James herriots dog stori.., p.21
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       James Herriot's Dog Stories, p.21

           James Herriot

  ‘Good to see you, Jim!’ he exclaimed, wringing my hand warmly. Then before removing his jacket he took his pipe from his mouth and regarded it with a trace of anxiety for a second before giving it a polish with his yellow cloth and placing it tenderly in a drawer.

  It wasn’t long before I was under the lamp in the operating room bending over Toby’s small outstretched form while Granville – the other Granville Bennett – worked with fierce concentration inside the abdomen of the little animal.

  ‘You see the gross gastric dilatation,’ he murmured. ‘Classical lesion.’ He gripped the pylorus and poised his scalpel. ‘Now I’m going through the serous coat.’ A quick deft incision. ‘A bit of blunt dissection here for the muscle fibres . . . down . . . down . . . a little more . . . ah, there it is, can you see it – the mucosa bulging into the cleft. Yes . . . yes . . . just right. That’s what you’ve got to arrive at.’

  I peered down at the tiny tube which had been the site of all Toby’s troubles. ‘Is that all, then?’

  ‘That’s all, laddie.’ He stepped back with a grin. ‘The obstruction is relieved now and you can take bets that this little chap will start to put weight on now.’

  ‘That’s wonderful, Granville. I’m really grateful.’

  ‘Nonsense, Jim, it was a pleasure. You can do the next one yourself now, eh?’ He laughed, seized needle and sutures and sewed up the abdominal muscles and skin at an impossible pace.

  A few minutes later he was in his office pulling on his jacket, then as he filled his pipe he turned to me.

  ‘I’ve got a little plan for the rest of the morning, laddie.’

  I shrank away from him and threw up a protective hand. ‘Well now, er . . . it’s kind of you, Granville, but I really . . . I honestly must get back . . . we’re very busy, you know . . . can’t leave Siegfried too long . . . work’ll be piling up . . .’ I stopped because I felt I was beginning to gibber.

  My colleague looked wounded. ‘All I meant, old son, was that we want you to come to lunch. Zoe is expecting you.’

  ‘Oh . . . oh, I see. Well that’s very kind. We’re not going . . . anywhere else, then?’

  ‘Anywhere else?’ He blew out his cheeks and spread his arms wide. ‘Of course not. I just have to call in at my branch surgery on the way.’

  ‘Branch surgery? I didn’t know you had one.’

  ‘Oh yes, just a stone’s throw from my house.’ He put an arm round my shoulders. ‘Well let’s go, shall we?’

  As I lay back, cradled in the Bentley’s luxury, I dwelt happily on the thought that at last I was going to meet Zoe Bennett when I was my normal self. She would learn this time that I wasn’t a perpetually drunken oaf. In fact the next hour or two seemed full of rosy promise; an excellent lunch illumined by my witty conversation and polished manners, then back with Toby, magically resuscitated, to Darrowby.

  I smiled to myself when I thought of Nellie’s face when I told her her pet was going to be able to eat and grow strong and playful like any other pup. I was still smiling when the car pulled up on the outskirts of Granville’s home village. I glanced idly through the window at a low stone building with leaded panes and a wooden sign dangling over the entrance. It read ‘Old Oak Tree Inn’. I turned quickly to my companion.

  ‘I thought we were going to your branch surgery?’

  Granville gave me a smile of childish innocence. ‘Oh that’s what I call this place. It’s so near home and I transact quite a lot of business here.’ He patted my knee. ‘We’ll just pop in for an appetiser, eh?’

  ‘Now wait a minute,’ I stammered, gripping the sides of my seat tightly. ‘I just can’t be late today. I’d much rather . . .’

  Granville raised a hand. ‘Jim, laddie, we won’t be in for long.’ He looked at his watch. ‘It’s exactly twelve thirty and I promised Zoe we’d be home by one o’clock. She’s cooking roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and it would take a braver man than me to let her pudding go flat. I guarantee we’ll be in that house at one o’clock on the dot – OK?’

  I hesitated. I couldn’t come to much harm in half an hour. I climbed out of the car.

  As we went into the pub a large man, who had been leaning on the counter, turned and exchanged enthusiastic greetings with my colleague.

  ‘Albert!’ cried Granville. ‘Meet Jim Herriot from Darrowby. Jim, this is Albert Wainright, the landlord of the Wagon and Horses over in Matherley. In fact he’s the president of the Licensed Victuallers’ Association this year, aren’t you, Albert?’

  The big man grinned and nodded and for a moment I felt overwhelmed by the two figures on either side of me. It was difficult to describe the hard, bulky tissue of Granville’s construction but Mr Wainright was unequivocally fat. A checked jacket hung open to display an enormous expanse of striped shirted abdomen overflowing the waistband of his trousers. Above a gay bow tie cheerful eyes twinkled at me from a red face and when he spoke his tone was rich and fruity. He embodied the rich ambience of the term ‘Licensed Victualler’.

  I began to sip at the half pint of beer I had ordered but when another appeared in two minutes I saw I was going to fall hopelessly behind and switched to the whiskies and sodas which the others were drinking. And my undoing was that both my companions appeared to have a standing account here; they downed their drinks, tapped softly on the counter and said, ‘Yes please, Jack,’ whereupon three more glasses appeared with magical speed. I never had a chance to buy a round. In fact no money ever changed hands.

  It was a quiet, friendly little session with Albert and Granville carrying on a conversation of the utmost good humour punctuated by the almost soundless taps on the bar. And as I fought to keep up with the two virtuosos the taps came more and more frequently till I seemed to hear them every few seconds.

  Granville was as good as his word. When it was nearly one o’clock he looked at his watch.

  ‘Got to be off now, Albert. Zoe’s expecting us right now.’

  And as the car rolled to a stop outside the house dead on time I realised with a dull despair that it had happened to me again. Within me a witch’s brew was beginning to bubble, sending choking fumes into my brain. I felt terrible and I knew for sure I would get rapidly worse.

  Granville, fresh and debonair as ever, leaped out and led me into the house.

  ‘Zoe, my love!’ he warbled, embracing his wife as she came through from the kitchen.

  When she disengaged herself she came over to me. She was wearing a flowered apron which made her look if possible even more attractive.

  ‘Hel-lo!’ she cried and gave me that look which she shared with her husband as though meeting James Herriot was an unbelievable boon. ‘Lovely to see you again. I’ll get lunch now.’ I replied with a foolish grin and she skipped away.

  Flopping into an armchair I listened to Granville pouring steadily over at the sideboard. He put a glass in my hand and sat in another chair. Immediately the obese Staffordshire Terrier bounded on to his lap.

  ‘Phoebles, my little pet!’ he sang joyfully. ‘Daddykins is home again.’ And he pointed playfully at the tiny Yorkie who was sitting at his feet, baring her teeth repeatedly in a series of ecstatic smiles. ‘And I see you, my little Victoria, I see you!’

  By the time I was ushered to the table I was like a man in a dream, moving sluggishly, speaking with slurred deliberation. Granville poised himself over a vast sirloin, stropped his knife briskly, then began to hack away ruthlessly. He was a prodigal server and piled about two pounds of meat on my plate, then he started on the Yorkshire puddings. Instead of a single big one, Zoe had made a large number of little round ones as the farmers’ wives often did, delicious golden cups, crisply brown round the sides. Granville heaped about six of these by the side of the meat as I watched stupidly. Then Zoe passed me the gravy boat.

  With an effort I took a careful grip on the handle, closed one eye and began to pour. For some reason I felt I had to fill up each of the little puddings with gravy and owlishly directed the stream into on
e then another till they were all overflowing. Once I missed and spilled a few drops of the fragrant liquid on the tablecloth. I looked up guiltily at Zoe and giggled.

  Zoe giggled back, and I had the impression that she felt that though I was a peculiar individual there was no harm in me. I just had this terrible weakness that I was never sober day or night, but I wasn’t such a bad fellow at heart.

  It usually took me a few days to recover from a visit to Granville and by the following Saturday I was convalescing nicely. It happened that I was in the market-place and saw a large concourse of people crossing the cobbles. At first I thought from the mixture of children and adults that it must be a school outing but on closer inspection I realised it was only the Dimmocks and Pounders going shopping.

  When they saw me they diverted their course and I was engulfed by a human wave.

  ‘Look at ’im now, Mister!’ ‘He’s eatin’ like a ’oss now!’ ‘He’s goin’ to get fat soon, Mister!’ The delighted cries rang around me.

  Nellie had Toby on a lead and as I bent over the little animal I could hardly believe how a few days had altered him. He was still skinny but the hopeless look had gone; he was perky, ready to play. It was just a matter of time now.

  His little mistress ran her hand again and again over the smooth brown coat.

  ‘You are proud of your little dog, aren’t you, Nellie,’ I said, and the gentle squinting eyes turned on me.

  ‘Yes, I am.’ She smiled that smile again. ‘Because ’e’s mine.’

  I am so glad I got the Dimmock family down on paper. They were some of the truest animal lovers I have ever known, and dealing with the crowd of them at one time as I always did gave a richness and warmth to every consultation. After seeing them I used to feel strangely alone when meeting a solitary client. And of course I had my wings singed as always when I came into contact with the immortal Granville Bennett, but to this day I have never found a better way of relieving pyloric stenosis than the one he showed me.

  21. Magnus and Company

  There was one marvellous thing about the set-up in Darrowby. I had the inestimable advantage of being a large animal practitioner with a passion for dogs and cats. So that although I spent most of my time in the wide outdoors of Yorkshire there was always the captivating background of the household pets to make a contrast.

  I treated some of them every day and it made an extra interest in my life; interest of a different kind, based on sentiment instead of commerce, and because of the way things were it was something I could linger over and enjoy. I suppose with a very intensive small animal practice it would be easy to regard the thing as a huge sausage machine, an endless procession of hairy forms to prod with hypodermic needles. But in Darrowby we got to know them all as individual entities.

  Driving through the town I was able to identify my ex-patients without difficulty: Rover Johnson, recovered from his ear canker, coming out of the ironmongers with his mistress; Patch Walker, whose broken leg had healed beautifully, balanced happily on the back of his owner’s coal wagon, or Spot Briggs, who was a bit of a rake anyway and would soon be tearing himself again on barbed wire, ambling all alone across the market-place cobbles in search of adventure. I got quite a kick out of recalling their ailments and mulling over their characteristics. Because they all had their own personalities and they were manifested in different ways.

  One of these was their personal reaction to me and my treatment. Most dogs and cats appeared to bear me not the slightest ill will despite the fact that I usually had to do something disagreeable to them.

  But there were exceptions and one of these was Magnus, the Miniature Dachshund from the Drovers’ Arms.

  He was in my mind now as I leaned across the bar counter.

  ‘A pint of Smiths, please, Danny,’ I whispered.

  The barman grinned. ‘Coming up, Mr Herriot.’ He pulled at the lever and the beer hissed gently into the glass and as he passed it over the froth stood high and firm on the surface.

  ‘That ale looks really fit tonight,’ I breathed almost inaudibly.

  ‘Fit? It’s beautiful!’ Danny looked fondly at the brimming glass. ‘In fact it’s a shame to sell it.’

  I laughed, but pianissimo. ‘Well it’s nice of you to spare me a drop.’ I took a deep pull and turned to old Mr Fairburn who was as always sitting at the far corner of the bar with his own fancy flower-painted glass in his hand.

  ‘It’s been a grand day, Mr Fairburn,’ I murmured sotto voce.

  The old man put his hand to his ear. ‘What’s that you say?’

  ‘Nice warm day it’s been.’ My voice was like a soft breeze sighing over the marshes.

  I felt a violent dig at my back. ‘What the heck’s the matter with you, Jim? Have you got laryngitis?’

  I turned and saw the tall bald-headed figure of Dr Allinson, my medical adviser and friend. ‘Hello, Harry,’ I cried. ‘Nice to see you.’ Then I put my hand to my mouth.

  But it was too late. A furious yapping issued from the manager’s office. It was loud and penetrating and it went on and on.

  ‘Damn, I forgot,’ I said wearily. ‘There goes Magnus again.’

  ‘Magnus? What are you talking about?’

  ‘Well, it’s a long story.’ I took another sip at my beer as the din continued from the office. It really shattered the peace of the comfortable bar and I could see the regulars fidgeting and looking out into the hallway.

  Would that little dog ever forget? It seemed a long time now since Mr Beckwith, the new young manager at the Drovers’, had brought Magnus into the surgery. He had looked a little apprehensive.

  ‘You’ll have to watch him, Mr Herriot.’

  ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘Well, be careful. He’s very vicious.’

  I looked at the sleek little form, a mere brown dot on the table. He would probably turn the scale at around six pounds. And I couldn’t help laughing.

  ‘Vicious? He’s not big enough, surely.’

  ‘Don’t you worry!’ Mr Beckwith raised a warning finger. ‘I took him to the vet in Bradford where I used to manage the White Swan and he sank his teeth into the poor chap’s finger.’

  ‘He did?’

  ‘He certainly did! Right down to the bone! By God I’ve never heard such language but I couldn’t blame the man. There was blood all over the place. I had to help him to put a bandage on.’

  ‘Mm, I see.’ It was nice to be told before you had been bitten and not after. ‘And what was he trying to do to the dog? Must have been something pretty major.’

  ‘It wasn’t you know. All I wanted was his nails clipping.’

  ‘Is that all? And why have you brought him today?’

  ‘Same thing.’

  ‘Well honestly, Mr Beckwith,’ I said, ‘I think we can manage to cut his nails without bloodshed. If he’d been a Bull Mastiff or an Alsatian we might have had a problem, but I think that you and I between us can control a Miniature Dachshund.’

  The manager shook his head. ‘Don’t bring me into it. I’m sorry, but I’d rather not hold him, if you don’t mind.’

  ‘Why not?’

  ‘Well, he’d never forgive me. He’s a funny little dog.’

  I rubbed my chin. ‘But if he’s as difficult as you say and you can’t hold him, what do you expect me to do?’

  ‘I don’t know, really . . . maybe you could sort of dope him . . . knock him out?’

  ‘You mean a general anaesthetic? To cut his claws . . . ?’

  ‘It’ll be the only way, I’m afraid.’ Mr Beckwith stared gloomily at the tiny animal. ‘You don’t know him.’

  It was difficult to believe but it seemed pretty obvious that this canine morsel was the boss in the Beckwith home. In my experience many dogs had occupied this position but none as small as this one. Anyway, I had no more time to waste on this nonsense.

  ‘Look,’ I said, ‘I’ll put a tape muzzle on his nose and I’ll have this job done in a couple of minutes.’ I reached behind me
for the nail clippers and laid them on the table, then I unrolled a length of bandage and tied it in a loop.

  ‘Good boy, Magnus,’ I said ingratiatingly as I advanced towards him.

  The little dog eyed the bandage unwinkingly until it was almost touching his nose then, with a surprising outburst of ferocity, he made a snarling leap at my hand. I felt the draught on my fingers as a row of sparkling teeth snapped shut half an inch away, but as he turned to have another go my free hand clamped on the scruff of his neck.

  ‘Right, Mr Beckwith,’ I said calmly, ‘I have him now. Just pass me that bandage again and I won’t be long.’

  But the young man had had enough. ‘Not me!’ he gasped. ‘I’m off!’ He turned the door handle and I heard his feet scurrying along the passage.

  Ah well, I thought, it was probably best. With boss dogs my primary move was usually to get the owner out of the way. It was surprising how quickly these tough guys calmed down when they found themselves alone with a no-nonsense stranger who knew how to handle them. I could recite a list who were raving tearaways in their own homes but apologetic tail-waggers once they crossed the surgery threshold. And they were all bigger than Magnus.

  Retaining my firm grip on his neck I unwound another foot of bandage and as he fought furiously, mouth gaping, lips retracted like a scaled-down Siberian wolf, I slipped the loop over his nose, tightened it and tied the knot behind his ears. His mouth was now clamped shut and just to make sure, I applied a second bandage so that he was well and truly trussed.

  This was when they usually packed in and I looked confidently at the dog for signs of submission. But above the encircling white coils the eyes glared furiously and from within the little frame an enraged growling issued, rising and falling like the distant droning of a thousand bees.

  Sometimes a stern word or two had the effect of showing them who was boss.

  ‘Magnus!’ I barked at him. ‘That’s enough! Behave yourself!’ I gave his neck a shake to make it clear that I wasn’t kidding but the only response was a sidelong squint of pure defiance from the slightly bulging eyes.

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