is the last. No more of your shenanigans Master Lum.” She rolled her eyes at him.

“Once upon a time, Glob’s great-great grandfather, a magical Hobnobgoblin, lived in the depths of Four Acre Pond with his wife. Your ancestor loved his cold wet lair at the bottom of the pond and lived happily there, but his wife was less impressed. She endlessly shivered in the damp depths of the murky pond. Her husband first dismissed her complains calling them “a fuss over nothing,” but as time passed she became more and more unhappy. Dreading losing his good wife, the husband fretted what to do.

He made a decision. He went to shore and transformed himself into a jet-black stallion and made for the cottage of the great-great grandfather of Hob. Let’s see, that would be your…” “Great-great-GREAT grandfather,” piped up Bob and Bab, who had heard this story many times before.

“Ah yes. Your great-great-great grandfather was known throughout Sheepshire, Elseshire and the Rodings as of an excellent builder. The stallion tramped on the threshold until your great-great-great grandfather came out. Seeing the handsome stallion standing before him, your relative, against his better judgment, climbed on his back. He immediately stuck fast to the water-horse and the animal galloped to the pond with the terrified builder aboard. The horse plunged into the icy waters, his tail pounding the surface like a thunder crash. As rider and mount descended to the depths, the reluctant builder uttered his last thoughts, but for he did not drown.

“At the pond bottom, the horse let the builder dismount, explained his predicament and promised no harm on the builder or his family. He made a bargain that if the builder would do a small favor, then he and his family would have a plentiful supply of fish from the pond.

“So the builder agreed to build a magnificent fireplace and chimney, or lum as we say, the likes of which no mortal has ever seen. The great chimney twisted upward through the dark waters almost to the pond surface, to carry smoke far from the lair. A great fire sprang up and began warming the submerged home. When the horse saw the delight on his dear wife’s face, he carried the builder back through the dark, icy waters to his house as if nothing had been amiss that night for magical time does not have the same meaning here. True to his word, Glob’s great-great grandfather never forgot the builder’s work for you always have plenty of fish and live like royalty.

“But what about great-great grandfather Glob? Well, when Four Acre Pond freezes over in the midst of the coldest winters like this one, there is still to this day a patch of water that never freezes; a small area of water that never cools like the rest of the pond. Perhaps a tall lum nearly reaches the surface. This is because the fire still burns merrily in the lair of great-great grandfather Glob and his happy wife.”

The twins sighed and turned to Lum again, but Grandmother Hab gave them the evil eye and they scurried off to bed, burying themselves in blankets and giggling at the funny old lady.

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