James herriots dog stori.., p.15
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       James Herriot's Dog Stories, p.15

           James Herriot

  The strain on Mr Partridge must have been almost intolerable. At times I noticed the thick spectacles glinting balefully at the mob through his window, but most of the time he kept himself in hand, working calmly at his easel as though he were oblivious that every one of the creatures outside had evil designs on his treasure.

  Only rarely did his control snap. I witnessed one of these occasions when he rushed screaming from his doorway, laying about him with a walking stick; and I noticed that the polished veneer slipped from him and his cries rang out in broadest Yorkshire.

  ‘Gerrout, ye bloody rotten buggers! Gerrout of it!’

  He might as well have saved his energy because the pack scattered only for a few seconds before taking up their stations again.

  I felt for the little man but there was nothing I could do about it. My main feeling was of relief that the tumour was going down, but I had to admit to a certain morbid fascination at the train of events across the street.

  Percy’s walks were fraught with peril. Mr Partridge always armed himself with his stick before venturing from the house and kept Percy on a short lead, but his precautions were unavailing as the wave of dogs swept down on him. The besotted creatures, mad with passion, leapt on top of the little animal as the artist beat vainly on the shaggy backs and yelled at them; and the humiliating procession usually continued right across the market-place to the great amusement of the inhabitants.

  At lunch time most of the dogs took a break and at nightfall they all went home to bed, but there was one little brown spaniel type who, with the greatest dedication, never left his post. I think he must have gone almost without food for about two weeks because he dwindled practically to a skeleton, and I think he might have died if Helen hadn’t taken pieces of meat over to him when she saw him huddled trembling in the doorway in the cold darkness of the evening. I know he stayed there all night because every now and then a shrill yelping wakened me in the small hours and I deduced that Mr Partridge had got home on him with some missile from his bedroom window. But it made no difference; he continued his vigil undaunted.

  I don’t quite know how Mr Partridge would have survived if this state of affairs had continued indefinitely; I think his reason might have given way. But mercifully signs began to appear that the nightmare was on the wane. The mob began to thin as Percy’s condition improved and one day even the little brown dog reluctantly left his beat and slunk away to his unknown home.

  That was the very day I had Percy on the table for the last time. I felt a thrill of satisfaction as I ran a fold of the scrotal skin between my fingers.

  ‘There’s nothing there now, Mr Partridge. No thickening, even. Not a thing.’

  The little man nodded. ‘Yes, it’s a miracle, isn’t it! I’m very grateful to you for all you’ve done. I’ve been so terribly worried.’

  ‘Oh, I can imagine. You’ve been through a bad time. But I’m really as pleased as you are yourself – it’s one of the most satisfying things in practice when an experiment like this comes off.’

  But often over the subsequent years, as I watched dog and master pass our window, Mr Partridge with all his dignity restored, Percy as trim and proud as ever, I wondered about that strange interlude.

  Did the Stilboestrol really reduce that tumour or did it regress naturally? And were the extraordinary events caused by the treatment or the condition or both?

  I could never be quite sure of the answer, but of the outcome I could be happily certain. That unpleasant growth never came back . . . and neither did all those dogs.

  Veterinarians and physicians have contacted me from all over the world about this case of a cancerous testicle in the hope that I might be able to help in similar problems. Sadly I have to record that Stilboestrol does not always work; but I am glad it did with Percy, especially after his harrowing spell as a bitch in heat. On another note, the memory of the queue of dogs outside Mr Partridge’s house brings home to me the fact that we very rarely see such a thing in our town now. Those amorous throngs used to be quite commonplace years ago but they are almost a thing of the past. Partly responsible, of course, is the spaying of bitches which we now do on a wide scale, and the various injections and tablets which can suppress or prevent a heat period. Many people prefer bitches for pets, but there is always that snag which happily can now be overcome.

  15. Granville Bennett

  This was one for Granville Bennett. I liked a bit of small animal surgery and was gradually doing more as time went on, but this one frightened me. A twelve-year-old spaniel bitch in the last stages of pyometritis, pus dripping from her vulva on to the surgery table, temperature a hundred and four, panting, trembling, and, as I held my stethoscope against her chest I could hear the classical signs of valvular insufficiency. A dicky heart was just what I needed on top of everything else.

  ‘Drinking a lot of water, is she?’ I asked.

  Old Mrs Barker twisted the strings of her shopping bag anxiously. ‘Aye, she never seems to be away from the water bowl. But she won’t eat – hasn’t had a bite for the last four days.’

  ‘Well I don’t know.’ I took off my stethoscope and stuffed it in my pocket. ‘You should have brought her in long ago. She must have been ill for weeks.’

  ‘Not rightly ill, but a bit off it. I thought there was nothing to worry about as long as she was eating.’

  I didn’t say anything for a few moments. I had no desire to upset the old girl but she had to be told.

  ‘I’m afraid this is rather serious, Mrs Barker. The condition has been building up for a long time. It’s in her womb, you see, a bad infection, and the only cure is an operation.’

  ‘Well, will you do it, please?’ The old lady’s lips quivered.

  I came round the table and put my hand on her shoulder.

  ‘I’d like to, but there are snags. She’s in poor shape and twelve years old. Really a poor operation risk. I’d like to take her through to the Veterinary Hospital at Harrington and let Mr Bennett operate on her.’

  ‘All right,’ she said, nodding eagerly. ‘I don’t care what it costs.’

  ‘Oh we’ll keep it down as much as possible.’ I walked along the passage with her and showed her out of the door. ‘Leave her with me – I’ll look after her, don’t worry. What’s her name, by the way?’

  ‘Dinah,’ she replied huskily, still peering past me down the passage.

  I went through and lifted the phone. Thirty years ago country practitioners had to turn to the small animal experts when anything unusual cropped up in that line. It is different nowadays when our practices are more mixed. In Darrowby now we have the staff and equipment to tackle any type of small animal surgery, but it was different then. I had heard it said that sooner or later every large animal man had to scream for help from Granville Bennett and now it was my turn.

  ‘Hello, is that Mr Bennett?’

  ‘It is indeed.’ A big voice, friendly, full of give.

  ‘Herriot here. I’m with Farnon in Darrowby.’

  ‘Of course! Heard of you, laddie, heard of you.’

  ‘Oh . . . er . . . thanks. Look, I’ve got a bit of a sticky job here. I wonder if you’d take it on for me.’

  ‘Delighted, laddie, what is it?’

  ‘A real stinking pyo.’

  ‘Oh lovely!’

  ‘The bitch is twelve years old.’


  ‘And toxic as hell.’


  ‘And one of the worst hearts I’ve heard for a long time.’

  ‘Fine, fine! When are you coming through?’

  ‘This evening, if it’s OK with you. About eight.’

  ‘Couldn’t be better, laddie. See you.’

  Harrington was a fair-sized town – about 200,000 inhabitants – but as I drove into the centre the traffic had thinned and only a few cars rolled past the rows of shop fronts. I hoped my twenty-five mile journey had been worth it. Dinah, stretched out on a blanket in the back, looked as if she di
dn’t care either way. I glanced behind me at the head drooping over the edge of the seat, at the white muzzle and the cataracts in her eyes gleaming palely in the light from the dash. She looked so old. Maybe I was wasting my time, placing too much faith in this man’s reputation.

  There was no doubt Granville Bennett had become something of a legend in northern England. In those days when specialisation was almost unknown he had gone all out for small animal work – never looked at farm stock – and had set a new standard by the modern procedures in his animal hospital which was run as nearly as possible on human lines. It was, in fact, fashionable for veterinary surgeons of that era to belittle dog and cat work; a lot of the older men who had spent their lives among the teeming thousands of draught horses in city and agriculture would sneer, ‘Oh, I’ve no time to bother with those damn things.’ Bennett had gone dead in the opposite direction.

  I had never met him but I knew he was a young man in his early thirties. I had heard a lot about his skill, his business acumen, and about his reputation as a bon viveur. He was, they said, a dedicated devotee of the work-hard-play-hard school.

  The Veterinary Hospital was a long low building near the top of a busy street. I drove into a yard and knocked at a door in the corner. I was looking with some awe at a gleaming Bentley dwarfing my own battered little Austin when the door was opened by a pretty receptionist.

  ‘Good evening,’ she murmured with a dazzling smile which I thought must be worth another half crown on the bill for a start. ‘Do come in; Mr Bennett is expecting you.’

  I was shown into a waiting-room with magazines and flowers on a corner table and many impressive photographs of dogs and cats on the walls – taken, I learned later, by the principal himself. I was looking closely at a superb study of two white Poodles when I heard a footstep behind me. I turned and had my first view of Granville Bennett.

  He seemed to fill the room. Not over tall but of tremendous bulk. Fat, I thought at first, but as he came nearer it seemed to me that the tissue of which he was composed wasn’t distributed like fat. He wasn’t flabby, he didn’t stick out in any particular place, he was just a big, wide, solid, hard-looking man. From the middle of a pleasant blunt-featured face the most magnificent pipe I had ever seen stuck forth shining and glorious, giving out delicious wisps of expensive smoke. It was an enormous pipe, in fact it would have looked downright silly with a smaller man, but on him it was a thing of beauty. I had a final impression of a beautifully cut dark suit and sparkling shirt cuffs as he held out a hand.

  ‘James Herriot!’ He said it as somebody else might have said ‘Winston Churchill’, or ‘Stanley Matthews’.

  ‘That’s right.’

  ‘Well, this is grand. Jim, is it?’

  ‘Well yes, usually.’

  ‘Lovely. We’ve got everything laid on for you, Jim. The girls are waiting in the theatre.’

  ‘That’s very kind of you, Mr Bennett.’

  ‘Granville, Granville please!’ He put his arm through mine and led me to the operating room.

  Dinah was already there, looking very woebegone. She had had a sedative injection and her head nodded wearily. Bennett went over to her and gave her a swift examination.

  ‘Mm, yes, let’s get on, then.’

  The two girls went into action like cogs in a smooth machine. Bennett kept a large lay staff and these animal nurses, both attractive, clearly knew what they were about. While one of them pulled up the anaesthetic and instrument trolleys, the other seized Dinah’s foreleg expertly above the elbow, raised the radial vein by pressure and quickly clipped and disinfected the area.

  The big man strolled up with a loaded needle and effortlessly slipped the needle into the vein.

  ‘Pentothal,’ he said as Dinah slowly collapsed and lay unconscious on the table. It was one of the new short-acting anaesthetics which I had never seen used.

  While Bennett scrubbed up and donned sterilised gown and cap the girls rolled Dinah on her back and secured her there with ties to loops on the operating table. They applied the ether and oxygen mask to her face then shaved and swabbed the operation site. The big man returned in time to have a scalpel placed in his hand.

  With almost casual speed he incised skin and muscle layers and when he went through the peritoneum the horns of the uterus which in normal health would have been two slim pink ribbons now welled into the wound like twin balloons, swollen and turgid with pus. No wonder Dinah had felt ill, carrying that lot around with her.

  The stubby fingers tenderly worked round the mass, ligated the ovarian vessels and uterine body, then removed the whole thing and dropped it into an enamel bowl. It wasn’t till he had begun to stitch that I realised that the operation was nearly over though he had been at the table for only a few minutes. It would all have looked childishly easy except that his total involvement showed in occasional explosive commands to the nurses.

  And as I watched him working under the shadowless lamp with the white tiled walls around him and the rows of instruments gleaming by his side, it came to me with a rush of mixed emotions that this was what I had always wanted to do myself. My dreams when I had first decided on veterinary work had been precisely of this. Yet here I was, a somewhat shaggy cow doctor; or perhaps, more correctly, a farm physician, but certainly something very different. The scene before me was a far cry from my routine of kicks and buffets, of muck and sweat. And yet I had no regrets; the life which had been forced on me by circumstances had turned out to be a thing of magical fulfilment. It came to me with a flooding certainty that I would rather spend my days driving over the unfenced roads of the high country than stooping over that operating table.

  And anyway I couldn’t have been a Bennett. I don’t think I could have matched his technique, and this whole set up was eloquent of a lot of things like business sense, foresight and driving ambition which I just didn’t possess.

  My colleague was finished now and was fitting up an intravenous saline drip. He taped the needle down in the vein then turned to me.

  ‘That’s it, then, Jim. It’s up to the old girl now.’ He began to lead me from the room and it struck me how very pleasant it must be to finish your job and walk away from it like this. In Darrowby I’d have been starting now to wash the instruments, scrub the table, and the final scene would have been of Herriot the great surgeon swilling the floor with mop and bucket. This was a better way.

  Back in the waiting-room Bennett pulled on his jacket and extracted from a side pocket the immense pipe which he inspected with a touch of anxiety as if he feared mice had been nibbling at it in his absence. He wasn’t satisfied with his examination because he brought forth a soft yellow cloth and began to polish the briar with intense absorption. Then he held the pipe high, moving it slightly from side to side, his eyes softening at the play of the light on the exquisite grain. Finally he produced a pouch of mammoth proportions, filled the bowl, applied a match with a touch of reverence and closed his eyes as a fragrant mist drifted from his lips.

  ‘That baccy smells marvellous,’ I said. ‘What is it?’

  ‘Navy Cut De Luxe.’ He closed his eyes again. ‘You know, I could eat the smoke.’

  I laughed. ‘I use the ordinary Navy Cut myself.’

  He gazed at me like a sorrowing Buddha. ‘Oh you mustn’t, laddie, you mustn’t. This is the only stuff. Rich . . . fruity . . .’ His hand made languid motions in the air. ‘Here, you can take some away with you.’

  He pulled open a drawer. I had a brief view of a stock which wouldn’t have disgraced a fair-sized tobacconist’s shop; innumerable tins, pipes, cleaners, reamers, cloths.

  ‘Try this,’ he said, ‘and tell me if I’m not right.’

  I looked down at the first container in my hand. ‘Oh, but I can’t take all this. It’s a four-ounce tin!’

  ‘Rubbish, my boy. Put it in your pocket.’ He became suddenly brisk. ‘Now I expect you’ll want to hang around till old Dinah comes out of the anaesthetic so why don’t we have a quick beer? I
m a member of a nice little club just across the road.’

  ‘Well fine, sounds great.’

  He moved lightly and swiftly for a big man and I had to hurry to keep up with him as he left the surgery and crossed to a building on the other side of the street.

  Inside the club was masculine comfort, hails of welcome from some prosperous-looking members and a friendly greeting from the man behind the bar.

  ‘Two pints, Fred,’ murmured Bennett absently, and the drinks appeared with amazing speed. My colleage poured his down apparently without swallowing and turned to me.

  ‘Another, Jim?’

  I had just tried a sip at mine and began to gulp anxiously at the bitter ale. ‘Right, but let me get this one.’

  ‘No can do, laddie.’ He glanced at me with mild severity. ‘Only members can buy drinks. Same again, Fred.’

  I found I had two glasses at my elbow and with a tremendous effort I got the first one down. Gasping slightly I was surveying the second one timidly when I noticed that Bennett was three-quarters down his. As I watched he drained it effortlessly.

  ‘You’re slow, Jim,’ he said, smiling indulgently. ‘Just set them up again will you, Fred.’

  In some alarm I watched the barman ply his handle and attacked my second pint resolutely. I surprised myself by forcing it over my tonsils then, breathing heavily, I got hold of the third one just as Bennett spoke again.


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