Let sleeping vets lie, p.28
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.28James 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
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
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
"It's quite simple," he said. "I'm saying you ought to get married, and
"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
"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
"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
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
you know, Jim, you'll really have to speak to Dad. It's time he knew."
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
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
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
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
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes