Let sleeping vets lie, p.9
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.9James 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
"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
"Mr. Herriot, haven't I made a difference to this dog!"
"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."
"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
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
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
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
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
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'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
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
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
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
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes