Let sleeping vets lie, p.30
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.30James Herriot
and with his red beefy brutal mouth and overbearing manner he was
"Well, er ... yes. Of course we want the job," I replied. "I was just
wondering :; when we could fit it in." I went over to the desk and began
to look through the appointment book. "We're pretty full this week and I
don't know what Mr. Farnon has fixed for the week after. Maybe we'd
better give you a ring."
The big man had burst in on me without warning or greeting and barked,
"I 'ave a fine big blood 'oss to geld. When can you do 'im?"
I had looked at him hesitantly for a few moments, taken aback partly by
the arrogance of his approach, partly by his request. This wasn't good
news to me;; I didn't like castrating fine big blood 'osses - I much
preferred the ordinary cart colts and if you came right down to it I had
a particular preference for Shetland ~ ponies. But it was all part of
living and if it had to be done it had to be done. I "You can give me a
ring if you like, but don't be ower long about it." The hard unsmiling
stare still held me. "And I want a good job coin", think on!"
"We always try to do a good job, Mr. Barnett," I said, fighting a rising
prickle; of resentment at his attitude.
"Aye well I've heard that afore and I've had some bloody balls-ups," he
said.. He gave me a final truculent nod, turned and walked out, leaving
the door open.
I was still standing in the middle of the room seething and muttering to
myself when Siegfried walked in. I hardly saw him at first and when he
finally came into focus I found I was glowering into his face.
"What's the trouble, James?" he asked. "A little touch of indigestion,
"Indigestion? No ... no ... Why do you say that?"
"Well you seemed to be in some sort of pain, standing there on one leg
with- ' your face screwed up."
"Did I look like that? Oh it was just our old friend Walt Barnett. He
wants us to cut a horse for him and he made the request in his usual
charming way - he really gets under my skin, that man."
Tristan came in from the passage. "Yes I was out there and I heard him.
He's a bloody big lout."
Siegfried rounded on him. "That's enough! I don't want to hear that kind
of talk in here." Then he turned back to me. "And really, James, even if
you were upset I don't think it's an excuse for profanity."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, some of the expletives I heard you muttering there were unworthy
of out" He spread his hands in a gesture of disarming frankness, "Heaven
knows I'm no prude but I don't like to hear such language within these
walls." He paused and his features assumed an expression of deep
gravity. "After all, the people who come in here provide us with our
bread and butter and they should be referred to with respect., "Yes, but
"Oh I know some are not as nice as others but you must never let them
irritate you. You've heard the old saying, "The customer is always
right." Well I think it's a good working axiom and I always abide by it
myself." He gazed solemnly at Tristan and me in turn. "So I hope I make
myself clear. No swearing in the surgery - particularly when it concerns
"It's all right for you!" I burst out heatedly. "But you didn't hear
Barnett. I'll stand so much, but ... '
Siegfried put his head on one side and a smile of ethereal beauty crept
over his face. "My dear old chap, there you go again, letting little
things disturb you. I've had to speak to you about this before, haven't
I? I wish I could help you, I wish I could pass on my own gift of
remaining calm at all times."
"What's that you said?"
'1 ~ir1 T wanted m heln you James. and I will." He held up a forefinger.
"You've probably often wondered why I never get angry or excited."
"Oh I know you have - you must have. Well I'll let you into a little
secret." His smile took on a roguish quality. "If a client is rude to me
I simply charge him a little more. Instead of getting all steamed up
like you do I tell myself that I'm putting ten bob extra on the bill and
it works like magic."
"Is that so?"
"Yes indeed, my boy." He thumped my shoulder then became very serious.
"Of course I realise that I have an advantage right at the start - I
have been blessed with a naturally even temperament while you are blown
about in all directions by every little wind of circumstance. But I do
think that this is something you could cultivate, so work at it, James,
work at it. All this fretting and fuming is bad for you - your whole
life would change if you could just acquire my own tranquil outlook." I
swallowed hard. "Well thank you, Siegfried," I said. "I'll try."
~----r ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~
Walt Barnett was a bit of a mystery man in Darrowby. He wasn't a farmer,
he was a scrap merchant, a haulier, a dealer in everything from linoleum
to second hand cars, and there was only one thing the local people could
say for certain about him - he had brass, lots of brass. They said
everything he touched turned to money.
He had bought a decaying mansion a few miles outside the town where he
lived with a downtrodden little wife and where he kept a floating
population of livestock; a few bullocks, some pigs and always a horse or
two. He employed all the vets in the district in turn, probably because
he didn't think much of any of us; a feeling which I may say, was
mutual. He never seemed to do any physical work and could be seen most
days of the week shambling around the streets of Darrowby, hands in
pockets, cigarette dangling, his brown trilby on the back of his head,
his huge body threatening to burst through that shiny navy suit.
After my meeting with him we had a busy few days and it was on the
hollowing Thursday that the phone rang in the surgery. Siegfried lifted
it and immediately his expression changed. From across the floor I could
clearly hear the loud hectoring tones coming through the receiver and as
my colleague listened a slow flush spread over his cheeks and his mouth
hardened. Several times he tried to put in a word but the torrent of
sound from the far end was unceasing Finally he raised his voice and
broke in but instantly there was a click and he found himself speaking
to a dead line.
Siegfried crashed the receiver into its rest and swung round. "That was
Barnett - playing hell because we haven't rung him." He stood staring at
me for a few moments, his face dark with anger.
"The bloody bastard!" he shouted. "Who the hell does he think he is?
Abusing me like that, then hanging up on me when I try to speak!"
For a moment he was silent then he turned to me. "I'll tell you this,
James, he wouldn't have spoken to me like that if he'd been in this room
with me." He came over to me and held out his hands, fingers crooked
menacingly. "I'd have wrung his bloody neck, big as he is! I would have,
I tell you, I'd have strangled the bugger!"
"But Siegfried," I said. "What about your system?"
"Well, you know the trick you have when people are unpleasant - you put
something on the bill, don't you?"
Siegfried let his hands fall to his sides and stared at me for some
time, his chest rising and falling with his emotion. Then he patted me
on the shoulder and turned away towards the window where he stood
looking out at the quiet street.
When he turned back to me he looked grim but calmer. "By God, James,
you're right. That's the answer. I'll cut Barnett's horse for him but
I'll charge him a tenner."
I laughed heartily. In those days the average charge for castrating a
horse we" a pound, or if you wanted to be more professional, a guinea.
"What are you laughing at?" my employer enquired sourly.
"Well ... at your joke. I mean, ten pounds ... ha-ha-ha!"
"I'm not joking, I'm going to charge him a tenner."
"Oh come on, Siegfried, you can't do that."
"You just watch me," he said. "I'm going to sort that bugger."
wailed paddock deep in lush grass. The two-year-old, a magnificent
chestnut, was led in by two characters who struck me as typical henchmen
for Mr. Barnett. I don't know where he had dug them up but you didn't
see faces like that among the citizens of Darrowby. One was a brown
goblin who, as he conversed with his companion, repeatedly jerked his
head and winked one eye as though they were sharing some disreputable
secret. The other had a head covered with ginger stubble surmounting a
countenance of a bright scrofulous red which looked as though a piece
would fall off if you touched it; and deep in the livid flesh two tiny
The two of them regarded us unsmilingly and the dark one spat
luxuriously as we approached.
"It's a nice morning," I said.
Ginger just stared at me while Winker nodded knowingly and closed one
eye as if I had uttered some craftiness which appealed to him.
The vast hunched figure of Mr. Barnett hovered in the background,
cigarette drooping, the bright sunshine striking brilliant shafts of
light from the tight sheen of the navy suit.
I couldn't help comparing the aspect of the trio of humans with the
natural beauty and dignity of the horse. The big chestnut tossed his
head then stood looking calmly across the paddock, the large fine eyes
alight with intelligence, the noble lines of the face and neck blending
gently into the grace and power of the body. Observations I had heard
about the higher and lower animals floated about in my mind.
Siegfried walked around the horse, patting him and talking to him, his
eyes shining with the delight of the fanatic.
"He's a grand sort, Mr. Barnett," he said.
Two mornings later I was going through the familiar motions of preparing
for a castration; boiling up the emasculator and laying it on the enamel
tray along with the scalpel, the roll of cotton wool, the artery
forceps, the tincture of iodine, the suture materials, the tetanus
antitoxin and syringes. For the last five minus* Siegfried had been
shouting at me to hurry.
"What the hell are you doing through there, James? Don't forget to put
an extra bottle of chloroform. And bring the sidelines in case he
doesn't g down. Where have you hidden those spare scalpel blades,
The sunshine streamed across the laden tray, filtering through the green
tangle of the wisteria which fell untidily across the surgery window.
Reminding me that it was May and that there was nowhere a May morning
came with such golden magic as to the long garden at Skeldale House; the
high brick walls with their crumbling mortar and ancient stone copings
enfolding the sunlight" in a warm clasp and spilling it over the
untrimmed lawns, the banks of lupi and bluebells, the masses of fruit
blossom. And right at the top the rooks cawing in the highest branches
of the elms.
Siegfried, chloroform muzzle looped over one shoulder, made a final
check the items on the tray then we set off. In less than half an hour
we were driving through the lodge gates of the old mansion then along a
mossy avenue which wandered among pine and birch trees up to the house
which looked out fro, its wooded background over the rolling miles of
fell and moor.
Nobody could have asked for a more perfect place for the operation; a
higt The big man glowered at him. "Aye well, don't spoil 'im, that's
all. I've paid a lot o'money for that 'oss."
Siegfried gave him a thoughtful look then turned to me.
"Well, let's get on. We'll drop him over there on that long grass. Are
you ready, James?"
I was ready, but I'd be a lot more at ease if Siegfried would just leave
me alone. In horse work I was the anaesthetist and my colleague was the
surgeon. And he was good; quick, deft, successful. I had no quarrel with
the arrangement; he could get on with his job and let me do mine. But
there was the rub; he would keep butting into my territory and I found
Anaesthesia in the large animals has a dual purpose; it abolishes pain
and acts as a means of restraint. It is obvious that you can't do much
with these potentially dangerous creatures unless they are controlled.
That was my job. I had to produce a sleeping patient ready for the knife
and very often I thought it was the most difficult part. Until the
animal was properly under I always felt a certain tension and Siegfried
didn't help in this respect. He would hover at my elbow, offering advice
as to the quantity of chloroform and he could never bear to wait until
the anaesthetic had taken effect. He invariably said, "He isn't going to
go down, James." Then, "Don't you think you should strap a fore leg up?"
Even now, thirty years later, when I am using such intravenous drugs as
thiopentone he is still at it. Stamping around impatiently as I fill my
syringe, poking over my shoulder with a long fore-finger into the
jugular furrow. "I'd shove it in just there, James."
I stood there irresolute, my employer by my side, the chloroform bottle
in my pocket, the muzzle dangling from my hand. It would be wonderful, I
thought, Just once I could be on my own to get on with it. And, after
all, I had worked l o for him for nearly three years - surely I knew
him.well enough to be able to put it to him.
I cleared my throat. "Siegfried, I was just wondering. Would you care to
go and sit down over there for a few minutes till I get him down?"
"Well I thought it would be a good idea if you left me to it. There's a
bit of a crowd round the horse's head - I don't want him excited. So why
don't you relax for a while. I'll give you a shout when he's down?"
Siegfried raised a hand. "My dear chap, anything you say. I don't know
what I'm hanging around here for anyway I never interfere with your end
as you well know." He turned about and, tray under arm, marched off to
where he had parked his car on the grass about fifty yards away. He
strode round behind the Rover and sat down on the turf, his back against
the metal. He was out of sight.
on my forehead, of the bird song echoing among the nearby trees.
Unhurriedly I fastened on the muzzle under the head collar and produced
my little glass measure.
This once I had plenty of time. I'd start him off with just a couple of
drachms to get him used to the smell of it without frightening him. I
poured the clear fluid on to the sponge.
"Walk him slowly round in a circle," I said to Ginger and Winker. "I'm
going to give him a little bit at a time, there's no hurry. But keep a
good hold of that halter shank in case he plays up."
There was no need for my warning. The two-year-old paced round calmly
and fearlessly and every minute or so I trickled a little extra on to
the sponge. After a while his steps became laboured and he began to sway
drunkenly as he walked. I watched him happily; this was the way I liked
to do it. Another little dollop would just about do the trick. I
measured out another half ounce and walked over to the big animal.
His head nodded sleepily as I gave it to him. "You're just about ready
aren't you, old lad," I was murmuring when the peace was suddenly
"He isn't going to go down, you know, James!" It was a booming roar from
the direction of the car and as I whipped round in consternation I saw a
head just showing over the bonnet. There was another cry.
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes