• Published 26th Jan 2018
  • 2,116 Views, 32 Comments

Who-dunce-it? - RB_



It's always a bad sign when the highlight of the party is the murder.

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The Ominous Opening

Life, Twilight had once told Rarity during a particularly successful night at the bar, is a funny thing.

Rarity had agreed, in the sense that their lives had indeed been rather funny as of late, but that hadn’t been what Twilight had meant. She'd then gone on to lecture—pausing intermittently to down more gin—about the ridiculousness of life from a scientific point of view.

What Rarity had gleaned from this conversation was that all life, even ponies, basically amounted to big, sloppy, water-filled bags of cells. It hadn't been an especially pleasant conversation for Rarity. Especially when Twilight had, rather loudly, begun to explain what happened when two bags of cells got frisky with one another.

Rarity, high-society mare that she was, was in the habit of pretending she didn't know anything about that, despite knowing full well what happened when tab A went into slot B. And, like all high-society mares, she knew the inherent flaw in that system.

Namely, what happens when exactly the wrong bag of cells gets frisky with exactly the other wrong bag of cells?

Well, you would get what many ponies would call a nitwit.

Or, to his face, Prince Blueblood.

Who was, much to her displeasure, hosting the party that Rarity was on her way to at this very moment, in a softly-rumbling carriage she’d hired for the occasion. Thankfully, she wasn’t alone in her displeasure.

“So why are we going to this party again?” Rainbow asked. She was wearing a dress, quite a nice one. Rarity’s own design. It played well with her mane, which was always an issue with making dresses for Rainbow. Rarity was certain she’d nailed it this time. As usual, she was right.

“Because one simply does not turn down an invitation to an event such as this,” Rarity replied. She was also wearing a dress, a black one, cut just-so. She liked to think it looked good on her. As usual, she was right.

“But why are we going?” Rainbow asked.

Rarity pouted. “Can’t I enjoy an evening with one of my closest and dearest friends?”

“If that was all you wanted, you’d have gone with Twilight or Coco.”

“Your insinuation wounds me, darling.”

“There’s no way I was your first choice. Spill it.”

Rarity sighed.

“I brought you because, excepting Twilight, you have the highest social standing of any of my close friends, and because bringing a plus one who is of higher social standing than the host would be uncouth, and because Coco has a show tonight, and because I’ll spend a month in Tartarus before I try to get through this party on my lonesome.”

“Cool. I can get behind that.” She stretched out and leaned back into the seat of the carriage. “Have you ever gone to any of the Wonderbolts signing events we do? The ones where we spend hours trapped at a table?”

“Yes, you’ve taken me to several—ah, I see. Excuse me a moment, would you?”

She leaned out of the window. “Driver? How much farther?”

“Nearly there, miss!” said the pony at the reigns. “Should only be another minute or so!”

Delightful.”

The view out of the carriage’s window was like something out of a decorative calendar. Long, rolling, grass-covered hills that stretched for miles, the sun just settling down over the horizon as the first light of the stars faded in. The last town, the town they had set out from, lay far in the distance behind them.

A distance Rarity rather wished was shorter, but the carriage trundled on regardless of her feelings. Soon enough, they turned a bend in the road, and their destination came into view around the side of the carriage.

It was a lovely manor, Rarity had to give its owner that. Large, too. Four stories, which was somewhat sedate when one considered the clear regency influences in its design.

She immersed herself in the details of it. Every window, every arch, every column. Within, she might find inspiration, perhaps, or at least something to occupy her thoughts for the night. Celestia knew there would be little else to.

Rainbow peered out over her shoulder.

“Dang,” she said. “That’s a big house.”

“This is just his autumn home,” Rarity said.

Rainbow squinted. “I thought it was ‘summer home’?”

“He has one of those, too.”

Rarity turned her attention now to the front garden, or what little she could see of it past the—quite well maintained—hedge walls.

There’s a fountain at the center of it, Rarity imagined. Marble, probably, with little statues around the edge. Either tiny ponies or fish. Maybe carved vines, as well. Could work that into a dress, actually, the natural look is starting to come back into vogue—

“How does Blue-butt even afford all of this?” Rainbow asked, interrupting her conjecture.

“Well, he is a prince, darling,” Rarity said, “if in title only. I would expect he gets most of it from the government.”

“So… the extra taxes I have to pay to keep my cloud house floating?”

“Most likely. Although he’s also said to have come into money during a brief stint in the military, but that’s neither here nor there.”

“Geez, Rares, for hating this guy so much, you sure know a lot about him.”

“Yes, well,” Rarity said, “it never hurt a lady to be prepared.”


The sound of the wheels changed as the path moved from dirt to paving stones. Rarity withdrew from the window of the carriage and drew the curtain back across as they pulled up to the front of the garden.

“We’ve arrived!” came the call of the carriage-puller.

Rarity lit her horn, a matching glow appearing around the door’s handle.

She bit her lip.

“Hey, c’mon, Rares,” Rainbow Dash said, laying a hoof—with a very nice shoe on it, gold-covered brass, Rarity had had to send out for them, custom made—on her withers. “It’s not such a big deal! We go in, we say hello, have a few drinks, and if Prince Blue-boil bothers you, we hit the road. Nothing to worry about.”

Rarity smiled. “You’re right.” She made a move towards the door, then hesitated again. “But please do make an effort not to call him that in polite company.”

“No promises.”

Rarity turned the latch.

She stepped out of the carriage. Her dress slid over her hips like water over a windscreen, just-so. Heads turned. Conversations stopped. Drinks were spilled. Monocles cracked against the paving stones.

No bag of cells had ever looked better than she did at that moment. It would be a long time before any other did.

Rarity, of course, was used to this kind of reaction, and took it in stride.

Rainbow, gliding out of the carriage after her, less so. She landed, stretched, and looked around at all the silence.

“Not much of a party,” she observed.

At this, the spell was broken, and everyone, mares and stallions alike, turned back to their partners. Conversations were restarted with polite coughs. Drinks were hastily downed. Monocles were picked up, quietly sworn at, and tossed into the bushes.

“Well,” Rarity said, striding forwards past the gate guard, who let them past without a word. “I think that was a good enough entrance, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I’d give it an eight out of ten,” Rainbow said. “Warn me next time. I’ll do a rainboom. That’ll really knock their cashmere socks off.”

Rarity shook her head. “Subtlety, darling. Subtlety.”

As they passed through the garden, Rarity noted that she’d been right about the fountain—well, half right. It was there, certainly, but rather than fish or generic pony figures, it was covered with tiny effigies of its owner, in various poses. This disgusted Rarity, and she wasn’t alone; those ponies who found themselves standing within its radiance seemed to lean away from it at all times.

And one of these ponies wore a familiar face.

“Ah, Rarity, mon ami!” Fleur de Lis cried at their approach.

“Fleur!” Rarity said, stepping up her stride as Fleur did hers, and they met in the middle. They leaned in and kissed across each other’s cheeks.

“Ah, it is so good to see you!” Fleur said. “I did not know you had been invited!”

Fleur was wearing a red dress, red like wine, with excess fabric that draped over her like a waterfall. Rarity would have described her as “ravishing”.

A better word might have been “nervous”, but we’ll get to that.

“I didn’t know you were going to be here either,” Rarity said, “but you would not believe how glad I am to see you!” She stepped back. “Is Fancy here, too?”

“He was just on his way to refill our glasses,” Fleur said. “And I see you have brought a guest, as well?”

“Ah, yes,” Rarity said. She gestured Rainbow, who had kept her eyes locked on the statue since they’d passed it, over. “Surely, Fleur, you recognize Rainbow Dash, the Wonderbolts’ newest.”

“Ah, of course!” Fleur leaned in towards her, much as she had with Rarity, but Rainbow leaned away.

“Woah, there,” she said, “I don’t swing that way! Not this early in the night, anyway.”

Rarity nearly bit her tongue off, but Fleur laughed.

“Ah, nothing of the sort!” she said, then, to Rarity: “I like your friend. She is funny.”

“Yes, she is, isn’t she,” Rarity said. “Rainbow Dash, this is Fleur de Lis. She used to be quite the famous model, in Prance.”

Rainbow looked her up and down. Her eyebrows raised.

Used to be?” she said. “What happened?”

“I fell in love,” Fleur said. She perked up upon spotting something over their shoulders. “Oh, Fancy! There you are! Come, come!”

Rarity turned. There was Fancy Pants, well-dressed as ever. Rarity would have described him as “dapper”. There really was no more fitting descriptor for the stallion, at least in her mind.

A better word might have been “cunning”, but we’ll get to that.

He was wearing a tuxedo, with a small flower pinned to the lapel; it matched his wife’s dress. He was also carrying a pair of bubbling champagne glasses aloft in his magic.

“Ah, Miss Rarity!” he said. “How wonderful of you to join us! And is that Rainbow Dash, of the Wonderbolts?” He shook her hoof. “Splendid! You know, I was quite impressed by your performance in the last derby, in the summer.”

“Oh, hey, thanks!” Rainbow said. “That was a pretty close race! I was sure Fleetfoot was going to pull it back at the last second, but nope!”

Fancy’s eyebrows raised over his—decidedly newer-looking—monocle.

“Really?” he said. “Why, from where I was sitting, it never looked like she had a chance!”

Those two continued their conversation off to the side. Meanwhile, someone behind Rarity and Fleur cleared their throat. They turned around.

The mare was dressed in heavy black lace, with a matching veil that covered most of her face.

Rather dreary attire for such an occasion, Rarity thought. Widow’s garb. Perhaps she’s mourning?

A better word might have been “duplicitous,” but we’ll get to that.

“Oh, ah, Rarity, this is an old friend of mine,” Fleur said. “Dela Crème. She owns land to the south of Vanhoover. Dela, this is Rarity. She’s a fashion designer, and a friend.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Rarity,” Dela said. As she spoke, the edge of a scar along her lower cheek became visible under the veil.

“And a pleasure to meet you as well,” Rarity said, shaking her hoof. “Might I ask where south of Vanhoover you hail from? Gryphon’s Bay, perhaps? I hear the view of the mountains is quite stunning.”

“Yes, that’s the one,” Dela said.

“Oh, really?” Rarity said. “You’re quite sure?”

“I am quite certain of where I was born, yes,” Dela said. Her eyes shifted under the veil.

Fleur coughed. “Was there something you wanted, Dela? You know you’re welcome to join us…”

“Just an introduction,” she said. “Nothing more.”


“—and then Spitfire turns to her,” Rainbow said, puffing up her chest, “and she says, get this: ‘If that’s the best you can do, private, then you can pack your bags right now!’ And guess what Surprise does!”

“I can’t possibly fathom,” Fancy Pants said.

“She packs her bags and disappears! Right before the show! And you’ll never guess where she was hiding—

“Are you two getting along?” Fleur said as she strode up to Fancy’s side, pressing herself against him.

“Swimmingly, dear,” Fancy Pants said. “Miss Dash here was just regaling me with tales from the Wonderbolts’ barracks, as it were.”

Fleur chuckled. “I should have guessed!”

She turned to Rainbow. “Fancy is a big fan of anything that moves quickly. Sailing ships, zeppelins, courier pigeons…”

“Well, one has to be in my business,” Fancy Pants said.

“Yeah?” Rainbow said. “What’s that?”

“Fancy is a shipping mogul,” Rarity said. “He owns Fancy Freight, Equestria’s premiere freight-mover.”

“Indeed I do!” he said. “And, I say, if any one of my ships could fly as fast as you, Miss Dash, why, I’d be bathing in bits right now!”

“You’re already bathing in bits, dear,” Fleur said.

“Well, swimming in them, then,” Fancy said. “But speed and efficiency are the name of the game in the shipping industry. I must keep up on any advancements in the field if I want my companies to remain on top. Though it may not seem it, shipping is a cutthroat industry! Why, let me tell you, just this last week—”

A terse cough cut him off. It was the sort of cough a librarian makes to get people to stop talking. Pointed. Weaponized. Designed to kill a conversation dead from thirty feet.

Funnily enough, the pony who uttered it looked nothing like a librarian, but did look quite a bit like a butler, with suit, demeanor, and hair to match.

“Excuse me,” he said. “Mr. and Mrs. Pants?”

“Yes, that is us,” Fancy said.

He shuffled a series of cards around in his magic.

“Miss Rarity?” he asked a moment later.

“That would be me,” she said. “Is there something we can help you with?”

“There is,” he said. “His Highness has instructed me to find you, and your guests, and escort you to a private dinner that His Highness is holding in the west wing dining room. If you would care to follow me…”

Rarity shot Rainbow a side glance. Rainbow shrugged.

Well, I suppose there’s no avoiding it, then, Rarity thought. And I’d just started to forget who the host was, too…


The interior of the manor was almost as nice as the exterior, containing wood-paneled walls with carefully painted decorations that ran around their edges and elegantly carved decorative frames on the doorways. Even here, though, the vain tendrils of the house’s owner could be seen. For every tasteful landscape that adorned the walls, there was another portrait of Blueblood.

Rainbow drew up alongside Rarity.

“So what’s the deal with this special dinner?” Rainbow asked.

“I’ve no idea,” Rarity said. “It certainly wasn’t mentioned on the invitations…”

They turned left down another hallway.

“So do you think there’ll be, like, fancy foreign food? Or just fancy regular food? Because I’d love to get some more of that, uh… what was it, that stuff they had at the gala?”

“Escargot, darling,” Rarity said.

“That’s the one.”

“Please don’t eat any escargot, darling.”

“Aw, but—”

“You remember what happened last time, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah—"

“You know I’ll hold your hair for you, darling, but I won’t like it.”

“Alright, I get it!” Rainbow said. “I’ll stick to broccoli this time! Yeesh!”

She glanced over.

“Hey, Rares? You alright? You’re kind of, uh… scowly.

Rarity unclenched her jaw.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Just displeased. I’d thought for a moment I might be able to get through the night without encountering our gracious host.”

Rainbow extended a wing over Rarity’s shoulders.

“Don’t sweat it,” she said. “I’ve got your back.”

Rarity smiled. “Thank you, darling. I knew I could count on you. Just make sure you get a firm grip; I can be rather nimble when I am possessed with anger.”

“…Not exactly what I had in mind, but sure.”

The butler came to a stop at last before an ornate set of double doors, and the rest of them stopped with him. They weren’t alone; three other ponies were already there waiting.

The butler turned around and addressed the group.

“Through these doors is the east dining room, where you will be eating tonight. However, His Highness has requested that you not enter until he arrives, so that he can personally welcome each of you.”

“Is there any word on when he will be arriving?” asked one of the ponies already by the door. “He’s left us waiting for almost twenty minutes, now.”

“Now, dear,” said the stallion at her side, “I’m sure he’s just taking his time. He must be very busy, keeping all of this running.”

“Mosely, five minutes is ‘taking your time’,” the mare said. “Ten is making us wait. More than twenty is either incompetence or malice. I would suspect the latter, but I’ve met our host before.”

The elderly stallion leaning against the wall behind them seemed to get a kick out of that, snorting. The other stallion looked shocked.

“Valencia!” he said. “How could you be so rude to our gracious host?”

“Him not being here to hear it. That’s how.”

“I do apologize,” the butler said, cutting in before more words could be uttered. “I’m sure His Highness will be along momentarily. If you will excuse me, I will come back shortly with fresh champagne.”

“None for me, thank you,” the elderly stallion said. He was in military dress, and quite well decorated at that. Rarity always had admired the formal attire of the Equestrian defense force. It was the epitome of style meeting sharpness, and it commanded authority.

Its wearer, despite the lines in his face, had much the same effect. Rarity would have described him as “aged but proud”, perhaps adding an allusion to wine for good measure.

A better word might have been “vengeful”, but we’ll get to that.

He was also carrying a long, thin case on his back, which was bound in tightly-knotted twine. We’ll get to that, too.

“Very good, sir,” the butler said. He left back the way they’d come, down the hall, and soon it was only their group of eight that remained.

“Mr. and Mrs. Orange,” Fancy Pants said, stepping forwards. “I hadn’t expected to see you here. I wasn’t aware you were acquaintances of our host’s?”

“We’ve had dealings,” the mare said. “We manage orchards, he owns vineyards, we were bound to cross paths at some point.”

She wore a black dress that left much to the imagination and a string of pearls around her neck. When she frowned, it crinkled across a mole on her cheek that looked like it was used to the treatment. Rarity would likely have described her as “no-nonsense”.

A better word might have been “scared out of her wits”, but we’ll get to that.

“The Prince also enjoys our unique orange wines,” her husband added. “He’s been one of our best customers!”

“And one of our only customers,” Mrs. Orange said. “But it’s enough to warrant not selling our distillery.”

Mr. Orange was very much unlike his wife. He wore a suit, a green one that matched his hair, which looked to have been expensive—or, on a moment’s inspection, had been made to look expensive. Still, it did a remarkably good job of it, and one would be hard pressed to tell if even he knew it wasn’t real cashmere. Rarity might have described him as “confident”, “poised” or perhaps even “assured”.

A better word might have been “nimrod”.

But we’ll get to that.

Mrs. Orange turned to face Rarity. “And you are?”

“My name is Rarity,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“And I’m Rainbow dash!” Rainbow said. “You’re Applejack’s aunt and uncle, right?”

Mrs. Orange’s eyebrows raised. “Why yes, we are. You know our niece?”

“We both live in Ponyville,” Rarity explained. “We’re very close friends of hers.”

“I’m sure she hasn’t had much good to say about us,” Mr. Orange said.

“On the contrary; she’s always described you very fondly.”

“How typical of her branch.”

“And you, I presume,” Fancy said, regarding the stallion in the military garb, “must be Major Mild Mustardgrass?”

“That is my name,” the stallion said. “But not my rank. It’s ‘captain’ now. Has been for a while.”

“You’ll have to forgive me,” Fancy said. “I only know of you through your exploits in Zebraha.”

“Then you won’t mind if we keep it that way,” the Major said. “Forgive me, but I seem to be the only one not acquainted with you, Mr…?”

“Fancy Pants,” Fancy said. “And this is my wife, Fleur de Lis.”

“Well, a pleasure to meet you,” the Major said. “Quite the odd bunch we are, eh? What do you suppose we’re wanted for?”

“You’re wanted for dinner,” someone said. They turned; it was the butler, a tray of glasses floating at his side. “Has his Highness not arrived yet?”

“Well, if he had, we wouldn’t still be out here, would we?” Mrs. Orange snapped. “Is he even attending this party? Are we sure he isn’t off drinking on a yacht on the other side of the country right now?”

“I am terribly sorry, ma’am,” he said. “I can assure you, he will be here in due time—”

“Excuse me,” the major cut in. “I know you are under direct orders from your master not to allow us entry, but—”

He winced.

“Well, it’s my back, you see,” he continued after a moment. “My old bones aren’t quite what they used to be, at my age—I’m sure you can relate, you look as though you’re getting to that age yourself.”

The butler’s straight face slipped slightly.

“I can… relate, yes,” he said. He shifted the weight on his back legs.

“Let me tell you, it only gets worse from there.”

“I… I see.”

“I’ve been standing here for almost half an hour.”

“Yes.”

“So you can understand how desperate I must be for a chair at the moment, yes?”

“Of course,” the butler said, pursing his lips.

“My hernia, you see.”

“Yes.”

“It keeps me awake at night, you see. Many a sleepless night, you see.”

“Yes.”

“The pain gets especially unbearable whenever I have to use the—"

“Alright!” the butler said. From his breast pocket, he withdrew a silver key.

“If he asks,” he said, “the door was unlocked when you arrived.”

The door was opened, and they all filed in. As they entered, the Major’s posture visibly improved. Rarity spotted this, and the Major winked back at her when he noticed she had.

The interior room was longer than it was wide, and contained a table that was the same. Four chairs sat on each side, and a ninth at its head. The ninth was noticeably grander than the others; one might even have called it a throne. The table had been set, but not plenished; the butler set their glasses down there, one at each place, and a more ornate one at the end.

But it was the back of the room that caught Rarity’s attention.

The back of the dining room contained a great set of windows that opened out onto the landscape. And what a landscape! It appeared the garden at the front of the house was only a taste of the main garden, which unfolded itself before them.

Rarity, entranced, walked to the end of the room and peered out. Why, they must have gone on for a mile, at least! And all of it lantern-lit against the night. Already, she could feel inspiration bubbling up. Perhaps this night wouldn’t be a total waste for her after all.

She wasn’t the only one. “Splendid, aren’t they?” Fancy Pants said from her side. “Designed by Bay Laurel herself, if it’s to be believed.”

“I’d believe it,” Rarity said. Even Rainbow seemed to be impressed, hovering beside them to get a better view.

“You know,” she said, “I’m not even mad that this is what my property taxes went into.” She pointed. “You see that bush down there, the one that looks like a squirrel? I paid for that.”

“Its tail, maybe,” Rarity said.

“Good enough.”

After a few moments more of gawking, they turned around. The other guests had already taken their seats; they did the same. Rainbow and Rarity ended up on the same side as Fleur and Fancy, while the Oranges sat together across from them. Dela and the Major, also on the other side of the table, seemed to have struck up a quiet conversation. The Major was grinning. Dela was not.

After a few minutes of idle conversation, the door opened a crack. The head that peeked inside was Blueblood’s. His eye ran over the room.

“Ah,” he said. “You’re all in here already.” There was a wholesome helping of disappointment in his voice.

“The door was open when we got here,” Fleur said.

Blueblood’s mouth shifted to one side.

“Hm.”

He withdrew, letting the door fall closed after him. A moment later, the doors opened again, both of them fully, admitting two marching lines of servants carrying all manner of dishes. Within moments, the table was covered in food.

Rarity noticed one plate had been stocked with snail shells. She also noticed that Rainbow had noticed. She also noticed that Rainbow was salivating. Then Rainbow noticed Rarity’s glare.

“Alright!” she hissed. “I get it!”

Just as quickly as they’d come, the servants departed. It was only after the last had left and the room had fallen into silence that Blueblood made his entrance proper.

Both doors were thrown open.

“Hello, esteemed guests,” Blueblood said. “I see you’ve all—”

He didn’t get the chance to finish, as the two doors, so violently opened, bounced off their respective walls and slammed closed again in his face.

Rarity, and several of the other guests, stifled snickers. Rainbow and the Major didn’t bother.

They opened again, more calmly this time, and Blueblood stepped gingerly inside before letting them shut.

“A-hem. Hello, esteemed guests,” he said. “I see you’ve all found your way here.”

He walked along the side of the table—everyone along that side of the table, Rarity included, scooting their chairs in as he passed—until he was at the table’s head.

Blueblood reared up, placing his front hooves on the table so that he was ‘standing’. He raised his glass into the air and tapped it with a spoon. As the conversation had stopped altogether once he’d arrived, this accomplished nothing, but he did so anyway.

He smiled, and took a sip from his glass before proceeding.

“It’s wonderful that you all could be here today,” Blueblood said. “To celebrate this, the glorious anniversary of my birth...”

As he continued to prattle on, Rarity idly wondered if he had written this speech himself, or if he’d needed help.

“…thirty-seven years have passed—and, of course, I am still as handsome and comely as I have ever been…”

He’d had help, she decided. He wasn’t clever enough to count that high.

She glanced around the table. Most were paying more attention to the tablecloth than to their host. Mr. Orange was the only one even facing in his direction.

“In that time, I’ve made many friends… many enemies, unjustly, I should say—”

He stopped, mid-sentence. Rarity turned her head to look.

Now, life may be a funny thing.

But Death?

Death is interesting.

This had been another topic of conversation between Rarity and Twilight Sparkle, on a different occasion, on a somewhat less successful night at the bar.

“Ever notice how the first thing ponies ask when they hear someone’s died is ‘how?’” she’d said. “Think about mystery novels. Twenty bits says that, if you picked one at random off of the shelf in the library, it’d be a murder mystery, or at least have a murder in it.”

Rarity had considered this. “I don’t think I’d take that bet,” she’d said.

“Exactly. Because murder means intrigue. It’s a raising of stakes. It’s an opportunity for drama. Who could hate somepony enough to kill them, and why? For what purpose?”

“I suppose you’re right, darling,” Rarity had said. “How dreadful.”

Secretly, though, she’d found it enlightening. A death, at least when observed from afar, did add spice to a lot of the mysteries she occupied herself with in the long hours of the night. There was at least one in every Shadow Spade book she could name off the top of her head—and she could name a lot of them.

The night had devolved from there into trying to calm Twilight after she’d gotten started on ponies not putting those murder mysteries back on the shelf, but that idea had stuck in Rarity’s head like used gum to a shoe.

Life is funny. Death is interesting.

And this was why it was only after Blueblood fell sideways off of the table, his head hitting the floor with a dreadful thwack, that most of the ponies present started paying any attention to him.