Boarding one of the monstrous machines the mice call “landships,” the brothers travel to the Wild West. Along the way Cecil is tossed out onto the prairie by the train’s conductor only to face bison, prairie dogs, and a boy who would make him a pet. Meanwhile, Anton meets a ferret friend who warns of stampeding herds, rattlesnakes, and fierce, enormous cats. Facing such danger can Anton and Cecil find the courage and wit to save Hieronymus?
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The Mouse Network
A stiff breeze whooshed across the harbor at Lunenburg, setting the tall ships rocking against their moorings. Anton sat in the noonday sun next to the lighthouse, carefully cleaning his smooth gray fur. His brother Cecil sprawled next to him on the warm bricks, the white tuft on the end of his otherwise black tail flicking with amusement.
“I’m just saying, it’s odd,” Cecil insisted. “I’ve never seen a lizard anywhere near as big as you’ve described. Are you sure it wasn’t a dog you met on that island? A small cow, maybe?”
Anton glared briefly at Cecil and returned to his cleaning. “Its name was Dave, and he told me he was a lizard. So yes, I’m sure.”
“Huh,” Cecil said. “Where I come from, lizards are for eating.”
“Everything’s for eating where you come from,” Anton said.
A dull white gull sailed up the path, looking down upon the two cats with tiny, red-rimmed eyes.
“Ahoy, cats!” squawked the gull. “Is one of you called Seasick, and one Tantrum?”
“No,” called Anton uncertainly, staring up at the bird. “He’s Cecil, and I’m Anton.”
“Close enough,” said the gull, listing in the breeze. “Two mice back there, wanting to have a word with you. Say they have a message from a friend of some kind.”
Cecil sat fully upright. “Mice? Two mice want to talk to us?” He grinned, showing his teeth.
Anton lifted his head, scanning the path. “I doubt it. You can’t trust gulls, brother. Don’t you know that yet?”
The gull rolled his eyes. “Cats,” he muttered. “Suit yourselves,” he called, then flew back down the path and banked again, screeching once at a blueberry shrub on the hillside before diving swiftly away over the harbor.
Two scraggly mice, one brown and one gray, emerged from under the shrub and made their way toward the lighthouse, dashing between rocks and tufts of grasses in little bursts.
Anton glanced at Cecil. “Now, behave, all right? Let’s hear them out.”
Cecil settled his girth next to Anton and licked his lips. “I always behave.”
The mice stopped a short distance away and huddled together, their whiskers quivering. The brown mouse nudged the gray one, who sat up on his hindquarters and addressed the cats.
“We bring a message to the felines Weasel and Ant Farm from the great adventurer Hieronymus,” squeaked the gray mouse.
Anton gasped. He had heard nothing of his brave mouse friend’s whereabouts for many months.
“Our names are Cecil and Anton,” growled Cecil. He turned to his brother.
Anton shushed Cecil. “We are those cats,” he said to the mice. “Go on.”
The gray mouse cleared his throat. “Hieronymus sends word along the vast mouse network that he has traveled far into the land of the setting sun and now finds himself in grave danger and in need of assistance.”
Anton gasped again. “What kind of danger?”
The gray mouse clutched his whiskers. “Sorry to say, he lies imprisoned in an iron fortress, guarded by a sharp-clawed dragon and taunted by a wild-eyed witch,” he said.
“How awful!” cried Anton.
Cecil smirked. “Yeah, but how reliable is this so-called mouse network?” he asked.
“Very,” said the gray mouse, pulling himself up a little.
Anton paced. “How would we ever find him?” he asked.
“Our ship returns to a large port,” the gray mouse explained. “We sail the day after tomorrow, and you could make the trip with us to set off in the right direction. After that, you would have to board one of the great landships to find him.”
“Landships?” said Cecil. “Never heard of them.”
The brown mouse threw his paws up in disgust, and the gray mouse twitched his nose at the black cat. “Have you ever traveled the world, Mr. Weasel?”
“It’s Cecil, and you bet I have,” grumbled Cecil, taking a step forward. The mice jumped back.
Anton put a paw on Cecil’s thick shoulder. “Now, don’t eat the messenger.”
“I wasn’t going to!” said Cecil, glancing at Anton innocently.
Cecil wiped his chin with his paw. “It’s dinnertime,” he said.
The cat brothers looked up again, but the mice had vanished from the path.
* * *
It was good to be home, and it would be fine with Anton if he never left again. Home was the same, but he knew himself to be different. One of the things he’d learned was that true friendship could be found in unexpected places. Cecil put up with Hieronymus because he knew his brother owed his life to the mouse, but Anton had come to admire and respect Hieronymus, though sometimes he had wished the mouse didn’t talk quite so much.
Hieronymus had sent a message through the mouse network, calling for help. Cecil wanted to pretend it was nonsense, but Anton felt his friend’s call should be taken seriously. Anton knew Hieronymus was too proud to ask for help if he didn’t really need it. I just hope this network is as good as he said it is, Anton thought. But how was he ever going to persuade Cecil to take advice from a pair of sniveling, terrified rodents?
* * *
Just after dawn, sailors and dockworkers stood on the piers and along the shoreline. Cecil and old Billy, the harbormaster’s cat, sat side by side on the rocks next to Billy’s house. Cecil watched the wreck of a large brig, crumpled and splintered, being slowly towed back to shore.
“Ugh, what a sight,” said Cecil.
“These shipwrecks are common, and awful,” Billy agreed, flicking his tail nervously. “Are you really thinking of going out again?” The story of the rodent messengers had spread and was the talk of the cats around town.
Cecil passed a paw over one ear. “I know, it’s crazy,” he sighed. “We’re supposed to take the word of a couple of mice and rescue another mouse who got himself in a tight spot, without the first idea how to find him.” He shook his head. “It’s nuts. I don’t even know where to begin.”
Billy cleared his throat and hoisted his bulk to lumber down the dock. “This way,” he called. Cecil followed, carefully avoiding sailor boots as he went.
“Here she is,” said Billy, stopping in front of a tall clipper. “The ship the mice speak of. The Master calls her the Sea Song.” Cecil let out a slow breath. He’d seen this ship before from a distance, dancing into the harbor, quick and nimble at half-sail. Where does it go from here? he wondered, his heart beating a little faster. A mysterious land.
“It’s risky, you know,” said Billy. “Just to save a mouse. It might not be worth it.”
Cecil glanced at the wreck and then up at the Sea Song. The ship looked strong and powerful. And fast.
“Oh, I seriously doubt we’d ever find the mouse,” he said, waving a paw. “And I know Anton. He’s not fond of seagoing and he won’t want to leave home again. But it’d be fun to travel again.” His whiskers began to tingle with the thought of a quest. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I’ll try to convince him to go.”
Billy turned to him soberly. “You could end up on the other side of the world.”
Cecil looked again at the sleek ship and grinned. “Bill, old friend, that might not be so bad.”
Table of ContentsCONTENTS
1 The Mouse Network
2 Aboard the Sea Song
3 Shriek and Growl
4 The Owl and the Pussycats
5 A Dog’s Tale
6 Cat Overboard
7 Prairie Town
8 One Moonlit Night
9 Wild Ride
10 Whale Out of Water
11 The Sign of the Coyote
12 Caged and Free
13 The Great Cat
14 Another Sea