244 THE FATE OF THE TURTLE
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.'