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The Little Red Tortoise

Outa turned the new acquisition on its back on the jackalskin rug, where it lay wriggling and going through the strangest contortions. “Ach! the wise little man. Is it there its mother sprinkled it with buchu (aromatic herb), there, just under its arm?” He touched the skinny under-side of one of its forelegs. “Here, Baas Willem, put it in the soap-boxie till to-morrow. Ach! if only it had been a red tortoise, how glad Outa would have been!”

“A red tortoise!” echoed Pietie and little Jan, while Willem hurried back from the passage to hear all about it.

“And have the baasjes then never heard of a red tortoise? Yes, certainly, sometimes a red one is born, but not often—only once in a thousand years; and when this happens the news is sent round, because it is such a wonderful thing; and the whole nation of Schilpads—those frogs with bony shields and hard beaks—are glad because they know the little red one has come to help them against their enemies.

“Once a long, long time ago a mother Schilpad laid an egg in a shallow hole in the sand, just where the sun could warm it all the day, and she scraped a little sand over it, so that no one could see it. See baasjes, she was afraid of thieves. It was white and round, and so large that she felt very proud of it, and she often went to see how it was getting on. One day, as she got near the place she heard a little voice: ‘Peep! Peep! Mam-ma, mam-ma, come and find me.’

“So she called out, ‘Kindje, kindje, here’s your mam-ma.’ My! but she walked fast! Her short legs just went so”—Outa’s arms worked vigorously—“and when she got to the karroo-bush where she had put the egg the shell was broken and a little Red Tortoise was sitting alongside of it!

“His shell was soft, and you could see everything inside of him, and how the blood went this way and that way: but never mind, it is maar so with little tortoises. He was fine and healthy, and everything about him was quite red. Alle wereld! old Mam-ma was proud! She went and told all her friends, and they came from all sides to see the little Red Tortoise.

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