Let sleeping vets lie, p.29
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       Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.29

           James Herriot
Because Candy was something special. She was the house cow, a pretty

  little Jersey and Mr. Alderson's particular pet. She was the sole member

  of her breed in the herd but whereas the milk from the Shorthorns went

  into the churns to be collected by the big dairy, Candy's rich yellow

  offering found its way on to ~_

  the family porridge every morning or appeared heaped up on trifles and

  fruit pies or was made into butter, a golden creamy butter to make you

  dream. !

  But apart from all that, Mr. Alderson just liked the animal. He usually

  stopped opposite her on his way down the byre and began to hum to

  himself an" gave her tail head a brief scratch as he passed. And I

  couldn't blame him because I sometimes wish all cows were Jerseys;

  small, gentle, doe-eyed creatures you could push around without any

  trouble; with padded corners and fragilelimbs Even if they kicked you it

  was like a love tap compared with the clump from a craggy Friesian.

  I just hoped it would be something simple with Candy, because my stock

  wasn't high with Mr. Alderson and I had a nervous conviction that he

  wouldn't react favourably if I started to make a ham-fisted job of

  calving his little favourite. I shrugged away my fears; obstetrics in

  the Jersey were usually easy.

  Helen's father was an efficient farmer. As I pulled up in the yard I

  could see" into the lighted loose box where two buckets of water were

  steaming in readiness for me. A towel was draped over the half door and

  Stan and Bert, the twe long-serving cowman, were standing alongside

  their boss. Candy was lying.~$ comfortably in deep straw. She wasn't

  straining and there was nothing visible at the vulva but the cow had a

  preoccupied, inward look as though all was n well with her.

  I closed the door behind me. "Have you had a feel inside her, Mr.


  "Aye, I've had me hand in and there's nowt there"

  "Nothing at all?"

  "Not a thing. She'd been on for a few hours and not showing so I popped

  m. hand in and there's no head, no legs, nowt. And not much room,

  either. That when I rang you."

  This sounded very strange. I hung my jacket on a nail and began

  thoughtful!, to unbutton my shirt. It was when I was pulling it over my

  head that I noticed Mr. Alderson's nose wrinkling. The farm men, too,

  began to sniff and look at each other wonderingly. Mrs. Hall's bath

  salts, imprisoned under my clothing had burst from their bondage in a

  sickly wave, filling the enclosed space with their strident message.

  Hurriedly I began to wash my arms in the hope that th" alien odour might

  pass away but it seemed to get worse, welling from my warm skin,

  competing incongruously with the honest smells of cow, hay and straw

  Nobody said anything. These men weren't the type to make the ribald

  remark which would have enabled me to laugh the thing off. There was no

  ambiguity about this scent; it was voluptuously feminine and Bert and

  Stan stared at me open mouthed. Mr. Alderson, his mouth turned down at

  the corners, his nostrils still twitching, kept his eyes fixed on the

  far wall. 4

  Cringing inwardly I knelt behind the cow and in a moment my

  embarrassment: was forgotten. The vagina was empty; a smooth passage

  narrowing rapidly to a small, ridged opening just wide enough to admit

  my hand. Beyond I could fed the feet and head of a calf. My spirits

  plummeted. Torsion of the uterus. There" was going to be no easy victory

  for me here.

  I sat back on my heels and turned to the farmers. "She's got a twisted

  calf bed, There's a live calf in there all right but there's no way out

  for it - I can barer get my hand through."

  "Aye, I thought it was something peculiar." Mr. Alderson rubbed his chin

  and looked at me doubtfully. "What can we do about it, then?"

  "We'll have to try to correct the twist by rolling the cow over while I

  keep hold of the calf. It's a good job there's plenty of us here."

  "And that'll put everything right, will it?"

  I swallowed. I didn't like these jobs. Sometimes rolling worked and

  sometime, it didn't and in those days we hadn't quite got round to

  performing caesarian i .


  ' i 1: ~i ., 1:

  on cows If I was unsuccessful I had the prospect of telling Mr. Alderson

  to send Candy to the butcher. I banished the thought quickly.

  "It'll put everything right," I said. It had to. I stationed Bert at the

  front legs, Stan at the hind and the farmer holding the cow's head on

  the floor. Then I stretched myself on the hard concrete, pushed in a

  hand and grasped the calf's foot.

  "Now roll her," I gasped, and the men pulled the legs round in a

  clockwise direction I held fiercely to the little feet as the cow

  flopped on to her other side. Nothing seemed to be happening inside.

  "Push her on to her chest," I panted.

  Stan and Bert expertly tucked the legs under the cow and rolled her on

  to her brisket and as she settled there I gave a yell of pain.

  "Get her back, quick! We're going the wrong way!" The smooth band of

  tissue had tightened on my wrist in a numbing grip of frightening power.

  For a moment I had the panicky impression that I'd never get out of

  there again.

  But the men worked like lightning. Within seconds Candy was stretched

  out on her original side, the pressure was off my arm and we were back

  where we started.

  I gritted my teeth and took a fresh grip on the calf's foot. "O.K., try

  her the other way."

  This time the roll was anti-clockwise and we went through 180 degrees

  without anything happening. I only just kept my grasp on the foot - the

  resistance this time was tremendous. Taking a breather for a few seconds

  I lay face down while the sweat sprang out on my back, sending out fresh

  exotic vapours from the bath salts.

  "Right. One more go!" I cried and the men hauled the cow further over.

  And oh it was beautiful to feel everything magically unravelling and my

  arm Lying free in a wide uterus with all the room in the world and the

  calf already beginning to slide towards me.

  Candy summed up the situation immediately and for the first time gave a

  determined heaving strain. Sensing victory just round the corner she

  followed up with another prolonged effort which popped the calf wet and

  wriggling into my arms.

  "By gum, it was quick at t'finish," Mr. Alderson murmured wonderingly.

  He seized a wisp of hay and began to dry off the little creature.

  Thankfully I soaped my arms in one of the buckets. After every delivery

  there is a feeling of relief but in this case it was overwhelming. It no

  longer mattered that the loose box smelt like a ladies" hairdressing

  salon, I just felt good. I said good night to Bert and Stan as they

  returned to their beds, giving a final incredulous sniff as they passed

  me. Mr. Alderson was pottering about, having a word with Candy then

  starting again on the calf which he had already rubbed down several

  times. He seemed fascinated by it. And I couldn't blame him because it

  was like something out of Disney; a pale gold faun, unbelievab
ly tiny

  with large dark limpid eyes and an expression of trusting innocence. It

  was a heifer, too.

  The farmer lifted it as if it were a whippet dog and laid it by the

  mother's head Candy nosed the little animal over, rumbling happily in

  her throat, then she began to lick it. I watched Mr. Alderson. He was

  standing, hands clasped behind him, rocking backwards and forwards on

  his heels, obviously enchanted by the scene Any time now, I thought. And

  I was right; the tuneless humming broke out, even louder than usual,

  like a joyful paean.

  I stiffened in my Wellingtons. There would never be a better time. After

  a nervous cough I spoke up firmly.


  ' Mr. Alderson," I said and he half turned his head. "I would like to

  marry your L daughter. ~ r The humming was switched off abruptly and he

  turned slowly till he w ~ facing me. He didn't speak but his eyes

  searched my face unhappily. Then 15 bent stiffly, picked up the buckets

  one by one, tipped out the water and ma L for the door. L "You'd better

  come in the house," he said. The farmhouse kitchen looked lost and

  forsaken with the family abed. I s in a high backed wooden chair by the

  side of the empty hearth while he Alderson put away his buckets, hung up

  the towel and washed his hen methodically at the sink, then he pottered

  through to the parlour and I heard him bumping and clinking about in the

  sideboard. When he reappeared he bore; a tray in front of him on which a

  bottle of whisky and two glasses rattled gently The tray lent the simple

  procedure an air of formality which was accentuated _ by the heavy cut

  crystal of the glasses and the virgin, unopened state of t [

  Mr. Alderson set the tray down on the kitchen table which he dragged

  nearer to us before settling in the chair at the other side of the

  fireplace. Nobody said anything. I waited in the lengthening silence

  while he peered at the cap of t} bottle like a man who had never seen

  one before then unscrewed it with slow apprehension as though he feared

  it might blow up in his face.

  Finally he poured out two measures with the utmost gravity and

  precision" ducking his head frequently to compare the levels in the two

  glasses, and with a last touch of ceremony proffered the laden tray. 1

  I took my drink and waited expectantly. ~ .

  Mr. Alderson looked into the lifeless fireplace for a minute or two then

  h directed his gaze upwards at the oil painting of the paddling cows

  which him .g above the mantelpiece. He pursed his lips as though about

  to whistle but ;; appeared to change his mind and without salutation

  took a gulp of his whisky which sent him into a paroxysm of coughing

  from which it took him some time , to recover. When his breathing had

  returned to normal he sat up straight an I fixed me with streaming eyes.

  He cleared his throat and I felt a certain tension "Aye well," he said,

  'it's grand hay weather."

  I agreed with him and he looked round the kitchen with the interested

  stare ~ of a total stranger. Having completed his inspection he took

  another copious . swallow from his glass, grimaced, closed his eyes,

  shook his head violently a few times, then leaned forward.

  "Mind you," he said, 'a night's rain would do a lot of good."

  I gave my opinion that it undoubtedly would and the silence fell again.

  It . lasted even longer this time and my host kept drinking his whisky

  as though h was getting used to it. And I could see that it was having a

  relaxing effect; the . strained lines on his face were beginning to

  smooth out and his eyes were losing their hunted look.

  ; Nothing more was said until he had replenished our glasses, balancing

  the amounts meticulously again. He took a sip at his second measure then

  he looked down at the rug and spoke in a small voice.

  "James," he said, "I had a wife in a thousand."

  I was so surprised I hardly knew what to say. "Yes, I know," I murmured

  "I've heard a lot about her."

  Mr. Alderson went on, still looking down, his voice full of gentle


  "Yes, she was the grandest lass for miles around and the bonniest." He

  Looked up at me suddenly with the ghost of a smile. "Nobody thought

  she'd ever have a feller like me, you know. But she did." He paused and

  looked away. "Aye, ski.

  He began to tell me about his dead wife. He told me calmly, without self

  pity, but with a wistful gratitude for the happiness he had known. And I

  discovered that Mr. Alderson was different from a lot of the farmers of

  his generation because he said nothing about her being a 'good worker".

  So many of the women of those times seemed to be judged mainly on their

  working ability and when I had first come to Darrowby I had been shocked

  when I commiserated with a newly widowed old man. He had brushed a tear

  from his eye and said, "Aye, she was a grand worker." But Mr. Alderson

  said only that his wife had been beautiful, that she had been kind, and

  that he had loved her very much. He talked about Helen, too, about the

  things she had said and done when she was a little girl, about how very

  like her mother she was in every way. He never said anything about me

  but I had the feeling all the time that he meant it to concern me; and

  the very fact that he was talking freely seemed a sign that the barriers

  were coming Actually he was talking a little too freely. He was half way

  down his third huge whisky and in my experience Yorkshiremen just

  couldn't take the stuff. I had seen burly ten pint men from the local

  pub keel over after a mere sniff at the amber fluid and little Mr.

  Alderson hardly drank at all. I was getting worried.

  But there was nothing I could do, so I let him ramble on happily. He was

  Lying right back in his chair now, completely at ease, his eyes, alight

  with his memories, gazing somewhere above my head. In fact I am

  convinced he had forgotten I was there because after one long passage he

  dropped his eyes, caught sight of me and stared for a moment without

  recognition. When he did manage to place me it seemed to remind him of

  his duties as a host. But as he reached again for the bottles he caught

  sight of the clock on the wall.

  "Well clang it, it's four o'clock. We've been here long enough. It's

  hardly worth going" to bed, but I suppose we'd better have an hour or

  two's sleep." He tipped the last of the whisky down his throat, jumped

  briskly to his feet, looked around him for a few moments in a

  business-like sort of way then pitched head first with a sickening

  clatter among the fire irons.

  Frozen with horror, I started forward to help the small figure

  scrabbling on the hearth but I needn't have worried because he bounced

  back to his feet in a second or two and looked me in the eye as if

  nothing had happened.

  "Well, I'd better be off," I said. "Thanks for the drink." There was no

  point in staying longer as I realised that the chances of Mr. Alderson

  saying "Bless you, my son" or anything like that were remote. But I had

  a comforting impression that all was going to be well.

  As I made my way to
the door the farmer made a creditable attempt to

  usher me out but his direction was faulty and he tacked helplessly away

  from me across the kitchen floor before collapsing against a tall

  dresser. From under a row of willow pattern dinner plates his face

  looked at me with simple bewilderment.

  I hesitated then turned back. "I'll just walk up the stairs with you,

  Mr. Alderson" I said in a matter of fact voice and the little man made

  no resistance as I took his arm and guided him towards the door in the

  far corner.

  As we creaked our way upstairs he stumbled and would have gone down

  again had I not grabbed him round the waist. As I caught him he looked

  up at me and grunted "Thanks, lad," and we grinned at each other for a

  moment before restarting the climb.

  I supported him across the landing to his bedroom door and he stood

  hesitating as though about to say something. But finally he just nodded

  to me a couple of times before ducking inside.

  I waited outside the door, listening in some anxiety to the bumps and

  thumps from within; but I relaxed as a loud, tuneless humming came

  through the panels Everything most certainly was going to be all right.

  Chapter Twenty-five.

  "Well, do you want t'job or don't you?"

  Walt Barnett towered over me in the surgery doorway and his eyes

  flickered from my head to my feet and up again without expression. The

  cigarette dangling from his lower lip seemed to be a part of him as did

  the brown trilby hat and the shining navy blue serge suit stretched

  tightly over his bulky form. He must have weighed nearly twenty stones

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