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The Old, Old Toad by Mrs E. W. Latimer

"Mamma," said one of my boys to me (they are "grown-up boys," but they take great pleasure in the weekly arrival of the Young People), "why don't you write a communication to the editor, and tell him how papa once saw a live toad in a slab of rock that had just been blasted?"

"Perhaps the editor would not believe me," I replied. "It seems a doubtful point among geologists and naturalists, and he says the fact has never been certified to by any scientific man."

"Well, wasn't papa a man of science?"

"No; he was a young civil engineer, with only science enough to be employed on the first surveys and construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. But he is one of the most accurate observers I have ever seen, and so careful in his statements that, as you know, he relates even a common fact as cautiously as if he were giving evidence in a court of justice."

"Well, I should like to hear it over again. Tell me the story."

"Your father was, as I said, a young engineer superintending the construction of the line of road west from Sir John's Run, near Berkeley Springs, in West Virginia. His men were engaged in blasting a mass of very hard rock—gneiss, he called it—which ran across the line. Coming up to where they were at work, immediately after a fresh blast, he found the block that had just been detached lying on the ground. It was a mass of stone about as large as the chair you are sitting on; the surface where it had just been severed from the parent rock was perfectly smooth, except that about the middle of it appeared a reddish blister, about the size of half an egg. This attracted your father's notice. He was curious to see what it could mean, and taking up a hammer that was lying near, he tapped upon it gently. It cracked like an egg-shell, and out came a toad, which moved rather feebly, was very weak, extraordinarily thin, and covered with a sort of red rust. He did not, however, live more than a few minutes. Whether the blow with the hammer had hurt him, or whether the fresh air was too much for him, nobody ever knew. He died, and there being no professional naturalist on the spot, his body was not preserved. The men of the gang gathered around his death-bed, and the contractor had some marvellous stories to tell of things of the kind he had met with in his experience.

"The spot where the toad lay in the slab of rock was probably, your father thought, about five feet from the surface, but he could not say with certainty. He was sure there was no fissure or opening in it communicating with the outer air."

"I should think, mamma, you would be glad the readers of Young People seem to be taking an interest in your friends the toads."

"So I am. I liked and protected them, for the sake of their beautiful eyes, long before I found out how useful they are in a garden. You recollect I used to tell you of a lady who had a splendid bed of mignonette one year, and the next had no mignonette at all, because her cruel gardener had killed off all the toads?

"A toad's eyes are the only things in nature which could not be represented without using gold. I fancy that the toad's eyes are the origin of the superstition about the 'precious jewel in his head.' As to their being poisonous, as the French peasants say, or making warts, as the old mammies tell us, that is pure nonsense. I have handled hundreds of them. Their tongues are as curious as their eyes are beautiful. The root of the tongue is just behind the under lip, and it folds backward.

"When Mr. Toad sees a fly, he darts his long and active tongue out so quickly that it is hard to see him do it, and jerks the fly alive down his wide gullet.

"Do you remember watering Darby and Joan, who have lived twenty years under our porch, when you were little boys? You thought they seemed to enjoy a rain so much that you would give them a shower. Poor Darby and his wife realized the proverb, 'It never rains but it pours.' A gentle, steady rain was agreeable enough; but you floated them out of house and home, and I do not think they ever resettled in the same spot.

"There is a charming story about a toad, called Monsieur le Vicomte."