Read CHAPTER THREE of Lost in the Forest Wandering Will's Adventures in South America , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on


Proverbial philosophy tells us ­and every one must have learned from personal experience ­that “there is many a slip ’twixt the cup and the lip.”  Heroes in every rank of life are peculiarly liable to such slips, and our hero was no exception to the rule.

Finding that the vessel in which he sailed was now little, if at all, better than a pirate, he had fondly hoped that he should make his escape on the first point of South America at which they touched.  Land was at last in sight.  Hope was high in the breast of Will Osten, and expressive glances passed between him and his friends in captivity, when, alas! the land turned out to be a small island, so low that they could see right across it, and so scantily covered with vegetation that human beings evidently deemed it unworthy of being possessed.

“There’s niver a sowl upon it,” remarked Larry O’Hale, in a tone of chagrin.

“Maybe not,” said Griffin, who overheard the observation; “but there’s plenty of bodies on it if not souls, and, as we are short of provisions, I intend to lay-to, and give you a chance of seeing them.  Get ready to go ashore; I’m not afraid of you wandering too far!”

Griffin wound up this speech with a low chuckle and a leer, which sent a chill to the heart not only of Will Osten but of Larry and Muggins also, for it convinced them that their new master had guessed their intention, and that he would, of course, take every precaution to prevent its being carried out.  After the first depression of spirits, consequent on this discovery, the three friends became more than ever determined to outwit their enemy, and resolved to act, in the meantime, with perfect submission and prompt obedience ­as they had hitherto done.  Of course, each reserved in his own mind the right of rebellion if Griffin should require them to do any criminal act, and they hoped fervently that they should not fall in with any vessel that might prove a temptation to their new captain.

A few minutes after this, the order was given to lower one of the boats, and a crew jumped into her, among whom were Larry and Muggins.  Will Osten asked permission to go, and Griffin granted his request with a grin that was the reverse of amiable.

“Musha! what sort o’ bodies did the capting main?” said Larry, when they had pulled beyond earshot of the ship.

“Ha, paddy,” replied one of the men, “they’re pleasant fat bodies ­ amusin’ to catch and much thought of by aldermen; ­turtles no less.”

“Ah! then, it’s jokin’ ye are.”

“Not I. I never joke.”

“Turthles is it ­green fat an’ all?”

“Ay, an’ shells too.”

“Sure it’s for the coppers they’re wanted.”

“Just so, Larry, an’ if you’ll ship your oar an jump out wi’ the painter, we’ll haul the boat up an’ show you how to catch ’em.”

As the sailor spoke, the boat’s keel grated on the sand, and the Irishman sprang over the side, followed by his comrades, who regarded the expedition in the light of a “good spree.”

The party had to wait some time, however, for the anticipated sport.  It was near sunset when they landed, but turtles are not always ready to deliver themselves up, even though the honour of being eaten by London aldermen sometimes awaits them!  It is usually night before the creatures come out of the sea to enjoy a snooze on the beach.  The men did not remain idle, however.  They dragged the boat a considerable distance from the water, and then turned it keel up, supporting one gunwale on several forked sticks, so that a convenient shelter was provided.  This look-out house was still further improved by having a soft carpet of leaves and grass spread beneath it.

When these preparations had been made, those men, who had never seen turtle-turning performed, were instructed in their duties by an experienced hand.  The process being simple, the explanation was short and easy.

“You see, lads,” said the instructor, leaning against the boat and stuffing down the glowing tobacco in his pipe with the point of his (apparently) fireproof little finger ­“You see, lads, this is ’ow it is.  All that you’ve got for to do is to keep parfitly still till the turtles comes out o’ the sea, d’ye see? ­then, as the Dook o’ Wellin’ton said at Waterloo ­Up boys an’ at ’em!  W’en, ov coorse, each man fixes his eyes on the turtle nearest him, runs out, ketches him by the rim of his shell an’ turns him slap over on his back ­d’ye understand?”

“Clear as ditch wather,” said Larry.

“Humph!” said Muggins.

“Well, then, boys,” continued the old salt with the fireproof little finger, “ye’d better go an’ count the sand or the stars (when they comes out), for there won’t be nothin’ to do for an hour to come.”

Having delivered himself thus, he refilled his pipe and lay down to enjoy it under the boat, while the others followed his example, or sauntered along the shore, or wandered among the bushes, until the time for action should arrive.

Will Osten and his two friends availed themselves of the opportunity to retire and hold an earnest consultation as to their future prospects and plans.  As this was the first time they had enjoyed a chance of conversing without the fear of being overheard, they made the most of it, and numerous were the projects which were proposed and rejected in eager earnest tones ­at least on the part of Larry and Will.  As for Muggins, although always earnest, he was never eager.  Tremendous indeed must have been the influence which could rouse him into a state of visible excitement!  During the discussion the other two grew so warm that they forgot all about time and turtles, and would certainly have prolonged their talk for another hour had not one of the men appeared, telling them to clap a stopper on their potato-traps and return to the boat, as the sport was going to begin.

The moon had risen and commenced her course through a sky which was so clear that the planets shone like resplendent jewels, and the distant stars like diamond dust.  Not a breath of air ruffled the surface of the sea; nevertheless, its slumbering energies were indicated by the waves on the outlying coral reef, which, approaching one by one, slowly and solemnly, fell with what can only be called a quiet roar, hissed gently for a moment on the sand, and then passed with a sigh into absolute silence.

“Don’t it seem as if the sea wor sleepin’,” whispered one of the men, while they all lay watching under the boat.

“Ay, an’ snorin’ too,” answered another.

“Whisht!” exclaimed a third, “if old Neptune hears ye, he’ll wake up an’ change his tune.”

“Och, sure he’s woke up already,” whispered Larry, pointing with great excitement to a dark object which at that moment appeared to emerge from the sea.

“Mum’s the word, boys,” whispered the old salt who had charge of the party; “the critters are comin’, an’ England expec’s every man for to do his dooty, as old Nelson said.”

In the course of a few minutes several more dark objects emerged from the sea, and waddled with a kind of sigh or low grunt slowly up the beach, where they lay, evidently intending to have a nap!  With breathless but eager interest, the sailors lay perfectly still, until fifteen of the dark objects were on the sands, and sufficient time was allowed them to fall into their first nap.  Then the word “Turn” was given, and, leaping up, each man rushed swiftly but silently upon his prey!  The turtles were pounced upon so suddenly that, almost before they were wide awake, they were caught; a bursting cheer followed, and instantly ten splendid animals were turned over on their backs, in which position, being unable to turn again, they lay flapping their flippers violently.

“That’s the way to go it,” shouted one of the men who, after turning his turtle, dashed after one of the other five which were now hastening back to the sea, with laborious but slow haste.  His comrades followed suit instantly with a wild cheer.  Now, to the uninitiated, this was the only moment of danger in that bloodless fight.

Being aware of his incapacity for swift flight, the turtle, when in the act of running away from danger, makes use of each flipper alternately in dashing the sand to an incredible height behind and around him, to the endangering of the pursuer’s eyes, if he be not particularly careful.  Sometimes incautious men have their eyes so filled with sand in this way that it almost blinds them for a time, and severe inflammation is occasionally the result.

The old salt ­Peter Grant by name, but better known among his shipmates as Old Peter ­was well aware of this habit of the turtle; but, having a spice of mischief in him, he said nothing about it.  The consequences were severe on some of the men, particularly on Muggins.  Our sedate friend was the only one who failed to turn a turtle at the first rush.  He had tripped over a stone at starting, and when he gathered himself up and ran to the scene of action, the turtles were in full retreat.  Burning with indignation at his bad fortune, he resolved to redeem his character; and, with this end in view, made a desperate rush at a particularly large turtle, which appeared almost too fat for its own shell.  It chanced that Larry O’Hale, having already turned two, also set his affections on this turtle, and made a rush at it; seeing which Muggins slyly ran behind him, tripped up his heels, and passed on.

“Have a care,” cried Will Osten, laughing, “he’ll bite!”

“Bad luck to yez!” shouted Larry, leaping up, and following hard on Muggins’ heels.

Just then the turtle began to use his flippers in desperation.  Sand flew in all directions.  The pursuers, nothing daunted, though surprised, partially closed their eyes, bent down their heads, and advanced.  Larry opened his mouth to shout ­a shower of sand filled it.  He opened his eyes in astonishment ­another shower shut them both up, causing him to howl while he coughed and spluttered.  But Muggins pressed on valorously.

One often reads, in the history of war, of brave and reckless heroes who go through “storms of shot and shell” almost scathless, while others are falling like autumn leaves around them.  Something similar happened on the present occasion.  While Larry and several of the other men were left behind, pitifully and tenderly picking the sand out of their eyes, the bold Muggins ­covered with sand from head to foot, but still not mortally wounded ­advanced singlehanded against the foe ­rushed at the turtle; tripped over it; rose again; quailed for a second before the tremendous fire; burst through it, and, finally, catching the big creature by the rim, turned him on his back, and uttered a roar rather than a cheer of triumph.

This was the last capture made that night.  Immediately after their victory the men returned to the boat, where they kindled an immense bonfire and prepared to spend the night, leaving the turtles to kick helplessly on their backs till the morning light should enable them to load the boat and return with their prizes to the ship.  Meanwhile pipes were loaded and lit, and Doctor Will, as Old Peter called him, looked after the wounded.