written by Sugarberry
Tramples finished up the chores in the barn, pausing before leaving to scratch behind the ears of the cat that circled his legs. "Good night,
Stripe. Take good care of the others now, you hear?" The rest of the felines-- a golden longhair, an orange and white shorthair, and several that
looked like the dark striped tom cat-- lay curled in the tawny straw spread in a sheltered corner especially for them. Tramples took one more look over
the creatures of the barn, fed and bedded for the night, before shutting off the light and closing the door up tightly.
Once outside, he found the cold night air seeping through his body; the squeaky crunch of the snow bore out the low temperature. A white
moon sat in the dark sky shedding its light that gave no warmth to the frigid land. However, the yellow glow coming from the windows of the
Victorian farmhouse promised warmth and companionship. Tramples hurried his steps.
Once inside the back room, the young stallion washed the smells and stains of the barn off his shivering body until he was acceptably clean for
his mother's strict expectations. Checking the mirror, he pulled a stray piece of elusive straw from his yellow mane, then proceeded into the adjoining
kitchen where, if he was in luck, his mom would be baking brownies or popping corn. But he found the room deserted; the activity seemed to be
coming from the front room, so he followed the sound of the voices across the house.
"Buck!" he cried out as he came upon the rest of the family clustered around the oldest of the three brothers. "What are you doing here?"
Laughing, Buck replied, "I still live here, don't I?"
"Yeah, but you're supposed to be back at school." Buck attended Binks University, majoring in history, but he still helped his parents and
brothers at Birdsong whenever he was free to come home. He had been with his family over the Christmas holidays and the semester break from
classes and had only returned to Binks several weeks earlier.
"I got homesick, okay?" the green stallion responded. "And, Mom, I'm awfully hungry."
Not needing to hear more, Lilac bustled off to the kitchen to prepare her son some food. Licorice followed her to help; Trendy and the other two
young stallions came along behind at a more leisurely pace. "So how are things at the university?" Trendy asked with a sidelong glance at his
"Same old," Buck replied. "I wasn't scheduled to work at the museum this weekend, so I decided to come home."
The guys plopped into their usual places at the kitchen table, and Licorice began to badger his oldest brother. "Beings your home, you can get
up early in this icy weather and do my chores in the morning."
Buck responded with a good-natured punch at his brother while Tramples revealed, "Licorice, you oversleep every morning as it is!"
"Hey! I stay up late to study hard to keep my grades up. You don't have to worry about that," Licorice defended himself.
That led Buck to ask of Tramples, "When are you coming to college?"
Tramples had graduated from high school, but had not yet decided on what to do beyond helping his parents at Birdsong. But Tramples ignored
the question, asking his own. "Did Dad tell you that a flying squirrel got trapped in the basement?" This was followed by the story of the little animal
who had entered through the chimney and then could not find his way out.
"Tramples was able to lure it back outside with a hoof full of corn," divulged Lilac. "It was a cute little critter." Later, over popcorn, she
remembered to tell Buck the good news they had received from Dream Valley: Sugarberry and Vanguard were being married in June and were
spending their honeymoon at Birdsong where they had first met.
The family enjoyed a companionable evening, and it was late when the lights of Birdsong were finally turned off. There were only two guests
staying at the house during this wintry weekend, and they had retired to their room early in the evening. "If all our visitors were this easy to care for,"
Lilac had admitted, "running a bed-and-breakfast would be no trouble at all.
The bedrooms for the family were in the wing of the house that had once been the servants' quarters. This allowed the main rooms to be used
for those who ventured to Birdsong to experience the rural atmosphere of this popular establishment. Each of the boys had a room of his own, but this
night with the unexpected appearance of Buck, the three congregated in Licorice's disorganized room to talk.
Buck picked up a fantasy adventure book off the floor and flipped through it pages. A quick scan of the room revealed that there were a fair
number of such books scattered across the room. Buck arched an eyebrow. "Is this what you call studying?"
Licorice grinned. "You know Mom's rule... no reading for fun until the schoolwork's done."
It was Tramples who gave the true answer. "This colt is so smart that he doesn't have to study." He said it with a mixture of pride and envy, as
education had always been difficult for the middle brother.
"You're in high school now, right?" Buck questioned the colt.
"Yeah. My first year. Boring."
"And what have your grades been like?"
"Straight A's." The youngster grinned.
Buck and Tramples exchanged a glance, then they both grabbed pillows off the bed to pitch at their brother; this invariably led to a full-scale
pillow fight which ended only when a brief knock sounded on the door. "Lights out!"
Laughing, Buck opened the door to reveal Lilac standing in the hallway, her front hoof tapping the floor. But she could not contain a smile as
all three ponies began pleading to her as they had so often done when they were younger, "Please, Mom! Just a little while longer!"
"You would think the three of you were old enough to behave yourselves," she said.
"It was Licorice's fault," Buck grinned, releasing the last pillow on a trajectory that led straight to the darkly-colored colt.
"See what I have to put up with, Mom?" Licorice playfully griped. "It was all their fault."
Lilac rolled her eyes. "Just don't tear the place down, okay?" She accepted another goodnight kiss from each of them and then disappeared
down the hall.
"Oh, Buck, there was a fox snooping around last night." Tramples, who loved animals both tame and wild, thought of little else. His work
around the farm involved caring for the domesticated ones, and his free time was often spent quietly in the woods to see what wildlife he could
"Red or gray?"
"Gray. Well fed by the looks of it. He had peculiar black markings around his eyes which made him look almost ominous."
"Wish I could have seen him."
Licorice by this time had lost interest in the conversation and had buried himself behind a book; Buck and Tramples took the hint and left him to
his adventures. After a few more shared facts, they retired to their own rooms for the night.
Turning out the light and crawling into bed, Buck lay with open eyes and no chance at sleep. His mind was too busy playing back scenes from
the last several months; and try as he might, he could not resolve the problem that haunted him.
He lay quietly until he was sure that the rest of his family was asleep, then he stealthily crept down the hallway to the back stairs that led to the
kitchen. Here he could pace off some of his restlessness without disturbing anyone else.
His nervous energy eventually led him to the window and he stood in the darkness looking out over the back yard. The moon glow spread a
ghostly sheen over the white snow, throwing blue shadows that seemed to move with a life of their own even though there was no wind to disturb the
brittle air. He was so engrossed in his own thoughts that he did not hear the approach of someone behind him until a floorboard creaked.
"Dad, is that you?" Buck queried of the shadowy figure.
"Yes, son. I thought I'd heard one of you come down the stairs and wondered if there was a problem."
"I couldn't sleep," Buck said, finding a chair in the darkness and sitting down. He wondered about his father's uncanny knack of sensing
another's needs; this was not the first time a hurting heart was poured out in the middle of the night to Trendy over a glass of warm milk.
"Let me get a light on and heat up some milk," Trendy stated, causing a smile to cross Buck's face. He wondered if his dad had installed the
muted light for just such nighttime talks.
No more was said until Trendy brought the two mugs to the table and sat down opposite his son. "Something is bothering you."
Buck ran a hoof through his sky blue mane. "Remember how I told you at Christmas break how jangles were disappearing from the gift shop at
"Well, it happened again last week-- and also a piece out of a jewelry collection."
"Sounds like a real problem. What's Sundial doing about it?"
"What can he do but question everyone who works there; no one has seen anybody take the stuff, but..." The young stallion stopped to
"You have your suspicions." Trendy made it a statement, not a question.
Buck sighed. "Yeah. And unfounded suspicions at that. That's why I haven't said anything, but it's driving me crazy."
"Let's talk about it. Maybe it will make more sense to put your hunches into words."
Searching for where to begin, Buck finally gave up and blurted out the blunt facts. "There's a filly who started helping out last fall; she's been
on duty whenever there has been a theft. But, Dad, she's one of those annoying types who can wheedle her way into a position of authority without
really deserving it."
"So Sundial has promoted this filly over you?" Trendy read between the lines.
"Not just me; there are a lot of us who have been there longer than Garnet and who know more than she does, and we were all upset when
Sundial began treating her like his right-hoof assistant."
Trendy pondered this awhile before asking, "Has she done anything to indicate that she stole the missing items?"
"No. But she's the only one who was working every time something disappeared; Sundial gives her more hours as it is, so it could just be
coincidence. But it looks fishy to me."
"Were you ever on duty when something was taken?"
"Yes. Once. I was helping in the gift shop with Garnet, and I never saw anything to make me suspect her. But Sundial has put her in charge of
the gift shop, so she tallies the jangles at the end of the day and locks the place up. She had plenty of opportunity."
"Do you suspect her simply because you are jealous of her?" Trendy did not mince words.
Buck began to deny the implication, but stopped short. "I... I don't know."
"Is anyone else in a position to have taken the things?"
"I suppose... but it would be easier for Garnet because of her control over the jangles."
"And for the same reason, she surely would know that she would be the first pony suspected. That would make it a dangerous game for
"But she has Sundial's unconditional support; he would never suspect her, even if she was caught red-hooved."
"It sounds to me like there is no way to solve this mystery until someone is caught in the act of taking something."
"I know. I thought if I got away from the museum for the weekend that I would be able to see things more clearly. But I guess not."
"I'm sorry I couldn't be a bigger help. But it's getting awfully late for us early risers. Let's call it a night."
"Yeah. And thanks for listening, Dad."
Once again alone in his own room, Buck stood in the darkness and took one last look out of his window; the light of the moon seemed to be
even brighter than before. It was almost eerie to see things in the middle of the night with such detail.
He was just turning away from the scene when a movement caught his attention, and he stared out the window to see what lurked in the cold
night. He drew in his breath as the fox stepped from the shadow of the blue spruce that towered over the expanse of lawn that sloped gently down to
the barn. He looked no more than a shadow himself as he stopped to sniff the air. Buck hoped that all the small critters were tucked away safely in
their burrows while at the same time admiring the attentive stance of the cunning fox.
Although the stallion was standing perfectly still in the window, the fox somehow knew he was there; lifting his head, he stared directly at
Buck. The illumination of the moon clearly showed the black mask-like coloration around the creature's eyes. The two scrutinized one another for
several seconds before the fox dropped his gaze and trotted off out of sight.
Always something to disturb the peace, pondered Buck as he watched the animal. The encounter had somehow melded in his mind
with his problems at the museum. His thoughts turned inward. His college years had gone well at Binks; he had only to finish the semester to
complete his undergraduate studies. Everything had gone peacefully along just like the view from his window on this cold night... until the fox had
In his mind, Buck associated the fox with Garnet. She had crept into familiar territory and made it her own. Tramples had said the fox looked
ominous; that paralleled the feelings Buck experienced whenever he was faced with the affair concerning the filly. I've got a bad feeling about
The stallion shivered as he finally slipped into bed, and it wasn't the temperature that caused it.
* * *
It wasn't until the next afternoon that Buck met the two elderly mares staying at the bed-and-breakfast retreat. Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl
were comfortably ensconced in the turret corner of the parlor with their quilting supplies near at hoof when Buck, passing the doorway on an errand for
his mother, heard a voice call-- "You must be the third brother."
He stopped and peered into the room. The two mares blended in with their surroundings so well that it took Buck a second to focus in on them.
But once catching sight of their bright-eyed faces, he grinned and crossed over to stand before them.
"Hi! I'm Buck, the oldest of the three brothers. I didn't mean to disturb you."
Both mares had set their quilting down and were assessing the young stallion before them making Buck feel uncomfortable, like a museum
piece on display. But Blue Pearl smiled at him. "You're like a breath of fresh air; our tired eyes need a break."
The second mare concurred. "She's right. My name is Burgundy Lace." She held out a hoof to Buck. "And this is my sister, Blue Pearl."
"It's nice to meet you both."
"Your mother tells us that you go to school and work at a museum."
"I do," responded Buck; foreseeing a lengthy visit in store for him, he pulled a chair up to face them and made himself comfortable. The mares
questioned him on his classes, his friends, and his museum responsibilities.
He was still in their company when Lilac brought in a tray of coffee and cookies. At the insistence of Blue Pearl and Burgundy Lace, both
Buck and Lilac stayed to share the snack.
"You're mother spoils us dreadfully," Blue Pearl confided to Buck.
"That's why we plan on coming here often," Burgundy Lace added. "It reminds us of our early days in a home much like this."
"Neither of us ever married, and we had a younger brother who wanted the house for his own when he married."
"We didn't approve of his new bride, and she didn't approve of us." Burgundy Lace frowned at unpleasant memories. "So my sister and I
moved out of that grand Victorian home place and into an apartment."
"Burgundy Lace was a librarian for many years and I was a school teacher. Our brother eventually lost the house; he got into some kind of
trouble, we heard. And it was sold to strangers before we even knew it."
"How sad!" sympathized Lilac. "I was born here at Birdsong; I know how awful it would be to lose it."
"We've never been back to the house; it would just be too painful," said Blue Pearl, her eyes filling with tears.
"Nor have we seen our brother in all these years," admitted Burgundy Lace.
Lilac refilled the coffee cups and passed the cookies around once more. "Where was your ancestral home located?" asked Buck, his love of
historical places showing.
"In the little town of Bubbling Springs."
"That's not far from Binksville," Buck stated. "Maybe I could go over and check it out some day and let you know how it is faring."
"Oh, no," both sisters said at once.
"We want to remember it as it was," Blue Pearl stated decisively.
The talk turned to less volatile subjects and soon Lilac excused herself. "If any of us want anything to eat tonight, I'd better go and see about
things in the kitchen."
"We'd love to help you, dear," Burgundy Lace offered.
"No, no. You are guests here at Birdsong. That means you take it easy." Lilac smiled at the two and went on her way.
"I have some chores to do as well," Buck said, glad for a chance to get away. As he stood to go, he noticed the quilt that Blue Pearl had taken
up again. "That's beautiful!" he said in all sincerity. "I've never seen one quite like that before."
"Oh, this is what they call a crazy quilt," Blue Pearl enthusiastically informed him. "See how all the pieces are in random shapes and sizes and
patterns? It looks like the seamstress cutting the material was crazy!" She and her sister giggled.
"What are you doing with it now?" Buck asked as the mare took needle and thread and began adding intricate stitches to the quilt.
"We're putting on the decorative stitches along all the seam lines," Burgundy Rose joined in. "See? Some are zig-zags and some are all frilly
like this one." She pointed out a complicated row of lazy daisy stitches intermingled with French knots and buttonhole stitches.
"Wow!" Buck was impressed. "That is true art!"
The sisters showed him the variety of stitches they had already completed, leaving his mind a jumble of names: chevron, herringbone, straight,
cretan, stem, featherstitch, and rolling chain. "The two of you are very talented," Buck remarked after his impromptu lesson.
"We've been doing this all our lives," Burgundy Lace said. "Our dear father always told us that if we could make neat, solid stitches, we would
always be assured of our living."
"Remember, Blue Pearl, his story about his uncle who sewed all his jangles into his mattress for safekeeping?" She looked at Buck. "His
stitches were so poor that all the jangles would fall out during the night; so he eventually learned how to make a proper stitch."
"And by the time he was through, he not only had his mattress full of jangles; but he'd also made a crazy quilt with jangles sewed up in it. That
stallion really loved his jangles."
"Interesting idea," Buck noted, finally making his escape from the room.
* * *
"Hurry up! The movie starts at eight!" Licorice was trying to get his brothers moving.
"Some of us had to stay in the barn until all the work was done!" retorted Tramples, flicking some water at the ebony colt before finishing
combing his hair.
"Which reminds me," Buck said. "Mom wanted me to get some more firewood in." He left the two to their arguing. He had just finished filling
the wood hopper when someone cleared her throat behind him. He swung around to find Blue Pearl standing there.
"I didn't mean to startle you," she apologized. "It's just that... well... I wanted to talk with you alone, without my sister." She stopped, not
knowing how to go on.
"Is there something I can do for you?" Buck prompted.
"Yes, Buck, there is. Earlier you volunteered to find out what you could about our house in Bubbling Springs. I've been giving it some
thought, and I think if I knew it was in good hooves and well-cared for, I could let go of it once and for all."
"I'd be happy to do that for you. And it wouldn't be any trouble at all, so don't worry about it."
"Just don't tell my sister that I asked you to do this; we've always maintained that we wouldn't go back, and I feel like I'm letting her down
"No problem. I'm sure Mom has your number. I can call you when I've had a chance to get there." He was about to rejoin his brothers when
he realized something. "How will I know which house it is?"
"There's a river that runs through town, and our house sat on the highest hill along that river. It only had one turret unlike Birdsong's two, but
it was a big, beautiful house. There was even a private boat landing where our property sloped down to the river. Mother felt terrible the year a
horrible flood took out a pavilion where we used to entertain."
"Okay. I should be able to find it. Is there anything else you need?"
"No. I've put you out enough. And I heard that you and your brothers have plans for tonight, so I won't keep you."
Buck left her standing there and turned back from the doorway to see her staring off into space, her thoughts assuredly back many years past at
a party in the pavilion along the river of her parents' home.
* * *
"You didn't have to laugh out loud when Godzilla stuck his head in the open mouth of the other monster," Buck complained to Licorice as the
three brothers left the movie theater.
"Well, you have to admit it looked pretty corny," Licorice defended himself.
"That may be true from our point of view," Tramples agreed, "but I don't think anyone else saw it that way."
"Hey! Buck!" a voice rang out. "Wait up!"
"Oh, hi, Columbine," Buck responded as he turned to see the pale yellow filly coming his way. "How's it going?"
The filly crinkled her nose. "Not bad if you like spending your days in a back room unloading boxes of merchandise." Columbine worked at
the local Pony-Mart.
"Any plans for college?" the stallion asked the question he always hit her with.
"No, but I did apply at the vocational school. I'm thinking about data processing."
Buck smiled. Columbine had been his classmate since kindergarten, and she had always found excuses for not excelling in any of her subjects.
Since graduation, she had been slipping from one job to another, always in search of something more fulfilling but never quite finding it.
Yet she was still the most upbeat pony he knew.
"Are you guys going to the soda shop?"
Looking at the others, he asked, "How about it?"
"Sure," Licorice grinned. "Who's buying?"
"I'll treat all three of you," stated Columbine. "I got paid yesterday."
"Well, let's go then!" Licorice started out ahead of the others. When they arrived at the popular hangout, they found one booth open; Tramples
sat in it immediately to insure the spot. The others went to the counter to order and soon returned with enough soda, hamburgers, and fries for
Columbine slid into the booth, pulling Buck down beside her. "So what's new at your school? I didn't expect to see you around so soon after
break," she said, nibbling on a fry.
"Nothing new. Just a lot of work to get done before I graduate."
"Are you coming back here after that?"
"The high school has offered me a position starting in the fall."
Columbine's eyes grew round. "You really mean it, Buck? You'll be back in town?"
Licorice nudged Tramples conspiratorially. Everyone in town assumed that these two would someday marry and settle down... everyone except
Buck. He had often told his brothers that he was quite capable of managing his own life; he didn't need a filly-- especially one like Columbine-- to
clutter it up.
"I'll be living at Birdsong, but I'll be busy teaching and working with the new museum that's opening this summer."
"Oh, that's so cool! We'll be able to hang out together just like old times!" She got a dreamy look on her face. "Your mom doesn't need help
with that bed-and-breakfast of hers, does she?"
Buck gave Licorice a sharp rap under the table before the colt could squeal that his mom had just been discussing the need for some part-time
help beginning in the spring. "Mom's always taken care of Birdsong by herself," was all he said.
Columbine grew quiet as she mentally made plans for the time when Buck would be back from college. Other patrons of the shop who knew
the Birdsong family stopped to visit, share plans, and compare experiences. Before they knew it, the shop was closing.
Going out into the night, Buck, Licorice, and Tramples, still accompanied by Columbine, found that large snowflakes were lazily falling.
"Isn't this lovely?" the filly cooed, holding up a hoof to catch one of the intricate wonders.
"Here. Have some more," Licorice called, dumping hooves full of fresh powder on her, starting a snow battle. It wasn't wet enough to mold,
but there was enough of it to effectively shower each other quite substantially. They laughed and pelted each other until they arrived outside of
"It was great running into you guys tonight," she said, brushing snowflakes out of her blue hair. "Let me know the next time you're home,
"Depending on the work load, that may not be until after I graduate," explained the stallion.
"Then write me a letter some time. I never hear back from you when I write."
Buck guiltily thought of the letters he had received and dumped after a quick perusal; but he was not contrite enough to commit to writing back.
As the brothers moved on down the street and out into the country towards Birdsong with the flakes continuing to fall, Licorice began
badgering Buck. "She thinks that you and she have a future together."
"Then she is sorely mistaken."
"Are you sure? She's the only filly you've ever dated as far as I can remember."
"I made a mistake the first day of kindergarten; she made me promise I'd always be her friend, and she's never let me forget it."
"Tramples has a special filly in his life."
"And who might that be?"
Buck turned to Tramples in surprise. "That skinny little freckle-faced filly that lives on the next farm over?"
The snow clouds that hid the moon's light also covered the blush that crossed Tramples' face. "You haven't seen her since you left for college."
"Yeah," Licorice added. "She's really pretty.
"She'll graduate from high school this spring," Tramples continued.
"So how come I never heard about this before?"
Licorice took it upon himself to answer for Tramples. "Because he's too shy to ask her out on a date."
"Is that true, Tramples?"
"So what if it is? She wouldn't go out with me anyway."
"You won't know that for sure unless you try. And if you don't try, you might end up regretting it."
"I hear that she's going on to school."
"So why don't you do the same?"
"Because I'm not smart enough, Buck, and you know it."
His words hung on the air like tangible darts of dissention. Buck didn't know what to say but couldn't let the statement go unanswered. "I
realize that I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but you won't know unless you try. Sign up for a semester and see how it goes."
"No. I'd rather work on the farm anyway."
The three brothers fell silent, each traveling a divergent path of thoughts even as they stayed on the same path that led them back to Birdsong.
As they entered the farmyard where the yardlight stood as beacon to welcome them home, Tramples suddenly left the path to a spot near a spreading
yew. He got down on his knees as if looking for something, then peered up at his brothers who had followed him over.
"The fox got what he was after," he commented, pointing to tufts of rabbit fur and drops of dark red blood in the new snow. "He'll move on
A foreboding chill ran through Buck. Somehow, there was a message here for him. But what was it? He followed his brothers to the house and
was relieved to gain its warmth and protection.
* * *
Back at Binksville, Buck settled into the routine of classes and work; and as no more thefts occurred, he began to let go of the doubts he had
harbored about Garnet. The filly had seemed to soften a bit; Buck thought it was his imagination until Willy, another stallion that worked at the
museum and with whom he roomed, mentioned it, too. She no longer harped on the other workers and actually seemed interested in learning
everything about museum techniques that she could.
When an opportunity to visit Bubbling Springs came, Buck invited Willy to accompany him to the town north of Binksville. The two set out
early one afternoon when their schedules meshed for the outing. When they arrived at the small town, they had no trouble in finding the house in
question. It commandeered the village from its elevated stance on the hill next to the river.
It was easy to see why Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl had hated to leave their home. It was a spectacular example of Victorian architecture,
and the corner turret that rose with the house was the most substantial one Buck had ever seen. "Would you look at that?" he said to his companion.
"Can you imagine what it was like in its day?"
Willy whistled. "Can you imagine what it would cost to fix it up again?"
"Yeah. You're right about that." Buck had been so impressed with the structure that he had forgotten his reason for coming. "How can I tell
those two wonderful mares that their home is abandoned and in disrepair?" The paint was pealing, many of the shingles were missing, and trim around
the windows was hanging loose.
He recalled the secret conversation he had with Blue Pearl, and the nearly identical one with Burgundy Lace before he had left Birdsong to
return to college. Buck didn't reveal that Blue Pearl had already talked with him, but he did suggest to Burgundy Lace that maybe it would be a good
idea for the two to sit down and talk out their feelings about their birthplace; but he had not foreseen the news he would have to deliver, and he
wondered what impact his information would have on the mares.
Some foals were coming down the path near Buck and Willy, so Buck intercepted them to ask about the house. "Doesn't anyone live here?" he
The eldest of the foals shook his head. "No one wants to live there; that house brings bad luck."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because it does," the foal responded, then darted on down the path with the others following him.
The black wrought-iron fence surrounding the property had collapsed in several areas, so the two stallions made their way through one of the
apertures and walked across the snowy lawn to the front steps. Up close, the damage to the house caused by lack of care was more inclusive than had
appeared from a distance. "Look at the windows off to your left; they've been broken recently."
Several small windows had indeed been shattered and probably entrance gained. Buck looked at Willy, and the two went up the steps and tried
the front door. It creaked open at their touch, and they stepped into the once gracious home. "Oh, wow, this is bigger than Birdsong!" Buck breathed,
enchanted with the foyer they found themselves in. "Would Mom love that staircase!" A gracefully curving stairway wound its way to the upper
"Are we trespassing?" Willy asked while at the same time moving through the room toward a doorway off to the left. This room containing the
broken windows had once been a library, its empty shelves seeming to plead for attention once more. The stallions worked their way around the main
floor and then mounted the back stairs to the second floor. Everywhere were signs of affluence in its construction; quality wood had been used by a
master craftsman. Both Buck and Willy mourned for the old edifice.
When they had covered every room on every level, the two stallions left the house and roamed across the property connected to it. The wharf
that had been at the river's edge was gone now with barely a sign of its former location unless those remainders were buried under the ice and snow.
Standing once more at the front of the house, Buck noticed a sign that had fallen from the trunk of a tree that dominated the entrance. Picking it
up, he was able to make out the name of a real estate agency in the town; but the address had disintegrated. "It shouldn't be too difficult to locate,"
observed Willy, looking down the hill onto the town's sparse buildings.
The two ended up stopping at the local ice cream shop to not only get a snack but to also inquire of the whereabouts of the Pony Promenade
Real Estate Agency. The filly behind the counter served their orders and also gave them the directions they needed. As the shop was relatively empty
and the waitress seemed ready to talk, Buck asked her about the house on the hill.
"That's the old Lamplight mansion," the filly responded. "It's been sitting there for years so it's going to pot, but from what I hear it used to be
the most elegant house for miles around."
"Why doesn't someone move in and fix the place up?" questioned Buck.
"There were a string of owners over the years, but every one of them ended up on hard times. Folks around here think the house itself is bad
luck, so nobody will touch it."
Willy was curious. "What kind of bad luck are we talking about here?"
"Different things," the filly, whose nametag read Honeybee, answered. "It all started way back when the original family had a falling
out of sorts, and the black sheep of the family got his hooves on it."
"That must be Blue Pearl and Burgundy Lace's brother!" exclaimed Buck with a side glance at Willy.
"He and his wife were not the most law-abiding citizens of Ponyland if you know what I mean and the law finally caught up to them; and they
lost the house. It was sold to some rich stallion out of Binksville, but he'd only lived there a year or two when one of his daughters drowned in the
"That could happen anywhere," Buck stated. "It doesn't mean the house caused it."
"Well, other things had happened before that. Another daughter had broken her leg while running down the hill with some of her friends, and a
young son had gotten locked in the basement and was nearly delirious by the time he was found."
"Weird," Willy offered.
"One family stayed many years; the stallion scoffed at the reputation for bad luck. He was very wealthy and invested his money in all the right
ventures. Some ponies thought he was too proud of his wealth, and they goaded him into taking some risks with his money. He lost everything, and
the house was sold again. But no one ever stayed long. And now no one wants to take the chance."
"That was all very interesting, Honeybee; thanks for sharing the story of Lamplight," said Buck; he looked at Willy. "And now we'd better get
Willy appeared to be quite satisfied where he was, but he reluctantly slid off the stool and said goodbye. Honeybee smiled. "Come back again
The stallions soon found the real estate office and waited in the outer office expecting an acknowledgment of their arrival. But when no one
appeared, Buck went to the doorway and peered inside the back room. He grinned and motioned Willy to his side.
At the desk was a stallion, his head leaning against his foreleg, his eyes closed, and a slight snore rustling through his nose. Buck and Willy
exchanged a glance, then went back to the front door, opened it, and banged it shut as loudly as possible. A snort from the stallion verified that their
scheme had worked and shortly the bleary-eyed stallion came through the doorway.
"Welcome! Welcome!" he voiced rather raspily. "How may I help you?"
"We have some questions about some property in Bubbling Springs."
"You've come to the right place. Step into my office. You'll have to excuse the mess," he explained as he shuffled a clutter of papers on his
desk. "My secretary has been sick with the flu. Now, what are you looking for?" Before Buck could comment, the stallion continued. "I have a nice
little place just down the street that would make a good starter home. Which of you is the fortunate fellow getting married?"
At least the stallion waited for an answer, giving Buck the chance to state his business. "I'm looking for information on the Victorian house
known as Lamplight."
The agent lost his "I'm here to serve you" demeanor. "You wouldn't be able to afford it. It's in sorry shape; and it needs a major overhaul, not
to mention back taxes need paying. It would take a pony with a lot more money than either of you have." He looked as if he was ready to throw the
two of them out.
"But the house is for sale then?"
"Well, sort of..."
"...Mr. Fiddler, the house is either for sale or it isn't."
"The truth of the matter is that the city fathers of Bubbling Springs are getting tired of the monstrosity sitting there as an eyesore for our lovely
town; there are various ideas being debated, of course, but no decision has been made yet."
"What plans are being considered?"
"Some folks think the town should buy it and restore it and run it as a museum." Buck nodded his head supportivley. "But there are others
who think it should be razed and the land turned into a park."
"Razed?!" both Willy and Buck exclaimed.
"You can't destroy a grand piece of architecture like that; it's irreplaceable!" Willy cried.
Fiddler waved his hoof in dismissal of their outburst. "I personally believe that the land could be put to better use if the big house was gone, and
smaller units erected on the entire acreage."
Buck looked at Willy. "And sold through Pony Promenade Real Estate Agency," he muttered under his breath. To Fiddler, he said, "If your
town council would purchase Lamplight and refurbish it in its original style, it would become a great benefit to Bubbling Springs."
"It would generate revenue that would make it the best source of income this town has ever seen!" Willy added.
"Your talk is all well and good, but the decision will be made a week from today at the monthly council meeting."
"One week?" Buck jumped up. "And the decision will be final?"
"That's right. I'd like to see the house out of there by spring... don't want to miss the good construction months."
Buck started to say something, but his conscience chided him to remember his manners. He took a deep breath and asked as civilly as possible.
"Where could I find the city manager?"
"That would be Bramble."
"Where can we find him?" queried Willy once more.
"When he's not making town policy, he's at the grocery store. That's his day job."
Willy and Buck rushed out the door. "I saw the grocery store a couple of streets over," Buck stated. "We came by it on the way over here."
The two raced to the market, feeling as if their time was in short supply. When they reached the store, Buck stopped and put a foreleg out to halt
Willy's forward progress.
"We gotta catch our breath, or Bramble will think we are a couple of senseless foals." When the two felt presentable, they entered the
establishment and looked for the proprietor. The only stallion in sight was at the jangle register, seemingly having a pleasant conversation with several
mares who apparently were doing their shopping but at so leisurely a pace that time was of no concern.
Buck and Willy held back, listening to the discussion of the latest basketball scores, the weather, the revelation that no less than three mares had
recently announced the impending birth of foals, and that Zither's oldest son had been accepted into the vocational school at Shifting Sands.
The stallions were only saved when one of the mares noticed the time. "School will be out in a few minutes!" The store emptied in short order.
Bramble turned and, noticing the two stallions, asked if he could help them.
Once Buck explained their quest, Bramble was interested in talking with them; but, he explained, "The mothers that didn't do their shopping
before school let out will be doing it now, so things are going to get busy." His words were prophetic as the door opened and a mare and her two foals
came in followed by a group of four and then several students from the local high school.
"Tell you what," Bramble proposed. "You two go on over to the ice cream shop and get something to eat. I'll join you as soon as the wife
Having no choice, Buck and Willy retraced their earlier steps to the sweet shop and found Honeybee busy with the after school crowd, too.
Willy was noticeably disappointed, but he cheered up when the waitress flashed a wink in his direction. At her first opportunity, she came to the table
where the stallions sat. "What can I get you this time?"
"A burger, fries and a soda," Willy said, and Buck concurred. They were nearly finished eating when Bramble came through the door. "The
usual," he called as he waved at Honeybee. He came straight to Buck's table and sat down. "So, you boys are interested in Lamplight?"
Buck went into greater detail on his mission for Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl and was surprised as Bramble hit his hoof down on the table so
hard the dishes rattled. "You're here because those two mares want to know how their old home is faring?" he asked incredulously.
"Y... yes," Buck stuttered, wondering at this response from the city manager.
"Well, I'll be..." Bramble shook his head and laughed. "I guess it takes a young stallion like you to get through to those proud souls."
"What do you mean?" asked Willy.
"Well, let me tell you. Some years back when the house had sat empty a spell, I tracked those two down to see if they'd be interested in the
"You did? What did they say?"
"As soon as the words were out, their sweet hospitable dispositions were replaced by a not so pleasant side I'd never seen before. Burgundy
Lace stood up and told me in no uncertain terms that as far as she and Blue Pearl were concerned, they wanted no part in Lamplight. She showed me
to the door so fast that I barely escaped before she closed it on me." He grinned. "Lost some of my tail hairs there that day."
"Why would they turn down a chance to reclaim it?"
"They were hurt bad when the feud began. Blackcap treated them like dirt, and they washed their hooves of him and that wife of his."
"Blackcap was their brother?"
"Yes. Where he got his bad streak is a mystery to everyone. His folks were the most genteel and honorable ponies you'd hope to find
anywhere. Blackcap was the exact opposite, rough and as dishonest as the day is long. Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl were as cultured as their
parents and would have inherited Lamplight. But the folks died in a smallpox epidemic. Blackcap married a filly from someplace away from here and
brought her home as the mistress of Lamplight."
"They admitted that there were hard feelings on both sides."
"They were too polite to say it like it was. Sassy was her name, and sassy she was. She wouldn't take anything from anybody. She was a
rough, unschooled mare, and her ways didn't belong in a mansion like Lamplight-- not even as a maid let alone the mistress of the house. Burgundy
Lace and Blue Pearl tried to teach her some manners and refinement, but she just taunted them with even more contemptible ways. Then Blackcap
came up with some legal papers that made him sole heir of Lamplight. That's when the two left; they knew he'd kick 'em out sooner or later