Let sleeping vets lie, p.26
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       Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.26

           James Herriot
 
of the market place my car, too, appeared to be taken by surprise

  because it roared into life at the first touch of the starter.

  I had to go back to the surgery for my whelping instruments and in the

  siren t moonlit street we got out and I opened the big white door to

  Skeldale House. ~;

  And once in the passage it was the most natural thing in the world to

  take her in my arms and kiss her gratefully and unhurriedly. I had

  waited a long] time for this and the minutes flowed past unnoticed as we

  stood there, our feet; on the black and red eighteenth-century tiles,

  our heads almost touching the vast] picture of the Death of Nelson which

  dominated the entrance. ,!

  We kissed again at the first bend of the passage under the companion

  picture"] of the Meeting of Wellington and Blucher at Waterloo. We

  kissed at the second bend by the tall cupboard where Siegfried kept his

  riding coats and boots. W kissed in the dispensary in between searching

  for my instruments. Then we tried it out in the garden and this was the

  best of all with the Rowers still and expectant in the moonlight and the

  fragrance of the moist earth and grass rising about us.

  I have never driven so slowly to a case. About ten miles an hour with

  Helen's head on my shoulder and all the scents of spring drifting in

  through the open window. And it was like sailing from stormy seas into a

  sweet, safe harbour, like coming home.

  The light in the cottage window was the only one showing in the sleeping

  village, and when I knocked at the door Bert Chapman answered. Bert was

  a council roadman - one of the breed for whom I felt an abiding

  affinity.

  The council men were my brethren of the roads.^Like me they spent most

  of their lives on the lonely by-ways around Darrowby and I saw them most

  days of the week, repairing the tarmac, cutting back the grass verges in

  the summer, gritting and snow ploughing in the winter. And when they

  spotted me driving past they would grin cheerfully and wave as if the

  very sight of me had made their day. I don't know whether they were

  specially picked for good nature but I don't think I have ever met a

  more equable body of men.

  One old farmer remarked sourly to me once. "There's no wonder the

  buggers are 'appy, they've got nowt to do." An exaggeration, of course,

  but I knew how he felt; compared with farming every other job was easy.

  I had seen Bert Chapman just a day or two ago, sitting on a grassy bank,

  his shovel by his side, a vast sandwich in his hand. He had raised a

  corded forearm in salute, a broad smile bisecting his round,

  sun-reddened face. He had looked eternally carefree but tonight his

  smile was strained.

  "I'm sorry to bother you this late, Mr. Herriot," he said as he ushered

  us into the house, 'but I'm gettin" a bit worried about Susie. Her pups

  are due and she's been making a bed for them and messing about all day

  but nowt's happened. I was going" to leave her till morning but about

  midnight she started panting like 'elf - I don't like the look of her."

  Susie was one of my regular patients. Her big, burly master was always

  bringing her to the surgery, a little shame-faced at his solicitude, and

  when I saw him sitting in the waiting room looking strangely out of

  place among the ladies with their pets, he usually said "T'missus asked

  me to bring Susie." But it was a transparent excuse.

  "She's nobbut a little mongrel, but very faithful," Bert said, still

  apologetic, but I could understand how he felt about Susie, a shaggy

  little ragamuffin whose only wile was to put her paws on my knees and

  laugh up into my face with her tail lashing. I found her irresistible.

  But she was a very different character tonight. As we went into the

  living room of the cottage the little animal crept from her basket, gave

  a single indeterminate wag of her tail then stood miserably in the

  middle of the floor, her ribs heaving. As I bent to examine her she

  turned a wide panting nouth and anxious eyes up to me.

  I ran my hands over her abdomen. I don't think I have ever felt a more

  bloated little dog; she was as round as a football, absolutely bulging

  with pups, ready to pop, but nothing was happening.

  What do you think?" Bert's face was haggard under his sunburn and he

  touched the dog's head briefly with a big calloused hand.

  "I don't know yet, Bert," I said. "I'll have to have a feel inside.

  Bring me some hot water, will you?"

  I added some antiseptic to the water, soaped my hand and with one finger

  Carefully explored the vagina. There was a pup there, all right; my

  finger tip brushed across the nostrils, the tiny mouth and tongue; but

  he was jammed in that passage like a cork in a bottle.

  Squatting back on my heels I turned to the Chapmans.

  "I'm afraid there's a big pup stuck fast. I have a feeling that if she

  could get rid of this chap the others would come away. They'd probably

  be smaller."

  "Is there any way of shiftin" him, Mr. Herriot?" Bert asked.

  I paused for a moment. "I'm going to put forceps on his head and see if

  he'll move. I don't like using forceps but I'm going to have one careful

  try and if it doesn't work I'll have to take her back to the surgery for

  a caesarian."

  "An operation?" Bert said hollowly. He gulped and glanced fearfully at

  his wife. Like many big men he had married a tiny woman and at this

  moment Mrs. Chapman looked even smaller than her four foot eleven inches

  as she huddled in her chair and stared at me with wide eyes.

  "Oh I wish we'd never had her mated," she wailed, wringing her hands. "I

  told Bert five year old was too late for a first litter but he wouldn't

  listen. And now we're maybe going to lose 'er."

  I hastened to reassure her. "No, she isn't too old, and everything may

  be all right. Let's just see how we get on." :

  I boiled the instrument for a few minutes on the stove then kneeled

  behind my patient again. I poised the forceps for a moment and at the

  flash of steel a grey tinge crept under Bert's sunburn and his wife

  coiled herself into a ball in her chair. Obviously they were

  non-starters as assistants so Helen held Susie's head while I once more

  reached in towards the pup. There was desperately little room but I

  managed to direct the forceps along my finger till they touched the

  nose. Then very gingerly I opened the jaws and pushed them forward with

  the very gentlest pressure until I was able to clamp them on either side

  of the head.

  I'd soon know now. In a situation like this you can't do any pulling,

  you can only try to ease the thing along. This I did and I fancied I

  felt just a bit of . movement; I tried again and there was no doubt

  about it, the pup was coming towards me. Susie, too, appeared to sense

  that things were taking a turn for the better. She cast off her apathy

  and began to strain lustily.

  It was no trouble after that and I was able to draw the pup forth

  almost: without resistance.

  "I'm afraid this one'll be dead," I said, and as the tiny creature lay

  across my palm there was no sign
of breathing. But, pinching the chest

  between thumb and forefinger I could feel the heart pulsing steadily and

  I quickly opened his mouth and blew softly down into his lungs.

  I repeated this a few times then laid the pup on his side in the basket.

  I was just thinking it was going to be no good when the little rib cage

  gave a sudden lift, then another and another.

  "He's off!" Bert exclaimed happily. "That's champion! We want these

  puppies alive the knows. They're by Jack Dennison's terrier and he's a

  grand 'un."

  "That's right," Mrs. Chapman put in. "No matter how many she has,

  they're all spoken for. Everybody wants a pup out of Susie."

  "I can believe that," I said. But I smiled to myself. Jack Dennison's

  terrier was another hound of uncertain ancestry, so this lot would be a

  right mixture. But none the worse for that.

  I gave Susie half a c.c. of pituitrin. "I think she needs it after

  pushing against that fellow for hours. We'll wait and see what happens

  now."

  And it was nice waiting. Mrs. Chapman brewed a pot of tea and began to

  slap butter on to home-made scones. Susie, partly aided by my pituitrin,

  pushed out ~. a pup in a self-satisfied manner about every fifteen

  minutes. The pups themselves: soon set up a bawling of surprising volume

  for such minute creatures. Bert, relaxing visibly with every minute,

  filled his pipe and regarded the fast-growing family with a grin of

  increasing width.

  "Ee, it is kind of you young folks to stay with us like this." Mrs.

  Chapman put her head on one side and looked at us worriedly. "I should

  think you've been dying to get back to your dance all this time."

  I thought of the crush at the Drovers. The smoke, the heat, the nonstop

  boom-boom of the Hot Shots and I looked around the peaceful little room

  with the Old-fashioned black grate, the low, varnished beams, Mrs.

  Chapman's sewing box, the row of Bert's pipes on the wall. I took a

  firmer grasp of Helen's hand which I had been holding under the table

  for the last hour.

  "Not at all, Mrs. Chapman," I said. "We haven't missed it in the least."

  And I have never been more sincere.

  It must have been about half past two when I finally decided that Susie

  had finished She had six fine pups which was a good score for a little

  thing like her and the noise had abated as the family settled down to

  feast on her abundant udder.

  I lifted the pups out one by one and examined them. Susie didn't mind in

  the least but appeared to be smiling with modest pride as I handled her

  brood. When I put them back with her she inspected them and sniffed them

  over busily before rolling on to her side again.

  "Three dogs and three bitches," I said. "Nice even litter."

  Before leaving I took Susie from her basket and palpated her abdomen.

  The degree of deflation was almost unbelievable; a pricked balloon could

  not have altered its shape more spectacularly and she had made a

  remarkable metamorphosis to the lean, scruffy little extrovert I knew so

  well.

  When I released her she scurried back and curled herself round her new

  family who were soon sucking away with total absorption.

  Bert laughed. "She's fair capped wi" them pups." He bent over and

  prodded the first arrival with a horny forefinger. "I like the look o"

  this big dog pup. I reckon we'll keep this 'un for ourselves, mother.

  He'll be company for t'awd lass."

  It was time to go. Helen and I moved over to the door and little Mrs.

  Chapman with her fingers on the handle looked up at me.

  "Well, Mr. Herriot," she said, "I can't thank you enough for comin" out

  and putting our minds at rest. I don't know what I've done wi" this man

  of mine if anything had happened to his little dog."

  Bert grinned sheepishly. "Nay," he muttered. "Ah was never really

  worried."

  His wife laughed and opened the door and as we stepped out into the

  silent scented night she gripped my arm and looked up at me roguishly.

  "I suppose this is your young lady," she said.

  I put my arm round Helen's shoulders.

  "Yes," I said firmly, 'this is my young lady."

  Chapter Twenty-two.

  It was almost as though I were looking at my own cows because as I stood

  in the tattle new byre and looked along the row of red and roan backs I

  felt a kind of pride.

  Frank," I said. "They look marvelous. You wouldn't think they were the

  same animals"

  Frank Metcalfe grinned. "Just what I was thinking meself. It's wonderful

  what a change of setting'll do for livestock."

  It was the cows" first day in the new byre. Previously I had seen them

  only in the old place - a typical Dales cowhouse, centuries old with a

  broken cobbled floor and gaping holes where the muck and urine lay in

  pools, rotting wooden partitions between the stalls and slit windows as

  though the place had been built as a fortress. I could remember Frank

  sitting in it milking, almost invisible i the gloom, the cobwebs hanging

  in thick fronds from the low roof above him.

  In there, the ten cows had looked what they were - a motley assortment

  of ordinary milkers - but today they had acquired a new dignity and

  style.

  "You must feel it's been worth all your hard work," I said, and the

  young" farmer nodded and smiled. There was a grim touch about the smile

  as though he was reliving for a moment the hours and weeks and months of

  back-breaking labour he had put in there. Because Frank Metcalfe had

  done it all himself. The rows of neat, concreted standings, the clean,

  level sweep of floor, the whitewashed, cement-rendered walls all bathed

  in light from the spacious windows had been put there by his own two

  hands.

  "I'll show you the dairy," Frank said.

  We went into a small room which he had built at one end and I looked

  admiringly at the gleaming milk cooler, the spotless sinks and buckets,

  the strainer with its neat pile of filter pads.

  "You know," I said. "This is how milk should be produced. All those

  mucky old places I see every day on my rounds - they nearly make my hair

  stand on end."

  Frank leaned over and drew a jet of water from one of the taps. "Aye,

  you'r" right. It'll all be like this and better one day and it'll pay

  the farmers better too. I've got me TT licence now and the extra

  fourpence a gallon will make a he" of a difference. I feel I'm ready to

  start."

  And when he did start, I thought, he'd go places. He seemed to have all

  th" things it took to succeed at the hard trade of farming intelligence,

  physical toughness, a love of the land and animals and the ability to go

  slogging o endlessly when other people were enjoying their leisure. I

  felt these qualities would overcome his biggest handicap which was

  simply that he didn't have an money.

  Frank wasn't a farmer at all to start with. He was a steel worker from

  Middlesbrough. When he had first arrived less than a year ago with his

  young" wife to take over the isolated small holding at Bransett I had

  been surprised learn that he hailed from the city because he
had the

  dark, sinewy look of th. typical Dalesman - and he was called Metcalfe.

  He had laughed when I mentioned this. "Oh, my great grandfather cam"

  from these parts and I've always had a hankering to come back."

  As I came to know him better I was able to fill in the gaps in that

  simple statement. He had spent all his holidays up here as a small boy

  and though he father was a foreman in the steelworks and he himself had

  served his time the trade the pull of the Dales had been like a siren

  song welling stronger tile he had been unable to resist it any longer.

  He had worked on farms in his spa time, read all he could about

  agriculture and finally had thrown up his old I and rented the little

  place high in the fells at the end of a long, stony track.

  With its primitive house and tumbledown buildings it seemed an

  unpromising place to make a living and in any case I hadn't much faith

  in the ability townspeople to suddenly turn to farming and make a go of

  it; in my short experience I had seen quite a few try and fail. But

  Frank Metcalfe had go about the job as though he had been at it all his

  life, repairing the broken wal improving the grassland, judiciously

  buying stock on his shoe-string budget; there was no sign of the

  bewilderment and despair I had seen in so many others.

  I had mentioned this to a retired farmer in Darrowby and the old man

  chuckled. "Aye, you've got to have farmin" inside you. There's very few

  people as can succeed at it unless it's in their blood. It matters nowt

 

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