"Oh, dear," Charles sighed. He looked down at the spot on the floor where his feet were supposed to be visible.
"Oh, you don't want to be a'goin' that way," Farmer Morris informed him from the safety of the 'path', which obviously could be seen only by the eyes of those who had lived for generations on the land. "That way it be all boggy. You'll be sinkin' in, if you go that way. Oh no, you don't want to be a'goin' that way a'tall."
Charles just looked at him.
"How very kind of you to tell me." His voice was as dry as he could possibly make it – which was not very. it seemed that the slushy, muddy water had crept up all the way from his feet to his vocal cords.
"Oh, no, no, no," farmer Morris protested, cheerfully reaching over and pulling Charles out of the mire to dry ground, "bain't no need to thank me. Always glad to help a learned man, like your good self."
Charles shook his head with disbelief, and his feet with several pounds of mud on each. The sarcasm of his comment had gone right over the idiot yokel's head. It was frightening to think that the children of the nation relied upon such buffoons for their sugar-coated poppy-crackly-snappy start to the day.
Or perhaps not. Morris was a cattle farmer, and Charles rather doubted that there were too many cows in the average packet of Krispy-Pops.
He trudged on after the countryman – trying so far as he could to follow his exact footprints, so that no more unpleasantness would be added to the squishiness already in his shoes.
Why Morris' wife should be out in the cow-shed, so close to her due date, was totally beyond Charles. Surely she knew that strenuous activity could bring on premature labour, if not worse?
Trudge, trudge, trudge. And why was the barn so far from the main house? It did not seem to be getting any closer – but his bag was certainly getting heavier and heavier. Charles found himself wishing for a bicycle. In the monotony, his mind drifted off, once more into thoughts of his last moments with Dorothy...
"I'm sorry, Charles, but it's the final straw!" she had said.
"Yes, Dear," Charles had looked sullenly down at the wobbly leg of the bed, as Dorothy threw clothes into a suitcase.
"I mean, the 'Flu was bad enough. And the consumption. And then the botulism..." More and more of her possessions slammed into the seemingly bottomless suitcase as she spoke, adding a dramatic, physical punctuation to her words.
"I know, Dear."
"...But really, Charles... Herpes!"
"Yes, Dear. Sorry, Dear."
"I should hope you are sorry, too! What were you thinking of?"
"I don't know, Dear."
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to kill me!"
"I mean: No, Dear."
"No? Well, I'll tell you one thing," she had slammed the case shut and hauled it out of the room, "you'll not see hide nor hair of me again – not until all those awful little creatures have been cleared out of the attic room, at the very least!"
"Yes, Dear. Right away, Dear."
And Charles had watched her drive away, out of his life – not hitting a single tree on the way.
He knew that he could never win a prize such as she again.
...And that he would have to start actually paying for a medical secretary!
Good to his word, Charles had immediately cleared all of the cultures out of his laboratory.
It had been quite a sad duty to perform. He had become quite attached to the little devils, in a strange, paternal way; so much so that the idea of incinerating them was too painful for him. Instead he had flushed the sealed petri dishes down the toilet.
The petri dishes remained sealed until they reached the sewage treatment plant in the next town, where a spotty young trainee fished them out of the general detritus and opened them out of curiosity – whereupon they immediately dispersed and spread, causing one of the worst plagues in British history. It would have depopulated the entire county, had it not been for the rapid and intuitive action of a newly qualified General Practice doctor who had recently opened his first practice in the town.
With this unexpected boost coming so early in his career, the young doctor went on to become very, very rich and famous, appearing on television programs and marrying a Supermodel.
That kind of glamorous lifestyle – which he believed would undoubtedly have won Dorothy back for him – was the furthest thing from Charles' reality, however, as he trudge, trudge, trudged his way over to the cow-shed to deliver farmer Morris' wife's baby.
Charles was absolutely flabbergasted upon entering the rickety, antiquated, tumble-down barn.
The stark contrast between the rural, rustic exterior of the building, and the high-tech, stainless-steel and computer-filled interior was mind-boggling!
It was as if he had walked into an episode of 'The Man from Uncle'. He almost expected to see a row of barbers' chairs along one wall, waiting to carry him down on pneumatic pistons, to a secret lower level.
A cow, which was being carried past him along a spotlessly clean conveyor-belt, turned its head to look disdainfully at him.
"Moo," it said.
"Um, yes," Charles stammered in reply. "Sorry."
"My Dolly's over this way, Doctor," said the man whose image in Charles' mind had changed from that of a village idiot to a superspy.
"Yes... Yes, of course," Charles gathered himself, and followed.
Where on Earth were the people? Charles wondered to himself, glancing at graphical computer displays of cows being milked, as he walked past them. He could not even see the farmer's (his name is Morris – Farmer Morris!) wife, in the tangle of gleaming pipes, bars, and stalls.
It was to one of the stalls that the farmer led him.
"Here you go," said the rustic Remington Steele.
There was a cow in the stall.
Charles looked around, curiously. The cow was rather large, but hardly large enough to have hidden a lady of Mrs. Morris' stature. Was there a secret, hidden compartment, somewhere?
At that thought, he immediately felt as if a dozen eyes were watching him, through one-way mirrors or hidden cameras.
"Um..." he said, edgily. "Where exactly is the patient?"
Farmer Morris slapped the cow's rump.
"Here she be, Doc'or. My Dolly. She been due to drop yesterday, but 'er poor calf's got 'isself in a tangle in 'er belly."
Charles stared at him, astounded.
"That's Dolly?" he spluttered. "But... But... But where's your wife?"
"The wife?" Morris threw him a confused look. "You mean my Dolly? Why, she be up in th'ouse, doin' the dinner. Bain't no use down 'ere, wi'a baby on the way."
"Oh, good Lord." Realisation of the error sunk into Charles' mind. "When you phoned, you said..."
"...Said my Dolly 'ere was 'avin' trouble calvin', that's what I said. I remember right enough," Morris cut him off. "'Ere! Don't be tellin' me as you thought I meant..!"
With this, he burst into loud, raucus laughter.
"Oh, that be a good one, that do! My Dolly won't 'arf laugh, when I tells 'er!"
"I dare say she will," he sighed. "But which 'My Dolly'? This one, or the one making dinner?"
"Why, My Dolly, a'course!" Morris, the village idiot, guffawed.
He opened a stainless steel cabinet, which was mounted on the back wall, and drew out a large, thin envelope.
"X-rays 'ere show that th'calf 'as gone an' turned 'isself wrong way 'round," he said, handing the envelope to Charles.
"But..." Charles stared numbly at the transparency, unable to figure out which way up it was supposed to be. "But don't you think a vet would be better suited to this job?"
Morris lifted up the cow's tail, and peered closely at its rear passages, sniffing at them.
"Well a'course, yes," he said. "But ol' Murkeson's been an' gone an' retired. My Dolly 'ere won't wait for another vet to set up, an' this bain't the kind o'job a man should risk doin' 'esself. Better to pay a perfessional man, like your good self, an' 'ave the job done proper."
Charles' ears pricked up.
"Pay?" he whispered.
His eyes suddenly came into focus on the X-ray slide, and he saw immediately what the problem was.
He handed the slide back to farmer Morris, and rolled up his sleeves...
Bounce, bounce, bounce. Charles strode happily back to his car, instinctively avoiding softer patches of ground as if it were second nature to him.
The cheque for sixty-five pounds was a perfect snug fit for his pocket, and felt extremely comfortable there.
As he opened the car door, he found himself hoping that no new vetinary surgeon would rush to take Murkeson's place.
Ok, so he had shoved his hand into the wrong orifice, on the first try, but the cow hadn't seemed to mind.
And after all, Morris had said it best:
"Cow pats is all very well – but you ain't felt one proper, 'til you've been an' felt one as is still wrapped in cow!"