Let sleeping vets lie, p.32
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.32James Herriot
"That's right. I thought you'd be pleased."
"But ... but ... you're coming back here to read the test on Thursday
"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
"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
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
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
"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: # )
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes