Excerpt: 'Ragweed'

by Avi

Cover Image: Ragweed

Ragweed

by Avi

Paperback, 224 pages

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"Ma, a mouse has to do what a mouse has to do."

Ragweed, a golden mouse with dark orange fur, round ears and a not very long tail, was saying goodbye to his mother and father as well as to fifty of his brothers and sisters. They were all gathered by the family nest, which was situated just above the banks of the Brook.

"Is it . . . something about us that's making you leave home?" his mother, whose name was Clover, asked tearfully. She was small and round, with silky black eyes.

"Aw, Ma, that's not fair," Ragweed replied, wishing he could leave without so much fuss. "I just want to see things. I am almost four months old, you know. I mean, the Brook is wonderful, but . . . well, it's not the whole world."

Ragweed's father, Valerian, drew himself up. He was long-faced and lanky, and his scruffy whiskers were touched with gray. "Now, son," he said, "no need to poke fun at us stay-at-homes."

"I'm sorry, Dad. I didn't mean to joke. All I'm doing is going off to explore what else there is. You know, before settling down. I won't be gone long."

"Will you absolutely promise to come back?" Clover asked. Though Ragweed had carefully slicked down his fur so that it was quite neat and proper, she found a small strand around his ear that required careful adjusting. But then, Ragweed was very special to her.

"Of course I will," Ragweed assured her, trying to duck his mother's fussy fixing.

"And . . . and . . . if you meet a young female mouse," Clover added gently, "one for whom you develop a . . . a fondness, just make sure she . . . she really cares for you."

Ragweed blushed. "Hey, Ma, I'm too young for that stuff. Anyway, if I'm going to get someplace today, I better start moving."

This notice of his imminent departure caused Clover to fling her paws around Ragweed's neck and give him a nuzzle about his right ear. "Please, please be cautious!" she whispered. "Promise me that you will."

"I promise," Ragweed returned.

A reluctant Clover released her son.

Valerian held out his paw. "Ragweed," he said, "you're a clear-thinking, straight-talking, hard-working young mouse. I'm proud of you."

Ragweed shook his father's paw. "Dad," he replied, "if I can be anything like you, that'll be good enough for me."

"Thank you, son," Valerian said, his voice husky.

Embarrassed by so much emotion, Ragweed looked sheepishly at his brothers and sisters. Of those still at home, he was the eldest. Even among the older ones—who had returned from nearby homes to say goodbye—Ragweed was the first to leave the area of the Brook. Hardly a wonder that they were gazing at him with affectionate awe. But it was to Rye, his younger brother by a few weeks, that Ragweed went.

Rye looked very much like Ragweed, save for a notch in his right ear, the result of an accident.

"Okay, Rye," Ragweed said, giving his brother a mock punch on the shoulder. "You're the big kid in the nest now. Make sure you take care of things. If you don't, hey, you're going to answer to me when I come back. Get it?"

"I know," Rye replied with a grin masking his annoyance that his older brother was telling him what to do.

Next, Ragweed tipped a wink to his favorite younger sister, Thistle. "See you around, kiddo," he called.

"Oh, Ragweed, I'm going to miss you so much!" she cried. Rushing forward, she gave Ragweed a big nuzzle.

Ragweed, determined to be lighthearted, stepped back, gave a carefree wave, and set off up the hill, striding boldly toward the ridge that overlooked the little valley. Halfway up he came to a large boulder embedded in an outcropping of earth. There he paused and looked down at his family, who were still observing his departure. Though he wanted to move on, Ragweed found himself lingering.

The spring air was brimming with a delicate sweetness; the vaulting blue sky seemed endless, the sun warm and embracing. Amid moss and grass, flowers had burst forth with youthful daring, in contrast to the shallow old Brook, which wound lazily between low, leafy banks, bearing pink and white water lilies on its wide surface. As for the tall trees that stood all around, they were veiled in a downy green mist of just-born leaves.

What lay below Ragweed was not merely beautiful, it was home. His home. And there was his family, whom he loved as much as he knew they loved him.

Hope I'm doing what's right, he thought with a sigh. Then, reminding himself out loud that "A mouse has to do what a mouse has to do," he gave a final wave to his family and continued up the ridge.

Ragweed had no notion where he was heading. He had consulted no one, planned little. "I'll just go where whim takes me," he'd told Rye.

As Ragweed went along he now and again broke into snatches of an old song. His voice was good—if rather low for a mouse—and he enjoyed singing. The song he trilled was one he and his family often sang on hikes and picnics.

"A mouse will a-roving go,

Along wooded paths and pebbled ways

To places high and places low,

Where birds do sing 'neath sunny rays,

For the world is full of mice, oh!

For the world is full of mice, oh!"

The song carried him to the crest of yet another hill. There he paused again. The trail seemed to extend from his toes straight out to the horizon. Just to see it gave him the wonderful sensation that anything might happen. He took a deep breath. How delicious was the sense of freedom he felt. How fine that he and he alone was responsible for himself. He had not—he now realized—grasped how exciting it would be to grow up and strike out on one's own.

The thought of it all brought a tingling from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail.

Energized anew, Ragweed stepped boldly along the trail, now and again squeaking out at top voice, "For the world is full of mice, oh!"

Excerpted from Ragweed, Copyright © 1999 by Avi. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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