Let sleeping vets lie, p.5
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.5James Herriot
broad; fibrous scar over the withers was all that was left of the
discharging, stinking sinus of a few weeks back. Healing was perfect.
These cases were desperately difficult to treat and I remembered my boss
cutting and chiselling at the mass of necrotic tissue, curetting deeply
till only healthy flesh and bone remained), His efforts had been
rewarded; it was a brilliant success. ~
Siegfried gave the gelding a final pat on the neck. "That's done rather
Mr. Kendall shrugged and turned back towards the byre. "Aye, not so bad,
suppose." But he really wasn't impressed.
The cow with the tumour was standing just inside the door. The growth w
in the perineal region, a smooth round object like an apple projecting
from the animal's rear end, clearly visible an inch to the right of the
Mr. Kendall was in full cry again. "Now we'll see what you're made of.
How are you chaps going to get that thing off, eh? It's a big 'un you'll
need a carving knife or a hack saw for t'job. And are you going" to put
her to sleep or tie her up or what?" He Grinned and his hrieh" little
eves darted at each of us in turn.
Siegfried reached out and grasped the tumour, feeling round the base
with his fingers. "Hmm ... yes ... hmm ... bring me some soap and water
and a towel, will you please?"
"I have it just outside "'door." The farmer scuttled into the yard and
back again with the bucket.
"Thank you very much," Siegfried said. He washed his hands and gave them
a leisurely towelling. "Now I believe you have another case to see. A
scouring calf, wasn't it?"
The farmer's eyes widened. "Yes, I 'ave. But how about getting this big
lump off the cow first ?"
Siegfried folded the towel and hung it over the half door. "Oh, I've
removed the tumour," he said quietly.
"What's that?" Mr. Kendall stared at the cow's backside. We all stared
at it. And there was no doubt about it - the growth was gone. And there
was another funny thing - there wasn't even a scar or mark remaining. I
was standing quite close to the animal and I could see exactly to a
fraction of an inch where that big ugly projection had been; and there
was nothing, not a drop of blood, nothing.
"Aye," Mr. Kendall said irresolutely. "You've er ... you've removed ...
you've removed it, aye, that's right." The smile had vanished from his
face and his entire personality seemed suddenly deflated. Being a man
who knew everything and was surprised by nothing he was unable to say,
"When the devil did you do it? And how? And what on earth have you done
with it?" He had to maintain face at all costs, but he was rattled. He
darted little glances around the byre, along the channel. The cow was
standing in a clean-swept stall with no straw and there was nothing
Lying on the floor there or anywhere. Casually, as though by accident,
he pushed a milkirtg stool to one side with his foot - still nothing.
"Well now, perhaps we can see the calf." Siegfried began to move away.
Mr. Kendall nodded. "Yes ... yes ... the calf. He's in "'corner there.
I'll just lift bucket first."
It was a blatant excuse. He went over to the bucket and as he passed
behind the cow he whipped out his spectacles, jammed them on his nose
and directed a piercing glare at the cow's bottom. He only took an
instant because he didn't want to show undue concern, but when he turned
back towards us his face registered utter despair and he put his
spectacles away with a weary gesture of defeat.
As he approached I turned and brushed against my employer.
"Where the hell is it?" I hissed.
"Up my sleeve," murmured Siegfried without moving his lips or changing
"What ... ?" I began, but Siegfried was climbing over a gate into the
makeshift pen where the calf was cornered.
He was in expansive mood as he examined the little creature and injected
it. He kept up a steady flow of light conversation and Mr. Kendall,
showing great character, managed to get his smile back on and answer
back. But his preoccupied manner" the tortured eyes and the repeated
incredulous glances back along the byre floor in the direction of the
cow betrayed the fact that he was under ~immense strain.
Siegfried didn't hurry over the calf and when he had finished he
lingered a " _ _c, , while in the yard, chatting about the weather, the
way the grass was springing, the price of fat bullocks.
Mr. Kendall hung on grimly but by the time Siegfried finally waved
farewell the farmer's eyes were popping and his face was an anguished
mask. He bolted back into the byre and as the car backed round I could
see him bent double with his glasses on again, peering into the corners.
"Poor fellow," I said. "He's still looking for that thing. And for God's
sake where is it, anyway?"
"I told you, didn't I?" Siegfried removed one arm from the wheel and
shook it. A round fleshy ball rolled down into his hand.
I stared at it in amazement. "But ... I never saw you take it off ...
what happened ?"
"I'll tell you." My employer smiled indulgently. "I was fingering it
over to see how deeply it was attached when I felt it begin to move. The
back of it was merely encapsulated by the skin and when I gave another
squeeze it just popped out and shot up my sleeve. And after it had gone
the lips of the skin sprang back together again so that you couldn't see
where it had been. Extraordinary thing."
Tristan reached over from the back seat. "Give it to me," he said. "I'll
take it back to college with me and get it sectioned. We'll find out
what kind of tumour it is."
His brother smiled. "Yes, I expect they'll give it some fancy name, but
I'll always remember it as the only thing that shook Mr. Kendall."
"That was an interesting session in there," I said. "And I must say I
admired the way you dealt with that eye, Siegfried. Very smooth indeed."
"You're very kind, James," my boss murmured. "That was just one of my
little tricks - and of course the forceps helped a lot."
I nodded. "Yes, wonderful little things. I've never seen anything like
them. Where did you get them?"
"Picked them up on an instrument stall at the last Veterinary Congress.
They cost me a packet but they've been worth it. Here, let me show them
to you." He put his hand in his breast pocket, then his side pockets,
and as he continued to rummage all over his person a look of sick dismay
spread slowly across his face.
Finally he abandoned the search, cleared his throat and fixed his eyes
on the road ahead.
"I'll er ... I'll show you them some other time, James," he said
I didn't say anything but I knew and Siegfried knew and Tristan knew..
He'd left them on the farm.
"Well, it's a good sign." Tristan reluctantly expelled a lungful of
Woodbine~ smoke and looked at me with wide, encouraging eyes.
"You think so?" I said doubtfully Tristan nodded. "Sure of it. Helen
just rang you up, did she?"
pictures that night and it's been hectic ever since with the lambing and
suddenly there she was asking me to tea on Sunday.
"I like the sound of it," Tristan said. "But of course you don't want to
get the idea you're home and dry or anything like that. You know there
are others in the field?"
"Hell, yes, I suppose I'm one of a crowd."
"Not exactly, but Helen Alderson is really something. Not just a looker
but .. mm-mm, very nice. There's a touch of class about that girl."
"Oh I know, I know. There's bound to be a mob of blokes after her. Like
young Richard Edmundson - I hear he's very well placed."
"That's right," Tristan said. "Old friends of the family, big farmers,
rolling in brass. I understand old man Alderson fancies Richard strongly
as a son-in-law."
I dug my hands into my pockets. "Can't blame him. A ragged-arced young
vet isn't much competition."
"Well, don't be gloomy, "In a way," I said with old lad, you've made a
bit of progress, haven't you?" a wry smile. "I've taken her out twice to
a dinner dance which wasn't on and to a cinema showing the wrong film. A
dead loss the first time and not much better the second. I just don't
seem to have any luck there - something goes wrong every time. Maybe
this invitation is just a polite gesture - returning hospitality or
something like that."
"Nonsense!" Tristan laughed and patted me on the shoulder. "This is the
beginning of better things. You'll see - nothing will go wrong this
And on Sunday afternoon as I got out of the car to open the gate to
Heston Grange it did seem as if all was right with the world. The rough
track snaked down from the gate through the fields to Helen's home
slumbering in the sunshine by the curving river, and the grey-stoned old
building was like a restful haven against the stark backcloth of the
I leaned on the gate for a moment, breathing in the sweet air. There had
been a change during the last week; the harsh winds had dropped,
everything had softened and greened and the warming land gave off its
scents. On the lower slopes of the fell, in the shade of the pine woods,
a pale mist of bluebells drifted among the dead bronze of the bracken
and their fragrance came up to me on the breeze.
I drove down the track among the cows relishing the tender young grass
after their long winter in the byres and as I knocked on the farmhouse
door I felt a surge of optimism and well-being. Helen's younger sister
answered and it wasn't until I walked into the big flagged kitchen that
I experienced a qualm. Maybe it was because it was so like that first
disastrous time I had called for Helen; Mr. Alderson was there by the
fireside, deep in the Farmer and Stockbreeder as before, while above his
head the cows in the vast oil painting still paddled in the lake of
startling blue under the shattered peaks. On the whitewashed wall the
clock still tick-tocked inexorably.
Helen's father looked up over his spectacles just as he had done before.
"Good afternoon, young man, come and sit down." And as I dropped into
the chair Opposite to him he looked at me uncertainly for a few seconds.
"It's a better day," he murmured, then his eyes were drawn back
irresistibly to the pages on his knee As he bent his head and started to
read again I gained the strong impression that he hadn't the slightest
idea who I was.
It came back to me forcibly that there was a big difference in coming to
a farm as a vet and visiting socially. I was often in farm kitchens on
my rounds, washing my hands in the sink after kicking my boots off in
the porch, chatting effortlessly to the farmer's wife about the sick
beast. But here I was in my good suit sitting stiffly across from a
silent little man whose daughter I had come to Court. It wasn't the same
I was relieved when Helen came in carrying a cake which she placed on
the big table. This wasn't easy as the table was already loaded; ham and
egg pies rubbing shoulders with snowy scones, a pickled tongue cheek by
jowl with a bowl of mixed salad, luscious-looking custard tarts
jockeying for position with sausage rolls, tomato sandwiches, fairy
cakes. In a clearing near the centre a vast trifle reared its
cream-topped head. It was a real Yorkshire tea.
Helen came over to me. "Hello, Jim, it's nice to see you - you're quite
a stranger." She smiled her slow, friendly smile.
"Hello, Helen. Yes, you know what lambing time's like. I hope things
will ease up a bit now."
"Well I hope so too. Hard work's all right up to a point but you need a
break some time. Anyway, come and have some tea. Are you hungry?"
"I am now," I said, gazing at the packed foodstuffs. Helen laughed.
"Well come on, sit in. Dad, leave your precious Farmer and Stockbreeder
and come over here. We were going to sit you in the dining room, Jim,
but Dad won't have his tea anywhere but in here, so that's all about
I took my place along with Helen, young Tommy and Mary her brother and
sister, and Auntie Lucy, Mr. Alderson's widowed sister who had recently
come to live with the family. Mr. Alderson groaned his way over the
flags, collapsed on to a high-backed wooden chair and began to saw
phlegmatically at the tongue.
As I accepted my laden plate I can't say I felt entirely at ease. In the
course of my work I had eaten many meals in the homes of the hospitable
Dalesmen and I had discovered that light chatter was not welcomed at
table. The accepted thing, particularly among the more old-fashioned
types, was to put the food away in silence and get back on the job, but
maybe this was different. Sunday tea might be a more social occasion; I
looked round the table, waiting for somebody to lead the way.
Helen spoke up. "Jim's had a busy time among the sheep since we saw him
"Oh yes?" auntie Lucy put her head on one side and smiled. She was a
little bird-like woman, very like her brother and the way she looked at
me made me feel she was on my side.
The young people regarded me fixedly with twitching mouths. The only
other time I had met them they had found me an object of some amusement
and things didn't seem to have changed. Mr. Alderson sprinkled some salt
on a radish, conveyed it to his mouth and crunched it impassively.
"Did you have much twin lamb disease this time, Jim?" Helen asked,
- "Quite a bit," I replied brightly. "Haven't had much luck with
treatment, though. I tried dosing the ewes with glucose this year and I
think it did a bit of good."
Mr. Alderson swallowed the last of his radish. "I think nowt to
glucose," he grunted. "I've had a go with it and I think nowt to it."
"Really?" I said. "Well now that's interesting. Yes ... yes ... quite."
I buried myself in my salad for a spell before offering a further
"There's been a lot of sudden deaths in the lambs," I said. "Seems to be
"Fancy that," said Auntie Lucy, smiling encouragingly.
"Yes," I went on, getting into my stride. "It's a good job we've got a
vaccine against it now."
"Wonderful things, those vaccines," Helen chipped in. "You'll soon be
able to prevent a lot of the sheep diseases that way." The conversation
was warming up.
Mr. Alderson finished his tongue and pushed his plate away. "I think
nowt to the vaccines. And those sudden deaths you're on about - they're
caused by wool ball on "'stomach. Nowt to do wi" the kidneys."
"Ah yes, wool ball eh? I see, wool ball." I subsided and decided to
concentrate on the food.
And it was worth concentrating on. As I worked my way through I was
aware of a growing sense of wonder that Helen had probably baked the
entire spread It was when my teeth were sinking into a poem of a curd
tart that I really began to appreciate the miracle that somebody of
Helen's radiant attractiveness should be capable of this.
I looked across at her. She was a big girl, nothing like her little wisp
of a father. She must have taken after her mother. Mrs. Alderson had
been dead for many years and I wondered if she had had that same wide,
generous mouth that smiled so easily, those same warm blue eyes under
the soft mass of black-brown hair.
A spluttering from Tommy and Mary showed that they had been
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes