Let sleeping vets lie, p.4
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       Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.4

           James Herriot

  "Get out here, quick. There's one of me pigs going bezique."

  "Bezique?" With an effort I put away from me a mental picture of two

  porkers facing each other over a green baize table. "I'm afraid I don't

  quite ... '

  "Aye, ah gave him a dose of worm medicine and he started jumpin" about

  and: rollin" on his back. I tell you he's going proper bezique."

  "Ah! Yes, yes I see, right. I'll be with you in a few minutes."

  The pig had quietened down a bit when I arrived but was still in

  considerable pain, getting up, lying down, trotting in spurts round the

  pen. I gave him half a grain of morphine hydrochloride as a sedative and

  within a few minutes he began to relax and finally curled up in the


  "Looks as though he's going to be all right," I said. "But what's this

  worm medicine you gave him?"

  Mr. Pickersgill produced the bottle sheepishly.

  "Bloke was coming round sellin" them. Said it would shift any worms you

  cared to name."

  "It nearly shifted your pig, didn't it?" I sniffed at the mixture. "And

  no wonder. It smells almost like pure turpentine."

  "Turpentine! Well by gaw is that all it is? And bloke said it was summat

  new. Charged me an absorbent price for it too."

  I gave him back the bottle. "Well never mind, I don't think there's any

  harm done, but I think the dustbin's the best place for that."

  As I was getting into my car I looked up at the farmer. "You must be

  about; sick of the sight of me. First the mastitis, then the calf and

  now your pig. You've had a bad run."

  Mr. Pickersgill squared his shoulders and gazed at me with massive

  composure Again I was conscious of the sheer presence of the man.

  "Young feller," he said. "That don't bother me. Where there's stock

  there" trouble and ah know from exderience that trouble~ comes in



  Chapter Four.

  I knew I shouldn't do it, but the old Drovers" Road beckoned to me

  irresistibly. I ought to be hurrying back to the surgery after my

  morning call but the broad green path wound beguilingly over the moor

  top between its crumbling walls and almost before I knew, I was out of

  the car and treading the wiry grass.

  The wall skirted the hill's edge and as I looked across and away to

  where Darrowby huddled far below between its folding green fells the

  wind thundered in my ears; but when I squatted in the shelter of the

  grey stones the wind was only a whisper and the spring sunshine hot on

  my face. The best kind of sunshine - not heavy or cloying but clear and

  bright and clean as you find it down behind a wall in Yorkshire with the

  wind singing over the top.

  I slid lower till I was stretched on the turf, gazing with half closed

  eyes into the bright sky, luxuriating in the sensation of being detached

  from the world and its problems.

  This form of self-indulgence had become part of my life and still is; a

  reluctance to come down from the high country; a penchant for stepping

  out of the stream of life and loitering on the brink for a few minutes

  as an uninvolved spectator.

  And it was easy to escape, Lying up here quite alone with no sound but

  the wind sighing and gusting over the empty miles and, far up in the

  wide blue, the endless brave trilling of the larks.

  Not that there was anything unpleasant about going back down the hill to

  Darrowby. I had worked there for two years now and Skeldale House had

  become home and the two bright minds in it my friends. It didn't bother

  me that both the brothers were cleverer than I was. Siegfried

  unpredictable, explosive, generous; I had been lucky to have him as a

  boss. As a city bred youth trying to tell expert stock farmers how to

  treat their animals I had needed all his skill and guidance behind me.

  And Tristan; a rum lad as they said, but very sound. His humour and zest

  for life had lightened my days.

  And all the time I was adding practical experience to my theory. The

  mass of facts I had learned at college were all coming to life, and

  there was the growing realisation, deep and warm, that this was for me.

  There was nothing else I'd rather do.

  It must have been fifteen minutes later when I finally rose, stretched

  pleasurably, took a last deep gulp of the crisp air and pottered slowly

  back to the car for the six mile journey back down the hill to Darrowby.

  When I drew up by the railings with Siegfried's brass plate hanging

  lopsidedly by the fine Georgian doorway I looked up at the tall old

  house with the ivy Swarming untidily over the weathered brick. The white

  paint on windows and doors was flaking and that ivy needed trimming but

  the whole place had style, a serene unchangeable grace.

  But I had other things on my mind at the moment. I went inside, stepping

  quietly over the coloured tiles which covered the floor of the long

  passage till I reached the long offshoot at the back of the house. And I

  felt as I always did the Subdued excitement as I breathed the smell of

  our trade which always hung there; ether, carbolic and pulv aromas. The

  latter was the spicy powder which we mixed with the cattle medicines to

  make them more palatable and it had a distinctive bouquet which even now

  can take me back thirty years with a single sniff.

  And today the thrill was stronger than usual because my visit was of a

  surreptitious nature. I almost tiptoed along the last stretch of

  passage, dodged quickly round the corner and into the dispensary.

  Gingerly I opened the cupboard door at one end and pulled out a little

  drawer. I was pretty sure Siegfried had a spare hoof knife hidden away

  within and I had to suppress a cackle of triumph when I saw it Lying

  there; almost brand new with a nicely turned gleaming blade and a

  polished wooden handle.

  My hand was outstretched to remove it when a cry of anger exploded in my

  right ear.

  "Caught in the act! Bloody red-handed, by God!" Siegfried, who had

  apparently shot up through the floorboards was breathing fire into my


  The shock was so tremendous that the instrument dropped from my

  trembling fingers and I cowered back against a row of bottles of

  formalin bloat mixture.

  "Oh hello, Siegfried," I said with a ghastly attempt at nonchalance.

  "Just on my way to that horse of Thompson's. You know - the one with the

  pus in the foot. I seem to have mislaid my knife so I thought I'd borrow

  this one."

  "Thought you'd nick it, you mean! My spare hoof knife! By heaven, is

  nothing sacred, James."

  I smiled sheepishly. "Oh you're wrong. I'd have given it back to you

  straight away."

  "A likely story!" Siegfried said with a bitter smile. "I'd never have

  seen it again and you know damn well I wouldn't. Anyway, where's your

  own knife? You've left it on some farm, haven't you?"

  "Well as a matter of fact I laid it down at Willie Denholm's place after

  I'd finished trimming his cow's overgrown foot and I must have forgotten

  to pick it up." I gave a light laugh.

  "But God help us, James, you're always forgetti
ng to pick things up. And

  you're always making up the deficiency by purloining my equipment." He

  stuck his chin out. "Have you any idea how much all this is costing me?"

  "Oh but I'm sure Mr. Denholm will drop the knife in at the surgery the

  first time he's in town."

  Siegfried nodded gravely. "He may, I'll admit that, he may. But on the

  other hand he might think it is the ideal tool for cutting up his plug

  tobacco. Remember when you left your calving overall at old Fred

  Dobson's place? The next time I saw it was six months later and Fred was

  wearing it. He said it was the best thing he'd ever found for stooking

  corn in wet weather."

  "Yes, I remember. I'm really sorry about it all." I fell silent,

  breathing in the pungency of the pulv aromas. Somebody had let a bagful

  burst on the floor and the smell was stronger than ever.

  My employer kept his fiery gaze fixed on me for a few moments more then

  he shrugged his shoulders. "Ah well, there's none of us perfect, James.

  And I'm sorry I shouted at you. But you know I'm deeply attached to that

  knife and this business of leaving things around is getting under my

  skin." He took down a Winchester of his favourite colic draught and

  polished it with his handkerchief before replacing it carefully on its

  shelf. "I tell you what, let's go and sit down for a few minutes and

  talk about this problem."

  We went back along the passage and as I followed him into the big

  sitting room Tristan got up from his favourite chair and yawned deeply.

  His face looked as boyish and innocent as ever but the lines of

  exhaustion round his eyes and mouth told an eloquent story. Last night

  he had travelled with the darts team from the Lord Nelson and had taken

  part in a gruelling match against the Dog and Gun at Drayton. The

  contest had been followed by a pie and peas supper and the consumption

  of something like twelve pints of bitter a man. Tristan had crawled into

  bed at 3 a.m. and was clearly in a delicate condition.

  "Ah, Tristan," Siegfried said. "I'm glad you're here because what I have

  to say concerns you just as much as James. It's about leaving

  instruments on farms and you're as guilty as he is." (It must be

  remembered that before the Veterinary Surgeons" act of 1948 it was quite

  legal for students to treat cases and they regularly did so. Tristan in

  fact had done much sterling work when called on and was very popular

  with the farmers.)

  "Now I mean this very seriously," my employer said, leaning his elbow on

  the mantelpiece and looking from one of us to the other. "You two are

  bringing me to the brink of ruin by losing expensive equipment. Some of

  it is returned but a lot of it is never seen again. What's the use of

  sending you to visits when you come back without your artery forceps or

  scissors or something else? The profit's gone, you see?"

  We nodded silently.

  "After all, there's nothing difficult about bringing your instruments

  away, is there? You may wonder why I never leave anything behind - well

  I can tell you it's just a matter of concentration. When I lay a thing

  down I always impress on my mind that I've got to lift it up again.

  That's all there is to it."

  The lecture over, he became very brisk. "Right, let's get on. There's

  nothing much doing, James, so I'd like you to come with me to Kendall's

  of Brookside. He's got a few jobs including a cow with a tumour to

  remove. I don't know the details but we may have to cast her. You can go

  on to Thompson's later." He turned to his brother. "And you'd better

  come too, Tristan. I don't know if we'll need you but an extra man might

  come in handy."

  We made quite a procession as we trooped into the farm yard and Mr.

  Kendall met us with his customary ebullience.

  "Hello, 'ello, we've got plenty of man power today, I see. We'll be able

  to tackle owl with this regiment."

  Mr. Kendall had the reputatian in the district of being a 'bit clever"

  and the phrase has a different meaning in Yorkshire from elsewhere. It

  meant he was something of a know-all; and the fact that he considered

  himself a wag and legpuller of the first degree didn't endear him to his

  fellow farmers either.

  I always felt he was a good-hearted man, but his conviction that he knew

  everything and had seen it all before made him a difficult man to


  "Well what d'you want to see first, Mr. Farnon?" he asked. He was a

  thickset little man with a round, smooth-skinned face and mischievous


  "I believe you have a cow with a bad eye," Siegfried said. "Better begin

  with that."

  "Right squire," the farmer cried, then he put his hand in his pocket.

  "But before we start, here's something for you." He pulled forth a

  stethoscope. "You left it last time you were 'ere."

  There was a silence, then Siegfried grunted a word of thanks and grabbed

  it hastily from his hand.

  Mr. Kendall continued. "And the time afore that you left your bloodless

  castrators. We did a swop over, didn't we? I gave you back the nippers

  and you left me the earphones." He burst into a peal of laughter.

  "Yes, yes, quite," Siegfried snapped, glancing uneasily round at us,

  'but we must be getting on. Where is ... ?"

  "You know lads," chuckled the farmer, turning to us. "Ah don't think

  I've ever known 'im come here without leaving summa"."

  "Really?" said Tristan interestedly.


  "Aye, if I'd wanted to keep 'em all I'd have had a drawerful by now."

  "Is that so?" I said.

  "Aye it is, young man. And it's the same with all me neighbours. One

  feller said to me ttother day. "He's a kind man is Mr. Farnon - never

  calls without leavin" a souvenir."' He threw back his head and laughed


  We were enjoying the conversation but my employer was stalking up the

  byre. "Where's this damn cow, Mr. Kendall? We haven't got all day."

  The patient wasn't hard to find, a nice light roan cow which looked

  round at us carefully, one eye almost closed. From between the lashes a

  trickle of tears made a dark stain down the hair of the face, and there

  was an eloquent story of pain in the cautious movement of the quivering


  "There's something in there," murmured Siegfried.

  "Aye, ah know!" Mr. Kendall always knew. "She's got a flippin" great

  lump of chaff stuck on her eyeball but I can't get to it. Look here." He

  grabbed the cow's nose with one hand and tried to prise the eyelids

  apart with the fingers of the other, but the third eyelid came across

  and the whole orbit rolled effortlessly out of sight leaving only a

  blank expanse of white sclera.

  "There!" he cried. "Nowt to see. You can't make her keep her eye still."

  "I can, though." Siegfried turned to his brother. "Tristan, get the

  chloroform muzzle from the car. Look sharp!"

  The young man was back in seconds and Siegfried quickly drew the canvas

  bag over the cow's face and buckled it behind the ears. From a bottle of

  spirit he produced a small pair of forceps of an unusual type with tiny

operated by a spring. He poised them just over the closed eye.

  "James," he said, "Give her about an ounce."

  I dribbled the chloroform on to the sponge in the front of the muzzle.

  Nothing happened for a few moments while the animal took a few breaths

  then her eyes opened wide in surprise as the strange numbing vapour

  rolled into her lungs.

  The whole area of the affected eye was displayed, with a broad golden

  piece of chaff splayed out across the dark cornea. I only had a glimpse

  of it before Siegfried's little forceps had seized it and whisked it


  "Squeeze in some of that ointment, Tristan," said my employer. "And get

  the muzzle off, James, before she starts to rock."

  With the bag away from her face and the tormenting little object gone

  from her eye the cow looked around her, vastly relieved. The whole thing

  had taken only a minute or two and was as slick a little exhibition as

  you'd wish to see, but Mr. Kendall didn't seem to think a great deal of


  "Aye right," he grunted. "Let's get on with t'next job."

  As we went down the byre I looked out and saw a horse being led across

  the yard. Siegfried pointed to it.

  "Is that the gelding I operated on for fistulous withers?" he asked.

  "That's the one." The farmer's voice was airy.

  We went out and Siegfried ran his hand over the horse's shoulders. The

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