Let sleeping vets lie, p.31
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       Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.31

           James Herriot
 
"Why don't you strap up a ... ?"

  At that moment the horse lurched and collapsed quietly on the grass and

  Siegfried came bounding knife in hand from his hiding place like a

  greyhound.

  "Sit on his head!" he yelled. "What are you waiting for, he'll be up in

  a minute!

  And get that rope round that hind leg! And bring my tray! And fetch the

  hot water!" He panted up to the horse then turned and bawled into

  Ginger's face, "Come on, I'm talking to you. MOVE!"

  Ginger went off at a bow-legged gallop and cannoned into Winker who was

  rushing forward with the bucket. Then they had a brief but frenzied tug

  of war with the rope before they got round the pastern.

  "Pull the leg forward," cried my employer, bending over the operation

  site, then a full blooded bellow, "Get the bloody foot out of my eye,

  will you!

  What's the matter with you, you wouldn't pull a hen off its nest the way

  you're going." knelt quietly at the head, my knee on the neck. There was

  no need to hold:

  ~wn; he was beautifully out, his eyes blissfully closed as Siegfried

  worked, usual lightning expertise. There was a mere few seconds of

  silence ~Iy by the tinkling of instruments as they fell back on the

  tray, them 5,o.,ge glanced along the horse's back. "Open the muzzle,

  James." its 'wo Ntion was over. Nob~I've ever seen an easier job. By the

  time we had washed our instruments in the bucket the two-year-old was on

  his feet, cropping gently at the grass.

  "Splendid anaesthetic, James," said Siegfried, drying off the

  emasculator.

  "Just right. And what a grand sort of horse."

  We had put our gear back in the boot and were ready to leave when ~Valt

  Barnett heaved his massive bulk over towards us. He faced Siegfried

  across the bonnet of the car.

  "Well that were nowt of a job," he grunted, slapping a cheque book down

  on the shining metal, "How much do you want?"

  There was an arrogant challenge in the words and, faced with the dynamic

  force, the sheer brutal presence of the man, most people who were about

  to charge a guinea would have changed their minds and said a pound.

  "Well, I'm asking'yer," he repeated. "How much do you want?"

  "Ah yes," said Siegfried lightly. "That'll be a tenner."

  The big man put a meaty hand on the cheque book and stared at my

  colleague "What ?"

  "That'll be a tenner," Siegfried said again.

  "Ten pounds?" Mr. Barnett's eyes opened wider.

  "Yes," said Siegfried, smiling pleasantly. "That's right. Ten pounds."

  There was a silence as the two men faced each other across the bonnet.

  The bird song and the noises from the wood seemed abnormally loud as the

  seconds ticked away and nobody moved. Mr. Barnett was glaring furiously

  and I 1looked from the huge fleshy face which seemed to have swollen

  even larger across to the lean, strongjawed, high-cheekboned profile of

  my employer. Siegfried still wore the remains of a lazy smile but down

  in the grey depths of his eye a dangerous light glinted.

  Just when I was at screaming point the big man dropped his head suddenly

  and began to write. When he handed the cheque over he was shaking so

  much that the slip of paper fluttered as though in a high wind.

  "Here y'are, then" he said hoarsely.

  "Thank you so much." Siegfried read the cheque briefly then stuffed it

  carelessly into a side pocket. "Isn't it grand to have some real May

  weather, ~r Barnett. Does us all good. I'm sure."

  Walt Barnett mumbled something and turned away. As I got into the car I

  could see the great expanse of navy blue back moving ponderously towards

  the house.

  "He won't have us back, anyway," I said.

  Siegfried started the engine and we moved away. "No, James, I should

  think he'd get his twelve bore out if we ventured down this drive again.

  But that suits me - I think I can manage to get through the rest of my

  life without Mr. Barnett."

  Our road took us through the little village of Baldon and Siegfried

  slowed down outside the pub, a yellow-washed building standing a few

  yards back from the road with a wooden sign reading The Cross Keys and a

  large black dog sleeping on the sunny front step.

  My boss looked at his watch. "Twelve fifteen - they'll just have opened

  A cool beer would be rather nice wouldn't it. I don't think I've been in

  this Place before."

  After the brightness outside, the shaded interior was restful, with only

  Stray splinters of sunshine filtering through the curtains on to the

  Ragged floor, the fissured oak tables, the big fireplace with its high

  settle.

  "Good morning to you, landlord," boomed my employer, striding over to

  tile bar He was in his most ducal mood and I felt it was a pity he

  didn't have a silver-knobbed stick to rap on the counter.

  The man behind the counter smiled and knuckled a forelock in the

  approved manner. "Good morning to you, sir, and what can I get for you

  gentlemen?"

  I half expected Siegfried to say, "Two stoups of your choicest brew.

  honest fellow," but instead he just turned to me and murmured bitter, eh

  James?"

  The man began to draw the beer.

  "Won't you join us?" Siegfried enquired.

  "Thank ye sir, I'll 'ave a brown ale with you."

  "And possibly your good lady, too?" Siegfried smiled over at the

  landlord's wife who was stacking glasses at the end of the counter.

  "That's very kind of you, I will." She looked up, gulped, and an

  expression of wonder crept over her face. Siegfried hadn't stared at her

  - it had only been a five second burst from the grey eyes - but the

  bottle rattled against the glass as she poured her small port and she

  spent the rest of the time gazing at him dreamily.

  "That'll be five and sixpence," the landlord said.

  "Right." My employer plunged a hand into his bulging side pocket and

  crashed down on the counter an extraordinary mixture of crumpled bank

  notes, coins, veterinary instruments, thermometers, bits of string. He

  stirred the mass with a forefinger, flicking out a half crown and two

  florins across the woodwork.

  "Wait a minute!" I exclaimed. "Aren't those my curved scissors? I lost

  them a few days ... '

  Siegfried swept the pile out of sight into his pocket.

  "Nonsense! What makes you think that?"

  "Well, they look exactly like mine. Unusual shape - lovely long; flat

  blades. I've been looking everywhere ... '

  "James!" He drew himself up and faced me with frozen hauteur. "I think

  you've said enough. I may be capable of stooping to some pretty low

  actions but I'd like to believe that certain things are beneath me. And

  stealing a colleague's curved scissors is one of them."

  I relapsed into silence. I'd have to bide my time and take my chance

  later. I was fairly sure I'd recognised a pair of my dressing forceps in

  there too ^~, lase, something else was occupying Siegfried's mind. He

  narrowed his - ~o~'-ri into his other pocket and produced a similar

  -^!nter anxiously.

  I "I think two halves of . ~ cq S,te ~ . ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ S~ ~ ~ 3 [email protected] ~, <


  And ge~ ~ ~ cj ~: ~ ~ ~water!" ~ ~ ~ ~ c~ ' ~ o "Come on, i~ ~ ;, c ~

  -Ginger well~ t rushing forward -~ `~, 3

  with the rope befo~ `~ ~ ~ = ' Pull the leg forw;

  then a full blooded bell~, ~ O ",~

  the matter with you, you ~ ~" ,_ ~ 0` knelt quietly at the heao3 "3, o~

  t3t ~o~wn; he was beautifully ~:

  usual lightning expert~ ~Iy by the tinkling of inst.8 ,^3,e glanced

  along the horse~ ' ;txtion was over. ;' 1 - I've ever seen an easier J.

  other pockets - it must be vain. St. it, but I've just thought of ore

  beer while you slip back!"

  Chapter Twenty-six.

  Considering we spent our honeymoon tuberculin testing it was a big

  success. It compared favourably, at any rate, with the experiences of a

  lot of people I know who celebrated this milestone in their lives by

  cruising for a month on sunny seas and still wrote it off as a dead

  loss. For Helen and me it had all the ingredients; laughter, fulfilment

  and camaraderie, and yet it only lasted a week. And, as I say, we spent

  it tuberculin testing.

  The situation had its origins one morning at the breakfast table when

  Siegfried, red-eyed after a bad night with a colicky mare, was opening

  the morning mail. He drew his breath in sharply as a thick roll of forms

  fell from an official envelope.

  "God almighty! Look at all that testing!" He smoothed out the forms on

  the table cloth and read feverishly down the long list of farm premises.

  "And they want us to start this lot around Ellerthorpe next week without

  fail - it's very urgent." He glanced at me for a moment. "That's when

  you're getting married, isn't it?"

  :

  I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. "Yes, I'm afraid it is."

  Siegfried snatched a piece of toast from the rack and began to slap

  butter on it. "Well this is just great isn't it? The practice going mad,

  a week's testing right at the top of the Dale, away in the back of

  beyond, and your wedding smack in the middle of it. You'll be drifting

  gaily off on your honeymoon without a care in the world while I'm

  rushing around here nearly disappearing up my own backside!" He bit a

  piece from the toast and began to chew it worriedly.

  "I'm sorry, Siegfried," I said. "I didn't mean to land you in the cart

  like this. I couldn't know the practice was going to get so busy right

  now and I never expected them to throw all this testing at us."

  Siegfried paused in his chewing and pointed a finger at me. "That's just

  it, James, that's your trouble - you don't look ahead. You just go

  belting straight on without a thought. Even when it comes to a bloody

  wedding you're not worried - oh no, let's get on with it, to hell with

  the consequences." He paused to cough up a few crumbs which he had

  inhaled in his agitation. "In fact I can't see what all the hurry is

  you've got all the time in the world to get married, you're just a boy.

  And another thing - you hardly know this girl, you've only been seeing

  her regularly for a few weeks."

  "But wait a minute, you said ... '

  "No, let me finish, James. Marriage is a very serious step, not to be

  embarked upon without long and serious thought. Why in God's name does

  it have to be next week? Next year would have been soon enough and you

  could have enjoyed a nice long engagement. But no, you've got to rush in

  and tie the knot and it ~isn't so easily untied you know."

  "Oh hell, Siegfried, this is too bad! You know perfectly well it was you

  who ... "One moment more. Your precipitate marital arrangements are

  going to cause me a considerable headache but believe me I wish you

  well. I hope all turns out for the best despite your complete lack of

  foresight, but at the same time I must remind you of the old saying.

  "Marry in haste, repent at leisure." '

  I could stand no more. I leaped to my feet, thumped a fist on the table

  and yelled at him.

  "But damn it, it was your idea! I was all for leaving it for a bit but

  you..

  ."

  Siegfried wasn't listening. He had been cooling off all the time and now

  his face broke into a seraphic smile. "Now, now, now, James, you're

  getting excited again. Sit down and calm yourself. You mustn't mind my

  speaking to you like this - you are very young and it's my duty. You

  haven't done anything wrong at all; I suppose it's the most natural

  thing in the world for people of your age to act without thinking ahead,

  to jump into things with never a thought of the morrow. It's just the

  improvidence of youth." Siegfried was about six years older than me but

  he had donned the mantle of the omniscient grey-beard without effort.

  I dug my fingers into my knees and decided not to pursue the matter. I

  had no chance anyway, and besides, I was beginning to feel a bit worried

  about clearing off and leaving him snowed under with work. I got up and

  walked to the window where I watched old Will Varley pushing a bicycle

  up the street with a sack of potatoes balanced on the handlebars as I

  had watched him a hundred times before. Then I turned back to my

  employer. I had had one of my infrequent ideas.

  "Look, Siegfried, I wouldn't mind spending my honeymoon round

  Ellerthorpe. It's wonderful up there at this time of the year and we

  could stay at the Wheat Sheaf. I could do the testing from there."

  He looked at me in astonishment. "Spend it at Ellerthorpe? And testing?

  It's impossible - what would Helen say?"

  "She wouldn't mind. In fact she could do the writing for me. We were

  only going off touring in the car so we haven't made any plans, and

  anyway it's funny, but Helen and I have often said we'd like to stay at

  the Wheat Sheaf some time - there's something about that little pub."

  Siegfried shook his head decisively. "No, James I won't hear of it. In

  fact you're beginning to make me feel guilty. I'll get through the work

  all right so forget about it and go away and have a good time."

  "No, I've made up my mind. I'm really beginning to like the idea." I

  scanned the list quickly. "I can start testing at Allen's and do all

  those smaller ones around there on Tuesday, get married on Wednesday and

  go back for the second injection and readings on Thursday and Friday. I

  can knock hell out of that list by the end of the week."

  Siegfried looked at me as though he was seeing me for the first time. He

  argued and protested but for once I got my way. I fished the Ministry

  notification cards from the desk drawer and began to make the

  arrangements for my honeymoon.

  On Tuesday at 12 noon I had finished testing the Allens" huge herd

  scattered for miles over the stark fells at the top of the Dale and was

  settling down with the hospitable folk for the inevitable 'bit o"

  dinner". Mr. Alien was at the head of the scrubbed table and facing me

  were his two sons, Jack, aged about twenty and Robbie, about seventeen.

  The young men were superbly fit and tough and I had been watching all

  morning in something like awe as they man-handled the wild, scattered

  beasts, chasing and catching tirelessly hour after hour. I had stared

  incredulously as Jack had run
down a galloping heifer on the open moor,

  seized its horns and borne it slowly to the ground for me to inject; it

  struck me more than once that it was a pity that an Olympic selector was

  unlikely to stray :i into this remote corner of high Yorkshire - he

  would have found some worldbeating material.

  I always had to stand a bit of legpulling from Mrs. Allen, a jolly

  talkative woman; on previous visits she had ribbed me mercilessly about

  being a slowcoach with the girls, the disgrace of having nothing better

  than a housekeeper to look after me. I knew she would start on me again

  today but I bided my time; I had a devastating riposte up my sleeve. She

  had just opened the oven door, filling the room with a delectable

  fragrance, and as she dumped a huge slab of roast ham on the table she

  looked down at me with a smile.

  "Now then, Mr. Herriot, when are we going to get you married off? It's

  time you found a nice girl, you know I'm always at y;ou but you take not

  a bit o" notice "She giggled as she bustled back to the cooking range

  for a bowl of mashed potatoes.

  I waited until she returned before I dropped my bombshell. "Well, as a

  matter of fact, Mrs. Allen," I said airily, "I've decided to accept your

  advice. I'm getting married tomorrow."

  The good woman, mounding mashed potatoes on to my plate, stopped with

  her spoon in mid-air. "Married tomorrow?" Her face was a study in blank

 
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