Let sleeping vets lie, p.20
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.20James Herriot
fact that the old man should find the idea of my bullet less repugnant
than the: knacker man's. Mr. Gilling was waiting in the box and by his
side Cliff,~ shoulders hunched, hands deep in his pockets. He turned to
me with a strange smile. :
"I was just saying to t'boss how grand t'awd lad used to look when I got
'im up for a show. By Gaw you should have seen him with 'is coat
polished and the~ feathers on his legs scrubbed as white as snow and a
big blue ribbon round his tail."
"I can imagine it, Cliff," I said. "Nobody could have looked after; him
He took his hands from his pockets, crouched by the prostrate animal and
for: a few minutes stroked the white-flecked neck and pulled at the ears
while the old sunken eye looked at him impassively.
He began to speak softly to the old horse but his voice was steady,
almost conversational, as though he was chatting to a friend.
"Many's the thousand miles I've walked after you, awd lad, and many's
the talk we've had together. But I didn't have to say much to the, did
I? I reckon you knew every move I made, everything I said. Just one
little word and you always did what ah wanted you to do."
He rose to his feet. "I'll get on with me work now, boss," he said
firmly, and: strode out of the box.
I waited awhile so that he would not hear the bang which signalled the
end of Badger, the end of the horses of Harland Grange and the end of
the sweet core of Cliff Tyreman's life.
As I was leaving I saw the little man again. He was mounting the iron
seat of a roaring tractor and I shouted to him above the noise.
"The boss says he's going to get some sheep in and you'll be doing a bit
shepherding. I think you'll enjoy that."
Cliffs undefeated grin flashed out as he called back to me.
"Aye, I don't mind learnin" summat new. I'm nobbut a lad yet!"
This was a different kind of ringing. I had gone to sleep as the great
bells in the church tower down the street pealed for the Christmas
midnight mass, but this was a sharper, shriller sound.
It was difficult at first to shake off the mantle of unreality in which
I had wrapped myself last night. Last night - Christmas Eve. It had been
like a culmination of all the ideas I had ever held about Christmas - a
flowering of emotions I had never experienced before. It had been
growing in me since the afternoon call to a tiny village where the snow
lay deep on the single street and on the walls and on the ledges of the
windows where the lights on the tinselled trees glowed red and blue and
gold; and as I left it in the dusk I drove beneath the laden branches of
a group of dark spruce as motionless as though they had been sketched
against the white background of the fields. And when I reached Darrowby
it was dark and around the market place the little shops were bright
with decorations and the light from the windows fell in a soft yellow
wash over the trodden snow of the cobbles. People, anonymously muffled,
were hurrying about, doing their last minute shopping, their feet
slithering over the rounded stones.
I had known many Christmases in Scotland but they had taken second place
to the New Year celebrations; there had been none of this air of subdued
excitement which started days before with folks shouting good wishes and
coloured lights winking on the lonely fell-sides and the farmers" wives
plucking the fat geese, the feathers piled deep around their feet. And
for fully two weeks you heard the children piping carols in the street
then knocking on the door for sixpences. And best of all, last night the
Methodist choir and sung out there, filling the night air with rich,
Before going to bed and just as the church bells began, I closed the
door of Skeldale House behind me and walked again into the market place.
Nothing stirred now in the white square stretching smooth and cold and
empty under the moon, and there was a Dickens look about the ring of
houses and shops put together long before anybody thought of town
planning; tall and short, fat and thin, Squashed in crazily around the
cobbles, their snow-burdened roofs jagged and uneven against the frosty
As I walked back, the snow crunching under my feet, the bells clanging,
the sharp air tingling in my nostrils, the wonder and mystery of
Christmas enveloped me in a great wave. Peace on earth, goodwill towards
men; the words became meaningful as never before and I saw myself
suddenly as a tiny particle in the Scheme of things; Darrowby, the
farmers, the animals and me seemed for the first time like a warm,
comfortable entity. I hadn't been drinking but I almost floated up the
stairs of Skeldale House to my bedroom.
The temperature up there was about the same as in the street. It was
always !like that and I had developed the habit of hurling off my
clothes and leaping Into bed before the freezing air could get at me,
but tonight my movements were leisurely and when I finally crawled
between the sheets I was still wallowing in my Yuletide euphoria. There
wouldn't be much work tomorrow; I'd have a long lie - maybe till nine
and then a lazy day, a glorious hiatus in my busy life. As I drifted
into sleep it was as though I was surrounded by the smiling; faces of my
clients looking down at me with an all-embracing benevolence; and
strangely I fancied I could hear Singing, sweet and haunting, just like
the ~ methodist choir - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen ... l But now there
was this other bell which wouldn't stop. Must be the alarm. :] But as I
pawed at the clock the noise continued and I saw that it was six
It was the phone of course. I lifted the receiver A metallic voice,
crisp and very Wideawake jarred in my ear. "Is that the vet?"
"Yes, Herriot speaking," I mumbled "This is Brown, Willet Hill. I've got
a cow down with milk fever. I want you here quick."
"Right, I'll see to it."
"Don't take ower long." Then a click at the far end.
I rolled on to my back and stared at the ceiling. So this was Christmas
Day The :lay when I was going to step out of the world for a spell and
luxuriate in the seasonal spirit. I hadn't bargained for this fellow
jerking me brutally back to reality. And not a word of regret Or
apology. No 'sorry to get you out of bed", or anything else, never mind
"Merry Christmas". It was just a bit hard.
Mr. Brown was waiting for me in the darkness of the farmyard. I had been
to his place a few times before and as my headlights blazed on him I was
struck, as always, by his appearance of perfect physical fitness. He was
a gingery man of about forty with high cheekbones set in a
sharp-featured clear-skinned face. Red hair peeped from under a check
cap and a faint auburn down covered his cheeks, his neck, the backs of
his hands. It made me a bit more sleepy just to look at him.
He didn't say good morning but nodded briefly then jerked his head in
the direction of
He watched in silence as I gave the injections and it wasn't until I was
putting the empty bottles into my pocket that he spoke.
"Don't suppose I'll have to milk her today?"
"No," I replied. "Better leave the bag full." .
"Anything special about feedin"?"
"No, she can have anything she likes when she wants it." Mr. Brown was
very efficient. Always wanted to know every detail.
As we crossed the yard he halted suddenly and turned to face me. Could
it be that he was going to ask me in for a nice hot cup of tea?
"You know," he said, as I stood ankle deep in the snow, the frosty air
nipping at my ears. "I've had a few of these cases lately. Maybe there's
summat wrong . with my routine. Do you think I'm steaming up my cows too
"It's quite possible." I hurried towards the car. One thing I wasn't
going to do was deliver a lecture on animal husbandry at this moment My
hand was on the door handle when he said "I'll give you another ring if
she's not up by dinner time. And there's one other thing - that was a
hell of a: bill I had from you fellers last month, so tell your boss not
to be so savage with 'is pen." Then he turned and walked quickly towards
Well that was nice, I thought as I drove away. Not even thanks or
goodbye, just a complaint and a promise to haul me away from my roast
goose if necessary. A sudden wave of anger surged in me. Bloody farmers!
There were some miserable devils among them. Mr. Brown had doused my
festive feelings as effectively as if he had thrown a bucket of water
As I mounted the steps of Skeldale House the darkness had paled to a
shivery grey. Mrs. Hall met me in the passage She was carrying a tray.
"I'm sorry," she said. "There's another urgent job. Mr. Farnon's had to
go out, too. But I've got a cup of coffee and some fried bread for you.
Come in and sit down - you've got time to eat it before you go."
I sighed. It was going to be just another day after all. "What's this
about, Mrs. Hall?" I asked, sipping the coffee.
"It's old Mr. Kirby," she replied. "He's in a right state about his
"Aye, he says she's choking."
"Choking! How the heck can she be choking?" I shouted.
"I'm sure I don't know. And I wish you wouldn't shout at me, Mr.
Herriot. It's not my fault."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Hall, I'm really sorry." I finished the coffee
sheepishly. My feeling of goodwill was at a very low ebb.
Mr. Kirby was a retired farmer, but he had sensibly taken a cottage with
a bit of land where he kept enough stock to occupy his time - a cow, a
few pigs and his beloved goats. He had always had goats, even when he
was running his dairy herd; he had a thing about them.
The cottage was in a village high up the Dale. Mr. Kirby met me at the
"Ee, lad," he said. "I'm right sorry to be bothering you this early in
the morning and Christmas an" all, but I didn't have no choice.
Dorothy's real bad."
He led the way to a stone shed which had been converted into a row of
pens. Behind the wire of one of them a large white nanen goat peered out
at us anxiously and as I watched her she gulped, gave a series of
retching coughs, then stood trembling, saliva drooling from her mouth.
The farmer turned to me, wide-eyed. "You see, I had to get you out,
didn't I? If I left her till tomorrow she'd be a goner."
"You're right, Mr. Kirby," I replied. "You couldn't leave her. There's
something in her throat."
We went into the pen and as the old man held the goat against the wall I
tried to open her mouth. She didn't like it very much and as I prised
her jaws apart she startled me with a loud, long-drawn human-sounding
cry. It wasn't a big mouth but I have a small hand and, as the sharp
back teeth tried to nibble me, I poked a finger deep into the pharynx.
There was something there all right. I could just touch it but I
couldn't get hold of it. Then the animal began to throw her head about
and I had to come out; I stood there, saliva dripping from my hand,
looking thoughtfully at Dorothy.
After a few moments I turned to the farmer. "You know, this is a bit
baffling. I can feel something in the back of her throat, but it's soft
- like cloth. I'd been expecting to find a bit of twig, or something
sharp sticking in there - it's funny what a goat will pick up when she's
pottering around outside. But if it's cloth, what the heck is holding it
there? Why hasn't she swallowed it down?"
"Aye, it's a rum 'un isn't it?" The old man ran a gentle hand along the
animal's back. "Do you think she'll get rid of it herself? Maybe it'll
just slip down?"
"No, I don't. It's stuck fast, God knows how, but it is. And I've got to
get it out soon because she's beginning to blow up. Look there." I
pointed to the goat's left side, bulged by the tympanitic rumen, and as
I did so, Dorothy began another paroxysm of coughs which seemed almost
to tear her apart.
Mr. Kirby looked at me with a mute appeal, but just at that moment I
didn't see what I could do. Then I opened the door of the pen. "I'm
going to get my torch from the car. Maybe I can see something to explain
The old man held the torch as I once more pulled the goat's mouth open
and again heard the curious child-like wailing. It was when the animal
was in full cry that I noticed something under the tongue - a thin, dark
"I can see what's holding the thing now," I cried. "It's hooked round
the tongue with string or something." Carefully I pushed my forefinger
under the band and began to pull.
It wasn't string. It began to stretch as I pulled carefully at it ...
like elastic. Then it stopped stretching and I felt a real resistance ..
. whatever was in the throat was beginning to move. I kept up a gentle
traction and very slowly the mysterious obstruction came sliding up over
the back of the tongue and into the! mouth, and when it came within
reach I let go the elastic, grabbed the sodden mass and hauled it forth.
It seemed as if there was no end to it - a long snake of dripping
material nearly two feet long - but at last I had it out on to the straw
of the pen.
Mr. Kirby seized it and held it up and as he unravelled the mass
wonderingly he gave a sudden cry.
"God 'elp us, it's me summer drawers!"
"Me summer drawers. Ah don't like them long johns when weather gets
warmer and I allus change into these little short 'uns. Missus was
havin" a clearout afore the end of t'year and she didn't know whether to
wash 'em or mck them into dusters. She washed them at t'finish and
Dorothy must have got 'em off the line." He held up the tattered shorts
and regarded them ruefully. "By yaw, they've seen better days, but I
reckon Dorothy's fettled them this time."
Then his body began to shake silently, a few low giggles escaped from
him and finally he gave a great shout of laught
laugh and I joined in as I watched him. He went on for quite a long time
and when he had finished he was leaning weakly against the wire netting.
"Me poor awd drawers," he gasped, then leaned over and patted the goat's
head. "But as long as you're all right, lass, I'm not worried."
"Oh, she'll be O.K." I pointed to her left flank. "You can see her
stomach's going down already." As I spoke, Dorothy belched pleasurably
and began to nose interestedly at her hay rack.
The farmer gazed at her fondly. "Isn't that grand to see! She's ready
for her grub again. And if she hadn't got her tongue round the elastic
that lot would have gone right down and killed her."
"I really don't think it would, you know", I said. "It's amazing what
ruminants can carry around in their stomachs. I once found a bicycle
tyre inside a cow when I was operating for something else. The tyre
didn't seem to be bothering her in the least."
"I see." Mr. Kirby rubbed his chin. "So Dorothy might have wandered
around with me drawers inside her for years."
"It's possible. You'd never have known what became of them."
"By yaw, that's right." Mr. Kirby said, and for a moment I thought he
was going to start giggling again, but he mastered himself and seized my
arm. "But I don't know what I'm keeping you out here for, lad. You must
come in and have a bit o" Christmas cake."
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes