The Big Six

      Bill pounced on his friend the minute he stepped into the yard. "Hi, Jack," he said. "You got my test ready?" Bill’s face was red, and his heart was thumping like the bass drum in the school band. This was the day he had been waiting for.

     The Big Six were about the best group of boys in Grant School. They had finally asked him to join them. Now, if he passed the "test" that the fellows had decided on, he would be a member in good standing of the Big Six.

     Jack leaned lazily against the garage wall and grinned at him. "Sure, I’ve got your test ready, but let me give you a word of advice. Use your head, Bill. The test isn’t as easy as it sounds."

     "What do I have to do?" Bill gulped.

     "See that basket?" Jack said as he pointed to a picnic basket swinging from the handlebars of his bike. "We’re going to Mrs. Barker’s house, down the street. You are to catch her small cat, Tiger, put him in the basket, and take him out on Willow Road and dump him."

     "Dump the cat?" Bill thought he had heard wrong.

     "What did you think you would dump? The basket?" Jack frowned at him. "You’ve heard that old saying, ‘A cat always comes back,’ haven’t you? We want to prove it one way or the other today."

     Bill pedaled along to Mrs. Barker’s, feeling as if he were in a bad dream. He had thought of lots of tests, but nothing like this. Climbing a tree, or doing a lot of push-ups—that was the sort of test he’d been expecting.

     Outside the neat, white fence that enclosed Mrs. Barker’s house and garden, Jack stopped and shoved the basket at Bill. "Go on," he ordered. "You’re on your own now."

     With dragging feet, Bill crept along behind the tall bushes of lilacs that shut off the view of anyone in the house. When he reached the last clump of shrubbery, he was still several feet from the small, striped kitten. Tiger was curled up in a tight little ball under a big rose bush.

     "Here, kitty, kitty," he called softly, but in his heart he was begging the kitten to run away. Tiger pricked up his sharp black ears and stared at Bill with eyes as yellow as the roses on the bush over his head. He must have liked what he saw, for he began walking daintily across the grass to Bill.

     Bill wiped the sweat from his forehead and groaned. His stomach felt sick. This little kitten would never find his way home from Willow Road! Never!

     But if Bill failed his "test" the Big Six would ask some other boy to join them. He wouldn’t get to go camping with them next summer. He wouldn’t get to play in the big tree house in Jack’s backyard. Bill’s thoughts raced like the horses on a merry-go-round. With a quick grab he picked up Tiger and popped him into the basket. "Shame on you," a little voice seemed to say. "That kitten trusted you."

     It was awfully still in the basket. Could Tiger be smothered? Bill pressed his ear to the side of the basket and listened. What he heard made him feel worse yet. The kitten was purring happily.

     "Come on! Hurry up!" Jack was impatient.

     Bill didn’t even answer. He lifted the lid of the basket and set Tiger gently on the grass. "I’d never have any fun with the Big Six, remembering what I had done to you," he told the kitten.

     Slowly Bill plodded out to the alley where Jack was waiting. What a day this had turned out to be!

     "Why did you take the kitten out of the basket?" Jack asked, with a funny smile on his face.

     Bill’s face burned with anger. "I don’t treat animals that way," he shouted. "I don’t care if I did fail the test! I don’t want to belong to a group with boys like you in it!"

     "Atta boy, Bill!" Jack began slapping him on the back. And then they were all there, all the members of the Big Six, tumbling out from behind the garage where they had been hiding.

     "Good old Bill," they were shouting. "We knew you’d pass the test!"

     "What’s going on?" Bill asked. "I flunked the test, didn’t I?"

     "You passed with flying colors," Jack told him. "If you had taken the kitten, then you’d have failed! Don’t you remember my telling you to be sure to use your head?"

     "You didn’t want me to dump Tiger?" Bill still couldn’t understand what had happened.

     "Of course not," said Jack. "If you had taken Tiger out of the yard, I would have taken him away from you and told you that you failed the test."

     Bill smiled slowly into the five faces beaming at him. He felt good. His friends were the kind of boys he had thought they were, and he had passed his test.

Marion Ullmark