Read Anton and Cecil, Book 2 Online
Authors: Lisa Martin
ALGONQUIN YOUNG READERS 2015
Also by Lisa Martin and Valerie Martin
Anton and Cecil: Cats at Sea
For Roger, our trusted Brakeman.
And for Lorelei, our newest kit.
The Mouse Network
stiff breeze whooshed across the harbor at Lunenburg, setting the tall ships rocking against their moorings and snapping the flags atop the mainsail masts. 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, his golden eyes twinkling. “I've never seen a lizard anywhere near as big as you've described. Are you sure it wasn't a
you met on that island? A small cow, maybe?”
Anton glared briefly at Cecil and returned to his cleaning. “
name was Dave, and he told me he was a lizard. So yes, I'm sure.”
“Huh.” Cecil rolled onto his back and stretched out his legs. “Where I come from, lizards are for eating.”
“Everything's for eating where you come from,” Anton said dryly.
A sudden flapping from the lighthouse path caught their attention, and Cecil rolled to his stomach. A dull white gull sailed up the path and coasted in the steady wind overhead, 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. He glided lower and waved a black-tipped wing behind him. “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 tilted into a U-turn on the currents of air. He 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 began making 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 took a breath, 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 solemnly.
Anton gasped. “From Hieronymus?” Anton had heard nothing of his brave mouse friend's whereabouts for many months.
“Our names are
,” growled Cecil. He turned to his brother. “How can they get that ridiculous mouse's name right but not ours?”
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.” The brown mouse, hunched behind the gray mouse and quivering, leaned and whispered something, and the gray mouse nodded. “And taunted by a wild-eyed witch,” he added.
“How awful!” cried Anton.
Cecil smirked. “Yeah, but how reliable is this so-called mouse network?” he asked, standing and arching his back.
“Very,” said the gray mouse, pulling himself up a little.
Anton began to pace. “How would we ever find him?” he asked Cecil, who shrugged and eyed the mice skeptically.
The mice leaned together, conferring. The brown mouse began shaking his head vigorously, but the gray mouse waved a paw and squeaked quietly to him. “I know, but the ship is the only way.” He turned to Anton. “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?”
, 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.
Late in the day, Anton sat by his lighthouse home and gazed at the ocean, worrying about his friend and wondering what to do. He had spent the afternoon teaching his little brother Clive how to catch crabs, but the kitten was easily distracted and made a poor student. All the way back to the lighthouse Clive asked questions about his big brothers, who were known throughout Lunenburg for their seagoing adventures. Not too long ago, Anton had been impressed as a ratter on a merchant ship, and Cecil had followed him onto the open ocean in another ship, hoping to find Anton and bring him home. Everyone agreed that something like a miracle had eventually brought them back to Lunenburg again. Clive vowed that he too would go out in the wide world on a sailing vessel. Anton thought he would have to talk with Cecil about the boyâhe shouldn't be encouraged in his fantasies about life at sea, which had been, in Anton's memory, fraught with peril. When Cecil talked about itâbragged about it was a more accurate descriptionâthey had gone from triumph to triumph and never missed a meal. Anton couldn't deny that there had been good times, good food, the sailors singing the shanties he enjoyed, and the beauty of a calm sea at night. But he also remembered being hauled aboard ship by the scruff of his neck and thrown into the dark hold. He'd battled a vicious rat, been stranded on an island and attacked by huge birds, and had nearly died of starvation and thirst on an abandoned ship. That was when he'd met Hieronymus, the bold, talkative, resourceful mouse who saved both their lives by gnawing through a water barrel.
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's regard for Hieronymus went beyond duty. Anton had come to admire and respect the mouse, though sometimes he had wished Hieronymus didn't talk quite so much. As Anton sat in the warm breeze, gazing out to sea, he recalled his last conversation with Hieronymus.
They had spoken the previous fall on a cold, clear night with a sliver of a moon and a glittering net of stars cast wide over the water. As Anton had paused at the sight of a graceful schooner bobbing lightly at anchor in the bay, he'd heard a voice come out of the air.
“You know what we call that moon?” said the voice.
Anton started and stared into the darkness. Something small and dark moved on a rock closer to shore. Anton smiled to himself. “What are you doing down here?”
Hieronymus chuckled and scooted to a closer rock. “Same as you,” he said. “Stargazing.”
“Right,” said Anton. “So what do you call that moon?”
“And what about the stars?”
“They're all laid out in mouse tales.”
“Stories. You know. About famous heroes from long ago.”
“Mouse heroes,” Anton repeated. “Right.”
“What do you see when you look at the stars?” Hieronymus asked.
“I wasn't really looking at the stars. I was looking at that schooner and thinking of how everything here is the same as it was when we left.”
the same,” said Hieronymus. “But I'm not. That's why I'm thinking of moving on.”
“You're going back to sea?”
“I'm thinking of getting as far from the sea as I can. I've had a message from a cousin that I didn't know I had. His name is Eponymus. We're about the same age. While you and I were tossing about on the bounding main, he set off and wound up in a fine place. He says there aren't many cats thereâexcuse me, but present company excluded, that's a plus for a mouseâand he lives in a nice house. There's plenty to eat and it's quiet. I like the sound of that.”
“You're looking for a quiet place?”
“I'm getting old. I don't have family here. The young mice around now are a rough bunch and they don't have any respect for their elders. They think I'm just some old blowhard who talks too much.”
“How will you find your cousin?”
“I don't know, but the lads who brought me the message said the mouse network is pretty reliable. I'll follow them.”
“The mouse network,” Anton had said, his eyes widening.
And now here it was. Hieronymus had sent a message through the mouse network, calling for help. Cecil wanted to pretend it was nonsense or an exaggeration, but Anton felt his friend's call should be taken seriously. Hieronymus had saved Anton's life and Anton could never forget that. Though the mouse was given to tall tales, 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, frowning out at the mouth of the harbor as if waiting for a storm, or for other bad news to arrive on the breeze. Cecil and old Billy, the harbormaster's cat, sat side by side on the rocks next to Billy's house.
“Something's up,” said Cecil, peering around at the men's faces. “They're acting like someone died.”
“Perhaps more than one someone,” said Billy, lifting his chin toward the harbor as a slow procession came into view.
Cecil squinted at the two vessels moving in a line toward the docks, bound together from stern to bow with lengths of rope. The lead boat was small with neither sails nor oars, of a type the cats called a “rumbly boat” because of the sound it made, chugging steadily through the waves. Behind it, pulled along like a rudderless toy, was a large brig, crumpled and splintered. The brig should have had four tall masts with three or more sails wrapped on the crossbars of each, but the mainmast and mizzenmast in the center had been twisted and ripped away, and the two smaller masts at the bow and stern leaned at odd angles like bent straws. Railing spokes had been pulled out like the missing teeth of pirates, and the long, thin bowsprit, usually pointing the way forward, was cracked in the middle and hung limply toward the water below. Only the winged feet of a former figurehead were visible.