Vet in harness, p.23
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       Vet in Harness, p.23

           James Herriot
 
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in a corner and Will would have moved among them and caught their noses

  in his powerful fingers.

  They were thoroughly upset. They had been peacefully chewing the cud or

  having a mouthful of hay from the rack but now, goaded by the teasing

  rope, were charging around like racehorses. Will and I watched in

  growing despair as Mr Wiggin for once managed to get a loop round one of

  them, but it was too wide and slipped down and round the body. The

  bullock shook it off with an angry bellow then went off at full gallop,

  bucking and kicking. I looked at the throng of frenzied creatures

  milling past; it was getting more like a rodeo every minute.

  And it was a disastrous start to the afternoon. I had seen a couple of

  dogs at the surgery after lunch and it had been nearly two thirty when I

  set out. It was now nearly four o'clock and I hadn't done a thing.

  And I don't think I ever would have if fate hadn't stepped in. By an

  amazing fluke Mr Wiggin cast his loop squarely over the horns of a

  shaggy projectile as it thundered past him, the rope tightened on the

  neck and Mr Wiggin on the other end flew gracefully through the air for

  about twenty feet till he crashed into a wooden feeding trough.

  We rushed to him and helped him to his feet. Badly shaken but uninjured

  he looked at us.

  "Doggone, I jest couldn't hold the blame thing,' he murmured. "Reckon

  I'd better sit down in the house for a while. You'll have to catch that

  pesky lot yourselves.'

  Back in the barn, Will whispered to me, "By gaw it's an ill wind,

  guvnor. We can get on now. And maybe it'll make 'im forget that bloody

  lasso for a bit.'

  The bullocks were too excited to be caught by the nose but instead Will

  treated me to an exhibition of roping, Yorkshire style. Like many of the

  local stocksmen he was an expert with a halter and it fascinated me to

  see him dropping it on the head of a moving animal so that one loop fell

  behind the ears and the other snared the nose.

  J w ~ C~ &/` ~ ~1 I`GJJ With a gush of relief I pulled the syringe and

  bottle of vaccine from my pocket and had the whole batch inoculated

  within twenty minutes.

  Driving off I glanced at my watch and my pulse quickened as I saw it was

  a quarter to five. The afternoon had almost slipped away and there were

  still two more calls. But I had till seven o'clock and surely I wouldn't

  come across any more Mr Wiggin's. And as the stone walls flipped past I

  ruminated again on that mysterious little man. Had he once been a

  genuine cowboy or was the whole thing fantasy?

  I recalled that one Thursday evening Helen and I were leaving the

  Brawton cinema where we usually finished our half day; the picture had

  been a Western and just before leaving the dark interior I glanced along

  the back row and right at the far end I saw Mr Wiggin all on his own,

  huddled in the corner and looking strangely furtive.

  Ever since then I have wondered ... Five o'clock saw me hurrying into

  the smaliholding belonging to the Misses Dunn. Their pig had cut its

  neck on a nail and my previous experience of this establishment

  suggested that it wouldn't be anything very serious.

  These two maiden ladies farmed a few acres just outside Dollingsford

  village. They were objects of interest because they did most of the work

  themselves and in the process they lavished such affection on their

  livestock that they had become like domestic pets. The little byre held

  four cows and whenever I had to examine one of them I could feel the

  rough tongue of her neighbour licking at my back; their few sheep ran up

  to people in the fields and sniffed round their legs like dogs; calves

  sucked at your fingers, an ancient pony wandered around wearing a benign

  expression and nuzzling anyone within reach. The only exception among

  the amiable colony was the pig, Prudence, who was thoroughly spoiled.

  I looked at her now as she nosed around the straw in her pen. She was a

  vast sow and the four-inch laceration in her neck muscles was obviously

  posing no threat to her life; but it was gaping and couldn't be left

  like that.

  "I'll have to put a few stitches in there,' I said, and the big Miss

  Dunn gasped and put a hand to her mouth.

  "Oh dear! Will it hurt her? I shall't be able to look, I'm afraid.'

  She was a tall muscular lady in her fifties with a bright red face and

  often as I looked at her wide shoulders and the great arms with their

  bulging biceps I had the feeling that she could flatten me effortlessly

  with one blow if she so desired. But strangely she was nervous and

  squeamish about the realities of animal doctoring and it was always her

  little wisp of a sister who helped at lambings, carvings and the rest.

  '()h you needn't worry, Miss Dunn,' I replied. "It'll be all over before

  she knows what's happening.' I climbed into the pen, went up to

  Prudence, and touched her gently on the neck.

  Immediately the sow unleashed a petulant scream as though she had been

  stabbed with a hot iron and when I tried to give her back a friendly

  scratch the huge mouth opened again and the deafening sound blasted out.

  And this time she advanced on me threateningly. I stood my ground till

  the yawning cavern with its yellowed teeth was almost touching my leg

  then I put a hand on the rail and vaulted out of the pen.

  "We'll have to get her into a smaller space,' I said. "I'll never be

  able to stitch her in that big pen. She has too much room to move around

  and she's too big to hold.'

  Little Miss Dunn held up her hand. "We have the very place. In the calf

  house across the yard. If we got her into one of those narrow stalls she

  wouldn't be able to turn round.'

  "Fine!' I rubbed my hands. "And I'll be able to do the stitching over

  the top from the passage Let's get her over there.'

  I opened the door and after a bit of poking and pushing Prudence ambled

  majestically out on to the cobbles of the yard. But there she stood,

  grunting sulkily, a stubborn glint in her little eyes, and when I leaned

  my weight against her back end it was like trying to move an eltphant.

  She had no intention of moving any further; and that calf house was

  twenty yards away.

  I stole a look at my watch. Five fifteen, and I didn't seem to be

  getting anywhere.

  The little Miss Dunn broke into my thoughts. "Mr Herriot, I know how we

  can get her across the yard.'

  "You do?'

  "Oh yes, Prudence has been naughty before and we have found a way of

  persuading her to move.'

  I managed a smile. "Great! How do you do it?'

  "Well now,' and both sisters giggled, 'she is very fond of digestive

  biscuits.'

  "What's that?'

  "She simply loves digestive biscuits.'

  "She does?'

  "Adores them!'

  "Well, that's very nice,' I said. "But I don't quite see .. .'

  The big Miss Dunn laughed. "Just you wait and I'll show you.'

  She began to stroll towards the house and it seemed to me that though

  those ladies were by no means typical Dales' farmers they did share the

  general attitude that t
ime was of no consequence. The door closed behind

  her and I waited ... and as the minutes ticked away I began to think she

  was brewing herself a cup of tea. In my mounting tension I turned away

  and gazed down over the hillside fields to where the grey roofs and old

  church tower of Dollingsford showed above the riverside trees. The quiet

  peace of the scene was in direct contrast to my mental state.

  Just when I was giving up hope, big Miss Dunn reappeared carrying a long

  round paper container. She gave me a roguish smile as she held it up to

  me.

  "These are what she likes. Now just watch.'

  She produced a biscuit and threw it down on the cobbles a few feet in

  front of the sow. Prudence eyed it impassively for a few moments then

  without haste strolled forward, examined it carefully, and began to eat

  it.

  When she had finished, big Miss Dunn glanced at me conspiratorially and

  threw another biscuit in front of her. The pig again moved on

  unhurriedly and started on the second course. This was gradually leading

  her towards the buildings across the yard but it was going to take a

  long time. I reckoned that each biscuit was advancing her about ten feet

  and the calf house would be all of twenty yards away, so allowing three

  minutes a biscuit it was going to take nearly twenty minutes to get

  there.

  I broke out in a sweat at the thought, and my fears were justified

  because nobody was in the slightest hurry. Especially Prudence who

  slowly munched each titbit then snuffled around picking up every crumb

  while the ladies smiled down at her fondly.

  "Look,' I stammered. "Do you think you could throw the biscuits a bit

  further ahead of her .. . just to save time, I mean?'

  Little Miss Dunn laughed gaily. "Oh we've tried that, but she's such a

  clever old darling. She knows she'll get less that way.'

  To demonstrate she threw the next biscuit about fifteen feet away from

  the pig but the massive animal surveyed it with a cynical expression and

  didn't ~ Gl ill I 1~1 11~3

  budge until it was kicked back to the required spot. Miss Dunn was

  right; Prudence wasn't so daft.

  So I just had to wait, gritting my teeth as I watched the agonising

  progress. I was almost at screaming point at the end though the others

  were thoroughly enjoying themselves. But at last the final biscuit was

  cast into the calf pen, the pig made her leisurely way inside and the

  ladies, with triumphant giggles, closed the door behind her.

  I leapt forward with my needle and suture silk and of course as soon as

  I laid a finger on her skin Prudence set up an almost unbearable nonstop

  squeal of rage. Big Miss Dunn put her hands over her ears and fled in

  terror but her little sister stayed with me bravely and passed me my

  scissors and dusting powder whenever I asked in sign language above the

  din.

  My head was still ringing as I drove away, but that didn't worry me as

  much as the time. It was six o'clock.

  Chapter Thirty-one.

  Tensely I assessed my position. The next and final visit was only a

  couple of miles away - I could make it in ten minutes. Then say twenty

  minutes on the farm, fifteen minutes back to Darrowby, a lightning wash

  and change and I could still be pushing my knees under Mrs Hodgson's

  table by seven o'clock.

  And the next job wasn't a long one; just a bull to ring. Nowadays, since

  the advent of Artificial Insemination, there aren't many bulls about -

  only the big dairy men and pedigree breeders keep them - but in the

  thirties nearly every farmer had one, and inserting rings in their noses

  was a regular job. The rings were put in when they were about a year old

  and were necessary to restrain the big animals when they had to be led

  around.

  I was immensely relieved when I arrived to find the gaunt figure of old

  Ted Buckle the farmer and his two men waiting for me in the yard. A

  classical way for a vet to waste time is to go hollering around the

  empty buildings then do more of the same out in the empty fields, waving

  madly, trying to catch the eye of a dot on the far horizon.

  "Now then, young men,' Tfed said, and even that short phrase took a fair

  time to come out. To me, the old man was a constant delight; speaking

  the real old Yorkshire - which you seldom hear now and which I won't try

  to reproduce here - with slow deliberation as though he were savouring

  every syllable as much as I was enjoying listening to him. "You've come,

  then.'

  "Yes, Mr Buckle, and I'm glad to see you're ready and waiting for me.'

  "Aye, ah doan't like keepin' you fellers hangin' about.' He turned to

  his men. "Now then, lads, go into that box and get haud'n that big

  lubber for Mr Herriot.'

  The 'lads', Ernest and Herbert, who were both in their sixties, shuffled

  into the bull's loose box and closed the door after them. There was a

  few seconds of muffled banging against the wood, a couple of bellows and

  the occasional Anglo-Saxon expression from the men, then silence.

  "Ah think they have 'im now,' Ted murmured and, not for the first time,

  I looked wonderingly at his wearing apparel. I had never seen him in

  anything else but that hat and coat in the time I had known him. With

  regard to the coat, which countless years ago must have been some kind

  of mackintosh, two things puzzled me: why he put it on and how he put it

  on. The long taller of unrelated ribbons tied round the middle with

  binder twine could not possibly afford him any protection from the

  elements and how on earth did he know which were the sleeve holes among

  all the other apertures? And the hat, an almost crownless trilby from

  the early days of the century whose brim drooped vertically in sad folds

  over ears and eyebrows; it seemed incredible that he actually hung the

  thing up on a peg each night and donned it again in the morning.

  Maybe the answer was to be found in the utterly serene humorous eyes

  which looked out from the skeleton-thin face. Nothing changed for Ted

  and the passage of a decade was a fleeting thing. I remember him showing

  me the old-fashioned 'reckon' which held the pans and kettles over the

  fire on his farm kitchen. He pointed out the row of holes where you

  could adjust it for large pans or small as though it were some modern

  invention.

  "Aye, it's a wonderful thing, and t'lad that put it in for me made a

  grand job!'

  "When was that, Mr Buckle?'

  "It were eighteen ninety-seven. Ah remember it well. He was a right good

  workman was t'lad.'

  But the men had reappeared with the young bull on a halter and they soon

  had him held in the accepted position for ringing.

  There was a ritual about this job, a set pattern as unvarying as a

  classical ballet. Ernest and Herbert pulled the bull's head over the

  half door and held it there by pulling on a shank on either side of the

  halter. The portable crush had not yet been invented and this

  arrangement with the bull inside the box and the men outside was adopted

  for safety's sake. The next step was to make a hole through the tough

/>   tissue at the extremity of the nasal septum with the special punch which

  I had ready in its box.

  But first there was a little refinement which I had introduced myself.

  Though it was the general custom to punch the hole without any

  preliminaries I always had the feeling that the bull might not like it

  very much; so I used to inject a couple of c.c.'s of local anaesthetic

  into the nose before I started. I poised my syringe now and Ernest,

  holding the left shank, huddled back apprehensively against the door.

  "The's standin' middlin' to t'side, Ernest,' Ted drawled. "Doesta think

  he's going' to jump on top o' the?'

  "New, new.' The man grinned sheepishly and took a shorter hold of the

  rope.

  But he jumped back to his former position when I pushed the needle into

  the gristle just inside the nostril because the bull let loose a sudden

  deep-throated bellow of anger and reared up above the door. Ted had

  delayed ringing this animal; he was nearly eighteen months and very big.

  "Haud 'im, lads,' Ted murmured as the two men clung to the ropes.

  "That's right - he'll settle down shortly.'

  And he did. With his chin resting on the top of the door, held by the

  ropes on either side, he was ready for the next act. I pushed my punch

  into the nose, gripped the handles and squeezed. I never felt much like

  a professional gentleman when I did this, but at least my local had

  worked and the big animal didn't stir as the jaws of the instrument

  clicked together, puncturing a small round hole in the hard tissue.

  The next stage in the solemn rite was unfolded as I unwrapped the bronze

  ring from its paper covering, took out the screw and opened the ring

  wide on its hinge. I waited for the inevitable words.

  Ted supplied them. "Take the cap off, Herbert. Tha woan't catch caud

  just for a minute.'

  It was always a cap. A big bucket, a basin would have been more

  practical to hold that stupid, tiny screw and equally foolish little

  screwdriver, but it was always a cap. And a greasy old cap such as

  Herbert now removed from his polished pate.

  My next step would be to slip the ring through the hole I had made,

  close it, insert the screw and tighten it up. That was where the cap

  came in; it was held under the ring to guard against sudden movements,

  because if the screw fell and was lost in the dirt and straw then all

  was lost. Then Ted would hand me the long rasp or file which every

  farmer had around somewhere and I would carefully smooth off the rim of

  the screw whether it needed it or not But this time there was to be a

  modification of the stereotyped little drama. As I stepped forward with

  my ring the young bull and I stood face to face and for a moment the

  wide set eyes under the stubby horns looked into mine. And as I reached

  out he must have moved slightly because the sharp end of the ring

  pricked him a little on the muzzle; the merest touch, but he seemed to

  take it as a personal insult because his mouth opened in an exasperated

  bawl and again he reared on his hind legs.

  He was a well grown animal and in that position he looked very large

  indeed; and when his fore feet clumped down on the half door and the

  great rib cage loomed above us he was definitely formidable.

  "The bugger's comin' over!' Ernest gasped and released his hold on the

  halter shank. He had never had much enthusiasm for the job and he

  abandoned it now without regret. Herbert was made of sterner stuff and

  he hung on grimly to his end as the bull thrashed above him, but after a

  cloven hoof had whizzed past his ear and another whistled just over his

  gleaming dome he too let go and fled.

  Ted, untroubled as always, was well out of range and there remained only

  myself dancing in front of the door and gesticulating frantically at the

 
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