Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
THE TURTLE CLUB.
Sarah O. Jewett
Dick Townsend must have the credit of awakening the interest of the Highfield boys in turtles. By the Highfield boys I mean the ones I knew. There were only five whom I ever had anything to do with -- Dick Townsend, and Joe Hunt, and Ned Crawford, and the Thomson boys, who are twins and look so precisely alike that you couldn't tell which was Joe and which Jim, if you had been introduced two minutes before. Their schoolfellows were always making mistakes; and long ago, when the Thomsons were very young, some one suggested calling. both brothers by both names, and then there was no fear of mistakes. So, if a boy said "Here comes Jimjoe" it was one of the twins; And if he said "Here come the Jimjoes" he meant both, and everybody understood. This last year one had grown a little taller than the other, but nobody thought of separating the names; the boys were now Big Jimjoe and Little Jimjoe. All these five had always known each other, had been friends before they were old enough to go to school at all; and since then had journeyed on together up through the griefs and perils of primer and primary arithmetic, to their present elevation of Fourth Reader and Greenleaf's Common School. But I am not going to tell you about lessons any more; so don't be indignant and look at the next story, to see what the name is and if it doesn't look more interesting.
Yes, it was Dick Townsend who had the first turtle, as I told you in the beginning. These Highfield boys find some new fashion every year, and follow it diligently. If one makes a kite, all the rest do, and there is one in progress in every shed-loft. But I don't mean these old fashions; because all boys, everywhere, play marbles when the ground first gets dry in spring, and there are certain games like this for certain times of the year, that come around as regularly as Christmas Day itself. I'll tell you what I mean. You know that at college there is a list of studies for every term, which all the boys take; and there is another list which is called that of the elective or optional studies, and from these the boys can choose just which they like best or think will be of most use to them in the business they have chosen. Now you understand. The Highfield boys played all the regulation games; but they always had one of the optional amusements on hand besides. One time they each kept rabbits, and I remember the season of white mice, and woodchucks, and tame crows, and pigeons; not to speak of waterwheels in the brook, and clappers to be turned by the wind for frightening crows. These last were brought to a high mark of ingenuity, and Ned Crawford's invention was such a brilliant success that he had dreams of trying for a patent.
One Monday morning some of the boys were at the schoolhouse unusually early, and were sitting on the steps talking; though one was playing marbles for keeps with the little boys, though it was very late for marbles. Dick Townsend came last; and then there was a great deal to be said, as he had gone over to his sister's the Thursday night before, with his mother. His sister was married and lived about a dozen miles away. They had come home the afternoon before, because it had looked so much like rain the next day; and here it was as bright a Monday morning as ever dawned. There had been some adventures, of course, and the other boys had an exciting story to tell of a fishing excursion they had made on Saturday.
"Oh! boys," said Dick, "guess what I found yesterday afternoon. It was walking across the road, and if you ever saw such a big fellow I never will brag again as long as I live."
"Snake?" said Little Jimjoe.
"No," said Dick. "I did see a snake but it was only a common-sized green one."
"Fox? Weasel? Woodchuck?" guessed the others.
But Dick called them geese, and asked how he could catch either of those, when he was in the wagon and had to stop the horse and get out. They would be half a mile off. Everybody was puzzled, for what creature could have been going across the road so slow that it could be caught. Even an old speckled hen could get out of your way, unless she was an unusually slow traveler.
"Oh! tell us. There comes the teacher." And Dick, being good-natured, unfolded his secret.
"It was the biggest mud-turtle you ever saw. Mother saw him first, and I got out and headed him off, and then put him in the back of the wagon, upside down. Mother was awfully afraid of him, wished a dozen times she never had seen the old thing, and kept looking back to see if he hadn't turned over. Once she thought sure he had hold of her heel; but when we looked it was only the sharp end of a sassafras root. I dug it out over in the woods back of Mary Ann's. There are lots of trees there."
"Let's all go over some Saturday," said Big Jimjoe, who was always excited at beholding a prospect of something to eat.
"All right,'' said Dick; "but I know you never saw such a turtle. He is as much as a foot long."
"What are you going to do with him?" asked Ned Crawford.
"Keep him, I guess. I've got a hole bored through the edge of his shell, and he's tied to a stake in the yard. But I'm going to fix some kind of a pen for him. Come over after school and see him. Does anybody know what is good to feed 'em on?"
Just then the teacher rang the bell, and they all went into school. Ned Crawford can draw capitally. And just before recess he held up a picture to Joe Hunt of two big turtles walking arm in arm, and a procession of little ones following them two and two, on their hind feet, some of them carrying parasols. Joe laughed aloud, and the teacher looked up pleasantly and asked him why.
"Because," said she, "If it is something very funny, we should all like to hear about it."
Ned, after a little persuasion, held up the slate, and Miss Denet said it was well done, and she didn't blame Joe for laughing. But then boys went to school to study, so they would be fit for something when they were men.. So Ned mustn't draw any more pictures until his lessons were learned. She didn't wish the boys to lose time while they were coming to school to her. Ned might draw as much as he pleased at the right time. She thought he had a great talent for it, and hoped he could have lessons from a good teacher some day. He might take turtles for the subject of his next composition. So Ned was both pleased and punished; and he studied very hard, and had the best arithmetic lesson he had recited that term.
All the scholars liked Miss Denet and tried hard to please her. Of course, that was partly the reason she was so good-natured to them; for what teacher can be even-tempered when the scholars are like willful young wild Arabs, and think only of what they mean to do after school? Don't forget that you are in school for your sake, not the teacher's; and when you shirk a lesson it is a loss to you, and nobody else. I can't forget that one day somebody asked me to do a sum, and I puzzled myself and made figures in a bewildered way; and finally it flashed across me that I ran away' from school the very morning when the teacher was going to explain that rule of arithmetic which was missing from my head.
That night all the boys who could went over to Dick's, to see the big turtle. They found that his majesty had already gotten into trouble. Dick's father had noticed that the string was not a strong one; and just after dinner he kindly turned the turtle over on his back, so Dick should find him safe and sound when he came home. And some time afterward an old hen saw a nice mouthful of bug at a little distance; and, on her way to gobble it, being in great haste, she unluckily put one of her feet just in front of the turtle's mouth. In an unhappy moment she found herself caught fast by one toe, and so she quawk, quawked all the rest of the afternoon; and the first thing the boys did was to hold a council about the best way of setting her at liberty.
Big Jimjoe said that turtles never let go anything; but perhaps they could make the old fellow mad, and so he would bite the claw off. Little Jimjoe, being more practical, suggested that they should cut it off with a chisel, and save time. Joe Hunt sat down on the grass, and while the rest talked he poked the turtle's beak with little stick; and the first thing they knew Mrs. Biddy departed in a hurry toward the hencoop, half running and half flying, and quawking louder than ever. The boys laughed; and Dick took a stronger piece of cord from his pocket, which he had found in his desk at school, and tied his new pet to the stake, which he drove deeper into the ground.
"I suppose I ought to have a kind of pond for him; oughtn't I? They always seem to live near water. I guess I'll sink a big tin pan. There's one we mix chicken dough in; but something else would do just as well for that, and I could stop up the holes easily. I say, boys, I've thought of something. Wouldn't it be fun for us to see how many turtles we can get? Let's all keep them, and have a big pen down by Joe Hunt's brook."
"Yes, and we'll call it the United Turtle Club," said Joe Hunt. And all the boys grew much excited, and planned then and there to go turtle-hunting the very next Wednesday afternoon.
"But I know we never shall find another big one like this," said Ned Crawford.
"He is a whaler," said Little Jimjoe, admiringly; but he thought all the time that there was no doubt he could find a larger one. Little Jimjoe was a superior hunter.
You would naturally suppose that they built their pen first; but the truth is that they left the first inhabitant tethered to his stake in Dick's yard until Saturday. On Wednesday the first grand expedition came off, and was very successful. They went up the brook to a marshy, swampy pasture, and found quite a number there; though none of them were too large to be put into a good-sized pocket, and two or three were very small. The boys anchored these in their respective yards; but on Saturday the pen was finished, and the turtles, great and small, set up housekeeping in state. The boys first marked out a square on the sloping bank of the brook, and then made a low fence around it, by driving stakes into the ground and banking it up outside with turf, which they got easily from the edge of a sand-pit near by. Down at the lower part the little yard could not be banked, for here the brook ran through; but the boys enjoyed very much wading into the water and driving the stakes close together, making them keep stiff and strong by tying the tops together with strings. After the outside was finished it was not nearly so much trouble to divide the square into five narrow yards, one for each member of the club. The boys thought no sensible turtle could wish for better quarters, for here they had turf at the top, and then mud, and then water. Besides this, there was a small tree stuck into the ground for shade, in each, near the upper part -- either alder branches, or scrub-oak, or something of the kind. But the turtles didn't seem fond of shady places, and were always either down in the water or half-way up the bank, in the sun. So the upper part was very convenient for the new members of the family, who were always tied up immediately, with a very short string, while the marking dried. It was one of the rules of the U. T. C. that all new turtles should be plainly marked with the initials of the club and the number of the pen. At first they began by cutting it on the shell; but this was some trouble, and kept the jack-knives so dull that white paint was taken as a substitute. The Townsend's house had been painted that spring, and part of a bucket of paint had been left over, which was very useful. Ned Crawford used to decorate the roofs of such turtles as were suitable in regard to size with fancy sketches and patriotic mottoes. The boys' interest in them seemed unfailing for several weeks; and Miss Denet had to make a rule that no turtles should be brought to the schoolhouse. They used to carry the little ones in their pockets, and sometimes leave them in their desks over night. They used to slyly take them out during school hours and let them crawl a little way along the floor or on the benches, from which they were apt to have a tumble. The girls were all made very unhappy, and one of them found the very largest one of all inside her desk one morning. And it was on this occasion that Miss Denet refused any more new scholars of that description.
I certainly must tell you about the capture of the big turtle down in Round Pond. That was the grand event of the summer. Joe Hunt's elder brother had seen him first; and afterward Joe himself had seen him, also, on the same board. It was only after one or two unsuccessful trials to catch him, without anybody's help, that Joe told the boys about him with an air of great virtue and unselfishness. The United Turtle Club met at the schoolhouse very early that Saturday morning. I couldn't tell you of all the weapons and ammunition that they carried. I only know that it was upon this occasion that Big Jimjoe valiantly shouldered a harpoon, which he had sat up late the night before to make out of a rake handle and a wornout shoe-knife blade. All the boys meant to have the turtle, dead or alive. It was what is sometimes called a toad-turtle; but I do not know why, unless from some fancied resemblance. They do not have smooth shells, like the common mud-turtle; but rougher, thicker ones, much higher in the middle, so as to make a kind of spine. They bite terribly and are very ugly; but fortunately they are very seldom seen.
It was only a mile and a half to Round Pond across the fields. The boys hunted carefully among the bushes and along the shore near where the turtle had been seen; but there was no sign of him, though they caught two small common ones, which was encouraging. It seemed no use to stay there; so they wandered off, some one way and some another, to wait until the sun was higher, when perhaps he would go upon the board. They kept near the shore, in the swampy places, and Little Jimjoe and Ned Crawford, seeing a whole row sitting on a log, ran for a raft and paddled out, making a very successful voyage.
"Isn't it funny that we have seen so many?" said Joe. "Some years I haven't seen more than three or four. Do you suppose there are always so many walking round, or is it a very good year for turtles?"
"I guess it's because we are hunting for them," said Ned, who was right. And do you know I think we lose a great many things in this world besides turtles just because we don't hunt for them and try hard enough to get them. People fail often to get what they want because they don't use the means. They take it out in wishing, and then wonder because they are so often disappointed. You don't sit under a tree and cry because the walnuts grow so high and hang far up out of your reach. You climb up and shake them down. Work, boys!
They hunted about for some time, paying especial attention to barberry bushes. Boys have a tradition that turtles' nests are always under barberry bushes, and that the young ones feed on the bark after they have hatched out from the eggs. I don't know whether this is a well-grounded fact in natural history or not; for, unfortunately, the only books of reference I have both dismiss the subject of mud-turtles with very short notice. After a while our friends came back to the starting place, and sat down on the bank to watch for their prey and enjoy a season of conversation. Two little turtles were already on the board, which was considered a hopeful sign and it was not more than half an hour before there was a little splash out in the pond, and something came swimming toward them, and then disappeared again.
"Musk-rat," said Ned.
No; for it came up again, and paddled closer, so the boys could see the ridged back, and they waited still as mice while the big fellow crawled up on the board.
Such a breathless moment as it was! They watched him get himself perched to his satisfaction, and the small turtle next him move away a little; and then his head dropped, and he stirred once more lazily, and then lay still. The warm May sun shone full on his back, and there was every reason to believe that he was sound asleep.
"Didn't I tell you the truth?" said Joe Hunt. "I'd like to see one of you dare to catch him by the tail. I'd rather keep out of the way of that beak of his."
"We must have him, boys," said little Jimjoe.
But the question was: How could they safely land him on the shore? He would go to the bottom like a rock if he were scared. Big Jimjoe looked despairingly at his harpoon. It would have been much more useful if the game had been a large bull frog. The board was too far out from shore for careful wading, for the water grew deep suddenly. But, to shorten the story, this is the plan they chose. The board did not seem to be resting on anything, though it was prevented from floating out any further by a large branch that was sticking up out of the water - one that had blown down on the ice in the winter. The boys took some long shoots of willow and tied them together, then tied their strongest pieces of cord together and made a slip-noose at the end. They put this on the end of the pole, and Dick carefully held the queer fishing-rod out over the water and tried to slip the noose over the board; but the cord was light and only dragged along on the top of the water. So he took it in; and Ned Crawford happily thought of weighting the cord with little stones, about as far apart as the width of the board, and fastening the string lightly along the stick, so the noose hung in the form of a square. This time it was easy enough. Dick let it drop until the pebbles were a little way under water, and then drew the pole along until he held it about a foot from the end of the board, when he drew it out, and Ned Crawford pulled the noose tight, starting the board a little. One little turtle flopped into the water, and the boys waited in an agony of suspense, for fear the others would follow. But they slept on, unsuspectingly.
Ned began to pull in slowly, and it was very exciting.
"All of you grab at the big one," whispered he. "never mind about the other."
Joe Hunt waded into the water, and before the old turtle had time to fairly wake up, or even to pull in his head, Joe had grabbed him and thrown him in, and there he was, safe on shore. The little one made his escape; but who cared?
And then a hole was bored in the shell, while the unhappy captive helplessly twisted, and tucked in his clumsy claws tighter and tighter, as if hoping to put himself entirely out of sight. The boys made a careful examination of both upper shell and under, and tried in vain to make his lordship snap at sticks. Finally they slung him with strings to Big Jimjoe's harpoon, which found its mission at last, and carried him home in triumph. Even the minister came to see him.
It would take altogether too many pages if I tried to tell you all the fun the United Turtle Club had that summer. The interest rather subsided after the first week or two of vacation. The boys used to sell and exchange frequently; and there was always something to be done to the pens or "the turtle-coops," as they were usually called. They used to try various kinds of food, and sometimes had matches (trials for the championship of such accomplishments as turtles possess) - like seeing which would hold longest to a stick; though there were two divisions to this - first, the turtle which snapped quickest, and, second, after being lifted from the ground, which would drop last. It was great fun hunting for them, for they are sure game and the boys liked being in the woods. This was the best part of it, really; for being in the open air makes us strong and well, and the best capital a boy can have for the business of his after life is the capital of good health. People forget that it is so necessary for men and women to be good animals. If you are well, you can do so much in the world and do it so much more easily. But the animal part of us must be the servant, not the master. If you don't quite understand this, ask some one to explain it to you; because it is worth understanding and remembering.
The end of the United Turtle Club was in this wise: There was a great rain-storm in August, and the morning after it had cleared away the Jimjoes called Dick to go and see the coops, for they must need repairing. Alas! the brook had risen so high that the lower stakes were covered; and the entire colony had inconsiderately paddled away in the night, in search of freedom.
I am sure you will like to read Ned Crawford's composition. The boys thought it was first-rate, and Miss Denet said she wished they would all do as well and take so much pains to make their compositions interesting. And it showed how much better it was to write on some subject you know about, instead of making stupid remarks and saying things that everybody knew before about Friendship and George Washington.
"A Turtle is a reptile. It has a head like a snake and a little sharp tail and four claws like an Alligator. The rest of him lives inside the bones so I don't know what it looks like. The bones are outside and are called the shell. They live a great many years. I have read of a big Turtle that belonged to a bishop inEngland that lived a hundred and twenty years after they got acquainted with him. They are very ugly and stupid and I don't think you could tame them if you tried all summer. I suppose they are good for something but I don't know what it is. It is fun to catch them. If some countries but not in this they keep them round in the houses to kill bugs. A Turtle has no teeth but it doesn't make any difference for there are bones in their mouths and they bite like everything and can hold on to a stick all day if you stay and pull. I don't believe they ever die hardly. You can't starve them and if you cut off their heads and feet and tails it doesn't kill them and the beak will keep on snapping at you for a day or two. This sounds like a big story but it is true. I don't know how I should go to work to kill a Turtle unless I mashed him with a big hammer. Or else boiled him. The shells are real pretty when you have boiled the turtle part out. They live all winter like bears without anything to eat. I am always hungrier in winter than any other time. I don't see how they do it. I think they are awful homely, their eyes look as if they were set in upside down. They mostly stay in the same place. It takes them a good while to get anywhere. I have heard of a new way to catch them, you go under water and clap two pieces of wood together and they will be scared and go right ashore, and all the musk-rats too. They get the substance called tortoise shell from a kind of big Turtle. It is used for women's combs, and sells for a good deal. I should like to raise that kind. There are a good many kinds of Turtles, and some are good to eat. This is all I can think of about Turtles except that the Jimjoes and Dick Townsend caught a lot over in Grover's marsh, Saturday. They said it was a great year for young toads over in Grover's marsh and so perhaps they live on those. I have two Turtles to sell - shiny, high-storied backs, first rate pocket-size and warranted lively snappers. This is the longest composition I ever wrote."
"The Turtle Club" was published in The Independent 25 (27 November 1873), 1486-7. Essential help in locating and obtaining a copy came from Harlene Hansen and Linda Bloedel of Coe College's Stewart Memorial Library. If you find errors in the text or items you believe should be annotated, please contact the site manager.
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Fourth Reader and Greenleaf's Common School: The Fourth Reader is almost certainly McGuffey's Fourth Reader. William Holmes McGuffey (1800-1873) began publishing his series of school readers in about 1835. For the next century, going through repeated editions and revisions, these became the most widely used reading texts in American schools. Greenleaf's Common School is Introduction to the national arithmetic: on the inductive system combining the analytic and synthetic methods, in which the principles of the science are fully explained and illustrated: designed for common schools and academies. Benjamin Greenleaf (1786-1881) authored this arithmetic text that went through multiple editions after it appeared in 1856.
In a later Fourth Reader (1929) in the Houghton Mifflin series, The Boys' and Girls' Readers edited by Emma Miller Bolenius, Jewett's story, "The Water Dolly" appeared.
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toad-turtle: Jewett's descriptions suggest that the smaller turtles are common mud turtles or perhaps box turtles. This much larger and "uglier" toad-turtle fits well the description of the common snapping turtle.
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barberry bushes: berberis berberidaceae, a family of shrubs with yellow flowers and oblong red berries.
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George Washington: (1732-1799), commander of the American Revolutionary Army and first president of the United States (1789-1797).
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a big Turtle that belonged to a bishop in England that lived a hundred and twenty years: Naturalists affirm that small turtles in captivity have lived as long as a century, and that the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands have been known to live 150 years in captivity. The story of the English bishop's turtle probably refers to the Lambeth tortoise. This account appears at the Archbishop of Canterbury website: "One of the more unusual artefacts on display at Lambeth Palace is the shell of a tortoise that once belonged to Archbishop William Laud. Laud brought the tortoise to Lambeth in 1633 as a pet, given to him as a gift from his college at Oxford. Ultimately the tortoise outlived Laud by over 100 years. It was accidentally killed at the age of 120, when in 1753 it was dug up out of hibernation in the Palace garden by a careless labourer and subsequently died of frost exposure."
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Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers