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Authors: Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Season of Ponies

BOOK: Season of Ponies
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Season of Ponies
Zilpha Keatley Snyder

TO
Susan
AND
Douglas

Contents

A Morning of Hope

An Afternoon of Sorrow

A Magic Evening

Pamela Makes a Choice

A Warning

A Pale Pink Clue

In a Forest Clearing

A Glimpse of Fear

On a Stormy Night

In the Old Granary

Shadow Glen

Fear Comes Closer

A Puzzling Surprise

The Circus Game

In the Pig Woman’s Swamp

The Pig Woman

Back to Oak Farm

An Unexpected Visitor

Old Questions Answered

Endings and Beginnings

A Biography of Zilpha K. Snyder

A Morning of Hope

T
HE DAY BEGAN AS
June days are supposed to, in a burst of sunshine; but before noon, dark clouds were sweeping across the sky. In the afternoon, rain fell in dull gray torrents; and just before nightfall, a strange swirling ground fog, heavy and white, swept through the valley. Afterward, Pamela heard Aunt Sarah say she’d never seen fog like that in the valley before.

It started out to be the day that Pamela was to leave Oak Farm. When she awoke that morning, even the weather seemed to be celebrating. A few bright rays of sun had somehow managed to slip through the thick branches that hovered over the old house, and then to find the tall narrow windows of Pamela’s room. Bright cheerful splotches warmed the faded rug and the dark wood of the high old bed.

Pamela bounced to the floor and ran to the window seat. From her window on the second floor, she could see the huge sloping lawn edged with oak trees, the creek, the bridge and patches of the road. To the left she could see a part of the deserted farmyard. It all looked much better than usual in the bright new sunshine of that very important morning.

It was a view Pamela had seen thousands of times in the last five years. She turned away from the window and faced the room. Her feet touched the floor below the window seat now. When she had first come to live at Oak Farm, she couldn’t even touch with her toes. She had sat there on the window seat for hours watching the road and looking for Father. She didn’t do that any more. He always wrote when he was coming, and there wasn’t any use hoping he’d come unexpectedly.

It had been a long time since that first year at Oak Farm, but Pamela could remember a time before that when she had lived with her father. When she thought hard, she could bring back blurry pictures of long rides in trains and cars, rooms where they didn’t stay long, and laughter and good times. There were dim memories, too, of long lonely hours of waiting in the car while her father talked to people who wanted to buy the trucks and machinery he sold. But the clearest memories were good ones. There had been picnics and trips to parks and zoos. She could remember how sometimes Father used to say, “Today is for you, Pam. What shall we do?” Pamela remembered that even then she usually chose to go where there were horses, if she could.

And before that, there had been another time when her mother was still alive. That was hardly a memory at all, mostly a feeling. A good feeling—and there
was
something about her mother in a filmy white dress, sitting on a white horse. It was a dim and shadowy memory, almost like a scene from a dream; but still it was the clearest memory Pamela had of her mother, and she often thought about it. Sometimes she wondered if it was a real memory at all. Perhaps it was just a dream. After all, riding a white horse in a fluffy white dress was not the sort of thing people’s mothers were likely to do. Not any mothers she’d ever heard of anyway.

She would have liked to ask about that memory, but she knew better than to ask Aunt Sarah or Aunt Elsie. She had learned long ago that no one at Oak Farm would talk about her mother. Even Father said very little.

Pamela decided to think about something else. It always made her unhappy to wonder why people didn’t want to talk about her mother. “No, I won’t think about it,” she said right out loud. But still, she wondered if Father would tell about her, if she asked, before he left.

“Before he leaves!” Pamela laughed. For a minute she had almost forgotten that she was going with him this time. Imagine forgetting that—even for a minute!

Just then the hall clock struck eight. Pamela leaped off the window seat, scrambled into her clothes, and quickly brushed and braided her long dark hair. Even if it were her last day at Oak Farm, there was no point in making Aunt Sarah angry by being late to breakfast. In fact, today would be particularly bad because it was very possible that Aunt Sarah would already be angry about Father’s decision. No sense in making it worse.

As Pamela pushed open the big double doors to the dining room, Aunt Sarah and Father were standing by the windows. Aunt Sarah was talking, and Father seemed to be looking at his shoes. They saw her and stopped talking quickly. Pamela suddenly felt afraid, but Father’s smiling, “Good morning, Pam,” was reassuring.

Pamela smiled back a little weakly. “It must be all right,” she told herself. “He promised I could go.” But somehow she wasn’t quite convinced. There was something about the way Father looked.

Aunt Elsie backed through the swinging doors from the kitchen with a silver tray, and Pamela was busy for a while helping to distribute plates and pour coffee. Aunt Sarah was talking about places Father would be visiting on his trip. Pamela found it hard to keep her mind on what she was doing. Surely something would be said about her going, too.

“Pamela,” Aunt Sarah said sharply. “What are you thinking of? You served your father’s plate from the wrong side, and now you’ve spilled the coffee.”

“I’m sorry, Aunt Sarah,” Pamela said. “I’ll clean it up.” She hurried to the kitchen for a cloth for the spilled coffee; and when she returned, Father’s trip was no longer being discussed.

All through breakfast Pamela waited for the grownups to bring up the one thing that filled her mind. But Aunt Sarah began talking about old days at Oak Farm, and that always went on for a long time. Pamela couldn’t change the subject because Aunt Sarah believed that children should not speak unless spoken to.

It began to look as if no one else was going to change the subject either. Father and Aunt Elsie were listening politely and even asking questions, just as if they had never heard about the garden parties before.

“Let’s see. That must have been the year the summer house burned down, wasn’t it Elsie?” Aunt Sarah was saying. “I don’t suppose you remember the summer house burning, do you Randall? You were quite young. I was only seventeen that summer. You know it was Thayer Ashwood who tipped over the charcoal brazier—quite accidently, of course—right in the midst of one of the nicest garden parties. You do remember Thayer, don’t you? He was such a nice young man. The Ashwoods lived two miles down the valley where those Italian dirt farmers are now. It was called Ashwood Park then.”

Father shook his head. “No, I’m afraid I don’t remember,” he said. “But I’ve heard so much about it all, it seems as if I do.”

Pamela sighed quietly. She’d heard about it, too. She’d heard all about Oak Farm in the days when Aunt Sarah was young, before times started changing. She knew what a gay and busy place it had been before her grandparents died and left Aunt Sarah with all that land to manage and a much younger brother and sister to rear. She knew almost by heart how bad times had forced Aunt Sarah to sell all the animals, little by little. First the blooded horses for which Oak Farm had been famous and then the champion Black Angus cattle, until at last the farm buildings stood silent and empty.

“But I haven’t sold one square foot of the land of Oak Farm,” Aunt Sarah always ended the story. “And I won’t! Why before I’d leave, or even sell one little piece, I’d turn it into a hog ranch!” Her eyes burned darkly when she said that. Pamela was always glad that this time it wasn’t something she’d done that made Aunt Sarah look that way.

It was mostly her eyes that were so frightening. Their dark gaze could make you feel frozen—helpless and speechless. Father’s eyes were very different, brown and smiling, and Aunt Elsie’s were a pale and gentle blue. But their eyes were not the only way that the three of them were different. They were so completely unlike each other that it was hard for Pamela to remember they were brother and sisters. They were no more alike than three different kinds of animals, Pamela decided.

Aunt Elsie, of course, was a rabbit. Nothing else could be that pink and white and quivery. Aunt Sarah was hard to picture, but Pamela finally decided on a bird—a big bird with fierce beak, sharp eyes and smooth dark wings. And Father? That was easy. Her favorite animal—a horse. A bright bay mustang; strong and swift and full of fun.

Pamela glanced at her father. He was smiling, but it wasn’t his real smile that made you feel like smiling, too. He nodded quickly to everything Aunt Sarah said. Pamela frowned. “He really doesn’t seem much like a wild mustang right now,” she admitted to herself. “But that’s what he is sometimes, anyway.”

An Afternoon of Sorrow

B
REAKFAST WAS OVER WITH
no mention of Pamela’s going away; but as they were leaving the dining room, Father put his hand on her shoulder. “I’m going out to look the old place over and say good-by. Want to come along, Pam?”

That sounded encouraging. She would be only too glad to say good-by to Oak Farm. They crossed the house yard and the silent dusty barnyard and started up the little hill in the old horse pasture. Pamela chattered happily. “It’s a good thing I like riding in trains and cars. I mean, some people get sick even. But I think it’s fun. I liked it even when I was little, didn’t I? And I won’t mind changing schools often because I’m not used to having lots of friends my own age anyway. And even if I have to leave my friends after a little while, it will be better than not having any at all.”

Pamela’s father seemed unusually quiet. At the top of the hill they sat down in the tall grass. Below, they could see the empty farm buildings, the row of small houses where the farm workers had once lived, and beneath its clustering oaks, glimpses of the big house. Oak Farm House, silent and shadowed even on a sunny day.

Pamela talked faster and faster, trying to bury with words her growing fear that something was wrong. “Remember the games we used to play when we were traveling? I remember we used to see who could count the most horses on his side of the road. I liked that game. And sometimes you’d stop the car if the horses were close to the road. You used to hold me up so I could pat them. Do you remember?”

Pamela stopped. Her father’s silence could no longer be ignored. He was staring at a blade of grass that he held in his brown fingers and tearing off little pieces with quick, hard movements. “Pam,” he began, “I know you’ll have trouble understanding this, but ...

A cold, thin slice of fear shot up Pamela’s spine. “But you said I could go with you!” she cried. “You promised!”

“I guess I was fooling myself, too, Pam. Because I wanted to have you with me so much. But it just wouldn’t work. No real home, traveling from town to town, changing schools all the time, eating in restaurants. It wouldn’t be fair to you.”

Suddenly Pamela was angry. “That’s not the reason!” she cried. “None of that’s the real reason.
She
won’t let you. She just won’t let you.” She flung herself down on the grass, and hard painful sobs shook her body and ached in her throat.

She cried for a long time, while her father sat beside her saying nothing at all. She cried in bitter disappointment because she would be left behind again; but even more she cried because her father had broken his promise and would not tell her that what she had said was a lie. Finally he put a handkerchief under her clenched fist.

“Dry your eyes, Pam, and sit up. I have something to show you.”

She did as she was told, but she was careful to keep her face turned away. Her father took her hand and pushed something hard and round, like a very large coin, under her fingers.

BOOK: Season of Ponies
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