It shouldnt happen to a.., p.10
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.10

           James Herriot
 
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say "Have a care, chum', but his claws were sheathed.

  My next visit was less than a month later and was in response to an

  urgent summons from Mrs. Broadwith at six o'clock in the evening. Ben

  had collapsed. I jumped straight into my car and in less than ten

  minutes was threading my way through the overgrown grass in the front

  garden with the animals watching from their window. The barking broke

  out as I knocked, but Ben's was absent. As I went into the little room I

  saw the old dog Lying on his side, very still, by the bed.

  DOA is what we write in the day book. Dead on arrival. Just three words

  but they covered all kinds of situations - the end of milk fever cows,

  bloated bullocks, calves in fits. And tonight they meant that I wouldn't

  be clipping old Ben's claws any more.

  It wasn't often these nephritis cases went off so suddenly but his urine

  albumen had been building up dangerously lately.

  "Well, it was quick, Miss Stubbs. I'm sure the old chap didn't suffer at

  all." My words sounded lame and ineffectual.

  The old lady was in full command of herself. No tears, only a fixity of

  expression as she looked down from the bed at her companion for so many

  years. My idea was to get him out of the place as quickly as possible

  and I pulled a blanket under him and lifted him up. As I was moving

  away, Miss Stubbs said, "Wait a moment." With an effort she turned on to

  her side and gazed at Ben. Still without changing expression, she

  reached out and touched his head lightly. Then she lay back calmly as I

  hurried from the room.

  In the back kitchen I had a whispered conference with Mrs. Broadwith.

  "I'll run down "'village and get Fred Manners to come and bury him," she

  said. "And if you've got the time could you stay with the old lady while

  I'm gone. Talk to her, like, it'll do her good."

  I went back and sat down by the bed. Miss Stubbs looked out of the

  window for a few moments then turned to me. "You know, Mr. Herriot," she

  said casually. "It will be my turn next."

  "What do you mean."

  "Well, tonight Ben has gone and I'm going to be the next one. I just

  know it."

  "Oh, nonsense! You're feeling a bit low, that's all. We all do when

  something like this happens." But I was disturbed. I had never heard her

  even hint at such a thing before.

  "I'm not afraid," she said. "I know there's something better waiting for

  me. I've never had any doubts." There was silence between us as she lay

  calmly looking up at the card on the gas bracket.

  Then the head on the pillow turned to me again. "I have only one fear."

  Her expression changed with startling suddenness as if a mask had

  dropped. The brave face was almost unrecognisable. A kind of terror

  flickered in her eyes and she quickly grasped my hand.

  "It's my dogs and cats, Mr. Herriot. I'm afraid I might never see them

  when I'm gone and it worries me so. You see, I know I'll be reunited

  with my parents and my brothers but ... but ..."

  "Well, why not with your animals."

  "That's just it." She rocked her head on the pillow and for the first

  time I saw tears on her cheeks. "They say animals have no souls."

  "Who says."

  "Oh, I've read it and I know a lot of religious people believe it."

  "Well I don't believe it." I patted the hand which still grasped mine.

  "If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and

  gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans. You've

  nothing to worry about there."

  "Oh, I hope you're right. Sometimes I lie at night thinking about it."

  "I know I'm right, Miss Stubbs, and don't you argue with me. They teach

  us vets all about animals' souls."

  The tension left her face and she laughed with a return of her old

  spirit. "I'm sorry to bore you with this and I'm not going to talk about

  it again. But before you go, I want you to be absolutely honest with me.

  I don't want reassurance from you - just the truth. I know you are very

  young but please tell me - what are your beliefs? Will my animals go

  with me."

  She stared intently into my eyes. I shifted in my chair and swallowed

  once or twice.

  "Miss Stubbs, I'm afraid I'm a bit foggy about all this," I said. "But

  I'm absolutely certain of one thing. Wherever you are going, they are

  going too."

  She still stared at me but her face was calm again. "Thank you, Mr.

  Herriot, I know you are being honest with me. That is what you really

  believe, isn't it."

  "I do believe it," I said. "With all my heart I believe it."

  It must have been about a month later and it was entirely by accident

  that I learned I had seen Miss Stubbs for the last time. When a lonely,

  penniless old ,_ _

  1 I`J woman dies people don't rush up to you in the street to tell you.

  I was on my rounds and a farmer happened to mention that the cottage in

  Corby village was up for sale.

  "But what about Miss Stubbs?" I asked.

  "Oh, went off sudden about three weeks ago. House is in a bad state,

  they say - nowt been done at it for years."

  "Mrs. Broadwith isn't staying on, then."

  "Nay, I hear she's staying at t'other end of village."

  "Do you know what's happened to the dogs and cats."

  "What dogs and cats."

  I cut my visit short. And I didn't go straight home though it was nearly

  lunch time. Instead I urged my complaining little car at top speed to

  Corby and asked the first person I saw where Mrs. Broadwith was living.

  It was a tiny house but attractive and Mrs. Broadwith answered my knock

  herself.

  "Oh, come in, Mr. Herriot. It's right good of you to call." I went

  inside and we sat facing each other across a scrubbed table top.

  "Well, it was sad about the old lady," she said.

  "Yes, I've only just heard."

  "Any road, she had a peaceful end. Just slept away at finish."

  "I'm glad to hear that."

  Mrs. Broadwith looked round the room. "I was real lucky to get this

  place it' s just what I've always wanted."

  I could contain myself no longer. "What's happened to the animals?" I

  blurted out.

  "Oh, they're in "'garden," she said calmly. "I've got a grand big

  stretch at back." She got up and opened the door and with a surge of

  relief I watched my old friends pour in.

  Arthur was on my knee in a flash, arching himself ecstatically against

  my arm while his outboard motor roared softly above the barking of the

  dogs. Prince, wheezy as ever, tail fanning the air, laughing up at me

  delightedly between barks.

  "They look great, Mrs. Broadwith. How long are they going to be here."

  "They're here for good. I think just as much about them as t'old lady

  ever did and I couldn't be parted from them. They'll have a good home

  with me as long as they live."

  I looked at the typical Yorkshire country face, at the heavy cheeks with

  their grim lines belied by the kindly eyes. "This is wonderful," I said.

  "But won't you find it just a bit ... er ... expensive to feed them."

  "Nay you don't have to worry about that. I 'ave a bit put'away."

  "W
ell fine, fine, and I'll be looking in now and then to see how they

  are. I'm through the village every few days." I got up and started for

  the door.

  Mrs. Broadwith held up her hand. "There's just one thing I'd like you to

  do before they start selling off the things at the cottage. Would you

  please pop in and collect what's left of your medicines. They're in

  t'front room."

  I took the key and drove along to the other end of the village. As I

  pushed open the rickety gate and began to walk through the tangled grass

  the front of the cottage looked strangely lifeless without the faces of

  the dogs at the window; and when the door creaked open and I went inside

  the silence was like a heavy pall.

  Nothing had been moved. The bed with its rumpled blankets was still in

  the corner. I moved around, picking up half empty bottles, a jar of

  ointment, the cardboard box with old Ben's tablets - a lot of good they

  had done him.

  When I had got everything I looked slowly round the little room. I

  wouldn't be coming here any more and at the door I paused and read for

  the last time the card which hung over the empty bed.

  Chapter Thirteen.

  I was spending Tuesday evening as I spent all the Tuesday evenings

  staring at the back of Helen Alderson's head at the Darrowby Music

  Society. It was a slow way of getting to know her better but I had been

  unable to think of a better idea.

  Since the morning on the high moor when I had set the calf's leg, I had

  scanned the day book regularly in the hope of getting another visit to

  the farm. But the Aldersons seemed to have lamentably healthy stock. I

  had to be content with the thought that there was the visit at the month

  end to take off the plaster. The really crushing blow came when Helen's

  father rang up to say that, since the calf was going sound he had

  removed the plaster himself. He was pleased to say that the fracture had

  knitted perfectly and there was no sign of lameness.

  I had come to admire the self-reliance and initiative of the Dalesmen

  but I cursed it now at great length; and I joined the Music Society. I

  had seen Helen going into the schoolroom where the meetings were held

  and, with the courage of desperation, had followed her inside.

  That was weeks ago and, I reflected miserably, I had made no progress at

  all. I couldn't remember how many tenors, sopranos and male voice choirs

  had come and gone and on one occasion the local brass band had packed

  themselves into the little room and almost burst my ear drums; but I was

  no further forward.

  Tonight a string quartet was scraping away industriously, but I hardly

  heard them. My eyes, as usual, were focused on Helen, several rows in

  front of me sitting between the two old ladies she always seemed to

  bring with her. That was part of the trouble; those two old girls were

  always there, cutting out any chance of private conversation, even at

  the half-time break for tea. And there was the general atmosphere of the

  place, the members were nearly all elderly and over everything hung the

  powerful schoolroom scent of ink and exercise books and chalk and lead

  pencils. It was the sort of place where you just couldn't say without

  warning 'are you doing anything on Saturday night."

  The scraping stopped and everybody clapped. The vicar got up from the

  front row and beamed on the company. "And now, ladies and gentlemen, I

  think we might stop for fifteen minutes as I see our willing helpers

  have prepared tea The price, as usual is threepence." There was laughter

  and a general pushing back of chairs.

  I went to the back of the hall with the others, put my threepence on the

  plate and collected a cup of tea and a biscuit. This was when I tried to

  get near Helen in the blind hope that something might happen. It wasn't

  always easy, because I was often buttonholed by the school headmaster

  and others who regarded a vet who liked music as an interesting

  curiosity, but tonight I managed to edge myself as if by accident into

  her group.

  She looked at me over the top of her cup. "Good evening, Mr. Herriot,

  are you enjoying it?" Oh God, she always said that. And Mr. Herriot! But

  what could I do? "Call me Jim', would sound great. I replied, as always,

  "Good evening, Miss Alderson. Yes, it's very nice, isn't it." Things

  were going with a bang again.

  I munched my biscuit while the old ladies talked about Mozart. It was

  going to be the same as all the other Tuesdays. It was about time I gave

  up the whole thing. I felt beaten.

  The vicar approached our group, still beaming. "I'm afraid I have to

  call on somebody for the washing-up rota. Perhaps our two young friends

  would take it on tonight." His friendly gaze twinkled from Helen to me

  and back again.

  The idea of washing up teacups had never held much attraction for me but

  suddenly it was like sighting the promised land. "Yes, certainly,

  delighted - that is if it's all right with Miss Alderson."

  Helen smiled. "Of course it's all right. We all have to take a turn,

  don't we."

  I wheeled the trolley of cups and saucers into the scullery. It was a

  cramped, narrow place with a sink and a few shelves and there was just

  about room for the two of us to get inside.

  "Would you like to wash or dry?" Helen asked.

  "I'll wash," I replied and began to run the hot water into the sink. It

  shouldn't be too difficult now, I thought, to work the conversation

  round to where I wanted it. I'd never have a better chance than now,

  jammed into this little room with Helen.

  But it was surprising how the time went by. Five whole minutes and we

  hadn't talked about anything but music. With mounting frustration I saw

  that we had nearly got through the pile of crockery and I had achieved

  nothing. The feeling changed to near panic when I lifted the last cup

  from the soapy water.

  It had to be now. I held out the cup to Helen and she tried to take it

  from me; but I kept a grip on the handle while I waited for inspiration.

  She pulled gently but I clung to it tenaciously. It was developing into

  a tug of war. Then I heard a hoarse croak which I only just recognised

  as my own voice. "Can I see you some time."

  For a moment she didn't answer and I tried to read her face. Was she

  surprised, annoyed, even shocked? She flushed and replied, "If you

  like." I heard the croak again. "Saturday evening?" She nodded, dried

  the cup and was gone.

  I went back to my seat with my heart thudding. The strains of mangled

  Haydn from the quartet went unheeded. I had done it at last. But did she

  really want to come out? Had she been hustled into it against her will?

  My toes curled with embarrassment at the thought, but I consoled myself

  with the knowledge that for better or for worse it was a step forward.

  Yes, I had done it at last.

  : i Chapter Fourteen.

  As I sat at breakfast I looked out at the autumn mist dissolving in the

  early sunshine. It was going to be another fine day but there was a

  chill in the old house this morning, a shiveriness
as though a cold hand

  had reached out to remind us that summer had gone and the hard months

  lay just ahead.

  "It says here," Siegfried said, adjusting his copy of the Darrowby and

  Houlton Times with care against the coffee-pot, 'that farmers have no

  feeling for their animals."

  I buttered a piece of toast and looked across at him.

  "Cruel, you mean."

  "Well, not exactly, but this chap maintains that to a farmer, livestock

  are purely commercial - there's no sentiment in his attitude towards

  them, no affection."

  "Well, it wouldn't do if they were all like poor Kit Bilton, would it?

  They'd all go mad."

  Kit was a lorry driver who, like so many of the working men of Darrowby,

  kept a pig at the bottom of his garden for family consumption. The snag

  was that when killing time came, Kit wept for three days. I happened to

  go into the house on one of these occasions and found his wife and

  daughter hard at it cutting up the meat for pies and brawn while Kit

  huddled miserably by the kitchen fire, his eyes swimming with tears. He

  was a huge man who could throw a twelve stone sack of meal on to his

  wagon with a jerk of his arms, but he seized my hand in his and sobbed

  at me "I can't bear it, Mr. Herriot. He was like a Christian was that

  pig, just like a Christian."

  "No, I agree," Siegfried leaned over and sawed off a slice of Mrs.

  Hall's home-baked bread. "But Kit isn't a real farmer. This article is

  about people who own large numbers of animals. The question is, is it

  possible for such men to become emotionally involved? Can the dairy

  farmer milking maybe fifty cows become really fond of any of them or are

  they just milk producing units."

  "It's an interesting point," I said, "And I think you've put your finger

  on it with the numbers. You know there are a lot of our farmers up in

  the high country who have only a few stock. They always have names for

  their cows Daisy, Mabel, I even came across one called Kipperlugs the

  other day. I do think these small farmers have an affection for their

  animals but I don't see how the big men can possibly have."

  Siegfried rose from the table and stretched luxuriously. "You're

  probably right. Anyway, I'm sending you to see a really big man this

  morning. John Skipton of Dennaby Close - he's got some tooth rasping to

  do. Couple of old horses losing condition. You'd better take all the

  instruments, it might be anything."

  I went through to the little room down the passage and surveyed the

  tooth instruments. I always felt at my most mediaeval when I was caught

  up in large animal dentistry and in the days of the draught horse it was

  a regular task. One of the commonest jobs was knocking the wolf teeth

  out of young horses. I have no idea how it got its name but you found

  the little wolf tooth just in front of the molars and if a young horse

  was doing badly it always got the blame.

  It was no good the vets protesting that such a minute, vestigial object

  couldn't possibly have any effect on the horse's health and that the

  trouble was probably due to worms. The farmers were adamant; the tooth

  had to be removed.

  We did this by having the horse backed into a corner, placing the forked

  end of a metal rod against the tooth and giving a sharp tap with an

  absurdly large wooden mallet. Since the tooth had no proper root the

  operation was not particularly painful, but the horse still didn't like

  it. We usually had a couple of fore-feet waving around our ears at each

  tap.

  And the annoying part was that after we had done the job and pointed out

  to the farmer that we had only performed this bit of black magic to

 
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