Silent are the Bells Chapter Fourteen: Capital City
written by Sugarberry
The engagement ring was no longer a factor, but Dorian and Brietta decided to proceed with their journey to Capital City the following weekend when Dorian admitted that he had been considering hunting up a foster family that had once harbored him in that city and with whom he had not corresponded for several years. Brietta thought it was an excellent idea and readily consented to accompany him there; the day would include some sightseeing and some shopping as well.
Finding the view of Capital City from the vantage point of an overlooking hilltop to be as breathtaking as ever with the domed capitol dominating the scene, Brietta sighed. “I’ll never tire of seeing the orderly design of this beautiful place; as much as I love Whitehall, I wish it could have been planned from the beginning to be this organized. And look at the fountains and the flowerbeds,” she cooed. “Everything is as neat as a pin.”
“It makes a very deft layout,” Dorian stated, “but I think I prefer the haphazard arrangement of Whitehall that has grown along the path of least resistance.”
As the ponies continued their approach to the political center of their area, Brietta drank in the sights of carefully laid out streets and lanes interspersed ever so correctly with geometric flower arrangements and calculated stands of graceful trees. Everything about the city spoke of orderliness and efficiency- so much so that by the time Dorian escorted Brietta into an attractive open-air café, the mare was beginning to find the regimented perfection grating on her nerves.
When the light lunch they had ordered was served, Brietta looked at her companion and admitted, “All this meticulousness is beginning to get to me. I find myself beginning to want to see something out of place or somewhat inferior.”
Grinning, Dorian agreed with her. “I knew you’d see my point sooner or later. Whitehall has a spontaneity that Capital City will never acquire.”
“I so want to turn a corner and see something unexpected, not the same neat and exact lines that I’ve seen around every other corner.”
“Believe it or not, there’s a disorder in the city if you look deeply enough.”
“Like what?” asked Brietta.
Dorian deflected the question. “When we get into the residential section to visit Clara and Edward, you’ll begin to see some diversity; although the blocks are laid out with the expected precision, individual homeowners have opted to allow their own styles to come through.”
“Are you sure your foster parents are still here?”
“Yes. At least, they’re still listed in the phone book at the same address.”
“Are you nervous about seeing them again?”
Dorian was silent for a moment, fidgeting with the cutlery. “Clara and Edward understood me better than anyone; for that reason, I feel a certain vulnerability in facing them again. But my time with them, though short, was the happiest experience I had during that stage of my life, so I look forward to the meeting.”
“Why were you with them such a short time if you were happy there?”
“Just because I was more content with my surroundings didn’t mean that I neglected my sideline education, Brie. I was caught in suspicious circumstances, shall we say; and the social worker in charge of my case thought that the temptations in Capital City were detrimental to my potential reformation.”
“What were you involved with?”
Dorian winced at the concern in Brietta’s eyes. “For all its outward perfection, Capital City has its own shady underground. I was fortunate, I thought at the time, to connect with that network early on and had been given a simple task to fulfill to prove my caliber...” He hesitated, not wanting to say more.
Brietta, however, was determined to know. “Go on.”
Taking a deep breath, Dorian continued. “I was asked to obtain a certain item from one of the legislator’s offices.”
“You were just a colt,” Brietta said unbelievingly.
“Yes, but a very daring one.” He grinned suddenly in an attempt to lighten the impact that his revelation was causing. “But I wasn’t very good at what I was attempting, because a guard read my intentions and thwarted me before I even had a chance to complete my mission. It was enough, though, to warn my social worker of a rough road ahead if I was to stay in Capital City, so I was moved on to a small community where my opportunities were more limited.”
“I’m so thankful you were able to straighten out your life before it was too late,” Brietta asserted, reaching across the table to touch Dorian’s hoof.
“Why, Brie, I had much more fun in that backward little town than I ever would have had in a longer sojourn here; I was into one scrape after another and moved again and again. It was years later before I realized that I wanted more out of life and changed my ways accordingly.” Dorian captured the hoof that had imperceptibly edged away from his. “That dissolute part of my life is behind me, Brie; never doubt that.”
“You’ve never given me a reason to doubt you since I’ve met you; I trust that the fine stallion you’ve portrayed is the real you.”
His face suddenly taking on a serious demeanor, Dorian said in a quiet voice, his eyes locking on Brietta’s, “I love you too much to ever break that trust, my darling.” He lifted her left foreleg with the engagement ring sparkling upon it. “This ring is a sign of that love and of the faith we have in one another.”
“Oh, Dorian! You are the most endearing pony!” She leaned toward him to receive his kiss. “I love you,” she whispered, her eyes shining.
As Brietta settled back, content in the moment, she noticed that Dorian’s gaze had moved to a point behind her; and she had the feeling that he had spotted someone he knew, causing a feeling of deja vu going back to the restaurant in Whitehall on their first date. Before she could ask who it was, the stallion patted her hoof and stood up.
“You finish your coffee while I settle the tab,” he said, his voice somehow distant, his eyes cautious; he left her alone.
Feeling shabbily deserted, Brietta was about to turn and observe Dorian’s movements, sure that he had seen someone who had ruffled his calm mood, when her attention was distracted by a squeal from a passing mare. “Brietta Manning! This is a pleasant surprise! What brings you to Capital City?” A striking orange pony with aqua hair, the newcomer quickly occupied the chair so recently abandoned by Dorian.
“Martha!” Brietta smiled in genuine delight. “I could ask you the same question!”
“Well, my friend, there were some last minute changes in my plans after we separated with our law degrees fresh in hoof; I was offered a position here with the premier law firm of Farwell, Greenfield, and Clover. I grabbed it up before they could change their minds,” she grinned. “And I think it was the right decision. How are you getting along back in the bosom of your family?”
“Not a thing to complain of,” Brietta admitted. “The reality is even better than the dream, so I’m quite content.”
Martha’s eyes narrowed. “You once intimated that there was someone special back in your home town; is he the reason for this satisfaction?” Her gaze dropped as she caught the glint of the diamond on Brietta’s foreleg. “I withdraw the question.”
Brietta giggled. “My father had taken on a new associate; we hit it off quite well together and are to be married in October.”
“Well, my best wishes to the both of you,” Martha grinned. She scanned the other occupants of the tables around them, and her eyes came to rest on the grey stallion who was just coming across the room. “Now here’s a stallion that I wouldn’t mind having fall at my hooves,” she said under her breath.
Looking to where Martha’s attention centered, Brietta’s eyes danced. The stallion stopped at their table. “Martha, I’d like you to meet my fiancé, Dorian,” Brietta nearly gloated.
Raising a brow, Dorian looked at Brietta, then turned his attention to the mare with her.
“Dorian,” Brietta said, “this is Martha; we studied law together.”
Taking the hoof Martha offered him, Dorian smiled a disarming smile. “Pleased to meet you, Martha. Am I to assume that all female lawyers are stunningly attractive?” His gaze swept over both of the mares.
Brietta rolled her eyes as Martha batted hers. “My, my... such a charming fellow, Brietta. I must confess that I’m envious of your good fortune.”
“Ah, but Martha, you still have the fun of looking,” Brietta said, winking at Dorian.
“It hardly seems fair,” Martha said. “This stallion’s not the same one you carried a picture of while at Pembroke, Brietta; but he was as handsome, if I remember correctly.”
Brietta colored slightly and changed the subject. “Oh, look at the time. Dorian and I are just in town for the day, so we must get moving. It was wonderful running into you, Martha.” While saying this, Brietta stood and linked her foreleg with Dorian’s.
“That’s too bad,” Martha frowned. “I was hoping you could keep me company while I lunched.”
“Brietta’s right,” Dorian acknowledged. “Our time in town is limited; but we surely will have to talk again sometime.”
“Here; take my card, Brietta, and call me soon.” Looking at Dorian, Martha added, “And I’ll be expecting an invitation to the wedding as well.”
“We’d certainly want to include you in our happy day,” Dorian smiled. “Until then...”
As Dorian and Brietta set off across the city to the home that had temporarily been Dorian’s, they exchanged no words, their attention taken, as it seemed, by the busy stream of ponies on the streets of Capital City, until they passed through a park-like niche where Dorian put a hoof on Brietta’s and directed her to a wooden bench under a flowering tree.
Sitting down unwillingly, Brietta expected Dorian to torment her concerning Martha’s mention of a picture of a handsome stallion that had accompanied Brietta throughout law school; but Dorian only smiled kindly at her.
“Brie, I know I’ve been a trial in the past over Sloan, but you don’t have to become flustered every time he’s mentioned in conversation. Now that you’re wearing my ring, I have no more jealous qualms... at least, not many. I know the history you two shared, but I know even better the future the two of us will share.”
“That was very sweetly stated.” Brietta tried to smile, but it came across as a grimace because she felt the need to explain. “Martha caught me sighing over that confounded picture one day when I was susceptible to homesickness, and she managed to wring the story out of me; I admitted to her that I was hoping that Sloan and I could straighten things out once I was back in Whitehall.”
“And you did straighten things out- you accepted my friendship and promised to become my wife.”
“I love you, Dorian.”
“That’s good to hear, because I’m desperately in love with you.”
* * *
Dorian found that the house of his earlier years had changed color, but the structure was as neat and trim as ever. “You can tell what kind of ponies Clara and Edward Grant are just be looking at their property,” Dorian told Brietta as they looked over the carefully tended lawn and the proper flower beds.
“I’d of thought that you would’ve found such surroundings rather stifling,” mused Brietta.
“Not at all; my parents set no strictures, but I naturally set boundaries for myself-- even though those boundaries were not necessarily the ones I should have set,” he admitted with a grin. “I always knew where I stood with Edward and Clara.”
The two ponies by now had reached the front door, and Brietta hung back as Dorian rang the doorbell. As the sound of hoofsteps came closer, Dorian instinctively reached for Brietta’s hoof, so that when the door opened, the mare standing within the house was presented with the charming picture of a blushing young mare and an anxious young stallion. She seemed not to recognize either of the ponies for an instant, and then her face broke into a welcoming smile.
“Dorian! What a pleasant surprise!” she trilled. “Edward, come and see who’s here!” She opened the door wide and pulled the ponies into the house.
The petite pale yellow mare was joined by a slender sky blue stallion, both of whom were perfectly suited for the orderly interior of their home. Brietta was instantly aware of tasteful furnishings and refined accents softened by a hominess that reached out to welcome anyone who entered. She grinned as Dorian was hugged by both of his former foster parents amidst a flurry of questions.
When Dorian was able to extricate himself from Clara’s possessive embrace, he once again took Brietta’s hoof and drew her to the forefront. “I’d like you to meet my fiancé, Brie Manning. Brie, this is Clara Grant, who can bake the best banana nut bread, and her husband, Edward, who tells the greatest tales.”
Clara eyed Brietta with a look of doubt before she remembered her manners and invited the two visitors into the living room. Edward looked on with curiosity mixed with mild amusement.
“Brie must be a cropped version of another name,” Edward said to Brietta. “I remember that Dorian had a penchant for shortening any name with more than one syllable.”
“My name’s Brietta; and Dorian is the only one who uses the abbreviated version.”
When the ponies were all comfortably seated, Clara gazed at Dorian with obvious pleasure. “Now, Dorian, tell us what you’ve accomplished these last few years.”
As the last time Dorian had contacted the Grant’s was the spring of his college graduation, he proceeded to inform them of his years at law school, his successful completion of his studies, his acceptance of a position with a firm in Denton, and his more recent placement at Whitehall. “And Brie and I worked so well together that we decided to take it a step further; we’re to be married in October.”
“And anyone who has studied the history of this area is familiar with the Manning’s of Whitehall Place, Brietta,” Edward intoned. “Your ancestors were responsible for bringing stability to the lives of the early settlers there.”
“And I hope that we still continue to provide a certain amount of stability,” Brietta smiled. “Dorian has been a definite asset; my father and grandfather are very pleased with his abilities with the firm.”
“Dorian was with us only a short time, but we recognized his aptitude even though he was determined at that point in his life to sell himself short,” Edward revealed.
“He’s certainly outgrown that tendency,” grinned Brietta.
“Edward, do you still collect those first editions?” Dorian very much wanted to direct the conversation away from himself, and he had chosen the exact topic to accomplish his goal.
“Of course I do, m’boy. Come with me, and I’ll acquaint you with some of my star finds.”
As Dorian accompanied Edward down the hall, Clara turned her cautious gaze to Brietta. “You’re aware of Dorian’s past?”
Brietta stiffened. “I’m quite sure he’s been honest with me,” she pertly replied.
Clara thought a moment. “Yes, I guess he wouldn’t have brought you here if he was trying to hide anything.”
Refraining from commenting, Brietta sat frostily in her chair. Clara obviously was not going to accept Dorian’s choice of a fiancé.
“Dorian has suffered more rejection in his lifetime than is good for anyone, first by his parents and then by those who were supposed to look out for him; I wouldn’t like to see him hurt now when his life seems to be going somewhere.”
“I wouldn’t have accepted his proposal if I hadn’t been serious in my intentions,” Brietta fumed. “Rejecting him is the last thing on my mind, you can be sure.”
“You find my questions out of line.”
“Yes, I do.”
Studying Brietta’s face, Clara made a decision. “I knew Dorian’s mother and have always felt somewhat remiss in not having kept an eye on her exploits.”
“You knew Dorian’s mother?” Brietta asked, her icy shield slipping a bit.
“Lucy and I were in college at the same time; I became acquainted with her in that setting.”
“Lucy...” Brietta said the name tentatively. “What was she like?”
“Very selfish,” Clara replied immediately. “She never gave a thought to anyone until she met that stallion she married.”
“Dorian never mentioned his parents’ names,” nudged Brietta. “His father was...”
“Parnell.” Clara made a humphing noise. “They were ideally suited, Lucy and Parnell, both so caught up in their own interests that they had time for no one else.”
“How could they not love their son?”
Clara shrugged. “You would have had to see them together to know how single-minded their purpose was.” Both mares sat in silence for some minutes before Clara resumed. “I lost track of them after they set out on their quest to research trees and only heard about the birth of a foal through the grapevine. I never laid eyes on Dorian until the social worker contacted us about taking in a wayward youth; when I saw who his parents were, I couldn’t turn down a chance to get to know Lucy’s son.” Her eyes took on a far away look. “He was nothing like his parents, yet he’d developed into a loner; it wasn’t by choice but by necessity.”
“He was happy here.”
“Yes, I think he was; but he wasn’t ready to give up his old ways, and we had no choice in the matter when it was decided to move him to another town. Edward and I were both heartbroken, but the powers that be wouldn’t listen to our concerns.”
“That must have been a difficult time for you.” Brietta’s anger thawed a little more.
“Edward and I knew the potential that Dorian had, and we had grown to love him,” Clara said simply. “We would have liked to have been the ones to guide his life.” She sniffed, then smiled. “But he did all right for himself, and that’s the main thing. To think that he’s now a lawyer and in practice with such a reputable firm; it’s all we could have asked. And that’s why I wanted to be sure that you were not toying with his affections; the dear boy needs to find happiness in his life.”
The dear boy accompanied Edward back into the room, and Clara and Brietta turned welcome smiles on them. “You’ll have to see this collection, Brie,” Dorian enthused. “Edward’s accumulated some rare specimens that are exceptional.”
“I’d like to see it very much. But I’d like to see any photos you might have of Dorian even more,” Brietta said, a twinkle in her eye.
Clara was quick to comply. “Come with me, Brietta. I know just where to look.”
So with a smug glance at Dorian, Brietta trailed after Clara into the next room. Edward chuckled over Dorian’s look of discomfort.
“Clara surely doesn’t have that many snapshots of me,” the younger stallion remonstrated.
“Don’t be too sure of that,” grinned Edward. “Clara’s always taking candid shots of ponies.”
Dorian groaned. “I do remember one time...” His voice drifted away as a giggle came from Brietta. With a grimace, he followed the sound to its source.
A smiling Brietta stood before an album laid out on the table, its pages opened to a school day’s photo of a belligerent, unsmiling colt nearly unrecognizable except for the coloring of gray face and violet mane; the attitude expressed in the daring eyes was one of complete and utter distrust, accented with a certain amount of contempt. “Dorian!” she chortled. “You couldn’t have been this... cold.”
Looking into the face that was his, Dorian shuddered. “I didn’t like school.”
Brietta flipped the page to reveal several candid snapshots of the colt in more comfortable surroundings; in one, Dorian and Edward were preparing to launch a kite; and Dorian’s expression was one of intent excitement. In another, the two were setting out a picnic lunch on a brilliant red and white checkered tablecloth. Brietta ohhed and ahhed over the pictures in the following pages, then turned to Dorian in high good humor.
“What an endearing urchin you were, my love. I’m so pleased that Clara had the foresight to capture your wayward past for me to share in it.” She kissed the sulky stallion’s cheek and added coaxingly, “Surely you wouldn’t deny me the opportunity to see you as a colt; Mother and Anna have shared any number of pictures of me.”
“You were an engaging little creature,” he muttered.
“As were you!” she grinned. “Except for this first one.” Flipping back to the school shot, she studied those forbidding eyes again. “Oh, Dorian, I wish I’d have been there to bring a smile to your lips.”
“I wouldn’t have noticed you back then,” Dorian admitted, slowly regaining his composure. “I thought all girls were annoying little pests.”
“Well, if truth be told, I suppose Sloan did, too, at that age,” Brietta mused, causing Clara to glance speculatively at Edward. “But Shayla and I had our ways.” Brietta turned a look of pure adoration onto Dorian. “Oh, how I wish I would’ve had the chance to cause that sad little colt to smile at me!”
The stallion smiled at her. “You’ve got the rest of your life to make me happy, Brie. And I plan to do the same for you.”
The look that passed between them was such that Clara’s hesitation in approving Brietta as an acceptable mate for Dorian was instantly quelled.