Another two weeks went by with little incident. Business finally started to slow down to allow for a less hectic work day, and by the end of it, Tristan was finally well enough to start going out for farm jobs once in a while. Although, Siegfried did insist that Tristan accompany James whenever he did go out to make sure that he couldn't overdo things.
This suited James fine as he had become far less enamored with working with Blackmore after his talk with Tris. True, Blackmore continued to be hard-working and congenial around everyone, including Tristan. However, now that James had been clued into Blackmore's likely scheme, he did start to notice more of the little things that Tris had mentioned.
He saw how Blackmore would often offer his assistance while placing emphasis on the idea that the practice could use someone who "worked hard and didn't need minding" whenever he could. Then there was the way that Blackmore made sure to compliment Tristan on his ability to be social and amusing with the unspoken implication that those were his only strengths. Not to mention all the times that Blackmore would finagle a way to spend additional time with Siegfried out in the field or even around Skeldale.
Perhaps the most stinging of all to Tristan was that Siegfried wasn't taking him along to assist on jobs anymore and would take Blackmore instead. Of course, there was the practical reason that. Blackmore would only have a short time to get any sort of mentoring from Siegfried and needed to take advantage of it while he could.
That didn't change how disheartened Tristan was by this development though. Sure, Tris often whined and complained when it meant going out when the weather was freezing or in the early hours of the morning, but James knew that Siegfried taking the time to mentor him out in the field meant a lot to Tris even if Tris would never admit it to his brother's face. Having Blackmore take his place in what was a personal and meaningful aspect of his work hit Tristan especially hard.
None of these things meant much on its own, but when taken altogether, James could easily see a definite strategy for Blackmore to ingratiate himself into the practice. A strategy that involved disparaging and excluding Tristan as much as possible.
Thus, while he had no direct reason to hold any personal animosity toward Blackmore, James had no desire to spend any more time around him than was necessary. Granted, Blackmore did make a firm effort to get on his good side as well, but James did nothing to encourage his efforts out of loyalty to Tris.
Meanwhile, James also made sure to reassure Tristan as much as possible whenever they were out on jobs together or during evenings spent at the Drovers. For the most part, Tristan appeared to be acting normally, if also a bit quieter than usual. Despite his cheerful front though, James was certain that Tris was still worrying about Blackmore taking his place in the practice.
He wished he could do more to cheer Tris up, but Tristan did make it clear that he appreciated the support he could give.
After about a month and a half, Blackmore's time at Skeldate drew to a close. Toward the end, Siegfried mainly kept Blackmore around the surgery so James and Tristan could handle the call outs, a change he accepted gracefully if reluctantly.
It was on the last day that he was there that all of Blackmore's machinations finally revealed themselves.
James had just gotten back from checking on some new cows at Handshaw's farm and was about to walk into surgery when he heard voices: Siegfried's and Blackmore's.
"…and I learned a lot from you while I was here, Mr. Farnon."
"Oh Thomas, no need to go back to being formal just because it's your last day here. Siegfried is still fine. And let me say that you've been very helpful here while Tristan was recuperating. I'm sure when you finish your studies and become qualified, you'll have a bright future ahead of you."
"Thank you, Siegfried. It means a lot to hear that from you. And…it's interesting that you should bring it up. My future I mean."
Just then, Tristan came down the stairs, a quizzical look on his face upon seeing James listening at the door.
"I say, James," he whispered. "What are you….?"
James frantically waved his hands to hush him. Tristan furrowed his eyebrows even more and stood next to him so he could listen too.
"…and as I said, I learned a lot by watching you on the job and from the discussions we've had. And from Mr. Herriot as well."
"Yes, James is quite resourceful. Hard worker too. Any student could benefit from his influence."
"I agree. And I think I could learn even more from both of you once I become qualified and perhaps return here to Darrowby."
"You mean…come back here and become an assistant in the practice?"
Tristan's face darkened, but thankfully he kept quiet and only leaned in a little more to listen.
"Yes, exactly. If that is all right with you and Mr. Herriot, of course. I should be qualified later this year after the next round of exams and can be ready to work as your assistant immediately afterwards. And maybe, one day, I could be considered for a partnership?"
Siegfried chuckled. "My word, you do set your sights high, don't you?"
Anger flashed in Tristan's eyes, but that was soon extinguished and replaced by despair. He began to slink away, but James grabbed his arm and held fast.
"James…please…." Tris mouthed.
James shook his head and kept his hold on him. He knew that Tris would be crushed if this conversation went the way Blackmore was expecting it to and couldn't blame Tristan for not wanting to be around to listen to Siegfried's response if it did go that way. Nevertheless James held fast. Siegfried was frequently impossible and often unpredictable, but he was still certain that Tristan would want to hear what his elder brother had to say.
"However, Thomas, perhaps it has escaped your notice that I already have a third member in my practice, and at this point, I'm not sure if a fourth person would be needed on a permanent basis."
"On the contrary, I have noticed, and if I may say so, Siegfried, I think the practice could do better."
"Oh do you?"
"Yes, yes I think so. Over these last few weeks, I've seen how busy your practice is, and I believe it would benefit far more from having three fully qualified vets on staff rather than having to carry the burden of a perpetual student who probably won't become qualified in the foreseeable future. If ever. Especially when that person might not be willing to shoulder his share of the work and enable the practice to grow. Honestly, why should you have to drain valuable time and resources from this thriving practice you've built into such a hopeless cause?"
"Hopeless cause? Is that how you'd assess Tristan's value to the practice? In your burgeoning professional opinion, of course."
"Well…yes. Yes, I would. Mind you, it isn't personal…."
"Oh no, of course it isn't. I wouldn't expect that from you. However, in regards to your purely professional evaluation of Tristan's work within this practice, I'm afraid you've shown some of the poorest judgment I have ever seen."
"But…I…Siegfried…I thought…well, I thought…."
"You thought? You thought what? That you're a more capable vet than Tristan? Well then, let me disabuse you of that notion, Mr. Blackmore. You may have done a good job learning from books and taking exams, but you have far to go before you can place yourself in Tristan's company. Take just this last week when you misdiagnosed that sow on Dent's farm as having brucellosis and I had to explain to you why it was actually mycotoxicosis."
"An honest mistake. But I'm sure with the experience I could gain here, I wouldn't…."
"An honest mistake perhaps, but Tristan wouldn't have made that mistake. Do you know why? Because, unlike you, he knows that he can't always stick to his initial diagnosis when treating an animal. He gathers information and adjusts his ideas if needed rather than just looking to confirm his theories. That's not something you can learn from a textbook, Mr. Blackmore. Nor is it something you can gain from experience unless you have the right sort of temperament. A temperament I fear you lack. Then there was the little matter of Mrs. Ellison's cat."
"The cat? But that was a first-rate job. At least, I thought so."
"Yes, it certainly was. However, you implied that Tristan mainly assisted with the operation when I know for a fact that can't have been the case because I removed the stitches from that cat. Only Tristan could have pulled off the delicate work that I saw when I examined her."
"I happen to have had a great deal of experience with stitching up dogs and cats. And I dare say many would tell you that I'm rather good at it."
"Good, maybe, but not on Tristan's level. Besides, who do you think taught him that particular style of stitching? I've never been able to teach it to any of my assistants. Not even James with all his considerable talent has been able to master it the way Tristan did. Or do you think that I don't recognize my own stitching style?"
"N-no of course not. I didn't mean to imply…."
"But that's exactly what you did do, isn't it? Professional dishonesty, Mr. Blackmore, explicit or not, is never welcome in my practice. When I said that you could learn something from your time spent assisting Tristan in the surgery, I meant just that. Because all of us continue to learn from each other around here, and I have little use for a man who believes himself so superior that he couldn't possibly benefit from what his colleagues could teach them. No matter how young they are."
James smiled and shook his head, relieved that Siegfried had acted as he firmly believed he would. That relief grew into delight as he watched a wide, joyous smile appear on Tris' face.
"One last thing," Siegfried continued. "You also seem to have forgotten that Tristan's last name also happens to be Farnon. A small fact that I would like to think would have made you reconsider your decision to speak to me the way you have about my brother."
James shuddered. As he had talked, Siegfried's voice had become lower and infused with venom. Unlike the times when Siegfried flew into a loud, boisterous, but short-lived temper, this seething calm was reserved for when something or someone had angered him to the core of his being and would not be forgiven easily.
"You come here to work in my practice, live in my home, eat at my table and then you have the nerve to denigrate my brother like that. And if that wasn't enough, you have the further impudence to act as if you could beguile me into giving you the position that is rightfully his. A hard-working and moderately talented vet you might be Mr. Blackmore, but you are also decidedly lacking in integrity and tact. My suggestion to you is to take a hard look at your own character before you even think about attempting to join a practice in the future."
"I, I…yes, Mr. Farnon, I understand. Please accept my…."
"No! I don't want to hear another word out of you. Leave my house at once while you still have a shred of goodwill with me. But know this, Mr. Blackmore, the reason my brother's position with this practice is secure has absolutely nothing to do with any fraternal affection I might have and has everything to do with his potential as a first class vet when he becomes qualified. When, Mr. Blackmore, not if. Now, get out of my sight!"
The sound of footsteps moved closer to the door, causing James and Tristan to scramble away to stand next to the clock in the hallway. They watched as Blackmore trudged out and headed for the stairs, his demeanor far less confident and satisfied as it had been earlier that day. He mounted the first step and then paused to glance over at the gleeful smirks on James' and Tristan's faces. Tristan made sure to give Blackmore a spirited little wave before he went back to climbing the stairs so he could gather his things and leave.
James and Tristan snickered together for a moment before clearing their throats and walking into the surgery. Siegfried was sitting at the desk, paging through the daybook.
"Ah James, there you are," Siegfried said. "And little brother. James, how did that phlebotomy I sent you out for go?"
"Hello Siegfried. And it went just fine. You were right, he is one of the calmest bulls I've ever seen."
"Good, good," Siegfried nodded. "Now, tonight I'm going out to see Mother. James, I believe it's your night for evening call outs."
"Yes it is," James said grimly. "Let's just hope there are no calls tonight for a calving. I've had enough of putting calf beds back into cows to last me a lifetime. Or for at least a month anyway."
"Yes, I'm sure you have," Siegfried chuckled. "We can but hope, James. That's all we can do. Oh, and Tristan, before you go running off on yet another misadventure, I have one more job for you today."
Tristan rolled his eyes. "What is it this time?"
"Now don't look at me like that," Siegfried scolded. "It's just a little injection. Hardly a job at all."
"An injection? Come on, Siegfried, what's the catch?"
"Catch? There's no catch. It's just as I said, a simple injection on a pig."
There was a pause. "Dent's sow."
"What?! You mean that maniacal creature that attacks everyone who comes near her? The one that almost disemboweled me when I had to lance that hematoma on her ear?"
"That's the one," Siegfried said. "And what are you complaining about, Tristan? I seem to remember you telling me you had no trouble at all in treating that hematoma. Which is precisely why I'm sending you for this job. Clearly, you know best how to handle her which should make it even easier for you, little brother."
Tristan glared at him for only a few seconds before smirking and letting out a snort. "Oh all right, fine. I'll deal with the wretched creature then. But after that, I'm stopping off for a pint. You're welcome to join me, James."
"All right, maybe just one or two," James grinned at him. "I'm just going to spend some time with Helen first and then I'll meet you there. If that's all right with you, Siegfried."
"Certainly, James," Siegfried said with a wave of his hand. "As long as you're back by the end of evening surgery."
"Right, come on, Tris."
James and Tristan walked out of the surgery, closing the door behind them and laughing as they went out into the hallway.
Meanwhile, Siegfried went back to sorting through the paperwork on his desk, a frown on his face. He was fairly certain that he had kept the numbers in the ledger straight, but wanted to check with Helen to be sure. He paused to offer up a silent moment of gratitude for Helen. Siegfried couldn't imagine not having her invaluable assistance at the practice anymore.
Once he had finished with the ledger, Siegfried leaned back in his chair. He was certain that he would not be welcoming Blackmore back to his practice ever again if he needed additional help in the future. Still, he also made the decision to keep the conversation he just had with him out of his report back to Grier. Blackmore had turned out to be an infuriating cad, but he had been a solid worker overall. Siegfried figured it was best to keep quiet and hope that Blackmore learned something from this debacle and would change his ways in the future.
Then he swiveled around in his chair to face the door and chuckled.
'Ah, little brother, you always think that I don't know when you're eavesdropping. And now you're having a very bad influence on poor, old James.'
Siegfried let out another chuckle and smiled fondly as he thought about the junior members of his practice.
A bark out in the waiting room caught Siegfried's attention. He took his glasses off, stuffed them into his pocket and rose to his feet. He moved swiftly toward the door, already curious about what would be waiting for him on the other side.