It shouldnt happen to a.., p.11
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.11

           James Herriot
 
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humour him, the horse would take an immediate turn for the better and

  thrive consistently from then on. Farmers are normally reticent about

  our successful efforts for fear we might put a bit more on the bill but

  in these cases they cast aside all caution. They would shout at us

  across the market place: "Hey, remember that 'oss you knocked wolf teeth

  out of? Well he never looked back. It capped him."

  I looked again with distaste at the tooth instruments; the vicious

  forceps with two-feet-long arms, shar.pjawed shears, mouth gags, hammers

  and chisels, files and rasps; it was rather like a quiet corner in the

  Spanish Inquisition. We kept a long wooden box with a handle for

  carrying the things and I staggered out to the car with a fair

  selection.

  Dennaby Close was not just a substantial farm, it was a monument to a

  man's endurance and skill. The fine old house, the extensive buildings,

  the great sweep of lush grassland along the lower slopes of the fell

  were all proof that old John Skipton had achieved the impossible; he had

  started as an uneducated farm labourer and he was now a wealthy

  landowner.

  The miracle hadn't happened easily; old John had a lifetime of grinding

  toil behind him that would have killed most men, a lifetime with no room

  for a wife or family or creature comforts, but there was more to it than

  that; there was a brilliant acumen in agricultural matters that had made

  the old man a legend in the district. "When all t'world goes one road, I

  go "'other' was one of his quoted sayings and it is true that the

  Skipton farms had made money in the hard times when others were going

  bankrupt. Dennaby was only one of John's farms; he had two large arable

  places of about four hundred acres each lower down the Dale.

  He had conquered, but to some people it seemed that he had himself been

  conquered in the process. He had battled against the odds for so many

  years and driven himself so fiercely that he couldn't stop. He could be

  enjoying all kinds of luxuries now but he just hadn't the time; they

  said that the poorest of his workers lived in better style than he did.

  I paused as I got out of the car and stood gazing at the house as though

  I had never seen it before; and I marvelled again at the elegance which

  had withstood over three hundred years of the harsh climate. People came

  a long way to see Dennaby Close and take photographs of the graceful

  manor with its tall, leaded windows, the massive chimneys towering over

  the old moss-grown tiles; or to wander through the neglected garden and

  climb up the sweep of steps to the entrance with its wide stone arch

  over the great studded door.

  There should have been a beautiful woman in one of those pointed hats

  peeping out from that mullioned casement or a cavalier in ruffles and

  hose pacing beneath the high wall with its pointed copings. But there

  was just old John stumping impatiently towards me, his tattered,

  buttonless coat secured only by a length of binder twine round his

  middle.

  "Come in a minute, young man," he cried. "I've got a little bill to pay

  you." He led the way round to the back of the house and I followed,

  pondering on the odd fact that it was always a 'little bill' in

  Yorkshire. We went in through a flagged kitchen to a room which was

  graceful and spacious but furnished only with a table, a few wooden

  chairs and a collapsed sofa.

  The old man bustled over to the mantelpiece and fished out a bundle of

  papers from behind the clock. He leafed through them, threw an envelope

  on to the table then produced a cheque book and slapped it down in front

  of me. I did the usual - took out the bill, made out the amount on the

  cheque and pushed it over for him to sign. He wrote with a careful

  concentration, the small-featured, weathered face bent low, the peak of

  the old cloth cap almost touching the pen. His trousers had ridden up

  his legs as he sat down showing the skinny calves and bare ankles. There

  were no socks underneath the heavy boots.

  When I had pocketed the cheque, John jumped to his feet. "We'll have to

  walk down to striver; 'osses are down there." He left the house almost

  at a trot.

  I eased my box of instruments from the car boot. It was a funny thing

  but whenever I had heavy equipment to lug about, my patients were always

  a long way away. This box seemed to be filled with lead and it wasn't

  going to get any lighter on the journey down through the walled

  pastures.

  , ."

  The old man seized a pitch fork, stabbed it into a bale of hay and

  hoisted it effortlessly over his shoulder. He set off again at the same

  brisk pace. We made our way down from one gateway to another, often

  walking diagonally across the fields. John didn't reduce speed and I

  stumbled after him, puffing a little and trying to put away the thought

  that he was at least fifty years older than me.

  About half way down we came across a group of men at the age-old task of

  'walling' - repairing a gap in one of the dry stone walls which trace

  their patterns everywhere on the green slopes of the Dales. One of the

  men looked up. "Nice mornin', Mr. Skipton,'he sang out cheerfully.

  "Bugger t'mornin'. Get on wi'some work," grunted old John in reply and

  the man smiled contentedly as though he had received a compliment.

  I was glad when we reached the flat land at the bottom. My arms seemed

  to have been stretched by several inches and I could feel a trickle of

  sweat on my brow. Old John appeared unaffected; he flicked the fork from

  his shoulder and the bale thudded on to the grass.

  The two horses turned towards us at the sound. They were standing

  fetlock deep in the pebbly shallows just beyond a little beach which

  merged into the green carpet of turf; nose to tail, they had been

  rubbing their chins gently along each other's backs, unconscious of our

  approach. A high'cliff overhanging the far bank made a perfect wind

  break while on either side of us clumps of oak and beech blazed in the

  autumn sunshine.

  "They're in a nice spot, Mr. Skipton," I said.

  "Aye, they can keep cool in the hot weather and they've got the barn

  when winter comes." John pointed to a low, thick-walled building with a

  single door. "They can come and go as they please."

  The sound of his voice brought the horses out of the river at a stiff

  trot and as they came near you could see they really were old. The mare

  was a chestnut and the gelding was a light bay but their coats were so

  flecked with grey that they almost looked like roans. This was most

  pronounced on their faces where the sprinkling of white hairs, the

  sunken eyes and the deep cavity above the eyes gave them a truly

  venerable appearance.

  For all that, they capered around John with a fair attempt at

  skittishness, stamping their feet, throwing their heads about, pushing

  his cap over his eyes with their muzzles.

  "Get by, leave off!" he shouted. "Daft awd beggars." But he tugged

  absently at the mare's forelock and ran his hand briefly along the neck

  of the gelding.

/>   "When did they last do any work?" I asked.

  "Oh, about twelve years ago, I reckon."

  I stared at John. "Twelve years! And have they been down here all that

  time."

  "Aye, just [akin' about down here, retired like. They've earned it a."

  all." For a few moments he stood silent, shoulders hunched, hands deep

  in the pockets of his coat, then he spoke quietly as if to himself.

  "They were two slaves when I was a slave." He turned and looked at me

  and for a revealing moment I read in the pale blue eyes something of the

  agony and struggle he had shared with the animals.

  "But twelve years! How old are they, anyway."

  John's mouth twisted up at one corner. "Well you're t'vet. You tell me."

  I stepped forward confidently, my mind buzzing with Galvayne's groove,

  shape of marks, degree of slope and the rest; I grasped the unprotesting

  upper lip of the mare and looked at her teeth.

  "Good God!" I gasped, "I've never seen anything like this." The incisors

  were immensely long and projecting forward till they met at an angle of

  about forty-five degrees. There were no marks at all - they had long

  since gone.

  I laughed and turned back to the old man. "It's no good, I'd only be

  guessing. You'll have to tell me."

  "Well she's about thirty and gelding's a year or two younger. She's had

  fifteen grand foals and never ailed owl except a bit of teeth trouble.

  We've had them rasped a time or two and it's time they were done again,

  I reckon. They're both losing ground and dropping bits of half chewed

  hay from their mouths. Gelding's the worst - has a right job champi."

  his grub."

  I put my hand into the mare's mouth, grasped her tongue and pulled it

  out to one side. A quick exploration of the molars with my other hand

  revealed what I suspected; the outside edges of the upper teeth were

  overgrown and jagged and were irritating the cheeks while the inside

  edges of the lower molars were in a similar state.and were slightly

  excoriating the tongue.

  "I'll soon make her more comfortable, Mr. Skipton. With those sharp

  edges rubbed off she'll be as good as new." I got the rasp out of my

  vast box, held the tongue in one hand and worked the rough surface along

  the teeth, checking occasionally with my fingers till the points had

  been sufficiently reduced.

  "That's about right," I said after a few minutes. "I don't want to make

  them too smooth or she won't be able to grind her food."

  John grunted. "Good enough. Now have a look a "'other. There's summat

  far wrong with him."

  I had a feel at the gelding's teeth. "Just the same as the mare. Soon

  put him right, too."

  But pushing at the rasp, I had an uncomfortable feeling that something

  was not quite right. The thing wouldn't go fully to the back of the

  mouth; something was stopping it. I stopped rasping and explored again,

  reaching with-my fingers as far as I could. And I came upon something

  very strange, something which shouldn't have been there at all. It was

  like a great chunk of bone projecting down from the roof of the mouth.

  It was time I had a proper look. I got out my pocket torch and shone it

  over the back of the tongue. It was easy to see the trouble now; the

  last upper molar was overlapping the lower one resulting in a gross

  overgrowth of the posterior border. The result was a sabre-like barb

  about three inches long stabbing down into the tender tissue of the gum.

  That would have to come off - right now. My jauntiness vanished and I

  suppressed a shudder; it meant using the horrible shears - those great

  longhandled things with the screw operated by a cross bar. They gave me

  the willies because I am one of those people who can't bear to watch

  anybody blowing up a balloon and this was the same sort of thing only

  worse. You fastened the sharp blades of the shears on to the tooth and

  began to turn the bar slowly, slowly. Soon the tooth began to groan and

  creak under the tremendous leverage and you knew that any second it

  would break off and when it did it was like somebody letting off a rifle

  in your ear. That was when all hell usually broke loose but mercifully

  this was a quiet old horse and I wouldn't expect him to start dancing

  around on his hind legs. There was no pain for the horse because the

  overgrown part had no nerve supply - it was the noise that caused the

  trouble.

  Returning to my crate I produced the dreadful instrument and with it a

  Haussman's gag which I inserted on the incisors and opened on its

  ratchet till the mouth gaped wide. Everything was easy to see then and,

  of course, there it was - a great prong at the other side of the mouth

  exactly like the first. Great, great, now I had two to chop off.

  The old horse stood patiently, eyes almost closed, as though he had seen

  it all and nothing in the world was going to bother him. I went through

  the motions with my toes curling and when the sharp crack came, the

  white-bordered eyes opened wide, but only in mild surprise. He never

  even moved. When I did the , `5~, , ~ I ."

  other side he paid no attention at all; in fact, with the gag prising

  his jaws apart he looked exactly as though he was yawning with boredom.

  As I bundled the tools away, John picked up the bony spicules from the

  grass and studied them with interest. "Well, poor awd beggar. Good job I

  got you along, young man. Reckon he'll feel a lot better now."

  On the way back, old John, relieved of his bale, was able to go twice as

  fast and he stumped his way up the hill at a furious pace, using the

  fork as a staff. I panted along in the rear, changing the box from hand

  to hand every few minutes.

  About half way up, the thing slipped out of my grasp and it gave me a

  chance to stop for a breather. As the old man muttered impatiently I

  looked back and could just see the two horses; they had returned to the

  shallows and were playing together, chasing each other jerkily, their

  feet splashing in the water. The cliff made a dark backcloth to the

  picture - the shining river, the trees glowing bronze and gold and the

  sweet green of the grass.

  Back in the farm yard, John paused awkwardly. He nodded once or twice

  said "Thank ye, young man," then turned abruptly and walked away.

  I was dumping the box thankfully into the boot when I saw the man who

  had spoken to us on the way down. He was sitting,. cheerful as ever, in

  a sunny corner, back against a pile of sacks, pulling his dinner packet

  from an old army satchel.

  "You've been down to see "'pensioners, then? By yaw, awd John should

  know the way."

  "Regular visitor, is he."

  "Regular? Every day God sends you'll see t'awd feller ploddin' down

  there. Rain, snow or blow, never misses. And allus has summat with him

  bag o' corn, straw for their bedding."

  "And he's done that for twelve years."

  The man unscrewed his thermos flask and poured himself a cup of black

  tea. "Aye, them 'osses haven't done a stroke o' work all that time and

  he could've got good money for them from the horse flesh merchants. Rum

  'u
n, isn't it."

  "You're right," I said, 'it is a rum 'un."

  Just how rum it was occupied my thoughts on the way back to the surgery.

  I went back to my conversation with Siegfried that morning; we had just

  about decided that the man with a lot of animals couldn't be expected to

  feel affection for individuals among them. But those buildings back

  there were full of John Skipton's animals - he must have hundreds.

  Yet what made him trail down that hillside every day in all weathers?

  Why had he filled the last years of those two old horses with peace and

  beauty? Why had he given them a final ease and comfort which he had

  withheld from himself?

  It could only be love.

  Chapter Fifteen.

  The longer I worked in Darrowby the more the charms of the Dales

  beguiled me. And there was one solid advantage of which I became more

  aware every day - the Dales farmers were all stocksmen. They really knew

  how to handle animals, and to a vet whose patients are constantly trying

  to thwart him or injure him it was a particular blessing.

  So this morning I looked with satisfaction at the two men holding the

  cow. It wasn't a difficult job - just an intravenous injection of

  magnesium lactate but still it was reassuring to have two such sturdy

  fellows to help me. Maurice Bennison, medium sized but as tough as one

  of his own hill beasts, had a horn in his right hand while the fingers

  of his left gripped the nose; I had the comfortable impression that the

  cow wouldn't jump very far when I pushed the needle in. His brother

  George whose job it was to raise the vein, held the choke rope limply in

  his enormous hands like bunches of carrots. He grinned down at me

  amiably from his six feet four inches.

  "Right, George," I said. "Tighten up that rope and lean against the cow

  to stop her coming round on me." I pushed my way between the cow and her

  neighbour, past George's unyielding bulk and bent over the jugular vein.

  It was standing out very nicely. I poised the needle, feeling the big

  man's elbow on me as he peered over my shoulder, and thrust quickly into

  the vein.

  "Lovely!" I cried as the dark blood fountained out and spattered thickly

  on the straw bedding beneath. "Slacken your rope, George." I fumbled in

  my pocket for the flutter valve. "And for God's sake, get your weight

  off me."

  Because George had apparently decided to rest his full fourteen stones

  on me instead of the cow, and as I tried desperately to connect the tube

  to the needle I felt my knees giving way. I shouted again, despairingly,

  but he was inert, his chin resting on my shoulder, his breathing

  stertorous in my ear.

  There could only be one end to it. I fell flat on my face and lay there

  writhing under the motionless body. My cries went unheeded; George was

  unconscious.

  Mr. Bennison, attracted by the commotion, came in to the byre just in

  time to see me crawling out from beneath his eldest son. "Get him out,

  quick!" I gasped, 'before the cows trample on him." Wordlessly, Maurice

  and his father took an ankle apiece and hauled away in unison. George

  shot out from under the cows, his head beating a brisk tattoo on the

  cobbles, traversed the dung channel, then resumed his sleep on the byre

  floor.

  Mr. Bennison moved back to the cow and waited for me to continue with my

  injection but I found the presence of the sprawled body distracting.

  "Look, couldn't we sit him up against the wall and put his head between

  his legs?" I suggested apologetically. The others glanced at each other

  then, as though deciding to humour me, grabbed George's shoulders and

  trundled him over the floor with the expertise of men used to throwing

  around bags of fertiliser and potatoes. But even propped against the

 
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