Let sleeping vets lie, p.32
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       Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.32

           James Herriot


  "That's right. I thought you'd be pleased."

  "But ... but ... you're coming back here to read the test on Thursday

  and Friday."

  "Well of course. I have to finish the test, haven't 1? I'll be bringing

  my wife with me - I'm looking forward to introducing her to you."

  There was a silence. The young men stared at me, Mr. Allen stopped

  sawing at the ham and regarded me stolidly, then his wife gave an

  uncertain laugh.

  "Oh come on, I don't believe it. You're kidding us. You'd be off on your

  honeymoon if you were getting married tomorrow."

  "Mrs. Allen," I said with dignity. "I wouldn't joke about a serious

  matter like that. Let me repeat - tomorrow is my wedding day and I'll be

  bringing my wife along on Thursday to see you."

  Completely deflated, she heaped our plates and we all fell to in

  silence. But I knew she was in agony; she kept darting little glances at

  me and it was obvious she was dying to ask me more. The boys too, seemed

  intrigued; only Mr. Allen a tall, quiet man who, I'm sure wouldn't have

  cared if I'd been going to rob a bank tomorrow, ploughed calmly through

  his food.

  Nothing more was said until I was about to leave, then Mrs. Allen put a

  hand on my arm.

  "You really don't mean it, do you?" Her face was haggard with strain.

  I got into the car and called out through the window. "Goodbye and thank

  you, Mrs. Allen. Mrs. Herriot and I will be along first thing on


  I can't remember much about the wedding. it was a 'quiet do" and my main

  recollection is of desiring to get it all over with as soon as possible.

  I have only one vivid memory; of Siegfried, just behind me in the church

  booming '/Lmen" at regular intervals throughout the ceremony - the only

  time I have ever heard a best man do this.

  It was an incredible relief when Helen and I were ready to drive away

  and when we were passing Skeldale House Helen grasped my hand.

  "Look!" she cried excitedly. "Look over there!"

  underneath Siegfried's brass plate which always hung slightly askew on

  the iron railings was a brand new one. It was of the modern bakelite

  type with a black background and bold white letters which read "J.

  Herriot MRCVS ~veterinary Surgeon", and it was screwed very straight and

  level on the metal.


  Siegfried had said something about "You'll see my wedding present on the

  way out." And here it was. Not many people got a partnership as a gift,

  but it had happened to me and was the crowning point of three years of


  I looked back down the street to try to see Siegfried but we had said

  our goodbyes and I would have to thank him later. So I drove out of

  Darrowby with a feeling of swelling pride because I knew what the plate

  meant - I was a man with a real place in the world. The thought made me

  slightly breathless. In fact we were both a little dizzy and we cruised

  for hours around the countryside, getting out when we felt like it,

  walking among the hills, taking no account of" time. It must have been

  nine o'clock in the evening and darkness coming in fast when we realised

  we had gone far out of our way.

  We had to drive ten miles over a desolate moor on the tell top and it

  was very dark when we rattled down the steep, narrow road into

  Ellerthorpe. The Wheat Sheaf was an unostentatious part of the single

  long village street, a low grey stone building with no light over the

  door, and as we went into the slightly musty-smelling hallway the gentle

  clink of glasses came from the public bar on our left. Mrs. Burn, the

  elderly widow who owned the place, appeared from a back room and

  scrutinised us unemotionally.

  "We've met before, Mrs. Burn," I said and she nodded. I apologised for

  our lateness and was wondering whether I dare ask for a few sandwiches

  at this time of night when the old lady spoke up, quite unperturbed.

  "Nay," she said, 'it's right. We've been expecting you and your supper's

  waiting." She led us to the dining room where her niece, Beryl, served a

  hot meal in no time. Thick lentil soup, followed by what would probably

  be called a goulash these days but which was in fact simply a delicious

  stew with mushrooms and vegetables obviously concocted by a culinary

  genius. We had to say no to the gooseberry pie and cream.

  It was like that all the time at the Wheat Sheaf. The whole place was

  aggressively unfashionable; needing a lick of paint, crammed with

  hideous Victorian furniture, but it was easy to see how it had won its

  reputation. It didn't have stylish guests, but fat, comfortable men from

  the industrial West Riding brought their wives at the week-ends and did

  a bit of fishing or just took in the incomparable air between the

  mealtimes which were the big moments of the day. There was only one

  guest while we were there and he was a permanent one - a retired draper

  from Darlington who was always at the table in good time, a huge white

  napkin tucked under his chin, his eyes gleaming as he watched Beryl

  bring in the food.

  But it wasn't just the home-fed ham, the Wensleydale cheese, the

  succulent steak and kidney pies, the bilberry tarts and mountainous

  Yorkshire puddings which captivated Helen and me. There was a peace, a

  sleepy insinuating charm: about the old pub which we always recall with

  happiness. I still often pass the Wheat Sheaf, and as I look at its

  ancient stone frontage, quite unaltered by the passage of a mere thirty

  years, the memories are still fresh and warm; Our footsteps echoing in

  the empty street when we took our last walk at night, the old brass

  bedstead almost filling the little room, the dark rim of the fells

  bulking against the night sky beyond our window, faint bursts of

  laughter from the farmers in the bar downstairs.

  I particularly enjoyed too, our very first morning when I took Helen to

  do th, test at Allen's. As I got out of the car I could see Mrs. Allen

  peeping round the curtains in the kitchen window. She was soon out in

  the yard and her eye, popped when I brought my bride over to her. Helen

  was one of the pioneers of slacks in the Dales and she was wearing a

  bright purple pair this morning. which would in modern parlance knock

  your eye out. The farmer's wife was partly shocked, partly fascinated

  but she, soon found that Helen was of the same stock as herself and

  within seconds the two women were chattering busily. I judged from Mrs.

  Allen's vigorous head-nodding and her ever widening smile That Helen was

  putting her out of her pain by explaining all the circumstances. It took

  a long time and finally Mr. Allen had to break into the conversation.

  ~If we're going", we'll have to go," he said gruffly and we set off to

  start the second day of the test.

  We began on a sunny hillside where a group of young animals had been

  penned Jack and Robbie plunged in among the beasts while Mr. Allen took

  off his cap and courteously dusted the top of the wall.

  "Your missus can sit 'ere," he said.

  I paused as I was about to start measuring. My missus
! It was the first

  time anybody had said that to me. I looked over at Helen as she sat

  cross-legged on the rough stones, her notebook on her knee, pencil at

  the ready, and as she pushed back the shining dark hair from her

  forehead she caught my eye and smiled; and as I smiled back at her I

  became aware suddenly of the vast, swelling glory of the Dales around

  us, and of the Dales scent of clover and warm grass, more intoxicating

  than any wine. And it seemed that my first three years at Darrowby had

  been leading up to this moment; that the first big step of my life was

  being completed right here with Helen smiling at me and the memory,

  fresh in my mind, of my new plate hanging in front of Skeldale House.

  I might have stood there indefinitely, in a sort of trance, but Mr.

  Allen cleared his throat in a marked manner and I turned back to the job

  in hand.

  "Right," I said, placing my calipers against the beast's neck. "Number

  thirty-eight, seven millimetres and circumscribed," I called out to


  "Number thirty-eight, seven, C."

  "Thirty-eight, seven, C," my wife repeated as she bent over her book and

  started to write.



  James Herriot, Let Sleeping Vets Lie

  (Series: # )




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