It shouldnt happen to a.., p.25
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.25

           James Herriot
 
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sorry."

  He nodded grimly and continued to regard me with a peculiar intensity as

  though he expected me to say more. Then with apparent reluctance he

  turned away and settled in his seat.

  I looked helplessly at the rigid back, at the square, narrow shoulders

  muffled in a heavy overcoat. Who in God's name was this? And what was he

  talking about? I knew the face from somewhere - must be a client. And

  what was dead? Cow? Ewe? Sow? My mind began to race over the cases I had

  seen during the past week but that face didn't seem to fit in anywhere.

  Helen was looking at me questioningly and I managed a wan smile. But the

  spell was shattered. I started to say something to her when the little

  man began to turn again with menacing deliberation.

  He fixed me once more with a hostile glare. "Ah don't think there was

  ever owl wrong with her stomach," he declared.

  "You don't, eh."

  "No, young man, ah don't." He dragged his eyes unwillingly from my face

  and turned towards the screen again.

  The effect of this second attack was heightened because the lights went

  off suddenly and an incredible explosion of noise blasted my ear drums.

  It was the Gaumont News. The sound machine, like the heating system, had

  apparently been designed for something like the Albert Hall and for a

  moment I cowered back under the assault. As a voice bellowed details of

  fortnight-old events I closed my eyes and tried again to place the man

  in front of me.

  I often had trouble identifying people outside their usual environment

  and had once discussed the problem with Siegfried.

  He had been airy. "There's an easy way, James. Just ask them how they

  spell their names. You'll have no trouble at all.

  I had tried this on one occasion and the farmer had looked at me

  strangely replied "S-M-I-T-H' and hurried away. So there seemed nothing

  to do now but sit sweating with my eyes on the disapproving back and

  search through my memory. When the news finished with a raucous burst of

  music I had got back about three weeks without result There was a

  blessed respite of a few seconds before the uproar broke out again. This

  was the main feature - the film about Scotland was on later - and was

  described outside as a tender love story. I can't remember the title but

  there was a lot of embracing which would have been all right except that

  every kiss i ::

  _ .

  was accompanied by a chorus of long-drawn sucking noises from the little

  boys downstairs. The less romantic blew raspberries.

  And all the time it got hotter. I opened my jacket wide and unbuttoned

  my shirt collar but I was beginning to feel decidedly light-headed. The

  little man in front, still huddled in his heavy coat, seemed

  unperturbed. Twice the projector broke down and we stared for several

  minutes at a blank screen while a storm of whistling and stamping came

  up from the stalls.

  Maggie Robinson, standing in the dim light by the curtain, still

  appeared to be fascinated by the sight of Helen and me. Whenever I

  looked up I found her eyes fixed upon us with a knowing leer. About

  half-way through the film, however, her concentration was disturbed by a

  commotion on the other side of the curtain and she was suddenly brushed

  aside as a large form burst through.

  With a feeling of disbelief I recognised Gobber Newhouse. I had had

  previous experience of his disregard of the licensing laws and it was

  clear he had been at it again. He spent most afternoons in the back

  rooms of the local pubs and here he was, come to relax after a rough

  session.

  He reeled up the aisle, turned, to my dismay, into our row, rested

  briefly on Helen's lap, trod on my toe and finally spread his enormous

  carcass over the seat on my left. Fortunately it was another courting

  seat with no central arm to get in his way but for all that he had great

  difficulty in finding a comfortable position. He heaved and squirmed

  about and the wheezing and snuffing and grunting in the darkness might

  have come from a pen of bacon he found a spot and with a final cavernous

  belch rr~

  The tender love story never A;~ its death kr.-ll ~ ~ ~

  pigs. But at last elf for slumber.

  obber sounded 'se pall of stale ate nuances.

  ghts went up. -e on that her w her brows ~ie appeared Bering while = C ~

  C ; C ~C 0 ~ ~ D ~ due t~ ~ c ~t ~ 3 ~ c ~,~ c O ~D ~ 5 " -oat in front

  with the gl 3~ 0 0 3 c 0 ~g from the key in the IOCH ~ C~ ~ ~ '5 ~ c c

  u, :~ 3 ~ ~ and a single neor: ~ ~ c ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ D X this a few times

  an~ c c CC ~-5 :g c~ ~ c~ c into submission with a~ ~ - s ~ O ~ C~ CJO 5

  C mackintosh revealing faul` O co `- ~ a ~ ~ ~ ~

  4, c ~ 3 ~ o~ ~i ' - . 2 ~u ~ I O ~3

  While this was going on av'~herself into the pay box. The sic " We all

  began to shuffle inside. '1$ punched each other as they passed th~ ~ ~

  v: rest of us proceeded decorously upstairs~ ~ c~ ~ halconv The mana~er.

  his white shirt fror,= ~-".~

  J ; 1 1

  ;

  r track."

  I like that It he was ast wi' a _ _ , (, , _ ~ _ ~ . _ , and bowed with

  great courtesy as we passed. ~. ~ ~ `, -~0 ~ ~ O3

  We paused at a row of pegs at the top of the s~. ~ c ~ _ ~ ~c ~ up their

  coats. I was surprised to see Maggie Robinsof;` c ,.. {i w ~ c there,

  taking the tickets, and she appeared to be intriguec ~ w c ~ 3 simpered

  and giggled, darted glances at Helen and did e~ =- c ~ ~ in the ribs.

  Finally she parted the curtains and we went insi~ ~ ~ ~

  It struck me immediately that the management were determ' ~ D patrons

  wouldn't feel cold because if it hadn't been for the all-perv. =of old

  sofas we might have been plunging into a tropical jungle. hiaggr~

  It - just d been again. g was ~n the "It's supposed to be." Helen paused

  and looked at me with a half-smile. "But I'm afraid it isn't going to

  be. The thing is they often change the supporting film without warning.

  Nobody seems to mind."

  I slumped wearily in my seat. Well I'd done it again. No dance at the

  Reniston, wrong picture tonight. I was a genius in my own way.

  "I'm sorry," I said. "I hope you don't mind too much."

  She shook her head. "Not a bit. Anyway, let's give this one a chance. It

  may be all right."

  But as the ancient horse opera crackled out its cliche-ridden message I

  gave up hope. This was going to be another of those evenings. I watched

  apathetically as the posse galloped for the fourth time past the same

  piece of rock and I was totally unprepared for the deafening fusillade

  of shots which rang out. It made me jump and it even roused Gobber from

  his sleep.

  "Ellow! 'ellow! 'ellow!" he bawled jerking upright and thrashing around

  him with his arms. A backhander on the side of the head drove me

  violently against Helen's shoulder and I was beginning to apologise when

  I saw that her twitching and frowning had come on again. But this time

  it spread and her whole face seemed to break up. She began to laugh,

  silently and helplessly.

  I had never seen a girl laugh like this. It was as though it was


  something she had wanted to do for a long time. She abandoned herself

  utterly to it, Lying back with her head on the back of the seat, legs

  stretched out in front of her, arms dangling by her side. She took her

  time and waited until she had got it all out of her system before she

  turned to me.

  She put her hand on my arm. "Look," she said faintly. "Next time, why

  don't we just go for a walk."

  I settled down. Gobber was asleep again and his snores, louder than ever

  competed with the bangs and howls from the screen. I still hadn't the

  slightest idea who that little man in front could be and I had the

  feeling he wasn't finished with me yet. The clock still stood at

  twenty-past four. Maggie was still staring at us and a steady strickle

  of sweat ran down my back.

  The environment wasn't all I could have desired, but never mind. There

  was going to be a next time.

  Chapter Thirty-two.

  Siegfried had a habit of pulling at the lobe of his ear and staring

  blankly ahead when preoccupied. He was doing it now, his other hand,

  outstretched, crumbling a crust of bread on his plate.

  I didn't usually pry into my boss's meditations and anyway, I wanted to

  be off on the morning round, but there was something portentous in his

  face which made me speak.

  "What's the matter? Something on your mind."

  Siegfried turned his head slowly and his eyes glared sightlessly for a

  few moments until recognition dawned. He stopped his lobe-pulling, got

  to his feet, walked over to the window and looked out at the empty

  street.

  "There is, James, there is indeed. In fact, I was just about to ask your

  advice. It's about this letter I got this morning." He ransacked his

  pockets impatiently, pulling out handkerchiefs, thermometers, crumpled

  bank-notes, lists of calls, till he found a long blue envelope. "Here,

  read it."

  I opened the envelope and quickly scanned the single sheet. I looked up,

  puzzled. "Sorry, I don't get it. All it says here is that H. W. St. J.

  Ransom, Maj. Gen., would like the pleasure of your company at Brawton

  races on Saturday. No problem there, is there? You like racing."

  "Ah, but it's not so simple as that," Siegfried said, starting again on

  the lobe. "This is in the nature of a trial. General Ransom is one of

  the big boys in the North West Racing Circuit and he's bringing one of

  his pals along on Saturday to vet me. They're going to examine me for

  soundness."

  I must have looked alarmed because he grinned. "Look, I'd better start

  at the beginning. And I'll cut it short. The officials of the North West

  Circuit are looking for a veterinary surgeon to supervise all meetings.

  You know the local man attends if there's a racecourse in his town and

  he is on call in case of injury to the horses, but this would be

  different. This supervisory vet would deal with cases of suspected

  doping and the like - in fact he'd have to be a bit of a specialist.

  Well I've had a whisper that they think I might be the man for the job

  and that's what Saturday's about. I know old Ransom but I haven't met

  his colleague. The idea is to have a day at the races with me and size

  me up."

  "If you got the job would it mean giving up general practice?" I asked.

  And a chill wind seemed to creep around me at the idea.

  "No, no, but it would mean spending something like three days a week on

  racecourses and I'm wondering if that wouldn't be just a bit much."

  "Well, I don't know," I finished my coffee and pushed back my chair.

  "I'm not really the one to advise you on this. I haven't had a lot of

  experience with racehorses and I'm not interested in racing. You'll have

  to make up your own mind. But you've often talked of specialising in

  horse work and you love the atmosphere of a racecourse."

  "You're right there, James, I do. And there's no doubt the extra money

  would come in very useful. It's what every practice needs - a contract

  of some sort, a regular income from somewhere to make you less dependent

  on the farmers paying their bills." He turned away from the window.

  "Anyway, I'll go to Brawton races with them on Saturday and we'll see

  how it turns out. And you must come too."

  "Me! Why."

  "Well it says in the letter "and partner"."

  "That means some woman. They'll have their wives with them, no doubt."

  "Doesn't matter what it means, James, you're coming with me. A day out

  and a bit of free food and booze will do you good. Tristan can hold the

  fort for a few hours.

  It was nearly noon on Saturday when I answered the door bell. As I

  walked along the passage it was easy to identify the people beyond the

  glass door.

  General Ransom was short and square with a mustache of surprising

  blackness thrusting aggressively from his upper lip. Colonel Tremayne

  was tall, hawk-nosed and stooping but he shared with his companion the

  almost tangible aura of authority which comes from a lifetime of

  command. Two tweedy women stood behind them on the lower step.

  I opened the door, feeling my shoulders squaring and my heels coming

  together under the battery of fierce, unsmiling glares.

  "Mr. Farnon!" barked the general. "Expectin' us, I think."

  I retreated a pace and opened the door. "Oh yes, certainly, please come

  in."

  The two women swept in first, Mrs. Ransom as squat and chunky and even

  tougher-looking than her husband, then Mrs. Tremayne, much younger and

  :`

  .:

  :~

  :

  A 1

  attractive in a hard-boiled fashion. All of them completely ignored me

  except the colonel who brought up the rear and fixed me for a moment

  with a fishy eye.

  I had been instructed to dispense sherry, and once inside the

  sitting-room I began to pour from a decanter. I was half-way up the

  second glass when Siegfried walked in. I spilt some of the sherry. My

  boss had really spruced up for the occasion. His lean frame was draped

  in cavalry twill of flawless cut; the long, strong-boned face was

  freshly shaven, the small sandy mustache neatly clipped. He swept off a

  brand-new bowler as he came in and I put down my decanter and gazed at

  him with proprietary pride. Maybe there had been a few dukes or the odd

  earl in Siegfried's family tree but be that as it may, the two army men

  seemed in an instant to have become low bred and a trifle scruffy.

  There was something almost ingratiating in the way the general went up

  to Siegfried. "Farnon, me dear feller, how are you? Good to see you

  again. Let me introduce you to me wife, Mrs. Tremayne, Colonel

  Tremayne."

  The colonel astonishingly dug up a twisted smile, but my main interest

  was in the reaction of the ladies. Mrs. Ransom, looking up at Siegfried

  as he bent over her, just went to pieces. It was unbelievable that this

  formidable fortress should crumble at the first shot, but there it was;

  the tough lines melted from her face and she was left with a big sloppy

  smile looking like anybody's dear old mum.

  Mrs. Tremayne's response was differe
nt but no less dramatic. As the

  steady grey eyes swept her she seemed to wither and it was as if a spasm

  of exquisite pain twisted her cheeks. She controlled herself with an

  effort but looked after Siegfried with wistful hunger as he turned back

  to the men.

  I began to slosh the sherry violently into the glasses. Damn it, there

  it was again. The same old thing. And yet he didn't do anything. Just

  looked at them. Hell, it wasn't fair.

  Sherry over, we moved outside and installed ourselves in Siegfried's

  Rover on which an immaculate coach-building job had been done since the

  disaster of last summer. It was an impressive turnout. The car, after a

  morning's forced labour by Tristan with hose and leather, shone like a

  mirror. Siegfried, in the driver's seat, extended an elegant arm to his

  brother as we drove away. I couldn't help feeling that the only

  superfluous object was myself, squatting uncomfortably on a little

  let-down seat, facing the two army men who sat to attention in the back

  seat, their bowlers pointing rigidly to the front. Between them Mrs.

  Tremayne stared wonderingly at the back of Siegfried's head.

  We lunched on the course, Siegfried comfortably at home with the smoked

  salmon, the cold chicken and the champagne. There was no doubt he had

  scored a tremendous success during the meal, discussing racing

  knowledgeably with the men and dispensing charm equally to their wives.

  The tough Mrs. Ransom positively simpered as he marked her card for her.

  It was quite certain that if the new appointment hung upon his behaviour

  today, a vote at this time would have seen him home and dry.

  After lunch we went down to the paddock and had a look at the horses

  parading for the first race. I could see Siegfried expanding as he took

  in the scene; the jostling crowds, the shouting bookies, the beautiful

  animals pacing round, the jockeys, tiny, colourful, durable, chatting to

  the trainers out in the middle He had got through enough champagne at

  lunch to sharpen his appreciation and he was the very picture of a man

  who just knew he was going to have a successful day.

  Merryweather' the course vet, joined us to watch the first race.

  Siegfried knew him slightly and they were chatting after the race when

  the 'vet wanted' sign went up. A man hurried up to Merryweather. "That

  horse that slipped at the last bend is still down and doesn't look like

  getting up."

  The vet started for his car which was parked in readiness near the

  rails. He turned towards us "You two want to come?" Siegfried looked

  enquiringly at his party and received gracious nods of assent. We

  hurried after our colleague.

  Within seconds we were racing down the course towards the last bend.

  Merryweather, hanging on to the wheel as we sped over the grass, grunted

  half to himself: "Hell, I hope this thing hasn't got a fracture - if

  there's one thing I mortally hate it's shooting horses."

  It didn't look good when we got to the spot. The sleek animal lay Hat on

  its side showing no movement apart from the laboured rise and fall of

  its ribs. The jockey, blood streaming from a cut brow, knelt by its

  head. "What do you think, sir? Has he broken a leg."

  "Let's have a look." Merryweather began to palpate the extended limbs,

  running strong fingers over one bone then another, carefully flexing the

  joints of fetlock, knee, shoulder, hock. "Nothing wrong there. Certainly

  no fracture." Then he pointed suddenly at the head. "Look at his eyes."

  We looked; they were glazed and there was a slight but unmistakable

  nystagmus.

  "Concussion?" Siegfried said.

  "That's it, he's just had a bang on the head." Merryweather got off his

  knees, looking happier. "Come on, we'll push him on to his chest. I

  think he ought to be able to get up with a bit of help."

 
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