It shouldnt happen to a.., p.20
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.20

           James Herriot
 
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trays of offal, the mounds of freshly-made sausages. Near the outside

  door the butcher halted and stood, irresolute, for a moment. He seemed

  to be thinking hard. Then he turned to me.

  "Would you like a few sausages."

  I almost reeled in my astonishment. "Yes, thank you very much, I would."

  It was scarcely credible but I must have touched the man's heart. ;

  He went over, cut about a pound of links, wrapped them quickly in

  greaseproof paper and handed the parcel to me.

  I looked down at the sausages, feeling the cold weight on my -hand. I.

  still couldn't believe it. Then an unworthy thought welled in my mind.

  It wasn't fair, I know - the poor fellow couldn't have known the luxury

  of many generous impulses - but some inner demon drove me to put him to

  the test. I put a hand in my trouser pocket, jingled my loose change and

  looked him in the eye.

  "Well, how much will that be?" I asked.

  Mr. Dumbleby's big frame froze suddenly into immobility and he stood for

  a few seconds perfectly motionless. His face, as he stared at me, was

  almost without expression, but a single twitch of the cheek and a slowly

  rising anguish in the eyes betrayed the internal battle which was

  raging. When he did speak it was in a husky whisper as though the words

  had been forced from him by a power beyond his control.

  "That," he said, 'will be two and sixpence."

  Chapter Twenty-six.

  It was a new experience for me to be standing outside the hospital

  waiting for the nurses to come off duty, but it was old stuff to Tristan

  who was to be found there several nights a week: His experience showed

  in various ways, but mainly in the shrewd position he took up in a dark

  corner of the doorway of the gas company office just beyond the splash

  of light thrown by the street lamp. From there he could look straight

  across the road into the square entrance of the hospital and the long

  white corridor leading to the nurses' quarters. And there was the other

  advantage that if Siegfried should happen to pass that way, Tristan

  would be invisible and safe.

  At half past seven he nudged me. Two girls had come out of the hospital

  and down the steps and were standing expectantly in the street. Tristan

  looked warily in both directions before taking my arm. "Come on, Jim,

  here they are. That's Connie on the left - the coppery blonde - lovely

  little thing."

  We went over and Tristan introduced me with characteristic charm. I had

  to admit that if the evening had indeed been arranged for therapeutic

  purposes I was beginning to feel better already. There was something

  healing in the way the two pretty girls looked up at me with parted lips

  and shining eyes as though I was the answer to every prayer they had

  ever offered.

  They were remarkably alike except for the hair. Brenda was very dark but

  Connie was fair with a deep, fiery glow where the light from the doorway

  touched her head. Both of them projected a powerful image of bursting

  health - fresh cheeks, white teeth, lively eyes and something else which

  I found particularly easy to take; a simple desire to please.

  Tristan opened the back door of the car with a flourish. "Be careful

  with him in there Connie, he looks quiet but he's a devil with women.

  Known far and wide as a great lover."

  The girls giggled and studied me with even greater interest. Tristan

  leaped into the driver's seat and we set off at breakneck speed.

  As the dark countryside hastened past the windows I leaned back in the

  corner and listened to Tristan who was in full cry; maybe in a kindly

  attempt to cheer me or maybe because he just felt that way, but his flow

  of chatter was unceasing. The girls made an ideal audience because they

  laughed in delight at everything he said. I could feel Connie shaking

  against me. She was sitting very close with a long stretch of empty seat

  on the other side of her. The little car swayed round a sharp corner and

  threw her against me and she stayed there quite naturally with her head

  on my shoulder. I felt her hair against my cheek. She didn't use much

  perfume but smelt cleanly of soap and antiseptic. My mind went back to

  Helen - I didn't think much about her these days. It was just a question

  of practice; to scotch every thought of her as soon as it came up. I was

  getting pretty good at it now. Anyway, it was over - all over before it

  had begun.

  I put my arm round Connie and she lifted her face to me. Ah well, I

  thought as I kissed her. Tristan's voice rose in song from the front

  seat, Brenda giggled, the old car sped over the rough road with a

  thousand rattles.

  We came at last to Poulton, a village on the road to nowhere. Its single

  street straggled untidily up the hillside to a dead end where there was

  a circular green with an ancient stone cross and a steep mound on which

  was perched the institute hall.

  This was where the dance was to be held, but Tristan had other plans

  first. "There's a lovely little pub here. We'll just have a toothful to

  get us in the mood." We got out of the car and Tristan ushered us into a

  low stone building.

  There was nothing of the olde worlde about the place; just a large,

  square, whitewashed room with a black cooking range enclosing a bright

  fire and a long high-backed wooden settle facing it. Over the fireplace

  stretched a single immense beam, gnarled and pitted with the years and

  blackened with smoke.

  We hurried over to the settle, feeling the comfort of it as a screen

  against the cold outside. We had the place to ourselves.

  The landlord came in. He was dressed informally - no jacket, striped,

  collarless shirt, trousers and braces which were reinforced by a broad,

  leather belt around his middle. His cheerful round face lit up at the

  sight of Tristan. "Now then, Mr. Farnon, are you very well."

  "Never better, Mr. Peacock, and how are you."

  "Nicely, sir, very nicely. Can't complain. And I recognise the other

  gentleman. Been in my place before, haven't you."

  I remembered then. A day's testing in the Poulton district and I had

  come in here for a meal, freezing and half starved after hours of

  wrestling with young beasts on the high moor. The landlord had received

  me unemotionally and had set to immediately with his frying-pan on the

  old black range while I sat looking at his shirt back and the braces and

  the shining leather belt. The meal had taken up the whole of the round

  oak table by the fire - a thick steak of home cured ham overlapping the

  plate with two fresh eggs nestling on its bosom, a newly baked loaf with

  the knife sticking in it, a dish of farm butter, some jam, a vast pot of

  tea and a whole Wensleydale cheese, circular, snow white, about eighteen

  inches high.

  I could remember eating unbelievingly for a long time and finishing with

  slice after slice of the moist, delicately flavoured cheese. The entire

  meal had cost me half a crown.

  "Yes, Mr. Peacock, I have been here before and if I'm ever starving on a

  desert island I'll think of that wonderful meal you gave me."

&nbs
p; The landlord shrugged. "Well it was nowt much, sir. Just t'usual stuff."

  But he looked pleased.

  "That's fine, then," Tristan said impatiently. "But we haven't come to

  eat, we've come for a drink and Mr. Peacock keeps some of the finest

  draught Magnet in Yorkshire. I'd welcome your opinion on it, Jim.

  Perhaps you would be kind enough to bring us up two pints and two

  halves, Mr. Peacock."

  I noticed there was no question of asking the girls what they would like

  to have, but they seemed quite happy with the arrangement. The landlord

  reappeared from the cellar, puffing slightly. He was carrying a tall,

  white enamelled jug from which he poured a thin brown stream, varying

  the height expertly till he had produced a white, frothy head on each

  glass.

  Tristan raised his pint and looked at it with quiet reverence. He

  sniffed it carefully and then took a sip which he retained in his mouth

  for a few seconds while his jaw moved rapidly up and down. After

  swallowing he smacked his lips a few times with the utmost solemnity

  then closed his eyes and took a deep gulp. He kept his eyes closed for a

  long time and when he opened them they were rapturous, as though he had

  seen a beautiful vision.

  "It's an experience coming here," he whispered. "Keeping beer in the

  wood is a skilful business, but you, Mr. Peacock, are an artist."

  The landlord inclined his head modestly and Tristan, raising his glass

  in salute, drained it with an easy upward motion of the elbow.

  Little oohs of admiration came from the girls but I saw that they, in

  their turn, had little difficulty in emptying their glasses. With an

  effort I got my own pint down and the enamel jug was immediately in

  action again.

  I was always at a disadvantage in the company of a virtuoso like

  Tristan, but as the time passed and the landlord kept revisiting the

  cellar with his jug it seemed to become easier. In fact, a long time

  later, as I drew confidently on my eighth pint, I wondered why I had

  ever had difficulty with large amounts of fluid. It was easy and it

  soothed and comforted. Tristan was right - I had been needing this.

  It puzzled me that I hadn't realised until now that Connie was one of

  the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen. Back there in the street

  outside the hospital she had seemed attractive, but obviously the light

  had been bad and I had failed to notice the perfection of her skin, the

  mysterious greenish depths of her eyes and the wonderful hair catching

  lights of gold and deep red-bronze from the flickering fire. And the

  laughing mouth, shining, even teeth and little pink tongue - she hardly

  ever stopped laughing except to drink her beer.

  , ~

  ,) ~ _ _

  Everything I said was witty, brilliantly funny in fact, and she looked

  at me all the time, peeping over the top of her glass in open

  admiration. It was profoundly reassuring.

  As the beer flowed, time slowed down and finally lurched to a halt and

  there was neither past nor future, only Connie's face and the warm,

  untroubled present.

  I was surprised when Tristan pulled at my arm, I had forgotten he was

  there and when I focused on him it was the same as with Connie - there

  was just the face swimming disembodied in an empty room. Only this face

  was very red and puffy and glassy-eyed.

  "Would you care for the mad conductor?" the face said.

  I was deeply touched. Here was another sign of my friend's concern for

  me. Of all Tristan's repertoire his imitation of a mad conductor was the

  most exacting. It involved tremendous expenditure of energy and since

  Tristan was unused to any form of physical activity, it really took it

  out of him. Yet here he was, ready and willing to sacrifice himself. A

  wave of treacly sentiment flooded through me and I wondered for a second

  if it might not be the proper thing to burst into tears; but instead I

  contented myself with wringing Tristan's hand.

  "There's nothing I would like more, my dear old chap," I said thickly.

  "I greatly appreciate the kind thought. And may I take this opportunity

  of telling you that I consider that in all Yorkshire there is no finer

  gentleman breathing than T. Farnon."

  The big red face grew very solemn. "You honour me with those words, old

  friend.

  "Not a bit of it," I slurred. "My stumbling sentences cannot hope to

  express my extremely high opinion of you."

  "You are too kind," hiccuped Tristan.

  "Nothing of the sort. It's a privlish, a rare privlish to know you."

  "Thank you, thank you," Tristan nodded gravely at me from a distance of

  about six inches. We were staring into each other's eyes with intense

  absorption and the conversation might have gone on for a long time if

  Brenda hadn't broken m.

  "Hey, when you two have finished rubbing noses I'd rather like another

  drink."

  Tristan gave her a cold look. "You'll have to wait just a few minutes.

  There's something I have to do." He rose, shook himself and walked with

  dignity to the centre of the floor. When he turned to face his audience

  he looked exalted. I felt that this would be an outstanding performance.

  Tristan raised his arms and gazed imperiously over his imaginary

  orchestra, taking in the packed rows of strings, the woodwind, brass and

  tympani in one sweeping glance. Then with a violent downswing he led

  them into the overture. Rossini, this time, I thought or maybe Wagner as

  I watched him throwing his head about, bringing in the violins with a

  waving clenched fist or exhorting the trumpets with a glare and a

  trembling, outstretched hand.

  It was somewhere near the middle of the piece that the rot always set in

  and I watched enthralled as the face began to twitch and the lips to

  snarl. The arm waving became more and more convulsive then the whole

  body jerked with uncontrollable spasms. It was clear that the end was

  near - Tristan's eyes were rolling, his hair hung over his face and he

  had lost control of the music which crashed and billowed about him.

  Suddenly he grew rigid, his arms fell to his sides and he crashed to the

  floor.

  I was joining the applause and laughter when I noticed that Tristan was

  very still. I bent over him and found that he had struck his head

  against the heavy oak leg of the settle and was almost unconscious. The

  nurses were quickly into action. Brenda expertly propped up his head

  while Connie ran for a basin of hot water and a cloth. "When he opened

  his eyes they were bathing a tender lump above his ear. Mr. Peacock

  hovered anxiously in the background. "Ista all right? Can ah do

  anything."

  Tristan sat up and sipped weakly at his beer. He was very pale. "I'll be

  all right in a minute and there is something you can do. You can bring

  us one for the road and then we must be getting on to this dance."

  The landlord hurried away and returned with the enamel jug brimming. The

  final pint revived Tristan miraculously and he was soon on his feet.

  Then we shook hands affectionately with Mr. Peacock and took our leave.

  After the bri
ghtness of the inn the darkness pressed on us like a

  blanket and we groped our way up the steep street till we could see the

  institute standing on its grassy mound. Faint rays of light escaped

  through the chinks in the curtained windows and we could hear music and

  a rhythmic thudding.

  A cheerful young farmer took our money at the door and when we went into

  the hall we were swallowed up in a tight mass of dancers. The place was

  packed solidly with young men in stiff-looking dark suits and girls in

  bright dresses all sweating happily as they swayed and wheeled to the

  music.

  On the low platform at one end, four musicians were playing their hearts

  out - piano, accordion, violin and drums. At the other end, several

  comfortable, middle-aged women stood behind a long table on trestles,

  presiding over the thick sandwiches of ham and brawn, home made pies,

  jugs of milk and trifles generously laid with cream.

  All round the walls more lads were standing, eyeing the unattached

  girls. I recognised a young client. "What do you call this dance?" I

  yelled above the din.

  "The Eva Three Step," came back the reply.

  This was new to me but I launched out confidently with Connie. There was

  a lot of twirling and stamping and w~- ~nen brought their heavy boots e

  was deafening. I loved it - I lessly among the throng. I was but, try as

  I might, I couldn't tion was delirious. I decided down on the boards the

  hall rl was right on the pe~ dimly aw~' ~ fe."

  : .~ c salut: ~

  turn' had hr; ~ ~ c ~ ~ ~c ~ ~i ~ 3 pint down an&~ ~ ,c~, `4c y~. ~o

  c-~ ~ ~n ~

  I was always at i ~ ~ ,~ ,c ~ ~, .~ .=, ~ ,c as the time passed se" - c

  ;g, ~ ~ ~ c" ~ c~ 4' seemed to become easier.< ~` o .5 '& $ ~ ~' '-" ~

  eighth pint, I wondered wh' ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ." fluid. It was easy and it

  soothe~- {c~ c '$3 ~ needing this. ' '~, ~ t; ~ $

  It puzzled me that I hadn't realised;-C ,> ~co,O~ 3 most beautiful

  creatures I had ever seen ~ ~ ~ mc hospital she had seemed attractive,

  but obvio~, ~ , had failed to notice the perfection of her skin, n of

  her eyes and the wonderful hair catching lights <~` from the flickering

  fire. And the laughing mouth, shino pink tongue - she hardly ever

  stopped laughing excepr~

  ~d with Connie towards the and egg pie which was so some trifle and

  plunged St. Bernard's Waltz that and dragging somewhat. ' arms.

  bit queer - 'scuse me." ~e ladies' room. A few ite. It was green. She

  'me outside."

  ipped aboard a ship; straddle my legs to wall of the institute because

  the wall, ought of the ham e clean, austere the cold face of drink all

  that ~e on, we'd better start walking." We began to reel blindly round

  the building, pausing after every two or three circuits while I got my

  breath back and shook my head violently to try to clear my brain.

  But our course was erratic and I forgot that the institute was perched

  on a little steep-sided hill. There was an instant when we were treading

  on nothing, then we were sprawling down a muddy bank. We finished in a

  tangled heap on the hard road at the bottom.

  I lay there peacefully till I heard a pitiful whimpering near by.

  Connie! Probably a compound fracture at least; but when I helped her up

  I found she was unhurt and so, surprisingly, was I. After our large

  intake of alcohol we must have been as relaxed as rag dolls when we

  fell.

  We went back into the institute and stood just inside the door. Connie

  was unrecognisable; her beautiful hair hung across her face in

  straggling wisps, her eyes were vacant and tears coursed slowly through

  the muddy smears on her cheeks. My suit was plastered with clay and I

  could feel more of it drying on one side of my face. We stood close,

  leaning miserably on each other in the doorway. The dancers were a

 
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