Let sleeping vets lie, p.15
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.15James 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
"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
"Well, please yourself." I got off the bed and made shakily for the
door. "I'm i!.
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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.
"Good lad, Horace, that's splendid, thank you. Now stand well clear." He
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,
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"How are you, Triss?" I whispered.
After a few moments a faint croak came up. "Frozen to the bloody marrow
"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.
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
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
"Yes, I hate to say I told you so, but I did warn you, didn't I? It's
all those bloody cigarettes!"
Tristan never did give up smoking but the Raynes ghost was seen no more
and remains an unsolved mystery to this day.
t l 1 " .~
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes