Sixteen year old Tee MacRobertson can saddle a wild mustang and hold his own on a round-up, but proving to his father that he's every bit as good a rancher as his older brother, burly Micah--now that's a real challenge. Robert Newton Peck has crafted a riveting coming-of-age story set in the 1920's in Florida's dusty and rugged "long" country. Tracing one boy's grueling journey on an unforgettable cattle drive, Cowboy Ghost is a heart-pounding drama about what it means to become a man. With a cast of characters that range from the spectral to the down and dirty, a tempestuous storm, unpredictible Seminoles, and an all-out stampede, this unusual cowboy story explores one boys struggle to become the rancher no one but his brother ever believed he could be.
2001 ALA Popular Paperback for YAs
01-02 Golden Sower Award Masterlist (YA Cat.) and 00-01 Tayshas High School Reading List
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Robert Newton Peck is the best-selling author of more than sixty novels for both children and adults, including A Day No Pigs Would Die, A Part of the Sky, and the fabulously successful Soup Series. Mr. Peck lives in Longwood, FL.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Micah tossed me a coiled rope.
"Tee," he told me, "shake out a loop. Seeing as today's your sixteenth birthday, Father is bound to start looking your way." His face sobered to serious. "And expecting."
In my fingers, a rope had seldom felt friendly. Only harsh and hairy. Yet I pulled a hoop, holding the double-back in my right hand, the main coil inside my left. I'd growed up around ropes. Seen 'em work. And heard many a straining lariat buzzing along fence wood.
"Face him, Tee."
A gray mustang and I were the only two beings with our feet on the ground. And inside. My brother and a dozen of our cowhandlers sat on the circular corral's top rail, pointing at me with ragged knees and the scuffed-up toes of their boots.
Instead of tack, the gray wore the disagreeable ear-back expression of a unbroke critter, a horse fixing to break a man.
"Stare his eyes," Micah said, "like you don't need a rope. As if you'd hanker to grab his head, gnaw his ear, and force him down to yielding."
For years, I had watched this stunt performed by Micah, by old Vinegar Swinton, probable our ablest hand, or by our foreman, Mr. Ornell Hopple. But never by me.
"Be his boss," Spider yelled. "Conquer that cusser."
Earlier, I'd suspected that today might be troubling. At breakfast, Mrs. Krickitt had warned that a bit of bother was up, about to snort my way. "Your initiation," she told me. "Be grateful that himself is out of town, at the Cattleman's Whoop-De-Doo in Naples, and won't be squinting his sullen silence at you. Or spitting, if you fail."
The gray was a new-growed mustang, a gypsy stud recent captured on our Spur Box range. And raw. Never yet knowed a saddle, bridle, or oats. Rangy. Ready to rid himself of me, a rope, or any human devil with the gumption to challenge his liberty or his stallionhood.
"Go him slow, Tee." It was my brother's steadying voice. "I done this when I turned sixteen. So can you."
My teeth clenched.
Didn't Micah know how sturdy he got built, and what a skinny bag of twigs I was? He'd always resembled the first six feet of an oak tree. A stout one. As massive a man as Father. Our neighbors usual remarked, "Micah is Rob Roy MacRobertson all over again."
But they were so wrong.
Right now, however, observations wouldn't be delivering me through today's baptismal. It had to be brains and bowels, pulling in tandem, like our yoke of Holstein oxen.
"Eye down the horse," I told myself. Make it a will of master over beast. All my life, I'd heard this wisp of wisdom around the bunkhouse, often sung to the wailing wheeze of Bug Eye's harmonica. Before I could talk (Mrs. Krickitt had informed me), Vinegar Swinton had stuffed a rope in my fingers. Spout had planted my butt to the back of a horse. And later, Hoofrot had showed me how to fasten a slipknot, or a belly cincher.
Now they were all watching, ready to root for me because I was a MacRobertson, and Spur Box was home. Their only children had been Micah and me.
"Soft now," Micah was saying. "Don't be hurrying at him. Just let that sunfisher know who's a raw and who's a rider."
Could I do it?
A simple chore, accomplished every workday morning six times a week by a ranch hand. Before it's even daybreak, he has to rope an unwilling horse, an animal half-wild, a stringer hostile to punch work. All of the men now watching, except for Micah, began every sweating wage day with a primal act.
Now, it was my turn.
The mustang stood his ground inside the roomy corral, noticing my slow advance, seeming not impressed by a gangle of a lad who weighed half the heft of his bull of a brother.
As the gray snorted, I said, "Easy," trying to sound the smooth way Mr. Ornell Hopple, our ramrod, always sounded to me. Like he gargled with cream. Mr. Hop was a small man, weighing only a few pounds more than I did. Short. Slight of build and body. Eyes of gentle blue, the benevolent color you find in small patches on a very old bedroom quilt. Yet he was certain a top hand.
Wearing no iron and raising a unshod hoof, the gray broomtail pawed Florida, creating dark holes to freckle the surrounding sunbaked tan of the sand.
"Horse," I said, "my name is Titus Timothy MacRobertson, and my family owns the land you're standing on. What's more, I'm fixing to roll a hoop on that handsome head of yours. Know why? Because you can't do a dang thing about it."
Advancing on the gray, I could hear what Spider had lectured me. "Don't swing a lasso to a animal unless need be. Waste of energy. Oh, and never hasten. Mosey. Ya saunter at a horse, close as courting, and then, if you git comfortable lucky, you might ease a noose over his ornery head."
"What happens next?" I'd asked.
"Next?" Hacking out a laugh, Spider scratched his six-foot-six person. "Next, once he awares a rope to his gullet, you git your unlucky ass prepared to visit Hell."
In front of me stood a four-legged Satan, raw and red eyed, a unbroke outlaw who didn't plan to leg it lenient with even my father, Mr. Mac. However, with almost everyone on Spur Box creasing their Sunday butts on the upper rail (except for Father and Mrs. Krickitt), I wouldn't back off or hightail run. It was time to swallow my dose of dismal.
A second after the stallion lowered his head, then tossed it high again, I whipped my rope at him. Not so unlucky a throw. The loop circled fat, floated, then settled around the gray's neck. Neither of us knew quite what to do next.
"Yahoo!" one of our cowhands honked.
It certain did not help.
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