Let sleeping vets lie, p.7
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.7James 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 ... ;
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?"
"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?"
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
"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
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
When I reached the door Mr. Crump was staring owlishly into the
' "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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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.
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? 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
"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
"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."
"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
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes