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Authors: Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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BOOK: Cat Running
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The opening was small, not big enough for a human being, even a small-for-her-age eleven-year-old. But Cat was determined. It was definitely a path made by something alive—and the thought was intriguing. She got down on her hands and knees, but the top of the passageway was still much too low. Finally, flat on her stomach, she managed to slither forward into the thicket.

It was slow and painful going. Every foot of the way she had to stop to clear the path, pushing aside sharp rocks and prickly vines. The blackberry vines were the worst problem. Making a tool from a small forked stick, she pushed each threatening tendril back into the underbrush only to have it come bouncing back like a living thing to snag her clothing or stab her arms and legs with its sharp thorns. But she went on crawling and slithering until the underbrush thinned, ended, and she managed to stand erect.

There was no sign of the rabbit but there right in front of her, scooped into the cliff wall, was a wide, shallow cave. A beautiful, mysterious grotto. Her own private, secret hiding place.

SIX

C
AT STOOD ABSOLUTELY STILL
for a long time, frozen with amazement and delight. It was such an unbelievably mysterious and secret place, and from that first moment she felt that it was meant just for her. As if her decision to go on past the cascade, and to stop at the minnow pond, and the arrival of the rabbit were all part of some deep and meaningful plan.

The cave was wide but not deep. A kind of long, shallow grotto that no doubt had been carved into the cliff face by some long-ago flood. Beneath an overhanging roof of rough gray stone the back of the indentation had eroded unevenly, leaving a number of rocky ledges. The largest, near the deepest part of the cave, was wide and flat, and just the right height to be a kind of bench or bed. The other ledges were smaller and higher up—like shelves. Like nice safe shelves for the storage of the kind of important objects that one would need to keep in a secret hideaway.

She was already beginning to decide which of her most precious belongings she would keep in the grotto. It would be perfectly safe, she felt sure, to keep all sorts of valuable things here. No one would ever find her special treasures in such a well-hidden place. Or find Cat herself, for that matter. No one would ever find her in such a wonderfully secret hideaway.

Tiptoeing slowly and reverently, she entered the grotto. Above her head the rocky gray wall curved up majestically into an arching overhang. She moved on—into shadowed depths where the wide ledge waited invitingly. Scooting up onto the wide, flat surface, she hugged her knees up against her chest. Beyond the wide opening the breeze breathed softly through the thick green wall of trees and saplings. Leaf-filtered light, falling down between the thicket and the cliff wall, spattered the grotto floor with spangles of sunshine. The overhang protected the cave’s interior from view if anyone should look down from the cliff above, and the dense thicket of blackberry vines hid it from anyone on the canyon floor.

To find the grotto a person would have to be curious, rather small, and also
brave.
Brave because it took courage to crawl into a tunnel made by who knows what leading who knows where. And brave, also, to endure the vicious scratches and stabs of the blackberry’s thorns.

Cat extended her arms and then her legs, noting the many small bloody scratches and punctures. It had been difficult and painful, and because she had endured bravely, it meant that she had earned the grotto. It was hers now—hers alone—and no one else would ever know about it. Not even the rest of the Kinseys. Especially not the rest of the Kinseys. She hugged her knees harder, and her shoulders twitched with a strange, unfamiliar kind of excitement.

It was the excitement, perhaps, that made her forget about her decision to run away. She wasn’t sure she’d really meant it anyway. She’d started to run away before and had changed her mind. Running away could come later. For now there was this marvelous, secret place. After a few more minutes of exploring, thinking, and planning, she slithered back through the tunnel and headed for home.

The climb back up past the rapids was much easier than it had been two years earlier, and once she was back on familiar ground, she began to run. By running most of the way there was time, that same Saturday afternoon, to make a second trip to the grotto and begin the first of a long series of changes and improvements.

The first important improvement was to make entering the grotto a little less painful. When Cat arrived back at the blackberry thicket later that day she was armed with some heavy gloves and a pair of garden shears. Before the afternoon was over she had enlarged the tunnel enough to make crawling rather than stomach-slithering possible.

The next step was to transport—in her gathered-up skirt —enough sand to carpet the floor of the passageway to make a more comfortable crawling surface. It was getting late by then but a final project had become necessary, to make the enlarged tunnel entrance a little less noticeable. But that problem was soon solved by bending a bushy young sapling across the opening.

When Cat finally left the grotto the sun was very low. Heading back up the canyon for the second time that day, Cat again ran most of the way.

Mama was awake when Cat got home—and worried.

“Where on earth have you been?” she said when Cat dashed up the back stairs, through the laundry room, and burst into the kitchen. “I’ve been so worried.”

“Just playing,” Cat said. “Just playing down by the creek, like always.”

“But you’ve been gone so long and”—Mama paused, and then went on—”and, my goodness, what happened to you, Cathy? You’re all scratched up and, look, you’ve torn your dress. Here, and here too.”

“It was a berry vine,” Cat said. “I kind of got tangled up with a berry vine.” Which was the truth, after all.
A
kind of truth anyway. Just not a very complete one.

But Mama was satisfied with the explanation. She actually seemed quite cheerful as she went back to the sink to finish opening a can of Campbell’s tomato soup.

“Look,” she said. “Your favorite soup. Just the two of us for supper tonight. Won’t that be fun?”

“Where’s Cliff?” Cat asked. Father and Ellen would be eating at the store as usual. On Saturday night, when all the farmers and other out-of-town people came in to shop, it was too busy for them to get away. Too busy for Cliff to get away, too, according to Ellen, but sometimes he did anyway, and now and then he made it home for Saturday-night supper.

“Off to Orangedale with some friends, I think.” Mama struck a match, lit a burner on the old gas stove, and began to stir, humming happily.

Cat was puzzled. What was Mama so happy about? And then suddenly she knew. Mama was relieved. Relieved because Cat had been so angry when she ran away. And usually, when Cat Kinsey got that mad she stayed mad for a while. And she would have today, too, if it hadn’t been for finding the secret grotto.

But that didn’t mean she wasn’t angry anymore about the slacks and Father. Because she was. Right now she was too excited about—about other things, but she hadn’t forgiven Father, or Mama either. She’d think again later about not being allowed to wear slacks on Play Day. And then she would decide what she had to do about it. Because whatever it was, it was going to be
terrible.

But in the meantime there was the grotto. Almost every day, at least every day that she could manage a free hour or two, Cat went to the grotto to work on making it even more her own private, secret place. Many times on weekends and in the late afternoon on school days, while Mama was reading or mending or napping and the rest of the family was still at the store, Cat made the trip down the canyon. She ran most of the way, except when she was carrying an especially heavy load. And she always ran all the way home.

Among the first objects that found a new home on the shelflike ledges along the rear wall of the grotto were some of Cat’s favorite possessions, like the tiny bronze elephant that had been sent to her by a great-uncle who was a missionary in India. There was also a small white china vase decorated with purple pansies, a very elegant old perfume bottle, a wooden cigar box full of special keepsakes, a collection of fourteen glass, plaster, or celluloid horses, and a few favorite books.

Many of the grotto’s larger items came from the Kinsey attic. The attic of the big old house was large, dimly lit, and crammed with old furniture and dozens of trunks and cartons. Rummaging in boxes and ragbags Cat found many useful things, including some discarded quilts and rag rugs that could be used to pad stone ledges and carpet the grotto floor. Among the other items that went to furnish and decorate the grotto were a small round end-table, two folding chairs, a hand-painted kerosene lamp—and Marianne.

Marianne was a big, beautiful doll that had been Cat’s present from the family just last Christmas. She was a very elegant and expensive doll with eyes that closed and opened, bristly brown eyelashes, and a head full of stiff, starchy Shirley Temple curls. She was probably the most expensive gift Cat had gotten for a long time and if she’d appeared on the scene three years earlier Cat might have been delighted.

But the thing was, Cat hadn’t asked for a doll. She’d mentioned several times that what she really wanted was the pink-and-blue plaid skirt and matching sweater in the window of Emily’s Dress Shop. But Ellen had overstocked the expensive dolls at Kinsey’s Hardware, and the wholesaler refused to take back the one that didn’t sell. Cat knew that was what happened because she’d overheard Father complaining about it.

So Cat got an expensive doll she didn’t want from Father and Ellen, and a doll crib that he’d made himself from Cliff, and some handmade doll clothes from Mama. Right after Christmas she had played with Marianne a few times, but she was really much too old for dolls. After a month or two she moved Marianne, her crib, and all her other equipment to the attic. So it was as another attic outcast that the elegant, expensive Marianne went off to beautify the grotto.

SEVEN

O
NCE OR TWICE, DURING
the time she was working on the grotto, Cat came very close to telling Janet about it, but somehow she never did. She didn’t know why exactly—except that even if Janet knew about the grotto she wouldn’t be allowed to go there with Cat because of their fathers’ disagreement about churches and preachers.

And besides, Cat didn’t feel quite ready to tell anybody about the grotto. Not even Janet. Someday she probably would, but in the meantime she wanted to go on having it as her own very private secret for just a little while longer.

September was rushing by while Cat was busy furnishing and decorating the grotto, and meanwhile at Brownwood School the excitement about the All District Play Day was building. In fact, as October got closer, it began to seem as if no one could talk about anything else. No one, that is, except Cat.

Cat refused to talk about Play Day. In fact, ever since that Saturday in early September when she’d given up all hope of ever being allowed to wear slacks, she’d refused to even think about it. She knew now—she’d firmly decided—what she was going to have to do about Play Day and the races, but she wasn’t ready to tell anybody. Not even Janet.

But in the meantime, with something else very exciting to think about, it wasn’t all that difficult to shut Play Day right out of her mind—most of the time. Except for now and then at school when even Janet Kelly, who should have known better, kept bringing up the races and trying to get Cat to practice. As October got closer Janet kept pestering Cat about practicing.

“Let’s do a training race,” Janet would say at the beginning of almost every recess. And she wouldn’t give up, even when Cat told her she definitely didn’t want to. Crinkling up her pug nose and doing the cutesy smile that she always used to get her way, Janet would go right on arguing and tugging at Cat’s sleeve, trying to pull her toward the playground.

So finally Cat was more or less forced to tell her that she, Cat Kinsey, was not going to run in any of the races. But even that didn’t make much difference because Janet obviously didn’t believe that Cat meant what she said. Janet, who was absolutely crazy about anyone who was famous, like movie stars and athletes and kings and queens, just found it impossible to believe that anyone would give up something she was practically famous for. Famous, not just at Brownwood Elementary, either, but at the other schools in the district as well. All over the district kids knew about Fast Cat Kinsey and the blue ribbons she’d won at Play Day last year. And the year before that, too, when she’d only been in fourth grade.

But what Janet didn’t understand was that Cat had made up her mind that she was not ever again going to be the only runner in the Play Day races who was wearing a dress. And Janet also didn’t seem to understand that when Cat Kinsey made up her mind about something—that was it!

One Monday morning Janet was particularly persistent. “Come on, Cat, let’s go race,” she kept saying, tugging on Cat’s arm. “Miss Albright says we should be practicing every chance we get now. Let’s race to the back fence. Okay?” Pulling Cat’s sleeve and doing her movie-star smile again, she said, “Come on, slowpoke. You’re probably all out of practice. I’ll bet I win.”

Cat grinned back. “Yeah, sure,” she said. “Sure you’ll win.” In spite of the fact that she was almost two inches taller, Janet was nowhere near as fast a runner as Cat. Old pigeon-toed Janet knew she couldn’t win any of the races. That wasn’t why she wanted to practice. She just wanted to make sure Cat did, so that on Play Day she’d be able to say, “That’s Cat Kinsey, my best friend.”

Just to shut her up Cat finally said, “Well, okay. Down to the fence and back.” But as they left the classroom on their way to the starting line at the edge of the blacktop she added, “This doesn’t mean I’ve changed my mind about Play Day, because I haven’t.”

“Sure. I know,” Janet said, nodding so hard her fat Shirley Temple curls bounced up and down. Fat, round curls that had to be done up on rag curlers every night because Janet’s hair was naturally straight. Watching the bouncing curls Cat couldn’t help feeling a little bit envious. She and Janet, like most of the girls at Brownwood, absolutely adored everything about Shirley Temple, so it was easy to envy people like Janet who were allowed to take tap dancing and singing lessons and wear short, bouncy curls. Especially since Cat, whose hair was naturally curly, wouldn’t even have needed rag curlers—if only Father would allow her to cut her hair.

BOOK: Cat Running
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