Vet in harness, p.5
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       Vet in Harness, p.5

           James Herriot
 
Herriot.'

  "No,' I said, hanging the cage with the new bird up in its place by the

  window. "I think you'll find all is well now.'

  It was months before I had the courage to put my hand into a budgie's

  cage again. In fact to this day I prefer it if the owners will lift the

  birds out for me. People look at me strangely when I ask them to do

  this; I believe they think I am scared the little things might bite me.

  It was a long time, too, before I dared go back to Mrs Tompkins but I

  was driving down Jasmine Terrace one day and on an impulse I stopped

  outside Number 14.

  The old lady herself came to the door.

  "How .. .' I said. "How is .. . er .. .?'

  She peered at me closely for a moment then laughed. "Oh I see who it is

  now. You mean Peter, don't you, Mr Herriot. Oh 'e's just grand. Come in

  and see 'im'

  In the little room the cage still hung by the window and Peter the

  Second took a quick look at me then put on a little act for my benefit;

  he hopped around the bars of the cage, ran up and down his ladder and

  rang his little bell a couple of times before returning to his perch.

  His mistress reached up, tapped the metal and looked lovingly at him.

  "You know, you wouldn't believe it,' she said. "He's like a different

  bird.'

  I swallowed. "Is that so? In what way?'

  "Well he's so active now. Lively as can be. You know 'e chatters to me

  all day long. It's wonderful what cutting' a beak can do.'

  Chapter Six.

  This was one for Granville Bennett. I liked a bit of small animal

  surgery and was gradually doing more as time went on but this one

  frightened me. A twelve-year-old spaniel bitch in the last stages of

  pyometritis, pus dripping from her vulva on to the surgery table,

  temperature a hundred and four, panting, trembling, and, as I held my

  stethoscope against her chest I could hear the classical signs of

  valvular insufficiency. A dicky heart was just what I needed on top of

  everything else.

  "Drinking a lot of water, is she?' I asked.

  Old Mrs Barker twisted the strings of her shopping bag anxiously. "Aye,

  she never seems to be away from the water bowl. But she won't eat -

  hasn't had a bite for the last four days.'

  "Well I don't know,' I took off my stethoscope and stuffed it in my

  pocket. You should have brought her in long ago. She must have been ill

  for weeks.'

  "Not rightly ill, but a bit off it. I thought there was nothing to worry

  about as long as she was eating.'

  I didn't say anything for a few moments. I had no desire to upset the

  old girl but she had to be told.

  "I'm afraid this is rather serious, Mrs Barker. The condition has been

  building up for a long time. It's in her womb, you see, a bad infection,

  and the only cure is an operation.'

  "Well will you do it, please?' The old lady's lips quivered.

  I came round the table and put my hand on her shoulder.

  "I'd like to, but there are snags. She's in poor shape and twelve years

  old. Really a poor operation risk. I'd like to take her through to the

  Veterinary Hospital at Hartington and let Mr Bennett operate on her.'

  "All right,' she said, nodding eagerly. "I don't care what it costs.'

  "Oh we'll keep it down as much as possible.' I walked along the passage

  with her and showed her out of the door. "Leave her with me I'll look

  after her, don't worry. What's her name, by the way?'

  "Dinah,' she replied huskily, still peering past me down the passage.

  I went through and lifted the phone. Thirty years ago country

  practitioners had to turn to the small animal experts when anything

  unusual cropped up in that line. It is different nowadays when our

  practices are more mixed. In Darrowby now we have the staff and

  equipment to tackle any type of small animal surgery but it was

  different then. I had heard it said that sooner or later every large

  animal man had to scream for help from Granville Bennett and now it was

  my turn.

  "Hello, is that Mr Bennett?'

  "It is indeed.' A big voice, friendly, full of give.

  "Herriot here. I'm with Farnon in Darrowby.'

  "Of course! Heard of you, laddie, heard of you.'

  "Oh .. . er .. . thanks. Look, I've got a bit of a sticky job here. I

  wonder if you'd take it on for me.'

  "Delighted, laddie, what is it?'

  ' A real stinking pyo.'

  "Oh lovely!'

  "The bitch is twelve years old.'

  "Splendid!'

  "And toxic as hell.'

  "Excellent!'

  "And one of the worst hearts I've heard for a long time.'

  "Fine, fine! When are you coming through?'

  "This evening, if it's O.K. with you. About eight.'

  "Couldn't be better, laddie. See you.'

  Hartington was a fair-sized town - about 2(~0,000 inhabitants - but as I

  drove into the centre the traffic had thinned and only a few cars rolled

  past the rows of shop fronts. I hoped my twenty-five mile journey had

  been worth it. Dinah, stretched out on a blanket in the back looked as

  if she didn't care either way. I glanced behind me at the head drooping

  over the edge of the seat, at the white muzzle and the cataracts in her

  eyes gleaming palely in the light from the dash. She looked so old.

  Maybe I was wasting my time, placing too much faith in this man's

  reputation.

  There was do doubt Granville Bennett had become something of a legend in

  northern England. In those days when specialisation was almost unknown

  he had gone all out for small animal work - never looked at farm stock -

  and had set a new standard by the modern procedures in his animal

  hospital which was run as nearly as possible on human lines. It was, in

  fact, fashionable for veterinary surgeons of that era to belittle dog

  and cat work; a lot of the older men who had spent their lives among the

  teeming thousands of draught horses in city and agriculture would

  sneer,"Oh I've no time to bother with those damn things.' Bennet had

  gone dead in the opposite direction.

  I had never met him but I knew he was a young man in his early thirties.

  I had heard a lot about his skill, his business acumen, and about his

  reputation as a l~on viveur. He was, they said, a dedicated devotee of

  the work-hardplay- hard school.

  The Veterinary Hospital was a long low building near the top of a busy

  street. I drove into a yard and knocked at a door in the corner. I was

  looking with some awe at a gleaming Bentley dwarfing my own battered

  little Austin when the door was opened by a pretty receptionist.

  "Good evening,' she murmured with a dazzling smile which I thought must

  be worth another half crown on the bill for a start. "Do come in, Mr

  Bennett is expecting you.'

  I was shown into a waiting room with magazines and flowers on a corner

  table and many impressive photographs of dogs and cats on the walls

  taken, I learned later, by the principal himself. I was looking closely

  at a superb study of two white poodles when I heard a footstep behind

  me. I turned and had my first view of Granville Bennett.

  He seemed to fill the room. Not over tall b
ut of tremendous bulk. Fat, I

  thought at first, but as he came nearer it seemed to me that the tissue

  of which he was composed wasn't distributed like fat. He wasn't fiabby,

  he didn't stick out in any particular place, he was just a big wide,

  solid, hard-looking man. From the middle of a pleasant blunt-featured

  face the most magnificent pipe I had ever seen stuck forth shining and

  glorious, giving out delicious wisps of expensive smoke. It was an

  enormous pipe, in fact it would have looked downright silly with a

  smaller man, but on him it was a thing of beauty. I had a final

  impression of a beautifully cut dark suit and sparkling shirt cuffs as

  he held out a hand.

  "James Herriot!' He said it as somebody else might have said "Winston

  Churchill', or "Stanley Matthews'.

  "That's right.'

  "Well, this is grand. Jim, is it?'

  "Well yes, usually.'

  "Lovely We've got everything laid on for you, Jim. The girls are waiting

  in the theatre.'

  "That's very kind of you, Mr Bennett.'

  "Granville, Granville please!' He put his arm through mine and led me to

  the operating room.

  Dinah was already there, looking very woebegone. She had had a sedative

  injection and her head nodded wearily Bennett went over to her and gave

  her a swift examination.

  "Mm, yes, let's get on, then.'

  The two girls went into action like cogs in a smooth machine. Bennett

  kept a large lay staff and these animal nurses, both attractive, clearly

  knew what they were about. While one of them pulled up the anaesthetic

  and instrument trolleys the other seized Dinah's foreleg expertly above

  the elbow, raised the radial vein by pressure and quickly clipped and

  disinfected the area.

  The big man strolled up with a loaded needle and effortlessly slipped

  the needle into the vein.

  "Pentothal,' he said as Dinah slowly collapsed and lay unconscious on

  the table. It was one of the new short-acting anaesthetics which I had

  never seen used.

  While Bennett scrubbed up and donned sterilised gown and cap the girls

  rolled Dinah on her back and secured her there with ties to loops on the

  operating table. They applied the ether and oxygen mask to her face then

  shaved and swabbed the operation site. The big man returned in time to

  have a scalpel placed in his hand.

  With almost casual speed he incised skin and muscle layers and when he

  went through the peritoneum the horns of the uterus which in normal

  health would have been two slim pink ribbons now welled into the wound

  like twin balloons, swollen and turgid with pus. No wonder Dinah had

  felt ill, carrying that lot around with her.

  The stubby fingers tenderly worked round the mass, ligated the ovarian

  vessels and uterine body then removed the whole thing and dropped it

  into an enamel bowl. It wasn't till he had begun to stitch that I

  realised that the operation was nearly over though he had been at the

  table for only a few minutes. It would all have looked childishly easy

  except that his total involvement showed in occasional explosive

  commands to the nurses.

  And as I watched him working under the shadowless lamp with the white

  tiled walls around him and the rows of instruments gleaming by his side

  it came to me with a rush of mixed emotions that this was what I had

  always wanted to do myself. My dreams when I had first decided on

  veterinary work had been precisely of this. Yet here I was, a somewhat

  shaggy cow doctor; or perhaps more correctly a farm physician, but

  certainly something very different. The scene before me was a far cry

  from my routine of kicks and buffets, of muck and sweat. And yet I had

  no regrets; the life which had been forced on me by circumstances had

  turned out to be a thing of magical fulfilment. It came to me with a

  flooding certainty that I would rather spend my days driving over the

  unfenced roads of the high country than stooping over that operating

  table.

  And anyway I couldn't have been a Bennett. I don't think I could have

  matched his technique and this whole set up was eloquent of a lot of

  things like business sense, foresight and driving ambition which I just

  didn't possess.

  ~ 1

  ~My colleague was finished now and was fitting up an intravenous saline

  drip. He taped the needle down in the vein then turned to me.

  "That's it, then, Jim. It's up to the old girl now.' He began to lead me

  from the room and it struck me how very pleasant it must be to finish

  your job and walk away from it like this. In Darrowby I'd have been

  starting now to wash the instruments, scrub the table, and the final

  scene would have been of Herriot the great surgeon swilling the floor

  with mop and bucket. This was a better way.

  Back in the waiting room Bennett pulled on his jacket and extracted from

  a side pocket the immense pipe which he inspected with a touch of

  anxiety as if he feared mice had been nibbling at it in his absence. He

  wasn't satisfied with his examination because he brought forth a soft

  yellow cloth and began to polish the briar with intense absorption. Then

  he held the pipe high, moving it slightly from side to side, his eyes

  softening at the play of the light on the exquisite grain. Finally he

  produced a pouch of mammoth proportions, filled the bowl, applied a

  match with a touch of reverence and closed his eyes as a fragrant mist

  drifted from his lips.

  "That baccy smells marvelous,' I said. "What is it?'

  "Navy Cut De Luxe.' He closed his eyes again. "You know, I could eat the

  smoke.'

  I laughed. "I use the ordinary Navy Cut myself.'

  He gazed at me like a sorrowing Buddha, "Oh you mustn't, laddie, you

  mustn't. This is the only stuff. Rich ... fruity ... ' His hand made

  languid motions in the air. "Here, you can take some away with you.'

  He pulled open a drawer. I had a brief view of a stock which wouldn't

  have disgraced a fair-sized tobacconist's shop; innumberable tins,

  pipes, cleaners, reamers, cloths.

  "Try this,' he said, 'and tell me if I'm not right.'

  I looked down at the first container in my hand. "Oh but I can't take

  all this. It's a four ounce tin!'

  "Rubbish, my boy. Put it in your pocket.' He became suddenly brisk. "Now

  I expect you'll want to hang around till old Dinah comes out of the

  anaesthetic so why don't we have a quick beer? I'm a member of a nice

  little club just across the road.'

  "Well fine, sounds great.'

  He moved lightly and swiftly for a big man and I had to hurry to keep up

  with him as he left the surgery and crossed to a building on the other

  side of the street.

  Inside the club was masculine comfort, hails of welcome from some

  prosperous looking members and a friendly greeting from the man behind

  the bar.

  "Two pints, Fred,' murmured Bennett absently, and the drinks appeared

  with amazing speed. My colleague poured his down apparently without

  swallowing and turned to me.

  "Another Jim?'

  Chapter Seven.

  I had just tried
a sip at mine and began to gulp anxiously at the bitter

  ale. "Right, but let me get this one.'

  "No can do, laddie.' He ~glanced at me with mild severity. "Only members

  can buy drinks. Same again, Fred.'

  I found I had two glasses at my elbow and with a tremendous effort I got

  the first one down. Gasping slightly I was surveying the second one

  timidly when I noticed that Bennett was threequarters down his. As I

  watched he drained it effortlessly.

  "You're slow, Jim,' he said, smiling indulgently. "Just set them up

  again will you, Fred.'

  In some alarm I watched the barman ply his handle and attacked my second

  pint resolutely. I surprised myself by forcing it over my tonsils then,

  breathing heavily I got hold of the third one just as Bennett spoke

  again.

  "We'll just have one for the road, Jim,' he said pleasantly. "Would you

  be so kind, Fred?'

  This was ridiculous but I didn't want to appear a piker at our first

  meeting. With something akin to desperation I raised the third and began

  to suck feebly at it. When my glass was empty I almost collapsed against

  the counter. My stomach was agonisingly distended and a light

  perspiration had broken out on my brow. As I almost lay there I saw my

  colleague moving across the carpet towards the door.

  "Time we were off, Jim,' he said. "Drink up.'

  It's wonderful what the human frame can tolerate when put to the test. I

  would have taken bets that it was impossible for me to drink that fourth

  pint without at least half an hour's rest, preferably in the prone

  position, but as Bennett's shoe tapped impatiently I tipped the beer a

  little at a time into my mouth, feeling it wash around my back teeth

  before incredibly disappearing down my gullet. I believe the water

  torture was a favourite with the Spanish Inquisition and as the pressure

  inside me increased I knew just how their victims felt.

  When I at last blindly replaced my glass and splashed my way from the

  bar the big man was holding the door open. Outside in the street he

  placed an arm across my shoulder.

  "The old Spaniel won't be out of it yet,' he said. "We'll just slip to

  my house and have a bite - I'm a little peckish.'

  Sunk in the deep upholstery of the Bentley, cradling my swollen abdomen

  in my arms I watched the shop fronts Hicker past the windows and give

  way to the darkness of the open countryside. We drew up outside a fine

  grey stone house in a typical Yorkshire village and Bennett ushered me

  inside.

  He pushed me towards a leather armchair. "Make yourself at home, laddie.

  Zoe's out-at the moment but I'll get some grub.' He bustled through to

  the kitchen and reappeared in seconds with a deep bowl which he placed

  on a table by my side.

  "You know, Jim,' he said, rubbing his hands. "There's nothing better

  after beer than a few pickled onions.'

  I cast a timorous glance into the bowl. Everything in this man's life

  seemed to be larger than life, even the onions. They were bigger than

  golf balls,. brownish-white, glistening. ;

  "Well thanks Mr Ben ... Granville.' I took one of them, held it between

  finger and thumb and stared at it helplessly. The beer hadn't even begun

  to sort 3 itself out inside me; the idea of starting on this

  potent-looking vegetable was unthinkable. '-I Granville reached into the

  bowl, popped an onion into his mouth, crunched] it quickly, swallowed

  and sank his teeth into a second. "By God, that's good~

  You know, my little wife's a marvelous cook. She even makes pickled

  onions better than anyone.'

  Munching happily he moved over to the sideboard and clinked around for a

  few moments before placing in my hand a heavy cut glass tumbler about

 
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