Let sleeping vets lie, p.11
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       Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.11

           James Herriot
 

  envied him his massive authority as he stumped, bowler-hatted and

  glowering around each animal, leaning occasionally on his stick as he

  took stock of the points. I couldn't imagine anyone daring to argue with

  him.

  It was late in the afternoon when the loudspeaker called me to my final

  duty. The Family Pets contestants were arranged on wooden chairs drawn

  up in a wide circle on the turf. They were mainly children but behind

  them an interested ring of parents and friends watched me warily as I

  arrived.

  The fashion for exotic pets was still in its infancy but I experienced a

  mild shock of surprise when I saw the variety of creatures on show. I

  suppose I must have had a vague mental picture of a few dogs and cats

  but I walked round the circle in growing bewilderment looking down at

  rabbits - innumerable rabbits of all sizes and colours - guinea pigs,

  white mice, several budgerigars, two tortoises, a canary, a kitten, a

  parrot, a mynah bird, a box of puppies, a few dogs and cats and a

  goldfish in a bowl. The smaller pets rested on their owners" knees, the

  others squatted on the ground.

  How, I asked myself was I going to come to a decision here? How did you

  choose between a parrot and a puppy, a budgie and a bulldog, a mouse and

  a mynah? Then as I circled it came to me, it couldn't be done. The only

  way was to question the children in charge and find which ones looked

  after their pets best which of them knew most about their feeding and

  general husbandry. I rubbed my hands together and repressed a chuckle of

  satisfaction; I had something to work on now.

  I don't like to boast but I think I can say in all honesty that I

  carried out an exhaustive scientific survey of that varied group. From

  the outset I adopted an attitude of cold detachment, mercilessly

  banishing any ideas of personal preference . If I had been pleasing only

  myself I would have given first prize to a gleaming black Labrador

  sitting by a chair with massive composure and offering me a gracious paw

  every time I came near. And my second would have been a i benevolent

  tabby - I have always had a thing about tabby cats - which rubbed its

  cheek against my hand as I talked to its owner. The pups, crawling over

  each other and grunting obesely, would probably have come third. But I

  put away these unworthy thoughts and pursued my chosen course.

  I was distracted to some extent by the parrot which kept saying "Hellow"

  in a voice of devastating refinement like a butler answering a telephone

  and the mynah which repeatedly adjured me to "Shut door as you go out,"

  in a booming Yorkshire baritone.

  The only adult in the ring was a bosomy lady with glacial pop eyes and a

  white poodle on her knee. As I approached she gave me a challenging

  stare as though defying me to place her pet anywhere but first.

  "Hello, little chap," I said, extending my hand. The poodle responded by

  drawing its lips soundlessly back from its teeth and giving me much the

  same kind of look as its owner. I withdrew my hand hastily.

  "Oh you needn't be afraid of trim," the lady said frigidly. "He won't

  hurt you."

  I gave a light laugh. "I'm sure he won't." I held out my hand again.

  "You're a nice little dog, aren't you?" Once more the poodle bared his

  teeth and when I persevered by trying to stroke his ears he snapped

  noiselessly, his teeth clicking together an inch from my fingers.

  "He doesn't like you, I can see that. Do you, darling?" The lady put her

  check against the dog's head and stared at me distastefully as though

  she knew just how he felt.

  "Shut door as you go out," commanded the mynah gruffy from somewhere

  behind me.

  I gave the lady my questionnaire and moved on.

  And among the throng there was one who stood out; the little boy with

  the goldfish. In reply to my promptings he discoursed knowledgeably

  about his fish, its feeding, life history and habits. He even had a fair

  idea of the common diseases. The bowl, too, was beautifully clean and

  the water fresh; I was impressed.

  When I had completed the circuit I swept the ring for the last time with

  a probing eye. Yes, there was no doubt about it; I had the three prize

  winners; fixed in my mind beyond any question and in an order based on

  strictly scientific selection. I stepped out into the middle.

  "Ladies and gentlemen," I said, scanning the company with an affable

  smile.

  "Hellow," responded the parrot fruitily.

  I ignored him and continued. "These are the successful entrants. First,

  number . six, the goldfish. Second, number fifteen, the guinea pig. And

  third, number ten, the white kitten." ;4

  I half expected a little ripple of applause but there was none. In fact

  my ., announcement was greeted by a tight-lipped silence. I had noticed

  an immediate change in the atmosphere when I mentioned the goldfish. It

  was striking - a sudden cold wave which swept away the expectant smiles

  and replaced them with discontented muttering.

  I had done something wrong, but what? I looked around helplessly as the

  hum of voices increased. "What do you think of that, then?"

  "Not fair, is it?" 3

  ~Wouldn't have thought it of him?"

  "All them lovely rabbits and he hardly looked at them."

  I couldn't make it out, but my job was done, anyway. I pushed between

  the chairs and escaped to the open field.

  "Shut door as you go out," the mynah requested in deepest bass as I

  departed.

  I sought out Tristan again. The atmosphere in the beer tent had changed,

  too The drinkers were long since past their peak and the hilarious babel

  which had met me on my last visit had died to an exhausted murmur There

  was a general air of satiation. Tristan, pint in hand, was being

  addressed with great solemnity by a man in a flat cap and braces. The

  man swayed slightly as he grasped Tristan's free hand and gazed into his

  eyes. Occasionally he patted him on the shoulder with the utmost

  affection. Obviously my colleague had been forging deep and lasting

  friendships in here while I was making enemies outside.

  I sidled up to him and spoke into his ear. "Ready to go soon, Triss?"

  He turned slowly and looked at me. "No, old lad," he said, articulating

  carefully. "I'm afraid I shall't be coming with you. They're having a

  dance here on the showfield later and Doreen has consented to accompany

  me." He cast a loving glance across the counter at the red-head who

  crinkled her nose at him.

  I was about to leave when a snatch of conversation from behind made me

  pause.

  "A bloody goldfish!" a voice was saying disgustedly.

  "Aye, it's a rum 'un, George," a second voice replied.

  There was a slurping sound of beer being downed.

  "But the knows, Fred," the first voice said. "That vet feller had to do

  it. Didn't 'ave no choice. He couldn't pass over "'squire's son."

  "Reckon you're right, but it's a bugger when you get graft and

  corruption in ""Family Pets."

  A heavy sigh, then "It's the way things are nowadays, Fred. Everything's

  hulterior.
"

  "You're right there, George. It's hulterior, that's what it is."

  I fought down a rising panic. The Pelhams had been Lords of the Manor of

  Darrowby for generations and the present squire was Major Pelham. I knew

  him as a friendly farmer client, but that was all. I'd never heard of

  his son.

  I clutched at Tristan's arm. "Who is that little boy over there?"

  Tristan peered out glassily across the sward. "The one with the goldfish

  bowl, you mean?"

  "That's right."

  "It's young Nigel Pelham, the squire's son."

  "Oh Gawd," I moaned. "But I've never seen him before. Where's he been?"

  Boarding school down south, I believe. On holiday just now."

  I stared at the boy again. Tousled fair hair, grey open-necked shirt,

  sunburned legs. Just like all the others.

  George was at it again. "Lovely dogs and cats there was, but squire's

  lad won it with a bloody goldfish.

  "Well, let's be right," his companion put in. "If that lad 'ad brought.

  along a bloody stuffed monkey he'd still 'ave got just prize with it."

  "No doubt about it, Fred. T'other kids might as well 'ave stopped at

  'ome."

  "Aye, it's not like it used to be, George. Nobody does owl for nowt

  these days."

  "True, Fred, very true." There was a gloomy silence punctuated by noisy

  gulpings Then, in weary tones: "Well you and me can't alter it. It's the

  kind of world we're living in today."

  I reeled out into the fresh air and the sunshine. Looking round at the

  tranquil scene, the long stretch of grass, the loop of pebbly river with

  the green hills rising behind, I had a sense of unreality. Was there any

  part of this peaceful cameo of rural England without its sinister

  undertones? As if by instinct I made my way into the long marquee which

  housed the produce section. Surely among those quiet rows of vegetables

  I would find repose.

  The place was almost empty but as I made my way down the long lines of

  tables I came upon the solitary figure of old John William Enderby who

  had a little grocer's shop in the town.

  "Well how are things?" I enquired.

  "Nobbut middlin" lad," the old man replied morosely.

  "Why, what's wrong?"

  "Well, ah got a second with me broad beans but only a highly commended

  for me shallots. Look at 'em."

  I looked. "Yes, they're beautiful shallots, Mr. Enderby."

  "Aye, they are, and nobbut a highly commended. It's a insult, that's

  what it is a insult."

  "But Mr. Enderby ... highly commended ... I mean, that's pretty good

  isn't it ?"

  "No it isn't, it's a insult!"

  "Oh bad luck."

  John William stared at me wide-eyed for a moment. "It's not bad luck,

  lad, it's nowt but a twist."

  "Oh surely not!"

  "Ah'm tellin" you. Jim Houlston got first with 'is shallots and judge is

  his wife's cousin."

  "Never!" ' It's true," grunted John William, nodding solemnly. "It's

  nowt but a twist."

  "Well I've never heard of such a thing!"

  "You don't know what goes on, young man. Ah wasn't even placed with me

  taties. Frank Thompson got first wi" that lot." He pointed to a tray of

  noble tubers.

  I studied them. "I must admit they look splendid potatoes."

  "Aye, they are, but Frank pinched 'em."

  "What ?"

  "Aye, they took first prize at Brisby show last Thursday and Frank

  pinched 'em orf "'stand."

  I clutched at the nearby table. The foundations of my world were

  crumbling. "That can't be true, Mr. Enderby."

  "Ah'm not jokin" nor jestin"," declared John William. "Them's self and

  same taties, ah'd know them anywhere. It's nowt but a ... '

  J could take no more. I fled.

  Outside the evening sunshine was still warm and the whole field was

  awash with the soft light which, in the Dales, seems to stream down in a

  golden Rood from the high tops. But it was as if the forces of darkness

  were pressing on me; all I wanted was to get home.

  I hurried to the stewards" tent and collected my measuring stick,

  running a gauntlet of hostile stares from the pony people I had outed

  earlier in the day. They were still waving their certificates and

  arguing.

  On the way to the car I had to pass several of the ladies who had

  watched me judge the pets and though they didn't exactly draw their

  skirts aside they managed to convey their message. Among the rows of

  vehicles I spotted the man with the mustache. He still hadn't taken his

  terrier away and his eyes, full of wounded resentment, followed my every

  step.

  I was opening my door when Helen and her party, also apparently on the

  way home, passed about fifty yards away. Helen waved, I waved back, and

  Richard Edmundson gave me a nod before helping her into the front seat

  of a gleaming, silver Daimler. The two fathers got into the back.

  As I settled into the seat of my little Austin, braced my feet against

  the broken floor boards and squinted through the cracked windscreen I

  prayed that just this once the thing would go on the starter. Holding my

  breath I pulled at the knob but the engine gave a couple of lazy turns

  then fell silent.

  Fishing the starting handle from under the seat I crept out and inserted

  it in its hole under the radiator; and as I began the old familiar

  winding the silver monster purred contemptuously past me and away.

  Dropping into the driver's seat again I caught sight of my face in the

  mirror and could see the streaks and flecks of blood still caked on my

  cheek and around the roots of my hair. Tristan hadn't done a very good

  job with his bucket of cold water.

  I looked back at the emptying field and at the Daimler disappearing

  round a distant bend. It seemed to me that in more ways than one the

  show was over.

  Chapter Ten.

  ~:

  :'

  i .~ 1 L Ben Ashby the cattle dealer looked over the gate with his

  habitual deadpan expression. It always seemed to me that after a

  lifetime of buying cows from farmers he had developed a terror of

  showing any emotion which might be construed as enthusiasm. When he

  looked at a beast his face registered nothing beyond, occasionally, a

  gentle sorrow.

  This was how it was this morning as he leaned on the top spar and

  directed a gloomy stare at Harry Sumner's heifer. After a few moments he

  turned to the farmer.

  "I wish you'd had her in for me, Harry. She's too far away. I'm going to

  have to get over the top." He began to climb stiffly upwards and it was

  then that he spotted Monty. The bull hadn't been so easy to see before

  as he cropped the grass among the group of heifers but suddenly the

  great head rose high above the others, the nose ring gleamed, and an

  ominous, strangled bellow sounded across the grass. And as he gazed at

  us he pulled absently at the turf with a fore foot.

  Ben Ashby stopped climbing, hesitated for a second then returned to

  ground level.

  "Aye well," he muttered, still without changing expression. "It's not

  that far away. I reckon I can see all r
ight from here."

  Monty had changed a lot since the first day I saw him about two years

  ago. He had been a fortnight old then, a skinny, knock-kneed little

  creature, his head deep in a calf bucket.

  "Well, what do you think of me new bull?" Harry Sumner had asked,

  laughing. "Not much for a hundred quid is he?"

  I whistled. "As much as that?"

  "Aye, it's a lot for a new-dropped calf, isn't it? But I can't think of

  any other way of getting into the Newton strain. I haven't the brass to

  buy a big 'un."

  Not all the farmers of those days were as farseeing as Elarry and some

  of them would use any type of male bovine to get their cows in calf.

  One such man produced a gaunt animal for Siegfried's inspection and

  asked him what he thought of his bull. Siegfried's reply of "All horns

  and balls" didn't please the owner but I still treasure it as the most

  graphic description of the typical scrub bull of that period.

  Harry was a bright boy. He had inherited a little place of about a

  hundred acres on his father's death and with his young wife had set

  about making it go He was in his early twenties and when I first saw him

 
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