It shouldnt happen to a.., p.7
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       It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet, p.7

           James Herriot
 
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Tristan gave me a single despairing look then squared his shoulders and

  marched straight to his brother's room. I followed close on his heels.

  Siegfried was worse. His face was red with fever and his eyes burned

  deeply in their sockets. He didn't move when Tristan walked over to the

  foot of the bed.

  "Well, how did you get on?" The whisper was barely audible.

  "Oh fine, the cow was on her feet when we left. But there's just one

  thing I had a bit of a bump with the car."

  Siegfried had been wheezing stertorously and staring at the ceiling but

  the breathing stopped as if it had been switched off. There was an eerie

  silence then from the completely motionless figure two strangled words

  escaped. "What happened ."

  "Wasn't my fault. Chap tried to overtake a lorry and didn't make it.

  Caught one side of the Rover."

  Again the silence and again the whisper.

  "Much damage."

  "Front and rear wings pretty well mangled, I'm afraid - and both doors

  torn off the left side."

  As if operated by a powerful spring, Siegfried came bolt upright in the

  bed. It was startlingly like a corpse coming to life and the effect was

  heightened by the coils of Thermogene which had burst loose and trailed

  in shroud-like garlands from the haggard head. The mouth opened wide in

  a completely soundless scream.

  "You bloody fool! You're sacked."

  He crashed back on to the pillow as though the mechanism had gone into

  reverse and lay very still. We watched him for a few moments in some

  anxiety, but when we heard the breathing restart we tiptoed from the

  room.

  On the landing Tristan blew out his cheeks and drew a Woodbine from its

  packet. "A tricky little situation, Jim, but you know what I always

  say." He struck a match and pulled the smoke down blissfully. "Things

  usually turn out better than you expect."

  Chapter Nine.

  A lot of the Dales farms were anonymous and it was a help to find this

  one so plainly identified. "Heston Grange' it said on the gate in bold

  black capitals.

  I got out of the car and undid the latch. It was a good gate, too, and

  swung easily on its hinges instead of having to be dragged round with a

  shoulder under ~ the top spar. The farmhouse lay below me, massive,

  grey-stoned, with a pair I of bow windows which some prosperous

  Victorian had added to the original structure.

  It stood on a flat, green neck of land in a loop of the river and the

  lushness of the grass and the quiet fertility of the surrounding fields

  contrasted sharply with the stark hills behind. Towering oaks and

  beeches sheltered the house and a thick pine wood covered the lower

  slopes of the fell.

  I walked round the buildings shouting as I always did, because some

  people considered it a subtle insult to go to the house and ask if the

  farmer was in. Good farmers are indoors only at meal times. But my

  shouts drew no reply, so I went over and knocked at the door set deep

  among the weathered stones.

  A voice answered "Come in," and I opened the door into a huge,

  stone-flagged kitchen with hams and sides of bacon hanging from hooks in

  the ceiling. A dark girl in a check blouse and green linen slacks was

  kneading dough in a bowl. She looked up and smiled.

  "Sorry I couldn't let you in. I've got my hands full." She held up her

  arms, floury-white to the elbow.

  "That's all right. My name is Herriot. I've come to see a calf. It's

  lame, I understand."

  "Yes, we think he's broken his leg. Probably got his foot in a hole when

  he was running about. If you don't mind waiting a minute, I'll come with

  you. My father and the men are in the fields. I'm Helen Alderson, by the

  way."

  She washed and dried her arms and pulled on a pair of short wellingtons.

  "Take over this bread will you, Meg," she said to an old woman who came

  through from an inner room. "I have to show Mr. Herriot the calf."

  Outside, she turned to me and laughed. "We've got a bit of a walk, I'm

  afraid. He's in one of the top buildings. Look, you can just see it up

  there." She pointed to a squat, stone barn, high on the fell-side. I

  knew all about these top buildings; l they were scattered all over the

  high country and I got a lot of healthy exercise I going round them.

  They were used for storing hay and other things and as shelters for the

  animals on the hill pastures.

  I looked at the girl for a few seconds. "Oh, that's all right, I don't

  mind. I don't mind in the least."

  We went over the field to a narrow bridge spanning the river, and,

  following her across, I was struck by a thought; this new fashion of

  women wearing slacks might be a bit revolutionary but there was a lot to

  be said for it. The path led upward through the pine wood and here the

  sunshine was broken up into islands of brightness among the dark trunks,

  the sound of the river grew faint and we walked softly on a thick carpet

  of pine needles. It was cool in the wood and silent except when a bird

  call echoed through the trees.

  Ten minutes of hard walking brought us out again into the hot sun on the

  open moor and the path curved steeper still round a series of rocky

  outcrops. I was beginning to puff, but the girl kept up a brisk pace,

  swinging along with easy strides. I was glad when we reached the level

  ground on the top and the barn came in sight again.

  When I opened the half door I could hardly see my patient in the dark

  interior which was heavy with the fragrance of hay piled nearly to the

  roof. He looked very small and sorry for himself with his dangling

  foreleg which trailed uselessly along the strewed floor as he tried to

  walk.

  "Will you hold his head while I examine him, please?" I said.

  The girl caught the calf expertly, one hand under its chin, the other

  holding an ear. As I felt my way over the leg the little creature stood

  trembling, his face a picture of woe.

  "Well, your diagnosis was correct. Clean fracture of the radius and

  ulna, but there's very little displacement so it should do well with a

  plaster on it." I opened my bag, took out some plaster bandages then

  filled a bucket with water from a near-by spring. I soaked one of the

  bandages and applied it to the leg, following it with a second and a

  third till the limb was encased in a rapidly hardening i .11

  white sheath from elbow to foot.

  "We'll just wait a couple of minutes till it hardens, then we can let

  him go." I kept tapping the plaster till I was satisfied it was set like

  stone. "All right," I said finally. "He can go now."

  The girl released the head and the little animal trotted away. "Look."

  she cried. "He's putting his weight on it already! And doesn't he look a

  lot happier!" I smiled. I felt I had really done something. The calf

  felt no pain now that the broken ends of the bone were immobilised; and

  the fear which always demoralises a hurt animal had magically vanished.

  "Yes," I said. "He certainly has perked up quickly." My words were

  almost drowned by a tremendous bellow and the patch of blue above the
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  half door was suddenly obscured by a large shaggy head. Two great liquid

  eyes stared down anxiously at the little calf and it answered with a

  high-pitched bawl. Soon a deafening duet was in progress.

  "That's his mother," the girl shouted above the din. "Poor old thing,

  she's been hanging about here all morning wondering what we've done with

  her calf. She hates being separated from him."

  I straightened up and drew the bolt on the door. "Well she can come in

  now."

  The big cow almost knocked me down as she rushed past me. Then she

  started a careful, sniffing inspection of her calf, pushing him around

  with her muzzle and making muffled lowing noises deep in her throat.

  The little creature submitted happily to all the fuss and when it was

  over and his mother was finally satisfied, he limped round to her udder

  and began to suck heartily.

  "Soon got his appetite back," I said and we both laughed.

  I threw the empty tins into my bag and closed it. "He'll have to keep

  the plaster on for a month, so if you'll give me a ring then I'll come

  back and take it off. Just keep an eye on him and make sure his leg

  doesn't get sore round the top of the bandage."

  As we left the barn the sunshine and the sweet warm air met us like a

  high wave. I turned and looked across the valley to the soaring green

  heights, smooth, enormous, hazy in the noon heat. Beneath my feet the

  grassy slopes fell away steeply to where the river glimmered among the

  trees.

  "It's wonderful up here," I said. "Just look at that gorge over there.

  And that great hill - I suppose you could call it a mountain." I pointed

  at a giant which heaved its heather-mottled shoulders high above the

  others.

  "That's Heskit Fell - nearly two and a half thousand feet. And that's

  Eddleton just beyond, and Wedder Fell on the other side and Colver and

  Sennor." The names with their wild, Nordic ring fell easily from her

  tongue; she spoke of them like old friends and I could sense the

  affection in her voice.

  We sat down on the warm grass of the hillside, a soft breeze pulled at

  the heads of the moorland flowers, somewhere a curlew cried. Darrowby

  and Skeldale House and veterinary practice seemed a thousand miles away.

  "You're lucky to live here," I said. "But I don't think you need me to

  tell you that."

  "No, I love this country. There's nowhere else quite like it." She

  paused and looked slowly around her. "I'm glad it appeals to you too - a

  lot of people find it too bare and wild. It almost seems to frighten

  them."

  I laughed. "Yes, I know, but as far as I'm concerned I can't help

  feeling sorry for all the thousands of vets who don't work in the

  Yorkshire Dales."

  I began to talk about my work, then almost without knowing, I was going

  back over my student days, telling her of the good times, the friends I

  had made and our hopes and aspirations.

  I surprised myself with my flow of talk - I wasn't much of a chatterbox

  usually - and I felt I must be boring my companion. But she sat quietly

  looking over the valley, her arms around her green-clad legs, nodding at

  times as though she understood. And she laughed in all the right places.

  I wondered too, at the silly feeling that I would like to forget all

  about the rest of the day's duty and stay up here on this sunny

  hillside. It came to me that it had been a long time since I had sat

  down and talked to a girl of my own age. I had almost forgotten what it

  was like.

  I didn't hurry back down the path and through the scented pine wood but

  it seemed no time at all before we were walking across the wooden bridge

  and over the field to the farm.

  I turned with my hand on the car door. "Well, I'll see you in a month."

  It sounded like an awful long time.

  The girl smiled. "Thank you for what you've done." As I started the

  engine she waved and went into the house.

  "Helen Alderson?" Siegfried said later over lunch. "Of course I know

  her. Lovely girl."

  Tristan, across the table, made no comment, but he laid down his knife

  and fork, raised his eyes reverently to the ceiling and gave a long, low

  whistle. Then he started to eat again.

  Siegfried went on. "Oh yes, I know her very well. And I admire her. Her

  mother died a few years ago and she runs the whole place. Cooks and

  looks after her father and a younger brother and sister." He spooned

  some mashed potatoes on to his plate. "Any men friends? Oh, half the

  young bloods in the district are chasing her but she doesn't seem to be

  going steady with any of them. Choosy sort, I think."

  ,, i Chapter Ten.

  It was when I was plodding up Mr. Kay's field for the ninth time that it

  began to occur to me that this wasn't going to be my day. For some time

  now I had been an LVI, the important owner of a little certificate

  informing whosoever it may concern that James Herriot MRCVS was a Local

  Veterinary Inspector of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. It

  meant that I was involved in a lot of routine work like clinical

  examinations and tuberculin testing. It also highlighted something which

  I had been suspecting for some time - the Dales farmers' attitude to

  time was different from my own.

  It had been all right when I was calling on them to see a sick animal;

  they were usually around waiting for me and the beast would be confined

  in some building when I arrived. It was very different, however, when I

  sent them a card saying I was coming to inspect their dairy cows or test

  their herd. It stated quite clearly on the card that the animals must be

  assembled indoors and that I would be there at a certain time and I

  planned my day accordingly; fifteen minutes or so for a clinical and

  anything up to several hours for a test depending on the size of the

  herd. If I was kept waiting for ten minutes at every clinical while they

  got the cows in from the field it meant simply that after six visits I

  was running an hour late.

  So when I drove up to Mr. Kay's farm for a tuberculin test and found his

  cows tied up in their stalls I breathed a sigh of relief. We were

  through them in no time at all and I thought I was having a wonderful

  start to the day when the farmer said he had only half a dozen young

  heifers to do to complete the job. It was when I left the buildings and

  saw the group of shaggy roans and reds grazing contentedly at the far

  end of a large field that I felt the old foreboding.

  "I thought you'd have them inside, Mr. Kay," I said apprehensively.

  Mr. Kay tapped out his pipe on to his palm, mixed the sodden dottle with

  a few strands of villainous looking twist and crammed it back into the

  bowl. "Nay, nay," he said, puffing appreciatively, "Ah didn't like to

  put them in on a grand 'ot day like this. We'll drive them up to that

  little house." He pointed to a tumbledown grey-stone barn at the summit

  of the long, steeply sloping pasture and blew out a cloud of choking

  smoke. twon't take many minutes."

  At his last sentence a cold hand clutched at me. I'd heard these
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  dreadful words so many times before. But maybe it would be all right

  this time. We made our way to the bottom of the field and got behind the

  heifers.

  "Cush, cush!" cried Mr. Kay.

  "Cush, cush!" I added encouragingly, slapping my hands against my

  thighs.

  The heifers stopped pulling the grass and regarded us with mild

  interest, their jaws moving lazily, then in response to further cries

  they began to meander casually up the hill. We managed to coax them up

  to the door of the barn but there they stopped. The leader put her head

  inside for a moment then turned suddenly and made a dash down the hill.

  The others followed suit immediately and though we danced about and

  waved our arms they ran past us as if we weren't there. I looked

  thoughtfully at the young beasts thundering down the slope, their tails

  high, kicking up their heels like mustangs; they were enjoying this new

  game.

  Down the hill once more and again the slow wheedling up to the door and

  again the sudden breakaway. This time one of them tried it on her own

  and as I galloped vainly to and fro trying to turn her the others

  charged with glee through the gap and down the slope again.

  It was a long, steep hill and as I trudged up for the third time with

  the sun blazing on my back I began to regret being so conscientious

  about my clothes; in the instructions to the new LVI's the Ministry had

  been explicit that they expected us to be properly attired to carry out

  our duties. I had taken it to heart and rigged myself out in the

  required uniform but I realised now that a long oilskin coat and

  wellingtons was not an ideal outfit for the job in hand. The sweat was

  trickling into my eyes and my shirt was beginning to cling to me.

  When, for the third time, I saw the retreating backs careering joyously

  down the hill, I thought it was time to do something about it.

  "Just a minute," I called to the farmer, "I'm getting a bit warm."

  I took off the coat, rolled it up and placed it on the grass well away

  from the barn. And as I made a neat pile of my syringe, the box of

  tuberculin, my calipers, scissors, notebook and pencil, the thought kept

  intruding that I was being cheated in some way. After all, Ministry work

  was easy - any practitioner would tell you that. You didn't have to get

  up in the middle of the night, you had nice set hours and you never

  really had to exert yourself. In fact it was money for old rope - a

  pleasant relaxation from the real thing. I wiped my streaming brow and

  stood for a few seconds panting gently - this just wasn't fair.

  We started again and at the fourth visit to the barn I thought we had

  won because all but one of the heifers strolled casually inside. But

  that last one just wouldn't have it. We cushed imploringly, waved and

  even got near enough to poke at its rump but it stood in the entrance

  regarding the interior with deep suspicion. Then the heads of its mates

  began to reappear in the doorway and I knew we had lost again; despite

  my frantic dancing and shouting they wandered out one by one before

  joining again in their happy downhill dash. This time I found myself

  galloping down after them in an agony of frustration.

  We had another few tries during which the heifers introduced touches of

  variation by sometimes breaking away half way up the hill or

  occasionally trotting round the back of the barn and peeping at us coyly

  from behind the old stones before frisking to the bottom again.

  After the eighth descent I looked appealingly at Mr. Kay who was

  relighting his pipe calmly and didn't appear to be troubled in any way.

  My time schedule was in tatters but I don't think he had noticed that we

  had been going on like this for about forty minutes.

 
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