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Authors: James Herriot

Every Living Thing

BOOK: Every Living Thing
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Every LivingThing
James Herriot

To my revered and elderly friends,

Polly and Bodie

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

A Biography of James Herriot

Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Chapter 1

I
AM NEVER AT
my best in the early morning, especially a cold morning in the Yorkshire spring with a piercing March wind sweeping down from the fells, finding its way inside my clothing, nipping at my nose and ears. It was a cheerless time, and a particularly bad time to be standing in this cobbled farmyard watching a beautiful horse dying because of my incompetence.

It had started at eight o’clock. Mr. Kettlewell telephoned as I was finishing my breakfast.

“I ’ave a fine big cart-’oss here and he’s come out in spots.”

“Oh, really, what kind of spots?”

“Well, round and flat, and they’re all over ’im.”

“And it started quite suddenly?”

“Aye, he were right as rain last night.”

“All right, I’ll have a look at him right away.” I nearly rubbed my hands. Urticaria. It usually cleared up spontaneously, but an injection hastened the process and I had a new antihistamine drug to try out—it was said to be specific for this sort of thing. Anyway, it was the kind of situation where it was easy for the vet to look good. A nice start to the day.

In the fifties, the tractor had taken over most of the work on the farms, but there was still a fair number of draught horses around, and when I arrived at Mr. Kettlewell’s place I realised that this one was something special.

The farmer was leading him from a loose box into the yard. A magnificent Shire, all of eighteen hands, with a noble head that he tossed proudly as he paced towards me. I appraised him with something like awe, taking in the swelling curve of the neck, the deep-chested body, the powerful limbs abundantly feathered above the massive feet.

“What a wonderful horse!” I gasped. “He’s enormous!”

Mr. Kettlewell smiled with quiet pride. “Aye, he’s a right smasher. I only bought ’im last month. I do like to have a good ’oss about.” He was a tiny man, elderly but sprightly, and one of my favourite farmers. He had to reach high to pat the huge neck and was nuzzled in return. “He’s kind, too. Right quiet.”

“Ah, well, it’s worth a lot when a horse is good-natured as well as good-looking.” I ran my hand over the typical plaques in the skin.

“Yes, this is urticaria, all right.”

“What’s that?”

“Sometimes it’s called nettle rash. It’s an allergic condition. He may have eaten something unusual, but it’s often difficult to pinpoint the cause.”

“Is it serious?”

“Oh, no. I have an injection that’ll soon put him right. He’s well enough in himself, isn’t he?”

“Aye, right as a bobbin.”

“Good. Sometimes it upsets an animal, but this fellow’s the picture of health.”

As I filled my syringe with the antihistamine I felt that I had never spoken truer words. The big horse radiated health and well-being.

He did not move as I gave the injection, and I was about to put my syringe away when I had another thought. I had always used a proprietary preparation for urticaria and it had invariably worked. Maybe it would be a good idea to supplement the antihistamine, just to make sure. I wanted a good, quick cure for this splendid horse.

I trotted back to my car to fetch the old standby and injected the usual dose. Again the big animal paid no attention and the farmer laughed.

“By gaw, he doesn’t mind, does ’e?”

I pocketed the syringe. “No, I wish all our patients were like him. He’s a grand sort.”

This, I thought, was vetting at its best. An easy, trouble-free case, a nice farmer and a docile patient who was a picture of equine beauty, a picture I could have looked at all day. I didn’t want to go away, though other calls were waiting. I just stood there, half listening to Mr. Kettlewell’s chatter about the imminent lambing season.

“Ah, well,” I said at length, “I must be on my way.” I was turning to go when I noticed that the farmer had fallen silent.

The silence lasted for a few moments, then, “He’s dotherin’ a bit,” he said.

I looked at the horse. There was the faintest tremor in the muscles of the limbs. It was hardly visible, but as I watched, it began to spread upwards, minute by minute, until the skin over the neck, body and rump began to quiver. It was very slight, but there was no doubt it was gradually increasing in intensity.

“What is it?” said Mr. Kettlewell.

“Oh, just a little reaction. It’ll soon pass off.” I was trying to sound airy, but I wasn’t so sure.

With agonising slowness the trembling developed into a generalised shaking of the entire frame, and this steadily increased in violence as the farmer and I stood there in silence. I seemed to have been there a long time, trying to look calm and unworried, but I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This sudden, inexplicable transition—there was no reason for it. My heart began to thump and my mouth turned dry as the shaking was replaced by great shuddering spasms that racked the horse’s frame, and his eyes, so serene a short while ago, started from his head in terror, while foam began to drop from his lips. My mind raced. Maybe I shouldn’t have mixed those injections, but it couldn’t have this fearful effect. It was impossible.

As the seconds passed, I felt I couldn’t stand much more of this. The blood hammered in my ears. Surely he would start to recover soon—he couldn’t get worse.

I was wrong. Almost imperceptibly the huge animal began to sway. Only a little at first, then more and more till he was tilting from side to side like a mighty oak in a gale. Oh, dear God, he was going to go down and that would be the end. And that end had to come soon. The cobbles shook under my feet as the great horse crashed to the ground. For a few moments he lay there, stretched on his side, his feet pedalling convulsively, then he was still.

Well, that was it. I had killed this magnificent horse. It was impossible, unbelievable, but a few minutes ago that animal had been standing there in all his strength and beauty and I had come along with my clever new medicines and now there he was, dead.

What was I going to say? I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Kettlewell, I just can’t understand how this happened. My mouth opened, but nothing came out, not even a croak. And, as though looking at a picture from the outside, I became aware of the square of farm buildings with the dark, snow-streaked fells rising behind under a lowering sky, of the biting wind, the farmer and myself, and the motionless body of the horse.

I felt chilled to the bone and miserable, but I had to say my piece. I took a long, quavering breath and was about to speak when the horse raised his head slightly. I said nothing, nor did Mr. Kettlewell, as the big animal eased himself onto his chest, looked around for a few seconds and got to his feet. He shook his head, then walked across to his master. The recovery was just as quick, just as incredible, as the devastating collapse, and he showed no ill effects from his crashing fall onto the cobbled yard.

The farmer reached up and patted the horse’s neck.

“You know, Mr. Herriot, them spots have nearly gone!”

I went over and had a look. “That’s right. You can hardly see them now.”

Mr. Kettlewell shook his head wonderingly. “Aye, well, it’s a wonderful new treatment. But I’ll tell tha summat. I hope you don’t mind me sayin’ this, but”—he put his hand on my arm and looked up into my face—“ah think it’s just a bit drastic.”

I drove away from the farm and pulled up my car in the lee of a dry-stone wall. A great weariness had descended upon me. This sort of thing wasn’t good for me. I was getting on in years now—well into my thirties—and I couldn’t stand these shocks like I used to. I tipped the driving mirror down and had a look at myself. I was a bit pale, but not as ghastly white as I felt. Still, the feeling of guilt and bewilderment persisted, and with it the recurring thought that there must be easier ways of earning a living than as a country veterinary surgeon. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, rough, dirty and peppered with traumatic incidents like that near catastrophe back there. I leaned back against the seat and closed my eyes.

When I opened them a few minutes later, the sun had broken through the clouds, bringing the green hillsides and the sparkling ridges of snow to vivid life, painting the rocky outcrops with gold. I wound the window down and breathed in the cold, clean air, drifting down, fresh and tangy, from the moorland high above. A curlew cried, breaking the enveloping silence, and on the grassy bank by the roadside I saw the first primroses of spring.

Peace began to steal through me. Maybe I hadn’t done anything wrong with Mr. Kettlewell’s horse. Maybe antihistamines did sometimes cause these reactions. Anyway, as I started the engine and drove away, the old feeling began to well up in me and within minutes it was running strong; it was good to be able to work with animals in this thrilling countryside; I was lucky to be a vet in the Yorkshire Dales.

Chapter 2

T
HERE IS NO DOUBT
that a shock to the system heightens the perception, because as I drove away from Mr. Kettlewell’s with my heart still fluttering to begin the rest of my morning round it was as though I was seeing everything for the first time. In my daily work I was always aware of the beauty around me and had never lost the sense of wonder that had filled me when I had my first sight of Yorkshire, but this morning the magic of the Dales was stronger than ever.

My eyes strayed again and again over the towering flanks of the fells, taking in the pattern of walled green fields won from the yellow moorland grass, and I gazed up at the high tops with the thrill of excitement that always came down to me from that untrodden land.

After visiting one isolated farm I couldn’t resist pulling my car off the unfenced road and climbing with my beagle, Dinah, to the high country that beckoned me. The snow had disappeared almost overnight, leaving only runnels of white lying behind the walls, and it was as though all the scents of the earth and growing things had been imprisoned and were released now by the spring sunshine in waves of a piercing sweetness. When I reached the summit I was breathless and gulped the crystal air greedily as though I could never get enough of it.

Here there was no evidence of the hand of man, and I walked with my dog among miles of heather, peat hags and bog pools with the black waters rippling and the tufts of rushes bending and swaying in the eternal wind.

As the cloud shadows, racing on the wind, flew over me, trailing ribbons of shade and brightness over the endless browns and greens, I felt a rising exhilaration at just being up there on the roof of Yorkshire. It was an empty landscape where no creature stirred and all was silent except for the cry of a distant bird, and yet I felt a further surge of excitement in the solitude, a tingling sense of the nearness of all creation.

BOOK: Every Living Thing
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