Butter Before Guns

I wanted butter more than I wanted guns. I have always been partial to dairy products, cows’ milk and yoghurt for example, but my greed for butter had become all-consuming. I was mad for it and could think of little else. So one grim overcast morning I set out for the nearest dairy, knocked at the gate, and demanded butter. The dairyman, of great bulk and threatening mien, refused me butter and shooed me away as he might shoo away a gnat.

Broken in spirit, I lolloped into a tavern. A cad with a pencil moustache and a battered briefcase was propping up the bar. He asked what ailed me, and I explained.

“Let me give you a tip,” he said, “I know about these things. The best way for you to obtain butter from that dairyman is to threaten him with a gun. If you went back, and demanded butter, while aiming at the centre of his forehead a fully loaded Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, I think you’d find he would hand over as much butter as you want in a jiffy.”

This was a persuasive argument, but I told the cad that I had neither a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle nor any other type of gun.

“That’s where you’re in luck,” he replied, “For it just so happens that I am an international arms dealer and I can lay my hands on any type of gun you want at the drop of a hat. It will cost you, of course, but think about the butter!”

I was won over, and I scuttled home to fetch from under my bed the shoebox containing my worldly wealth. It was not a great sum, but I hoped it would be enough for a rifle. As I made my way back to the tavern, a little birdie – I think it way have been a peewit or a grebe – perched on my shoulder and chattered in my ear. What it said, had I been able to translate its twittering, was “Why don’t you give the money directly to the dairyman as payment for his butter?” But I was ignorant of the language of birds and I brushed it away without understanding.

The cad was still propping up the bar and he accepted my shoebox of cash after counting it carefully.

“Obviously,” he said, “As a gun runner I have to be cautious. Meet me under the viaduct at nightfall and I will give you a fully loaded Mannlicher-Carcano rifle.”

“But I want my butter before then!” I wailed, “That’s the whole point! I want butter before guns!”

The cad looked at me with some sympathy.

“Well,” he said, “Why not go back to the dairy and explain to the dairyman that if he doesn’t hand over his butter there and then you will come back after nightfall armed with a fully loaded Mannlicher-Carcano rifle and you will shoot him through the centre of his forehead, without mercy. That ought to buck his ideas up.”

“Good idea!” I said, and I scampered off to the dairy, happy and hopeful.

I knocked at the gate and explained myself to the dairyman. I expected him at once to be cowed, and to fetch butter for me. But instead, he took from his pocket a handgun and shot me, several times, in the legs and arms.

As I lay sprawled in the mud outside the dairy gate, waiting for an ambulance to come clanging, the peewit or grebe landed on my head and began chattering into my ear. Before I passed out, I resolved to learn the language of birds.

[Should you prefer guns before butter, go to 23 September 2012.]

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