"We've hardly seen one another all week," Garnet complained to her husband after arriving home from a long day at the casino. "One or the other of us is always gone to work or school."
Rummaging through his backpack, Wishbone mumbled, "Yeah, it's been busy all right." Finally locating what he was looking for, he lifted his head in triumph, a piece of paper clutched in his hoof. He looked at it and grinned. "Good thing I found this; the presentation starts at seven-thirty. I thought it was eight."
"Can't you skip it?" coaxed Garnet. "The class is just an elective, isn't it?"
"Yes, but I want a good grade point average," Wishbone said, heading for the refrigerator and pouring them both a glass of milk, "and Professor Tarkington said he's going to include information from tonight's speaker on the next test. And it's all a last minute thing because he just found out accidentally that this guy was in Dream Valley to study the Native Pony site."
"I thought we'd have tonight to spend some time together... maybe go out to eat," pouted the red mare.
Handing her a glass of cold, white liquid, Wishbone considered his options. It was true that their schedules had not allowed much time for the two of them as of late, but he did want his record at Pony Pride to be the best that he could make it- and graduation was not that far away. He and Garnet would soon be masters of their own destiny- which meant even still more long hours, he realized.
A look into his wife's tired eyes tugged at his heart. She had been a trooper, working long hours at the casino to keep them economically afloat, while at the same time carrying the physical burden of their unborn foal. His time was spent at Pony Pride or Pony-Mart with a few hours thrown in for sleep, but he had not suffered from morning sickness or found himself zapped of energy as Garnet had. She deserved some respite. He had traded his shift with Sesame so he could get to tonight's unexpected program; it seemed a shame to waste this one chance for the two of them to be together for a change.
"Come with me to Pony Pride; afterwards, we can go to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe for the most decadent concoction Scoops can devise," he suggested.
The swiftness with which the sparkle returned to Garnet's eyes was a tonic to Wishbone as well. "That's perfect, Wishbone!" She gulped down her milk. "I'll be ready in a minute."
* * *
The lecture hall reserved for the evening's discourse was crowded with not only college ponies but also members of the community who were interested in the study of the past. Clever Clover was there as well as Hubert, Domino, Teepee, and Historia, to name a few. Garnet and Wishbone chatted with friends before Professor Tarkington took the podium to introduce the guest speaker, who, Garnet found, was a rather nondescript older stallion with brown spots on a white coat. His name, Pinto, rang a bell in the deep recesses of her mind; but she could not place his face; so she settled back, linking her foreleg with Wishbone's.
Finding the presentation more absorbing than she had envisioned, Garnet was enjoying Pinto's talk, finding his dry humor a pleasant antidote to her drooping sensibilities; but her attention became riveted when she heard him mention Bubbling Springs. That small town had been the birthplace of her father and her two aunts, and any historical information about its inhabitants would be engrossing.
It was while the stallion was sharing a story about some of his early research in Bubbling Springs that the elusive connection about the name Pinto solidified in Garnet's brain.
One of her aunts, Blue Pearl, had shared with her some of the history of the contentious Lamplight family. Of the three siblings- Blackcap, Blue Pearl, and Burgundy Lace- only Blackcap, Garnet's father, had married. Blue Pearl had never met her soul mate; but Burgundy Lace had fallen in love with a visitor to Bubbling Springs, an industrious young stallion by the name of Pinto. By Blue Pearl's account, Pinto had strongly returned her sister's affection... but it was to be an unrequited love for the stallion. For Burgundy Lace, Pinto had become a love scorned.
It had not been a calculated dismissal, at least not willingly. It had been Burgundy Lace's father who had put insurmountable odds in their path, using Burgundy Lace's love of the Lamplight manor and the family's position in Bubbling Springs to sway her devotion away from Pinto. To Burgundy Lace's father, there was no place on earth where the Lamplight protege belonged except at Bubbling Springs; and Pinto, by nature of his occupation, was a wanderer, following his quests near and far.
Burgundy Lace had been willing to give up her beautiful home and precious family to join Pinto on his travels, but her father had forced her to acknowledge her responsibility to the community which his eventual demise would necessitate; she would be forced to assume control of the philanthropic ventures that had founded and supported Bubbling Springs and the amenities which its citizens enjoyed. Blue Pearl was not of a disposition to handle such a duty, and Blackcap was... well, Blackcap was untrustworthy, to put it nicely.
Having bowed to her father's wishes, Burgundy Lace lost Pinto. Soon after, she lost her parents. Then, thanks to Blackcap, she lost Lamplight. All that she had depended on to give purpose to her future was gone. She and Blue Pearl had to depart from the home of their birth and their financial security to make a new life for themselves as librarian and teacher in a town some distance from their legacy. Never again had Burgundy Lace seen Pinto; never again had she fallen in love.
Now, here was Pinto in the flesh, not just an old remembrance conveyed by Blue Pearl to help Garnet understand the feisty character of her aunt, but a living, breathing stallion with a pleasant personality and a wealth of exciting exploits to relay, the telling of which marked him as an adventurous and intrepid scholar. And to think, Garnet mused, he could have been my uncle.
When the last tale had been told and the last question answered, Pinto remained available to anyone who would like to delve more deeply into his expertise. Garnet shared with Wishbone her desire to talk with Pinto and left him in the company of Belle Star and Clever Clover (the purple stallion had long held an unfulfilled wish to open a restaurant and, having heard of Wishbone and Garnet's good fortune in procuring the management of the family restaurant in Neighberry, propounded the merits of a variety of menu choices) while Garnet edged her way through the groups of ponies discussing the evening's presentation until she uncovered Pinto arguing a point with Hubert; she waited impatiently on the sidelines until the two stallions had come to a tenuous understanding.
It was not difficult for Pinto to notice the mare; her brilliant red coloring was commanding. He smiled at Garnet kindly, inviting her approach.
"Your presentation was fascinating," she honestly said.
"I'm pleased to have entertained you," he gallantly responded. "Not all of the audience was so favorably impressed," he added ruefully with a glance in Hubert's direction.
"Admittedly, I'm not as knowledgeable as Hubert; but you have an amusing way of presenting your facts that makes your subject very engrossing. I was especially interested in your early work done at Bubbling Springs."
"In those days, I thought I knew everything. Looking back, I was just a naive rookie. I had a lot to learn."
Pinto slanted a grimace at Garnet, and she thought she noted a sadness lurking in his eyes. Was he accusing himself of ineptitude in his scholarly research or in his personal life? Taking a deep breath, she plunged in. "My family has its roots in Bubbling Springs; you may have heard of the Lamplight family while you were there; my grandfather used his wealth and influence to build up the town; but he died before I was even born, so I never knew him..."
Realizing that she was babbling, Garnet stopped for a moment; but finding that she had rendered Pinto speechless, she continued, albeit more circumspectly. "My father, Blackcap, hasn't lived there since he was a young stallion."
She waited expectantly for the stallion to acknowledge an acquaintance with the Lamplight family- more specifically, Burgundy Lace- but his only response was, "I'm sure many things have changed at Bubbling Springs since I was there."
Seeing that Wishbone and friends were working their way toward her, Garnet relayed one more tidbit of information which would hopefully nudge the stallion to actively examine his past experience with the Lamplight family. "Grandfather's house is now a period museum; I'm sure you'd find it a very pleasant side-trip, especially at this time of year when the spring flowers will be blooming in profusion. My two aunts could never have too many flowers." She winked at him. "You know how spinsters can be."
The arrival of the others caught Pinto up in answering more questions, and Garnet and Wishbone made a discreet exit.
Garnet smiled smugly. She had left Pinto with his eyes glazed-over with memories, his thoughts turned back to the time of his first love; she had no doubt that he would soon find his hooves turned in that direction as well.
And for the rest of the evening, Garnet had Wishbone all to herself.
* * *
Bubbling Springs isn't that much out of my way, after all, Pinto eased his conscience as he set out from Dream Valley the next morning, headed in a northwesterly direction rather than the northeasterly path his schedule dictated. Anyway, it's about time I revisited that scenic area, and it wouldn't be remiss of me to visit the museums I come across.
Since the red mare's disclosure last evening of her family connection to Bubbling Springs, a flood of memories had suffused the stallion, mind pictures long suppressed because of the hurtful connotation they had for him. Now, he could no longer ignore them, painful though they might be. The reference to Lamplight had torn wide the gates.
He had been young then... young and easily taken in by a pretty face backed by a lively intelligence and a sprightly disposition. Having just completed the research for his master's degree, he had been, perhaps, a bit inebriated with the opportunities that lay before him; he had read too much into Burgundy Lace's assistance in helping him ferret out the information he needed from the historical records on file at the library at which she worked, fresh from school herself. Their relationship, however, had not been entirely professional, for Burgundy Lace had extended to him her family's hospitality as well.
Pinto shook his head, for there his memories became tainted with unhappiness. For a moment, his plan to travel to Bubbling Springs faltered. All his life he had delved into the historical background of a variety of cultures, but was it wise to visit his own personal past?
He closed his eyes, allowing a vision of the burgundy mare to suffuse his senses and realized that the interim of years had done nothing to cloud the attraction he had felt for the mare. Opening his eyes, he contemplated the march of the path before him, realizing that his destination could open old wounds... or ameliorate them.
A look of determination lit his face. He resumed his pace resolutely for Lamplight.
* * *
"So you can see the advantages of Lamplight over Montcourt," Willy, the curator of the popular home-turned-museum at Bubbling Springs, remarked, leading the visiting stallion down the open staircase and back into the library where they had begun the tour of the gracious mansion. "You must agree that the detail and workmanship of this house are of much higher caliber." He turned to the brown-spotted pony eagerly; this visitor had seemed highly informed about the architecture of Lamplight, and Willy looked forward to an invigorating discussion over various points that Lamplight shared with other period homes.
The stallion, however, seemed to be lost in a brown study, his brow wrinkled and his eyes staring, unseeing, at the walls lined with leather-bound books. Pinto had sincerely enjoyed the guided tour through the halls and rooms of Lamplight where he had once been admitted as a guest; but he could not shake off the impression that the house, although perfect in every nuance of a bygone era, was not quite as he remembered it. He shook himself.
Of course it was not the same, for there were no laughing voices or softly spoken compliments or hopefully-tendered invitations. Nor, he admitted, was there the brusque sound of the aristocratical Edwin Lamplight spurning Pinto's proposal to marry his daughter or the determined and cool dismissal by Burgundy Lace as she accepted her father's ultimatum. Neither were there the compassionate gazes of Cora and her daughter Blue Pearl as they watched the profound happiness of Pinto and Burgundy Lace turn to grim obduracy. Even the brother's taunting voice was silenced.
All that was left were things; Pinto had been unable to tap into the spirit of the place.
Noting that Willy was looking at him with a puzzled expression, Pinto forced himself to take up the thread of their conversation. "I've always been partial to the cornices at Montcourt, but I will defer to your intimate knowledge of Lamplight."
"I'm sure, sir, if you were to examine Montcourt once more, you'd see that I am right."
The door of the room opened and a burgundy female swept into the room. "Willy, have you seen the schedule for the classroom visits next week?"
Partially hidden from the sight of the mare by his position behind the dictionary stand, Pinto had the opportunity to drink in the vision of his first and only love; and he found himself as breathless as he had been when he was a callow youth. Burgundy Lace was as vibrant and beautiful as he remembered.
"I'm sure they're posted... somewhere," pondered Willy, who was not known for his orderliness. "If you'll excuse me," Willy nodded at Pinto, "I'll go fetch them immediately."
For the first time becoming aware of the other occupant of the library, Burgundy Lace followed the direction of Willy's glance and felt her strength drain out of her. Clutching the back of a nearby chair, she barely kept herself on her hooves. A ghost! Lamplight has no ghosts!
"Lacey..." Pinto murmured, automatically reverting to the pet name that Burgundy Lace's family had used and on which he had latched early in their acquaintance. "It's so good to see you again."
"What are you doing here?"
Pinto could not ignore the cool reserve with which Burgundy Lace addressed him. "I was curious about the place," he said, motioning to the surroundings, "and wondering about you."
"It's been a long time and a lot of things have changed."
"You're still the same."
Burgundy Lace snorted. "If you mean that I still put Lamplight first in my life, yes... you're right."
"Am I to assume that your father made the right decision for you all those years ago?"
Her gaze dropped for only a moment before Burgundy Lace responded, "It was the only choice at the time."
It was at that moment that Blue Pearl, Burgundy Lace's sister, came bustling into the room. "Willy said you were looking for these; he's on the phone right now." She held out some papers, then seemed to sense another presence in the library.
Looking to her right, she spotted the stallion. Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open for several seconds before she grinned in welcome as if she had last seen him only last week, not some thirty-odd years ago. "Pinto, how nice to see you! Can you stay for dinner?"
Impressed by the poise of the once flighty mare, Pinto returned her grin. At least one member of the Lamplight family was pleased to see him, which bolstered his spirits. "I had hoped to escort you and your sister to dinner, if you would be so kind as to advise me on an appropriate establishment for that purpose," he gallantly returned.
"We have other..." Burgundy Lace began, but Blue Pearl overrode her sister's refusal.
"That would be delightful! The Outpost is the top of the line here in Bubbling Springs, on the east side of town where the old mill used to be."
"The Outpost it will be."
* * *
"If you want to dine out with Pinto so badly, then you can go with him... alone!" Burgundy Lace said through gritted teeth after Pinto had left the museum. The mare marched toward the private quarters within the museum that housed her and Blue Pearl.
"Now, now, Lacey," Blue Pearl hurried after her sister. "It's you he wants to see."
"He came to see Lamplight... probably to gloat over our reduced circumstances and discomfit me because Lamplight wasn't the safe harbor I thought it was."
"No one knew back then what Blackcap was capable of; Father surely didn't expect him to drive us out of our home. Pinto may not even be aware of the trying times we were put through since he was last here."
"And do you think he'd care?" snapped Burgundy Lace. "He washed his hooves of us when he left Bubbling Springs."
"You did the same with him, Lacey."
"I had no choice!"
"You chose Lamplight over Pinto."
"And who else could Father rely on but me? You were too... insipid... and Blackcap was too mercenary."
"If you had married Pinto and gone away with him, who knows what might have happened? Maybe I would have learned to become more self-sufficient; maybe Blackcap would have learned to accept some responsibility."
Burgundy Lace spun around from her position in front of the window. "So now you're blaming me for the formation of your characters?"
"I'm not blaming you, Lacey. I'm just pointing out that things could have turned out differently if you'd have accepted Pinto's proposal. We might still have lost Lamplight, but you would have had a happy and fulfilled life scouring the world with Pinto. Maybe it's time that you tried to recapture some of that happiness. It seems to me that Pinto wouldn't have come here if he didn't have any feelings for you."
"Always the romantic, Pearl," Burgundy Lace scoffed. "Enjoy your dinner." She swept across the room toward the door.
For once in her life, Blue Pearl did not shy away from a confrontation. She intercepted her sister's path and stood strong. "I will not allow your stubbornness to stand in the way of your happiness. You will accompany me to dinner with Pinto this evening, and I suggest that you go to your room now to begin sprucing up."
Daunted by her sister's unexpected show of force, Burgundy Lace complied.
* * *
"The food was excellent and the company charming," Pinto stated as he threw down his napkin and smiled at his dinner guests. He was not entirely untruthful- the food had been quite good and Blue Pearl, at least, had been charming. Burgundy Lace, on the other hoof, had been as cool and remote as an Ice Orc.
Blue Pearl, having kept the conversation centered on Pinto's life-adventures in hopes of tweaking Burgundy Lace's interest and allowing her to lower her guard, slanted a glance at her obdurate sister. Maybe it had been ill-advised to try to ease this relationship along as she had all evening, smoothing out the bumps as they came along. Perhaps only a venting of thirty years of simmering emotions would clear the air between the two ponies.
Smiling at Pinto, Blue Pearl admitted, "It was a lovely evening, Pinto. I only wish we could have entertained you at Lamplight in the style of the old days."
"I must admit that my curiosity has been all agog. Why did you sell out Lamplight as a museum?"
"Sell out Lamplight..." hissed Burgundy Lace, her temper stoked by an evening's worth of polite trivialities that had rubbed her emotions raw. "Blue Pearl and I were sold out by our brother, Blackcap!"
Confused, Pinto looked from one to the other of his dinner partners. "What has Blackcap got to do with Lamplight? The reason your father wanted you in charge, Lacey, was to circumvent Blackcap's ineptitude."
"Father didn't allow for Blackcap sinking lower than a snake," Burgundy Lace revealed. "After Father and Mother died, the scoundrel came up with a more recent will in which Father gave him Lamplight; it was a falsified document, obvious to anyone who knew the circumstances, but it met all the legal claims. Blackcap brought his wife home to Lamplight and gave Blue Pearl and me our walking papers in the bargain."
"But you're at Lamplight now; you must have been able to fight Blackcap's travesty of justice."
"No. We had barely enough jangles to find a place to live once we found ourselves homeless. Fortunately, we were able to find not only a place to live but also jobs in Frostmont."
"Why didn't you let me know? I could've helped you!" an anguished Pinto maintained.
"You were gone... and you never looked back," stated Burgundy Lace without emotion.
Patting the distressed stallion's hoof, Blue Pearl offered him some assurance. "We got along quite well, considering," she assured him. "We found a cozy little apartment that we furnished quite comfortably, and our jobs at the elementary school and the library were very fulfilling; the ponies of Frostmont accepted us into their hearts and homes and provided us with a loving, caring extended family. All those foals we watched grow up..." She shook her head over the memories and smiled. "It was all for the best, leaving Lamplight. We'd have missed so much."
"So, if you were happy in Frostmont, how is it that you came back to Lamplight? What became of Blackcap?"
"Blackcap is clever, but he is not an astute businesspony," Burgundy Lace snorted. "He spent every jangle he inherited and then was forced to leave Lamplight for lack of funds, among other things."
"Several years ago, the Bubbling Springs town council had to decide what to do with the place. Abandoned, it was falling into disrepair and becoming an eyesore," Blue Pearl related. "With the help of Willy and a friend from Birdsong, we were appointed to administer the funds the town allotted for the restoration and upkeep of Lamplight as a museum; Buck and Willy made sure that some rooms were set aside for us to live in, so we were truly back in our family home. This, too, has proven to be a blessing, as we discovered the existence of a charming niece who has brought the gift of family back to us." She giggled, casting a wry glance at her sister. "And we have taken a step or two to forgive Blackcap for what he did; his daughter is proof that he must have some goodness in him, although even he wouldn't admit that."
"This niece... she's a bright red filly?"
"However did you know?" Blue Pearl gasped.
Pinto chuckled. "I met her at a school function in Dream Valley; I believe she engineered my visit here in a very subtle manner... somewhat like her father, is she?"
Blue Pearl's yes was almost drowned out by Burgundy Lace's emphatic no, but the two sisters exchanged a congenial glance, and even Burgundy Lace was hard pressed not to laugh when they learned of Garnet's gentle prodding that had evoked a longing in Pinto to visit Lamplight once more.
* * *
It had been a restless night for Burgundy Lace with a surfeit of memories having been resurrected due to Pinto's visit; the hour had been late when she had finally drifted off to sleep. Upon arising the next morning, she found that a good part of the day had already slipped by which deepened her annoyance; not only had she suffered a disturbing slumber, but she had now fallen behind schedule. She hated to start the day feeling so listless and out of control.
Muttering to herself, she surveyed the suite of rooms that housed her and Blue Pearl, hoping to find a ready target on which to unload her tattered sensibilities. Seeing no sign of her sister, however, Burgundy Lace had to contain her fractiousness and checked the calendar so see what events were on the agenda; grateful to find that her only obligation was a visit from the local Benevolent Society, she poured herself a cup of coffee and sat at the kitchen table with a pen and paper to organize a grocery list for the weekly shopping.
* * *
Tapping the pen against her chin, Burgundy Lace reviewed the grocery list before her. She was forgetting something... what was it? She took a sip of hot tea and her eyes strayed to the window as she searched her memory. Outside, the arrival of spring was beginning to show in the fattening buds on the stark trees and the swaying, colorful blossoms of the tulips, daffodils, and crocus that bordered the garden path. She loved this time of year with all of nature sending out new life to cover the earth with beauty. The mare unconsciously smiled, the view was so hopeful.
The smile, however, soon became a thoughtful frown as Blue Pearl came into view... accompanied by Pinto. The two of them were walking slowly, deep in conversation. The pearly white hair of Blue Pearl swung close to the stallion as she leaned toward him with a response that Pinto must have found endearing, for he bent toward the flowers and picked a bright yellow daffodil which he then gave to the mare. She accepted the posy with a smile and- Burgundy Lace was sure of this- an accompaniment of fluttering eyelashes. The couple then continued their stroll, moving out of Burgundy Lace's range.
"Well," huffed Burgundy Lace. "So that's the way of things, is it?" She got up from the table, marched to the sink, rinsed her empty cup, and stalked out of the living quarters into the museum. "I spent a miserable night mulling over a stallion who has his sites set on Blue Pearl," she muttered under her breath. "Harumph!"
The mare's glance was so menacing that Willy wisely remembered a chore he had to attend to in the far reaches of the house and took himself off post haste.
* * *
It was lunchtime before the two mares had a chance to talk.
"Did you sleep well, Lacey? I didn't want to wake you, for I'd heard you wandering around several times during the night and thought it best to let you sleep while you could," Blue Pearl offered solicitously.
"You know I hate oversleeping," Burgundy Lace snapped. "Plus, I noticed that one of my prize King Alfred daffodils has disappeared since yesterday. Have you any idea what became of it?"
"Oh, <>that," Blue Pearl giggled like a school-filly. "Pinto stopped by to see how we fared after our night out last evening and..."
"We ate a quiet dinner... not ran in the derby," Burgundy Lace spat.
Another giggle tinkled from Blue Pearl. "He was just being courteous, something a pony doesn't see a lot of anymore." Blue Pearl sighed. "We were quoting from poems of springtime, and Wordsworth's host of golden daffodils came up... that's why he picked me the daffodil. I put it in a vase in the library."
"Well, if he gets the urge to pick any more of my flowers, please remind him that they're there for the visitors to the museum to enjoy, not for his own personal whims."
"The flowers out front, maybe, but this was from our garden!"
"That's beside the point!"
Blue Pearl looked at her sister with offended dignity. "You must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed," she sniffed and swept out of the room.
* * *
Both Willy and Blue Pearl managed to avoid Burgundy Lace's thundering expression until the museum was closed and locked for the night. The two sisters ate their meal in quiet tension and were just finishing up tidying the kitchen when Blue Pearl observed, "Pinto will be here soon."
"Whatever for?" gaped Burgundy Lace, drying her hooves on a towel.
"He's escorting us down to the ice cream shop; Willy wanted Pinto to meet his family, and included us in the party."
"Why wasn't I informed of this earlier?"
"Well, admit it, Lacey; you've been a regular grouch all day... not at all like you should be, what with having Pinto back in Bubbling Springs and all."
"It's not by my invitation that Pinto's back," growled Burgundy Lace.
"No one invited him; he just showed up... and for that I'm very grateful. It's nice to have an old friend around with whom one can be honest and open, especially someone as warm and congenial as Pinto." Blue Pearl assumed what could only be called a dreamy expression. "Surely you haven't forgotten how charming he can be."
"It was me he wanted to marry, remember!"
"Yes, it was," Blue Pearl acknowledged, turning from her sister to go answer the knock at the door. With a brilliant smile, she admitted Pinto.
* * *
"Your daughter's a little sweetheart, Willy," said Pinto, holding the adorable year-and-a-half year old foal on his lap while she worked on an ice cream cone. "She takes after her mother, of course," he added, winking at the yellow Honeybee.
"She has her father's eyes," offered Blue Pearl, smiling at the young stallion. "They sparkle in just the same way as her dad's when they're ready for mischief."
"I haven't gotten into mischief for years," argued Willy.
Honeybee rolled her eyes. "Baby Honeycomb didn't raid the cookie jar all by herself overnight," she accused.
"That wasn't mischief," defended Willy. "We were hungry."
"At three o'clock this morning?"
"She woke up and couldn't get back to sleep until we had a snack; then she zonked right out."
"Burgundy Lace was restless last night, too," revealed Blue Pearl. "I, however, had very sweet dreams." The look she sent Pinto was sugar-laced, causing her sister to choke on a sip of her drink.
"You've always been able to sleep like the dead," accused Burgundy Lace.
"Only when I'm completely satisfied with life," countered Blue Pearl. "And right now, I think it has never looked more promising."
How could her sister so blatantly throw herself at Pinto, wondered Burgundy Lace, feeling some embarrassment for Blue Pearl's forwardness. No one else at the table seemed to take offense at the mare's unbridled optimism. Pinto, in fact, was grinning like a mooncalf. Burgundy Lace found the attitude of the two quite disgusting- so much so that when Pinto transferred his attention to her and winked, Burgundy Lace only returned a disapproving scowl.
* * *
Burgundy Lace awoke the next morning with a headache. She sat up and rested her throbbing head on her hooves. What was happening to her that her normal levelheadedness was so roiled? She groaned as the walk home last evening with Pinto came back to mind. Her sister had prattled on and on about the days long gone when Pinto had first been in Bubbling Springs, recalling every dinner he had shared at their home and every public affair they had attended, down to the conversations that had ensued.
Easing herself out of bed, the mare stared at herself in the mirror and grimaced; her restless nights were beginning to show on her face where dark circles framed her eyes. Running a hoof through her mane to dissolve the worst tangles, she knew that she had to face the facts: Pinto had not retained any of the affection he had once held for her; and going one step further, he had transferred that affection to Blue Pearl. Their was no point in denying the fact any longer. The faint flame of hope that had kindled within her when she had first seen Pinto at Lamplight sputtered and died. Once more, she was forced to deny her own feelings and bow to the needs of another. So be it. She would put the stallion out of her mind.
Finishing her morning grooming, Burgundy Lace was about to step into the living room when her progress was arrested by a giggle from Blue Pearl. Burgundy Lace stopped in her tracks. That sound was becoming progressively more revolting to her each day. She leaned against the wall to gather her wits about her and heard Blue Pearl's voice again.
As there was no response before Blue Pearl giggled again, Burgundy Lace deduced that her sister was talking on the telephone... and it was quite obvious to whom.
"How enterprising, Pinto. The old wishing well in the park has always been the traditional spot for a romantic tryst. Until seven, then."
Beating a hurried retreat back to her room, Burgundy Lace waited until she heard Blue Pearl go on to the museum proper before she came out again. She just could not face her sister. Not now.
* * *
"Oh! Lacey, Willy, I've been looking all over for you!" Blue Pearl called, hurrying down the curving staircase to the front entry where the two ponies had just said goodbye to the latest tourists. Holding some lengths of drapery in each front hoof, the mare was obviously caught in the throes of decorating. "I'd like you're advice..."
As Burgundy Lace and Willy watched, horrified, one of Blue Pearl's back hooves got tangled in the trailing fabric and the blue mare lost her balance, toppling down the last two steps and landing awkwardly on the floor. "Ohhh!" she wailed in obvious distress. "My ankle!"
Willy was on the spot immediately, helping the mare to sit upright on the bottom step before he began examining the ankle in question.
"Don't touch it!" Blue Pearl gasped, pushing Willy's hoof away and swathing the injured part of her leg in the curtain material that had caused the mishap. "It hurts too badly."
"Maybe it's broken," fussed Burgundy Lace, sitting on the step next to her sister. "Willy, send for the doctor."
"No!" Blue Pearl almost shrieked. Blushing, she repeated somewhat more calmly, "No, Lacey. You know I don't like to be prodded and poked like some lab specimen." She put a minimal amount of pressure on the injured hoof and fought down a groan. "I'm sure it's not broken, only sprained." She looked up at Willy and her sister and a tear ran down her cheek. "Please, just help me to my room and I'll lie down for awhile."
Exchanging worried glances, Willy and Burgundy Lace got on either side of Blue Pearl and helped her to stand and then guided her slowly and carefully to her room and eased her down onto her bed, lifting the throbbing ankle gently and settling it on a pillow. Willy then ran off to retrieve an ice pack from the freezer, returning with it so quickly that Burgundy Lace had barely had time to locate the elastic bandage from the medicine chest.
"If you won't let us fetch Dr. Bonesetter, at least let me examine your ankle, Pearl," Burgundy Lace pleaded.
Stubbornly, Blue Pearl shook her head. "No. It's fine just the way it is."
"Stop being such a baby," admonished Burgundy Lace, reaching to undo the temporary swirl of drapery fabric to check on any swelling; but Blue Pearl yelped and suddenly sat up. Grabbing the ice pack and the dressing, she attended to her own injury, winding the beige roll around and around her ankle with more speed than expertise, then propping the ice pack against it and covering it all with the blanket that Burgundy Lace had supplied. Satisfied, she lowered herself down again and smiled sweetly at her two nurses.
"Th... thank you. I'll be fine now. It's feeling much better already." Then, her eyes drifted shut.
Tucking the blanket more snugly around her sister, then smoothing down the mare's hair in a caring gesture, Burgundy Lace stood looking down at Blue Pearl's now peaceful features. Motioning Willy to follow her from the room, she flashed the stallion a puzzled look. "If I hadn't seen it happen, I'd say Pearl hit her head when she fell. I always thought she had a tender for Dr. Bonesetter and would have jumped at the chance to have him fussing... well, that was before..."
When the mare did not go on, Willy assumed the puzzled look. "Before what?" he asked.
But Burgundy Lace did not reply. She stood looking out the window, and Willy wisely left her with her thoughts. "This proves it," she whispered to herself. "Blue Pearl is in love with Pinto."
* * *
Checking on her sister before starting a simple supper, Burgundy Lace found the mare sitting up with several pillows behind her back, the injured hoof peaking out from beneath the blankets.
"Oh, Lacey, I need your help," the mare pouted.
"I thought you were asleep, or I'd have come in sooner." Burgundy Lace straightened the covers. "What can I do for you?"
"I tried to take a step or two on my hoof, but it hurts like the dickens."
"You want Dr. Bonesetter to look at it then?"
"Oh, no, Lacey." A soft blush diffused across Blue Pearl's cheeks. "It's just that... well... I promised Pinto that I'd meet him in the park at seven, and now I won't be able to make it."
"Why didn't you arrange to meet with him here?"
Her cheeks growing redder yet, Blue Pearl dropped her gaze. "That wouldn't have been as romantic, now, would it?"
Burgundy Lace sighed. Wanting to snap at her sister, telling her she was too old for such nonsense, she said instead, "No, I guess it wouldn't." She patted Blue Pearl's hoof. "You want me to call him and explain?"
"No! No, he... he was... going to be out... all afternoon. You'll have to go to the park yourself." Seeing that Burgundy Lace was stiffening for a blunt refusal, Blue Pearl begged. "Oh, please, Lacey! There's no reason to leave him standing in the park waiting. It's not far and the weather is beautiful. Please?"
"I was just going to fix something to eat."
Looking at the clock, Blue Pearl looked shocked. "It's almost seven already! We can eat when you get back. I'm not hungry... really, I'm not." A rumble from her stomach put lied to that statement, but Burgundy Lace ignored it, seeing that Blue Pearl was becoming agitated.
"All right, Pearl. I'll get you some fruit juice to tide you over, then I'll carry your message to Pinto." She narrowed her gaze. "I'm sure he'll want to come back here to make sure you're really okay."
Blue Pearl's concerned face smoothed in satisfaction. "That's fine, Lacey. Just don't let him think he's been jilted. Oh, and he'll be waiting by the wishing well."
* * *
Mumbling to herself about playing messenger for an aging Romeo and Juliet, Burgundy Lace's own heart lurched when she spotted Pinto leaning against the stonework wishing well. "Lot of good it did us," she muttered, remembering a time when both she and Pinto had fed their jangles into the murky depths of the font. She waved her hoof as Pinto spotted her and brought her own emotions under control.
"Lacey, this is a pleasant surprise," purred the stallion, coming to meet her.
"Not so pleasant, I'm afraid." She slithered her hoof from his grasp. "Blue Pearl stumbled down the stairs earlier and injured her ankle."
"She did, did she?" Pinto's eyes sparkled, showing no concern. "She's been properly tended to, I assume."
"She refused to see the doctor," Burgundy Lace bristled, "but she was adamant that you not be kept here waiting. She is a compassionate soul, you see," strongly suggesting that Pinto was not.
Chuckling, Pinto shook his head. "Lacey, Lacey. It's been thirty years. Can't you put the past behind you and live for today?"
"Not when my sister is pining away for you back in her bed..." Oh, gosh, that sounded forward! Burgundy Lace bit her lip. "...I mean, back at Lamplight!"
Pinto went so far as to laugh out loud. "Blue Pearl is the dearest mare, but pining for me, Lacey? I think not."
"That just goes to show how thick-headed you are, you... you... you unsufferable clod! You'll break her heart and..."
"And what about your heart, Lacey?" Pinto's words were so softly spoken that Burgundy Lace was silenced, trying to determine if he had really said them or if she had conjured them from her imagination. When no more words came, she assumed he had voiced them.
"What does my heart have to do with this?"
Moving closer to the mare, Pinto held her with his gaze. "Your heart responded to mine once upon a time."
"I was young... and easily swayed."
"Too easily, Lacey. You let your father decide your life for you."
"He did what he thought was best!"
"But was it? Can you honestly say that you haven't regretted turning down my proposal?" He had moved closer, so close that Burgundy Lace felt like she was being smothered in feelings that she had not experienced in ages. She put up a hoof to stop his advance, but he only encompassed it in his and drew her to him. "It's been thirty years, Lacey... a lifetime for some species... but we still have a chance to correct our mistake and move forward. Listen to your heart." He lowered his head and kissed her.
For a moment, Burgundy Lace was lost and knew only that this was something that she had longed for forever; but just as quickly, she remembered her sister. With something akin to a growl rumbling in her throat, she slapped Pinto's face. She stepped back and berated the stallion. "How dare you kiss me when you've been leading Blue Pearl to think that she holds a special place in your heart? And don't deny," Burgundy Lace continued when Pinto attempted to defend himself, "that my sister has had stars in her eyes over you since the day you arrived back at Lamplight. I've never seen her so enthused about anyone as she is over you; and I've seen with my own eyes that you've led her on, building up her expectations. And now, to have the audacity to..."
The mare stopped suddenly, for the stallion was grinning at her, completely oblivious to the raking down she was giving him, which only infuriated the mare further. "How can you overlook her feelings as if she is of no account... and with her sitting at home suffering from both a sprained ankle and disappointment at not being able to meet you tonight?"
"I would never take her feelings lightly," Pinto countered. "She's the reason that the two of us are standing here talking."
"Only because she pleaded with me to come, never expecting your duplicity."
"You underrate your sister's acting ability, Lacey."
"You're not making any sense." Burgundy Lace literally glared at Pinto.
"Lacey, the only reason Blue Pearl has stars in her eyes is because she's pleased to think that the two of us have a second chance. She was happy to see me at Lamplight again for your sake, and she was also aware of your coolness toward me and was afraid that you would hold on to past recriminations and send me packing; she asked me to overlook your inhospitality and assured me that, given time, you'd come around."
"My sister and you have been plotting against me?"
"I'm afraid so." Again, that amused grin crossed Pinto's face. "Seeing that you weren't responding to my attempts to captivate you, Blue Pearl suggested that we force a confrontation. That's what this meeting by the wishing well was all about. She thought that if we had a chance to talk privately, you would fall under my charm again."
Burgundy Lace's eyes lowered to venomous slits. "Are you saying that my sister faked her sprained ankle to get me out here with you?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying. Please don't disavow the two of us, not after Blue Pearl has obviously done such a good job of playing her part."
"I should have suspected a rat when she wouldn't let me call Dr. Bonesetter, but I had no reason not to trust her," Burgundy Lace replied accusingly, but Pinto was happy to see that her anger was receding.
"Let's forget Blue Pearl for a moment. It would be a shame to waste this rendezvous arguing."
Pinto chuckled. "Would you like to sit down, Lacey?" The stallion gestured to a nearby wooden bench backed by some budding bushes.
"If the two of you have gone to so much work to bring this meeting off, I guess I should allow you a hearing," the mare consented, casting a sideways glance at Pinto.
When the two were seated, Pinto cleared his throat. "Lacey, there are a couple of things I'd like to explain."
"Thirty years ago, I was very much in love with you; but I was also too young to understand the predicament your father had put you in when he convinced you that Lamplight was to be your responsibility." He held up a hoof to stave off Burgundy Lace's defense of her father. "If I had been mature enough to think clearly, I would have kept in touch with you and your family in an effort to change your mind... and your father's. But my pride had received a hard blow, and I thought I could hurt you best by burning all my bridges behind me and leaving you to mourn your mistake."
He grinned wryly. "I, therefore, wasn't aware that you and Blue Pearl could have used my help; and through all the intervening years, I only succeeding in hurting myself. I've had all the excitement and adventures I dreamed of, but I've never had anyone to closely share them with me. You, at least, had Blue Pearl."
"You, certainly, have many friends in the academic world."
"Friends, yes, but not family... not a special someone who could have been there for me day in and day out- and someone I could have supported in turn. Never a day went by that I didn't think of you." Pinto turned to face the mare. "When your niece mentioned her relationship to the ponies of Lamplight, it was as if my entire life settled into place.
"You see, I have been wanting to write my memoirs and had been thinking about the best place to retire to collect my notes and organize my thoughts; and the one place that kept coming to mind was Bubbling Springs where I had done my first serious research- and, in the process, had met you. When Garnet offered me that subtle hint about her aunts, it was as if she sensed my dilemma and presented me with a solution.
"What I need from you, Lacey, is an affirmation that you will, at least, not resent my presence in Bubbling Springs. We did make a wish once, and it could still come true," he reminded her, gesturing toward the wishing well.
Lifting her tear-lined lashes to meet his gaze, Burgundy Lace gave him a wobbly smile. "It would be pleasant to have you in town again."
"Good. I can make my plans. I have a conference to attend in New Pony- I'll be leaving first thing in the morning- but then I'll make arrangements to come back here. Caraway has dropped several hints that the rooms I'd commissioned for the last few days are available for a longer lease."
"Knowing Caraway as I do, that doesn't surprise me," Burgundy Lace retorted.
"Why, Lacey, that sounds like a jealous jibe; that bodes well for me, I think."
"Harumph!" scoffed Burgundy Lace, but the devastating smile she delivered and the sparkle in her eye told Pinto all he needed to know.