Vet in harness, p.1

Vet in Harness, page 1


Vet in Harness
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Vet in Harness

  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

  the way.

  With love To MY MOTHER In dear old Glasgow town

  Chapter One.

  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

  the moon.

  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.


  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.


  rip, head back, mouth wide.

  I thumped on the kitchen door.


  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

on.' He banged the door in my face and I heard the bolt shooting

  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



  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

  these boxes?'

  The old man raised his eyebrows. "Oh, she's not 'ere.'

  "Not here?'

  "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.


  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.


  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

  feel lightheaded.

  "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
r each arm and

  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

  to me.

  "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.


  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.


  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.


  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

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