It shouldnt happen to a.., p.14
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.14

           James Herriot
 
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me. This was different. When I had come here before it had been as a

  veterinary surgeon the man who knew, who was wanted, who came to render

  assistance in time of need. It had never occurred to me how much this

  affected my outlook every time I walked on to a farm. This wasn't the

  same thing at all. I had come to take this man's daughter out. He might

  not like it, might positively resent it.

  Standing outside the farmhouse door I took a deep breath. The night was

  very dark and still. No sound came from the great trees near by and only

  the distant roar of the Darrow disturbed the silence. The recent heavy

  rains had transformed the leisurely, wandering river into a rushing

  torrent which in places overflowed its banks and flooded the surrounding

  pastures.

  I was shown into the large kitchen by Helen's young brother. The boy had

  a hand over his mouth in an attempt to hide a wide grin. He seemed to

  find the situation funny. His little sister sitting at a table doing her

  homework was pretending to concentrate on her writing but she, too, wore

  a fixed smirk as she looked down at her book.

  Mr. Alderson was reading the Farmer and Stockbreeder, his breeches

  unlaced, his stockinged feet stretched out towards a blazing pile of

  logs.-He looked up over his spectacles.

  "Come in, young man, and sit by the fire," he said absently. I had the

  uncomfortable impression that it was a frequent and boring experience

  for him to have young men calling for his eldest daughter.

  I sat down at the other side of the fire and Mr. Alderson resumed his

  study of the Farmer and Stockbreeder. The ponderous tick-tock of a large

  wall clock boomed out into the silence. I stared into the red depths of

  the fire till my eyes began to ache, then I looked up at a big oil

  painting in a gilt frame hanging above the mantelpiece. It depicted

  shaggy cattle standing knee-deep in a lake of 41_

  an extraordinary bright blue; behind them loomed a backcloth of

  fearsome, improbable mountains, their jagged summits wreathed in a

  sulphurous mist.

  Averting my eyes from this, I examined, one by one, the sides of bacon

  and the hams hanging from the rows of hooks in the ceiling. Mr. Alderson

  turned over a page. The clock ticked on. Over by the table, spluttering

  noises came from the children After about a year I heard footsteps on

  the stairs, then Helen came into the room. She was wearing a blue dress

  - the kind, without shoulder straps, that seems to stay up by magic. Her

  dark hair shone under the single pressure lamp which lit the kitchen,

  shadowing the soft curves of her neck and shoulders. Over one white arm

  she held a camel-hair coat.

  I felt stunned. She was like a rare jewel in the rough setting of stone

  flags and whitewashed walls. She gave me her quiet, friendly smile and

  walked towards me. "Hello, I hope I haven't kept you waiting too long."

  I muttered something in reply and helped her on with her coat. She went

  over and kissed her father who didn't look up but waved his hand

  vaguely. There was another outburst of giggling from the table. We went

  out.

  In the car I felt unusually tense and for the first mile or two had to

  depend on some inane remarks about the weather to keep a conversation

  going. I was beginning to relax when I drove over a little hump-backed

  bridge into a dip in the road. Then the car suddenly stopped. The engine

  coughed gently and then we were sitting silent and motionless in the

  darkness. And there was something else; my feet and ankles were freezing

  cold.

  "My God!" I shouted. "We've run into a bit of flooded road. The water's

  right into the car." I looked round at Helen. "I'm terribly sorry about

  this - your feet must be soaked."

  But Helen was laughing. She had her feet tucked up on the seat, her

  knees under her chin. "Yes, I am a bit wet, but it's no good sitting

  about like this. Hadn't we better start pushing."

  Wading out into the black icy waters was a nightmare but there was no

  escape. Mercifully it was a little car and between us we managed to push

  it beyond the flooded patch. Then by torchlight I dried the plugs and

  got the engine going again.

  Helen shivered as we squelched back into the car. "I'm afraid I'll have

  to go back and change my shoes and stockings. And so will you. There's

  another road back through Fensley. You take the first turn on the left."

  Back at the farm, Mr. Alderson was still reading the Farmer and

  Stockbreeder and kept his finger on the list of pig prices while he gave

  me a baleful glance over his spectacles. When he learned that I had come

  to borrow a pair of his shoes and socks he threw the paper down in

  exasperation and rose, groaning, from his chair. He shuffled out of the

  room and I could hear him muttering to himself as he mounted the stairs.

  Helen followed him and I was left alone with the two young children.

  They studied my sodden trousers with undisguised delight. I had wrung

  most of the surplus water out of them but the final result was

  remarkable. Mrs. Hall's knife-edge crease reached to just below the

  knee, but then there was chaos. The trousers flared out at that point in

  a crumpled, shapeless mass and as I stood by the fire to dry them a

  gentle steam rose about me. The children stared at me, wide-eyed and

  happy. This was a big night for them.

  KIR Alderson reappeared at length and dropped some shoes and rough socks

  at my feet. I pulled on the socks quickly but shrank back when I saw the

  shoes. They were a pair of dancing slippers from the early days of the

  century and their cracked patent leather was topped by wide, black silk

  bows.

  I opened my mouth to protest but Mr. Alderson had dug himself deep into

  his : j chair and had found his place again among the pig prices. I had

  the feeling that if I asked for another pair of shoes Mr. Alderson would

  attack me with the poker. I put the slippers on.

  We had to take a roundabout road to avoid the floods but I kept my foot

  down and within half-an-hour we had left the steep sides of the Dale

  behind us and were heading out on to the rolling plain. I began to feel

  better. We were making good time and the little car, shuddering and

  creaking, was going well. I was just thinking that we wouldn't be all

  that late when the steering-wheel began to drag to one side.

  I had a puncture most days and recognised the symptoms immediately. I

  had become an expert at changing wheels and with a word of apology to

  Helen was out of the car like a flash. With my rapid manipulation of the

  rusty jack and brace the wheel was off within three minutes. The surface

  of the crumpled tyre was quite smooth except for the lighter, frayed

  parts where the canvas showed through. Working like a demon, I screwed

  on the spare, cringing inwardly as I saw that this tyre was in exactly

  the same condition as the other. I steadfastly refused to think of what

  I would do if its frail fibres should give up the struggle.

  By day, the Reniston dominated Brawton like a vast mediaeval fortress,

  bright flags fluttering arrogantly from its four
turrets, but tonight it

  was like a dark cliff with a glowing cavern at street level where the

  Bentleys discharged their expensive cargoes. I didn't take my vehicle to

  the front entrance but tucked it away quietly at the back of the car

  park. A magnificent commissionaire opened the door for us and we trod

  noiselessly over the rich carpeting of the entrance hall.

  We parted there to get rid of our coats, and in the men's cloakroom I

  scrubbed frantically at my oily hands. It didn't do much good; changing

  that wheel had given my finger nails a border of deep black which defied

  ordinary soap and water. And Helen was waiting for me.

  I looked up in the mirror at the whitejacketed attendant hovering behind

  me with a towel. The man, clearly fascinated by my ensemble, was staring

  down at the wide-bowed pierrot shoes and the rumpled trouser bottoms. As

  he handed over the towel he smiled broadly as if in gratitude for this

  little bit of extra colour in his life.

  I met Helen in the reception hall and we went over to the desk. "What

  time does the dinner dance start?" I asked.

  The girl at the desk looked surprised. "I'm sorry, sir, there's no dance

  tonight. We only have them once a fortnight."

  I turned to Helen in dismay but she smiled encouragingly. "It doesn't

  matter," she said. "I don't really care what we do."

  "We can have dinner, anyway," I said. I tried to speak cheerfully but a

  little black cloud seemed to be forming just above my head. Was anything

  going to go right tonight? I could feel my morale slumping as I padded

  over the lush carpet and my first sight of the dining-room didn't help.

  It looked as big as a football field with great marble pillars

  supporting a carved painted ceiling. The Reniston had been built in the

  late Victorian period and all the opulence and ornate splendour of those

  days had been retained in this tremendous room. Most of the tables were

  occupied by the usual clientele, a mixture of the county aristocracy and

  industrialists from the West Riding. I had never seen so many beautiful

  women and masterful-looking men under one roof and I noticed with a

  twinge of alarm that, though the men were wearing everything from dark

  lounge suits to hairy tweeds, there wasn't another dinner jacket in

  sight.

  A majestic figure in white tie and tails bore down on us. With his mane

  of white hair falling back from the lofty brow, the bulging waistline,

  the hooked nose and imperious expression he looked exactly like a Roman

  emperor. His eyes flickered expertly over me and he spoke tonelessly.

  ~You want a table, sir."

  "Yes please," I mumbled, only just stopping myself saying 'sir' to the

  man in return "A table for two."

  "Are you staying, sir."

  This question baffled me. How could I possibly have dinner here if I

  wasn't staying.

  "Yes, I am staying."

  The emperor made a note on a pad. "This way, sir."

  He began to make his way with great dignity among the tables while I

  followed abjectly in his wake with Helen. It was a long way to the table

  and I tried to ignore the heads which turned to have a second look at me

  as I passed. It was Mrs. Hall's gusset that worried me most and I

  imagined it standing out like a beacon below the short jacket. It was

  literally burning my buttocks by the time we arrived.

  The table was nicely situated and a swarm of waiters descended on us,

  pulling out our chairs and settling us into them, shaking out our

  napkins and spreading them on our laps. When they had dispersed the

  emperor took charge again. He poised a pencil over his pad.

  "May I have your room number, sir."

  I swallowed hard and stared up at him over my dangerously billowing

  shirt front. "Room number? Oh, I'm not living in the hotel."

  "Ah, NOT staying." He fixed me for a moment with an icy look before

  crossing out something on the pad with unnecessary violence. He muttered

  something to one of the waiters and strode away.

  It was about then that the feeling of doom entered into me. The black

  cloud over my head spread and descended, enveloping me in a dense cloud

  of misery. The whole evening had been a disaster and would probably get

  worse. I must have been mad to come to this sumptuous place dressed up

  like a knockabout comedian. I was as hot as hell inside this ghastly

  suit and the stud was biting viciously into my neck.

  I took a menu card from a waiter and tried to hold it with my fingers

  curled inwards to hide my dirty nails. Everything was in French and in

  my numbed state the words were largely meaningless, but somehow I

  ordered the meal and, as we ate, I tried desperately to keep a

  conversation going. But long deserts of silence began to stretch between

  us; it seemed that only Helen and I were quiet among all the surrounding

  laughter and chatter.

  Worst of all was the little voice which kept telling me that Helen had

  never really wanted to come out with me anyway. She had done it out of

  politeness and was getting through a boring evening as best she could.

  The journey home was a fitting climax. We stared straight ahead as the

  headlights picked out the winding road back into the Dales. We made

  stumbling remarks then the strained silence took over again. By the time

  we drew up outside the farm my head had begun to ache.

  We shook hands and Helen thanked me for a lovely evening. There was a

  tremor in her voice and in the moonlight her face was anxious and

  withdrawn. said goodnight, got into the car and drove away.

  Chapter Eighteen.

  i , If only my car had had any brakes I would certainly have enjoyed

  looking down on Worton village from the high moor. The old stone houses

  straggling unevenly along the near bank of the river made a pleasant

  splash of grey on the green floor of the valley and the little gardens

  with their clipped lawns gave a touch of softness to the bare, rising

  sweep of the fellside on the other side of the Dale.

  But the whole scene was clouded by the thought that I had to get down

  that road with its I in 4 gradient and those two villainous S bends. It

  was like a malevolent snake coiling almost headlong from where I sat.

  And, as I said, I had no brakes.

  Of course the vehicle had originally been fitted with the means of

  bringing it to a halt, and during most of the year I had ridden in it a

  violent pressure on the pedal would have the desired effect even though

  it caused a certain amount `f veerin~ ~hr~'t nn the road But lately the

  resdonse had been growing weaker and now it was nil.

  During the gradual deterioration I had brought the matter up with

  Siegfried now and then and he had expressed sympathy and concern.

  "That won't do at all, James. I'll have a word with Hammond about it.

  Leave it with me."

  And then a few days later when I made a further appeal.

  "Oh Lord, yes. I've been meaning to fix it up with Hammond. Don't worry,

  James, I'll see to it."

  Finally I had to tell him that when I put my foot on the pedal there was

  nothing at all and the only way I had of stopping the car was to crash
/>
  it into bottom gear.

  "Oh bad luck, James. Must be a nuisance for you. But never mind, I'll

  arrange everything." Some time later I asked Mr. Hammond down at the

  garage if he had heard anything from Siegfried, but he hadn't. The motor

  man did, however, hop into the car and drive it slowly down the street.

  He came to a jerking, shuddering halt about fifty yards away and then

  got out. He made no attempt to back up but walked thoughtfully towards

  me. Normally an imperturbable man, he had gone rather pale and he looked

  at me wonderingly.

  "And you mean to tell me, lad, that you do all your rounds in that car."

  "Well, yes, I do."

  "You ought to have a medal, then. I dursn't drive across market place in

  that bloody thing."

  There wasn't much I could do. The car was Siegfried's property and I'd

  have to await his pleasure. Of course I had had experience of this sort

  of thing before in the shape of the movable passenger seat he had in his

  own vehicle when I first came to Darrowby. He never seemed to notice

  when I went over backwards every time I sat in it and I don't suppose he

  would ever have done anything about it but for an incident one market

  day when he noticed an old lady with a large basket of vegetables

  walking into Darrowby and courteously offered her a lift.

  ..

  "Poor old girl's feet went straight up in the air and she just

  disappeared into the back. Had a hell of a job getting her out - thought

  we'd have to get a block and tackle. Cabbages and cauliflowers rolling

  all over the place."

  I looked again down the steep track. The sensible thing, of course,

  would be to go back into Darrowby and take the low road into Worton. No

  danger that way. But it meant a round trip of nearly ten miles and I

  could actually see the smallholding I wanted to visit just a thousand

  feet below. The calf with joint ill was in that shed with the green door

  - in fact there was old Mr. Robinson coming out of the house now and

  pottering across the yard with a bucket. I could almost reach out and

  touch him.

  I thought, not for the first time, that if you had to drive a car with

  no brakes one of the last places in England you'd want to be was the

  Yorkshire Dales. Even on the flat it was bad enough but I got used to it

  after a week or two and often forgot all about it. As when one day I was

  busy with a cow and the farmer jumped into my car to move it so that one

  of his men could get past with a tractor. I never said a word as the

  unsuspecting man backed round quickly and confidently and hit the wall

  of the barn with a sickening crash. With typical Yorkshire

  understatement, all he said was; "Your brakes aren't ower savage,

  mister."

  Anyway, I had to make up my mind. Was it to be back to Darrowby or

  straight over the top? It had become a common situation and every day I

  had the experience of sitting wrestling with myself on the edge of a

  hill with my heart thumping as it was now. There must have been scores

  of these unwitnessed dramas played out in the green silence of the

  fells. At last, I started the engine and did what I always did - took

  the quick way down.

  But this hill really was a beauty, a notorious road even in this

  country, and as I nosed gingerly on to it, the whole world seemed to

  drop away from me. With the gear lever in bottom and my hand jammed

  against it I headed, drymouthed, down the strip of tarmac which now

  looked to be almost vertical.

  It is surprising what speed you can attain in bottom gear if you have

  nothing else to hold you back and as the first bend rushed up at me the

  little engine started a rising scream of protest. When I hit the curve,

  I hauled the wheel round desperately to the right, the tyres spun for a

 
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