Tommy Turtle

Tommy turtle lived with his father and mother and brothers and sisters in the cool water off the shores of a small island in Queensland coast.  They were a very happy family, and spent their time playing about in the sea, rushing down to the bottom when any boats would come near; for they are all shy and modest, except Tommy, who was as vain as a turtle could be.  He was very large and broad and much bigger than his brothers and sisters, and he was so proud of this that he always wanted to show off, and let everyone see how fine he was.


His mother had often told him not to go on the beach; for, when turtles are out of the water, they cannot run very quickly, and their enemies can easily overtake them.  But Tommy was so vain, that he fancied he knew much more than his mother, so one fine sunny day, he thought he would go and have a walk on the beach, and show himself to the seagulls.  He invited his little brother, Timothy to go with him, but Tim was an obedient little turtle, and would not do what his mother had told him not to do.


“Stay here and play with the fishes, Tommy,” he said; but Tommy had made up his mind to walk on the beach, and did not want to play with the fishes.

“You’re a frightened baby,” he said scornfully to Timothy, and then swam off to the beach by himself.


There were flocks of gulls and other seabirds, but, to Tommy’s surprise, they did not take any notice of him, although he walked past them, very slowly.

“Stupid things,” he said to himself, “they do not know a fine-looking turtle when they see one.”  He thought he might as well go back and play with Tim and the fishes, for it was rather lonely with no one to talk to, or to take any notice of him. 


Just as he had made up his mind to go back to the water, he saw two men walking across the sand towards him.  “Ah!” he said, “they will admire me, so I shall wait,” and he sat down again and waited till the men came nearer.


He was not disappointed this time, for as soon as the men saw him, one said to the other: “Oh, there's a big turtle, the finest I have ever seen,” and they hurried towards him.  One man carried a long stick in his hand and when he got up close to Tommy he poked him with it. “He is a splendid fellow,” said the other man. “He’ll be worth something.” 

Tommy felt very proud when he heard this, and he stretched out his head to see what the men were like; but, before he could get a good look at them, he felt a sudden hard poke with the stick, and the next moment he was turned upside down on his back.


He did not like this at all, and felt very angry with the men for being so rude to him.  But it was no use being angry, for when a turtle is turned on his back, he is quite helpless.  Presently he was made still more angry, for the men began to drag him along the sand towards the water. 


He did not understand this kind of treatment at all, and he began to wish he had done as his mother had told him, and stayed away from the beach.  But it was too late, then to be sorry.


The men dragged him right down to the water's edge, lifted him into a small boat, and began to row out to sea.


Tommy felt very frightened, and wished he was back in the waves with little Tim, so he tried to crawl over the side of the boat; but he was still on his back and could not move.


In a little while the boat came up to the side of a small ship; and the men stopped rowing, and lifted Tommy out of the boat on to the deck of the ship.


Here there were several other men, and they all crowded round and looked at Tommy.  “He is a monster,” said one, and another said:  “You were very lucky to get him, Jack.”

Tommy knew they were praising him, and felt happy again, for he was so vain, that he liked praise better than anything else in the world.


In a little while, the men lifted him up again, and put him into a tank of water, where there are several other turtles, but none so large as Tommy.  The tank was quite small and not much like the sea, but still it was able to swim, he was much more comfortable than lying on his back on the deck.  And the men would come to look at him, and say what a fine fellow he was, so he felt quite content.


After he had been in the tank for some time, the ship stopped, and he, with all the other turtles, were lifted out and carried off the boat to a big building, which he soon learned was the Fish Market.  Here a lot of men came and looked at him, and at last two of them carried him away in a cart. 


He was beginning to get used to being moved about, and so was no longer afraid; and as every one that saw him set nice things about him, he felt happy and prouder than ever.


The two men in the cart carried him to a shop in the city, and here still more men looked at him and praised him.


“We'll put him at the door, where everyone can see him.” said the man who had brought him in the cart.  “Yes, and we’ll write on his back,” cried another, and they all agreed that would be a good idea.  Tommy did not know what writing meant, and he was quite excited know what they were going to do with him.


In a few minutes one the men brought a pot of whitewash and a brush and wrote on his back in big letters -SOUP ON FRIDAY, and all the others laughed and said it was splendid.


Then Tommy was taken outside and fastened in front of the shop for everyone to see.

He felt so proud that he hardly knew what to do with himself, for everyone the passed stopped to look at him.  Some said “That's funny,” and some said “We must come to see him on Friday,” and they all said he was as fine a turtle, as they had ever seen, till Tommy was as vain as he could be. 

He did not know what the man had put on his back, and as he had never heard of soup, you would not have minded if he had.  So for three days, he stood on the mat in front of the fish shop, growing vainer and vainer, and thinking he was quite the most beautiful thing in the world.


On Friday morning, however, was not put outside, but was taken into the kitchen to be made into soup.


“Oh, oh, oh,” he cried, “if only I had been not so vain and had done as my mother told me!”  But it was too late then to be sorry, for the next moment he was no more.


And on that day the people outside, when they passed, saw an empty turtle shell, and on it was written --SOUP TO-DAY.


Commonwealth School Paper

Queensland School Readers Book III. Issued by the Department of Public Instruction 1914.