“Oh, James, a moment please!“
Siegfried called across the hallway, catching me as I was tiptoeing up to our rooms in the hope of making it past the living room without attracting his attention. Of course I should have known better. I straightened and answered in as conversational a tone as I could make it. Maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as I feared.
He appeared in the doorway, an amused grin tugging at his lips, one eyebrow lifted as he gazed pointedly at my stockinged feet.
“Mrs Pumphrey called this morning,” he said in the grave tone that made me clench my teeth in expectation. “Something about tricky poo. She said it’s the second time she called, and you haven’t phoned back.” He breathed in deeply and looked at me with an expression of grave patience. “Really, James, I’ve told you many times that we need to answer calls within the next few hours. What if that Pekinese has eaten something poisonous? And she being so attached to you?”
“That’s Tricky Woo,” I said through gritted teeth. “And I planned on going there after injecting Henderson’s herd tomorrow. Tricky never has more than a little indigestion.”
Siegfried’s mien became downright benevolent, as he leaned forward and pursed his lips, shaking his head gravely.
“James, tricky poo is what she said, poo, P-O-O, as in canine excrement,” he enunciated carefully as if speaking to a moron. “Within the day, without fail, and as Tristan is here, if you can’t, he will have to.”
“No problem,” I said and nodded. That was easier than trying to reason with him, and if Tristan was involved, then I had learned the hard way to stay out of it.
~ o O o ~
It wasn’t easy getting out of my warm bed at six in the morning. In the deep of the winter I was hopping around in a room in which the water had frozen in the jug over night. I was dressing in clothes still carrying the aroma of a visit to one of the largest piggeries of Darrowby the day before and I knew that Mrs Hall hadn’t yet arrived. However, unless I wanted another lecture about customer service, I had better get out to Henderson’s earlier than I had planned yesterday. Another call from Mrs Pumphrey and I’d never hear the end of it.
I climbed into the little car warmed by the knowledge that – while I may have had forsaken the buns and strong tea of Mrs Hall’s making – the fry up Mrs Henderson served her kitchen full of males was no less heartening. I had been peremptorily included every time I had happened to be on the farm around second breakfast.
December had started with an uncommonly cold and dry weather, much maligned by the farmers, but enchanting everyone else with the hoarfrost tracing every twig and every blade in crystal white, lighting up like bright gems under the distant, low winter sun. It may have been icy cold, but as I drove through the Dales I felt like entering fairy country. Cresting the hill separating Darrowby from Henderson’s farm I would have liked to stop and stretch my feet simply to have an excuse to look at all that early morning beauty. Instead I chugged on, managed to hasten through vaccination of forty-seven calves, did no justice to the breakfast I was offered and left with little more than a hastily drunken cup of coffee. I did however arrive in time to learn all about Tricky Woo’s new problem.
I never was so aware of the scope a country vet had to deal with over the course of the day, than when I happened to visit Mrs Pumphrey. Elegant, rather well off and for reasons I hadn’t been so far able to fathom utterly convinced I could provide the very best care her Pekinese could get. Given that this lofty position of trust more often than not resulted in glorious parcels and wicker baskets filled with delicacies like single malt whisky, superb port, freshly smoked kippers and succulent bacon, I did not disabuse her of this notion. All this was made easier yet by the fact that her little dog and I got on perfectly well. Tricky Woo was among my friendliest, most outgoing patients.
I got a fair warning that something was amiss, when Hawkins, the butler, opened the door unaccompanied and with a grave mien. Without further explanation he ushered me through the house, with its extravagant oriental carpets, warming fireplaces and what looked like a wonderful late breakfast laid out in the dining room. My empty stomach reacted with quite untoward sounds, which I hoped weren’t audible. We joined Mrs Pumphrey and her little dog outside on the frozen expanse of her lawn. The butler cleared his throat and she turned towards me, warmly clad in a mink coat covering her from throat to ankles, gloved hands stuffed into a muff. As so many times before I felt completely inadequate dressed as I was in my Mac over a thick knit Arran sweater, cheap tweeds and my feet thrust into common wellies.
“Oh, Mr Herriot,” she exclaimed. “You’ve no idea how happy I am that you arrived just now. You must watch this.”
She motioned at Tricky who was being led on a leash by Perkins the gardener along a stretch of rough, which I knew to be set aside especially for the dog. Apparently she wanted me to watch her dog have a bowel movement. Tricky didn’t keep us waiting for long and I couldn’t discern anything out of the ordinary how he went about his business. However, this did not appear to be the opinion of his owner. Mrs Pumphrey pointed an agitated, elegantly gloved finger at the hind end of the Pekinese, eyes wide and horrified.
“But Mr Herriot! Look! This… This… Oh I can’t even really look at this. It is too horrifying!”
Nonplussed I watched Tricky turn in a completely normal manner, hasten back towards Mrs Pumphrey and downright pulling on his leash when he saw me, giving a few welcoming barks.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” I stated cautiously.
“But Mr Herriot! Look at his poo.”
At that I turned around to stare at the small steaming pile. When I still didn’t react, she all but shooed me towards the spot where her dog had defecated. Indeed I had to squat down and peer at it closely to see what she was talking about. It was a normal looking pile yet it also was covered in a whitish, fairly clear substance which quickly hardened in the cold. I’d never before seen something just like it. At the back of my mind I took note of having to beg pardon of Siegfried for doubting his word. That still left the puzzle of Tricky’s tricky poo.
Back inside the house I gave Tricky as thorough an examination as I could, but except for getting licked and kissed in frenzied welcome, I learned little new. The dog was in his usual, sturdy health, alert and friendly, without any cause for what I had seen in the garden. At my request Perkins bagged the pile in question, which I planned to hand over to Tristan for analysis. All my attempts at calming Mrs Pumphrey were in vain though. I went through his current diet together with her, drinking a cup of the excellent coffee served at her table.
Maybe it was sheer bloody mindedness that made me insist on inspecting Tricky’s playroom together with Hawkins. Like the rest of the house it was amply decorated for the coming Christmas season, with neat advent wreaths and flower arrangements, all of them studded with large, white candles. A suspicion began to dawn on me, when I saw that some of the arrangements in Tricky’s room were strangely denuded.
Now, I might not be the brightest of all vets, but I do have my moments. I joined Mrs Pumphrey, grinning broadly.
“I think I solved the problem,” I announced quite proudly. “I believe Tricky’s, uhm, bowel movements will normalise themselves if you keep from placing candles where he can reach them. Eating them won't harm him, but it results in, err, well-preserved, uh, results.”
~ o O o ~
The basket filled with freshly smoked salmon and French champagne arrived by special courier while Siegfried, Tristan and I were still sitting down for breakfast. Tristan beat me to the elegantly penned card attached to it. For once I decided not to take notice of either of them making fun of me.
I'd always wanted to try having a glass of champagne as a wake-me-up. I could get used to that, I found and grinned to myself. Tricky indeed, this had to be the best-preserved canine bodily waste I'd ever come in contact with and of all people it had to be Mrs Pumphrey. Mellow with the champagne I listened to Siegfried and Tristan squabble, for once not bothered at all.
Who said you couldn't sometimes win?