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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Horse-Shoe
By Hendrik Conscience (1812–1883)
 
From ‘Rikke-Tikke-Tak’

IN the village of Westmal, some two or three miles from Antwerp, on the road toward Turnhout, stood a little smithy, in which four men—the master and his three journeymen—were busy at various work in the way of their trade; and at the same time were conversing—as much, that is, as the noise of hammers and files would let them—of Napoleon and his mighty deeds of war. One of the journeymen, who had lost two fingers of his left hand, was just beginning a story of the Italian wars, when two horsemen pulled up before the door, and one of them called out, “Hola, my men! my horse wants shoeing.”  1
  The journeymen looked curiously at the strangers, who by this time had dismounted. They were evidently both military men. One of them had a great scar right across his face and wore a red riband in his button-hole: the other, though dressed like a gentleman, seemed in some sort his subordinate; he held the horse by the bridle and asked, “Which shoe, colonel?”  2
  “The near forefoot, lieutenant,” was the reply.  3
  One of the journeymen took the horse and led it into the shed; and meanwhile the colonel entered the smithy, looked about him, and took up first one, then another, of the tools, as if looking out for an old acquaintance. At last he seemed to have found what he wanted; in one hand he held a heavy pair of tongs, in the other a hammer, both of which he surveyed with so peculiar a smile that the journeymen stood round, gaping and staring in no little amaze.  4
  Meanwhile the iron was in the fire, the bellows panted away, and a garland of sparks spurted from the glowing coals. The journeymen stood by the anvil, hammers in hand, till the master took the iron from the fire; then began the work of forging.  5
  The colonel evidently took a lively interest in what was going on; his features lighted up, as they might have done at the finest music. But when the shoe was taken from the anvil, as ready for putting on, he eyed it a moment not a little disdainfully, took the tongs which held it from the master-smith’s hand, and put it back into the fire.  6
  “That will never do,” said he; “the shoe’s too clumsy by half, master. Now, my lads! look alive! blow away!”  7
  And while one of the journeymen, with an air of great respect, obeyed his directions, he threw off his coat and bared his sinewy arms. Soon the iron was at a white heat: he turned it twice or thrice in the fire with all the air of an experienced hand, laid it on the anvil, and then called to the journeymen in a cheerful tone:—  8
  “Now, my men! look out! I’ll give the time, and we’ll turn out a shoe fit for the Emperor’s nags. So now, attention:—

  ‘Rikketikketak,
Rikketikketoo;
The iron’s warm;
Up with your arm,
Now strike,—one, two,
Rikketikketoo.
  
‘Rikketikketak,
Rikketikketoo,
Strike while it is hot,
And tarry not.
Again,—one two,
Rikketikketoo.’

There, look at the shoe now!”
  9
  The journeymen eyed the light neat piece of work agape, and as it were, struck dumb. The master meanwhile seemed to be turning some thought in his head, which he every now and then shook, as though quite unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion. He drew near the stranger, who by this time had resumed his coat; but however closely he scanned him, he seemed unable to recognize him.  10
  The horse was soon shod, and now stood before the smithy ready for its master to mount, who took leave of the party with a friendly shake of the hand to each, laying also a couple of gold pieces on the anvil.  11
  “One for the master, one for the men. Drink my health together and good-by to you.”  12
  With these words he threw himself into the saddle and rode off with his companion.  13
  “Well,” said the master, “I never in my life knew but one man who could knock off a shoe like that,—so light and neat, and so handily; and I must be greatly mistaken if the colonel isn’t just Karl van Milgem himself; he, you know,—but to be sure you don’t know,—he that the folks used always to call Rikke-Tikke-Tak.”  14
 
 
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