Let sleeping vets lie, p.7
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       Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.7

           James Herriot
 

  previous assessment of him; it had been so easy to put him down as

  lumpish and unemotional but as I looked at him now his face was alight

  with friendship, hospitality, understanding. He had cast off his

  inhibitions and as he sat down surrounded by the latest batch he began

  to talk rapidly and fluently about wines and wine making.

  Wide-eyed and impassioned he ranged at length over the niceties of

  fermentation and sedimentation, of flavour and bouquet. He dealt

  learnedly with the relative merits of Chambertin and Nuits St. George,

  Montrachet and Chablis. Enthusiasts are appealing but a fanatic is

  irresistible and I sat spellbound while Mr. Crump pushed endless samples

  of his craft in front of me, mixing and adjusting expertly.

  "How did you find that 'un?"

  "Very nice ... '

  "But sweet, maybe?"

  "Well, perhaps ... ;

  1

  aa'right, try some of this with it." The meticulous addition of a few

  drops of nameless liquid from the packed rows of bottles. "How's that?"

  "Marvelous!"

  "Now this 'un. Perhaps a bit sharpish, eh?"

  "Possibly ... yes ... '

  Again the tender trickling of a few mysterious droplets into my drink

  and again the anxious enquiry.

  "Is that better?"

  "Just right."

  The big man drank with me, glass by glass. We tried parsnip and

  dandelion, cowslip and parsley, clover, gooseberry, beetroot and crab

  apple. Incredibly we had some stuff made from turnips which was so

  exquisite that I insisted on a refill.

  Everything gradually slowed down as we sat there. Time slowed down till

  it was finally meaningless. Mr. Crump and I slowed down and our speech

  and actions became more and more deliberate. The farmer's visits to the

  pantry developed into laboured, unsteady affairs; sometimes he took a

  roundabout route to reach the door and on one occasion there was a

  tremendous crash from within and I feared he had fallen among his

  bottles. But I couldn't be bothered to get up to see and in due course

  he reappeared, apparently unharmed.

  It was around nine o'clock that I heard the soft knocking on the outer

  door. I ignored it as I didn't want to interrupt Mr. Crump who was in

  the middle of a deep exposition.

  "Thigh," he was saying, leaning close to me and tapping a bulbous flagon

  with his forefinger. "Thish is, in my 'pinion, comp'rable to a fine

  Moselle. Made it lash year and would 'preciate it if you'd tell me what

  you think." He went low over the glass, blinking, heavy-eyed as he

  poured.

  "Now then, wha" d'you say? Ish it or ishn't it?"

  I took a gulp and paused for a moment. It all tasted the same now and I

  had never drunk Moselle anyway, but I nodded and hiccuped solemnly in

  reply.

  The farmer rested a friendly hand on my shoulder and was about to make a

  further speech when he, too, heard the knocking. He made his way across

  the floor with some difficulty and opened the door. A young lad was

  standing there and I heard a few muttered words.

  "We 'ave a cow on calving and we 'phoned surgery and they said vitnery

  might still be here."

  Mr. Crump turned to face me. "It's the Bamfords of Holly Bush. They wan"

  you to go there - jush a mile along "'road."

  "Right," I heaved myself to my feet then gripped the table tightly as

  the familiar objects of the room began to whirl rapidly around me. When

  they came to rest Mr. Crump appeared to be standing at the head of a

  fairly steep slope. The kitchen floor had seemed perfectly level when I

  had come in but now it was all I could do to fight my way up the

  gradient.

  When I reached the door Mr. Crump was staring owlishly into the

  darkness.

  ' "Seining," he said. ' "Seining like 'ell."

  I peered out at the steady beat of the dark water on the cobbles of the

  yard, but my car was just a few yards away and I was about to set out

  when the farmer caught my arm.

  "Jus" minute, can't go out like that." He held up a finger then went

  over and -.i groped about in a drawer. At length he produced a tweed cap

  which he offered ~ me with great dignity. ~'

  I never wore anything on my head whatever the weather but I was deeply

  touched and wrung my companion's hand in silence. It was understandable

  that ~ I a man like Mr. Crump who wore his cap at all times, indoors and

  out, would recoil in horror from the idea of anybody venturing uncovered

  into the rain.

  The tweed cap which I now put on was the biggest I had ever seen; a

  great round flat pancake of a thing which even at that moment I felt

  would keep not only my head but my shoulders and entire body dry in the

  heaviest downpour.

  I took my leave of Mr. Crump with reluctance and as I settled in the

  seat of the car trying to remember where first gear was situated I could

  see his bulky form silhouetted against the light from the kitchen; he

  was waving his hand with gentle benevolence and it struck me as I at

  length drove away what a deep and wonderful friendship had been forged

  that night.

  Driving at walking pace along the dark narrow road, my nose almost

  touching the windscreen, I was conscious of some unusual sensations. My

  mouth and lips felt abnormally sticky as though I had been drinking

  liquid glue instead of wine my breath seemed to be whistling in my

  nostrils like a strong wind blowing under a door, and I was having

  difficulty focusing my eyes. Fortunately I met only one car and as it

  approached and flashed past in the other direction I was muzzily

  surprised by the fact that it had two complete sets of headlights which

  kept merging into each other and drawing apart again.

  In the yard at Holly Bush I got out of the car, nodded to the shadowy

  group of figures standing there, fumbled my bottle of antiseptic and

  calving ropes from the boot and marched determinedly into the byre. One

  of the men held an oil lamp over a cow lying on a deep bed of straw in

  one of the standings; from the vulva a calf's foot protruding a few

  inches and as the cow strained a little muzzle showed momentarily then

  disappeared as she relaxed.

  Far away inside me a stone cold sober veterinary surgeon murmured: "Only

  a leg back and a big roomy cow. Shouldn't be much trouble." I turned and

  looked at the Bamfords for the first time. I hadn't met them before but

  it was easy to classify them; simple, kindly anxious-to-please people

  two middle-aged men, probably brothers, and two young men who would be

  the sons of one or the other. They were all staring at me in the dim

  light, their eyes expectant, their mouths slightly open as though ready

  to smile or laugh if given half a chance.

  I squared my shoulders, took a deep breath and said in a loud voice:

  "Would you please bring me a bucket of hot water, some soap and a

  tower." Or at least that's what I meant to say, because what actually

  issued from my lips was a torrent of something that sounded like

  Swahili. The Bamfords, poised, ready to spring into action to do my

  bidding, looked at me blankly. I c
leared my throat, swallowed, took a

  few seconds" rest and tried again. I cleared my throat, swallowed,

  another volley of gibberish echoing uselessly round the cow house.

  Clearly I had a problem. It was essential to communicate in some way,

  particularly since these people didn't know me and were waiting for some

  action. 1 suppose I must have appeared a strange and enigmatic figure

  standing there, straight and solemn, surmounted and dominated by the

  vast cap. But through the mists a flash of insight showed me where I was

  going wrong. It was overconfidence It wasn't a bit of good trying to

  speak loudly like that. I tried again in the faintest of whispers.

  "Could I have a bucket of hot water, some soap and a towel, please." It

  came out beautifully though the oldest Mr. Bamford didn't quite get it

  first time. He came close, cupped an ear with his hand and watched my

  lips intently. Then he nodded eagerly in comprehension, held up a

  forefinger at me, tiptoed across the floor like a tight rope walker to

  one of the sons and whispered in his ear. The young man turned and crept

  out noiselessly, closing the door behind him with the utmost care; he

  was back in less than a minute, padding over the cobbles daintily in his

  heavy boots and placing the bucket gingerly in front of me.

  I managed to remove my jacket, tie and shirt quite efficiently and they

  were ~en from me in silence and hung upon nails by the Bamfords who were

  moving ~und as though in church. I thought I was doing fine till I

  started to wash my ns. The soap kept shooting from my arms, slithering

  into the dung channel, ,appearing into the dark corners of the byre with

  the Bamfords in hot pursuit. was worse still when I tried to work up to

  the top of my arms. The soap ftew r my shoulders like a live thing, at

  times cannoning off the walls, at others ding down my back. The farmers

  never knew where the next shot was going d they took on the appearance

  of a really sharp fielding side crouching around with arms outstretched

  waiting for a catch.

  However I did finally work up a lather and was ready to start, but the

  cow used firmly to get to her feet, so I had to stretch out behind her

  face down the unyielding cobbles. It wasn't till I got down there that I

  felt the great cap ~pping over my ears; I must have put it on again

  after removing my shirt ~ugh it was difficult to see what purpose it

  might serve.

  Inserting a hand gently into the vagina I pushed along the calf's neck,

  hoping come upon a flexed knee or even a foot, but I was disappointed;

  the leg really IS right back, stretching from the shoulder away flat

  against the calf's side. ill, I would be all right - it just meant a

  longer reach.

  And there was one reassuring feature; the calf was alive. As I lay, my

  face IS almost touching the rear end of the cow and I had a close up of

  the nose which kept appearing every few seconds; it was good to see the

  little nostrils itching as they sought the outside air. All I had to do

  was get that leg round. But the snag was that as I reached forward the

  cow kept straining, squeezing y arm cruelly against her bony pelvis,

  making me groan and roll about in ony for a few seconds t.ll the

  pressure went oflf. Quite often in these crises my p fell on to the

  floor and each time gentle hands replaced it immediately on y head.

  At last the foot was in my hand - there would be no need for ropes this

  time and I began to pull it round. It. took me longer than I thought and

  it seemed me that the calf was beginning to lose patience with me

  because when its ad was forced out by the cow's contractions we were eye

  to eye and I fancied e little creature was giving me a disgusted "For

  heaven's sake get on wrth it" ~k.

  When the leg did come round it was with a rush and in an instant

  everything as laid as it should have been.

  "Get hold of the feet," I whispered to the Bamfords and after a hushed

  nsultation they took up their places. In no time at all a fine heifer

  calf was riggling on the cobbles shaking its head and snorting the

  placental fluid from i nostrils.

  In response to my softly hissed instructions the farmers rubbed the

  little eature down with straw wisps and pulled it round for its mother

  to lick.

  It was a happy ending to the most peaceful calving I have ever attended.

  ever a voice raised, everybody moving around on tiptoe. I got dressed in

  a .thedral silence, went out to the car, breathed a final goodnight and

  left with e Bamfords waving mutely.

  O say I had a hangover next morning would be failing even to hint at the

  utter sintegration of my bodily economy and personality. Only somebody

  who had ~nsumed two or three quarts of assorted home-made wines at a

  sitting could ~ve an inkling of the quaking nausea, the raging inferno

  within, the jangling ryes, the black despairing outlook.

  Tristan had seen me in the bathroom running the cold tap on my tongue

  and had intuitively administered a raw egg, aspirins and brandy which,

  as 1 came downstairs" lay in a cold, unmoving blob in my outraged

  stomach.

  "What are you walking like that for, James?" asked Siegfried in what

  sounded like a bull's bellow as I came in on him at breakfast. "You look

  as though you'd pee'd yourself."

  "Oh it's nothing much." It was no good telling him I was treading warily

  across the carpet because I was convinced that if I let my heels down

  too suddenly it would jar my eyeballs from their sockets. "I Crump's

  wine last night and it seems to have upset me."

  "A few glasses! You ought to be more careful - that stufl~s dynamite.

  Could knock anybody over." He crashed his cup into its saucer then began

  to clatter about with knife and fork as if trying to give a one man

  rendering of the Anvil C,horus. "I hope you weren't any the worse to go

  to Bamford's."

  had a few glasses of Mr. ~" ~, _ .- ~ D I listlessly crumbled some dry

  toast on my plate..t T'A h~A ~ hit too much - no use denvin~ it."

  . "Well I did the job all right, Siegfried was in one of his encouraging

  moods. "By God, James, those Bamfords are very strict Methodists.

  They're grand chaps but absolutely dead nuts against drink - if they

  thought you were under the influence of alcohol they'd never have you on

  the place again." He ruthlessly bisected an egg yolk. "I hope they

  didn't notice anything. Do you think they knew?"

  "Oh maybe not. No, I shouldn't think so." I closed my eyes and shivered

  as Siegfried pushed a forkful of sausage and fried bread into his mouth

  and began to chew briskly. My mind went back to the gentle hands

  replacing the monstrous cap on my head and I groaned inwardly.

  Those Bamfords knew all right. Oh yes, they knew.

  Chapter Seven.

  The silvery haired old gentleman with the pleasant face didn't look the

  type to be easily upset but his eyes glared at me angrily and his lips

  quivered with indignation.

  "Mr. Herriot," he said. "I have come to make a complaint. I strongly

  object to your callousness in subjecting my dog to unnecessary

  suffering."


  "Suffering? What suffering?" I was mystified.

  "I think you know, Mr. Herriot. I brought my dog in a few days ago. He

  was very lame and I am referring to your treatment on that occasion."

  I nodded "Yes, I remember it well ... but where does the suffering come

  in?"

  "Well, the poor animal is going around with his leg dangling and I have

  it on good authority that the bone is fractured and should have been put

  in plaster immediately" The old gentleman stuck his chin out fiercely.

  "All right, you can stop worrying," I said. "Your dog has a radial

  paralysis caused by a blow on the ribs and if you are patient and follow

  my treatment he'll gradually improve. In fact I think he'll recover

  completely."

  "But he trails his leg when he walks."

  "I know - that's typical, and to the layman it does give the appearance

  of a broken leg. But he shows no sign of pain, does he?"

  "No, he seems quite happy, but this lady seemed to be absolutely sure of

  her facts. She was adamant."

  "Lady ?"

  "Yes, said the old gentleman. "She is very clever with animals and she

  came round to see if she could help in my dog's convalescence. She

  brought some excellent condition powders with her."

  "Ah!" A blinding shaft pierced the fog in my mind. All was suddenly

  clear. "It was Mrs. Donovan, wasn't it?"

  "Well ... er, yes. That was her name."

  Old Mrs. Donovan was a woman who really got around. No matter what was

  going on in Darrowby - weddings, funerals, house-sales - you'd find the

 
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