James has a great deal of confidence in his abilities as a vet, but it’s all built up of book learning, sourced from his college education rather than direct experience. He will improvise on procedures to save an animal’s life, if he feels it’s worth the risk (such as his desperate desire to save a cow that he told the farmer was “all right” to purchase – James assumes it’s “on me” if the cow dies, losing the family’s substantial financial investment in the process). He tends to over-rely on his book learning and refuse to consult his boss, in a tendency to dismiss what he is unfamiliar with (the “old” practices of the Dales in which he now performs veterinarian services; he scoffs at the notion of “sheep’s skins” doing any good for a cow who doesn’t want to get up). James has a great deal of concern for his patients, and wants to do the right and humane thing. He is willing to put a horse down so that it will not suffer, even though its master heartily objects, and then spends a great deal of time anxious about whether he made a mistake. When asked to perform judging duties for the local fair, James has trouble standing on his principles and abiding by the rules (making various animal owners angry and belligerent in the process) and attempting to people-please; he resorts to giving out the Blue Ribbon to the child most knowledgeable about their pet, rather than the prettiest or the cutest animal. James cares not only about the animals he tends, but also their masters, and tends to blame himself for things gone wrong, as he struggles between a desire to be honest and not offend or do harm to the farmers who depend on their livestock for their welfare. He loves Helen, but out of social appropriateness and respect for her relationship with Hugh, does not tell her so.

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James has an almost continual tug-of-war between his desire to people-please, and his moral standards. He will mildly go along with things in order to keep others happy, and not cross Siegfried (until he reaches the end of his rope and tells him off for being a right bore), concealing Tristan’s various nefarious actions, and attempting to keep their clients happy… while also holding fast to his moral principles. He refuses to let ponies too high into their chosen classes at the fair, because they violate the rules (although making everyone angry at him upsets him). He wants to tell Helen how he feels, but priority insists he keeps his mouth shut, so he does. When Helen’s father’s bull is about to be sold for big bucks, but James isn’t sure that he can actually impregnate cows, faced between a choice to keep his mouth shut and do something wrong (allowing them to sell him as a stud when he’s worthless) and given a choice between hurting them financially with the truth, James finds he cannot tell a lie. He tells the truth, even though it hurts them. He admits that if he had his life to do over, he would change a few things, like standing up to his boss sooner.