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A Letter from A Land Turtle by Allan Forman


My young master said that he was going to write a letter to Young People about me, but Charley Bates just came in and asked him to go out and play, and I guess that he has forgotten all about it. My master don't know as much about me as I do myself, anyhow, and I have never told him anything, so I don't see how he could write. He has left me on his table, and I just looked over the edge, and it is 'most a mile high, I guess, so I won't try to get down. I'll take his pen and tell you some things about my life and adventures. You need not think that because I am only a turtle I have had no adventures.

I was born of an adventurous family. My great-grandfather was dropped by an eagle on the head of Æschylus, the Grecian poet, the eagle having mistaken the poet's bald head for a stone, and it is from my great-grandfather, who, as you see, was so closely brought into contact with one of the most learned heads of ancient Greece, I inherit my talent for literature. Another relation of mine, an uncle on my mother's side, was the principal in the great walking match which is so graphically described by Æsop. But enough of my family. I promised to tell you something about my life. I am so sleepy that I don't know as I can make it very interesting.

You see, we turtles stay awake all summer, and sleep all winter; we are hibernating animals, my master says. At first I thought that he meant that we were of Irish extraction, and as I am very proud of my Greek descent, the next time I saw the dictionary on the floor I found the word. If you don't know what it means, you had better look it out too: you will remember it better than if I told you.

My master read about a cousin of mine who lived for a time with a Reverend Mr. Wood, and ate bread and milk, and climbed on the footstool, and did all sorts of tricks; so he came and dug me out of the nice hole where I was asleep for the winter, brought me into his room, and before I was fairly awake thrust my head into a saucer of milk. Of course I would not eat. Then he tried to make me climb; but I was so bewildered that I drew in my head and shut up my shell. My master went out, saying, "Mr. Wood is a humbug, anyway." I waited till all was quiet, then I took a survey of the room. I began to feel hungry, as you may imagine, for I had eaten nothing since the first of November; so I crawled over to the saucer of milk, and drank it all. How I did laugh when my master came in and I heard him say, "That cat has been here and drunk all the turtle's milk"!

Since then he has watched me very closely. He gave me a piece of banana the other day, and it was very good. Sometimes he gives me a few earth-worms, of which I am especially fond; and there are four flies in the room—there were five, but I caught one and ate him: he was delicious. I mean to have the others before long. The way in which I catch them is this: I lie perfectly still in the sun, and when one comes along, I snap him. Flies are generally too quick for me, but I am very patient.

The first thing that I can remember is that I lived on a sand-bank with thirteen brothers and sisters. We used to eat flies and little insects then, and as we were very lively, we could catch them easily, and I think that the flies were more plenty. We grew very fast at first, and we soon wandered off, and were separated. For the next two years of my life I travelled, living near strawberry beds in the spring, then among raspberry and blackberry bushes, and finally in pear and apple orchards. I lived mostly upon insects, only taking a bite of strawberry or pear for a relish. I have heard my master say that I always picked out the best-looking pears to bite; but that is only fair, for if I did not eat up the insects, he would not have any best-looking pears at all, so I don't think that he ought to grumble.

It was in a pear orchard that one of the happiest events of my life took place. It was while eating pears that I met my Matilda Jane. Oh, she was the most lovely young turtle that you can imagine! Her beautifully rounded shell, with its delicate markings in black and "old gold," which was just then coming into fashion, her snake-like head and neck, and her beautiful bright yellow eyes, gave her the well-deserved name of "The Belle of the Village." We loved each other at the first, and for some time we were inseparable, until one morning, when my master's father was coming to the city, I was picked up, wrapped in a newspaper, and packed off to Brooklyn, that I might "kill the slugs in the garden," I heard my master say. For two weary years I lived alone in the garden, thinking only of my Matilda Jane. You can imagine my joy when, this fall, four more turtles were brought and placed in the yard, and one of them was my long-lost friend! I knew her immediately, from her having the letters "A. F., 1869," cut on her shell. Ever since that joyful meeting we have lived very happily together.

Of course we have troubles, like every one else, but they mostly arise outside our own household. There was one old turtle who used to put on airs because he had "Adam, year 1," cut on his shell; but my Matilda stopped his boasting by telling how she saw my master cut the name at the same time that he marked her. Old Adam, as we used to call him, sneaked off, and I have not seen him since.

I want to tell you one thing more, and then I will be done. Perhaps you don't know how the little turtles are born. The mamma turtle finds a quiet, secluded place where the soil is sandy; there she digs a hole, and lays from twelve to thirty eggs. The eggs are perfectly round, and about an inch in diameter. They do not have shells like birds' eggs, but they are covered with a coating like parchment. After she has laid her eggs she covers them up, and leaves them to be hatched by the heat of the sun. In about three weeks the young turtles make their appearance; they are not much larger than a silver fifty-cent piece. They are very lively, and are very cunning about hiding when any one comes near their home. They grow very rapidly, however, and in a short time wander away, as I did. I hope that you will all remember that turtles more than pay for the fruit that they eat by keeping your gardens free from worms and insects; and I trust that you will let your pet turtles sleep through the winter, and not keep them awake to study about them as my master has done.

Yours truly,
Land Turtle.