Let sleeping vets lie, p.14
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.14James Herriot
saddle. He came to England with the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the
beginning of the war and served till 1918 in the cavalry. I suppose he
must have recognised then that his life seemed to be inevitably bound up
with horses so he enrolled with a lot of other exservicemen in the
London Veterinary College. That was where he met Ginny.
He didn't go into details of how he had finally landed in Scarburn and I
didn't press him. But it seemed such a waste. You don't often find a top
class horseman and a veterinary surgeon combined. Siegfried was such a
one and I never thought I'd see a better. But Ewan Ross could beat them
all. The extraordinary thing was that he had settled in a cattle and
sheep district where his equine skills were seldom exploited. Certainly
there were numbers of racing stables in the Pennines but Ewan made not
the slightest attempt to gain a footing there; a 'horse specialist" in a
big Bentley used to travel around doing most of the racing work and
making a packet of money in the process. He wasn't a bad chap, either,
but Ewan had forgotten more about horses than he'd ever know.
I suppose the simple explanation was that Ewan was devoid of ambition.
He didn't want a big successful practice, he wasn't interested in being
rich or famous. Even this morning when I talked to him about our plans
in Darrowby I could see he was listening with polite attention, but it
didn't mean a thing to him. No, Ewan would do enough work to keep going
and beyond that he just didn't give a damn.
We stayed for something like half an hour in the bar and we'd drunk
three glasses of beer apiece. I looked at my watch.
"I'd better be getting back down the hill to Darrowby," I said. "I've
got a few things fixed for this afternoon."
Ewan smiled. "Oh, there's no hurry. We'll just have one for the road."
His t, l ~t e " t 1
r s 1
f voice was soft as usual but it had a sleepy quality now and I was
surprised to see a slight glassiness in the pale blue eyes. There was no
doubt about it - that small amount of drink had affected him.
"No thanks," I said. "I've really got to go."
And as I drove back along the narrow dry-walled road that crawled its
slow way among the fells I pondered on the strange fact; Ewan Ross
couldn't drink. Or he had a certain proportion of alcohol in his
bloodstream so that he was easily topped up. But I didn't think it was
that; he just had a low threshold for the stuff. I had a conviction that
he would have stayed in that pub if I had been agreeable; and who knows
when he might have come out? Ewan's famous benders could all have
started as simply.
Anyway, I was only guessing and I never did find out, because I always
said "No thanks" when he said "We'll just have one for the road." All
the years I knew him I never saw him drunk or anything like it so I
can't say anything about that other side of his life.
Strangely enough, circumstances took me through Scarburn just a few days
afterwards. It was Sunday and the church was turning out and from my car
I saw Ewan and Ginny, dressed in their best, walking down the street
ahead of me. I didn't catch them up - just watching them.till the
straight-backed easy striding man and the elegant woman turned the
corner out of sight, and I thought as I was to think so often what
marvelous-looking people were my two new friends.
"You know, there's maybe something in this Raynes ghost business after
all." Tristan pushed his chair back from the breakfast table, stretched
out his legs more comfortably and resumed his study of the Darrowby and
Houlton times. "It says here they've got a historian looking into it and
this man has unearthed some interesting facts."
Siegfried didn't say anything, but his eyes narrowed as his brother took
out a Woodbine and lit it. Siegfried had given up smoking a week ago and
he didn't want to watch anybody lighting up; particularly somebody like
Tristan who invested even the smallest action with quiet delight, rich
fulfilment. My boss's mouth tightened to a grim line as the young man
unhurriedly selected a cigarette, flicked his lighter and dragged the
smoke deep with a kind of ecstatic gasp.
"Yes," Tristan continued, thin outgoing wisps mingling with his words.
"This chap points out that several of the monks were murdered at Raynes
Abbey in the fourteenth century."
"Well, so what?" snapped Siegfried.
Tristan raised his eyebrows. "This cowled figure that's been seen so
often lately near the abbey - why shouldn't it be the spirit of one of
"Wheat? What's that you say?"
"Well, after all it makes you think, doesn't it? Who knows what fell
deeds might have been ... ?"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Siegfried barked.
Tristan looked hurt. "That's all very well, and you may laugh, but
remember _ ' _
what Shakespeare said." He raised a solemn finger. "There are more
things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your ... '
"Oh balls!" said Siegfried, bringing the discussion effectively to a
I took a last thankful swallow of coffee and put down my cup, I was
pleased that the topic had petered out fairly peacefully because
Siegfried was in an edgy condition. Up to last week he had been a
dedicated puffer of pipe and cigarettes but he had also developed a
classical smoker's cough and had suffered increasingly from violent
stomach-ache. At times his long thin face had assumed the appearance of
a skull, the cheeks deeply sunken, the eyes smouldering far down in
their sockets. And the doctor had said he must give up smoking.
Siegfried had obeyed, felt immediately better and was instantly seized
with the evangelical zeal of the convert. But he didn't just advise
people to give up tobacco; I have seen him several times strike a
cigarette from the trembling fingers of farm workers, push his face to
within inches of theirs and grind out menacingly, "Now don't ever let me
see you with one of those bloody things in your mouth again, do you
Even now there are grizzled men who tell me with a shudder, "Nay, ah've
never had a fag sin" Mr. Farnon told me to stop, thirty years back. Nay,
bugger it, the way 'e looked at me I dursn't do it!"
However the uncomfortable fact remained that his crusade hadn't the
slightest effect on his brother. Tristan smoked almost continually but
he never coughed and his digestion was excellent.
Siegfried looked at him now as he contentedly tapped off a little ash
and took another blissful suck. "You smoke too many of those bloody
"So do you."
"No I don't!" Siegfried retorted. "I'm a non-smoker and it's time you
It's a filthy habit and you'll kill yourself the way you're going!"
Tristan gave him a benign look and again his words floated out on the
fine Woodbine mist. "Oh I'm sure you're wrong. Do you know, I think it
rather agrees with me.
a difficult position. Being in loco parentis he was in a sense providing
his brother with the noxious weeds and his innate sense of propriety
prevented him from abusing his position by dashing the things from
Tristan's hands as he did with others. He had to fall back on
exhortation and it was getting him nowhere. And there was another thing
- he probably wanted to avoid a row this morning as Tristan was leaving
on one of his mysterious trips back to the Veterinary College; in fact
my first job was to take him down to the Great North Road where he was
going to hitch a lift.
After I had left him there 1 set of ~ on my rounds and, as I drove, my
thoughts kept going back to the conversation at breakfast. A fair number
of people were prepared to swear that they had seen the Raynes ghost and
though it was easy to dismiss some of them as sensation mongers or
drunkards the fact remained that others were very solid citizens indeed.
The story was always the same. There was a hill beyond Raynes village
and at the top a wood came right up to the roadside. Beyond lay the
abbey. People driving up the hill late at night said they had seen the
monk in their headlights - a monk in a brown habit just disappearing
into the wood. They believed the figure had been walking across the road
but they weren't sure because it was always a little too far away. But
they were adamant about the other part; they had seen a cowled figure,
head bowed, go into that wood. There must have been something uninviting
about the apparition because nobody ever said they had gone into the
wood after it.
It was strange that after my thoughts had been on Raynes during the day
Should be called to the village at one o'clock the following morning.
Crawling from bed and climbing wearily into my clothes I couldn't help
thinking of Tristan curled up peacefully in his Edinburgh lodgings far
away from the troubles of practice. But I didn't feel too bad about
getting up; Raynes was only three miles away and the job held no
prospect of hard labour - a colic in a little boy's Shetland pony. And
it was a fine night - very cold with the first chill of autumn but with
a glorious full moon to light my way along the road.
They were walking the pony round the yard when I got there. The owner
was the accountant at my bank and he gave me a rueful smile.
"I'm very sorry to get you out of bed, Mr. Herriot, but I was hoping
this bit of bellyache would go off. We've been parading round here for
two hours. When we stop he tries to roll."
"You've done the right thing," I said. "Rolling can cause a twist in the
bowel." I examined the little animal and was reassured. He had a normal
temperature, good strong pulse, and listening at his flank I could hear
the typical abdominal sounds of spasmodic colic.
What he needed was a good evacuation of the bowel, but I had to think
carefully when computing the dose of arecoline for this minute member of
the equine species. I finally settled on an eighth of a grain and
injected it into the neck muscles. The pony stood for a few moments in
the typical colic position, knuckling over the sinking down on one hind
leg then the other and occasionally trying to lie down.
"Walk him on again slowly will you?" I was watching for the next stage
and I didn't have long to wait; the pony's jaws began to champ and his
lips to slobber and soon long dribbles of saliva hung down from his
mouth. All right so far but I had to wait another fifteen minutes before
he finally cocked his tail and deposited a heap of faeces on the
concrete of the yard.
"I think he'll be O.K. now," I said. "So I'll leave you to it. Give me
another ring if he's still in pain."
Beyond the village the road curved suddenly out of sight of the houses
then began the long straight climb to the abbey. Just up there at the
limits of my headlights would be where the.ghost was always seen walking
across the road and into the black belt of trees. At the top of the
hill, on an impulse, I drew in to the side of the road and got out of
the car. This was the very place. At the edge of the wood, under the
brilliant moon, the smooth boles of the beeches shone with an eerie
radiance and, high above, the branches creaked as they swayed in the
I walked into the wood, feeling my way carefully with an arm held before
me till I came out on the other side. Raynes Abbey lay before me.
I had always associated the beautiful ruin with summer days with the sun
warming the old stones of the graceful arches, the chatter of voices,
children playing on the cropped turf; but this was 2.30 a.m. in an empty
world and the cold breath of the coming winter on my face. I felt
In the cold glare everything was uncannily distinct. But there was a
look of unreality about the silent rows of columns reaching into the
dark sky and throwing their long pale shadows over the grass. Away at
the far end I could see the monks" cells - gloomy black caverns deep in
shadow - and as I looked an owl hooted, accentuating the heavy,
A prickling apprehension began to creep over me, a feeling that my
living person had no place here among these brooding relics of dead
centuries. I turned quickly and began to hurry through the wood, bumping
into the trees, tripping over roots and bushes, and when I reached my
car I was trembling and more out of breath than I should have been. It
was good to slam the door, turn the ignition and hear the familiar roar
of the engine.
I was home within ten minutes and trotted up the stairs, looking forward
to catching up on my lost sleep. Opening my bedroom door I flicked on
the switch and felt a momentary surprise when the room remained in
darkness Then I stood frozen in the doorway.
By the window, where the moonlight flooded in, making a pool of silver
in the gloom, a monk was standing. A monk in a brown habit, motionless,
arms folded, head bowed. His face was turned from the light towards me
but I could see nothing under the drooping cowl but a horrid abyss of
I thought I would choke. My mouth opened but no sound came. And in my
racing mind one thought pounded above the others - there were such
things as ghosts after all.
Again my mouth opened and a hoarse shriek emerged.
"Who in the name of God is that?"
The reply came back immediately in a sepulchral bass.
I don't think I actually swooned, but I did collapse limply across my
bed and lay there gasping, the blood thundering in my ears. I was dimly
aware of the monk standing on a chair and screwing in the light bulb,
giggling helplessly the while. Then he flicked on the switch and sat on
my bed. With his cowl pushed back on his shoulders he lit a Woodbine and
looked down at me, still shaking with laughter.
"Oh God, Jim, that was marvelous - even better than I expected."
I stared up at him and
"Not me, old lad. There wasn't much doing so I concluded my business and
hitched straight back, I'd just got in when I saw you coming up the
garden. Barely had time to get the bulb out and climb into my outfit - I
couldn't Miss. the opportunity."
"Feel my heart," I murmured.
Tristan rested his hand on my ribs for a moment and as he felt the
fierce hammering a fleeting concern crossed his face.
"Hell, I'm sorry, Jim." Then he patted my shoulder reassuringly. "But
don't worry. If it was going to be fatal you'd have dropped down dead on
the spot. And anyway, a good fright is very beneficial - acts like a
tonic. You won't need a holiday this year."
"Thanks," I said. "Thanks very much."
"I wish you could have heard yourself." He began to laugh again. "That
scream of terror ... oh dear, oh dear!"
I hoisted myself slowly into a sitting position, pulled out the pillow,
propped it against the bed head and leaned back against it. I still felt
I eyed him coldly. "So you're the Raynes ghost."
Tristan grinned in reply but didn't speak.
"You young devil! I should have known. But tell me, why do you do it?
What do you get out of it?"
"Oh I don't know." The young man gazed dreamily at the ceiling through
the cigarette smoke. "I suppose it's just getting the timing right so
that the drivers aren't quite sure whether they've seen me or not. And
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes