It shouldnt happen to a.., p.26
It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.26James Herriot
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
"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; ~
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
"Don't worry your head about it," Stewie said, and reached across the
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
Siegfried put down his cup, wiped his lips on his napkin and sighed
"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: # )
It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet by James Herriot / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes