Let sleeping vets lie, p.20
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       Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.20

           James 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!"




  Chapter Sixteen.

  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,

  thrilling harmony.

  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
the byre. "She's in there" was all he said.

  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

  the house.

  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

  over me.

  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

  nanny goat."

  "Nanny goat!"

  "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!"

  "Your what?"

  "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
er. It was an infectious

  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."

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