Let sleeping vets lie, p.4
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.4James 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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes