James herriots cat stori.., p.7
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       James Herriot's Cat Stories, p.7

           James Herriot
 
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nothing, don't worry. She'll have the kittens, that's all, and I'll

  find homes for them. Everything will be fine." I was putting on my

  breeziest act, but it didn't seem to help. "But Mr. Herriot, I don't

  know anything about these things. I'm now terribly worried. She

  could die giving birth--she's so tiny!" "No, no, not at all. Cats

  very rarely have any trouble that way. I tell you what, when she

  starts having the kittens--probably around a month from now--get

  Eddy to give me a ring. I'll slip out here and see that all is well.

  How's that?" "Oh, you are kind. I feel so silly about this. The

  trouble is ... she means so much to me." "I know, and stop worrying.

  Everything will be absolutely okay." We had a cup of tea together

  and by the time I left he had calmed down.

  I did hear from him at last one stormy evening. "Mr. Herriot, I am

  telephoning from the farm. Emily has not yet produced those kittens,

  but she is ... very large and has lain trembling all day and won't

  eat anything. I hate to trouble you on this horrible night but I

  know nothing about these things and she does look ... most unhappy."

  I didn't like the sound of that, but I tried to sound casual. "I

  think I'll just pop out and have a look at her, Mr. Ireson."

  "Really--are you sure?" "Absolutely. No bother. I'll see you soon."

  It was a strange, almost unreal scene as I stumbled through the

  darkness and parted the sacks forty minutes later. The wind and rain

  buffeted the tarpaulin walls and by the flickering light of the

  tilly lamp I saw Eugene in his chair stroking Emily, who lay in the

  basket by his side. The little cat had swollen enormously--so much

  as to be almost unrecognisable and as I kneeled and passed my hand

  over her distended abdomen I could feel the skin stretched tight.

  She was absolutely bursting full of kittens, but seemed lifeless and

  exhausted. She was straining, too, and licking at her vulva. I

  looked up at the old man. "Have you some hot water, Mr. Ireson?"

  "Yes, yes, the kettle has just boiled." I soaped my little finger.

  It would only just go into the tiny vagina. Inside I found the

  cervix wide open and a mass beyond, only just palpable. Heaven only

  knew how many kittens were jammed in there, but one thing was

  certain. There was no way they could ever come out. There was no

  room for manoeuvre. There was nothing I could do. Emily turned her

  face to me and gave a faint miaow of distress and it came to me

  piercingly that this cat could die. "Mr. Ireson," I said, "I'll have

  to take her away immediately." "Take her away?" he said in a

  bewildered whisper. "Yes. She needs a caesarean operation. The

  kittens can't come out in the normal way." Upright in his chair, he

  nodded, shocked and only half comprehending. I grabbed the basket,

  Emily and all, and rushed out into the darkness. Then, as I thought

  of the old man looking blankly after me, I realised that my bedside

  manner had slipped badly. I pushed my head back through the sacks.

  "Don't worry, Mr. Ireson," I said, "everything's going to be fine."

  Don't worry! Brave words. As I parked Emily on the back seat and

  drove away, I knew I was damn worried, and I cursed the mocking fate

  which had decreed that after all of my airy remarks about cats

  effortlessly giving birth I might be headed for a tragedy. How long

  had Emily been lying like that? Ruptured uterus? Septicaemia? The

  grim possibilities raced through my mind. And why did it have to

  happen to that solitary old man of all people? I stopped at the

  village kiosk and rang Siegfried. "I've just left old Eugene Ireson.

  Will you come in and give me a hand? Cat caesar and it's urgent.

  Sorry to bother you on your night off." "Perfectly all right, James,

  I'm not doing a thing. See you soon, eh?" When I got to the surgery

  Siegfried had the steriliser bubbling and everything laid out. "This

  is your party, James," he murmured. "I'll do the anaesthetic." I had

  shaved the site of the operation and poised my scalpel over the

  grossly swollen abdomen when he whistled softly. "My God," he said,

  "it's like opening an abscess!" That was exactly what it was like. I

  felt that if I made an incision the mass of kittens would explode

  out in my face and, indeed, as I proceeded with the lightest touch

  through skin and muscle, the laden uterus bulged out alarmingly.

  "Hell!" I breathed. "How many are in here?" "A fairish number!" said

  my partner. "And she's such a tiny cat." Gingerly, I opened the

  peritoneum which, to my relief, looked clean and healthy; then, as I

  went on, I waited for the jumble of little heads and feet to appear.

  But with increasing wonderment I watched my incision travel along a

  massive coal-black back and, when I finally hooked my finger round

  the neck, drew forth a kitten and laid it on the table, I found that

  the uterus was otherwise empty. "There's only one!" I gasped. "Would

  you believe it?" Siegfried laughed. "Yes, but what a whopper! And

  alive, too." He lifted the kitten and took a closer look. "A

  whacking great tom--he's nearly as big as his mother!" As I stitched

  up and gave the sleeping Emily a shot of penicillin, I felt the

  tension flow away from me in happy waves. The little cat was in good

  shape. My fears had been groundless. It would be best to leave the

  kitten with her for a few weeks, then I'd be able to find a home for

  him. "Thanks a lot for coming in, Siegfried," I said. "It looked

  like a very dodgy situation at first." I could hardly wait to get

  back to the old man, who, I knew, would still be in a state of shock

  at my taking away his beloved cat. In fact, when I passed through

  the sacking doorway, it looked as though he hadn't moved an inch

  since I last saw him. He wasn't reading, wasn't doing anything

  except staring ahead from his chair. When I put the basket down by

  his side, he turned slowly and looked down wonderingly at Emily, who

  was coming round from the anaesthetic and beginning to raise her

  head, and at the black newcomer, who was already finding his private

  array of teats interesting. "She's going to be fine, Mr. Ireson," I

  said, and the old man nodded slowly. "How wonderful. How simply

  wonderful," he murmured.

  When I went to take out the stitches ten days later, I found a

  carnival atmosphere in the igloo. Old Eugene was beside himself with

  delight, while Emily, stretched in the back with her enormous

  offspring sucking busily, looked up at me with an expression of

  pride which bordered on the smug. "I think we ought to have a

  celebratory cup of tea and one of my favourite buns," the old man

  said. As the kettle boiled, he drew a finger along the kitten's body.

  "He's a handsome fellow, isn't he." "He certainly is. He'll grow up

  into a beautiful cat." Eugene smiled. "Yes. I'm sure he will, and it

  will be so nice to have him with Emily." I paused as he handed me a

  bun. "But just a minute, Mr. Ireson. You really can't do with two

  cats here." "Why not?" "Well, you take Emily into the village on a

  lead most days. You'd have difficulty on the road with two cats, and

  an
yway you don't have room in here, do you?" He didn't say anything,

  so I pressed on. "A lady was asking me the other day if I could find

  her a black kitten. Many people ask us to find a specific pet for

  them, often to replace an older animal which has just died, and we

  always seem to have trouble obliging them, but this time I am

  delighted that I was able to say I knew the very one." He nodded

  slowly, and then, after a moment's cogitation, said, "I'm sure

  you're right, Mr. Herriot. I hadn't really thought about it enough."

  "Anyway," I said, 'she's a very nice lady and a real cat lover.

  He'll have a very good home. He'll live like a little sultan with

  her." He laughed. "Good ... good ... and maybe I'll hear about him

  now and then?" "Absolutely. I'll keep you posted regularly." I could

  see I had got over the hurdle nicely and as I took a sip at my tea I

  thought I'd change the subject. "I must say, Mr. Ireson, you do seem

  to be a remarkably happy person. Very content with life. Maybe it's

  something to do with Emily." "Very true! In fact I was about to say

  that but I thought you might think me silly." He threw back his head

  and laughed. A merry, boyish laugh. "Yes, I have Emily, the all-

  important thing! I'm so glad we agree about that. Come now, do have

  another bun."

  Olly and Ginny Settle In

  As a cat lover, it irked me that my own cats couldn't stand the

  sight of me. Ginny and Olly were part of the family now. We were

  devoted to them and whenever we had a day out the first thing Helen

  did on our return was to open the back door and feed them. The cats

  knew this very well and were either sitting on the flat top of the

  wall, waiting for her, or ready to trot down from the log shed which

  was their home. We had been to Brawton on our half-day and they were

  there as usual as Helen put out a dish of food and a bowl of milk

  for them on the wall. "Olly, Ginny," she murmured as she stroked the

  furry coats. The days had long gone when they refused to let her

  touch them. Now they rubbed against her hand in delight, arching and

  purring and, when they were eating, she ran her hand repeatedly

  along their backs. They were such gentle little animals, their

  wildness expressed only in fear, and now, with her, that fear had

  gone. My children and some from the village had won their confidence,

  too, and were allowed to give them a careful caress, but they drew

  the line at Herriot. Like now, for instance, when I quietly followed

  Helen out and moved towards the wall. Immediately they left the food

  and retreated to a safe distance where they stood, still arching

  their backs but, as ever, out of reach. They regarded me without

  hostility but as I held out a hand they moved further away. "Look at

  the little beggars!" I said. "They still won't have anything to do

  with me." It was frustrating since, throughout my years in

  veterinary practice, cats had always intrigued me and I had found

  that this helped me in my dealings with them. I felt I could handle

  them more easily than most people because I liked them and they

  sensed it. I rather prided myself on my cat technique, a sort of

  feline bedside manner, and was in no doubt that I had an empathy

  with the entire species and that they all liked me. In fact, if the

  truth were told, I fancied myself as a cats" pin-up. Not so,

  ironically, with these two--the ones to whom I had become so

  deeply attached. It was a bit hard, I thought, because I had

  doctored them and probably saved their lives when they had cat flu.

  Did they remember that, I wondered? If they did it still didn't give

  me the right apparently to lay a finger on them. And, indeed, what

  they certainly did seem to remember was that it was I who had netted

  them and then shoved them into a cage before I neutered them. I had

  the feeling that whenever they saw me, it was that net and cage

  which was uppermost in their minds. I could only hope that time

  would bring an understanding between us but, as it turned out, fate

  was to conspire against me for a long time still. Above all, there

  was the business of Olly's coat. Unlike his sister, he was a long-

  haired cat and as such was subject to constant tangling and knotting

  of his fur. If he had been an ordinary domesticated feline, I would

  have combed him out as soon as trouble arose, but since I couldn't

  even get near him I was helpless. We had had him about two years

  when Helen called me to the kitchen. "Just look at him!" she said.

  "He's a dreadful sight!" I peered through the window. Olly was

  indeed a bit of a scarecrow with his matted fur and dangling knots

  in cruel contrast with his sleek and beautiful little sister. "I

  know, I know. But what can I do?" I was about to turn away when I

  noticed something. "Wait a minute, there's a couple of horrible big

  lumps hanging below his neck. Take these scissors and have a go at

  them--a couple of quick snips and they'll be off." Helen gave me an

  anguished look. "Oh, we've tried this before. I'm not a vet and

  anyway, he won't let me do that. He'll let me pet him, but this is

  something else." "I know that, but have a go. There's nothing to it,

  really." I pushed a pair of curved scissors into her hand and began

  to call instructions through the window. "Right now, get your

  fingers behind that big dangling mass. Fine, fine! Now up with your

  scissors and--" But at the first gleam of steel, Olly was off and

  away up the hill. Helen turned to me in despair. "It's no good, Jim,

  it's hopeless--he won't let me cut even one lump off and he's

  covered with them." I looked at the dishevelled little creature

  standing at a safe distance from us. "Yes, you're right. I'll have

  to think of something." Thinking of something entailed doping Olly

  so that I could get at him, and my faithful nembutal capsules sprang

  immediately to mind. This oral anaesthetic had been a valued ally on

  countless occasions where I had to deal with unapproachable animals,

  but this was different. With the other cases, my patients had been

  behind closed doors, but Olly was outside with all the wide

  countryside to roam in. I couldn't have him going to sleep somewhere

  out there where a fox or other predator might get him. I would have

  to watch him all the time. It was a time for decisions, and I drew

  myself up. "I'll have a go at him this Sunday," I told Helen. "It's

  usually a bit quieter and I'll ask Siegfried to stand in for me in

  an emergency." When the day arrived, Helen went out and placed two

  meals of chopped fish on the wall, one of them spiked with the

  contents of my nembutal capsule. I crouched behind the window;

  watching intently as she directed Olly to the correct portion, and

  holding my breath as he sniffed at it suspiciously. His hunger soon

  overcame his caution and he licked the bowl clean with evident

  relish. Now we started the tricky part. If he decided to explore the

  fields as he often did I would have to be right behind him. I stole

  out of the house as he sauntered back up the slope to the open log

  shed and to my vast relief he sett
led down in his own particular

  indentation in the straw and began to wash himself. As I peered

  through the bushes I was gratified to see that very soon he was

  having difficulty with his face, licking his hind paw then toppling

  over as he brought it up to his cheek. I chuckled to myself. This

  was great. Another few minutes and I'd have him. And so it turned

  out. Olly seemed to conclude that he was tired of falling over and

  it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a nap. After gazing drunkenly

  around him, he curled up in the straw. I waited a short time, then,

  with all the stealth of an Indian brave on the trail, I crept from

  my hiding place and tiptoed to the shed. Olly wasn't flat out--I

  hadn't dared give him the full anaesthetic dose in case I had been

  unable to track him--but he was deeply sedated. I could pretty well

  do what I wanted with him. As I knelt down and began to snip away

  with my scissors, he opened his eyes and made a feeble attempt to

  struggle, but it was no good and I worked my way quickly through the

  ravelled fur. I wasn't able to make a particularly tidy job because

  he was wriggling slightly all the time, but I clipped off all the

  huge unsightly knots which used to get caught in the bushes, and

  must have been horribly uncomfortable, and soon had a growing heap

  of black hair by my side. I noticed that Olly wasn't only moving, he

  was watching me. Dazed as he was, he knew me all right and his eyes

  told me all. "It's you again!" he was saying. "I might have known!"

  When I had finished, I lifted him into a cat cage and placed it on

  the straw. "Sorry, old lad," I said, "but I can't let you go free

  till you've wakened up completely." Olly gave me a sleepy stare, but

  his sense of outrage was evident. "So you've dumped me in here again.

  You don't change much, do you?" By teatime he was fully recovered

  and I was able to release him. He looked so much better without the

  ugly tangles but he didn't seem impressed, and as I opened the cage

  he gave me a single disgusted look and sped away. Helen was

  enchanted with my handiwork and she pointed eagerly at the two cats

  on the wall next morning. "Doesn't he look smart! Oh, I'm so glad

  you managed to do him, it was really worrying me. And he must feel

  so much better." I felt a certain smug satisfaction as I looked

  through the window. Olly indeed was almost unrecognisable as the

  scruffy animal of yesterday and there was no doubt I had

  dramatically altered his life and relieved him of a constant

  discomfort, but my burgeoning bubble of self-esteem was pricked the

  instant I put my head round the back door. He had just started to

  enjoy his breakfast but at the sight of me he streaked away faster

  than ever before and disappeared far over the hill-top. Sadly, I

  turned back into the kitchen. Olly's opinion of me had dropped

  several more notches. Wearily I poured a cup of tea. It was a hard

  life.

  Moses Found Among the Rushes

  It was going to take a definite effort of will to get out of the car.

  I had driven about ten miles from Darrowby, thinking all the time

  that the Dales always looked their coldest not when they were

  covered with snow but, as now, when the first sprinkling streaked

  the bare flanks of the fells in bars of black and white like the

  ribs of a crouching beast. And now in front of me was the farm gate

  rattling on its hinges as the wind shook it. The car, heaterless and

  draughty as it was, seemed like a haven in an uncharitable world and

  I gripped the wheel tightly with my woollen-gloved hands for a few

  moments before opening the door. The wind almost tore the handle

  from my fingers as I got out but I managed to crash the door shut

  before stumbling over the frozen mud to the gate. Muffled as I was

  in heavy coat and scarf pulled up to my ears I could feel the icy

  gusts biting at my face, whipping up my nose and hammering painfully

  into the air spaces in my head. I had driven through and, streaming-

  eyed, was about to get back into the car when I noticed something

  unusual. There was a frozen pond just off the path and among the

  rime-covered rushes which fringed the dead opacity of the surface a

 
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