The Luck Runs Out
The Luck Runs Out
"MY STARS AND GARTERS, Odin, I don't see how any horse alive can wear out shoes the way you do."
Clucking like a mother hen, the farrier settled the enormous Balaclava Black's massive hoof cozily into the lap of her leather apron, picked up a sharp, short-bladed knife, and began paring at the edges with deft, quick flicks. Helen Shandy, who had been Helen Marsh until a couple of months ago, stood as close as she dared, watching. She was still trying to learn her way around the sprawling complex of Balaclava Agricultural College, and the animal husbandry barns were her current field of investigation. So far, her most intriguing discovery was Flackley the Farrier.
Helen herself was petite, fair, fortyish, and daintily rounded. Miss Flackley was even smaller, pushing sixty, and not rounded at all, as far as external evidence could indicate. If she hadn't been giving a draft horse a pedicure, Mrs. Shandy would never have guessed her profession.
The farrier had on neat brown corduroy pants and jacket. Her shoes were polished brown oxfords about size four and a half. Her grizzled hair was tucked up into a dashing tam o'shanter crocheted of ombre worsted in shades of tan and rust. A harmonizing scarf was tucked into the neck of her spotless beige flannel shirt. Her hands were protected by yellow cotton gardening gloves and her face by a discreet film of cold cream. Nothing about her was out of place except the gold-rimmed bifocals that slid down her tiny nose as she exchanged the knife for a file as long as her forearm and began to smooth the hoof she'd trimmed.
"He looks as if he's loving it," Helen observed.
"Yes, Odin does enjoy being fussed over," Miss Flackley agreed. "They all do, except Loki. He's a very private horse."
" 'I pay respect to wisdom, not to strength,' " Helen murmured.
"That's C. S. Lewis, isn't it?" Miss Flackley surprised her by saying. "Yes, Loki does have that thoughtful, melancholy streak in him. I suppose it comes from being the littlest."
Helen glanced along the row of eight stalls, each with its occupant's name carved on a solid walnut quarterboard above, each with one of the horse's iron shoes mounted on the lower half of the divided door. Loki's was in truth a fraction shorter than the rest. Even so, it looked tremendous to her.
"I wonder why they always hang them with the ends up," she mused. "I suppose it's some ancient superstition."
"It can't be so very ancient," replied the astonishing Miss Flackley. "Horseshoeing as we know it wasn't prevalent till the Middle Ages, though of course folks must have known long before then that the hooves of solid-ungulates tend to wear off at the edges once the poor beasts have to earn their oats by the sweat of their brows like the rest of us poor sinners here below. The old Romans used to put leather sandals on their horses, and the Japanese had 'em shuffling around in straw slippers. William the Conqueror's supposed to have brought horseshoeing to England from Europe, so it must have been common practice by the time we started colonizing America. Hold still, Odin."
She quieted the towering animal with a light pat on the flank.
"Doesn't hurt them any more than cutting your toenails if you go about it right. Where was I? Oh yes, about hanging horeshoes. There's been a good deal of controversy about that over the years, but the more enlightened modern opinion is that the points should be up. They always make me think of that Egyptian goddess with the horned headdress. Isis? Hathor? I never could keep 'em straight. Anyway, I expect she had something to do with fertility."
"They generally did," said Helen, much interested.
"On the other hand," Miss Flackley went on, "if you turn a horseshoe upside down, you get the Greek Omega, the last letter in their alphabet, as I'm sure you know better than I. So there's life and growth one way and fina