It shouldnt happen to a.., p.26
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.26

           James Herriot
 
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  There were plenty of helpers from the crowd and the horse was rolled

  easily till he rested on his sternum, forelegs extended forward. After a

  couple of minutes in this position he struggled to his feet and stood

  swaying slightly. A stable lad walked him away.

  Merryweather laughed. "Well, that wasn't so bad. Good horse that. I

  think he'll be all right after a rest."

  Siegfried had started to reply when we heard a "Pest, pest!" from beyond

  the rails. We looked up and saw a stout, red-faced figure gesturing at

  us eagerly. "Hey! Hey!" it was saying. "Come over here a minute."

  We went over. There was something about the face which Siegfried seemed

  to find intriguing. He looked closer at the grinning, pudgy features,

  the locks of oily black hair falling over the brow and cried out in

  delight.

  "God help us! Stewie Brannon! Here, James, come and meet another

  colleague - we came through college together."

  Siegfried had told me a lot about Stewie Brannon. So much, in fact, that

  I seemed to be shaking hands with an old, well-remembered friend.

  Sometimes, when the mood was on us, Siegfried and I would sit up nearly

  till dawn over a bottle in the big room at Skeldale House chewing over

  old times and recalling the cc' rful characters we had known. I

  remembered he had told me he had ov Stewie about half way through the

  course and had qualified while ill battling in his third year. Siegfried

  had described him as totally ~overse to study, disinclined to wash or

  shave; in fact, his idea of least likely to succeed. But there had been

  something touching ~nuousness of a child, a huge, all-embracing

  affection for ~> Nimpregnable cheerfulness. ; .v~ ~~0 Merryweather.

  "Will you give my apologies to my ~ - 0> ~There's a chap here I have to

  see - I'll only be a few togethe, ~'-,4~o his car and drove back up the

  course as we I retreated a pace`

  The two women swep.q:, ~y the arm. "Come on, Stewie, where can we

  tougher-looking than her h; ~

  Chapter Thirty-three.

  We went into a long, low bar under the stand and.I experienced a slight

  shock of surprise. This was the four and sixpenny end and the amenities

  were rather different from the paddock. The eating and drinking was done

  mainly in the vertical position and the cuisine seemed to consist

  largely of pies and sausage rolls.

  Siegfried fought his way to the bar and collected three whiskies. We sat

  down at one of the few available tables - an unstable, metal-topped

  structure. At the next table a sharp faced character studied the Pink

  "Un while he took great swigs at a pint and tore savagely at a pork pie.

  "Now, my lad," Siegfried said. "What have you been doing for the past

  six years ."

  "Well, let's see," said Stewie, absently downing his whisky at a gulp.

  "I got into finals shortly after you left and I didn't do so bad at all,

  really. Pipped them both first go, then I had a bit of bother with

  surgery a couple of times, but I was launched on the unsuspecting animal

  population four years ago. I've been around quite a lot since then.

  North, South, even six months in Ireland. I've been trying to find a

  place with a living wage. This three or four quid a week lark isn't much

  cop when you have a family to keep."

  "Family? You're married then."

  "Not half. You remember little Meg Hamilton - I used to bring her to the

  college dances. We got married when I got into final year. We've got

  five kids now and another on the way."

  Siegfried choked on his whisky. "Five kids! For God's sake, Stewie."

  "Ah, it's wonderfully really, Siegfried. You probably wonder how we

  manage to exist. Well I couldn't tell you. I don't know myself. But

  we've kept one jump ahead of ruin and we've been happy, too. I think

  we're going to be OK now. I stuck up my plate in Hensfield a few months

  ago and I'm doing all right. Been able to clear the housekeeping and

  that's all that matters."

  "Hensfield, eh?" Siegfried said. I pictured the grim West Riding town. A

  wilderness of decaying brick bristling with factory chimneys. It was the

  other Yorkshire. "Mainly small animal, I suppose."

  "Oh yes. I earn my daily bread almost entirely by separating the local

  tom cats from their knackers. Thanks to me, the feline females of

  Hensfield can walk the streets unmolested."

  Siegfried laughed and caught the only waitress in the place lightly by

  the arm as she hurried by. She whipped round with a frown and an angry

  word but took another look and smiled. "Yes, sir."

  Siegfried looked into her face seriously for a few moments, still

  holding her arm. Then he spoke quietly. "I wonder if you'd be kind

  enough to bring us three large whiskies and keep repeating the order

  whenever you see our glasses are empty. Would you be able to do that."

  "Certainly, sir, of course." The waitress was over forty but she was

  blushing like a young girl.

  _ ~

  Stewie's chins quivered with silent laugher. "You old bugger, Farnon. It

  does me good to see you haven't changed."

  "Really? Well that's rather nice, isn't it."

  "And the funny thing is I don't think you really try."

  "Try? Try what."

  "Ah, nothing, Forget it - here's our whisky."

  As the drinks kept coming they talked and talked. I didn't butt in - I

  sat listening, wrapped in a pleasant euphoria and pushing every other

  glassful unobtrusively round to Stewie who put it out of sight with a

  careless jerk of the wrist.

  As Siegfried sketched out his own progress, I was struck by the big

  man's total absence of envy. He was delighted to hear about the rising

  practice, the pleasant house, the assistant. Siegfried had described him

  as plump in the old days but he was fat now, despite his hard times. And

  I had heard about that overcoat; it was the 'navy nap' which had been

  his only protection through the years at college. It couldn't have

  looked so good then, but it was a sad thing now, the seams strained to

  bursting by the bulging flesh.

  "Look, Stewie." Siegfried fumbled uncomfortably with his glass. "I'm

  sure you're going to do well at Hensfield but if by some mischance

  things got a bit rough, I hope you wouldn't hesitate to turn to me. I'm

  not so far off in Darrowby, you know. In fact." He paused and swallowed.

  "Are you all right now? If a few quid would help, I've got 'em here."

  Stewie tossed back what must have been the tenth double whisky and gazed

  at his old friend with gentle benevolence. "You're a kind old bugger,

  Siegfried, but no thanks. As I said we're clearing the housekeeping and

  we'll be OK. But I appreciate it - you always were kind. A strange old

  bugger, but kind."

  "Strange?" Siegfried was interested.

  "No, not strange. Wrong word. Different. That's it, you were as

  different as hell."

  "Different?" queried Siegfried, swallowing his whisky as if it had

  stopped tasting of anything a long time ago. "I'm sure you're wrong

  there, Stewie."

  "Don't worry your head about it," Stewie said, and reached across the

  table t
o thump his friend on the shoulder. But his judgement was way out

  and instead he swept Siegfried's bowler from his head. It rolled to the

  feet of the man at the next table.

  During the conversation I had been aware of this gentleman rushing out

  and trailing slowly back to resume his study of the Pink "Un and renew

  his attack on the food and drink. The man looked down at the hat. His

  face was a picture of misery and frustration born of too much beer,

  semi-masticated pork pies and unwise investment. Convulsively he lashed

  out with a foot at the bowler and looked better immediately.

  The hat, deeply dented, soared back to Siegfried who caught it and

  replaced it on his head with unruffled aplomb. He didn't seem in the

  least annoyed; apparently considered the man's reaction perfectly

  normal.

  We all stood up and I was mildly surprised by a slight swaying and

  blurring of my surroundings. When things came to rest I had another

  surprise; the big bar was nearly empty. The beer machines were hidden by

  white cloths. The barmaids were collecting the empty glasses.

  "Stewie," Siegfried said. "The meeting's over. Do you realise we've been

  pattering here for over two hours."

  "And very nice, too. For better than giving the hard-earned coppers to

  the bookies." As Stewie rose to his feet he clutched at the table and

  stood blinking for a few seconds.

  "There's one thing, though," Siegfried said. "My friends. I came here

  with a party and they must be wondering where I've got to. Tell you

  what, come and meet them. They'll understand when they realise we

  haven't seen each other for years."

  We worked our way round to the paddock. No sign of the general and

  company. We finally found them in the car park grouped unsmilingly

  around the Rover Most of the other cars had gone. Siegfried strode up

  confidently, his dented bowler cocked at a jaunty angle.

  "I'm sorry to have left you but a rather wonderful thing happened back

  there. I would like to present Mr. Stewart Brannon, a professional

  colleague and a very dear friend."

  Four blank stares turned on Stewie. His big, meaty face was redder than

  ever and he smiled sweetly through a faint dew of perspiration. I

  noticed that he had made a lopsided job of buttoning the navy nap

  overcoat; there was a spare button hole at the top and a lack of

  alignment at the bottom. It made the straining, tortured garment look

  even more grotesque.

  The general nodded curtly, the colonel appeared to be grinding his

  teeth, the ladies froze visibly and looked away.

  "Yes, yes, quite," grunted the general. "But we've been waitin' here

  some time and we want to be gettin' home." He stuck out his jaw and his

  mustache bristled.

  Siegfried waved a hand. "Certainly, certainly, by all means. We'll leave

  right away." He turned to Stewie. "Well, goodbye for now, my lad. We'll

  get together again soon. I'll ring you."

  He began to feel through his pockets for his ignition key. He started

  quite slowly but gradually stepped up his pace. After he had explored

  the pockets about five times he stopped, closed his eyes and appeared to

  give himself over to intense thought. Then, as though he had decided to

  do the-thing systematically, he commenced to lay out the contents of his

  pockets one by one, using the car bonnet as a table, and as the pile

  grew so did my conviction that doom was very near.

  It wasn't just the key that worried me. Siegfried had consumed a lot

  more whisky than I had and with its usual delayed action it had begun to

  creep up on him. He was swaying slightly, his dented bowler had slid

  forward over one eyebrow and he kept dropping things as he pulled them

  from his pocket and examined them owlishly.

  A man with a long brush and a handcart was walking slowly across the car

  park when Siegfried grabbed his arm. "Look, I want you to do something

  for me. Here's five bob."

  "Right mister." The man pocketed the money. "What d'you want me to do."

  "Find my car key."

  The man began to peer round Siegfried's feet. "I'll do me best. Dropped

  it round 'ere, did you."

  "No, no. I've no idea where I dropped it." Siegfried waved vaguely.

  "It's somewhere on the course."

  The man looked blank for a moment then he gazed out over the acres of

  littered ground, the carpet of discarded race cards, torn up tickets. He

  turned back to Siegfried and giggled suddenly then he walked away, still

  giggling.

  I stole a glance at our companions. They had watched the search in stony

  silence and none of them seemed to be amused. The general was the first

  to explode.

  "Great heavens, Farnon, have you got the blasted key or haven't you? If

  the damn thing's lost, then we'd better make other arrangements. Can't

  keep the ladies standing around here."

  l l l .

  l ~ _

  A gentle cough sounded in the background. Stewie was still there. He

  shambled forward and whispered in his friend's ear and after a moment

  Siegfried wrung his hand fervently.

  "By God, Stewie, that's kind of you! You've saved the situation." He

  turned back to the party. "There's nothing to worry about - Mr. Brannon

  has kindly offered to provide us with transport. He's gone to get his

  car from the other park." He pointed triumphantly at the shiny back of

  the bulging navy overcoat navigating unsteadily through the gate.

  Siegfried did his best to keep a conversation going but it was hard

  slogging. Nobody replied to any of his light sallies and he stopped

  abruptly when he saw a look of rage and disbelief spread over the

  general's face. Stewie had come back.

  The car was a tiny Austin Seven dwarfed even further by the massive form

  in the driver's seat. I judged from the rusted maroon paintwork and

  cracked windows that it must be one of the very earliest models, a

  'tourer' whose hood had long since disintegrated and been replaced by a

  home-made canvas cover fastened to the twisted struts by innumerable

  loops of string.

  Stewie struggled out, dragged open the passenger door and inclined his

  head with modest pride. He motioned towards a pile of sacks which lay on

  the bare boards where the passenger seat should have been; there were no

  seats in the back either, only a couple of rough wooden boxes bearing

  coloured labels with the legend "Finest American Apples'. From the boxes

  peeped a jumble of medicine bottles, stethoscopes, powders, syringe

  cases.

  "I thought," said Stewie. "If we put the sacks on top of the boxes ..."

  The general didn't let him finish. "Dammit, is this supposed to be a

  joke?" His face was brick red and the veins on his neck were swelling

  dangerously. "Are you tryin' to insult me friend and these ladies? You

  want horsewhippin' for this afternoon's work, Farnon. That's what you

  want - horsewhippin'."

  He was halted by a sudden roar from the Rover's engine. The colonel, a

  man of resource as befitted his rank, had shorted the ignition.

  Fortunately the doors were not locked.

  The ladies took their places in t
he back with the colonel and I slunk

  miserably on to my little seat. The general had regained control of

  himself. "Get in! I'll drive!" he barked at Siegfried as though

  addressing an erring lance corporal.

  But Siegfried held up a restraining hand. "Just one moment," he slurred.

  "The windscreen is very dirty. I'll give it a rub for you."

  The ladies watched him silently as he weaved round to the back of the

  car and began to rummage in the boot. The love light had died from their

  eyes. I don't know why he took the trouble; possibly it was because,

  through the whisky mists, he felt he must re-establish himself as a

  competent and helpful member of the party.

  But the effort fell flat; the effect was entirely spoiled. He was

  polishing the glass with a dead hen.

  It was a couple of weeks later, again at the breakfast table that

  Siegfried, reading the morning paper with his third cup of coffee,

  called out to me.

  "Ah, I see Herbert Jarvis MRCVS, one time Captain RAVC, has been

  appointed to the North West Circuit as supervisory veterinary surgeon. I

  know Jarvis. Nice chap. Just the man for the job."

  I looked across at my boss for some sign of disappointment or regret. I

  saw none.

  Siegfried put down his cup, wiped his lips on his napkin and sighed

  contentedly.

  "You know, James, everything happens for the best. Old Stewie was sent

  by providence or heaven or anything you like. I was never meant to get

  that job and I'd have been as miserable as hell if I had got it. Come

  on, lad, let's get off into those hills."

 


 

  James Herriot, It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet

  (Series: # )

 

 


 

 
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