It shouldnt happen to a.., p.21
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.21

           James Herriot
 
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shapeless blur. My stomach heaved and tossed.

  Then I heard somebody say "Good evening'. It was a woman's voice and

  very close. There were two figures looking at us with interest. They

  seemed to have just come through the door.

  I concentrated fiercely on them and they swam into focus for a few

  seconds. It was Helen and a man. His pink, scrubbed-looking face, the

  shining fair hair plastered sideways across the top of his head was in

  keeping with the spotless British warm overcoat. He was staring at me

  distastefully. They went out of focus again and there was only Helen's

  voice. "We thought we would just look in for a few moments to see how

  the dance was going. Are you enjoying it."

  Then, unexpectedly, I could see her clearly. She was smiling her kind

  smile but her eyes were strained as she looked from me to Connie and

  back again. I couldn't speak but stood gazing at her dully, seeing only

  her calm beauty in the crush and noise. It seemed, for a moment, that it

  would be the most natural thing in the world to throw my arms around her

  but I discarded the idea and, instead, just nodded stupidly.

  "Well then, we must be off," she said and smiled again. "Good night."

  The fair haired man gave me a cold nod and they went out.

  Chapter Twenty-seven.

  1

  .s 1 1

  1 l It looked as though I was going to make it back to the road all

  right. And I was thankful for it because seven o'clock in the morning

  with the wintry dawn only just beginning to lighten the eastern rim of

  the moor was no time to be digging my car out of the snow.

  This narrow, unfenced road skirted a high tableland and gave on to a few

  lonely farms at the end of even narrower tracks. It hadn't actually been

  snowing on my way out to this early call - a uterine haemorrhage in a

  cow - but the wind had been rising steadily and whipping the top surface

  from the white blanket which had covered the fell-tops for weeks. My

  headlights had picked _ _

  out the creeping drifts;`pretty, pointed fingers feeling their way inch

  by inch across the strip of tarmac.

  This was how all blocked roads began, and at the farm as I injected

  pituitrin and packed the bleeding cervix with a clean sheet I could hear

  the wind buffeting the byre door and wondered if I would win the race

  home.

  On the way back the drifts had stopped being pretty and lay across the

  road like white bolsters; but my little car had managed to cleave

  through them, veering crazily at times, wheels spinning, and now I could

  see the main road a few hundred yards ahead, reassuringly black in the

  pale light.

  But just over there on the left, a field away, was Cote House. I was

  treating a bullock there - he had eaten some frozen turnips - and a

  visit was fixed for today. I didn't fancy trailing back up here if I

  could avoid it and there was a light in the kitchen window. The family

  were up, anyway. I turned and drove down into the yard.

  The farmhouse door lay within a small porch and the wind had driven the

  snow inside forming a smooth, two-foot heap against the timbers. As I

  leaned across to knock:, the surface of the heap trembled a little, then

  began to heave. There was something in there, something quite big. It

  was eerie standing in the half light watching the snow parting to reveal

  a furry body. Some creature of the wild must have strayed in, searching

  for warmth - but it was bigger than a fox or anything else I could think

  of.

  Just then the door opened and the light from the kitchen streamed out.

  Peter Trenholm beckoned me inside and his wife smiled at me from the

  bright interior. They were a cheerful young couple.

  "What's that?" I gasped, pointing at the animal which was shaking the

  snow vigorously from its coat.

  "That?" Peter grinned, "That's awd Tip."

  "Tip? Your dog? But what's he doing under a pile of snow."

  "Just blew in on him, I reckon. That's where he sleeps, you know, just

  outside back door."

  I stared at the farmer. "You mean he sleeps there, out in the open,

  every night ."

  "Aye, allus. Summer and winter. But don't look at me like that Mr.

  Herriot - it's his own choice. The other dogs have a warm bed in the cow

  house but Tip won't entertain it. He's fifteen now and he's been

  sleeping out there since he were a pup. I remember when me father was

  alive he tried all ways to get t'awd feller to sleep inside but it was

  no good."

  I looked at the old dog in amazement. I could see him more clearly now;

  he wasn't the typical sheep dog type, he was bigger boned, longer in the

  hair, and he projected a bursting vitality that didn't go with his

  fifteen years. It was difficult to believe that any animal living in

  these bleak uplands should choose to sleep outside - and thrive on it. I

  had to look closely to see any sign of his great age. There was the

  slightest stiffness in his gait as he moved around, perhaps a fleshless

  look about his head and face and of course the tell-tale lens opacity in

  the depths of his eyes. But the general impression was of an

  unquenchable jauntiness.

  He shook the last of the snow from his coat, pranced jerkily up to the

  farmer and gave a couple of reedy barks. Peter Trenholm laughed. "You

  see he's ready to be off - he's a beggar for work is Tip." He led the

  way towards the buildings and I followed, stumbling over the frozen

  ruts, like iron under the snow, and bending my head against the

  knife-like wind. It was a relief to open the byre door and escape into

  the sweet bovine warmth.

  There was a fair mixture of animals in the long building. The dairy cows

  took up most of the length, then there were a few young heifers, some

  bullocks ..;

  ~,.

  l and finally, in an empty stall deeply bedded with straw, the other

  farm dogs. The cats were there too, so it had to be warm. No animal is a

  better judge of comfort than a cat and they were just visible as furry

  balls in the straw. They had the best place, up against the wooden

  partition where the warmth came through from the big animals.

  Tip strode confidently among his colleagues - a young dog and a bitch

  with three half-grown pups. You could see he was boss.

  One of the bullocks was my patient and he was looking a bit better. When

  I had seen him yesterday his rumen (the big first stomach) had been

  completely static and atonic following an over eager consumption of

  frozen turnips. He had been slightly bloated and groaning with

  discomfort. But today as I leaned with my ear against his left side I

  could hear the beginnings of the surge and rumble of the normal rumen

  instead of the deathly silence of yesterday. My gastric ravage had

  undoubtedly tickled things up and I felt that another of the same would

  just about put him right. Almost lovingly I got together the ingredients

  of one of my favourite treatments, long since washed away in the flood

  of progress; the ounce of formalin, the half pound of common salt, the

  can of black treacle from the barrel which you used to find in most cow

&nbs
p; houses, all mixed up in a bucket with two gallons of hot water.

  I jammed the wooden gag into the bullock's mouth and buckled it behind

  the horns, then as Peter held the handles I passed the stomach tube down

  into the rumen and pumped in the mixture. When I had finished the

  bullock opened his eyes wide in surprise and began to paddle his hind

  legs. Listening again at his side, I could hear the reassuring bubbling

  of the stomach contents. I smiled to myself in satisfaction. It worked

  it always worked.

  Wiping down the tube I could hear the hiss-hiss as Peter's brother got

  on with the morning's milking, and as I prepared to leave he came down

  the byre with a full bucket on the way to the cooler. As he passed the

  dogs' stall he tipped a few pints of the warm milk into their dishes and

  Tip strolled forward casually for his breakfast. While he was drinking,

  the young dog tried to push his way in but a soundless snap from Tip's

  jaws missed his nose by a fraction and he retired to another dish. I

  noticed, however, that the old dog made no protest as the bitch and pups

  joined him. The cats, black and white, tortoise-shell, tabby grey,

  appeared, stretching, from the straw and advanced in a watchful ring.

  Their turn would come.

  Mrs. Trenholm called me in for a cup of tea and when I came out it was

  full daylight. But the sky was a burdened grey and the sparse trees near

  the house strained their bare branches against the wind which drove in

  long, icy gusts over the white empty miles of moor. It was what the

  Yorkshiremen called a 'thin wind' or sometimes a 'lazy wind' - the kind

  that couldn't be bothered to blow round you but went straight through

  instead. It made me feel that the best place on earth was by the side of

  that bright fire in the farmhouse kitchen.

  Most people would have felt like that, but not old Tip. He was capering

  around as Peter loaded a flat cart with some hay bales for the young

  cattle in the outside barns; and as Peter shook the reins and the cob

  set off over the fields, he leapt on to the back of the cart.

  As I threw my tackle into the boot I looked back at the old dog, legs

  braced against the uneven motion, tail waving, barking defiance at the

  cold world. I carried away the memory of Tip who scorned the softer

  things and slept in what he considered the place of honour - at his

  master's door.

  A little incident like this has always been able to brighten my day and

  fortunately I have the kind of job where things of this kind happened.

  And sometimes it isn't even a happening - just a single luminous phrase.

  As when I was examining a cow one morning while its neighbour was being

  milked. The milker was an old man and he was having trouble. He was

  sitting well into the cow, his cloth-capped head buried in her flank,

  the bucket gripped tightly between his knees, but the stool kept rocking

  about as the cow fidgeted and weaved. Twice she kicked the bucket over

  and she had an additional little trick of anointing her tail with

  particularly liquid faeces than lashing the old man across the face with

  it.

  Finally he could stand it no longer. Leaping to his feet he dealt a puny

  blow at the cow's craggy back and emitted an exasperated shout.

  "Stand still, thou shittin' awd bovril."

  Or the day when I had to visit Luke Benson at his smallholding in Hillom

  village. Luke was a powerful man of about sixty and had the unusual

  characteristic of speaking always through his clenched teeth. He

  literally articulated every word by moving only his lips, showing the

  rows of square, horse-like incisors clamped tightly together. It leant a

  peculiar intensity to his simplest utterance; and as he spoke, his eyes

  glared.

  Most of his conversation consisted of scathing remarks about the other

  inhabitants of Hillom. In fact he seemed to harbour a cordial dislike of

  the human race in general. Yet strangely enough I found him a very

  reasonable man to deal with; he accepted my diagnoses of his animal."

  ailments without question and appeared to be trying to be friendly by

  addressing me repeatedly as "Jems', which was the nearest he could get

  to my name with his teeth together.

  His fiercest hatred was reserved for his neighbour and fellow

  smallholder, a little lame man called Gill to whom Luke referred

  invariably and unkindly as "Yon 'oppin youth'. A bitter feud had raged

  between them for many years and I had seen Luke smile on only two

  occasions - once when Mr. Gill's sow lost its litter and again when he

  had a stall; burnt down.

  When Mr. Gill's wife ran away with a man who came round the farm selling

  brushes it caused a sensation. Nothing like that had ever happened in

  Hillom before and a wave of delighted horror swept through the village.

  This, I thought, would be the high point of Luke Benson's life and when

  I had to visit a heifer of his I expected to find him jubilant. But Luke

  was gloomy.

  As I examined and treated his animal he remained silent and it wasn't

  until I went into the kitchen to wash my hands that he spoke. He glanced

  round warily at his wife, a gaunt, grim-faced woman who was applying

  blacklead to the grate.

  "You'll have heard about yon 'oppin youth's missus rumlin'off?" he said.

  "Yes," I replied. "I did hear about it." I waited for Luke to gloat but

  he seemed strangely ill at ease. He fidgeted until I had finished drying

  my hands then he glared at me and bared his strong teeth.

  "Ah'll tell you something, Jems," he ground out. "Ah wish somebody would

  tek MA bugger."

  And there was that letter from the Bramleys - that really made me feel

  good. You don't find people like the Bramleys now; radio, television and

  the motorcar have carried the outside world into the most isolated

  places so that the simple people you used to meet on the lonely farms

  are rapidly becoming like people anywhere else. There are still a few

  left, of course - old folk who cling to the ways of their fathers and

  when I come across any of them I like to make some excuse to sit down

  and talk with them and listen to the old Yorkshire words and expressions

  which have almost disappeared.

  But even in the thirties when there were many places still untouched by

  the flood of progress the Bramleys were in some ways unique. There were

  four of them; three brothers, all middle-aged bachelors, and an older

  sister, also unmarried, and their farm lay in a wide, shallow depression

  in the hills. You could just see the ancient tiles of Scar House through

  the top branches of the sheltering trees if you stood outside the pub in

  Drewburn village and in the summer it was possible to drive down over

  the fields to the farm. I had done it a few times, the bottles in the

  boot jingling and crashing as the car bounced over the rig and furrow.

  The other approach to the place was right on the other side through Mr.

  Broom's stackyard and then along a track with ruts so deep that only a

  tractor could negotiate it.

  There was, in fact, no road to the farm, but that didn't bother the

  Bramleys becau
se the outside world held no great attraction for them.

  Miss Bramley made occasional trips to Darrowby on market days for

  provisions and Herbert, the middle brother, had come into town in the

  spring of 1929 to have a tooth out, but apart from that they stayed

  contentedly at home.

  A call to Scar House always came as rather a jolt because it meant that

  at least two hours had been removed from the working day. In all but the

  driest weather it was safer to leave the car at Mr. Broom's and make the

  journey on foot. One February night at about eight o'clock I was

  splashing my way along the track, feeling the mud sucking at my

  wellingtons; it was to see a horse with colic and my pockets were

  stuffed with the things I might need - arecoline, phials of morphia, a

  bottle of Paraphyroxia. My eyes were half closed against the steady

  drizzle but about half a mile ahead I could see the lights of the house

  winking among the trees.

  After twenty minutes of slithering in and out of the unseen puddles and

  opening a series of broken, string-tied gates, I reached the farm yard

  and crossed over to the back door. I was about to knock when I stopped

  with my hand poised. I found I was looking through the kitchen window

  and in the interior, dimly lit by an oil lamp, the Bramleys were sitting

  in a row.

  They weren't grouped round the fire but were jammed tightly on a long,

  high-backed wooden settle which stood against the far wall. The strange

  thing was the almost exact similarity of their attitudes; all four had

  their arms folded, chins resting on their chests, feet stretched out in

  front of them. The men had removed their heavy boots and were

  stocking-footed, but Miss Bramley wore an old pair of carpet slippers.

  I stared, fascinated by the curious immobility of the group. They were

  not asleep, not talking or reading or listening to the radio - in fact

  they didn't have one - they were just sitting.

  I had never seen people just sitting before and I stood there for some

  minutes to see if they would make a move or do anything at all, but

  nothing happened. It occurred to me that this was probably a typical

  evening; they worked hard all day, had their meal, then they just sat

  till bedtime.

  A month or two later I discovered another unsuspected side of the

  Bramleys when they started having trouble with their cats. I knew they

  were fond of cats by the number and variety which swarmed over the place

  and perched confidently on my car bonnet on cold days with their

  unerring instinct for a warm place. But I was unprepared for the

  family's utter desolation when the cats started to die. Miss Bramley was

  on the doorstep of Skeldale House nearly every day carrying an egg

  basket with another pitiful patient - a cat or sometimes a few tiny

  kittens - huddling miserably inside.

  Even today with the full range of modern antibiotics, the treatment of

  feline enteritis is unrewarding and I had little success with my

  salicylates and nonspecific injections I did my best. I even took some

  of the cats in and kept them at the surgery so that I could attend them

  several times a day, but the mortality rate was high.

  The Bramleys were stricken as they saw their cats diminishing. I was

  surprised at their grief because most farmers look on cats as pest

  killers and nothing more. But when Miss Bramley came in one morning with

  a fresh consignment of invalids she was in a sorry state. She stared at

  me across the surgery table and her rough fingers clasped and unclasped

  on the handle of the egg basket:

  "Is it going to go through 'em all?" she quavered.

  "Well, it's very infectious and it looks as though most of your young

  cats will get it anyway."

  For a moment Miss Bramley seemed to be struggling with herself, then her

 
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