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Authors: Zilpha Keatley Snyder

season of ponies

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.

“This is for you, Pam. I don’t think I ever told you before, but when I first met your mother she lived with her old grandmother. Granny was a very wise and wonderful old lady. Right after your mother died, she gave me this and said it was for you. She said I would know when the time came for you to have it. I wondered about that, but—she was right. Somehow, I’m sure this is the time she meant.”

Pamela tried not to look. She didn’t want him to think she had forgotten his betrayal. But she couldn’t help being curious. A gift given to her so long ago was fascinating enough, but when it concerned her mother, her mother who was so seldom mentioned, it was almost irresistible. Slowly she turned her head and opened her fingers.

In her hand was a sort of amulet or medallion on a slender chain. On each side of the amulet were strange raised figures. On one side there was a small triangle at whose points were a cat, a snake, and a beetle. On the other, odd little symbols that seemed to be letters of some kind ran all around the outside, and in the center was a large eye.

Through the depths of her disappointment there ran a sudden ripple of excitement. What was it? What did the mysterious symbols mean?

“What is it?” she heard herself asking, almost against her will. “What does it mean?”

“I don’t know myself, Pam. Granny wouldn’t say much, except that it was very old—and very powerful.”

“Powerful,” Pamela repeated. “That sounds like it’s magic. Do you suppose it gives three wishes?”

Father smiled. “That’s funny. You know, I asked the same thing. I was joking—but Granny didn’t seem to think I was very funny. She got quite indignant. ‘Do you think,’ she said, ‘I’d give my great-granddaughter anything so dangerous as that?’ ”

“What do you suppose that meant?”

“I don’t know, unless she felt most people wouldn’t use three wishes wisely. She wouldn’t say much more about it. But she did tell me what the writing says. It doesn’t make much sense to me. I wrote it down.” He took out his wallet and from a card pocket produced a small piece of worn and discolored paper.

Pamela took it eagerly and read,
“Give the searching heart an eye, and magic fills a summer’s sky.”

“I don’t understand it,” she said after a moment. “It sounds like a riddle.” Disappointment welled up again, choking her throat and burning her eyes. “I wish it had been three wishes. Then I could have wished to go with you—and even Aunt Sarah couldn’t have stopped me.

Father’s eyes dropped, and he reached for her hand. They sat quietly for a few moments, and then he took the amulet and fastened the chain around her neck. He let it slip down inside her dress. Their eyes met, and she recognized his “we’ve got a secret” grin. She turned away without smiling. She had always loved to share a secret with her father, but this time it only made her feel angry again.

As they climbed down the hill, she noticed that dark clouds had begun to fill the sunny sky.

Pamela felt no comfort in the amulet as she watched her father’s car disappear down the Valley Road that afternoon. The summer stretched before her as dreary and as endless as the huge bank of black clouds that by now completely hid the sun. It’s just an old necklace, she thought bitterly. It doesn’t make anything any better. It doesn’t change not seeing Father until October. It doesn’t change not having any friends or pets. It doesn’t change not ever going anywhere. Everything is just the way it always was, and it will always be the same.

Her throat was getting tighter and tighter. The aunts had already gone back in the house, so no one saw Pamela as she turned and ran through the kitchen, up the backstairs, into her room and threw herself face down on her bed.

She cried at first with angry bitter sorrow. Then for a long time she cried softly with old tired sorrow for all the sadness of her ten years of life. And much later she cried because she was tired of crying and couldn’t remember how to stop.

The last thing she remembered was that rain had begun to beat on the windows and that she was very tired.

A Magic Evening

P
AMELA WOKE UP SLOWLY
and reluctantly. At first she couldn’t remember why she was lying on her bed with all her clothes on, or why she felt so sad. Then it all came back with a rush. She sighed a long quavering sigh and rubbed her eyes hard with her clenched fists.

Something hard seemed to be pressing against one of her ribs making her vaguely uncomfortable. She sat up and, rubbing the spot, discovered that she had been lying on the amulet. She took it out and studied it carefully. It did look magical with all those weird figures and strange writing. But it certainly hadn’t done anything about Father’s leaving. She gave it a little shake. “Why don’t you do something?” she said impatiently.

She looked around expectantly, but not a thing happened. It was very quiet in the big old house. Aunt Sarah and Aunt Elsie were probably taking naps. She looked at the clock on her dresser. Over two hours till dinnertime and nothing to do. And then there would be all the rest of the summer and part of the fall, stretching away, day after day. Pamela lay back on the bed and closed her eyes.

She lay limply, keeping her mind empty, trying not to hear the smothering silence of the old house. And then, quite suddenly, out of the quietness, there came a soft uncertain breath of distant music. The first faint rippling trill faded, and Pamela wondered if she had imagined it. But it came again, a little nearer now and she thought perhaps it was a bird singing. But then, as the sound grew stronger, she knew that it was not. It was too patterned to be the song of a bird or a brook and yet too free to be a human melody. The music rose and fell in lovely liquid spills of sound. Pamela knew now it was something she had never heard before. A secret singing sound that was not a voice, and yet sang a joyous open song of fun and freedom.

The music came nearer and nearer, and very slowly and carefully Pamela stood up and went to the window. She was afraid to make a sound or even move quickly for fear it would fade off into a dream. Outside the light was dim under the great oak trees. The air was clear and clean and smelled of rain. Slanting rays of sunlight slid through the black branches here and there to turn the last raindrops to crystal tears. Out by the creek a strange white mist drifted and swirled. Long fingers of fog wavered up across the wet lawn, past the twisted trunks of the oaks which seemed to rise from ghostly white islands. Nothing moved but the flowing fog.

The music grew and grew. Pamela found she was shivering, not with cold or fear, but with the certain knowledge that something was about to happen—something strange and wonderful, something beyond imagining.

Then shadows moved in the white mist and suddenly the fog was full of—ponies! They were coming right down the old Valley Road just beyond the creek. They came out of the dim light and the swirling mist, but Pamela could see them quite plainly.

They were only a little taller than Shetland ponies, but not stubby and shaggy like Shetlands at all. Their heads were very small and as delicate as the heads of sea horses. Their necks were long and slender and sharply arched. Like Arabians, their long legs were quick and supple and their dark eyes vulnerable and proud. They were of many pale and misty colors; cloudy grays, pale golds, smoky blues, and even a dusky pink like the color of clouds at sunrise just as they fade from pink to gray. But, perhaps most wonderful of all were their manes and tails. Of deeper and brighter shades then their pale bodies, their manes and tails foamed and plumed in clouds of color as they pranced through the swirling mist.

Pamela’s breath came in quick little gasps and her heart pounded just at the bottom of her throat. She had never seen anything so beautiful as the proudly prancing ponies moving through the wisps of fog, tossing their sea-horse heads. The last one was larger than the rest and—and there was someone on his back. It was a boy! Not a valley boy, surely, but a stranger, a stranger with curly brown hair, too long for a boy, that fell down over his forehead like a pony’s forelock. A stranger with pale gold skin and great dark eyes.

The boy sat straight and slim on the dancing pony’s back and played a flute. As the pony passed, the boy did not stop playing, but he turned his golden face toward Pamela’s window. And then, just as he began to fade into the mist, the pony whirled back to face the house. The boy raised his hand and pointed with the shining flute straight towards her window, and Pamela thought she saw him smile. Then he turned quickly and disappeared into the mist.

The music began again and once more the damp air was full of the wild sweet sound. But it was fading now, softer and farther away, and Pamela was alone again with the shadows spreading under the oaks and only raindrops falling from the eaves breaking the silence of the old house.

Pamela Makes a Choice

P
AMELA STOOD AT THE
window for a long time, although everything was still now, except for the drifting fog. “What a strange thing to happen,” she mused. “Ponies don’t really look like that. They were like ...like ...” She ran to her bookcase. On the top shelf were dozens of horses. Horses her father had brought her from all the places his work had taken him. Horses she had bought herself whenever she had had a chance. Even two little china horses from Aunt Elsie.

There were horses of china, copper, silver, wood and—glass! That’s what they were like. The glass ponies were at one end of the shelf arranged on their own green silk handkerchief pasture. They were her favorites. Her father had once taken her to watch a man who shaped animals, birds, and ships, from slim tubes of molten glass. They had bought every horse he had. The smallest was a colt of clear yellow glass with a little golden teardrop of a tail.

They were all tiny things, so fragile you were almost afraid to pick them up. When you held them to the light their pale colors glowed. Their necks arched proudly, and their dainty hooves were poised for prancing.

A sudden thought made Pamela catch her breath—the amulet! She examined it thoughtfully. It looked just the same; the same strange symbols and wisely staring eye. Nothing was a bit different. But still—
“Give the searching heart an eye, and magic fills a summer’s sky.”
Could it be that magic might really fill the sky, even the sky of Oak Farm?

“Pamela! Time for dinner.” Aunt Elsie’s voice startled her. It seemed to come from another world. With a sigh, she tucked the amulet back under her dress. She gave her hair a quick brush and hurriedly checked her hands and face. They would have to do. No time to get ready properly. But as she walked down the stairs, slowly and with her head up as Aunt Sarah felt was necessary for young ladies, she suddenly laughed out loud. It was almost fun to be dignified and ladylike when underneath you had such an unbelievable secret.

The giggle seemed to startle Brother, Aunt Sarah’s haughty tomcat, who was sitting on the landing where the stairs turned. He gazed at Pamela sternly. Once, Aunt Elsie said, there had been two kittens, Brother and Sister, but Sister had died years ago. Pamela thought it was almost as hard to imagine Brother as a kitten as it was to imagine Aunt Sarah as a little girl. Brother was now the only animal on all the many acres of Oak Farm, and he felt his importance keenly. He resented Pamela, and his cold green stare and flicking tail plainly said so. But he was often sitting on the landing when Pamela came to dinner, and she thought she knew why.

Pamela sat down and put her face close to Brother’s. His whiskers twitched nervously. “You mean old thing,” she whispered. Just sitting there hoping I’ll try to make friends again just so you can snub me. Well, I don’t need you for a friend any more. So there!” Pamela marched on down the stairs while Brother batted his green eyes in surprise.

In the dining room the aunts were already at the long table. Aunt Sarah’s frown told Pamela that she was late. She slipped quickly into her chair. “I see you have forgotten the talk we had about punctuality just a few days ago,” Aunt Sarah said.

“I’m sorry, Aunt Sarah.”

Very little else was said until the meal was half over. Then Aunt Elsie cleared her throat nervously. “About the school, Sarah,” she said.

“All right, Elsie. I hadn’t forgotten,” Aunt Sarah replied. “Pamela, your Aunt Elsie feels you are lonely and that, in spite of the problems involved, you would be better off attending the Valley School. She tells me that there is a summer session beginning next week.”

Pamela’s mouth flew open.

Aunt Sarah raised her hand. “Now I want you to think carefully before you answer. You have been told my reasons for keeping you at home. Your Aunt Elsie is a trained teacher, and you have been making good progress in your work. Valley Road isn’t kept up as it should be, and the school bus is in a disgraceful state of disrepair. Finally, as you well know, many of the children who attend Valley School now are not the kind of people you would enjoy. However, your Aunt Elsie—and your father I might add—feel you are not being sufficiently amused here at Oak Farm. I want you to consider all these things carefully before you answer.”

Pamela didn’t need the warning. She was speechless with surprise. She didn’t remember when anyone had changed a decision of Aunt Sarah’s, certainly not Aunt Elsie. Pamela could imagine what Aunt Elsie must have been through. At any other time she would have wept with joy. For years she had pictured herself in a classroom surrounded by friends. But now, did she want to go? Now—when something strange and wonderful had come to Oak Farm?

Pamela closed her eyes for a second and tried to bring back the old pleasant picture of herself in a real schoolroom—but somehow it was gone. The eyes of her mind were full of something else—something that moved mysteriously through a white mist. Something that ran and danced to a brave wild song of freedom.

Hanging her head so she wouldn’t have to look at Aunt Elsie, she mumbled, “I don’t mind studying at home. I don’t think I want to go to Valley School, Aunt Sarah. Thank you anyway.”

Even Aunt Sarah seemed surprised at Pamela’s answer; but her eyes gleamed triumphantly as she said, “You see, Elsie? I was right. All the fuss was quite unnecessary.”

During the rest of the meal Aunt Sarah had a great deal to say about the wisdom of Pamela’s decision. But Aunt Elsie was quieter than ever, and Pamela could feel her worried glance. Aunt Elsie had known and understood just how she felt. It was no wonder she didn’t understand now.

Pamela longed to say something, to tell Aunt Elsie why. But she knew she couldn’t possibly explain, not to anyone, not yet. How could she make anyone understand that a necklace was more than a necklace, and a riddle more than a riddle, and right outside her window there had been something that was more, much, much more, than a strange white fog.

A Warning

T
HE NEXT MORNING PAMELA
reported to the library for her lessons earlier than usual. Once the day’s assignments were finished, she would be free. Free to go outside to—she wasn’t sure just what. But she was sure, with complete certainty, that somewhere outside there would be waiting for her the strangely beautiful ponies and the boy with the silver flute.

She arrived so early that Aunt Elsie was still busy in the kitchen. Pamela wandered restlessly up and down the library. Now and then she reached up to touch the stiff leather binding of a familiar book—greeting an old friend. Aunt Elsie had helped Pamela discover that many of the dull-looking old books held fantastic adventures. Together they had spent hours reading and talking about the stories until Pamela had been able to substitute for real playmates, dozens of friends from history and fiction. Her favorites were the legends and myths of ancient times, full of marvelous heroes, terrifying dangers, and magical events.

The library at Oak Farm was a dim and dusty room with long thin windows and stiff scratchy furniture. The air was heavy with the smell of dust and aging leather, and the huge old globe on its carved wooden frame showed countries and territories with bygone names and boundaries. Here, even more than in the rest of the house, everything seemed asleep and dreaming of the past.

Near the big desk, on a low shelf, were Pamela’s schoolbooks. This corner of the library was the only schoolroom she had ever known, and Aunt Elsie had been her only teacher. Furthermore, Aunt Elsie, who was a trained and qualified teacher, had never had another pupil. Aunt Sarah had allowed Aunt Elsie to go away to college; but afterwards, as Aunt Elsie explained it to Pamela, “I just couldn’t go away and leave your Aunt Sarah here all alone. I did think about teaching at the Valley School, but Sarah was sure I wouldn’t like it there.” Pamela never said so, but she was quite sure that Aunt Elsie would have liked it fine.

Aunt Elsie finally arrived, and Pamela fairly flew through her lessons. She had always been good at schoolwork and it never took her long, but today she even amazed herself. She rushed through arithmetic, history, and spelling in record time.

As she worked, she wondered if Aunt Elsie would ask her why she had changed her mind about going to Valley School. What could she possibly say? But all during the lessons, Aunt Elsie talked only about fractions and adjectives and the rivers of South America. Then, just as Pamela was gathering up her books to put them away on the shelf, the dreaded question came.

“Pamela, I’ve been trying to understand your decision about going to a real school. I’ve been worried about it.” Aunt Elsie put her hand on Pamela’s shoulder, and her mild blue eyes were full of concern. “It’s not right for people your age not to have friends and things to do. I know you’re feeling sad because you wanted to go with your father, but...”

“Oh, it’s not that,” Pamela stammered. “I—I—can’t quite explain it, Aunt Elsie. But I just don’t want to go away every day just now. I—I—wouldn’t have much time to play outdoors,” she finished lamely.

Aunt Elsie didn’t look a bit less worried. Pamela hastily put away her books and started from the room, knowing that she hadn’t been very convincing. Halfway to the door she stopped and came back. “But I do thank you for talking to Aunt Sarah about it.” She kissed Aunt Elsie’s pale cheek and turned to go.

“Wait, dear!” Pamela turned to see Aunt Elsie touching the spot on her cheek where Pamela had kissed it. “Wait,” she said. “I want to tell you something.”

Pamela came back, but for quite a while Aunt Elsie only arranged some pencils neatly at the edge of the leather frame that held the desk blotter. She seemed to be arranging something in her mind, too. Suddenly she said, “Someday you must leave Oak Farm. If your Father doesn’t take you, you must leave by yourself, as soon as you are old enough. For your own sake, mostly, but for your father’s, too.”

“For my father’s sake?” Pamela repeated falteringly.

“Yes, dear.” Aunt Elsie paused, but looked as if she might go on.

Sharp firm footsteps interrupted. Aunt Sarah was walking down the hall past the library door. Aunt Elsie jumped up. “Well, run along and play, dear. We’re all through for the day.” She hurried from the room.

Left alone in the library, Pamela traced the carving on the huge old desk with her finger as she thought about what Aunt Elsie had said. She almost understood. It had something to do with why her father was so different when he was at Oak Farm.

The more she thought about it, the more confused and unhappy she felt. Suddenly she shook her head firmly as if to shake all of it from her mind, and ran from the room quite forgetting how Aunt Sarah felt about running in the house.

A Search and a Pale Pink Clue

A
S THE HEAVY OLD
front door with its great bronze knocker closed behind Pamela, she breathed a sigh of relief. It was always nicer to be outdoors at Oak Farm. The huge old house with its great dark rooms, so empty of people, seemed sad to Pamela, as though it were remembering a happier time. Outdoors, things were better. Of course, the barn and stable and storerooms were all empty, too, and even the pastures and meadows grew untouched. But at least the sun shone brightly, birds sang, and the wind was alive in the oak trees.

And on this day there was the wonderful hope that somewhere there might be the ponies and the boy.

Since she had seen the ponies on the road beyond the creek, that seemed a good place to watch and wait. She could sit on the railing of the old bridge that led from Oak Farm to the Valley Road.

On one side of the bridge the road wound away for miles and miles to the mouth of the valley. But on the other it ended just a little way above Oak Farm, and the mountains and forest began. The road was little used these days. The nearby farms were mostly abandoned, and the people down the valley seldom came up so far. Aunt Elsie said that when the Old Families still owned the valley land, the road had been kept in good repair; but now it was dusty and full of potholes. Pamela sometimes tried to imagine those days when many cars and carriages came up the long road and turned in at Oak Farm. It was not hard; Aunt Sarah had told so many stories about it.

Pamela sat on the railing and swung her feet. The sun was bright, and the water of the creek murmured companionably beneath the bridge. She could see minnows and tadpoles in the quiet eddies. It had been fun to catch them for pets until she had slipped one day and gotten her dress muddy. Then Aunt Sarah had forbidden her playing in the creek. But today Pamela no longer regretted the loss of the tadpoles.

It seemed the kind of day for something to happen, but the hours passed and nothing did. Once or twice Pamela thought she heard the wild clear notes of the boy’s flute, but each time the sound faded into silence or lilted into the song of a bird. Shadows lengthened across the old road, and still nothing stirred. Dinner time came without a sign, and Pamela finally decided that the road must be the wrong place to look, especially on a bright clear day. It was different, perhaps, on strange silent evenings when white mists rode the damp air.

That night after Pamela was ready for bed she couldn’t go to sleep. She slipped out of bed in her long white nightdress and stood looking at the glass ponies on their green silk pasture. When she almost closed her eyes, she could imagine that a white mist was beginning to form around the tiny ponies. If she closed her eyes even tighter, she seemed to see them begin to grow. As they grew, the cold clear glass clouded into warm and living velvet, and the gracefully frozen poses melted into lovely flowing motion. She opened her eyes and the ponies were again tiny, cold, and lifeless.

She sighed and took out the amulet, studying it carefully, as if its strange symbols could tell her what she wanted to know. But the bronze eye stared back at her silently.

In the days that followed, Pamela looked in many places. She looked in the fruit orchard among the neglected old apple trees. She looked at the edge of the woods, where it came down the hill close to the barn. She looked in the deserted farm buildings: the barn, the stable, the blacksmith shop and the granary. Perhaps she would have been discouraged sooner, but she found two strange things that made her keep looking.

The first she wasn’t sure of: a mark on the soft ground behind the barn, a mark that might have been a small hoofprint. But it was rather indistinct and she couldn’t be quite sure. There was no doubt about the other, however.

She found it on the third day, when she was looking in the farm buildings and had just been in the granary. It was almost empty. Pamela saw nothing but some dusty grain sacks and a few empty barrels, until she started to leave. Then she noticed something caught on the rough wood of the door frame. It was a long strand of hair. The hair was long and silken soft, and when Pamela held it up to the sunlight, it gleamed—palely pink!

She stayed near the granary that afternoon until she was nearly late to dinner again, but she saw nothing more. Finally she had to run for home. She coiled the pink strand into the palm of her hand before she opened the kitchen door. Fortunately, Aunt Elsie was still in the kitchen. “Thank goodness,” she said as Pamela came in. “I was afraid you were going to be late again. Run upstairs and wash up.”

As Pamela hurried up the stairs, she met Brother in his usual spot on the landing. He wasn’t the kind of cat to give up easily. She knew he was just hoping she would try to pet him so that he could lash his tail and stalk off in cold and haughty dignity.

Pamela laughed. “You might as well give up,” she said. “I’m not going to waste any more time trying to make friends with you. I have other things to think about now. See!” She shook out the lovely pink strand and trailed it teasingly across his smug cat face. She didn’t at all expect his reaction. With a yowl, Brother shot straight up in the air, every hair on end and his tail like a bottle brush. His usual grandeur was completely missing as he shot down the stairs and scrabbled around the corner.

Pamela watched in amazement. What on earth had gotten into Brother? She ran the long pink hair thoughtfully through her fingers as she went on up the stairs.

But the days went on, and. nothing more happened. It began to be hard to remember why she had felt so sure she would see the ponies and the boy again. At times she would have believed it was all a dream, except for the coil of pale pink hair in the handkerchief box on her dresser. Of course, she wore the amulet constantly, but as the days passed by she began to wonder if it were not just any old necklace after all.

Once in a while she thought about the summer classes that were meeting everyday at Valley School. How could she have given it up? She wondered if she would ever have another chance like that.

One warm June afternoon, she was just too discouraged to go on looking. She was tired of hoping and hoping and always being disappointed. It seemed best to forget the whole thing, at least for a while.

She decided to spend the afternoon reading. In the library she picked out a book about Greek gods and goddesses. She tiptoed to the door and stopped to look and listen for a moment before she ventured out into the hall. Aunt Sarah had not said that books could not be removed from the library, but Pamela had a feeling she might if she thought of it. And there were many much more cheerful places to read.

On her way through the kitchen, she found that Aunt Elsie had left out a plate of freshly baked cookies. So she filled up her pockets.

The old barn was one of Pamela’s favorite places. Of course, no animals lived there any more, but the loft with its piles of hay was a lovely place for reading. The quiet shadowy spaces and the faint and friendly smell of animals who had once lived there made it almost cozy.

She closed the heavy door behind her and started towards the ladder that led to the loft. She was not even thinking of the ponies and the boy, when a slight sound made her jump and whirl towards a dim corner.

In a Forest Clearing

T
HERE IN THE SHADOWS
stood—a pony! One slender silken pony with a milk-white coat that shaded to softest gray on its face and legs and tail. It stood watching her with its great gazelle eyes, its neck sharply arched and its hooves close together, as though ready to spring away.

Pamela stood frozen with wonder. Surprise and delight tumbled over each other in her mind. For a long, long moment Pamela and the pony gazed at each other in silence. Then the pony moved towards her. Pamela watched, breathless, fascinated by the beauty of its motion. The pony advanced until it was able to touch her gently on the shoulder with its velvet nose. Then slowly, gracefully, it tucked in a dainty hoof and sank down on one bent foreleg.

Like one in a dream, Pamela climbed onto the pony’s back. It turned its head and looked at her, as if to be sure she was ready, and then gently stood up.

Out through the open corral door at the back of the barn and up the hill, the pony went. Pamela had ridden horses before, but she had felt nothing like the lovely flowing motion of this gray-white pony. The coarseness of other horses’ manes were nothing like the clouds of smoky gray that blew back against her arms and face.

At the crest of the hill, the pony began to gallop. Pamela had no saddle or bridle, but she wound her hands in the soft gray mane and rode the gallop easily.

It was such a marvelous feeling to gallop so swiftly and smoothly along the top of the hill, that Pamela was too happy even to wonder where they were going.