Author's Note: This takes place at about midway through season two of the TV series.
James figured the problem began with that poor cow who had the misfortune of ending up on Sidlow's farm.
A call had come in early that morning from Sidlow. Another one of his cows was not doing well under his usual treatment of absurd home remedies. This inevitably meant that someone had to come out and inform him that there was nothing veterinary science could do to save it. As if Sidlow wasn't already convinced of that anyway.
James hadn't exactly been eager to go, but it was Siegfried's turn to stay in the surgery. Tristan was even less eager to go, but Siegfried had insisted that it would be a "valuable learning experience" for his brother. Tristan had countered that it was just punishment for his latest hangover, an assessment James agreed with even if he didn't say it out loud.
"Nonsense, my dear boy," Siegfried had insisted. "Once you become a qualified vet, God willing, you will eventually have to learn to deal with the Sidlows of this world. Better to begin that learning now rather than put it off until it can no longer be avoided."
"Oh come off it, Siegfried," James sighed. "You and I both know that he's just having us come out there to put some wretched animal out of its misery. He wouldn't call us if the poor thing had a chance."
"More than likely, James, more than likely," Siegfried nodded sagely. "Still, hope does springs eternal, does it not?"
Unfortunately, James' prediction had turned out to be the correct one.
The cow had a virus that was not only killing it, but was also driving it mad. Granted, this time, neither Sidlow's remedies nor a timely application of veterinary medicine would have done much good. So at least James did not have to swallow down the usual frustration over not being called in time.
Still, there was the usual atmosphere at the Sidlow farm to be dealt with, including the silent staring from Sidlow's children from the corner of the barn.
"They're a spooky lot, James," Tristan had mumbled at one point while they were fetching some things from the car. "Even when I'm not looking, I can feel their eyes on me."
"If it makes you feel any better, Tris, it's me they're really watching. I'm the one who just told them that I'll have to put down that miserable cow before it infects the whole herd."
"No, it doesn't really make me feel better, but thank you. It was a good try anyway."
The two of them trudged back into the barn to use a humane killer that would put it out of its misery quickly. However, somehow, the cow seemed to know what was coming and decided to fight for its life one last time. Just as James had gotten close to the head, it started to thrash about swishing its head back and forth and kicking out with unsteady feet.
"Watch out, James!"
James leapt backwards just as the cow was about to deliver at brutal kick to his stomach. However, he also ended up falling backwards onto his backside right in the cow's path. Tristan started to run over to get him out of the way, but ended up getting kicked square in the chest. He let out a strangled cry and crumpled to the ground.
"Definitely cracked ribs," Doctor Allinson declared once they had gotten Tristan to his office. "Although, from the sound of it, he was lucky they weren't completely broken."
"Feels like they are," Tristan hissed as the doctor ran his hands over his abdomen. "You sure they're not?"
"Quite sure," Allinson said. "Mind you, I'm sure they hurt well enough just the same. Still, while they might just be cracked, I'd rather be safe than sorry. So I'm recommending three days bed rest and then no strenuous work for at least three weeks after that."
"That's all we need," James huffed. "You unable to do rounds with all the calving that's going on right now. Siegfried will love that."
Tristan pouted. "It's not like I did it on purpose, you know. If all I wanted to do was get out of a little work, I know at least a dozen easier ways to go about it. Like that time I…."
He immediately stopped and leaned forward, groaning while clutching at his ribs which Allinson was in the process of taping up. Looking at the darkening spread of bruises on Tris' chest and the pain in his eyes, James was certain that Tris truly hadn't wanted this to happen. A wave of sympathy washed over him, and he patted Tristan's arm.
"Don't worry about it, Tris. We'll get by."
Siegfried, however, had been far less optimistic.
"Of all the possible times you could choose to make us short-handed," he grumbled. "You would pick now. The worst possible time."
"Have a heart, Siegfried," Tristan protested weakly. "Besides, it's your fault anyway."
"Yes, James could have handled it on his own. There was no good reason for me to be there."
Siegfried eyed him critically. "I sent you up there so you could learn about dealing with difficult clients. Not so you could get yourself taken out of commission at one of the busiest times this practice has ever seen. And why weren't you more careful around that blasted cow anyway?"
"Hang on, Siegfried," James said. "That was just a bit of bad luck."
Siegfried glanced at James over the rims of his glasses. "Oh James, this isn't the first time my little brother has had this sort of 'bad luck' happen to him. The sort that gets him out of doing any real work."
Then Siegfried turned his attention back toward his brother. During this conversation, Tristan had grown pale, his breaths coming out in shallow gasps to avoid jostling his ribs any more than necessary.
In that moment, a complete change came over Siegfried. He jumped up from the couch and took Tristan by the arm.
"Come on, let's get you upstairs and into bed," he said softly. "I'll assume Doctor Allinson gave you something for the pain." Tristan nodded. "Good. I'll have Mrs. Hall bring you something up later. You just rest now, dear brother."
Siegfried continued to reassure Tristan as they walked out of the room and climbed the steps together, leaving James to marvel yet again at how quickly Siegfried's demeanor could change from irritated blustering to tender solicitude toward Tristan. Not that it surprised him anymore. One only had to live with the Farnon brothers for a short time to realize that the bickering and teasing hid a complex, but caring fraternal bond.
Later that night, James shared a drink with Siegfried in the living room while they discussed their current situation.
"Ordinarily, James, we could just keep Tristan in the surgery and try to handle the workload ourselves," Siegfried mused. "But I foresee us only getting busier over the next week and little brother is probably not going to be able to help as much as he normally could. We need to get some extra help now if we're going to keep our heads above water."
"Agreed, but what can we do?" James asked. "It's probably too short of notice to get one of the students to help us."
Siegfried sipped at his whisky. "Yes. But…I believe…we might be able to do something about it after all."
He sat his drink down and jumped up to rush out into the hallway. James got up and followed him.
"What are you thinking, Siegfried?" James asked as he watched Siegfried pick up the telephone.
"I was just remembering about something Angus Grier told me."
James scowled. "Oh yes. Him."
Siegfried chuckled. "Come now, James, really. Anyway, I remember him telling me just last week that he's got too many assistants right now to give them a decent amount of work. So I imagine he could spare one of them to help us out for the next month or so. I'm going to give him a ring and see if he can recommend someone."
As it turned out, Grier had an assistant who was eager for the extra work, a final year vet student named Thomas Blackmore. Blackmore was a tall, barrel-chested young man with dark hair and eyes. He had high marks in veterinary college and was looking to get additional experience with farm animals. Plus, he was able to come to Skeldale the next morning.
Blackmore showed up just after breakfast and appeared to be impressed with Skeldale, the surgery, and with Siegfried in particular. Then, the phone rang and Siegfried left James alone with Blackmore who was still pacing around the surgery. Once Siegfried was gone, Blackmore moved close to him.
"I still can't believe my luck," he said, giddy. "Siegfried Farnon is known all over the Dales as a horse expert and that's my area of interest too. And I can't wait to spend some more time out on the farms. Working at Mr. Grier's practice was all well and good, but…well…."
"He's not exactly very welcoming to young vets," James said with a sympathetic smile. "Well, Siegfried is definitely someone you can learn a lot about horses from. And you'll be getting some experience with farm animals, I can promise you that. Have you ever worked on a farm before? Aside from student work?"
"A little," Thomas answered. "Not nearly enough. I'm from Manchester originally, you see. Although, when I was a kid, I used to spend my summer at my uncle's farm here in the Dales. So I do know a bit about what it's like up here. Well, anyway, I'm here to learn and I'm sure there's a lot Mr. Farnon can teach me."
James nodded. As they talked, he couldn't shake the notion that Blackmore was trying too hard. Then he thought about when he first arrived in the Darrowby when he was looking for a job just after getting out of veterinary college and had met Siegfried for the first time. Looking back on it, James was certain that he had been more than a little awkward and eager to please himself and was willing to give Blackmore the benefit of the doubt for now.
"You know, it's really hard to believe that Tristan is his brother," Blackmore said, his tone still casual.
"Oh? What do you mean?"
"Fail-Again Farnon," Blackmore chuckled. "That's what some of us call him around school. Mind you, he's a nice guy and just the sort you'd want to take on a pub crawl. But honestly, I don't know why he's wasting his time with veterinary school. He keeps failing his courses and even when he does pass, it's only by the skin of his teeth. It's as if he learns next to nothing in his classes."
James felt his jaw tighten. Yes, he knew that Tris struggled with some aspects of his studies, but he had also seen plenty of evidence that Tristan had thoroughly absorbed a large body of knowledge from his classes and fieldwork. In fact, there were a couple of times when he was forced to admit that Tristan's abilities had surpassed his own.
"Compare that to Siegfried Farnon who had an excellent record in veterinary school and became a horse expert," Blackmore added. "And now he has this thriving practice in Darrowby. I tell you, I don't see how they could be more dissimilar."
"Well nobody's perfect," James said with more than a little annoyance in his tone. "We all have our weak points."
Blackmore, however, didn't seem to notice James' irritation. "Yes, yes, I suppose we do." He turned to give James another congenial smile. "That's why I jumped at the chance to work here even though I was supposed to be going on holiday with the family soon. I know I need experience and I'm sure I'll learn a lot here."
James didn't smile back. He wasn't sure if Blackmore meant anything personal with his dismissive remarks about Tristan, but it was still impossible to overlook the offhand attack of his best friend.
"I'm sure if you're willing to put in the work, you'll get something out of being here," he said.
Blackmore flashed him another smile that seemed to James to be rather conspiratorial.
"Oh, I fully intend to, Mr. Herriot."