It shouldnt happen to a.., p.16
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.16

           James Herriot
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  "What's the road like?" I asked.

  "Road? road?" Mr. Clayton's reaction was typically airy. Farmers in the

  less accessible places always brushed aside such queries. "Road's right

  enough. Just tek a bit o' care and you'll get here without any trouble."

  Siegfried wasn't so sure. "You'll certainly have to walk over the top

  and it's doubtful whether the ploughs will have cleared the lower road.

  It's up to you."

  "Oh, I'll have a go. There's not much doing this morning and I feel like

  a bit of exercise."

  In the yard I found that old Boardman had done a tremendous job in his

  quiet way; he had dug open the big double doors and cleared a way for

  the cars to get out. I put what I thought I would need into a small

  rucksack - some expectorant mixture, a tub of electuary, a syringe and a

  few ampoules of pneumonia serum. Then I threw the most important item of

  my winter equipment, a broad-bladed shovel, into the back and left.

  The bigger roads had already been cleared by the council ploughs which

  had been clanking past Skeldale House since before dawn, but the surface

  was rough and I had a slow, bumpy ride. It was more than ten miles to

  the Clayton farm and it was one of those iron days when the frost piled

  thickly on the windscreen blotting out everything within minutes. But

  this morning I was triumphant. I had just bought a wonderful new

  invention - a couple of strands of wire mounted on a strip of bakelite

  and fastened to the windscreen with rubber suckers. It worked from the

  car batteries and cleared a small space of vision.

  No more did I have to climb out wearily and scrub and scratch at the

  frozen glass every half mile or so. I sat peering delightedly through a

  flawlessly clear semicircle about eight inches wide at the countryside

  unwinding before me like a film show; the grey stone villages, silent

  and withdrawn under their smothering white cloak; the low, burdened

  branches of the roadside trees.

  I was enjoying it so much that I hardly noticed the ache in my toes.

  Freezing feet were the rule in those days before car heaters, especially

  when you could see the road flashing past through the holes in the floor

  boards. On long journeys I really began to suffer towards the end. It

  was like that today when I got out of the car at the foot of the Pike

  Edge road; my fingers too, throbbed painfully as I stamped around and

  swung my arms.

  The ploughs hadn't even attempted to clear the little side road which

  wound its way upwards and into the valley beyond. Its solid, creamy,

  wall-to-wall filling said "No, you can't come up here', with that

  detached finality I had come to know so well. But as always, even in my

  disappointment, I looked with wonder at the shapes the wind had sculpted

  in the night; flowing folds of the most perfect smoothness tapering to

  the finest of points, deep hollows with knife-edge rims, soaring cliffs

  with overhanging margins almost transparent in their delicacy.

  Hitching the rucksack on my shoulder I felt a kind of subdued elation.

  With a leather golf jacket buttoned up to my neck and an extra pair of

  thick socks under my wellingtons I felt ready for anything. No doubt I

  considered there was something just a bit dashing and gallant in the

  picture of the dedicated young vet with his magic potions on his back

  battling against the odds to succour a helpless animal.

  I stood for a moment gazing at the fell, curving clean and cold into the

  sullen sky. An expectant hush lay on the fields, the frozen river and

  the still trees as I started off.

  I kept up a good pace. First over a bridge with the river white and

  silent beneath then up and up, picking my way over the drifts till the

  road twisted, almost invisible, under some low cliffs. Despite the cold,

  the sweat was beginning to prick on my back when I got to the top.

  I looked around me. I had been up here several times in June and July

  and I could remember the sunshine, the smell of the warm grass, and the

  scent of flowers and pines that came up the hill from the valley below.

  But it was hard to relate the smiling landscape of last summer with this


  The flat moorland on the fell top was a white immensity rolling away to

  the horizon with the sky pressing down like a dark blanket. I could see

  the farm down there in its hollow and it, too, looked different; small,

  remote, like a charcoal drawing against the hills bulking smooth and

  white beyond. A pine wood made a dark smudge on the slopes but the scene

  had been wiped clean of most of its familiar features.

  I could see the road only in places - the walls were covered over most

  of their length, but the farm was visible all the way. I had gone about

  half a mile towards it when a sudden gust of wind blew up the surface

  snow into a cloud of fine particles. Just for a few seconds I found

  myself completely alone. The farm, the surrounding moor, everything

  disappeared and I had an eerie sense of isolation till the veil cleared.

  It was hard going in the deep snow and in the drifts I sank over the

  tops of my wellingtons I kept at it, head down, to within a few hundred

  yards of the stone buildings. I was just thinking that it had all been

  pretty easy, really, when I looked up and saw a waving curtain of a

  million black dots bearing down on me. I quickened my steps and just

  before the blizzard hit me I marked the position of the farm. But after

  ten minutes' stumbling and slithering I realised 1

  I had missed the place. I was heading for a shape that didn't exist; it

  was etched only in my mind.

  I stood for a few moments feeling again the chilling sense of isolation.

  I was convinced I had gone too far to the left and after a few gasping

  breaths, struck off to the right. It wasn't long before I knew I had

  gone in the wrong direction again. I began to fall into deep holes, up

  to the arm-pits in the snow reminding me that the ground was not really

  flat on these high moors but pitted by countless peat haggs.

  As I struggled on I told myself that the whole thing was ridiculous. I

  couldn't be far from the warm fireside at Pike House - this wasn't the

  North Pole. But my mind went back to the great empty stretch of moor

  beyond the farm and I had to stifle a feeling of panic.

  The numbing cold seemed to erase all sense of time. Soon I had no idea

  of how long I had been falling into the holes and crawling out. I did

  know that each time it was getting harder work dragging myself out. And

  it was becoming more and more tempting to sit down and rest, even sleep;

  there was something hypnotic in the way the big, soft flakes brushed

  noiselessly across my skin and mounted thickly on my closed eyes.

  I was trying to shut out the conviction that if I fell down many more

  times I wouldn't get up when a dark shape hovered suddenly ahead. Then

  my outflung arms touched something hard and rough. Unbelievingly I felt

  my way over the square stone blocks till I came to a corner. Beyond that

  was a square of light - it was the kitchen window of the farm.

  Thumping on the door, I leaned agai
nst the smooth timbers, mouth gaping,

  chest heaving agonisingly. My immense relief must have bordered on

  hysteria because it seemed to me that when the door was opened the right

  thing would be to fall headlong into the room. My mind played with the

  picture of the family crowding round the prostrate figure, plying him

  with brandy.

  When the door did open, however, something kept me on my feet. Mr.

  Clayton stood there for a few seconds, apparently unmoved by the sight

  of the distraught snowman in front of him.

  "Oh, it's you, Mr. Herriot. You couldn't have come better- I've just

  finished me dinner. Hang on a minute till I get me 'at. Beast's just

  across yard."

  He reached behind the door, stuck a battered trilby on his head, put his

  hands in his pockets and sauntered over the cobbles, whistling. He

  knocked up the latch of the calf house and with a profound sense of

  release I stepped inside; away from the relentless cold, the sucking

  swirling snow into an animal warmth and the scent of hay.

  As I rid myself of my rucksack, four long-haired little bullocks

  regarded me calmly from over a hurdle, their jaws moving rhythmically.

  They appeared as unconcerned at my appearance as their owner. They

  showed a mild interest, nothing more. Behind the shaggy heads I could

  see a fifth small beast with a sack tied round it and a purulent

  discharge coming from its nose.

  It reminded me of the reason for my visit. As my numb fingers fumbled in

  a pocket for my thermometer a great gust of wind buffeted the door,

  setting the latch clicking softly and sending a faint powdering of snow

  into the dark interior.

  Mr. Clayton turned and rubbed the pane of the single small window with

  his sleeve. Picking his teeth with his thumb-nail he peered out at the

  howling blizzard.

  "Aye," he said, and belched pleasurably. "It's a plain sort o' day."

  Chapter Twenty-one.

  As I waited for Siegfried to give me my morning list I l pulled my scarf

  higher till it almost covered my ears, turned up the collar of my

  overcoat and buttoned it tightly under my chin. Then I drew on a pair of

  holed woollen gloves.

  A biting north wind was driving the snow savagely past the window almost

  parallel with the ground, obliterating the street and everything else

  with big, swirling flakes.

  Siegfried bent over the day book. "Now let's see what we've got.

  Barnett, Gill Sunter, Dent, Cartwright ..." He began to scribble on a

  pad. "Oh, and I'd better see Scruton's calf - you've been attending it,

  I know, but I'm going right past the door. Can you tell me about it."

  "Yes, it's been breathing a bit fast and running a temperature around

  103 I don't think there's any pneumonia there. In fact I rather suspect

  it may be developing diphtheria - it has a bit of a swelling on the jaw

  and the throat glands are up."

  All the time I was speaking, Siegfried continued to write on the pad and

  only stopped once to whisper to Miss Harbottle. Then he looked up

  brightly. "Pneumonia, eh? How have you been treating it."

  "No, I said I didn't think it was pneumonia. I've been injecting

  Prontosil and I left some liniment to rub into the throat region."

  But Siegfried was writing hard again. He said nothing till he had made

  out two lists. He tore one from the pad and gave it to me. "Right,

  you've been applying liniment to the chest. Suppose it might do a bit of

  good. Which liniment exactly ."

  "Lin. methyl. salt, but they're rubbing it on the calf's throat, not the

  chest." But Siegfried had turned away to tell Miss Harbottle the order

  of his visits and I found myself talking to the back of his head.

  Finally he straightened up and came away from the desk. "Well, that's

  fine. You have your list - let's get on." But half way across the floor

  he hesitated in his stride and turned back. "Why the devil are you

  rubbing that liniment on the calf's throat."

  "Well, I thought it might relieve the inflammation a bit."

  "But James, why should there be any inflammation there? Don't you think

  the liniment would do more good on the chest wall?" Siegfried was

  wearing his patient look again.

  "No, I don't. Not in a case of calf diphtheria."

  Siegfried put his head on one side and a smile of saintly sweetness

  crept over his face. He laid his hand on my shoulder. "My dear old

  James, perhaps it would be a good idea if you started right at the

  beginning. Take all the time you want - there's no hurry. Speak slowly

  and calmly and then you won't become confused. You told me you were

  treating a calf with pneumonia - now take it from there."

  I thrust my hands deep into my coat pockets and began to churn among the

  thermometers and scissors and little bottles which always dwelt there.

  "Look, I 1

  ,i ~l told you right at the start that I didn't think there was any

  pneumonia but that I suspected early diphtheria. There was also a bit of

  fever 103."

  Siegfried was looking past me at the window. "God, just look at that

  snow. We're going to have some fun getting round today." He dragged his

  eyes back to my face. "Don't you think that with a temperature of 103

  you should be injecting some Prontosil?" He raised his arms sideways and

  let them fall. "Just a suggestion, James - I wouldn't interfere for the

  world but I honestly think that the situation calls for a little


  "But hell, I am using it!" I shouted. "I told you that way back but you

  weren't listening. I've been doing my damnedest to get this across to

  you but what chance have I got ..."

  "Come come, dear boy, come come. No need to upset yourself." Siegfried's

  face was transfigured by an internal radiance. Sweetness and charity,

  forgiveness, tolerance and affection flowed from him in an enveloping

  wave. I battled with an impulse to kick him swiftly on the shin.

  "James, James." The voice was caressing. "I've not the slightest doubt

  you tried in your own way to tell me about this case, but we haven't all

  got the gift of communication. You're the most excellent fellow but must

  apply yourself to this. It is simply a matter of marshalling your facts

  and presenting them in an orderly manner. Then you wouldn't get confused

  and mixed up as you've done this morning; it's only a question of

  practice, I'm sure." He gave an encouraging wave of the hand and was


  I strode quickly through to the stock room and, seeing a big, empty

  cardboard box on the floor, dealt it a vicious kick. I put so much venom

  into it that my foot went clear through the cardboard and I was trying

  to free myself when Tristan came in. He had been stoking the fire and

  had witnessed the conversation.

  He watched silently as I plunged about the room swearing and trying to

  shake the box loose. "What's up, Jim? Has my big brother been getting

  under your skin."

  I got rid of the box at last and sank down on one of the lower shelves.

  "I don't know. Why should he be getting under my skin now? I've known

  him quite a long time and he's always been the same. He's nev
er been any

  different but it hasn't bothered me before - not like this, anyway. Any

  other time I'd laugh that sort of thing off. What the hell's wrong with


  Tristan put down his coal bucket and looked at me thoughtfully. "There's

  nothing much wrong with you, Jim, but I can tell you one thing - you've

  been just a bit edgy since you went out with the Alderson woman."

  "Oh God," I groaned and closed my eyes. "Don't remind me. Anyway, I've

  not seen her or heard from her since, so that's the end of that and I

  can't blame her."

  Tristan pulled out his Woodbines and squatted down by the coal bucket.

  "Yes, that's all very well, but look at you. You're suffering and

  there's no need for it. All right, you had a disastrous night and she's

  given you the old heave ho. Well, so what? Do you know how many times

  I've been spurned."

  "Spurned? I never even got started."

  "Very well then, but you're still going around like a bullock with

  bellyache. Forget it, lad, and get out into the big world. The rich

  tapestry of life is waiting for you out there. I've been watching you

  working all hours and when you're not working you're reading up your

  cases in the text books - and I tell you this dedicated vet thing is all

  right up to a point. But you've got to live a little. Think of all the

  lovely little lasses in Darrowby - you can hardly move for them. And just waiting for a big handsome chap like you to gallop up on

  his white horse. Don't disappoint them." He leaned over and slapped my

  knee. "Tell you what. Why don't you let me fix something up? A nice

  little foursome - just what you need.

  "Ach I don't know. I'm not keen, really."

  "Nonsense!, Tristan said. "I don't know why I haven't thought of it

  before. This monkish existence is bad for you. Leave all the details to


  I decided to have an early night and was awakened around eleven o'clock

  by a heavy weight crashing down on the bed. The room was dark but I

  seemed to be enveloped in beer-scented smoke. I coughed and sat up. "Is

  that you, Triss."

  "It is indeed," said the shadowy figure on the end of the bed. "And I

  bring you glad tidings. You remember Brenda."

  "That little nurse I've seen you around with."

  "The very same. Well, she's got a pal, Connie, who's even more

  beautiful. The four of us are going dancing at the Poulton Institute on

  Tuesday night." The voice was thick with beery triumph.

  "You mean me, too."

  "By God I do, and you're going to have the best time you've ever had.

  I'll see to that." He blew a last choking blast of smoke into my face

  and left, chuckling.

  Chapter Twenty-two.

  "We're having a 'ot dinner and entertainers."

  My reaction to the words surprised me. They stirred up a mixture of

  emotions, all of them pleasant; fulfilment, happy acceptance, almost


  I know by now that there is not the slightest chance of anybody asking

  me to be President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, but if

  they had I wonder if I'd have been more pleased than when I heard about

  the 'ot dinner.

  The reason, I suppose, was that the words reflected the attitude of a

  typical Dales farmer towards myself. And this was important because,

  though after just over a year I was becoming accepted as a vet, I was

  always conscious of the gulf which was bound to exist between these hill

  folk and a city product like me. Much as I admired them I was aware

  always that we were different; it was inevitable, I knew, but it still

  rankled so that a sincere expression of friendship from one of them

  struck a deep answering chord in me.

  Especially when it came from somebody like Dick Rudd. I had first met

  Dick last winter on the doorstep of Skeldale House at six o'clock on the

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