Let sleeping vets lie, p.15
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       Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.15

           James Herriot
 

  then I get a hell or a kick out of hearing them revving up like mad and

  roaring off for home. None of them ever slows down."

  "Well, somebody once told me your sense of humour was over-developed," I

  said. "And I'm telling you it'll land you in the cart one of these

  days."

  "Not a chance. I keep my bike behind a hedge about a hundred yards down

  the road so that I can make a quick getaway if necessary. There's no

  problem."

  "Well, please yourself." I got off the bed and made shakily for the

  door. "I'm i!.

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  going downstairs for a tot of whisky, and just remember this." I turned

  and glared at him. "If you try that trick on me again I'll strangle

  you."

  A few days later at about eight o'clock in the evening I was sitting

  reading by the fireside in the big room at Skeldale House when the door

  burst open and Siegfried burst into the room.

  "James," he rapped out. "Old Horace Dawson's cow has split its teat.

  Sounds like a stitching job. The old chap won't be able to hold the cow

  and he has no near neighbours to help him so I wonder if you'd come and

  give me a hand."

  "Sure, glad to." I marked the place in my book, stretched and yawned

  then got up from the chair. I noticed Siegfried's foot tapping on the

  carpet and it occurred to me, not for the first time, that the only

  thing that would satisfy him would be some kind of ejector seat on my

  chair which would hurl me straight through the door and into action on

  the word of command. I was being as quick as I could but I had the

  feeling as always - when I was writing something for him or operating

  under his eyes - that I wasn't going nearly fast enough. There were

  elements of tension in the knowledge that the mere fact of watching me

  rise from the chair and replace my book in the fireside alcove was an

  almost unbearable strain for him.

  By the time I was half way across the carpet he had disappeared into the

  passage. I followed at a trot and just made it into the street as he was

  starting the car. Grabbing the door I made a dive for the interior and

  felt the road whip away from under my foot as we took off into the

  darkness.

  Fifteen minutes later we screeched to a halt in the yard behind a little

  smallholding standing on its own across a couple of fields. The engine

  had barely stopped before my colleague was out of the car and striding

  briskly towards the cow house. He called to me over his shoulder as he

  went.

  "Bring the suture materials, James, will you ... and that bottle of

  wound lotion ... '

  . and the local and syringe I heard the brief murmur of conversation

  from within then Siegfried's voice again, raised this time in an

  impatient shout.

  "James! What are you doing out there? Can't you find those things?"

  I had hardly got the boot open and I rummaged frantically among the rows

  of tins and bottles. I found what he required, galloped across the yard

  and almost collided with him as he came out of the building.

  He was in mid shout. "James! What the hell's keeping you ... oh, you're

  there. Right, let's have that stuff ... what have you been doing all

  this time?"

  He had been right about Horace Dawson, a tiny frail man of about eighty

  who couldn't be expected to do any strong-arm stuff. Despite his age he

  had stubbornly refused to give up milking the two fat shorthorn cows

  which stood in the little cobbled byre.

  Our patient had badly damaged a teat; either she or her neighbour must

  have stood on it because there was a long tear running almost full

  length with the milk running from it.

  "It's a bad one, Horace," Siegfried said. "You can see it goes right

  into the milk channel But we'll do what we can for her - it'll need a

  good few stitches in there."

  He bathed and disinfected the teat then filled a syringe with local

  anaesthetic.

  "Grab her nose, James," he said, then spoke gently to the farmer.

  "Horace, will you please hold her tail for me. Just catch it by the very

  end, that's the way ... Lovely."

  The little man squared his shoulders. "Aye, ah can do that fine, Mr.

  Farnon."

  "Good lad, Horace, that's splendid, thank you. Now stand well clear." He

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  bent over and as I gripped the animal's nose he inserted the needle

  above the top extremity of the wound.

  There was an instant smacking sound as the cow registered her

  disapproval by kicking Siegfried briskly half way up his wellington

  boot. He made no sound but breathed deeply and flexed his knee a couple

  of times before crouching down again.

  "Cush pet," he murmured soothingly as he stuck the needle in again.

  This time the cloven foot landed on his forearm, sending the syringe

  winging gracefully through the air till it came to rest by a piece of

  good fortune in the hay-rack. Siegfried straightened up, rubbed his arm

  thoughtfully, retrieved his syringe and approached the patient again.

  For a few moments he scratched around the root of her tail and addressed

  her in the friendliest manner. "All right, old lady, it isn't very nice,

  is it?"

  When he got down again he adopted a new stance, burrowing with his head

  into the cow's flank and stretching his long arms high he managed

  despite a few more near misses to infiltrate the tissues round the wound

  with local. Then he proceeded to thread a needle unhurriedly, whistling

  tunelessly under his breath.

  Mr. Dawson watched him admiringly. "Ah know why you're such a good

  feller wi" animals, Mr. Farnon. It's because you're so patient - I

  reckon you're t'patientest man ah've ever seen."

  Siegfried inclined his head modestly and recommenced work. And it was

  more peaceful now. The cow couldn't feel a thing as my colleague put in

  a long, even row of stitches, pulling the lips of the wound firmly

  together.

  When he had finished he put an arm round the old man's shoulders.

  "Now, Horace, if that heals well the teat will be as good as new. But it

  won't heal if you pull at it, so I want you to use this tube to milk

  her." He held up a bottle of spirit in which a teat syphon gleamed.

  "Very good," said Mr. Dawson firmly. "Ah'll use it."

  Siegfried wagged a playful finger in his face. "But you've got to be

  careful, you know. You must boil the tube every time before use and keep

  it always in the bottle or you'll finish up with mastitis. Will you do

  that?"

  "Mr. Farnon," the little man said, holding himself very erect. "Ah'll do

  exackly as you say.

  "That's my boy, Horace." Siegfried gave him a final pat on the back

  before starting to pick up his instruments. "I'll pop back in about two

  weeks to take the stitches out."

  As we were leaving, the vast form of Claude Blenkiron loomed suddenly in

  the byre door. He was the village policeman, though obviously off duty

  judging by the smart check jacket and slacks.

  "I saw you had summat on, Horace, and I wondered if you wanted a hand."

  "Nay, thank ye, Mr. Blenkiron. It's good of ye but you're ower
late.

  We've done t'job," the old man replied.

  Siegfried laughed. "Wish you'd arrived half an hour ago, Claude. You

  could have tucked this cow under your arm while I stitched her."

  The big man nodded and a slow smile spread over his face. He looked the

  soul of geniality but I felt, as always, that there was a lot of iron

  behind that smile. Claude was a well-loved character in the district, a

  magnificent athlete who bestowed lavish help and friendship on all who

  needed it on his beat. But though he was a sturdy prop to the weak and

  the elderly he was also a merciless scourge of the ungodly.

  I had no first hand knowledge but there were rumours that Claude

  preferred not to trouble the magistrates with trivialities but dispensed

  his own form of instant justice. It was said that he kept a stout stick

  handy and acts of hooliganism and vandalism were rapidly followed by a

  shrill yowling down some dark alley.

  second offenders were almost unknown and in fact his whole district was

  remarkably law-abiding. I looked again at the smiling face. He really

  was the most pleasant looking man but as I say there was something else

  there and nothing would ever have induced me to pick a fight with him.

  "Right, then," he said. "I was just on me way into Darrowby so I'll say

  good night gentlemen."

  Siegfried put a hand on his arm. "Just a moment, Claude, I want to go on

  to see another of my cases. I wonder if you'd give Mr. Herriot a lift

  into the town."

  "I'll do that with pleasure, Mr. Farnon," the policeman replied and

  beckoned me to follow him.

  In the darkness outside I got into the passenger.seat of a little Morris

  Eight and waited for a few moments while Claude squeezed his bulk behind

  the wheel. As we set off he began to talk about his recent visit to

  Bradford where he had been taking part in a wrestling match.

  We had to go through Raynes village on the way back and as we left the

  houses behind and began the ascent to the abbey he suddenly stopped

  talking. Then he startled me as he snapped upright in his seat and

  pointed ahead.

  "Look, look there, it's that bloody monk!"

  "Where? Where?" I feigned ignorance but I had seen it all right - the

  cowled, slow-pacing figure heading for the wood.

  Claude's foot was on the boards and the car was screaming up the hill.

  At the top he swung savagely on to the roadside grass so that the

  headlights blazed into the depths of the wood and as he leapt from the

  car there was a fleeting moment when his quarry was in full view; a

  monk, skirts hitched high, legging it with desperate speed among the

  trees.

  The big man reached into the back of the car and pulled out what looked

  like a heavy walking stick. "After the bugger!" he shouted, plunging

  eagerly forward.

  I panted after him. "Wait a minute, what are you going to do if you

  catch him ?"

  "I'm going" to come across his arse with me ash plant," Claude said with

  chilling conviction and galloped ahead of me till he disappeared from

  the circle of light. He was making a tremendous noise, beating against

  the tree trunks and emitting a series of intimidating shouts.

  My heart bled for the hapless spectre blundering in the darkness with

  the policeman's cries dinning in his ears. I waited with tingling horror

  for the final confrontation and the tension increased as time passed and

  I could still hear Claude in full cry; "Come out of there, you can't get

  away! Come on, show yourself!" while his splintering blows echoed among

  the trees.

  I did my own bit of searching but found nothing. The monk did indeed

  seem to have disappeared and when I finally returned to the car I found

  the big man already there.

  "Well that's a rum 'un, Mr. Herriot," he said. "I can't find 'im and I

  can't think where he's got to. I was hard on his heels when I first

  spotted him and he didn't get out of the wood because I can see over the

  fields in the moonlight. I've 'ad a scout round the abbey too, but he

  isn't there. He's just bloody vanished."

  I was going to say something like "Well, what else would you expect from

  a ghost?" but the huge hand was still swinging that stick and I decided

  against it.

  "Well I reckon we'd better get on to Darrowby," the policeman grunted,

  stamping his feet on the frosty turf. I shivered. It was bitterly cold

  with an east wind getting up and I was glad to climb back into the car.

  In Darrowby I had a few companionable beers with Claude at his favourite

  haunt, the Black Bull, and it was ten thirty when I got into Skeldale

  House. There was no sign of Tristan and I felt a twinge of anxiety.

  It must have been after midnight when I was awakened by a faint

  scuffling from the next room. Tristan occupied what had been the long,

  narrow 'dressing room" in the grand days when the house was young. I

  jumped out of bed and opened the communicating door.

  Tristan was in pyjamas and he cuddled two hot water bottles to his

  bosom. He turned his head and gave me a single haggard glance before

  pushing one of the bottles well down the bed. Then he crawled between

  the sheets and lay on his back with the second bottle clasped across his

  chest and his eyes fixed on the ceiling. I went over.and looked down at

  him in some concern. He was shaking so much that the whole bed vibrated

  with him.

  "How are you, Triss?" I whispered.

  After a few moments a faint croak came up. "Frozen to the bloody marrow

  Jim."

  "But where the heck have you been?"

  Again the croak. "In a drainpipe."

  "A drainpipe!" I stared at him. "Where?"

  The head rolled feebly from side to side on the pillow. "Up at the wood.

  "Didn't you see those pipes by the roadside?"

  A great light flashed. "Of course, yes! They're going to put a new sewer

  into the village, aren't they?"

  "That's right," Tristan whispered. "When I saw that big bloke pounding

  into the wood I cut straight back and dived into one of the pipes. God

  only knows how long I was in there."

  "But why didn't you come out after we left?"

  A violent shudder shook the young man's frame and he closed his eyes

  briefly. "I couldn't hear a thing in there. I was jammed tight with my

  cowl over my ears and there was a ninety mile a hour wind screaming down

  the pipe. I didn't hear the car start and I daren't come out in case

  that chap was still standing there with his bloody great shillelagh." He

  took hold of the quilt with one hand and picked at it fitfully.

  "Well never mind, Triss," I said. "You'll soon get warmed up and you'll

  be all right after a night's sleep."

  Tristan didn't appear to have heard. "They're horrible things,

  drain-pipes, Jim." He looked up at me with hunted eyes. "They're full of

  muck and they stink of cats" pee."

  "I know, I know." I put his hand back inside the quilt and pulled the

  sheets up round his chin. "You'll be fine in the morning." I switched

  off the light and tiptoed from the room. As I closed the door I could

  still hear his teeth chattering.

>   Clearly it wasn't only the cold that was bothering him; he was still in

  a state of shock. And no wonder. The poor fellow had been enjoying a

  little session of peaceful haunting with never a care in the world when

  without warning there was a scream of brakes a blaze of light and that

  giant bounding into the middle of it like the demon king. It had all

  been too much.

  Next morning at the breakfast table Tristan was in poor shape. He looked

  very pale, he ate little and at intervals his body was racked by deep

  coughing spasms.

  Siegfried looked at him quizzically. "I know what's done this to you. I

  know why you're sitting there like a zombie, coughing your lungs up."

  His brother stiffened in his chair and a tremor crossed his face. "You

  do?"

  "Yes, I hate to say I told you so, but I did warn you, didn't I? It's

  all those bloody cigarettes!"

  Chapter Thirteen.

  Tristan never did give up smoking but the Raynes ghost was seen no more

  and remains an unsolved mystery to this day.

  ._ :'

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