Let sleeping vets lie, p.28
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       Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.28

           James Herriot
 

  I owe them. The rest I borrowed from my old man and I'm not going" back

  to him for more. I promised him I'd return to the steelworks if this

  didn't work out and that's what I'm going" to do."

  "Oh hell, Frank," I said. "I can't tell you how sorry I am. You haven't

  had a scrap of luck all the way through."

  He looked at me and smiled with no trace of self pity. "Aye well," he

  said. "These things happen."

  I almost jumped at the words. "These things happen!" That's what farmers

  always said after a disaster. That old man in Darrowby had been right.

  Frank really did have it through the titty.

  And in truth he wasn't the only man to be bankrupted in this way. What

  had hit Frank was called an 'abortion storm" and the same sort of thing

  had driven a legion of good men to the wall. Some of them hung on,

  tightened their belts, spent their life savings and half starved till

  the storm abated and they could start again. But Frank had no savings to

  see him through; his venture had been a gamble from the beginning and he

  had lost.

  I never heard of him again. At first I thought he might write, but then

  I realised that once the agonising break had been made it had to be

  complete.

  ~

  From some parts of the northern Pennines you can see away over the great

  sprawl of Teesside and when the fierce glow from the blast furnaces set

  the night sky alight I used to think of Frank down there and wonder how

  he was getting on. He'd make a go of it all right, but how often did his

  mind turn to the high-blown green hollow where he had hoped to build

  something worth while and to live and bring up his children?

  Some people called Peters bought the little farm at Bransett after he

  left. Strangely enough they were from Teesside, too, but Mr. Peters was

  a wealthy director of the ICI and used the place only as a weekend

  retreat. It was ideal for the purpose because he had a young family all

  keen on riding and the fields were Soon being grazed by an assortment of

  horses and ponies. In the summer ~rs Peters used to spend months on end

  up there with the children. They were nice people who cared for their

  animals and I was a frequent visitor.

  The dwelling house was renovated almost out of recognition and I drank

  coffee instead of tea in the living room which had become a place of

  grace and charm with an antique table, chintz covers and pictures on the

  walls. The old outbuildings were converted into loose boxes with

  shining, freshly painted doors.

  The only thing which got no attention was Frank's little new byre; it

  we" used as a storage place for corn and bedding for the horses.

  I always felt a tug at my heart when I looked in there at the thick dust

  on the floor, the windows almost opaque with dirt, the cobwebs

  everywhere, the. rusting water bowls, the litter of straw bales, peat

  moss and sacks of oats where once Frank's cows had stood so proudly.

  It was all that was left of a man's dream.

  Chapter Twenty-three.

  After the night of the Daffodil Ball I just seemed to drift naturally

  into the habit of dropping in to see Helen on an occasional evening. And

  before I knew what was happening I had developed a pattern; around eight

  o'clock my feet began to make of their own accord for Heston Grange. Of

  course I fought the impure - I didn't go every night; there was my work

  which often occupied me round the clock, there was a feeling of

  propriety, and there was Mr. Alderson.

  Helen's father was a vague little man who had withdrawn into himself to

  great extent since his wife's death a few years ago. He was an expert

  stocksman and his farm could compare with the best, but a good part of

  his mind often seemed to be elsewhere. And he had acquired some little

  peculiarities; when things weren't going well he carried on long

  muttered conversations with himself but when he was particularly pleased

  about something he was inclined to break into a loud, tuneless humming.

  It was a penetrating sound and on my professional visits I could often

  locate him by tracking down this characteristic droning among the farm

  buildings.

  At first when I came to see Helen I'm sure he never even noticed me - I

  was just one of the crowd of young men who hung around his daughter; but

  as time; went on and my visits became more frequent he suddenly seemed

  to become conscious of me and began to regard me with an interest which

  deepened rapidly into alarm. I couldn't blame him, really. He was

  devoted to Helen and it was; natural that he should desire a grand match

  for her. Richard Edmundson represented just that. His family were rich,

  powerful people and Richard was very keen indeed. Compared to him, an

  unknown, impecunious young vet was: a poor bargain.

  When Mr. Alderson was around, my visits were uncomfortable affairs and

  it was a pity because I instinctively liked him. He had an amiable,

  completely inoffensive nature which was very appealing and under other

  conditions would have got along very well. But there was no getting

  round the fact that 1" resented me. And it wasn't because he wanted to

  hang on to Helen - he was an unselfish man and anyway, he had an

  excellent housekeeper in his sister who had been recently widowed and

  had come to live with the Aldersons. Auntie Lucy was a redoubtable

  character and was perfectly capable of running the household and looking

  after the two younger children. It was just that he had got used to the

  comfortable assumption that one day his daughter would marry"

  ~, the son of his old friend and have a life of untroubled affluence;

  and he had a Stubborn streak which rebelled fiercely against any

  prospect of change.

  So it was always a relief when I got out of the house with Helen.

  Everything was right then; we went to the little dances in the village

  institutes, we walked for miles along the old grassy mine tracks among

  the hills, or sometimes she came on my evening calls with me. There

  wasn't anything spectacular to do in Darrowby but there was a complete

  lack of strain, a feeling of being selfsufficient in a warm existence of

  our own that made everything meaningful and worthwhile.

  Things might have gone on like this indefinitely but for a conversation

  I had with Siegfried We were sitting in the big room at Skeldale House

  as we often did before bedtime, talking over the day's events when he

  laughed and slapped his knee.

  "I had old Harry Forster in.tonight paying his bill. He was really funny

  sat looking round the room and saying "It's a nice little nest you have

  here, Mr. Farnon, a nice little nest" and then, very sly "It's time

  there was a bird in this nest you know, there should be a little bird in

  here." '

  I laughed too. "Well, you should be used to it by now. You're the most

  eligible bachelor in Darrowby. People are always having a dig at you

  they won't be happy till they've got you married off."

  "Wait a minute, not so fast." Siegfried eyed me thoughtfully. "I don't

  think for a moment that Harry was talking about me, it was you he had in


  mind."

  "What do you mean?"

  "Well just think. Didn't you say you had run into the old boy one night

  when you were walking over his land with Helen. He'd be on to a thing

  like that in a flash. He thinks it's time you were hitched up, that's

  all."

  I lay back in my chair and gave myself over to laughter. "Me! Married!

  That'll be the day. Can you imagine it? Poor old Harry."

  Siegfried leaned forward. "What are you laughing at, James? He's quite

  right - it's time you were married."

  "What's that?" I looked at him incredulously. "What are you on about

  now?"

  "It's quite simple," he said. "I'm saying you ought to get married, and

  soon."

  "Oh come on Siegfried, you're joking!"

  "Why should I be?"

  "Well damn it, I'm only starting my career, I've no money, no nothing,

  I've never even thought about it."

  "You've never even ... well tell me this, are you courting Helen

  Alderson or aren't you?"

  "Well I'm ... I've been ... oh I suppose you could call it that."

  Siegfried settled back comfortably on his chair, put his finger tips

  together and assumed a judicial expression. "Good, good. You admit

  you're courting the girl. Now let us take it a step further. She is,

  from my own observation, extremely attractive - in fact she nearly

  causes a traffic pile-up when she walks across the COBBLES on market

  day. It's common knowledge that she is intelligent, equable and an

  excellent cook. Perhaps you would agree with this?" Of course I would,"

  I said, nettled at his superior air. "But what's this all about? Why are

  you going on like a High Court judge?"

  I m only trying to establish my point, James, which is that you seem to

  have an ideal wife lined up and you are doing nothing about it. In fact,

  not to put a too fine point on it, I wish you'd stop playing around and

  let us see a little , But it's not as simple as that," I said, my voice

  rising, "I've told you already I'd have to be a lot better off, and

  anyway, give me a chance, I've only been going to the house for a few

  weeks - surely you don't start thinking of getting married as soon

  asthat. And there's another thing - her old man doesn't like me."

  Siegfried put his head on one side and I gritted my teeth as a saintly

  expression began to settle on his face. "Now my dear chap, don't get

  angry, but there's something I have to tell you for your own good.

  Caution is often a virtue, but in your case you carry it too far. It's a

  little flaw in your character and it shows in a multitude of ways. In

  your wary approach to problems in your work, for instance - you are

  always too apprehensive, proceeding fearfully step by step when you

  should be plunging boldly ahead. You keep seeing dangers when there

  aren't any - you've got to learn to take a chance, to lash out a bit. As

  it is, you are confined to a narrow range of activity by your own

  doubts."

  "The original stick-in-the-mud in fact, eh?"

  "Oh come now, James, I didn't say that, but while we're talking, there"

  another small point I want to bring up. I know you won't mind my saying

  this. Until you get married I'm afraid I shall fail to get the full

  benefit of your assistance in the practice because frankly you are

  becoming increasingly besotted and bemused to the extent that I'm sure

  you don't know what you're doing half the time."

  "What the devil are you talking about? I've never heard such ... '

  "Kindly hear me out, James. What I'm saying is perfectly true - you're

  walking about like a man in a dream and you've developed a disturbing

  habit of staring into space when I'm talking to you. There's only one

  cure, my boy."

  "And it's a simple little cure, isn't it!" I shouted. "No money, no

  home, but leap into matrimony with a happy cry. There's not a thing to

  worry about!"

  "Ah-ah, you see, there you go again, looking for difficulties." He gave

  a little laugh and gazed at me with pitying affection. "No money you

  say. Well one of these days you'll be a partner here. Your plate will be

  out on those railings i" front of the house, so you'll never be short of

  your daily bread. And as regards a home - look at all the empty rooms in

  this house. You could set up a private suite upstairs without any

  trouble. So that's just a piffling little detail." I ran my hand

  distractedly through my hair. My head was beginning to swim "You make it

  all sound easy."

  "But it IS easy!" Siegfried shot upright in his chair. "Go out and ask

  that girl without further delay and get her into church before the month

  is out!"

  He wagged a finger at me. "Learn to grasp the nettle of life, James.

  Throw of ~ your hesitant ways and remember": He clenched his fist and

  struck an attitude. "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken

  at the flood ... ' "O.K., O.K.," I said, rising wearily from my chair,

  'that's enough, I get the message. I'm going to bed now."

  And I don't suppose I am the first person to have had his life

  fundamentally influenced by one of Siegfried's chance outbursts. I

  thought his opinions ridiculous at the time but he planted a seed which

  germinated and flowered almost overnight. There is no doubt he is

  responsible for the fact that I was the father" of a grown-up family

  while I was still a young man, because when I brought" the subject up

  with Helen she said yes she'd like to marry me and we set our eyes on an

  early date. She seemed surprised at first - maybe she had the same

  opinion of me as Siegfried and expected it would take me a few years to

  get off the ground. I Anyway, before I had time to think much more about

  it everything was neatly t settled and I found I had made a magical

  transition from jeering at the whole idea to making plans for furnishing

  our prospective bedsitter at Skeldale House It was a blissful time with

  only one cloud on the horizon; but that cloud .. _ :]

  bulked large and forbidding. As I walked hand in hand with Helen, my

  thoughts in the air, she kept bringing me back to earth with an

  appealing look.

  you know, Jim, you'll really have to speak to Dad. It's time he knew."

  Chapter Twenty-four.

  I had been warned long before. I qualified that country practice was a

  dirty, stinking job. I had accepted the fact and adjusted myself to it

  but there were times when this side of my life obtruded itself and

  became almost insupportable. Like now, when even after a long hot bath I

  still smelt.

  As I hoisted myself from the steaming water I sniffed at my arm and

  there it was; the malodorous memory of that horrible cleansing at Tommy

  Dearlove's striking triumphantly through all the soap and antiseptic

  almost as fresh and pungent as it had been at four o'clock this

  afternoon. Nothing but time would move It.

  But something in me rebelled at the idea of crawling into bed in this

  state and I looked with something like desperation along the row of

  bottles on the bathroom shelf. I stopped at Mrs. Hall's bath salts,

  shining violent pink in their big glass jar. This was
something I'd

  never tried before and I tipped a small handful into the water round my

  feet. For a moment my head swam as the rising steam was suddenly charged

  with an aggressive sweetness then on an impulse I shook most of the

  jar's contents into the bath and lowered myself once more under the

  surface.

  For a long time I lay there smiling to myself in triumph as the oily

  liquid lapped around me. Not even Tommy Dearlove~s cleansing could

  survive this treatment.

  The whole process had a stupefying effect on me and I was half asleep

  even as I sank back on the pillow. There followed a few moments of

  blissful floating before a delicious slumber claimed me. And when the

  bedside phone boomed in my ear the sense of injustice and personal

  affront was even stronger than usual. Blinking sleepily at the clock

  which said 1.15a.m. I lifted the receiver and mumbled into it, but I was

  jerked suddenly wide awake when I recognised Mr. Alderson's voice. Candy

  was calving and something was wrong. Would I come right away.

  There has always been a 'this is where I came in" feeling about a night

  call. And as my lights swept the cobbles of the deserted market place it

  was there again; a sense of returning to fundamentals, of really being

  me. The silent houses, the tight drawn curtains, the long, empty street

  giving way to the stone walls of the country road flipping endlessly

  past on either side. At these times I was usually in a state of

  suspended animation, just sufficiently awake to steer the car in the

  right direction, but tonight I was fully alert, my mind ticking over

  anxiously.

 

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