Rancher Ferrets on the Range (Ferret Chronicles)

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9780743227551: Rancher Ferrets on the Range (Ferret Chronicles)
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The ground thudded and trembled, the echoes again, as Cheyenne Jasmine Ferret cut a half-circle to stop, breathing hard, by Montgomery and his trusted mount Boffin. It was a familiar sight to all who lived beneath Montana's Sweetroot Mountains, these two ranchkits riding through the morning light, ever together, completely unalike. Montgomery has the deep stillness of the outdoors in his soul; Cheyenne Jasmine is less quiet within. He understands the thoughts of animals and the endless colors of a single mountain daisy. She watches movie after movie, drawn indoors by emotion and light. Kithood ends one morning when Cheyenne Jasmine climbs aboard the train out of Little Paw, destination Hollywood. Montgomery stays put, unwilling to leave the country and his future with animals. They do not realize they are in love until the moment she departs. In time, Cheyenne becomes Jasmine Ferret, the Jasmine Ferret, international film star, darling of the tabloids; Montgomery a sheep-whisperer, a rancher, and some suspect philosopher ferret. Years pass before they meet again, long after each has found the rewards of their separate callings. Yet the highest reward, they discover, waits for them both together, and it's one that they will share for the rest of their lives. Rancher Ferrets on the Range is a tale about sacrifice and longing, fulfillment and success, and a love that waits patiently, sure in the knowledge it will find a way home.

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About the Author:

Richard Bach is the author of fourteen other books, including the bestselling Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions. A former USAF fighter pilot, gypsy barnstormer and airplane mechanic, he flies a seaplane today. He writes this series with his ten ferret advisors. His Web site is www.richardbach.com

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

"I never saw a ranchpaw ever wore a blue hat..."

She was just a kit, and truth to tell so was he, when he taught the silver-fur Cheyenne Jasmine Ferret to ride delphins.

She adjusted the sky-color brim lower over her eyes, hint of a smile. "I'm not a ranchpaw, Montgomery Ferret, and it'll do you well to remember that. You teach me everything you know, please, and leave my hat out of it!"

They lived near the end of the river road, their parents' ranches side by side, sheltered from the west by the lofty Sweetroot Mountains, from the north and east by wide Montana wilderness. Before school and after, before chores and after, they rode together.

Now Monty Ferret sat relaxed upon Boffin, his gray delphin, paws crossed easily atop the animal's mane, and watched his lovely friend. "When you're asking her to jump, you want to get your weight back, Cheye, you want to shift your weight off your front paws, let Starlet get her head up to jump."

"She doesn't want to jump, Monty." Cheyenne cantered the delphin to her friend, slowed to a walk close by, a tight circle around the unruffled Boffin. "I move back and she still doesn't want to jump. She stops."

"So what do you think is wrong?"

"She doesn't want to jump."

"If that doesn't beat everything," said her instructor. "She wants to jump when I ride her. Why is that, do you suppose?"

"She likes you. All the delphins like you." The kit burst with frustration. "She doesn't want to jump because I'm not you!"

"Now you're stubborn again, and that's likely not going to be much help," said Monty, a picture of calm. "So let me ask again. What's she thinking? Ever you find an animal does something you don't understand, ask yourself: What's it thinking?"

Contrite, determined to learn: "How?"

"Go into her mind! Pretend you're Starlet right now. Now you're coming round the turn, you see the fence, you're thinking I want to jump, for Cheyenne! Why don't you do it?"

A long silence, his student nearly in a trance, imagining. "I can't jump."

"Good. Why can't you jump?"

The kit considered, her mind in the delphin's, all at once realizing. "I'm not running fast enough! Cheyenne's holding me back!"

Her teacher smiled. "Now that's interesting, isn't it? Do you think that's true? Are you going to try that jump again?"

Her fur a radiant fall of light, her head low over the delphin's mane, pastel hat barely showing above Starlet's ears, Cheyenne wheeled without a word, urged her mount topspeed around the turn toward the jump. Drumbeat hooves pounded from the earth, echoed from stone-canyon walls. Sand kicked into the air behind the two, pebbles flying.

Monty watched. "Go, Cheye," he murmured.

The silver kit lifted her weight, whispered to her delphin, "Fly!"

A flick of Starlet's tail, the two launched into silence, slow-motion airborne on the wind, no hoofbeats for a long pause, the low fence rail blurring beneath them.

Then ground thudded and trembled, the echoes again, Starlet swerving at the touch of Cheyenne's paw, cutting a half-circle to stop, breathing hard, by Monty and Boffin.

The kit's eyes sparkled. "It works!"

Her burly little trainer nodded.

"What did I do?" She was breathless with excitement and victory.

He said nothing. Tilted his head, listened.

"I was in her mind! I wanted to jump...she wanted to jump!"

"I reckon so."

"Again?"

"Does she want to jump again, Cheye, or does she want to rest, now?"

The delphin's ears tilted ahead, she shook the wind from her mane.

Cheyenne flashed a smile, eyes darker than midnight. "She wants to jump!"

"You show her how..."

Then his friend was off again at a gallop.

Montgomery Ferret practiced watching with his ears, with his body, eyes closed. Out near the border-fence, here comes the turn. He felt the hoofbeats. A little slow.

Cheyenne urged her delphin one beat faster toward the fence, shifted her weight and called the animal into the air. Silence...two...three...hoofbeats pounding again, slowing, turning.

Finally Monty could stand it no more. He leaned forward, whispered, "Let's show 'em, Boffers. The high fence, now..."

***

The kits were ever together, Monty and Cheyenne growing up inseparable: out riding, exploring, noses in field guides about wild plants and animals and stars in the sky. From time to time, the two would excuse themselves from table, ask to be off for a sunrise ride before one family or the other had finished breakfast. "Your juice, at least," parents would say.

Monty's brother Zander watched and said it for them all: "Born for each other, those two. Different as rock and water, alike as birds on a branch!"

Cousin Jupe had looked up at this, nodded well said. Everyone knew, he thought, no one noticed.

Monty's gift with animals he vowed to pass along to his friend, and nearly did. Yet while butterflies would land at once upon his upturned paw, they flew cautious near Cheyenne, waiting a more formal invitation.

I'm not as gentle as Monty, she thought, I'm not as peaceful, inside.

He taught her patience, sprinkling seeds on the wide brim of that powder-blue hat, bid her stand motionless till the chickadees came to breakfast. Patience she learned, and the delight of their tiny weight, trusting, on the edge.

She considered that, and told him, one day. "I trust you with my life," she said, the two and their delphins far up Sable Canyon. "I never thought about it, but all of a sudden, Monty, it's always been true." She said the words as though she had never thought them before. "I trust you."

He nodded, matter-of-fact. "I'll be here for you, Cheye. Long as I live. No matter what."

***

If the world outdoors was Monty's first love, the world indoors, of images on-screen, was Cheyenne's. Weekends, after they explored the countryside, the two ferrets rode to Little Paw and the gilt-and-scarlet middle-row seats at CineMustelid.

"This one you will love, kitlets." Alexopoulos Ferret passed torn ticket stubs back through the window of his last-century box office, shipped board by gilded board across the sea from the island of Chios. "He is a young director, this Heshsty Ferret, but watch what he does with the light, the way he lets the light tell his story!"

Soon Cheyenne inquired of Alexopoulos whether she might help at the theater, sell tickets and popcorn, change posters and marquee, clean and polish -- anything to find how magic projects to the heart from images on-screen.

"I can pay only a little," he said, "but the movies will be free."

Every showing of every film, Cheyenne Ferret learned. The more she cared, the more she noticed the power of the slightest motion, how actors can show a story's crisis, close up, as simply as shifting their thought behind an unchanging expression.

Alexopoulos answered her questions, tested her with questions of his own, filled her with the lore of film. He watched her closely, saw a quality grow about her, in time, that made other animals turn their heads to see.

Only in part is it her beauty that attracts them, he thought. It is more than beauty. Cheyenne Ferret has a certain...she has a transparency to others. He nodded, for that was it. Within herself lay the magic that she felt from the screen.

Times the lessons she set were hard, to act every scene without a sound, standing alone in the dark at the back of the theater. One matinee, missing a line for the third time, she whispered despair as he passed, "I'll never learn it, Mr. Alexopoulos!"

"Probably not," he whispered back. "It takes a great heart, this work."

With Monty she would watch each film through yet again, her eyes on his face more than the screen. How does this scene touch him? Can I sense what he feels?

Actors move their spirit into fiction's mind, she thought, as Monty moves his into delphins'. In film, spirit and technique need each other. Should either fail, a story is lost, an audience unchanged.

Time and again tears streaked her fur as the friends emerged from the dark, untied their delphins and rode home together.

"It's so beautiful, Monty!" she told him once, riding home from Desperate Voyage. "Laura Ferret loved him all along, didn't she? And she never told him till the end! All that time, and poor Stefan never knew."

"Beats me why she didn't tell him up front!" He lifted his hat, ran a paw to smooth his fur. "If I would've been her, I would've told him. He still could make his choice, he'd just have had more information to work with if he knew, seems to me."

"No, you silly!" Cheyenne leaned toward her friend in the sunset, Starlet and Boffin side by side. "I couldn't tell you, Stefan. I wanted, but I couldn't. Love isn't love, when it's asked..."

The way she said the words they came softer, more intimate than they had from the screen itself. It was as though she were speaking not to some distant Stefan but to Montgomery Ferret, close enough to touch.

Instead of fading as she learned, her fascination with the pictures grew. An actor can let us share a life, she saw, let us live a life that we could never touch, otherwise. An actor can show what it is to make different decisions, become a wiser, deeper animal. How would it feel, she wondered, to give such a gift?

She thought about this for a long time, the friends talked, and one day she decided.

"I'm going to Hollywood," she told him, their picnic spread on red-check gingham, crisp wild plants they had gathered: greens, nuts, berries. A canteen of mountain water hung from a pine branch nearby. In the grass about them drifts of pale blue mountain daisies listened, nodded agreement.

Monty was silent. It has to be, he thought, and that's all right. She's studied hard, she's got the mind for it, the love for it. She's so pretty, a ferret can't help but watch what she'll do.

"Mr. Alexopoulos told me it's a hard business, acting," he said. "And a lot of it's indoors. Start early, work late. Over and over, the same scenes. That wouldn't get old for you, Cheye, that wouldn't get...ordinary?"

"It's okay to do ordinary, so long as you don't feel ordinary," she quoted. "Monty, I want to be part of something that changes animals' lives. It would be worth the late, and the over-and-over." She looked to her friend, trusted him to know. "I need to try."

He felt his life shifting, turning around the gingham upon the grass. He waited in the silence, finally asked that which matters, to ferrets, more than any other. "It's your highest right?"

Shadows lengthened a fraction till she answered. She touched the dust-blue brim of her hat lower over her eyes. "Yes."

"Big changes coming."

She nodded.

The two friends looked at each other for a long time.

***

The evening before Cheyenne left for Hollywood was the Harvest Dance, at the Village Hall in Little Paw. Monty and Cheyenne were there, their parents, their friends, Alexopoulos himself, CineMustelid closed for this night, animals from all the countryside round. Ferrets in their best scarves and hats came to dance to the music of fiddle and guitar, lively tunes to make them merry, and fleet of paw.

Arms linked, lithe bodies and graceful tails spun in reels and squares and lines and quarter-dances on a floor carpeted in forest leaves. The friends saw each other flashing by on one star or another. Cheyenne in her blue hat, Monty in his dusted-off brown one, they caught paws and glances for an instant and let go again, they turned with the music and the scents of winter ahead. Of change, ahead.

After a while, Monty disappeared. Cheyenne noticed, whirled herself away from the dance and out the open door from the light of the hall into darkness. She found him sitting on the hitching post by the board sidewalk, leaning against the night.

"Where's my handsome ranchpaw?"

"Hi, Cheye. Just wanted a little quiet."

"It's a wonderful dance."

He nodded.

"Come on," she said, teasing him in the moonlight. "Out with it."

"I like the quiet."

"So what did you learn in your quiet, Monty?"

He thought carefully, his last chance, decided yes. "I learned this."

In his paw, a single mountain daisy, the color of daylight and sky, chosen that afternoon, carried down from their picnic-place in the high country.

"Oh..."

"I'm not much on good-byes."

"I know." She watched him under the moon, studying that broad strong face, his mask and whiskers, as though to hold the moment forever.

Time curled and softened about the two like a warm blanket neither wanted to lift. So long had they been friends that they had taken it for granted: we'll never be apart.

At last Monty stood, slipped Boffin's reins from the hitching post. "You have a good trip to California, now..."

"Unless I do my best, Monty, I'll never know."

The minutes slowed, but didn't stop for the two ferrets.

He touched the brim of his hat, watching her eyes, a silent good-bye.

She stepped toward him, kissed his cheek. At the very last, her voice a whisper in the dark: "Bye, Monty..."

He swung easily up into his saddle, the night closed in, her friend was gone.

In the morning Cheyenne Jasmine Ferret took the train from Little Paw, Montana, destination Hollywood.

One way, no return.

Copyright © 2003 by Saunders-Vixen Aircraft Company, Inc.

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9780743227568: The Last War: Detective Ferrets and the Case of the Golden Deed (Ferret Chronicles)

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