The Fate of the Turtle

In a very hot country, far away to the east, was a beautiful little
lake where two wild ducks made their home, and passed their days
swimming and playing in its clear waters. They had it all to
themselves, except for a turtle, who was many years older than they
were, and had come there before them, and, luckily, instead of taking
a dislike to the turtle, as so often happens when you have only one
person to speak to, they became great friends, and spent most of the
day in each other’s company.

All went on smoothly and happily till one summer, when the rains
failed and the sun shone so fiercely that every morning there was a
little less water in the lake and a little more mud on the bank. The
water-lilies around the edge began to droop, and the palms to hang
their heads, and the ducks’ favourite swimming place, where they could
dive the deepest, to grow shallower and shallower. At length there
came a morning when the ducks looked at each other uneasily, and
before nightfall they had whispered that if at the end of two days
rain had not come, they must fly away and seek a new home, for if they
stayed in their old one, which they loved so much, they would
certainly die of thirst.

Earnestly they watched the sky for many hours before they tucked their
heads under their wings and fell asleep from sheer weariness, but not
the tiniest cloud was to be seen covering the stars that shone so big
and brilliant, and hung so low in the heavens that you felt as if you
could touch them. So, when the morning broke, they made up their
minds that they must go and tell the turtle of their plans, and bid
him farewell.

They found him comfortably curled up on a pile of dead rushes, more
than half asleep, for he was old, and could not venture out in the
heat as he once used.

‘Ah! here you are,’ he cried; ‘I began to wonder if I was ever going
to see you again, for, somehow, though the lake has grown smaller, I
seem to have grown weaker, and it is lonely spending all day and night
by oneself!’

‘Oh! my friend,’ answered the elder of the two ducks, ‘if you have
suffered we have suffered also. Besides, I have something to tell you,
that I fear will cause you greater pain still. If we do not wish to
die of thirst we must leave this place at once, and seek another where
the sun’s rays do not come. My heart bleeds to say this, for there is
nothing–nothing else in the world–which would have induced us to
separate from you.’

The turtle was so astonished as well as so distressed at the duck’s
speech that for a moment he could find no words to reply. But when he
had forced back his tears, he said in a shaky voice:

‘How can you think that I am able to live without you, when for so
long you have been my only friends? If you leave me, death will
speedily put an end to my grief.’

‘_Our_ sorrow is as great as yours,’ answered the other duck, ‘but
what can we do? And remember that if we are not here to drink the
water, there will be the more for you! If it had not been for this
terrible misfortune, be sure that nothing would have parted us from
one whom we love so dearly.’

‘My friends,’ replied the turtle, ‘water is as necessary to me as to
you, and if death stares in your faces, it stares in mine also. But in
the name of all the years we have passed together, do not, I beseech
you, leave me to perish here alone! Wherever you may go take me with
you!’

There was a pause. The ducks felt wretched at the thought of
abandoning their old comrade, yet, at the same time, how could they
grant his prayer? It seemed quite impossible, and at length one of
them spoke:

‘Oh, how can I find words to refuse?’ cried he, ‘yet how can we do
what you ask? Consider that, like yours, our bodies are heavy and our
feet small. Therefore, how could we walk with you over mountains and
deserts, till we reached a land where the sun’s rays no longer burn?
Why, before the day was out we should all three be dead of fatigue and
hunger! No, our only hope lies in our wings–and, alas! you cannot
fly!’

‘No, I cannot fly, of course,’ answered the turtle, with a sigh. ‘But
you are so clever, and have seen so much of the world–surely you can
think of some plan?’ And he fixed his eyes eagerly on them. Now, when
the ducks saw how ardently the turtle wished to accompany them their
hearts were touched, and making a sign to their friend that they
wished to be alone they swam out into the lake to consult together.
Though he could not hear what they said, the turtle could watch, and
the half-hour that their talk lasted felt to him like a hundred years.
At length he beheld them returning side by side, and so great was his
anxiety to know his fate he almost died from excitement before they
reached him.

‘We hope we have found a plan that may do for you,’ said the big duck
gravely, ‘but we must warn you that it is not without great danger,
especially if you are not careful to follow our directions.’

‘How is it possible that I should not follow your directions when my
life and happiness are at stake?’ asked the turtle joyfully. ‘Tell me
what they are, and I will promise to obey them gratefully.’

‘Well, then,’ answered the duck, ‘whilst we are carrying you through
the air, in the manner that we have fixed upon, you must remain as
quiet as if you were dead. However high above the earth you may find
yourself, you must not feel afraid, nor move your feet nor open your
mouth. No matter what you see or hear, it is absolutely needful for
you to be perfectly still, or I cannot answer for the consequences.’

‘I will be absolutely obedient,’ answered the turtle, ‘not only on
this occasion but during all my life; and once more I promise
faithfully not to move head or foot, to fear nothing, and never to
speak a word during the whole journey.’

This being settled, the ducks swam about till they found, floating in
the lake, a good stout stick. This they tied to their necks with some
of the tough water-lily roots, and returned as quickly as they could
to the turtle.

‘Now,’ said the elder duck, pushing the stick gently towards his
friend, ‘take this stick firmly in your mouth, and do not let it go
till we have set you down on earth again.’

The turtle did as he was told, and the ducks in their turn seized the
stick by the two ends, spread their wings and mounted swiftly into the
air, the turtle hanging between them.

For a while all went well. They swept across valleys, over great
mountains, above ruined cities, but no lake was to be seen anywhere.
Still, the turtle had faith in his friends, and bravely hung on to the
stick.

At length they saw in the distance a small village, and very soon they
were passing over the roofs of the houses. The people were so
astonished at the strange sight, that they all–men, women and
children–ran out to see it, and cried to each other:

‘Look! look! behold a miracle! Two ducks supporting a turtle! Was ever
such a thing known before!’ Indeed, so great was the surprise that men
left their ploughing and women their weaving in order to add their
voices to their friends’.

The ducks flew steadily on, heeding nothing of the commotion below;
but not so the turtle. At first he kept silence, as he had been bidden
to do, but at length the clamour below proved too much for him, and he
began to think that everyone was envying him the power of travelling
through the air. In an evil moment he forgot the promises he had made
so solemnly, and opened his mouth to reply, but, before he could utter
a word, he was rushing so swiftly through the air that he quickly
became unconscious, and in this state was dashed to pieces against the
side of a house. Then the ducks let fall after him the stick that had
held up their friend, and which was of no further use. Sadly they
looked at each other and shook their heads.

‘We feared it would end so,’ said they, ‘yet, perhaps, he was right
after all. Certainly this death was better than the one which awaited
him.’