Vet in harness, p.1
Vet in Harness, page 1
Vet in Harness [112-066-4.0]
By: James Herriot
James is now married, and he and Helen live on the top floor of Skeldale
House, while his former boss, now partner, lives downstairs. James
continues the rich and rewarding day-to-day life of a small-town
veterinarian, with the usual menagerie of farm animals, pets and owners
demanding his constant attention, and teaching him a few lessons along
With love To MY MOTHER In dear old Glasgow town
As I crawled into bed and put my arm around Helen it occurred to me, not
for the first time, that there are few pleasures in this world to
compare with snuggling up to a nice woman when you are half frozen.
There weren't any electric blankets in the thirties Which was a pity
because nobody needed the things more than country vets. It is
surprising how deeply bone-marrow cold a man can get when he is dragged
from his bed in the small hours and made to strip off in farm buildings
when his metabolism is at a low ebb. Often the worst part was coming
back to bed; I often lay exhausted for over an hour, longing for sleep
but kept awake until my icy limbs and feet had thawed out.
But since my marriage such things were but a dark memory. Helen stirred
in her sleep - she had got used to her husband leaving her in the night
and returning like a blast from the North Pole - and instinctively moved
nearer to me. With a sigh of thankfulness I felt the blissful warmth
envelop me and almost immediately the events of the last two hours began
to recede into unreality.
It had started with the aggressive shrilling of the bedside phone at one
a.m. And it was Sunday morning, a not unusual time for some farmers
after a late Saturday night to have a look round their stock and decide
to send for the vet.
This time it was Harold Ingledew. And it struck me right away that he
would have just about had time to get back to his farm after his ten
pints at the Four Horse Shoes where they weren't too fussy about closing
And there was a significant slurr in the thin croak of his voice.
"I 'ave a ewe amiss. Will you come?'
"Is she very bad?' In my semi-conscious state I always clung to the
faint hope that one night somebody would say it would wait till morning.
It had never happened yet and it didn't happen now: Mr. Ingledew was not
to be denied.
"Aye, she's in a bad way. She'll have to have summat done for 'er soon.'
Not a minute to lose, I thought bitterly. But she had probably been in a
bad way all the evening when Harold was out carousing.
Still, there were compensations. A sick sheep didn't present any great
threat. It was worst when you had to get out of bed facing the prospect
of a spell of sheer hard labour in your enfeebled state. But in this
case I was confident that I would be able to adopt my half-awake
technique, which meant simply that I would be able to go out there and
deal with the emergency and return between the sheets while still
enjoying many of the benefits of sleep.
There was so much night work in country practice that I had been
compelled to perfect this system as, I suspect, had many of my fellow
practitioners. I had one some sterling work while in a somnambulistic
So, eyes closed, I tiptoed across the carpet and pulled on my working
clothes. effortlessly accomplished the journey down the long flights of
stairs but when I opened the side door the system began to crumble,
because even in the shelter of the high-walled garden the wind struck at
me with savage force. It was difficult to stay asleep.
In the yard as I backed out of the garage the high ranches of the elms
groaned in the darkness as they bent before the blast.
Driving from the town I managed to slip back into my trance and my mi'
played lazily with the phenomenon of Harold Ingledew. This drinking of t
was so out of character. He was a tiny mouse of a man about seventy
years ol and when he came into the surgery on an occasional market day
it was difficult to extract more than a few muttered words from him.
Dressed in his best suit his scrawny neck protruding from a shirt collar
several sizes too big for him, was the very picture of a meek and solid
citizen; the watery blue eyes a~ fleshless cheeks added to the effect
and only the brilliant red colouration of t tip of his nose gave any
hint of other possibilities.
His fellow smallholders in Therby village were all steady characters and
d not indulge beyond a social glass of beer now and then, and his next
door neighbour had been somewhat bitter when he spoke to me a few weeks
"He's nowt but a bloody nuisance is awd Harold.'
"How do you mean?'
"Well, every Saturday night and every market night he's up roarin' and
sin~ till four o'clock in the mornin'.'
"Harold Ingledew? Surely not! He's such a quiet little chap.'
"Aye, he is for the rest of "'week.'
"But I can't imagine him singing!'
"You should live next door to 'im, Mr Herriot. He makes a 'elf of a rack
There's no sleep for anybody till he settles down.'
Since then I had heard from another source that this was perfectly true
a that Mrs Ingledew tolerated it because her husband was entirely
submissive all other times.
The road to Therby had a few sharp little switchbacks before-it dipped
to t village and looking down I could see the long row of silent houses
curving aw to the base of the fell which by day hung in peaceful green
majesty over t huddle of roofs but now bulked black and menacing under
As I stepped from the car and hurried round to the back of the house t
wind caught at me again, jerking me to wakefulness as though somebody h
thrown a bucket of water over me. But for a moment I forgot the cold in
t feeling of shock as the noise struck me. Singing .. . Loud raucous
singing echoing around the old stones of the yard.
It was coming from the lighted kitchen window.
JUST A SONG AT TWILIGHT, WHEN THE LIGHTS ARE LOW!
I looked inside and saw little Harold sitting,with his stockinged feet
extent towards the dying embers of the fire while one hand clutched a
bottle of brown' ale.
AND THE FLICKERING SHADOWS SOFTLY COME AND Go!' He was really letting'
rip, head back, mouth wide.
I thumped on the kitchen door.
THOUGH THE HEART BE WEARY, SAD THE DAY AND LONG!' replied Harold's ret
tenor and I banged impatiently at the woodwork again.
The noise ceased and I waited an unbelievably long time till I heard the
I turning and the bolt rattling back. The little man pushed his nose out
and me a questioning look.
"I've come to see your sheep,' I said.
"Oh aye.' He nodded curtly with none of his usual diffidence. "Ah'll put
hon Taken aback as I was I realised that he wasn't being deliberately
rude Bolting the door was proof that he was doing everything
mechanically. But all that he had left me standing in an uncharitable
spot. Vets will tell you t there are corners in farmyards which are
colder than any hill top and I we' one now. Just beyond the kitchen door
was a stone archway leading to the 1
fields and through this black opening there whistled a Siberian draught
which cut effortlessly through my clothes.
I had begun to hop from one foot to the other when the singing started
"THERE S AN OLD MILL 8Y THE STREAM, NELLIE DEAN!'
Horrified, I rushed back to the window. Harold was back in his chair,
pulling on a vast boot and taking his time about it. As he bellowed he
poked owlishly at the lace holes and occasionally refreshed himself from
the bottle of brown ale.
I tapped on the window. "Please hurry, Mr Ingledew.'
"WHERE WE USED TO SIT AND DREAM, NELLIE DEAN! bawled Harold in response.
My teeth had begun to chatter before he got both boots on but at last he
reappeared in the doorway.
"Come on then,' I gasped. "Where is this ewe? Have you got her in one of
The old man raised his eyebrows. "Oh, she's not 'ere.'
"Nay, she's up at t'top buildings.'
"Right back up the road, you mean?'
"Aye, ah stopped off on t'way home and had a look at 'er.'
I stamped and rubbed my hands. "Well, we'll have to drive back up. But
there's no water, is there? You'd better bring a bucket of warm water,
some soap and a towel.'
"Very good.' He nodded solemnly and before I knew what was happening the
door was slammed shut and bolted and I was alone again in the darkness.
I trotted immediately to the window and was not surprised to see Harold
seated comfortably again. He leaned forward and lifted the kettle from
the hearth and for a dreadful moment I thought he was going to start
heating the water on the ashes of the fire. But with a gush of relief I
saw him take hold of a ladle and reach into the primitive boiler in the
old black grate.
AND THE WATERS AS THEY FLOW SEEM TO MURMUR SWEET AND LOW! he warbled
happy at his work, as he unhurriedly filled a bucket.
I think he had forgotten I was there when he finally came out because he
looked at me blankly as he sang.
YOU RE MY HEART'S DESIRE, I LOVE YOU, NELLIE DEAN! he informed me at
tile top of his voice.
"All right, all right,' I grunted. "Let's go.' I hurried him into the
car and we set off on the way I had come.
Harold held the bucket at an angle on his lap, and as we went over the
switchbacks the water slopped gently on to my knee. The atmosphere in
the car soon became so highly charged with beer fumes that I began to
"In 'ere!' the old man barked suddenly as a gate appeared in the
headlights. I pulled on to the grass verge and stood on one leg for a
few moments till I had shaken a surplus pint or two of water from my
trousers. We went through the gate and I began to hurry towards the dark
bulk of the hillside barn, but I noticed that Harold wasn't following
me. He was walking aimlessly around the "What are you doing, Mr
Lookin' for t'ewe.'
"You mean she's outside?' I repressed an impulse to scream. H Aye, she
lambed this afternoon and ah thowt she'd be right enough out 'ere.' He
produced a torch, a typical farmer's torch tiny and with a moribund
battery d and projected a fitful beam into the darkness. It made not the
slightest As I stumbled across the field a sense of hopelessness
assailed me. Above, the egged clouds scurried across the face of the
moon but down here I could see ~
nothing. And it was so cold. The recent frosts had turned the ground to
iron an the crisp grass cowered under the piercing wind. I had just
decided that tha was no way of finding an animal in this black waste
land when Harold pip. up.
"She's over 'ere.'
And sure enough when I groped my way towards the sound of his voice I
was standing by an unhappy looking ewe. I don't know what instinct ha
brought him to her but there she was. And she was obviously in trouble;
h. head hung down miserably and when I put my hand on her fleece she
took on a few faltering steps instead of galloping off as a healthy
sheep would her, a tiny lamb huddled close to her flank.
I lifted her tail and took her temperature. It was normal. There were no
sign' of the usual post-lambing ailments; no staggering to indicate a
deficiency, r discharge or accelerated respirations. But there was
something very far wrorg I looked again at the lamb. He was an unusually
early arrival in this hi' country and it seemed unfair to bring the
little creature into the inhospitable world of a Yorkshire March. And he
was so small ... yes ... yes ... it w; beginning to filter through to
me. He was too damn small for a single lamb.
"Bring me that bucket, Mr Ingledew!' I cried. I could hardly wait to see
if was right. But as I balanced the receptacle on the grass the full
horror of the situation smote me. I was going to have to strip off.
They don't give vets medals for bravery but as I pulled off my overcoat
and jacket and stood shivering in my shirt sleeves on that black
hillside I felt deserved one.
"Hold her head,' I gasped and soaped my arm quickly. By the light of the
torch I felt my way into the vagina and I didn't have to go very far
before found what I had expected; a woolly little skull. It was bent
downwards with the nose under the pelvis and the legs were back.
"There's another lamb in here,' I said. "It's laid wrong or it would
have be. born with its mate this afternoon.'
Even as I spoke my fingers had righted the presentation and I drew the
little creature gently out and deposited him on the grass. I hadn't
expected him to I alive after his delayed entry but as he made contact
with the cold ground h limbs gave a convulsive twitch and almost
immediately I felt his ribs heaving under my hand.
For a moment I forgot the knife-like wind in the thrill which I always
fout in new life, the thrill that was always fresh, always warm. The
ewe, too, seem. stimulated because in the darkness I felt her nose
pushing interestedly at the new arrival.
But my pleasant ruminations were cut short by a scuffling from behind n
and some muffled words.
"Bugger it!' mumbled Harold.
"What's the matter?'
"Ah've kicked bucket ower.'
"Oh no! Is the water all gone?'
"Aye, nowt left.'
Well this was great. My arm was smeared with mucus after being inside
the ewe. I couldn't possibly put my jacket on without a wash.
Harold's voice issued again from the darkness. "There's some water ower
"Oh good. We've got to get this ewe and lambs over there anyway.' I
threw my clothes over my shoulder, tucked a lamb unde
began blunder over the tussocks of grass to where I thought the barn
lay. The c~ clearly feeling better without her uncomfortable burden,
trotted behind me.,:;
It was Harold again who had to give me directions.
"Ower 'ere!' he shouted When I reached the barn I cowered thankfully
behind the massive stones. It was no night for a stroll in shirt
sleeves. Shaking uncontrollably I peered at the old man I could just see
his form in the last faint radiance of the torch and I wasn~t quite sure
what he was doing. He had lifted a stone from the pasture and was
bashing something with it; then I realised he was bending over the water
trough, breaking the ice.
When he had finished he plunged the bucket into the trough and handed it
"There's your water,' he said triumphantly.
I thought I had reached the ultimate in frigidity but when I plunged my
hands into the black liquid with its floating icebergs I changed my
mind. The torch had finally expired and I lost the soap very quickly.
When I found I was trying to work up a lather with one of the pieces of
ice I gave it up and dried my arms.
Somewhere nearby I could hear Harold humming under his breath, as
comfortable as if he was by his own fireside. The vast amount of alcohol
surging through his bloodstream must have made him impervious to the
We pushed the ewe and lambs into the barn which was piled high with hay
and before leaving I struck a match and looked down at the little sheep
and her new family settled comfortably among the fragrant clover. They
would be safe and warm in there till morning.
My journey back to the village was less hazardous because the bucket on
Harold's knee was empty. I dropped him outside his house then I had to
drive to the bottom of the village to turn; and as I came past the house
again the sound forced its way into the car.
"If YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD AND ~ WERE THE ONLY BOY!
I stopped, wound the window down and listened in wonder. It was
incredible how the noise reverberated around the quiet street and if it
went on till four o'clock in the morning as the neighbours said, then
they had my sympathy.
NOTHING ELSE WOULD MATTER IN THE WORLD TODAY!
It struck me suddenly that I could soon get tired of Harold's singing.
His volume was impressive but for all that he would never be in great
demand at Covent Garden; he constantly wavered off key and there was a
grating quality in his top notes which set my teeth on edge.
WE WOULD GO ON LOVING in THE SAME OLD WAY!
Hurriedly I wound the window up and drove off. As the heaterless car
picked its way between the endless flitting pattern of walls I crouched
in frozen immobility behind the wheel. I had now reached the state of
total numbness and I can't remember much about my return to the yard at
Skeldale House, nor my automatic actions of putting away the car,
swinging shut the creaking doors of what had once been the old coach
house, and trailing slowly down the long garden.
But a realisation of my blessings began to return when I slid into bed
and He!en, instead of shrinking away from me as it would have been
natural to do, deliberately draped her feet and legs over the human ice
block that was her husband. The bliss was unbelievable. It was worth
getting out just to come back I glanced at the luminous dial of the
alarm clock. It was three o'clock and as the Warmth flowed over me and I
drifted away, my mind went back to the ewe and lambs, snug in their
scented barn. They would be asleep now, I would soon asleep, everybody
would be asleep.
Except, that is, Harold Ingledew's neighbours. They still had an hour to
by James Herriot / Biographies & Memoirs / Nonfiction / Short Stories have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes