Let sleeping vets lie, p.9
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       Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.9

           James Herriot
 

  It must have been nearly three weeks and I was on the point of calling

  at her home when I noticed her stumping briskly along the far side of

  the market place, peering closely into every shop window exactly as

  before. The only difference was that she had a big yellow dog on the end

  of the lead.

  I turned the wheel and sent my car bumping over the cobbles till I was

  abreast of her. When she saw me getting out she stopped and smiled

  impishly but she didn't speak as I bent over Roy and examined him. He

  was still a skinny dog but he looked bright and happy, his wounds were

  healthy and granulating and there was not a speck of dirt in his coat or

  on his skin. I knew then what Mrs. Donovan had been doing all this time;

  she had been washing and combing and teasing at that filthy tangle till

  she had finally conquered it.

  As I straightened up she seized my wrist in a grip of surprising

  strength and looked up into my eyes.

  "Now Mr. Herriot," she said. "Haven't I made a difference to this dog!"

  "You've done wonders, Mrs. Donovan," I said. "And you've been at him

  with that marvelous shampoo of yours, haven't you?"

  She giggled and walked away and from that day I saw the two of them

  frequently but at a distance and something like two months went by

  before I had a chance to talk to her again. She was passing by the

  surgery as I was coming down the steps and again she grabbed my wrist.

  "Mr. Herriot," she said, just as she had done before. "Haven't I made a

  difference to this dog!"

  I looked down at Roy with something akin to awe. He had grown and filled

  out and his coat, no longer yellow but a rich gold, lay in luxuriant

  shining swathes over the well-fleshed ribs and back. A new, brightly

  studded collar glittered on his neck and his tail, beautifully fringed,

  fanned the air gently. He was now a Golden Retriever in full

  magnificence. As I stared at him he reared up, plunked his fore paws on

  my chest and looked into my face, and in his eyes :

  i . , :~ l 1

  ;

  I read plainly the same calm affection and trust I had seen back in that

  black, noisome shed.

  "Mrs. Donovan," I said softly, 'he's the most beautiful dog in

  Yorkshire." Then, because I knew she was waiting for it. "It's those

  wonderful condition powders. Whatever do you put in them?"

  "Ah, wouldn't you like to know!" She bridled and smiled up at me

  coquettishly and indeed she was nearer being kissed at that moment than

  for many years.

  I suppose you could say that that was the start of Roy's second life.

  And as the years passed I often pondered on the beneficent providence

  which had decreed that an animal which had spent his first twelve months

  abandoned and unwanted, staring uncomprehendingly into that unchanging,

  stinking darkness, should be whisked in a moment into an existence of

  light and movement and love. Because I don't think any dog had it quite

  so good as Roy from then on.

  His diet changed dramatically from odd bread crusts to best stewing

  steak and biscuit, meaty bones and a bowl of warm milk every evening.

  And he never missed a thing. Garden fetes, school sports, evictions,

  gymkhanas - he'd be there. I was pleased to note that as time went on

  Mrs. Donovan seemed to be clocking up an even greater daily mileage. Her

  expenditure on shoe leather must have been phenomenal, but of course it

  was absolute pie for Roy - a busy round in the morning, home for a meal

  then straight out again; it was all go.

  Mrs. Donovan didn't confine her activities to the town centre; there was

  a big stretch of common land down by the river where there were seats,

  and people used to take their dogs for a gallop and she liked to get

  down there fairly regularly to check on the latest developments on the

  domestic scene. I often saw Roy loping majestically over the grass among

  a pack of assorted canines, and when he wasn't doing that he was

  submitting to being stroked or patted or generally fussed over. He was

  handsome and he just liked people; it made him irresistible.

  It was common knowledge that his mistress had bought a whole selection

  of brushes and combs of various sizes with which she laboured over his

  coat. Some people said she had a little brush for his teeth, too, and it

  might have been true, but he certainly wouldn't need his nails clipped

  his life on the roads would keep them down.

  Mrs. Donovan, too, had her reward; she had a faithful companion by her

  side every hour of the day and night. But there was more to it than

  that; she had always had the compulsion to help and heal animals and the

  salvation of Roy was the high point of her life - a blazing triumph

  which never dimmed.

  I know the memory of it was always fresh because many years later I was

  sitting on the sidelines at a cricket match and I saw the two of them;

  the old lady glancing keenly around her, Roy gazing placidly out at the

  field of play, apparently enjoying every ball. At the end of the match I

  watched them move away with the dispersing crowd; Roy would be about

  twelve then and heaven only knows how old Mrs. Donovan must have been,

  but the big golden animal was trotting along effortlessly and his

  mistress, a little more bent perhaps and her head rather nearer the

  ground, was going very well.

  When she saw me she came over and I felt the familiar tight grip on my

  wrist.

  "Mr. Herriot," she said, and in the dark probing eyes the pride was

  still as warm, the triumph still as bursting new as if it had all

  happened yesterday.

  "Mr. Herriot, haven't I made a difference to this dog!"

  Chapter Eight.

  "How would you like to officiate at Darrowby Show, James?" Siegfried

  threw the letter he had been reading on to the desk and turned to me.

  "I don't mind, but I thought you always did it."

  "I do, but it says in that letter that they've changed the date this

  year and it happens I'm going to be away that weekend."

  "Oh well, fine. What do I have to do?"

  Siegfried ran his eye down his list of calls. "It's a sinecure, really.

  More a pleasant day out than anything else. You have to measure the

  ponies and be on call in case any animals are injured. That's about all.

  Oh and they want you to judge the Family Pets."

  "Family Pets?"

  "Yes, they run a proper dog show but they have an expert judge for that.

  This is just a bit of fun - all kinds of pets. You've got to find a

  first, second and third."

  "Right," I said. "I think I should just about be able to manage that."

  "Splendid." Siegfried tipped up the envelope in which the letter had

  come. "Here are your car park and luncheon tickets for self and friend

  if you want to take somebody with you. Also your vet's badge. O.K.?"

  The Saturday of the show brought the kind of weather that must have had

  the organisers purring with pleasure; a sky of wide, unsullied blue,

  hardly a whiff of wind and the kind of torrid, brazen sunshine you don't

  often find in North Yorkshire.

  As I drove down towards the show ground I felt I was loo
king at a living

  breathing piece of old England; the group of tents and marquees vivid

  against the green of the riverside field, the women and children in

  their bright summer dresses, the cattle with their smocked attendants, a

  line of massive Shire horses parading in the ring.

  I parked the car and made for the stewards" tent with its Rag hanging

  limply from the mast. Tristan parted from me there. With the impecunious

  student's unerring eye for a little free food and entertainment he had

  taken up my spare tickets. He headed purposefully for the beer tent as I

  went in to report to the show secretary.

  Leaving my measuring stick there I looked around for a while.

  A country show is a lot of different things to a lot of different

  people. Riding horses of all kinds from small ponies to hunters were

  being galloped up and down and in one ring the judges hovered around a

  group of mares and their beautiful little foals.

  In a corner four men armed with buckets and brushes were washing and

  grooming a row of young bulls with great concentration, twiddling and

  crimping the fuzz over the rumps like society hairdressers.

  Wandering through the marquees I examined the bewildering variety of

  produce from stalks of rhubarb to bunches of onions, the Rower displays,

  embroidery, jams, cakes, pies. And the children's section, a painting of

  "The Beach at Scarborough" by Annie Heseltine, aged nine, rows of

  wobbling copperplate handwriting - "A thing of beauty is a joy for

  ever", Bernard Peacock, aged twelve.

  Drawn by the occasional gusts of melody I strolled across the grass to

  where the Darrowby and Houlton Silver Band was rendering Poet and

  Peasant. The bandsmen were of all ages from seventies down to one or two

  boys of about fourteen and most of them had doffed their uniform tunics

  as they sweated in the hot sun. Pint pots reposed under many of the

  chairs and the musicians refreshed themselves frequently with leisurely

  swigs.

  I was particularly fascinated by the conductor, a tiny frail man who

  looked about eighty. He alone had retained his full uniform, cap and

  all, and he stood apparently motionless in front of the crescent of

  bandsmen, chin sunk on chest, arms hanging limply by his sides. It

  wasn't until I came right up to him that I realised his fingers were

  twitching in time with the music and that he was, in fact, conducting.

  And the more I watched him the more fitting it seemed that he should do

  it like that. The Yorkshireman's loathing of exhibitionism or indeed any

  outward show of emotion made it unthinkable that he should throw his

  arms about in the orthodox manner; no doubt he had spent weary hours

  rehearsing and coaching his players but here, when the results of his

  labours were displayed to the public he wasn't going to swank about it.

  Even the almost imperceptible twitching of the finger-ends had something

  guilty about it as if the old man felt he was being caught out in

  something shameful.

  But my attention was jerked away as a group of people walked across on

  the far side of the band. It was Helen with Richard Edmundson.and behind

  them Mr. Alderson and Richard's father deep in conversation. The young

  man walked very close to Helen, his shining, plastered-down fair hair

  hovering possessively over her dark head, his face animated as he talked

  and laughed.

  There were no clouds in the sky but it was as if a dark hand had reached

  across and smudged away the brightness of the sunshine. I turned quickly

  and went in search of Tristan.

  I soon picked out my colleague as I hurried into the marquee with

  "Refreshments" over the entrance. He was leaning with an elbow on the

  makeshift counter of boards and trestles chatting contentedly with a

  knot of cloth-capped locals, a Woodbine in one hand, a pint glass in the

  other. There was a general air of earthy bonhomie. Drinking of a more

  decorous kind would be taking place at the president's bar behind the

  stewards" headquarters with pink gins or sherry as the main tipple but

  here it was beer, bottled and draught, and the stout ladies behind the

  counter were working with the fierce concentration of people who knew

  they were in for a hard day.

  "Yes, I saw her," Tristan said when I gave him my news. "In fact there

  she is now." He nodded in the direction of the family group as they

  strolled past the entrance "I've had my eye on them for some time - I

  don't Miss. much from in here you know, Jim."

  "Ah well." I accepted a half of bitter from him. "It all looks pretty

  cosy. The two dads like blood brothers and Helen hanging on to that

  bloke's arm."

  Tristan squinted over the top of his pint at the scene outside and shook

  his head. "Not exactly. He's hanging on to HER arm." He looked at me

  judicially. "There's a difference, you know."

  "I don't suppose it makes much difference to me either way," I grunted.

  "Well don't look so bloody mournful." He took an effortless swallow

  which lowered the level in his glass by about six inches. "What do you

  expect an attractive girl to do? Sit at home waiting for you to call? If

  you've been pounding on her door every night you haven't told me about

  it."

  "It's all right you talking. I think old man Alderson would set his dogs

  on me ji l" I snoweu up there. 1 know he doesn't like me hanging around

  Helen and on top of that I've got the feeling he thinks I killed his cow

  on my last visit."

  "And did you?"

  "No, I didn't. But I walked up to a living animal, gave it an injection

  and it promptly died, so I can't blame him."

  I took a sip at my beer and watched the Alderson party who had changed

  direction and were heading away from our retreat. Helen was wearing a

  pale blue dress and I was thinking how well the colour went with the

  deep brown of her hair and how I like the way she walked with her legs

  swinging easily and her shoulders high and straight when the loudspeaker

  boomed across the show ground.

  "Will Mr. Herriot, Veterinary Surgeon, please report to the stewards

  immediately."

  It made me jump but at the same time I felt a quick stab of pride. It

  was the first time I had heard myself and my profession publicly

  proclaimed. I turned to Tristan. He was supposed to be seeing practice

  and this could be something interesting. But he was immersed in a story

  which he was trying to tell to a little stocky man with a fat, shiny

  face, and he was having difficulty because the little man, determined to

  get his full measure of enjoyment, kept throwing himself into helpless

  convulsions at the end of every sentence, and the finish was a long way

  away. Tristan took his stories very seriously; I decided not to

  interrupt him.

  A glow of importance filled me as I hurried over the grass, my official

  badge with "Veterinary Surgeon" in gold letters dangling from my lapel.

  A steward met me on the way.

  "It's one of the cattle. Had an accident, I think." He pointed to a tow

  of pens along the edge of the field.

  A curious crowd had collected arou
nd my patient which had been entered

  in the in-calf heifers class. The owner, a stranger from outside the

  Darrowby practice, came up to me, his face glum.

  "She tripped coming off the cattle wagon and went 'ead first into the

  wall. Knocked one of 'er horns clean off."

  The heifer, a bonny little light roan, was a pathetic sight. She had

  been washed, combed, powdered and primped for the big day and there she

  was with one horn dangling drunkenly down the side of her face and an

  ornamental fountain of bright arterial blood climbing gracefully in

  three jets from the broken surface high into the air.

  I opened my bag. I had brought a selection of the things I might need

  and I fished out some artery forceps and suture material. The rational

  way to stop haemorrhage of this type is to grasp the bleeding vessel and

  ligate it, but it wasn't always as easy as that. Especially when the

  patient won't co-operate.

  The broken horn was connected to the head only by a band of skin and I

  quickly snipped it away with scissors; then, with the farmer holding the

  heifer's nose I began to probe with my forceps for the severed vessels.

  In the bright sunshine it was surprisingly difficult to see the spurting

  blood and as the little animal threw her head about I repeatedly felt

  the warm spray across my face and heard it spatter on my collar.

  It was when I was beginning to lose heart with my ineffectual groping

  that I looked up and saw Helen and her boy friend watching me from the

  crowd. Young Edmundson looked mildly amused as he watched my unavailing

 

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