Lamplight Legacy
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 son.

"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 spot.

"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 the museum?"


"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 reconsider.

"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 her."

"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 appeared.

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 this.

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 somehow."

"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 everyone.

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 Columbine's house.

"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, Buck."

"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. "Goodnight, Columbine."

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 now."

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 asked.

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 floor.

"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 river."

"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 going."

Willy appeared to be quite satisfied where he was, but he reluctantly slid off the stool and said goodbye. Honeybee smiled. "Come back again anytime."

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..."

"Look, Mr..."


"...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 comes in."

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 place."

"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 anyway."

"Legal papers? You mean the parents had left Blackcap the place in lieu of his sisters?"

"That's what the papers said, and they were all signed and sealed proper like. No one in their right mind believed them to be legitimate; but the court couldn't break 'em, so Blackcap got everything."

Buck accepted a refill of soda from Honeybee, then asked Bramble, "What became of Blackcap?"

"He and Sassy stayed on at Lamplight for several years, living high on his folks jangles. When that began to run dry, he began doing shady stuff that kept him afloat for awhile; but eventually the law caught up with him and his wife and they were faced with enough charges to keep them out of commission for some time. But they disappeared before the cops got to them."

"What a story!"

"And now it may be too late for the mares to make a claim on the place," Bramble mumbled.

Buck had been thinking. "What are the chances that the decision of the council will be to renovate the house?" he asked of Bramble.

"It's anybody's guess. Some of the members won't make up their minds until the night of the vote."

"If Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl were to address the council before the vote, do you think they could sway some support for Lamplight?"

Bramble looked at Buck sharply. "I'm not sure that'd even be above board." But he leaned forward with a bright gleam in his eye.

"Well, from all I've heard, Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl got the raw end of this entire affair. They lost an inheritance that was rightfully theirs and had to forfeit their home and entire style of living. It seems to me that the town could help them regain some of their birthright while at the same time procuring the services of two intelligent, creative, refined individuals."

"Go on," Bramble urged when Buck paused to regroup his ideas.

"What if the city decided to purchase the house and property? Who better to oversee restoration than two ponies who experienced the heyday of Lamplight firsthoof?"

"Do you really think they would consent to that... assuming we get the vote to make a showcase of the place?"

"I think they might if part of the deal was to grant them living space in the refurbished home in return for supervising the day-to-day operation of the museum."

Bramble slammed his hoof into the table again. "I like it!" he declared.

Willy finally put in his two jangles worth. "From what I've heard from you is that these two mares have only recently resolved years of intense hard feelings concerning their lose of Lamplight. Will they be ready to jump on the band wagon to save the house so quickly?"

"We won't know until we ask. What about it, Bramble? Will you allow them to appear before the council? And include their services in the vote to purchase the house?"

Bramble sat in deep thought, his responsibility to the town fighting his compassion for the mares. When his decision was made, he stated it bluntly. "Get them here; I'll let them talk."

Buck and Willy shared a high-hoof in jubilation and shook Bramble's hoof in thanks. But the town manager held up a warning hoof. "This could backfire on you, you know. The townsponies may not take these two to heart as you seem to have done."

"They'll love 'em," Buck declared, a confident grin on his face. "They have to!"

* * *

Buck couldn't wait to talk to Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl about the situation with Lamplight, but he wanted to see them face-to-face when he told them the news. It was Saturday before he could get away, and then only by trading work hours with one of the other museum aides.

He traveled alone this trip; he didn't want anything to unduly upset the two sisters and thought Willy's presence might hold them in reserve. He wanted them to feel comfortable with his ideas, and take time to think them through rationally.

It was early afternoon by the time he arrived in Frostmont and found the house number that he was looking for. He grimaced as he saw the small home that now sheltered the two mares, more daunting when one considered that their apartment consisted only of the few rooms on the first floor.

Ringing the doorbell, he wiped his hooves on the doormat; the winter weather had taken a hit by warmer temperatures, turning the snowy lanes into mushy, muddy quagmires. He was checking the bottoms of his hooves for cleanliness when the door opened. "Why, Buck, what a pleasant surprise! Blue Pearl, it's Buck from Birdsong!"

Blue Pearl came dashing from a corner of the room, and a quick glance showed Buck that she had been working on yet another quilt. Both sisters were delighted to welcome the young stallion into their home, as humble as it was.

"Coffee, dear?" Burgundy Lace asked, already bustling to the kitchen to prepare a tray. Blue Pearl cleared quilting pieces off the table and chairs before offering Buck a seat.

When Burgundy Lace brought in the steaming cups of coffee and golden peanut butter cookies and had placed them on the table, both sisters looked at Buck with such curiosity that he knew without asking that they had discussed their mutual longing to make contact once more with their foalhood home. Neither said a word; they merely waited, every nerve on edge.

"I saw Lamplight," Buck began. "It's an impressive building."

"And is it well cared for?" Burgundy Lace asked.

"It's been unoccupied for some time now."

"You mean it has fallen into disrepair?" Blue Pearl looked as forsaken herself as the house did.

"It needs a new coat of paint and some cosmetic repairs," Buck tried to soften the news.

"Were you inside? Was any of the furniture still there?"

It dawned on Buck that he had been so caught-up in the structural details of the house that he had not given a thought to the furnishings. "No, I'm sorry to say. The house was empty."

Silent tears rolled down Blue Pearl's cheeks and Burgundy Lace coughed into a lace-trimmed hanky. Buck began talking of all he had seen: the graceful stairway, the ornate cornices, the hardwood floors, the massive fireplace. The two listened to his soothing voice and were eventually in control of their emotions.

They asked him question after question about various rooms, and he knew that their mental pictures of those rooms were much more lavish than the reality he had seen. But he answered their queries in the kindest words he could find within him. When their curiousity had been satisfied, Buck allowed them ample time to reminisce before broaching the thrust of his journey.

"Bubbling Springs is thinking about restoring Lamplight to its former dignity."

"For what purpose?" Blue Pearl asked, suddenly on the defensive.

"They realize that as a period museum, it would be a lucrative addition to the town."

"A museum?" worried Burgundy Lace. "Having strange ponies tromping through Lamplight like some kind of side show?"

"Think of the education it would provide for countless ponies who have never experienced the rich heritage of homes such as Lamplight. You had the misfortune of losing that grand edifice, but think how many have never even seen the inside of such a showplace even for a few hours."

Letting his words sink in, Buck remained silent until Burgundy Lace asked sadly, "But who could ever duplicate the splendor that was Lamplight?"

Buck leaned forward and took a hoof of each of the sisters in his forehooves. "You two could."

They stared at him with such bewildered looks that Buck nearly laughed out loud. As it was, he simply said, "If Bubbling Springs purchases the house and property, they'd like the two of you to oversee the restoration."

Burgundy Lace was sharp, and the word if hadn't escaped her. "You mean that nothing is definite?"

"Not yet," Buck admitted. "And that's what I'm here to tell you. It's imperative that you appear before the town council next Thursday evening to convince the members that it would be in the best interests of Bubbling Springs to embrace this project financially and historically."

He waited as they digested this new information. Buck watched their faces, but he could not read their thoughts on the matter. Blue Pearl spoke first. "I want to go and speak for Lamplight."

Burgundy Lace looked at her sister in surprise. "I'm proud of you, Blue Pearl. I didn't think you'd have the guts for this!"

Buck was so happy that he got up and went round the table to hug both mares. "You've got to make this work," he grinned, " 'cause if the vote comes through in your favor, you'll be living in Lamplight again!"

Both mares stared at Buck in open amazement; he realized too late that he should have controlled his exuberance. But as it was, he could only talk them back to their senses. "Bramble says that after the refurbishing work is done, you two will become the managers of the museum with a suite of rooms at your disposal."

Blue Pearl was crying again, but this time from happiness. Both mares now hugged Buck before settling down to lay out battle plans to win the Bubbling Springs' council to the defense of Lamplight.

It was dark before Buck was finally able to break away from the excitement that now transported the sisters on a cloud of hope, carrying them back over the years they had missed at Lamplight.

When Buck was away from the house, he looked back for a last glimpse of the little house. Both sisters still stood on the porch, and they waved when they saw his glance. In that instant, the responsibility of this enterprise hit the stallion. If they won, Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl would have Lamplight back; if they lost...

Buck returned a last wave, but his heart was suddenly heavy. What if the vote went against them and Lamplight was leveled? "Dear God," he whispered. "Please grant this favor for these two dear ponies." He looked up into the starry night, and felt God's answer. His step was light as he continued back to Binksville.

* * *

The following days seemed endless to Buck as he worked and studied; he called Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl several times to insure that their resolve was not wavering and was heartened to hear that they were becoming more excited about the project as the day for the determining meeting drew near.

Scheduled at the museum every spare minute to make up for his lost hours on the day he had visited Frostmont, Buck found that keeping busy helped the time to pass more quickly. All the museum employees were excited about a new donation of household items from the past including dinnerware, quilts, baking tins, garden tools, and jewelry. Buck was put in charge of cleaning the gardening instruments, Willy was preparing a display area to accommodate some of the new items, Garnet was to evaluate the quilts and other linens, and Sundial himself was appraising the jewelry.

Buck came across the filly in the workroom one day busy with the boxes of donated goods. She was so engrossed in her scrutiny of the pieces that she didn't hear Buck's hoofsteps, and she jumped when he said hi, looking up with an agitated expression which brightened to a smile. "Hi, Buck."

"It looks as though you have enough quilts here to change the display weekly," he observed.

"And what you see is only half of them. There's another group in that old trunk." She pointed to a large, curved-top trunk behind her. "And there's a beauty in there." She opened the lid and drew out a quilt that Buck recognized immediately. "It's a crazy quilt!"

"Very good, Buck. Crazy quilts are my favorite. Unfortunately, this one is going to another facility. But Sundial has given me the job of doing some repair work on it."

"Don't we usually leave the wear and tear so that the work is entirely authentic?"

"Normally, yes. But this one is to be in a special exhibit, and the promoters want it repaired."

"And you know how to do that?" Buck asked with a bit of disbelief in his voice.

"You don't think I'm capable? For your information, I can duplicate any of the stitches on this quilt so that you or anyone else will never know that any repair was ever done."

"What about the color of the thread? There are any number of colors used here." He ran a hoof over the variegated hodgepodge of patches and stitches.

"That would be a problem except that the quilting supplies used by this particular family were included in the donation. I can match them exactly."

"I'm impressed," Buck remarked in all sincerity.

Garnet grinned at him. "Are you busy right now?"

"I'm just checking on some cleaning solvent. Why? What do you need?"

"Some company for lunch."

Buck was taken completely off guard. "Lu... lunch?" he stammered.

"You know... food." She held up a soft-side lunch box.

"I didn't bring a lunch today; I ate a late breakfast after classes.

"No problem. I've got plenty. We'll share." She grabbed his hoof and pulled him along with her to the break room which at this post-lunch hour was deserted. She gave Buck half her sandwich and they split a soda. Carrot sticks and chocolate chip cookies completed the fare.

Garnet asked about his future plans and about his family. When she learned of Birdsong, she listened to the description of the house with rapt attention. Buck wished he could tell her about Lamplight, but he had not confided his attempts to reunite the mares with their home to anyone other than Willy, and he felt it best to keep that information secret until after the vote on Thursday night.

The turrets of Birdsong intrigued the filly. "I've always dreamed of having a tower room," she confided, a far-away look coming into her violet eyes. "I'd feel like a princess peering out from the highest level watching for her knight."

She was quiet for awhile, and Buck didn't interrupt her thoughts. He was contemplating how much prettier she seemed now that she wasn't so uppity and detached. He noticed how her hair cascaded over her neck and how one dark ringlet fell across her forehead. It reminded him of the rhyme his mother used to recite:

There was a little girl

Who had a little curl

Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good

She was very good

When she was bad

She was horrid.

He smiled to think how appropriate it seemed when applied to Garnet.

"I remember once when I was just a little foal my dad took me with him on one of his business trips to a neighboring town; I don't remember where it was-- we moved around a lot. But he stopped in front of this grand old house with a turret that made it look like a castle, at least to an itty bitty little thing like I was. He stood and stared at it for what seemed like forever, and he had the saddest look on his face. I thought he probably wanted a turret room, too. But he never said a word." She shook her head, and grinned apologetically. "Sorry about that; I didn't mean to space out that way. And I suppose we should get back to work."

Cleaning up the table, she asked, "Why don't you take the rest of these cookies home with you; you seemed to enjoy them."

Buck grinned. "Chocolate chip cookies are my favorite. Thanks."

"You throw out the garbage and I'll slip these into your backpack. Which one is it? The black one?" She eyed the satchels thrown in a jumbled pile next to the hat rack.

"Yeah. The nearly worn out one; its only got to last through this semester." He shucked the napkins and paper cups in the proper receptacle. "Put them in the side pocket; they'll be safer there."

Garnet did as he asked, and the two parted company to continue their respective duties. Buck's attention wasn't on his work, and Willy had to point out several items that hadn't been properly cleaned. "Are you worried about the Lamplight vote?" he asked, assuming that was the reason for his friend's broken concentration.

"Yeah... Lamplight," Buck mumbled. But his thoughts were far from Bubbling Springs and the jewel of a house waiting for its sentence. They centered instead on the dark-red filly who had shared her lunch with him. When she was good, she was very good ran through his mind as he pictured her sitting next to him laughing and talking. When she was bad, she was horrid was a forgotten memory.

* * *

Arriving in Binksville on Thursday, Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl met Buck and Willy and together the foursome set off for Bubbling Springs. The two mares, gone so long from these once familiar surroundings, were delighted to see landmarks and recall incidents associated with them.

It was not until they came upon their first view of Lamplight that the importance of their mission hit them. When they had left Bubbling Springs so many years previously, they had left a still vibrant and well-cared for habitation. Now, caught in the throes of the winter thaw with melting snow and bare brown earth, the house appeared even more decrepit and abandoned than ever. But the memories of the past when life had still been good carried them on.

The four ponies entered the empty structure, and Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl walked with wonder the floors that had carried their first steps, their first dances, their first plodding defeat at the hooves of a brother who had usurped their inheritance. They told stories of each room; they giggled over remembered escapades, they mourned again their parents' untimely deaths.

Buck watched the time for he wanted the two sisters to eat before facing the town council. "I think we should go now," he gently advised.

"I suppose we must," sighed Blue Pearl. "I wonder if we'll ever get to come back?"

"It won't be long now and we'll know one way or the other," responded Burgundy Lace.

The walk downtown was a series of observances: There's the old Miller place; What happened to Sunny Skies house? I wonder if the rose bushes are still so pretty around the churchyard?

As they walked, Buck realized that the only eating establishment that he was familiar with was the ice cream shop, but he knew the food was good. "Oh! I wonder if it's the same shop we used to frequent?" wondered Blue Pearl.

However, they found that the location of the hangout they had known was now a newspaper office, yet they were eager to try the modern replacement. Buck ushered Burgundy Lace while Willy escorted Blue Pearl to a corner table and got them seated. "Order whatever you want," Burgundy Lace magnanimously stated. "I'll pay."

Noticing that Honeybee had her hooves full at the counter, Willy went up to wait his turn to order for the group. When she had served the last order, she turned to him with a grin. "Out with your mother today, sugar?"

"What?" Willy looked back at his companions. "Oh, no, they're just friends."

The waitress raised her eyebrows, but took the order. Willy was disappointed that Honeybee was too busy to talk and returned to his table to listen in on the conversation of Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl which was becoming increasingly tense as the time for their appeal to the town council grew nearer.

By the time they had finished eating, it was close enough to meeting time that they set out for the community building near the center of town. Bramble was waiting for their arrival and drew the two sisters aside to brief them on what to expect. His wife, Cloud Wisp, set the mares at ease with her gentle and attentive ways. Council members and spectators were filling the hall, and soon the gavel sounded announcing the beginning of the meeting.

The preliminary business out of the way, Bramble announced the main reason for the gathering: whether or not the city of Bubbling Springs should purchase for renovation the property known as Lamplight and the related issue concerning who would be put in charge of the task of bringing the property back to its historical authenticity. Everyone listened attentively as he made the opening comments; then he introduced the two guests who were in attendance and turned the podium over to Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl.

A commotion in the audience revealed the presence of Fiddler, the real estate agent. "I object! These mares don't even live here; what right have they to influence tonight's vote?" Several other voices agreed.

Bramble returned to center stage and looked out over the accumulated citizens of Bubbling Springs. "Anyone who is familiar with the history of our fair town knows that Edwin Lamplight was one of the founding fathers of this community. It was through his personal financial help that the first school buildings were built, the first hospital erected, even the forerunner of this community building constructed. And as president of the local bank, he issued loans to your fathers and grandfathers to get them started in the businesses that allowed the original cluster of ponies to improve life for everyone in the area. Edwin's wife, Cora, complemented her husband's financial help with her philanthropic efforts to improve the living conditions for each and every pony for miles around. It is our obligation to at least listen to the words of Edwin and Cora's two daughters in regard to the future of Lamplight." He turned to Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl once again. "Tell us what you have to say," he invited.

It was Burgundy Lace who delivered the speech. Buck and Willy stood at the back of the room, and Buck was impressed with the mare's well thought out presentation. She dwelt on the qualifications both sisters had for the task at hoof rather than on sentimental considerations. When she had finished, the assembled townsponies applauded her effort.

Only then did Blue Pearl step forward to share a few words. "Whatever decision you make here tonight, you have given us a chance to lay the past to rest. For that we will be forever grateful."

Bramble came forward and helped the mares off to the side where Cloud Wisp attended to them, getting them comfortably seated out of the spotlight. Several other ponies supported the razing of the building to accommodate a park and playground area for the foals and Fiddler, spoke on the advantage-- which translated to more earning potential for himself-- of clearing the land for future development. Yet Buck, watching the spectators, believed that the majority of those present were on the side of Lamplight.

While the vote was tallied, the room was deadly silent. But once the official count was announced, the ponies in the room broke out in excited chatter. For Lamplight was given a new lease on life, and Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl were approved for the forthcoming responsibilities of managing not only the restoration but also the day-to-day operation of the museum once it was finished.

Willy and Buck stood back and let the Lamplight sisters relish the victory; many of the ponies who had supported the purchase of the old house clustered around the two with their congratulations and their input. Burgundy Lace received every suggestion with poise and thoughtful consideration while Blue Pearl simply nodded and smiled. Buck knew that her emotions were in turmoil within her and that she would need time to fully grasp the changes that this would bring to her and Burgundy Lace's lives; once she had absorbed the certainty of the vote, she would quietly and effectively carry her weight in the planning and decisions that would be needed in the months ahead.

As the crowd began to thin out, the mares sought out Buck and Willy and thanked them profusely for all they had done to make this a reality. Bramble and Cloud Wisp invited them to go over to the ice cream shop for a celebration sundae, and no one was against the idea. So once again they ended up under the care of Honeybee.

"You seem awfully upbeat," she said as Willy stopped at the counter to order six chocolate fudge sundaes, complete with nuts.

"Haven't you heard?" Willy grinned. "Lamplight's been saved!"

Honeybee nodded. "That's nice."

"You don't understand!" Willy explained, not grasping why anyone would not be instantly elated to learn the news. He drew Honeybee out from behind the counter and took her to the table where the rest of the group had situated themselves. Putting a hoof on each of the sisters, he introduced them. "Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl, this is Honeybee, waitress extraordinare." He paused as Honeybee smiled and dipped a slight curtsy. "And Honeybee, these two distinguished mares are the Lamplight sisters."

A glimmer of understanding finally lit Honeybee's eyes, and she reached out a hoof to each of the mares. "You're the two who used to live in the big house! I'm delighted to meet you."

"And," added Buck, "they are now officially managing efforts to bring Lamplight back to its well-deserved designation as the jewel of Bubbling Springs."

"That's super!" exclaimed Honeybee; but she suddenly remembered her duties and ran off to prepare those six sundaes. In the meantime, Bramble discussed plans with Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl concerning their availability to move back to the town and any problems that might arise in connection with the changes that would now turn their lives upside-down.

By the time the sundaes had been delivered and consumed, the excitement of the evening was being replaced with exhaustion for the two mares. "We'd better start back, Blue Pearl," Burgundy Lace stated. "We've got a long walk ahead of us."

"You can't even think about starting out for home tonight," Cloud Wisp was quick to interject. "You two are staying with Bramble and I; we've got a spare bedroom. And Buck and Willy can stay, too, if they don't mind sleeping on the floor."

But Buck and Willy were still flying too high, and they determined that they would return to Binksville even if the hour was late. "We do have to be up in time for classes tomorrow anyway," Buck rationalized when Cloud Wisp tried to change their minds.

Once on the road back to Binksville, Buck had plenty of time to think. Willy was floating on cloud nine because Honeybee's parting words to him had been, "I'll see you again, won't I?" And Buck was caught up in the myriad details of moving Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl to new quarters in Bubbling Springs as soon as could be arranged. He felt responsible for them knowing that it had been his initial inquiries that had set the wheels in motion for them to once more come home to Lamplight.

Things were going to work out for Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl. That was the bottom line, and Buck was grateful that the vote had been successful from their point of view. He looked up into the heavens, half of which were covered in dense cloud cover. But the sky to the east was still open to the stars. "Thanks, God," he breathed. "Thanks for setting things right for the Lamplight sisters."

Buck had never felt so at peace with his world as he did that night. He knew that nothing now could break the forward momentum of his life spiraling to graduation in the spring. Life was good, and he intended for it to stay that way.

* * *

The following Monday morning was a busy one at the museum where Buck worked even though the facility wasn't open to visitors. Monday was the day that cleaning, changing displays, restocking supplies, and all the miscellaneous duties that needed attending to were accomplished.

Buck had seen little of Garnet since their tete-a-tete in the lunchroom as she had been working every minute since then to finish the reconditioning of the crazy quilt; it was scheduled to be shipped out via the Ponyland Parcel Service early on this day. Sundial had finished evaluating the jewelry pieces and was anxious to begin an expansive display showing the exquisite adornments to their fullest advantage, but the curator had assisted Garnet with the packaging of the crazy quilt and several smaller pieces that were going out in the same shipment before starting his ambitious layout.

Willy and Buck were in the storage shed behind the museum putting away the snow shovels they had used to clear the lane. "We finished just in time," he commented as the PPS cart arrived to pick up the package.

"I hope this was the last snow of the season," griped Willy. "I've shoveled more snow this year than I'd ever hoped to see in a lifetime."

Buck grinned. "Don't get your hopes up, buddy. Those clouds look like they have plenty more snow in them, and they're moving our way."

Groaning, Willy turned to trudge back to the museum. Buck followed, and the two waved at the parcel service delivery pony as he loaded the packages and prepared to continue on his route. Gaining entrance to the break room, the two stallions sat down to enjoy a mug of hot chocolate before beginning their inside work for the day when a bellow erupted from the direction of the workroom.

Garnet came rushing from the main office as Buck and Willy and the other three ponies on duty for the day headed toward the workroom. They no sooner reached the door when it burst open and a flushed-faced Sundial emerged. Buck had never seen anyone as angry as this stallion appeared to be. "What's the prob...," Buck started to ask, but Sundial didn't wait for him to finish.

"Who moved the jewelry collection?" he roared.

A chorus of "Not me," "I never touched it," "Why do you ask?" and the accompanying negative shake of their heads was not reassuring to the aggravated Sundial.

"I left them in the same wooden box in which they were delivered here when we first got them. The box is still on the shelf in the workroom, but the jewelry is not inside of it." He glared at each of the ponies facing him as if he could read their guilt.

"When is the last time you actually looked at the jewelry?" asked Buck, trying to make sense of the situation.

"I finished up with my work on it late Saturday. After I put it away, I didn't look at it again until just now when I went to get it to start planning out the exhibit. And it wasn't there!" His answer had started on a nearly normal scale, but by the time he finished his voice was once more nearly screaming.

"Maybe we should all look through everything and see where it went," Garnet suggested. "Someone probably put it where they thought it would be safer. Several of the aides were in on Sunday that aren't here now."

Her words seemed to calm Sundial somewhat. "You're right. I'm sorry for blowing up at you all like I did. We'll start by searching the workroom." He had just turned to reenter the room when he had an idea. "Heather," he directed toward the filly nearest him, "check the records on who was in yesterday, and call them to see if they know who moved the stuff."

The others began a systematic search of all the boxes that lined the walls of the room; it was slow going as there were numerous containers to go through. Buck noted that Garnet was searching through the boxes of quilts; she appeared to be entirely focused on finding the lost jewelry and spared no time for idle chatter.

Willy and Fancy, on the other hoof, kept up a constant flow of comments concerning the items they were finding in the boxes they searched. Sundial finally could take it no longer. "One more 'Look what I found!' out of either of you, and you're both fired!" The two looked appropriately culpable until Sundial returned to the search at which point they giggled silectly behind their hooves.

For all the time the ponies spent on their endeavor, they came up empty-hooved; and now even Willy and Fancy were at a loss for words.

"Could someone have..." began Warren before realizing the futileness of his idea.

Heather came back into the room. "I was able to get ahold of all but one of yesterday's workers, but they didn't know anymore about it than we do."

Sundial stood considering his options. "Everybody spread out and search through the entire museum. If someone is playing a stupid joke by putting those pieces out in one of the displays prematurely, I'll have their hide!"

Hope gradually faded as they all looked in every possible place for the missing jewelry. At one point, Buck came upon Garnet as she was leaving the break room. "What are the chances we'll find the stuff?" he asked as he studied her absorbed expression.

She looked at him with violet eyes bright with intrigue. "We'd better find it, or someone's going to be in big trouble. Come on. Let's keep looking!" The two covered the gift shop, checking the storage cupboard and every cubbyhole in the room. When they finished, they joined the group of dejected ponies gathering back at the workroom.

Sundial was the last one to show up. His anger was more contained, but his face was flushed with agitation. "No one found anything?" The shaking of heads was the only answer he got. The truth of the situation was beginning to sink in, and it was not pleasant. Already they were eying one another suspiciously.

"I'm calling the police," Sundial said in a hollow voice. "I want you all to stay right here. Garnet, keep an eye on things." He disappeared into his office, closing the door behind him.

Willy sighed audibly. "And here I had hoped to get done early today."

"Yeah, me too," Heather said. "I've got a chemistry test I need to study for. Could I get the book out of my backpack, Garnet?"

"Sundial said to stay here," Garnet replied sharply, her voice returning to its former haughty manner. "I expect there would be no exceptions."

"I've got a deck of cards," offered Warren. "We can at least spend the time doing something to keep our minds off this theft." It was the first time any of them had used that word to describe this incident, and the sound of it now charged the atmosphere.

"None of us would have taken that jewelry," declared Fancy defensively. "It must have been someone who visited the museum yesterday."

"Who of us worked yesterday?" Buck asked.

"I did," meekly admitted Heather.

"I did too," Warren added.

Buck knew he and Willy had the day off, and he had seen Fancy at the student center. All eyes rested on Garnet. "You were in yesterday, weren't you Garnet? Were you working on the quilt in here?"

She stared back at Buck with the look of polished daggers. "I was here, but I didn't see anything. And I left early."

"She did," Heather concurred. "I came in to get some wood cleaner, and no one was here." As she uttered the words, she put a hoof to her mouth. "But I didn't take the jewelry... honest I didn't!"

"No one has accused you," Garnet responded coldly as Sundial rejoined the group.

"The police will be here shortly," he informed them. "I suggest that everyone keep quiet until the cops start asking their questions." He began pacing the floor, his nerves strung to the breaking point.

Silence reigned as the fillies and stallions waited for the police to arrive. Buck kept a close watch on Garnet-- not that he suspected her like he had when he had run home to Birdsong to sort out the mystery of the previous thefts, but because he did not like this imperturbable, distant facade she had returned to. He much more liked the warm, friendly side of her. She's just upset, he rationalized to himself. Once we know what is going on, she will be herself again.

It was not long before the police chief and two deputies arrived. Sundial explained again the disappearance of an entire collection of jewelry from a box which Sundial presented to Bastion as proof of the crime. Sundial also had the photos of the individual pieces ready to show the officers. Chief Bastion sent the two deputies to scour the premises while he interrogated the workers.

Garnet whispered something to Sundial who in turn asked of the chief, "Would it be okay to move everyone to the break room? It would be more comfortable there."

"I see no problem with that," Chief Bastion replied, glancing at the break room door. "Just make sure no one leaves."

Buck hoped to get a seat next to Garnet, but she stayed standing as if to be at the disposal of Sundial or Bastian if they required anything. When everyone was settled with a soda, Bastion began asking general questions of the entire group which proved fruitless as no one had seen anything suspicious or knew of anyone who would benefit from stealing the jewelry.

"It wasn't that valuable on its own merit," Sundial explained. "But to a private collector, it would be a prize worth paying for."

As the questioning proceeded from names to whereabouts to any peculiar events, the deputies returned with no success. "The jewelry isn't on the premises," the one named Todd informed his superior.

The other deputy had moved around the room and, spotting the heap of backpacks on the floor, called to his partner, "We'd better check these out before you make any general statements like that."

Willy nudged Buck in the side whispering, "I've got two months of candy wrappers and one rotten tuna sandwich in my bag."

Buck grinned at his friend. Looking up, however, he caught the violet eyes of Garnet focused on him. The smile on his face disappeared as he had a flashback to a previous time his eyes had locked on another creatures'. That was the occasion back at Birdsong when he had surprised the fox on its nightly prowl; he remembered the cold, detached look well... a look that was heartless and self-preserving.

Buck's own heart nearly stopped beating for an instant as he saw that same look now in Garnet's eyes and a shudder passed through his body. He had a sinking feeling that when he had met Garnet coming out of the break room, she had not been searching for the stolen jewelry but planting it.

He thought back to that pleasant lunch which ended with the chocolate chip cookies. I'll slip these into your backpack. Which one is it? And his totally open and naive suggestion to her, Put them in the side pocket. He would have bet his life at this moment that the deputies would indeed find at least one piece of the missing jewelry collection in the side pocket of his worn and grubby backpack.

"You'd better look at this, chief." Todd had Buck's satchel in hoof as he approached the table around which the assembled ponies sat. He pointed to the side pocket, and Chief Bastion looked inside.

In short order, he was holding a delicate gold chain with a crystal heart attached. He asked of Sundial, "Do you recognize this?" At the same time, he was rifling through the photos Sundial had given him earlier.

"Of course I do! It's one of the missing pieces!" He sent a glowering glance around the table, not knowing to whom that particular backpack belonged.

"Look for some identification in the bag," Bastion directed Todd.

Buck, however, spoke up. "That backpack belongs to me." Bastion looked up and gave a discerning study of the aqua stallion, then looked to his deputy for confirmation.

"Buck Birdsong," read Deputy Todd from a crumpled class schedule that he had found.

"That's me," reiterated Buck.

"How did this necklace end up in your backpack?" Chief Bastion asked.

"I have no idea, sir." He glanced at Garnet, but she looked away.

"You didn't take it from the box in the workroom?"

"No, I did not."

Chief Bastion stared at Buck for some time before he swept a glance over the others. "We have your addresses and phone numbers; you are all free to go about your business, although we may need to talk to you again so stay in Binksville." His attention again rested on Buck. "You and I will talk further down at the station."

No one made a move to leave. Sundial seemed stunned; for all his accusations, he could not easily believe Buck to be guilty of theft. Standing by her boss, Garnet had assumed a dismissive attitude as if she was no longer interested in these proceedings.

Willy, Heather, Warren, and Fancy looked at one another, and Willy spoke what was on their minds. "Chief Bastion, we know Buck. He'd never steal from the museum; he wouldn't steal nothing from nobody."

"That's right," the others agreed, their heads nodding in unison.

"Be that as it may, an article of stolen goods was found in his backpack. We'll have to investigate starting with that piece of evidence." The chief stood up and directed Buck to get to his hooves as well.

Buck looked back from the doorway to glance over the glum faces. "Truth will win out," he promised. "I'll see you all later." His gaze came to rest on Garnet's face; for a brief moment, he saw a flash of regret that was almost instantly smothered in a recurrence of the frosty stare as cold as marble. Buck dropped his gaze and followed Bastion from the room.

* * *

Sitting in the chief's office, Buck had plenty of time to think while he waited for the wheels of justice to slowly turn. He thought back over the events that culminated in his being held on suspicion of robbery, going back to the earlier minor thefts that he had suspected of Garnet. His mind went over his trip back to Birdsong and to his meeting of Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl. He grinned as he remembered their first encounter with the two of them quizzing him amidst their quilting supplies.

Jumping ahead, he remembered coming across Garnet in the workroom at the museum surrounded by quilts and her delight in the scraps of cloth and stitches that matched the elderly Lamplight sisters. It's strange that they all liked the crazy quilts best of all, Buck pondered, wondering why that iota of information seemed to gnaw at his mind. But he couldn't capture any insight, so his thoughts moved on again.

If Garnet was indeed the thief, she would have had plenty of opportunity as she did most of her quilt repair in the same room where Sundial kept the jewelry collection in its wooden box. The one fact that needed clarification was whether she carried a satchel of some kind when she left the museum early on Sunday. Thinking back, Buck realized he had never seen her carry anything but her lunch box. That would not hold all the jewelry, Buck was sure.

When Chief Bastion returned to further question Buck, the policepony soon learned that Buck was not about to change his story. Nothing Bastian asked, whether directly related to the case or some random question meant to trip up the stallion, received any answer but the simple honest response of this country stallion who had been raised to value truth and righteousness.

However, the chief had a task to complete and the facts to date pointed to Buck as the culprit he sought. "I'm keeping you here overnight," he informed Buck while looking out the window where dark snow clouds sat heavy in the west. "Maybe by tomorrow we'll have found some lead to point us in the right direction."

At least, speculated Buck as he was led to his confinement, he sounds like he doesn't believe that I committed this crime. He added that reflection to his points to consider in the long hours ahead as he once more began mulling over the facts, searching for a clue.

* * *

It was late that evening when Sundial answered the persistent ringing of his telephone and met the avalanche of words that awaited him.

"Sundial! It's me, Garnet. My dad just called from New Pony and Mom's in the hospital. The doctor thinks I should be there because it doesn't look good. I've got a seat on a flight that leaves tonight." She stopped to take a breath.

"I'm sorry to hear the news about your mother, Garnet. Is there anything I can do?"

"Just keep us all in your prayers," she responded with a break in her voice.

"Things may not be as bad when you get there. I'll hope for that." Sundial wished he could do more; Garnet had made a favorable impression on the museum curator from the first moment he had met her at her original interview, and he was looking forward to working with her in the future. But his musing was cut short as he realized that Chief Bastion might have need to question Garnet further concerning the theft of the jewelry. "What address and phone number will you be at in case we need to contact you?"

Garnet gave him the information and with a last forlorn sigh said goodbye. Sundial set down the receiver slowly, hating to relinquish his tenuous hold on the filly, and echoed the sigh.

* * *

Bastion was not a happy police chief the following morning when he learned of Garnet's departure. Sundial tried to save face for himself by producing her address and number in New Pony, but the information did not appease Bastion. "That filly is a sharp one," he muttered as he dialed the number Sundial had given him, and he grimaced as he heard the recording grate on his ear. "We are sorry, but the number you dialed is no longer in service." He flung the receiver into its cradle and snarled, "The address will be some vacant lot full of garbage."

"But why would she give me the wrong information?" Sundial bewailed, slow to imagine any fault with his prized assistant.

Stifling his temper, Bastian attempted to enlighten the stallion. "Of all the workers at the museum, this Garnet had the best opportunity to take the items in question."

"So why didn't you take her in yesterday instead of Buck?"

"Because the evidence was found in Buck's possession. We needed something concrete to go on, not just educated guesses."

"But just because Garnet worked in the same room that the jewelry was stored in doesn't mean she took it," Sundial defended.

"No, but if you look back over the other thefts that have occurred at the museum, they all started after Garnet began working there."

"That still doesn't mean she did it!"

"Well, that's my job now, isn't it?" Bastion got to his hooves and called a deputy to him. "Check the airport and find out if a filly matching Garnet's description boarded last night's flight. I'm on my way to her apartment to see if she left any trace."

Sundial stood in utter disbelief. Of course she was on the flight last night, and her apartment would stand as always except for the absence of the pony herself, he wanted to scream at Bastion. But the chief was already gone; and, with him, Sundial's hope.

* * *

Buck had slept fitfully on the hard bed provided for him in the cold and drafty cell. Most of the night hours had been spent thinking back and thinking ahead: back to the never changing facts and ahead to the unpredictable future. Two things haunted him: What would this do to his parents if Garnet's ploy worked and he was formally charged with the theft, and what effect would this have on his plans for graduation in the spring and the job that waited him back home?

It was nearly dawn when he finally fell into a roiled slumber that bombarded him with dreams bordering on nightmares. He was hopelessly shut away behind bars while Garnet laughed at him, her voice telescoping into ever higher crescendos of torment. In his dream, Buck lifted a crazy quilt that lay on the lumpy cot in his cell and threw it over his head to block the sound of the incessant, taunting laughter only to find himself showered in a cascade of jangles that turned to golden chains and sparkling jewels as he watched. The clinking of their landing stopped the laughter of Garnet, and in the ensuing silence Buck came to his senses and sat upright in bed.

That's the piece I couldn't put into perspective. Without a doubt, he know knew what had become of the missing jewelry.

A grinning deputy stood outside the cell. "You woke up right on schedule," he said to Buck as he pushed open the door, the keys still jingling in his hoof. "The chief wants to talk with you."

"And I to him," mumbled Buck under his breath as he jumped up to follow the deputy whom he recognized as Todd.

Escorting Buck to the chief's office after a chance to use the facilities, Todd left him in the care of Bastion. The chief, who looked as if his morning had not started well, motioned for Buck to be seated. Drops of moisture dripped from Bastion's mane and ran down his shoulders to disappear into the cushion of his chair. It was the first chance Buck had to see outside through the window in the office; the snow had arrived in force during the night and still continued to pile up deep drifts of the white powder.

Bastion finished up some paperwork before throwing his pen down; he leaned back in his chair and fixed his gaze on Buck. "Tell me what you know about Garnet."

"Fact or suspicion?" Buck countered.

"Let's start with facts."

Buck took a deep breath. "She could be a real pain if she wanted to be-- she tended to weasel her way into Sundial's good graces irregardless of her talents."

"Do you mean she wasn't suited for the job?"

"Not at first, but she was a quick learner and Sundial was willing to teach her. She eventually was pulling her own weight quite well. She worked on a quilt project recently that proved her skill in that department."

"Go on," prompted Bastian as Buck deliberated.

No sense telling Bastian that Garnet was quite adept at instilling a schoolboy crush on a stallion who was old enough to know better. Instead, he said, "The rest are suspicions."

"I'm listening."

"Before I say anything, could you tell me if you've learned whether or not Garnet was carrying a backpack or package of any kind when she left the museum early on Sunday?"

"We checked that, and no, she wasn't."

"Then I think the jewelry went out in the package Ponyland Parcel Service picked up Monday morning."

Bastion raised arched brows. "Sundial helped on that, I was told."

"What if the jewelry was hidden inside the quilt? Sundial would know nothing of it, of course, but because of his blind trust in Garnet, he might have overlooked hints that something wasn't quite right like the quilt being heavier than it should have been."

"You're saying she stuffed the jewelry inside the quilt?"

"It's possible. She had been working on repairing the quilt, spending all her time on it. What if she actually was opening sections of the quilt to be ready for the time when Sundial moved the jewelry collection out of his office where he had been documenting it and back to the workroom? All she had to do then is move the jewelry into the cotton batting of the quilt and close off the openings."

"Wouldn't Sundial have checked her progress with the quilt?"

"She could still have kept up with the fancy stitches on the quilt top that Sundial would have been interested in."

Thinking for a moment, Bastion called to Todd in the next room. "Call the PPS to find out the status of a shipment from the museum here to... where was it going?" He looked to Buck for the answer.

"The Crestview Art Center."

"Got that?" Bastian asked of the deputy. "Tell them to hold the package at the nearest town and inform us so we can pick it up."

"Right away, sir."

Bastion sat pondering the situation until Todd returned. "The delivery cart has left Fargo already; it should be reaching Pine Acres any time now; that's the only stop before Crestview. They'll leave a message at Pine Acres for the delivery pony to wait."

"I'll notify Pine Acres and Crestview police to be on the lookout for this Garnet. You and Cory head out to Pine Acres immediately." The chief looked out onto the blowing snow. "It will be a rough trip, but if PPS could make it, so can you. Just hurry; I want that box back here as soon as possible."

The two deputies were soon on their way, and Buck wondered what was in store for himself; he got the feeling that Bastion had forgotten he was there. After his calls were made, however, he suddenly looked up at him. "Buck, you can go home; but I want you to stay away from the museum until this mess is cleared up, which should be by this afternoon."

"Thanks, chief," Buck said as he hastily headed for the door; he lowered his head into the wind, letting the force of the driven snow purge him of his night in jail. One thought ate through his joy of being free: Where was Garnet?

What was it Tramples had said of the fox? It got what it was after; it'll move on now. Buck shook his head to erase the memory of those violet eyes that still stared at him in the dark recesses of his mind.

* * *

The Ponyland Parcel Service pony was trudging through the snow with his cart-- happy to see that the snow was letting up although the wind was not, and that he was getting close to Pine Acres-- when he saw a dark red figure on the path ahead. The pony was obviously traveling slowly as he was gaining on the form; and as he drew nearer, he could see that the pony was limping painfully.

When he had drawn close enough to make voice contact, the delivery pony called out, "Excuse me, but do you need some assistance there?"

The pony turned, her hooded eyes covering her pain. "Oh, finally! Another pony! I thought I'd never see anyone until I got to Pine Acres!" She slumped to the snowy ground and waited for him to come alongside her.

Abandoning his cart to help the filly, the stallion asked, "How did you injure yourself?"

"I got off the path just after I left Fargo and turned my ankle. It's been throbbing like crazy, but I had to keep going. I had no idea the snow would be this bad." She lifted her eyes to the stallions, and their violet depths sparkled like the snow.

"I'm not allowed to take passengers in the cart, but you can walk with me and lean on me for support," the stallion offered. "We can't be more than a mile from Pine Acres now."

"Oh! That would be so thoughtful of you!" The filly smiled gratefully, and the violet eyes seemed to soften in color and radiate pure light.

"Can you stand up?" the stallion asked, lending her a helping hoof which the filly accepted. She flinched visibly as she stood, but bravely took a tentative step.

"I'll be okay," she assured the delivery pony, allowing him to reclaim his hold on the cart while steading her at the same time. They set off down the path at a slow but steady pace, the snowflakes nearly ended.

"I really must thank you..." she waited for his name.

"Rusty," the stallion smiled.

"Thanks, Rusty. I don't know if I could have kept on without your help. My mother is ailing, and I must get to her soon."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"She has these spells every so often, and it seems to help to have me at her side." She faded into a contemplative silence.

"What's your name?" the stallion inquired with a sidelong glance at the young mare who looked lovely even with her hair covered with snow.

"I'm Garnet," the filly responded, shaking some of the clinging moisture out of her mane. "I'm on my way to Hayton."

"That's a long trip. You'll never make it with your ankle this way. Maybe you can have it looked at in Pine Acres."

"That's so sweet of you to be worried about me!" Garnet exclaimed, her face lighting Rusty's world like a beacon. "Where do you come from?"

"I work out of Binksville, but my home is in Millville."

"Millville? I've heard of that town before. Isn't there an art school there?"

"Why, yes, there is. It has quite a good reputation."

"I dabble in art myself. I'd like to visit the school sometime. Is it hard to find?" She looked at him with an open, interested expression.

"You can find anything easily in Millville," Rusty grinned. "But if it's my time off, I'd be glad to show you around."

"That would be delightful, Rusty!" She remained quiet for awhile, and Rusty didn't infringe on her thoughts. The first buildings of Pine Acres were now in view and the two ponies hurried their steps ever so slightly.

Suddenly, however, Garnet's sore hoof missed a step, and she fell heavily into the accumulated snow with a groan of pain.

"Garnet! Are you all right?" Rusty dropped to his knees to assure himself that the filly had not further injured herself.

"Oh, my! Clumsy me. I seem to have twisted it worse this time." She looked up with several stray tears trickling from her eyes.

"Dare you try to use it again?" Rusty asked in concern. "Maybe I should go into town and get medical help."

"No, no. I can make it from here. If I can just get to that little restaurant at the edge of town, I can rest there." She spunkily got to her hooves with Rusty's help, but the first step she tried to take plunged her right back into the snow; and this time she hit her hip on the cart causing more pain.

"Oh, Rusty. What am I going to do?" The tears fell freely now.

"Garnet, everything will be all right. You stay here by the cart, and I'll run into town to get help. I promise I'll hurry as fast as I can; I'll be back before you know it!" Quickly unfastening the canvas sheeting that covered the load of packages, he draped it over the filly for warmth and protection from the wind. Several tears dropped to his hooves as he tucked the cover around her; he felt their warmth and was inspired to make his best possible time getting help for the injured filly.

"I won't be long," he said as he stood to leave. "We'll have you safe and warm in no time." He flashed her a parting grin and sped off toward town.

"Hurry up, Rusty!" Garnet breathed as she watched him reach the outskirts of Pine Acres. And a second later, "Get out of my sight!"

As the stallion was swallowed up within the buildings, Garnet threw off the canvas and got to her hooves in a fluid motion unencumbered by any injuries. She rearranged the tarp where it had been covering her so that it looked authentically placed, then grabbed a familiar package from the cart and darted back down the path in the direction in which she had come in the company of Rusty.

Once she had gained the cover of a grove of trees, she turned to her right, deserting the path for a trail known only to her. The wind followed her steps, blowing eddies of white flakes like glittering quicksand into the impressions of her hooves, obliterating them completely.

* * *

"The box is gone?" roared Bastian as the report came in from Pine Acres. "How can you explain that?"

He listened, his nerves tense, his hoof tapping out his annoyance as Todd explained matters to him. When he had heard all he needed to know, he hung up the phone and sat back in his chair to think things over. "Garnet." He said the name out loud. A slick operator, they had discovered, for one so young. And brazen enough to use her real name even knowing that the law would be on her trail.

The filly had succeeded in duping the Ponyland Parcel Service delivery stallion into believing her story of an injured ankle so that he unwittingly left the poor, helpless thing alone with his cart of packages. Once the stallion was out of sight, the filly and the museum parcel had disappeared. Medical personnel accompanied by the PPS stallion had found a canvas tarp, but no pony. And the unguarded cart was intact except for the one package in question.

He opened up the file on his desk. Garnet's parents were Blackcap and Sassy Lamplight; he was well aware of the records of both of them. He rubbed his hoof through his mane in a frustrated gesture. They had passed their lawless legacy on to their offspring. "The worst part," muttered the chief to the empty office, "is that the entire family is good at what they do."

* * *

Willy, Warren, Heather, Fancy, and Buck sat around the table at the museum discussing the outcome of the "quilt escapade" as they now referred to it. "I'm glad she's gone," Fancy admitted. "She always looked at me like I couldn't handle the projects I worked on. She made me nervous."

Warren laughed. "You're always nervous, Fancy, no matter what!" The filly frowned and refused to respond.

"What I'd like to know is what she's going to do with the jewelry," Heather stated.

"Sell it for enough jangles to see her through until her next heist," Willy volunteered.

"Maybe she works with her parents," Warren suggested. "I hear they know all the tricks to scam ponies out of their hard-earned jangles."

Willy glanced at Buck. The two of them were the only ponies in this group who knew about Blackcap's connection to Lamplight, but Willy would not say anything unless Buck brought it up.

Buck was uncomfortable discussing Garnet; he found himself wanting to defend her irregardless of the fact that she had used him as her scapegoat. The reason was simply because she had-- for that one short lunch break-- showed him a facet of her character that had intrigued him. He wished that she would have spared him her deceptive charm; it would have been easier to dismiss her memory if she had only been an aggravation to him. So he changed the subject to the positive side of Lamplight and its chance at rebirth. Everyone was ready to visit the house whenever they could all get a day off together.

It was only after they had dispersed to their own work that Buck discussed another of his dilemmas with Willy. "Garnet is Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl's niece; do you think they've read about her in the paper? And if they haven't, should I tell them? I don't know what to do."

Willy shrugged his shoulders. "You're asking the wrong pony for advice on this one."

"I guess I'll just have to wait and see. You're still planning on going along on their big moving day, aren't you?"

"You bet! And Warren would like to come, too, if you don't mind."

"Great! The more help we have, the easier it will be. As it is, Bubbling Springs has already moved all the large furniture for them. And guess what? They'll be staying in that starter home that Fiddler tried to interest us in until Lamplight is ready for them."

"I'm looking forward to seeing Lamplight again; there are some structural details I'd like to study," Willy admitted, "but I sure hope Honeybee is on duty at the ice cream shop."

"You'll have to keep a close eye on Warren. He will be drawn to your sweet little Honeybee, too," Buck tormented his friend.

Growing serious, Willy confided, "With graduation coming up, I won't be anywhere near Bubbling Springs. I'll be on the other side of Ponyland if I accept that job offer."

"Hmm," though Buck. "If you impress Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl with your efficiency, intelligence, and magnetism, maybe they'll consider hiring you to help with Lamplight."

"Do you really think so?"

"I don't know what their plans are, but if you are sincere in your feelings for Honeybee, I'd broach the subject with them."

"Aren't you interested in working at Lamplight?"

"I've got a job lined up back home, remember?"

"And a filly, too? I've seen those letters you get."

"That would be Columbine, but it's nothing serious. We've been buddies since kindergarten."


"Yes, buddies. At least as far as I'm concerned."

"Something tells me you're going to be in for a big surprise."

"No way, Willy. She and I have an understanding-- we're friends. That's all."

"Sure, Buck. Whatever you say." Grinning, Willy let the subject drop, but he did not believe a word of his friend's denial. I wonder what Columbine would have to say about this? he speculated to himself. Something tells me that she sees things a whole lot different.

* * *

His brush with the law made the phone call home difficult for Buck, and it was with relief that he heard his dad's voice answer rather than his mom's. He told the story of his being in jail for a night and the subsequent playing out of Garnet's well thought-out plan. When Trendy had heard all the details and passed them on to his wife, giving her time to absorb them, he put Lilac on the phone.

"Buck, it sounds like you've had some trying times in your life recently. Are you sure everything is okay now?"

"Don't worry about a thing! Life should be uneventful until graduation, except for classes, that is."


"Yes, Mom?"

"Columbine came out yesterday."

"And how is Columbine?"

"She's doing well, but she's tired of her job at Pony Mart. She was wondering if I could use some help with Birdsong, and you know I was thinking of hiring someone."

"Licorice set this up," muttered Buck, mentally calculating pay back.

"She's a good worker, and I think she and I would get along well together."

"Are you asking my permission to hire her, Mom?"

"Well, yes, I guess I am. I know you feel she crowds you sometimes."

"If you think Columbine is the helper you have been looking for, don't be influenced by my feelings. After all these years with nothing but us guys around, you deserve to have the presence of a filly about the house."

Buck's good will evaporated with the end of the phone visit, for he knew Columbine well enough to realize that she would definitely find ways to complicate his life once he was back at Birdsong. Even as he frowned over that, however, further rumination provided a more satisfactory rendering. Columbine's never stayed with one job more than a few months. By the time I graduate, she'll have moved on to something else!

Having tied up that loose end, Buck was satisfied that all his problems to date were neatly solved and sorted away. Ahh! The sweet bliss of an unsuspecting mind!

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