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Authors: Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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BOOK: Cat Running
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After a moment she swallowed hard and asked, “You got two brothers? Spence, and what did you say the other one’s name was?”

“Roddy,” Sammy said. “Roddy’s the littlest one. And the meanest.” Then she suddenly smiled. A full-out shining smile that showed white baby teeth and dented her dirty tear-streaked cheeks. “And Zane too,” she said. “I got a big one too—name of Zane.”

Cat felt a kind of collision somewhere in the middle of her chest, as if a swallow had tangled with a breath going the other way. “Zane?” she said, and as she said the name she could feel the anger rising up, burning away the swollen softness in her throat. She stared down at the ragged little Okie for a moment before she said, “You better get out of here, right now. You get on home and don’t you ever come back.”

The little girl edged around her and out the door. Halfway across the grotto she turned and looked back.

“Go on. Get!” Cat yelled. “Scat! And don’t you ever come back or I’ll call the sheriff.”

Sammy turned and ran.

FOURTEEN

W
HEN THE LITTLE OKIE
reached the tunnel she galloped down it on her hands and feet like a monkey, instead of crawling the way a larger person had to do. No wonder she’d gotten away so quickly that other time when she’d seemed to disappear as if by magic. In no time at all she was out of sight. Cat turned back toward the cottage—and noticed the pail again.

The beat-up old oilcan pail was still sitting just outside the cottage door. Inside the pail were three walnuts, a small shriveled orange, and a chunk of very stale bread. Cat poked at the stuff with the tip of one finger. The kid’s lunch, no doubt, or maybe—Cat smiled ruefully—some more gifts for Marianne. For Marianne-Lillybelle. Suddenly Cat ran toward the tunnel.

It was slow going crawling through the narrow passageway carrying a pail, and when Cat got to her feet outside the thicket there was no one in sight. But the kid couldn’t have gotten far. “Sammy! Wait a minute!” Cat yelled, and started to run. She’d only gone a few steps when, dodging around a large boulder, she came to a skidding stop and jumped back. But it was too late. They’d seen her.

Leaning against the boulder, her heart thudding, she heard someone say, “Well, well. If it ain’t Cat Kinsey,” and a moment later there he was, Zane Perkins. And not just Zane. Behind him was what seemed to be a whole crowd of smaller Zane Perkinses. A regular herd of ragged, barefoot little Okies in scruffy overalls, all of them grinning in the same ornery way. All grinning, that is, except Sammy, who still looked tearful and terrified. Grabbing Zane’s hand Sammy tugged at it and whimpered, “Come on. Let’s go home. Please, Zane.”

Cat stepped away from the boulder casually, as if she’d just happened to jump back there to look at something and hadn’t been trying to hide at all. As the mob of Okies crowded in around her (four of them, actually—it had seemed like more at first) she lifted her chin and calmly stared back into the grinning faces. Then she held the pail out toward Sammy. “Here,” she said, “this must be yours. You forgot to take it with you. You left it up there—beside the creek.
Right up there by the creek,
” she repeated loudly, hoping to remind Sammy that she’d promised not to tell anyone about the grotto.

They all looked at Sammy and Sammy looked at the pail. Reaching out timidly as if she were afraid that Cat might grab her, she took it, looked in it, and started to cry again.

Zane was frowning. “What’s the matter?” he said. “What’re you bawling about?” Then he turned to Cat. “What’s Sammy bawling about? You do something to Sammy?”

Cat sighed indignantly. “Of course not. I didn’t do anything to her—” She caught herself and changed it to “to him.” But the damage had been done. Zane glared at Sammy and she cried louder.

“Her?” Zane asked. “She calling you
her,
Sammy?”

“I didn’t tell her,” Sammy wailed.

“She didn’t tell me she’s a girl,” Cat said, “if that’s what you’re talking about. I just guessed.”

But Zane went on frowning. “Sammy,” he said, “Ma told you and told you—”

“Look,” Cat said, “it’s not her fault. And besides, it’s pretty stupid to think it’s all right to let her run around all by herself all day, just because she’s dressed like a boy. What’s she doing way out here alone, anyway? No kid that little ought to be way up here all alone, whether she’s a girl or a boy.”

His grin was mocking. “You some kind of expert on rearin’ young-uns?” he asked. Then he grabbed Sammy, wiped her face with her shirttail, and said, “Shh. Hush up now. I ain’t going to tell Ma.” He wiped her face again and bent over her, whispering something in her ear.

While Zane was still talking to Sammy one of the other boys came up to Cat. It was the one next biggest to Zane—the same coloring and lanky build. And the same dark-framed eyes, too, but maybe not quite so devilish looking. “Sammy warn’t left all alone, she jist run off,” he said. “This here old lady in the camp s’posed to be mindin’ her, but she ain’t doin’ too good a job, I guess. When Zane and Roddy and me got home from school jist now Granny didn’t know where Sammy’d got to. But I knowed she likes to play up thisaway, so we come a’lookin’ for her.” He grinned at Cat. “Right glad you found her.”

Cat examined the grin for sarcasm but didn’t find any. “Who’re you?” she asked warily.

“Spence,” he said. “Name’s Spence Perkins.”

Cat nodded. She vaguely remembered seeing him before at school. Third grader, she thought, or maybe fourth. “And the other one. What’s his name?” She looked for the smaller boy and suddenly noticed that he’d disappeared. “Where is he, anyway?”

“Roddy.” Spence looked around. “Where’d he git to now?” Turning in a circle he called, “Roddy!” several times. When he’d turned back around to Cat his raised eyebrows and shrug said something like
That’s Roddy for you.

Just then Zane, who’d been talking to Sammy, got back into the conversation. “Where’d Roddy go?” he asked.

“Don’t ask me,” Spence said. “He was here a minute ago. Must of gone thataway. I’ll find him.”

Watching Spence disappear around the boulder Cat suddenly froze. The tunnel was only a few yards away and she hadn’t taken the time to bend the sapling screen back down over the entrance. What if ...

“Hey,” she yelled. “Come back here.” But at that moment the littlest boy came dashing back. Grabbing Zane’s arm he yelled, “Come ’ere, Zane. Come quick. Wait’ll you see what I found.”

Cat’s heart sank. “Hey,” she said. “Don’t ... Come back here. You can’t ... But no one was paying any attention. Ignoring Cat altogether they followed the prancing, grinning Roddy around the boulder, past the first small clump of saplings, past the beginning of the thicket—and right to the entrance of the tunnel. Dropping down to his hands and knees he disappeared down the narrow passageway, and as Cat continued to protest, the others followed one by one. Zane first and then Spence and then Sammy too. Sammy, too, but not before she’d stopped at the tunnel entrance, looked back at Cat, rolled her big eyes wildly, sobbed, hiccupped, dropped to her hands and feet, and started after her brothers.

Cat followed. There was nothing else she could do.

Inside the grotto they were everywhere, picking up the elephant and the horses, looking at the books, and running in and out of the cottage.

She couldn’t stand it. “Stop it!” she screamed. “Get out! Get out of here. Get out of here or I’ll tell the sheriff.”

They stopped, but only for a minute. Roddy put the elephant back on its shelf—and then picked it up again. Spence came out of the cottage and then went back in. Zane strolled toward Cat, doing his wide, mocking grin.

“This here your property?” he asked. “Your pa got papers on this land?”

Cat had to consciously unclench her teeth in order to answer. “No. Not on this land. But all this stuff is mine. I brought it here and I built the house, and it’s mine. And my father knows Sheriff Dunn real well and if you don’t get out of here I’m going to tell him you’re all a bunch of thieves and he’ll put you in jail—and throw your folks out of Okietown”—Cat’s voice was getting higher and more shrill—“and expel you from school and ...

Zane didn’t try to argue. Instead he just stood there nodding slowly and doing his insulting grin. When Cat finally stopped to catch her breath he made a kind of snorting noise and said, “Well, if you’re anywheres near runnin’ down I got a thing or two to say. First off, we got no interest in coming back here. Roddy and Spence and me ain’t got no interest in playin’ house or”—he nodded toward the shelves at the back of the grotto—“or fooling around with little-kid stuff like that. Ain’t that right, Roddy?”

Roddy looked at the elephant regretfully for just a moment before he reached up to put it back on the shelf. Then he swaggered over to stand beside Zane. “That’s right.” He pulled himself up to his full seven- or eight-year-old height. “We got no use for kid stuff like that,” he said. “Huh, Spence? Huh?”

Spence was walking toward them. He was holding a book in his hands, but when Zane and Roddy turned to look at him he put it behind his back. “That’s right. We got no use for—”

But just then Zane interrupted. “Where’s Sammy?” he said. He looked around the grotto and then at Spence. “Where’s Sammy? She was here a minute ago. Wasn’t she?”

Spence shrugged. “In there,” he said, nodding toward the cottage, “with the playbaby.”

She was there again, all right, just like she’d been before, sitting on the floor beside the crib with Marianne-Lillybelle in her arms. Just before he got to the cottage door Zane had been saying again how none of the Perkinses had any use for Cat’s “little-kid stuff,” but he stopped talking when he saw Sammy with the doll.

They stood there for quite a while before Zane stopped watching Sammy and looked at Cat instead. “Hey,” he said. “Who knows? Maybe won’t none of us come back here no more, and then agin—maybe we will. You gonna sic the law on Sammy, Cat Kinsey?”

FIFTEEN

O
N THE WAY HOME
from the grotto that day Cat told herself that, of course, those Perkinses would come back again. Any kid, finding such a wonderful place not far from home, would go back again and again. And actually, Okietown wasn’t any farther from the grotto than the Kinsey house, and by way of a much flatter and easier trail, besides. They’d probably keep coming back until all of Cat’s things were stolen or broken unless ... She hated to even think of taking all her things away and leaving her wonderful private place empty and deserted and at the mercy of those thieving Okies, but perhaps that was the only thing to do. But then again, maybe it wasn’t.

There was one slightly comforting consideration, and that was the fact that the Perkins boys were all in school. Which meant they would only be able to go to the grotto when school was out. And that, of course, was when Cat could be there too. When she could be there to chase them away or at least stand guard over her belongings. And she would too. Every spare minute after school and on weekends she’d be right there seeing that they didn’t do any damage.

Of course, that didn’t solve the problem of Sammy, who apparently could go to the grotto anytime the old lady who was supposed to be taking care of her happened to take a nap. Sammy would be the biggest problem.

The answer might be to take Marianne away. If the doll wasn’t there, maybe Sammy wouldn’t be so apt to come back. That was it. Cat would bring Marianne home from the grotto and put her away again, back in the attic where she belonged.

As she trudged up the canyon Cat thought some more about Sammy. About how she had held the doll, and the look on her face as she tucked in the pink blanket. At first, thinking about the way Sammy looked at Marianne made Cat angry. After all, Marianne belonged to her. She’d been her Christmas present just last year and she was a very expensive doll. It didn’t matter that she herself had never been all that crazy about dolls in general, or Marianne in particular. Marianne still belonged to Cat Kinsey and Sammy had no right to even touch her, and that was all there was to it.

But the memories of Sammy’s face when she looked at the doll, and also of the way her face looked as she tucked in the blanket, kept coming back. And somehow, by the time she’d scaled the steep canyon wall and was crossing the empty pony pasture, Cat had decided to wait awhile before she took Marianne away. She’d wait to see if there was any sign that Sammy was doing any harm, like losing Marianne’s clothes and messing up her beautiful, almost human hair. She’d let Marianne stay in the grotto for the time being, but she’d sure enough keep an eye on things that might get damaged.

She did too. The next day and the next, when Cat came to the grotto the first thing she did was to check on Marianne. She inspected the doll carefully, looking at her hair, her dress, and her shiny black shoes—but nothing seemed to be disturbed. All that week everything seemed to be the same as always—at least in the grotto.

It was everywhere else that things were different. Starting on that Monday it began to seem to Cat that her whole life was suddenly full of Perkinses. Perkinses on the way to school, where she’d twice seen Zane and Spence and Roddy as she walked up Burks Lane. Perkinses on the playground at recess, where she kept noticing Spence and Roddy—Roddy running and yelling with some other second-grade boys, and Spence sitting on the railing outside the third- and fourth-grade room. Just sitting there alone usually, reading a book or watching some other kids play marbles.

And a Perkins in her own classroom, too, of course, where Zane’s seat was only one row over and two seats back from her own. And where, every time she turned around, there he was, looking at her. Looking at her and grinning or at least twitching the corner of his mouth as if he were threatening to. The same way he twitched his mouth whenever—and it happened all the time—somebody started teasing Cat about being afraid to race with him. The teasing went on and on. Cat hated it.

“Afraid!” she finally yelled at Hank Belton. It was during the noon recess on Wednesday and he’d come over to where Cat and Janet had been practicing dead man’s drops on the bars. It was obvious that he was there just to tease and be ornery. Hank was the worst—the one who just wouldn’t let the subject drop.

BOOK: Cat Running
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