It shouldnt happen to a.., p.6
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.6

           James Herriot
 
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that the hand of retribution was hovering over that happy band. This

  was, in fact, a fateful night, because ten minutes after I had left, Mr.

  Worley's pub was raided. Perhaps that is a rather dramatic word, but it

  happened that it was the constable's annual holiday and the relief man,

  a young policeman who did not share Mr. Dalloway's liberal views, had

  come up on his bicycle and pinched everybody in the place.

  The account of the court proceedings in the Darrowby and Houlton Times

  made good reading. Gobber Newhouse and company were all fined f2 each

  and warned as to their future conduct. The magistrates, obviously a

  heartless lot, had remained unmoved by Gobber's passionate protestations

  that the beer in the glasses had all been purchased before closing time

  and that he and his friends had been lingering over it in light

  conversation for the subsequent four hours.

  Mr. Worley was fined 15 but I don't think he really minded; Marigold and

  her litter were doing well.

  Chapter Eight.

  This was the last gate. I got out to open it since Tristan was driving,

  and looked back at the farm, a long way below us now, and at the marks

  our tyres had made on the steep, grassy slopes. Strange places, some of

  these Dales farms; this one had no road to it - not even a track. From

  down there you just drove across the fields from gate to gate till you

  got to the main road above the valley. And this was the last one; ten

  minuses' driving and we'd be home.

  Tristan was acting as my chauffeur, as my left hand had been infected

  after . a bad calving and I had my arm in a sling. He didn't drive up

  through the gate : but got out of the car, leaned his back against the

  gate post and lit a Woodbine. - /1

  Obviously he wasn't in any rush to leave. And with the sun warm on the

  back ~ of his neck and the two bottles of Whitbread's nestling

  comfortably in his r l l 1

  .~ ll l : i stomach I could divine that he felt pretty good. Come to

  think of it, it had been all right back there. He had taken some warts

  off a heifer's teats and the farmer had said he shaped well for a young

  'un, ("Aye, you really framed at t'job, lad') and asked us in for a

  bottle of beer since it was so hot. Impressed by the ecstatic speed with

  which Tristan had consumed his, he had given him another.

  Yes, it had been all right, and I could see Tristan thought so too. With

  a smile of utter content he took a long, deep gulp of moorland air and

  Woodbine smoke and closed his eyes.

  He opened them quickly as a grinding noise came from the car. "Christ!

  She's off, Jim!" he shouted.

  The little Austin was moving gently backwards down the slope - it must

  have slipped out of gear and it had no brakes to speak of. We both

  leaped after it. Tristan was nearest and he just managed to touch the

  bonnet with one finger;

  the speed was too much for him. We gave it up and watched.

  The hillside was steep and the little car rapidly gathered momentum,

  bouncing crazily over the uneven ground. I glanced at Tristan; his mind

  invariably worked quickly and clearly in a crisis and I had a good idea

  what he was thinking. It was only a fortnight since he had turned the

  Hillman over, taking a girl home from a dance. It had been a complete

  write-off and the insurance people had been rather nasty about it; and

  of course Siegfried had gone nearly berserk and had finished by sacking

  him finally, once and for all - never wanted to see his face in the

  place again.

  But he had been sacked so often; he knew he had only to keep out of his

  way for a bit and his brother would forget. And he had been lucky this

  time because Siegfried had talked his bank manager into letting him buy

  a beautiful new Rover and this had blotted everything else from his

  mind.

  It was distinctly unfortunate that this should happen when he, as

  driver, was technically in charge of the Austin. The car appeared now to

  be doing about 70 m.p.h. hurtling terrifyingly down the long, green

  hill. One by one the doors burst open till all four flapped wildly and

  the car swooped downwards looking like a huge, ungainly bird.

  From the open doors, bottles, instruments, bandages, cotton wool

  cascaded out onto the turf, leaving a long, broken trail. Now and again

  a packet of nux vomica and bicarb stomach powder would fly out and burst

  like a bomb, splashing vivid white against the green.

  Tristan threw up his arms. "Look! The bloody thing's going straight for

  that hut." He drew harder on his Woodbine.

  There was indeed only one obstruction on the bare hillside - a small

  building near the foot where the land levelled out and the Austin, as if

  drawn by a magnet, was thundering straight towards it.

  I couldn't bear to watch. Just before the impact I turned away and

  focused my attention on the end of Tristan's cigarette which was glowing

  bright red when the crash came. When I looked back down the hill the

  building was no longer there. It had been completely flattened and

  everything I had ever heard about houses of cards surged into my mind.

  On top of the shattered timbers the little car lay peacefully on its

  side, its wheels still turning lazily.

  As we galloped down the hill it was easy to guess Tristan's thoughts. He

  wouldn't be looking forward to telling Siegfried he had wrecked the

  Austin; in fact it was something the mind almost refused to contemplate.

  But as we neared the scene of devastation, passing on our way syringes,

  scalpels, bottles of vaccine, it was difficult to see any other outcome.

  Arriving at the car, we made an anxious inspection. The body had been so

  bashed and dented before that it wasn't easy to identify any new marks.

  Certainly the rear end was pretty well caved in but it didn't show up

  very much. The only obvious damage was a smashed rear light. Our hopes

  rising, we set off for the farm for help.

  The farmer greeted us amiably. "Now then, you lads, haste come back for

  more beer."

  "It wouldn't come amiss," Tristan replied. "We've had a bit of an

  accident."

  We went into the house and the hospitable man opened some more bottles.

  He didn't seem disturbed when he heard of the demolition of the hut.

  "Nay, that's not mine. Belongs to t'golf club - it's t'club house."

  Tristan's eyebrows shot up. "Oh no! Don't say we've flattened the

  headquarters of the Darrowby Golf Club."

  "Aye, lad, you must have. It's t'only wooden building in them fields. I

  rent that part of my land to the club and they've made a little nine

  hole course. Don't worry, hardly anybody plays on it - mainly t'bank

  manager and ah don't like that feller."

  Mr. Prescott got a horse out of the stable and we went back to the car

  and pulled it upright again. Trembling a little, Tristan climbed in and

  pressed the starter. The sturdy little engine burst into a confident

  roar immediately and he drove carefully over the prostrate wooden walls

  on to the grass.

  "Well thanks a lot, Mr. Prescott," he shouted. "We seem to have got away

  with it."

  "Champion, l
ad, champion. You're as good as new." Then the farmer winked

  and held up a finger. "Now you say nowt about this job and I'll say

  nowt. Right ."

  "Right! Come on, Jim, get in." Tristan put his foot down and we chugged

  thankfully up the hill once more.

  He seemed thoughtful on the way and didn't speak till we got on to the

  road.

  Then he turned to me. I "You know, Jim, it's all very well, but I've

  still got to confess to Siegfried about that rear light. And of course

  I'll get the lash again. Don't you think it's just a bit hard the way I

  get blamed for everything that happens to his cars? You've seen it over

  and over again - he gives me a lot of bloody old wrecks to drive and

  when they start to fall to bits it's always my fault. The bloody tyres

  are all down to the canvas but if I get a puncture there's hell to pay.

  It isn't fair."

  "Well Siegfried isn't the man to suffer in silence, you know." I said.

  "He's got to lash out and you're nearest."

  Tristan was silent for a moment then he took a deeper drag at his

  Woodbine, blew out his cheeks and assumed a judicial expression. "Mind

  you, I'm not saying I was entirely blameless with regard to the Hillman

  - I was taking that sharp turn in Dringley at sixty with my arm round a

  little nurse - but all in all I've just had sheer bad luck. In fact,

  Jim, I'm a helpless victim of prejudice."

  Siegfried was out of sorts when we met in the surgery. He was starting a

  summer cold and was sniffly and listless, but he still managed to raise

  a burst of energy at the news.

  "You bloody young maniac! It's the rear light now, is it? God help me, I

  think all I work for is to pay for the repair bills you run up. You'll

  ruin me before you're finished. Go on, get to hell out of it. I'm

  finished with you."

  Tristan retired with dignity and followed his usual policy of Lying low.

  He didn't see his brother until the following morning. Siegfried's

  condition had deteriorated; the cold had settled in his throat, always

  his weak spot, and he was down with laryngitis. His neck was swathed in

  vinegar-soaked Thermogene and when Tristan and I came into the bedroom

  he was feebly turning over the pages of the Darrowby and Houlton Times.

  He spoke in a tortured whisper. "Have you seen this? It says here that

  the golf clubhouse was knocked down yesterday and there's no clue as to

  how it 1

  ," l j.

  <1111 :~

  happened. Damn funny thing. On Prescott's land, isn't it?" His head

  jerked suddenly from the pillow and he glared at his brother. "You were

  there yesterday!" he croaked, then he fell back, muttering. "Oh no, no,

  I'm sorry, it's too ridiculous - and it's wrong of me to blame you for

  everything."

  Tristan stared. He had never heard this kind of talk from Siegfried

  before. I too felt a pang of anxiety; could my boss be delirious?

  Siegfried swallowed painfully. "I've just had an urgent call from

  Armitage of Sorton. He's got a cow down with milk fever and I want you

  to drive James out there straight away. Go on, now - get moving."

  "Afraid I can't, Tristan shrugged. "Jim's car is in Hammond's garage.

  They're fixing that light - it'll take them about an hour."

  "Oh God, yes, and they said they couldn't let us have a spare. Well,

  Armitage is in a bit of a panic - that cow could be dead in an hour.

  What the hell can we do."

  "There's the Rover," Tristan said quietly.

  Siegfried's form stiffened suddenly under the blankets and wild terror

  flickered in his eyes. For a few moments his head rolled about on the

  pillow and his long, bony fingers picked nervously at the quilt, then

  with an effort he heaved himself on to his side and stared into his

  brother's eyes He spoke slowly and the agonised hissing of his voice

  lent menace to his words.

  "Right, so you'll have to take the Rover. I never thought I'd see the

  day when I'd let a wrecker like you drive it, but just let me tell you

  this. If you put a scratch on that car I'll kill you. I'll kill you with

  my own two hands."

  The old pattern was asserting itself. Siegfried's eyes had begun to

  bulge, a dark flush was creeping over his cheeks while Tristan's face

  had lost all expression.

  Using the last remnants of his strength, Siegfried hoisted himself even

  higher. "Now do you really think you are capable of driving that car

  five miles to Sorton and back without smashing it up? All right then,

  get on with it and just remember what I've said."

  Tristan withdrew in offended silence and as I followed him I took a last

  look at the figure in the bed. Siegfried had fallen back and was staring

  at the ceiling with feverish eyes. His lips moved feebly as though he

  were praying.

  Outside the room, Tristan rubbed his hands delightedly. "What a break,

  Jim! A chance in a lifetime! You know I never thought I'd get behind the

  wheel of that Rover in a hundred years." He dropped his voice to a

  whisper. "Just shows you - everything happens for the best."

  Five minutes later he was backing carefully out of the yard and into the

  lane and once on the Sorton road I saw he was beginning to enjoy

  himself. For two miles the way ahead stretched straight and clear except

  for a milk lorry approaching in the far distance; a perfect place to see

  what the Rover could do. He nestled down in the rich leather upholstery

  and pressed his foot hard on the accelerator.

  We were doing an effortless eighty when I saw a car beginning to

  overtake the milk lorry; it was an ancient, square-topped, high-built

  vehicle like a biscuit tin on wheels and it had no business trying to

  overtake anything. I waited for it to pull back but it still came on.

  And the lorry, perhaps with a sporting driver, seemed to be spurting to

  make a race of it.

  With increasing alarm I saw the two vehicles abreast and bearing down on

  us only a few hundred yards away and not a foot of space on either side

  of them. Of course the old car would pull in behind the lorry - it had

  to, there was no other way - but it was taking a long time about it.

  Tristan jammed on his brakes. If the lorry did the same, the other car

  would just be able to dodge between But within seconds I realised

  nothing like that was going to happen and as they thundered towards us I

  resigned myself with dumb horror to a head-on collision.

  Just before I closed my eyes I had a fleeting glimpse of a large,

  alarmed face behind the wheel of the old car, then something hit the

  left side of the Rover with a rending crash.

  When I opened my eyes we were stationary. There was just Tristan and

  myself staring straight ahead at the road, empty and quiet, curving

  ahead of us into the peaceful green of the hills.

  I sat motionless, listening to my thumping heart then I looked over my

  shoulder and saw the lorry disappearing at high speed round a distant

  bend; in passing I studied Tristan's face with interest - I had never

  seen a completely green face before.

  After quite a long time, feeling a draught from the left, I looked

  ca
refully round in that direction. There were no doors on that side one

  was Lying by the roadside a few yards back and the other hung from a

  single broken hinge; as I watched, this one too, clattered on to the

  tarmac with a note of flat finality. Slowly, as in a dream, I got OUT

  and surveyed the damage; the left side of the Rover was a desert of

  twisted metal where the old car, diving for the verge at the last split

  second, had ploughed its way.

  Tristan had flopped down on the grass, his face blank. A nasty scratch

  on the paintwork might have sent him into a panic but this wholesale

  destruction seemed to have numbed his senses. But this state didn't last

  long; he began to blink, then his eyes narrowed and he felt for his

  Woodbines. His agile mind was back at work and it wasn't difficult to

  read his thoughts. What was he going to do now?

  It seemed to me after a short appraisal of the situation that he had

  three possible courses of action. First, and most attractive, he could

  get out of Darrowby permanently - emigrate if necessary. Second, he

  could go straight to the railway station and board a train for Brawton

  where he could live quietly with his mother till this had blown over.

  Third, and it didn't bear thinking about, he could go back to Skeldale

  House and tell Siegfried he had smashed up his new Rover.

  As I weighed up the possibilities I spotted the old car which had hit

  us; it was Lying upside down in a ditch about fifty yards down the road.

  Hurrying towards it, I could hear a loud cackling coming from the

  interior and I remembered it was market day and many of the farmers

  would be bringing in crates of hens and maybe twenty or thirty dozen

  eggs to sell. We peered in through a window and Tristan gasped. A fat

  man, obviously unhurt, was Lying in a great pool of smashed eggs. His

  face wore a wide, reassuring smile - in fact, his whole expression was

  ingratiating as far as it could be seen through the mask of egg which

  covered his features. The rest of the interior was filled with frantic

  hens which had escaped from their crates in the crash and were hunting

  for a way out.

  The fat man, smiling up happily from his bed of eggs, was shouting

  something, but it was difficult to hear him above the wild cackling. I

  managed to pick up odd phrases: "Very sorry indeed - entirely my fault

  I'll make good the damage." The words floated up cheerfully while the

  hens scampered across the man's beaming face and yolks coursed

  sluggishly down his clothes.

  With an effort, Tristan managed to wrench open a door and was driven

  back immediately by a rush of hens. Some of them galloped off in various

  directions till they were lost to sight, while their less adventurous

  companions began to peck about philosophically by the roadside.

  "Are you all right?" Tristan shouted.

  "Yes, yes, young man. I'm not hurt. Please don't worry about me." The

  fat ',1 ! ~1

  man struggled vainly to rise from the squelching mass. "Ee, I am sorry

  about this, but I'll see you right, you can be sure."

  He held up a dripping hand and we helped him out on to the road. Despite

  his saturated clothes and the pieces of shell sticking to his hair and

  mustache he hadn't lost his poise. In fact he radiated confidence, the

  same confidence, I thought, which made him think his old car could

  overtake that speeding lorry.

  He laid a hand on Tristan's shoulder. "There's a simple explanation, you

  know. The sun got in my eyes."

  It was twelve noon and the fat man had been driving due north, but there

  didn't seem much point in arguing.

  We lifted the shattered doors from the road, put them inside the Rover,

  drove to Sorton, treated the milk fever cow and returned to Darrowby.

 
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