Agatha vs. Caprice, Round Two!
written by Tabby
(with most of the luncheon scene by Sugarberry)

What, I struggled with the problem of, could I do to lighten up a potentially tedious and serious court session? Then the answer came to me: Bushwoolies.

"Oh, Elaine! Come in, come in. I haven't seen you in ages," Tabby greeted her sister-in-law effusively. "What brings you here? I have just been dying for someone to gossip with!"

Elaine giggled. "That's funny; I thought we just saw each other the other night at Mom's. Actually, Thomas said you might like the company. And apparently he was right!"

"I am quite bored out of my skull," Tabby affirmed.

"Well, how are you holding up?" Elaine asked, unwinding the scarf from around her neck. "The time between now and June will be gone before you know it! What does Faline think of having a little brother or sister?"

"Oh, I told her it would be like having someone like Banderol to boss around all the time. She's quite looking forward to it."

Elaine laughed. "I'm sure she'll make an admirable big sister. It's so exciting, though! Aren't you just thrilled?"

"Yes, but I'm also dreading it, thinking of what my mom will do with another grandchild," Tabby sighed languidly.

"Oh, I've heard you and Agatha have been having some misunderstandings about that," Elaine said carefully.

"Misunderstandings!" Tabby repeated scornfully. "Yes, that's a nice way of putting it... but it's really quite dreadful what my mother is doing! Caprice is the nicest of ponies, but Mom must insist on her exclusive rights to Faline. I am beginning to wonder if she even thinks I should have any time with Faline," she said, laughing hollowly.

"Oh, is it really that bad?" Elaine said sympathetically. "There must be a way to work things out between everyone, though, isn't there?"

"If you think of anything, let me know," Tabby said, unconvinced of an easily viable solution to the grandmother rivalry. "I don't suppose you and Alan have any news in that quarter? Perhaps my mom would lay off some if Caprice had a grandchild from the Fairfax side of the family..."

"Oh, no, not yet," Elaine said, although she colored up a bit. "Though I hope..." she trailed off.

"Yes, you'll have fun with baby ponies of your own," Tabby mused. "At least Alan's sister already has about a few million kids; there shouldn't be too much competition between grandparents for yours," she said idly.

Elaine laughed at the exaggeration. "Constance only has four, which hardly constitutes 'a few million'. But I'm sure she wouldn't mind that many!"

"Hmm," said Tabby, her mind wandering off.

"What will you be doing for your birthday?" Elaine changed the subject.

"Oh, probably quarreling some more with Mom. She'll say, 'Oh, I'll be glad to baby-sit Faline and get her off your hooves for awhile. Won't that be a special treat for your birthday!' And then she'll get all huffy when I try to explain it would be more of a special treat to actually have Faline with me. And then-"

Elaine sighed in commiseration. "I feel so bad that you have to worry about such conflict all the time! I would hate to be on such shaky ground with my mother. Surely you'll work out your differences soon!"

"You are very idealistic, but unfortunately it is very unrealistic," Tabby shook her head.

* * *

Elaine's visit prompted Tabby to, in her free time, visit the rest of her female friends to catch up on recent happenings, since she had not seen some of them- at least on terms of a private gossip- for some time. Her cousin Tamara was first on the list. Tamara had eloped with a rock star several years ago, but Philippe had since given up the more exacting career of a stage star for a more quiet life as a songwriter living in Dream Valley with his wife and their son.

"Hi, Tabby! Hi, Faline!" Tamara greeted her cousin and daughter to her home. "Hugh is playing in the living room if you want to join him," she confided to the baby pony.

"Okway," said Faline, darting past Tamara into the house.

"Hugh has been so excited ever since I told him Faline was coming over," Tamara grinned, leading Tabby into the house at a more leisurly pace. "He is quite impressed with her."

"Faline has quite a following of admirers already," Tabby agreed. "She can boss both Banderol and Hugh around to her heart's content, and they'll do anything she tells them to."

"Hmm... something like her mother, isn't she?" Tamara hinted. Before Tabby could reply, she steered the conversation onto safer ground. "Geneva had her litter on Friday. I'll let you take a peek at them if you promise not to disturb them."

"Ooh! Kittens!" Tabby squealed. "Show me!"

Tamara rolled her eyes but led her cousin into the basement of the old house, which housed Tamara's home business- a cattery of fine show-quality felines. Tamara bred and raised the finest breeds to find homes among the more affluent families of the area.

"There's one mare flying all the way from New Pony next week to see about adopting one of my Siamese," Tamara boasted proudly. "Her aunt had adopted one from me last year and gave her niece such rave reviews that she's willing to come such a distance, just to adopt one of mine!"

"You are getting so high-class!" Tabby said. "But where are the kittens... oooh!!" She broke off as she saw the specimens in question. "They're so c-yute!" A litter of five newborn Burmese kittens wriggled and squirmed around their mother.

"Shhh," Tamara warned, patting Geneva on the head. "No loud noises."

"You have very nice kittens," Tabby pronounced to Geneva, patting her also. "I'll be back to see them again when they are older and your mistress here trusts me to handle them." She waved merrily to the family and then made her way through the rest of the room, looking in on the rest of the inhabitants.

"Oh, you didn't have this Bombay before, did you?" Tabby exclaimed, coming to one enclosure. "What's her name?"

"It's a he, and his name is Merle," Tamara revealed.

"What a handsome fellow!" Tabby nodded her approval. "Speaking of Bombays, do you know what Tiffany has done with her Theodora?"

"I believe she's been established at Guido's villa; that stallion is so smitten with his bride that he relented on his 'no pets' rule," Tamara smiled. "I actually just got a postcard from Tiffany herself, and she and Guido are finally enjoying their honeymoon in the Ponyland Riviera after she finally cleared her calendar of any prior commitments. Tiffany could use a good long vacation with Guido, with all the vigor she's been working the past year!"

"Such a strange turn of events!" Tabby said. "I hope she comes back to Dream Valley again sometime. I need to see what this newest version of Tiffany is like. From all reports she's found her niche at the halfway point between ultra-snobby and ultra-charitable. I must admit her ultra-charitable side was beginning to get to me."

"Guido will be good for her," Tamara agreed. "Hopefully she'll throw fabulous parties like she used to do! It was nice seeing her so giving of herself, but I do miss those lovely, glamorous balls at the Royal Paradise!"

Tabby laughed suddenly. "I wonder what it would have been like if I had married Guido all those years ago."

"What? You would actually have been so callous as to jilt Thomas when Guido came into the church like that and protested?" Tamara asked incredulously.

"Oh, no," Tabby waved her hoof through the air. "He had asked me before, you know. It was really very funny, too, because I was that close to accepting..."

"What?" Tamara gaped. "I thought you didn't like him!"

"Oh no, we were great friends ever since college together in Italy," Tabby said complacently. "Of course, I never thought of marrying him until I went back to visit again. Butextraneous circumstances prevented that, fortunately."

"I'm glad you went with Thomas instead, but to pass up a marriage proposal from the richest stallion in Ponyland-!" Tamara shook her head. "You probably have no comprehension of the envy other mares would have for you if they knew."

"Hey, don't complain. You scored a rock star, remember?"

* * *

Meanwhile, Faline was puzzling over what kind of game to instigate with the items in Hugh's toybox. She scorned the mundane blocks, stacking rings, and chunky plastic ponies. These were not worthy of her attention, and there was very little else left. She turned back to Hugh with a dire announcement. "Your twoys are all bowing. There is nwothing I can do with thwem." She shut the lid on the toybox purposefully.

"Okway, F'wine," Hugh said dutifully, bowing to her superior knowledge. "What we do?"

Faline sat on the floor and gave this considerable thought, but then started as her gaze settled on a new decoration adorning the fireplace mantle. "Oooh, what is thwat?" She climbed up onto a nearby chair to get a better look at the lava lamp Philippe had brought back from a recent business trip.

"Wava wamp," Hugh supplied.

"This is vwery fwascinating," Faline murmured in awed accents, entranced by the neon green gobs of goo floating in dark blue liquid. So intent was she that she forgot all about Hugh, who got bored and wandered off. Like the author of this story, who got bored of this scene and became entranced by HER lava lamp.

* * *

"Tabby!" Bolivia opened the door of the Dark Forest shack to admit her friend. "How nice to see you! You came alone? In your condition, shouldn't you-"

"I was bored," Tabby explained, entering the shack. Well, at least the place finally had some homey aspects added to it to better recommend itself to visitors now that Butch had a wife. With Bolivia's touch, the two-room shack now boasted curtains, rugs, some decorative knick-knacks, and an overall more orderly appearance than when it had been a bachelor's abode. "So, how are things with you?"

"Oh, I'm afraid Butch is up to no good again by the way he has been going out all the time," Bolivia sighed, shaking her head. Tabby wondered if she was speaking of her husband or son. "He is so very... consistent with mischief."

Tabby nodded wisely. "He always makes out all right, anyway, though. I wouldn't worry about it. Hah-hah, I always like seeing him put Tex in his place..."

"Those two scoundrels!" Bolivia said, but smiled fondly at the recollection. "They did liven things up in my homeland when they came, though. They must have caused a lot of trouble when they were growing up here, didn't they?"

"Well, we didn't see much of Butch," Tabby admitted. "He didn't show up at school often. But Tex, oh, he was the worst. Putting worms in my lunchbox, and following me around, striking up uncomfortable conversations, asking me out-!" She shuddered. Yes, Tabby did like to brag about her past conquests, no matter how distasteful she made them sound.

Bolivia giggled. "You should have been flattered by his attentions. I certainly was. I couldn't make up my mind for a long time over who I loved most, Butch or Tex."

"And what finally tipped the scales?"

"Well, Butch was the first to return to my country after he and Tex had moved on- they had both made me a similar promise before they left Bolivia, you see, that they would return as soon as they could to claim my hoof," Bolivia explained. "Well, I had to wait eight years, without a word from either of them, and by then you may be sure I had written them both off as unprincipled miscreants-! But then Butch turned up on my doorstep again, and I just couldn't hold it against him." She sighed blissfully.

"How romantic!" said Tabby.

"Yes, and I am very happy to be his wife, even with all the worries he causes," Bolivia agreed complacently.

"And how is Baby Butch?" Tabby asked. "Is he here or with his father?"

"Napping in the crib, thank goodness!" Bolivia said passionately. "Butch hasn't started involving him in his schemes, yet."

"Hopefully you'll have at least another year before he goes outlaw," Tabby reassured her.

"Yes, if that long," Bolivia agreed, shaking her head again.

* * *

"Tabby!" Sapphire exclaimed, running up to her cousin-in-law in the Pony-Mart toy section. "I'm so glad I ran into you! I need your help!"

Tabby was staring up at the display of My Little People, thinking if she stared long enough new characters would appear. "Oh?" she said curiously.

"A rival firm out in New Pony is putting out a My Little People collectors' guide later this year," Sapphire said in a hushed voice. "Fairfax/Monk needs to publish a better one before that. Are you up to it?"

"Ooohhhh!" Tabby said slowly. "You want me to do a My Little People guide?"

"Yes! You're the best expert on them that I know, anyway," Sapphire beamed. "That's excellent! I'll have Chicory get in touch with you to talk about the details."

"Sure!" said Tabby brightly. She liked spur-of-the-moment arrangements. And oh, there were so many ideas for a My Little People guide...

"Hey... there hasn't been anyone asking for me, has there?" Sapphire asked abruptly before turning away. "I mean... maybe not asking for me, but looking for me-?"

"At the vet clinic, you mean?" Tabby said, cocking her head in puzzlement. "No... why?"

"Oh, it's just that... it's nothing, really," Sapphire concluded. "I'm probably just being silly. But if you see any stallions that are, you know..." she trailed off. "Well, I've gotta run! See you later!"

"Ooookay," said Tabby to herself, wondering what was up in Sapphire's world. Was that a romantic intrigue she had detected...?

* * *

"Oh, hello, Marina," Tabby said a bit warily, meeting her co-worker while out shopping. "I haven't seen you outside of work for awhile."

"Yes, I've been experimenting with a fascinating new medical concept," Marina said eagerly. "I just had to step out of my apartment quick to pick up some supplies." She gestured towards the shopping bag she held. "The results so far are promising, judging from Way-Loh's reaction to the treatment."

"Wah-Loh?" Tabby echoed. "You have a Furby?"

"Yes, and he makes a most obliging test subject- lab assistant, I mean," Marina corrected herself.

Tabby paled, and stepped back. "What sorts of things are you doing to him?"

"Oh, nothing that dangerous," Marina said vaguely. "And he loves helping. He always says 'big fun!' when I tell him it's time for another test!"

"Well, I guess as long as he's happy," Tabby said skeptically.

"Oh, he's very happy," Marina assured her. "And I must tell you that you were totally right about coming here to Dream Valley. Neil is so supportive of all my endeavors, and he totally understands where I'm coming from. I've never met anyone like him before; he is the greatest stallion imaginable," Marina sighed happily. "Of course, it was no thanks to you that I ended up finding him. If I had left it up to you, I'd still be waiting for the perfect stallion to come into my life."

"Well, pardon me," Tabby said stiffly. "Your demands were very exacting and difficult to meet."

"And yet you never thought to introduce me to Neil," Marina shook her head in wonderment. "Well, gotta run. See ya later!" The rather unusual veterinarian scurried off again before Tabby had time to reply.

* * *

"What lovely frosting!" Tabby sighed in rhapsody.

The cake under consideration was waiting on the counter at Chocolate Chip's home while a number of mares milled about the kitchen and great room of the impressive house that until recently had been Wigwam's domain alone. Tabby didn't really understand why everyone was so interested in the house when there were lovely frosting roses to contemplate.

"I never knew that Wigwam had such a splendid place," commented Fern, eying the dinette with an assessing eye.

"I did not think that any of Butch's friends had such enormous houses," agreed Bolivia in wide-eyed awe as she rubbed her hoof along the fine woodwork that framed the doorway.

"He never talked about his house," Sugarberry noted, "so no one really gave it much thought. It is beautiful, though, isn't it? Chocolate Chip has done well for herself." She grinned at the chocolate brown mare who was hosting this birthday luncheon for Tabby and Tamara, a spontaneous respite from the snowbound days of late.

"Your mother can't have any complaints about your status in life now," Tabby stated cheerfully.

Chocolate Chip giggled. "She was rather like Elizabeth Bennett who only began to look at Darcy with approval after she saw his grand estate."

"That's not how I remember it," Tabby argued, recalling her high school book report on Pride and Prejudice. "Elizabeth had been inclined to think better of him before that; it just took time to get over the fact that Wickham had insidiously lied about Darcy's character! It wasn't just seeing the estate; though granted, that would be a definite bonus."

"The view is fabulous!" Marina approved, interrupting the literary discourse. She stood looking out the patio doors to the deck which faced the not-too-distant Dark Forest. Everyone else agreed with her assessment.

"Thank you all for your compliments."

"Could I bring Alan to visit sometime?" queried Elaine as she sat down. "We'd like to build a house in the near future, and this place can give us lots of ideas."

"My cats would love to run up and down that open stairway!" Tamara sighed. "By the way, Chocolate Chip, have you and Wigwam given any more thought to acquiring a feline house-mate?"

"Umm, to tell the truth, we really haven't talked about it," the newlywed mare admitted, not wanting to take on the chores that accompanied the keeping of a house cat, pedigreed or not. Happy to change the subject, she invited the mares to take their places at the dining room table.

"Where's your husband?" asked Sapphire.

"Someone has to work," Chocolate Chip grinned at her sister-in-law, Garnet, who was playing hooky for an hour or two from the casino.

"You keep plenty busy managing Tiffany's charitable finances," that mare returned.

"It has become quite a responsibility now that Tiffany divides her time between Dream Valley and Vulcanopolis," Chocolate Chip admitted.

"It's too bad Tabby never got around to introducing me to Guido, either," sighed Marina, casting an accusatory glance at the unicorn. "There are so few stallions out there that are truly suave and handsome and..."

"Rich?" supplied Tabby, causing a tinkle of laughter from the others. Marina merely tossed her curls.

"I like the rough edges on my stallion," Bolivia said complacently.

"That would explain your former interest in Tex," Tabby put forth. Bolivia took no offense.

"It's a good thing we all have a different criteria to judge the perfect stallion," smiled Sugarberry, "or we'd all be after the same guy."

Merry Moments agreed. "We've done pretty well for ourselves, haven't we?"

"All except Marina and Sapphire," Tabby pointed out.

"You know that Neil and I have become very good friends," Marina retorted, tossing her curls again. "No thanks to you, of course."

"And that's a good thing?" teased Tamara. Dr. Neil was a proficient- but unorthodox- physician.

"He and I have a lot in common," defended Marina. "He is just so understanding and clever and ingenious and adventurous and..."

"And what of you, Sapphire?" Tamara wanted to know. "Have you met anyone since coming to Dream Valley?"

The mare blushed slightly. "No one I could name," she hedged. That evasive comment caught everyone's attention, especially Tabby's.

"I've witnessed some strange behavior from you recently," Tabby charged her. "As Thomas' cousin... and as it's my birthday... you owe me an explanation."

"Yes! Do tell!" added a chorus of voices.
"I don't mean to be secretive," explained the deep blue mare. "It's just... well... I've been getting gifts from a secret admirer."
"Ooh!" said Tabby. "What kind of gifts?"
"Oh, just little things," Sapphire said vaguely, not wanting to divulge the rather guarded secret of her past, that she used to have aspirations as a flute player, and her secret admirer had picked up on this. "But he seems to know me so well!"
"And you have no idea who this pony is?"
"Not the foggiest. Although..."
"Although what?"
"Remember your Halloween costume ball, Tabby? There was an astronaut there and he was kind of attentive... I never found out who he was, but I've always had this feeling that he was the one sending the gifts," Sapphire shared.
This piece of information caused an eruption of chatter as the mares tried to recall this particular party animal. "An astronaut, you say? I remember him!" exclaimed Marina. "I tried to interest him in a dance, but he blatantly refused... said he was looking for someone."
"Oh! How romantic!" cooed Fern. "He had eyes only for Sapphire!"
"I vaguely remember the costume, but I don't think the pony was there for the midnight unveiling," Merry Moments recalled.
"If he sends gifts, you must have seen his hoof-writing," reasoned Garnet.
Sapphire shook her head. "Everything's been computer generated."
Unable to go any further with this ongoing mystery, the girls turned to other matters, much to Sapphire's relief.
"Who's watching your twins?" asked Elaine of Merry Moments.
"Their dad. So if I seem kind of nervous, that's the reason why."
The other girls giggled. "Quarterback doesn't take well to this father business?" Fern queried.
"Oh, he's great with them... as long as they're sleeping," Merry Moments revealed. "He's a little leery yet of feeding them, however, or of keeping them entertained when they're awake."

"The foals must be, what... about a month old?" asked Bolivia, herself the mother of a seven-month-old colt.

"Three weeks exactly," beamed the mother.

"What are their names?" Marina asked.

"Lombardi and Lambeau," smiled Merry Moments. "Lombardi is white with green and gold hair; his sister is gold with green hair."

"I've never heard names like those before," Bolivia admitted.

"Quarterback chose them... of course," Merry Moments rolled her eyes. "The names have to do with his favorite football team, the Green Bay Packers. Lambeau Field is where they play and Vince Lombardi was their greatest coach ever."

"How did Quarterback become such a fan of a human football team?" Chocolate Chip wondered.

Merry Moments grinned, having heard the story direct from her husband countless numbers of times. "When he was a young colt," she explained, "one Sunday afternoon, watching TV, there were some freak satellite interferences that caused the television set to pick up a station out of the human world. A Packer game was playing then, and Quarterback was enthralled with their skill and energy! He's been a huge fan of theirs ever since and follows their progress as closely as he can."

"Why didn't he become a football player here in Ponyland?" Tamara asked. "He certainly has the name and symbol to go with it!"

"I guess he just prefers watching it from afar rather than actually taking part," Merry Moments said. "Though his brothers are big football fans, too; and they both became instrumental in setting up an organized Ponyland football league."

"Oh yes, Score and Touchdown!" Sugarberry said. "They've made big names for themselves. And to think we went to school with them!"

"Are they older or younger than Quarterback?" Fern asked.

"Score is a couple of years older, and Touchdown one year younger," Merry Moments filled in.

"We ran into them a lot at school functions, though," Sugarberry reminisced. "Tabby, in fact, was sweet on Score for awhile!"

"What!" Tabby burst out, having been rather quiet since Quarterback's brothers had been mentioned. "That's nonsense!"

"I thought it looked like you two were more intimately acquainted than what you let on, Tabby, when Score was in town for his brother's wedding," Tamara pondered.

"Hardly that!" Tabby protested. "I knew him... a little. It wasn't like I had a crush on him or anything!" This was one conquest- if indeed it were a conquest- Tabby would not talk about.

"We never accused you of that, Tabby," Tamara said, hiding a smile.

Sensing her friend's discomfort, Sugarberry began on a new vein. "Cockleburr came to babysit with Banderol the other evening, and he brought Teddy with him."

"Hmm, I would have thought he had outgrown stuffed animals by his age," Tabby commented.

"Not a teddy bear, Tabby; Teddy, the colt." Sugarberry rolled her eyes. "Anyway, Teddy saw Banderol's Puffalump and recognized it as one he had found on Christmas Eve lying in the path where Banderol must have dropped it when we left for Woodlawn."

"So why did he toss it away in the park?" queried Tabby in disgust. "I knew that colt was untrustworthy!"

"Actually, he gave it to Baby Noddins."

"And Baby Noddins threw it away? Wait until I see that filly again!"

"No, no, no, Tabby. I did some checking, and it seems Noddins passed it on to Baby Curlylocks who gave it to Gavel when he was recovering from his surgery."

"Strange names, no meaning..." Tabby said vaguely.

Sugarberry ignored her friend. "And Gavel had a houseguest who was feeling depressed, so he gave him the Puffalump, thinking it would cheer him up. But... Dangler, I think his name was, turned it over to that young mare that works at the bank..."

"Adalee?" Chocolate Chip prompted.

"Yes, Adalee. And Adalee was watching Mesquite and the foal fell in love with it, so she let him take the Puffalump home."

"So Mesquite lost it in the park!" Tabby determined.

"That's right," concurred Sugarberry. "And you, fortunately, recovered Kitty-Kitty and returned him to Banderol."

"Springtime was telling me that Morning Sunrise has acquired a favorite blanket already; it has a fringe that she rubs across her nose when she's falling asleep," Fern said.

"I wonder how little Morning Sunrise will feel when she's older and realizes that her brother and sister are royalty and she isn't?" mused Garnet.

"The princesses must have all been very disappointed to find that Springtime's next foal wasn't royalty like the twins! They quite had their hearts set on welcoming another little princess into the world, and couldn't believe the lack of sparkly hair and medallion symbol," Tabby smirked.

As Sugarberry was leaving the table to help Chocolate Chip clear for dessert, Bolivia- her eyes twinkling- asked, "We've discussed all the recent births, and we know Tabby is due in June; is anyone else willing to admit that they're expecting?"

"That's crass, Bolivia," Garnet, her own heart skipping a beat, chastised the mare while eying the others openly for some sign that would reveal just such a future occurrence. The idea having been planted, everyone was scrutinizing her neighbor in a blatantly snoopy way, hoping for an inside story. It did not take long for all eyes to settle on the one mare with flaming cheeks and downcast eyes.

"Cousin dear!" Sapphire accused. "You've been holding back on us!"

"I thought you've been hiding something!" Tabby exclaimed. "Why didn't you tell me?!"

The gentle mare peeked up shyly. "I'm still adjusting to the news myself," she admitted.

"Well, when's the happy event to occur?" Bolivia was unperturbed by Garnet's erstwhile discipline.

The mare confessed meekly. "In September."

"It's about time!" Tabby reveled. "Thomas will be thrilled. I can tell him for you, right?"

"Oh, but we haven't told Mom and Dad yet," worried Elaine.

"You'll have to tell them soon, or they'll hear it second hoof," Merry Moments pointed out.

"I'll invite them over for supper," Elaine decided, getting up to make the call.

The table having been cleared, Chocolate Chip moved the extravagant birthday cake to center stage in front of Tabby and Tamara. "We bypassed the candles, girls, as some of the guests have to get back to work."

Tabby scowled. "Are you insinuating that we have too many candles to blow out in time?"

"Basically," grinned the chocolate brown mare. "Now, who wants to lead us in singing 'Happy Birthday'?"

As the mares sang the birthday song, not entirely on key but certainly with lots of enthusiasm, Tabby covered her ears while Tamara joined in with her sweet soprano. Merry Moments captured the event with her camera. "Be sure to get a good shot of the cake," Tabby ordered. Then, Chocolate Chip turned the knife over to Tabby, allowing her to cut the confectionary delight; the pink unicorn, her lavender eyes aglow, naturally managed to end up with the most heavily frosted piece of the cake.

"This is so good," she mumbled with her mouth full.

"Umm-umm," agreed Tamara as she, too, devoured a hefty portion.

When everyone had partaken of their fill of the birthday dessert, Merry Moments asked if there was any interest in viewing the informal photos she had taken at Wigwam and Chocolate Chip's wedding. Marina, Elaine, and Sapphire had to get back to their offices, but the remainder of the guests were only two happy to move into the capacious great room to find comfortable spots on the sofa grouping; Tamara brought out her satchel and unloaded a generous amount of pictures. Chocolate Chip was allowed to view them first before sending them around the circle of friends.

"Wigwam looks so... Native Ponyish... with that braid in his mane," Tabby commented as she stared at a picture of the wedding couple.

Fern giggled. "I should hope so."

"Oh, this reminds me," said Tamara. "I got to see Dawn and Perry's wedding photos just yesterday. Princess Dawn was kind enough to show them off, knowing that Philippe and I were out of town the weekend of their wedding."

"That was awhile back, wasn't it?" asked Bolivia. She and Butch had not been invited to that wedding.

Merry Moments, the upbeat photographer of choice for the ponies in the area, answered. "It was the first Saturday in December."

"Oh! I definitely want a copy of this one of Wishbone and me at the dance!" Garnet exclaimed, her eyes starry.

"And I want one of each of these you got of Philippe singing his new wedding song at the reception," Tamara stated.

"It was so romantic," Sugarberry sighed, remembering the dance she had shared with Vanguard while Philippe premiered the love song.

"Garnet, you look ready to ring a peal over your dad's head in this one," Chocolate Chip noted. "What was going on?

Taking the picture from her sister-in-law, Garnet grimaced. "Dad was all excited about his latest endeavor to make a buck off the internet. I remember his exact words." The red mare assumed a deep, masculine voice to say, " 'You don't even have to leave the house now to scam ponies, Garnet. What a life!'" She shook her head. "He'll never learn."

"I can just imagine that lop-sided grin of his while he was saying it," Chocolate Chip giggled.

As the last picture made the rounds, Fern sighed. "Your wedding was so beautiful, Chocolate Chip. You must be very happy."

"Indeed I am," Chocolate Chip admitted.

"What I want to know, Chocolate Chip, is why you didn't marry Wigwam sooner if he was this rich," Tabby waved her hoof in the air to indicate the elegant surroundings as she took the brown mare to task.

"Hey! I thought you were the one who was discouraging the match."

"Well, yeah, but I didn't know he had money! That changes everything."

After the laughter settled down (with Tabby looking confused, as she didn't understand what had been so humorous), Tamara looked at her watch and groaned. "I hate to break up the party, but I promised Sandy that I'd pick up Hugh Alexander before three. Thanks so much for this birthday bash, Chocolate Chip." She turned to hug Tabby. "Happy birthday, Tabitha." A light flashed as Merry Moments caught the moment on film.

"Happy birthday, Tammy," Tabby replied. "And thanks, Chocky. This was way cool."

* * *

"But Mom!" Tabby protested as she was accosted by Agatha in her office later that afternoon, after returning to the clinic from Chocolate Chip's luncheon, which had actually extended for a long time past the noon hour for those of the guests who did not have pressing jobs to return to. "I told you I don't need you to watch Faline today!"

Faline, seeing the signs of another argument concerning her about to break out, tried to sneak out of the room in order to take refuge somewhere until the threat of being whisked away by her grandmother again was over. Agatha's sight, however, was sharp, and she called her granddaughter back. "Oh, Faline, stay here! I'm going to want you soon!"

"But I want her to stay here!" Tabby said adamantly. "Please just accept that, Mom!"

"Would you deprive me the simple pleasure of spending time with my own granddaughter?" Agatha sighed remorsefully.

"Noooo," said Tabby carefully. "But I wouldn't mind seeing her once in awhile myself. I am her mother, you know."

"Of course," Agatha sighed again, "I know what caused all this. It's those things I told her about Caprice, isn't it? You're still holding that against me, aren't you? You were never so strict before that."

"Well, yes, I suppose that is one of the reasons," Tabby admitted. "Faline was quite broken up when she believed her grandmother Caprice was plotting against her family. I wouldn't want her to go through that or something similar again."

"You know I only had her best interests at heart," Agatha wheedled.

"That may be," Tabby said, "but I cannot approve of your methods. You simply must learn to accept the fact that you are only one of Faline's grandmothers!"

"Caprice can never have as important a claim as myself on Faline," Agatha retorted.

"Nor can I," Tabby agreed.

"Exactly!" Agatha said. "Or, I mean- well, of course you have a very important claim on her yourself. But in your condition you must remember not to exert yourself overmuch. I only mean to alleviate as much stress as possible from your life by watching Faline for you whenever I can, don't you see?"

"I do nwot cause stwess," said Faline bitterly from the sidelines.

"No, of course you don't," Agatha said soothingly. "Nevertheless-"

Tabby was about to plead a headache, but realized her mother would take that as an easy excuse to whisk Faline off before her eyes. "There is really nothing more to be said," she pointed out instead. "We could talk around in infinite circles and never get anywhere farther than where we are now."

"You mean-" Agatha's eyes lit up.

"No," Tabby said flatly. "Faline stays here."

"But Tabitha-"

Round Two was fortunately stalled by the entrance of Thomas into the room. "Hello, Agatha. I didn't know you were here," he said reservedly, guessing what had been occurring by the way he subsequently found two females- namely, Tabby and Faline- clinging to him for protection.

"Of course, I couldn't wait until evening to see my dear Tabitha on her birthday," Agatha said warmly.

"I see," said Thomas, observing the indignant glare Tabby was directing at her mother. "Well, that was a thoughtful gesture. I suppose we'll be seeing you again for dinner tonight?"

"Why, of course!" Agatha beamed. "Family dinners are always the best part of a birthday, I think. And it may be the only chance I'll get to see Faline again for quite some time, the way Tabby has been prohibiting me lately." She looked at her daughter disdainfully.

"Prohibiting you! More like keeping you under control!" Tabby seethed, goaded into stepping forward closer to her mother again.

"Let's try to keep this civil, ladies," Thomas said warningly, stepping between the two.

"Well, she doesn't have to make me feel guilty for not letting her have Faline one day out of the week!" Tabby gestured wildly at Agatha.

"And there's no need for her to make me out to be such a villain every time I see her now!" Agatha snapped back.

"Perhaps it would be best to finish this fascinating conversation at some later date," Thomas suggested. "Agatha, we'll see you later..."

"I can certainly tell when I'm not wanted," Agatha sniffed, stalking past them towards the door. "Very well, I will wait to see you all later." The door slammed shut behind her.

"Oh, thank goodness!" Tabby exclaimed once the door had closed. "I thought she'd never give up! It's madness... insanity... intolerable!"

"She's gone, so just put it out of your mind now," Thomas advised. "It is your birthday, after all. You should be enjoying it."

Tabby laughed mirthlessly. "Enjoy it? When I'll have to face her in another couple of hours and put up with the same criticisms from her all over again? Oh yes, that will be very enjoyable indeed!"

"If you can't bring yourself to enjoy yourself then, you ought to make en effort to enjoy the time before that to its fullest instead of thinking about it."

"That is very easy to say, but difficult to do," Tabby said, pacing back and forth. "The only thing.... oh, Thomas, do let's go to Atlantis!" she burst out suddenly, whirling around to face him.

"Atlantis? Now?" Thomas said, taken aback.

"Well, this weekend. I'm sure the Sea Ponies could take us tonight, and there aren't any pressing engagements or anything, are there? It would be so nice, wouldn't it, to get away from everything, even for just a little while... jut you, and me, and Faline..." She sighed longingly.

"When you put it that way, how can I resist? Very well. Let's do it."

* * *

"What?! What do you mean, the Queen's Court won't hear my case?" an outraged Agatha demanded of the Royal Paradise secretary, placing her forehooves on the desktop forcefully. "I demand to see Queen Serena about this!" It was about time to settle things between her and Caprice, and gentle persuasion had done nothing. Agatha was forced to resort to the judicial system. And with Tabby out of town for the weekend, well, it was a good time to set things in motion.

"Your case must go through the lower courts before the queen herself can hear it," the secretary explained.

"The lower courts?" Agatha drew back in dread. "You can't mean..."
"Yes. The Bushwoolies' Court."

* * *

Unwillingly, Agatha went to see the Bushwoolies about hearing her case. She was not pleased about having to go through them but realized that it was inevitable. The Bushwoolies, being spontaneous and prone to action, elected to hold the hearing that very afternoon. Before Agatha had even had time to agree, they had hopped off to ready the courtroom and collect the necessary players.

* * *

"Agatha Fershund, along with her husband Hubert, is suing her daughter's mother-in-law on grounds of spending too much time with her granddaughter," the Bushwoolies' Court announcer introduced the prosecutor later that day as Agatha walked with stately bearing into the courtroom and took her place at the front left of the room with Hubert in her wake. "Agatha says that the defendant, Caprice Fairfax, is destroying a valuable relationship between her and her granddaughter. Though Mrs. Fairfax is also grandmother to the said granddaughter, Agatha professes to have an earlier and more important claim on her. Money isn't the object in this case, Agatha says; all she wants is more time with her granddaughter that is her due."

Next, a rather timid and bewildered Caprice entered the courtroom, shadowed by her husband Dietrich. Needless to say, it was disconcerting to be come upon by a pack of Bushwoolies on a quiet Saturday morning and find that you were being sued in court that afternoon. "The defendant, Caprice Fairfax, protests that she never tried to come between Agatha and Faline and spent no more time with her granddaughter than was her right. She doesn't hold any hard feelings towards Agatha, Caprice says, but wants the situation resolved so that they can all live happily and in peace with one another."

With the preliminary introductions out of the way, the bailiff, Bouncer, a rather tough-looking white Bushwoolie, stepped forward. "All rise for the Honorable Judge Happy!" All the Bushwoolies in the audience momentarily paused their chattering to stand up and watch. The doors in the back of the room swung open once again, and a pink Bushwoolie clad in a black robe entered. He made his way to the front of the room and took his place behind the desk facing everyone else.

"Uh..." Judge Happy consulted a paper in his hand before continuing. Crumpling the paper and tossing it aside, he announced, "A song! Yeah!" All the Bushwoolies cheered as the judge led them in a boisterous rendition of an old favorite, "Be Glad You Are Who You Are", which Megan had taught them many years ago.

Agatha bent her head downwards and shook it back and forth slowly.

Finally, the mayhem quieted down and Judge Happy moved onto other matters. "What," he charged the lawyer who had been assigned to Agatha, a green Bushwoolie named Funny, "is the problem? Yeah."

"The pony here... uh, Agatha," Funny recalled, "has a granddaughter. Yeah."

"Call forth the first witness!" Judge Happy said.

"Okay, yeah..." Funny turned and scanned the crowd behind him. "Flory!"

A green Bushwoolie with a flower in her hair bounced forward and took her seat as a witness. "Does this pony have a granddaughter, yeah?" Funny asked, gesturing wildly at Agatha.

"Yeah!" Flory said, smiling broadly as she waved at the camera filming the proceedings.

Happy banged his gavel down on the wooden desk. "Prosecutor found guilty!! Yeah!"

"This is nonsense!" Agatha blustered, standing up. "Funny here is hardly qualified for this job. I demand we start over at the beginning!"

"I didn't know the prosecutor could be found guilty," Hubert mused. "Interesting..."

Agatha stood over Funny domineeringly and eyed him with contempt. The Bushwoolie lawyer stared back at her with fear in his eyes and slid out of her way as she made to present the case herself.

"I have a darling granddaughter," Agatha began her plea, "who is the most precious thing in the world to me. Not even my designer originals compare to her worth!" She paused for a moment for the full meaning of this comparison to sink in on her listeners. "As this demonstrates, my dear Faline is beyond price. However, most cruelly, the bond I have built between me and Faline since she was born, nearly three years ago, has recently come under attack. Caprice here, who had been absent from civilization for eight years, suddenly presumed to come back to her family. She had not even taken any pains to find out if she even had any grandchildren when she returned, but with the worst attitude imaginable attempted to become the dominant figure in Faline's life and push me out of the picture! So far I have been able to ward off her attacks on the bond between me and Faline, but I fear I will not be able to hold out forever. Caprice must renounce any rights she may have to Faline!"

"Faline is just as much my granddaughter as she is yours, Agatha," Caprice said, sniffling loudly. "I never meant to come between you, but I'm sure you're being too extreme! Isn't there room for two grandmothers in her life? Can't we work together to nurture and love her? If it had been in any way possible for me to return to my life in Ponyland, I would have come back long ago to be reunited with my family."

"Yeah. What she said, yeah," Earnest, Caprice's lawyer, said in regards to his side.

"Call forth a witness!" Judge Happy demanded, making use of the gavel again.

Agatha had re-seated herself, proud of the impression she had made and sure everyone would be sympathetic with her. Cautiously, Funny came out from under the chair he had been hiding under and resumed his duties. "Yeah! I call forth..." he paused for effect, "...the assassin!"

A pony dressed entirely in black with a black mask entered the room. The Bushwoolies clapped and cheered, as was their wont to do whenever a new character entered the room. "Were you hired to send these ponies to the next dimension?" Funny asked.

"I can neither concur not deny," the assassin said concisely.

"I'm sure you can be a little more specific!" Agatha complained.

"Yes, I'm sure," the assassin replied.

"No more questions, yeah, Happy... your honor," Funny concluded.

"Does the defense wish to cross-examine the witness?" Judge Happy said eagerly.

Earnest glanced at the assassin and then shook his head. "Nope, looks fine to me, yeah, yeah." The assassin slipped out quietly.

"Wait a moment, your honor!" Agatha exclaimed. "You're not making them swear!"

"Really, Agatha, is that necessary?" Hubert protested. "This will be aired on television!"

"I mean," Agatha snapped, "the witnesses are not being made to swear to tell the truth. You know, 'Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth'."

"Oh, yeah, yeah!" Judge Happy recalled. "Sorry. Yeah."

"All right, let's get on with it!" Agatha said irritably.

"Yeah, next witness!" Funny exclaimed. "Ah-Loh!"

A sky blue Furby with tufts of light pink hair came whizzing through the door amidst the cheers of the crowd. "Whahoo! Big party!" he cried out as he alighted in the witnesses' chair.

"Do you swear, uh... to tell the truth, yeah? Oh, and the whole truth, yeah, and nothing but the truth?" Judge Happy charged Ah-Loh.

Ah-Loh twitched his ears pensively. "Me see... maybe... yes," he decided.

"Yeah!" said Funny. "Do you like Agatha?"

Ah-Loh burped. "Hee, hee." Agatha's frown deepened.

"Where were you last week?" Funny continued.

"Oh-too-mah! Sound very good!" Ah-Loh explained.

Funny jotted down some random scribbles in the notebook he held. "That's enough, yeah. No further questions, your honor."

"Now the defense! Call forth the witnesses!" Judge Happy decreed, turning his attention to Earnest and his clients.

"Really, your honor, this is providing no information whatsoever," Agatha complained. "The situation really doesn't require witnesses. Only look at our own testimonies, and I'm sure you can reach a conclusion in my favor!"

Judge Happy ignored her and banged the gavel. "Defendant's witnesses, yeah!"

"Cheery!" Earnest exclaimed.

The pink Bushwoolie came rolling up to the front of the room. "Yeah! I'm on TV!"

"Do you swear to tell the truth, whole and nothing, yeah?" Judge Happy abridged the question.

"Yeah!" said Cheery.

"Were you there on the date in question?" Earnest asked the witness.

"Yeah, yeah. Me there. Yeah," Cheery nodded vigorously.

"What... what date is in question?" Caprice spoke up hesitantly.

Earnest looked confused. "Uh, don't know, yeah."

"Yesterday, yeah!" Cheery said helpfully.

"No, last week, yeah," Earnest argued.

"What happened last week, yeah?"

"Don't remember, yeah."

"The date in question obviously has no bearing on the case, whatever it may turn out to be," Agatha spoke-up impatiently. "Pray continue."

"No further questions, your honor," Earnest concluded, and Cheery left the stand.

Agatha could barely suppress her irritation with the next witness Earnest called. "Where did you find this clown?" she spoke-up angrily.

"At the circus. Yeah," Earnest nodded repeatedly.

Needless to say, the clown did not offer much in the way of evidence and was soon dismissed.

"Any more witnesses?" Judge Happy asked after the clown had left.

"No, yeah," Earnest said.

"Oh," said Judge Happy, thinking. "Okay... deliberate, yeah!"

"Deliberate. Deliberate, yeah, yeah. Lots to deliberate," the jury chattered noisily as they got down to business. It was not long before they announced they had come to a decision concerning the case. Bouncer went over to them and took an object which Eager passed over to him; he then solemnly presented the spherical black object to Judge Happy.

Happy picked up the object and squinted at it. "I find in favor of... uh..." He paused and studied the object intently. "Future is foggy at this time." Banging the Magic Eight Ball down on the desk, Happy announced, "Court in recess! Recess, yeah!"

"Woohoo! Recess! Fun, yeah!" As one body, all the Bushwoolies- audience, jury, lawyers, bailiff, and judge- high-tailed it to the door and made their way to the nearby park playground. Agatha glared at the retreating mass.

* * *

Some time later, exhausted Bushwoolies started trickling back into the courthouse. Judge Happy, his curly wig askew and his robe grass-stained, took his place at the bench. "Court back in session!" he declared with a pounding of the gavel.

"Found another witness, yeah," Funny spoke-up eagerly.

"Yeah! Bring 'im in!" Judge Happy cheered.

"I present... Baby Noddins!" Funny introduced as the little lavender unicorn came prancing up the aisle.

"This is so exciting!" Noddins enthused. "Well, ask me questions!" She sat down and waited expectantly.

"Okay, lemme see, yeah..." Funny flipped through a file of papers. "Favorite food, yeah?"

"Chocolate cake," said Noddins promptly. "But what does that have to do with the case? Shouldn't you be asking stuff like if I was there on the date in question, or saw or heard something, or stuff like that?"

"Then, were you there on the date in question?" Funny demanded.

"Well, I was with Falling Leaves and Leaper at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe yesterday, and that was sorta a date," Noddins said. "Falling Leaves said it was, anyway. But Leaper just looked freaked out when Falling Leaves said something about him being her boyfriend. So I think it was just an accident he ran into her there."

"Good, yeah," Funny nodded. "Did you see or hear anything, yeah?"

"Yes! The SSSS was really full," Noddins said cheerfully. "There were a lot of ponies and a lot of talking. I even saw Miss Hackney and I didn't know she ever went there! She's a teacher, you know! And I heard some ponies in the next booth over from us, and they were talking about this place they went to, and it sounded really cool, because it-"

"Your honor," Agatha complained loudly, cutting Noddins off. "This case is going nowhere. How can you expect any of these witnesses to offer any useful information?"

"Didn't see any problems, yep," Judge Happy disagreed.

"Well, I do," Agatha snapped. "This is an exceedingly ineffectual way of doing things. How can there be any justice out of this mayhem?"

"How can there be any justice when there are ponies like you, Agatha, who are so jealous and spiteful as to imagine yourself sole recipient of a pony's affection," Dietrich spoke-up bitterly. "Your bond with Faline must be weak indeed if you fear losing it to another so badly."

The Bushwoolies stared at each other, and finally Judge Happy decreed, "Okay, okay. We'll figure something out, yeah. Offense and defense, come up here for a meeting. Yeah!"

The four ponies made their way to the bench, and Agatha just continued the bickering that had been begun before. "How dare you accuse me of such a thing, Dietrich!" Agatha said heatedly. "I only fear the underhanded means you and your wife may employ to turn her against me! I have been with Faline since the day she was born; it is quite obvious that I have a higher claim to her than do you, who missed nearly the first three years of her life!"

"And if we could have been here then you may be sure we would have been!" Dietrich snapped. "Unfortunately you're too close-minded to consider extraneous circumstances!"

"They do have a point there, Agatha," Hubert conceded. "Being held captive by Yetis is no easy situation to escape once you have incurred their wrath."

"Let me do the talking, Hubert!" Agatha said irritably.

"Oh, Agatha," Caprice sniffled, "why did you have to do this to our family? We could all have been happy without this trouble! If, but for the sake of our children, let us declare an end to this hostility!"

"All you need is love! Yeah!" Judge Happy finally intervened, standing up in his chair and spreading his arms wide.

In unison, all the Bushwoolies in the audience started humming and weaving back and forth in their seats. Happy, Bouncer, Funny, Earnest, and all the jury members joined hands and started dancing in a circle while singing:

"All you need is love.
All you need is love.
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.

All you need is love (all together, now!)
All you need is love. (everybody!)
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need (love is all you need).

Oh yeah!
She loves you, yeah yeah yeah.
She loves you, yeah yeah yeah."

"Bushwoolies, compose yourselves!" Agatha cried out, not being able to contain herself any longer. "You're supposed to be making a decision!"

"Decision, yeah, yeah. Decision," the Bushwoolies mumbled, breaking up the "meeting" and returning to their seats.

With great dignity, Judge Happy banged the gavel and announced, "Done here! Court adjourned!"

"That's all?" Agatha said in shock. "Aren't you going to declare them guilty?"

"Nope, yeah, yeah," Judge Happy said cheerfully. "Case done. Now we party! Party, food, yeah!"

"Party, food, yeah!" the rest of the Bushwoolies echoed, and another exodus to the doors was made. Soon the ponies were left by themselves again.

"Well, the voice of justice has spoken," Dietrich said drily, breaking the silence.

"Thank goodness it's over!" Caprice said in heartfelt thanks.

"I knew no good would come from the Bushwoolies Court!" Agatha fumed. "How dare Queen Serena direct me here instead of hearing the case herself!"

"Well, I'm with the Bushwoolies," Hubert declared, making for the door himself. "I'm heading for the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe for some food."

"But Agatha, this is wonderful!" Caprice said, quickly emerging from her despondent state. "Surely you won't go against the court's decision. We're both completely justified in spending time with Faline, so there's nothing to hold against one another!"

"That isn't what I got out of it," Agatha muttered, angrily stalking after her husband.

* * *

On Sunday evening, a rather tearful Caprice met the return of her son and daughter-in-law. "Oh, thank goodness you're back!" she cried out. "While you've been gone- well, it's so confusing and painful to tell you- I've been so beside myself!"

"What happened, Mother?" Thomas asked, all solicitude.

"Oh, Tabby, I feel guilty having to say these things about your mother," Caprice sniffled, "but-"

"My mother? What did she do this time, Caprice?" Tabby said, with sinking heart.

"Well, it was on Saturday, and the Bushwoolies came.." With effort the whole story came out, of Agatha's radical approach to the problem and the outcome of the bizarre court case. Tabby was not really concerned with the verdict, only with her mother's most disgraceful actions taken to such an embarrassing degree!

"I am so sorry, Caprice," Tabitha said, humbling herself before her mother-in-law. "It is exceedingly mortifying and enraging to me to learn to what heights my own flesh and blood will go to cause conflict and infamy. Can you ever forgive me?"

"Oh, Tabby, it's not your fault," Caprice said helplessly. "And I don't want to come between you and your family. I of all ponies should know what heartache comes out of that! I would have spared you the telling of this if I didn't know you'd be bound to find out about it anyway..."

"Of course you did the right thing, Caprice," Tabby, who had gone quite white with suppressed rage at her mother, said. "And rest assured that that is not my mother. Not the one I remember, at least. Not the one I remember..." Her eyes showed anger mixed with infinite sorrow, and with that she left the room before she was overcome with any more emotion.

* * *

"Agatha," Thomas said bluntly upon being admitted into his mother-in-law's mansion, "we have to talk."

"Why, certainly," Agatha smiled warily. She could guess what this was about. Nevertheless, she would stand her ground. "You and Tabitha are both well? Your trip was enjoyable, I trust?"

"Very," said Thomas wanly. "And I have heard reports about your own adventures of this weekend."

"Oh, have you," Agatha said, feigning indifference. "And you are here to reprimand me, I suppose."

"Throwing accusations at one another will hardly resolve anything," Thomas stated. "So I will say no more on that point, no matter the disappointments now held on either side."

"That sounds reasonable," Agatha said crisply. "The less said of it the better."

"Nevertheless," Thomas went on, "I am concerned about Tabby's current state of mind. To be blunt, she is quite furious with you and I can't see that mind-set changing anywhere in the near future as long as she is in your company. In her condition I especially cannot like the state of stress she is in."

"And what would you suggest to rectify the matter, if I may ask?"

"You do like to travel, don't you? An extended vacation in another country wouldn't be seen as unusual."

"Leave? Now? Impossible!" Agatha protested vehemently. "I will not allow you to dictate my actions in this manner!"

"It was solely a suggestion. For the sake of your daughter and grandchild, though, it is worth thinking about, at least."

"Well, perhaps there might be something in it after all," Agatha concluded reluctantly after several minutes' pause. "Quite clearly there is nothing I can do to change Tabitha's mind, as I have tried everything possible. Perhaps after a separation of a time she will be ready to see things more clearly."

"Indeed," Thomas said ambiguously.

"You understand, of course, that even if I should take this 'extended vacation', as you put it, I will return in time for the baby to be born," Agatha went on sharply.

"But of course, I would expect no less," Thomas said wryly. "I will leave you, then, to think over your plans for the future. I trust we will be on easier terms the next we see each other. Good day." And with that, he took his leave.

Agatha stood there for some time, tapping her hoof thoughtfully on the tile floor. Finally she came to a decision and wheeled around and headed for her husband's study on the second floor, where he was sure to be found.

"Hubert," she announced to him suddenly after throwing open the door, "what would you say to taking an extended stay in Vulcanopolis?"

It did initially cross Hubert's mind to ask "why?", but this was soon crowded out as the possibilities that such a destination held occurred to him. "Vulcanopolis?" he echoed. "Within easy access to the Pompeii ruins! Excellent idea, Agatha, excellent! Just the thing to devote my studies to next!"

Agatha smiled grimly. "Lovely. I will start making arrangements immediately." And she exited the room and headed for the phone.

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