The Toad

The Toad

By Hans Christian Andersen (1866)

The well was deep, and so the rope was long ; the windlass had barely room to turn, when one came to lift the bucket full of water over the edge of the well. The sun could never get down to reflect itself in the water, however clear it was ; but so far as it managed to shine down, green plants grew between the stones.

A family of the toad -race lived there. They were immigrants, who had really come down there head-fore- most with the old mother-toad, who still lived. The green frogs, who swarm in the water, and had been there much earlier, acknowledged relationship and called them ‘ the well-guests ‘. These quite intended to remain there ; they lived very comfortably on the dry land, as they called the wet stones.

The mother-frog had once travelled, had been in the bucket when it went up, but the light became too strong for her, and she got a pain in her eyes ; luckily she got out of the bucket. She fell with a frightful splash into the water, and lay three days afterwards with a pain in her back. She could not tell very much about the world up above, but she knew, and they all knew, that the well was not the whole world. Mother Toad should have been able to tell one or two things, but she never answered when she was asked, and so one did not ask.

‘ Thick and ugly, horrid and fat she is ! ‘ said the young green frogs. ‘ Her children will be just as ugly ! ‘

‘ That may be so,’ said Mother Toad, ‘ but one of them has a jewel in its head, or I have it myself ! ‘

And the green frogs heard, and they stared ; and as they didn’t like it, they made faces, and went to the bottom. But the young toads stretched their hind legs with sheer pride ; each of them believed that he had the jewel, and so they sat and kept their heads very still, but finally they asked what they were so proud of, and what a jewel really was.

‘ It is something so splendid and precious,’ said Mother Toad, ‘ that I cannot describe it ! it is something that one goes about with for one’s own pleasure, and which the others go about and fret over. But don’t ask, I won’t answer ! ‘

‘ Well, I have not got the jewel,’ said the smallest toad; it was just as ugly as it could be. ‘ Why should I have such a grand thing ? And if it vexes others, it cannot give me pleasure ! No, I only wish that I might come up to the edge of the well some time to look out. It must be charming there ! ‘

‘ Better remain where you are ! ‘ said the old one. ‘ You know what you are doing then. Take care of the bucket, it “may squash you ; and if you get safely into it, you may fall out ; not all fall so luckily as I did, and keep their limbs and eggs whole,’

‘ Quack ! ‘ said the little one, and it was just as when we mortals say ‘ Alack ! ‘

It had such a desire to get up to the edge of the well and look out ; it felt such a longing after the green things up there ; and when next morning the bucket, filled with water, was being drawn up, and accidentally stopped for a moment just by the stone, on which the toad sat, the little creature quivered and sprang into the full bucket, and sank to the bottom of the water, which then came up and was emptied out.

‘ Ugh, confound it ! ‘ said the man, who saw it. ‘ It is the ugliest thing I have seen,’ and he made a kick with his wooden shoe at the toad, which came near to being crippled, but escaped by getting in amongst the high stinging-nettles. It saw stalk by stalk, and it looked upwards too. The sun shone on the leaves, they were quite transparent ; it was for it, as it is for us when we come all at once into a great wood, where the sun shines through the leaves and branches.

‘ It is much lovelier here than down in the well ! One could wish to stay here all one’s life ! ‘ said the little toad. It lay there one hour, it lay there two ! ‘ Now, I wonder what can be outside ? As I have come so far, I may as well go farther ! ‘ And it crawled as fast as it could, and came out on to the road, where the sun shone on it, and the dust powdered it whilst it marched across the high road.

‘ Here one is really on dry land,’ said the toad ; ‘ I am getting almost too much of a good thing ; it tickles right into me ! ‘

Now it came to the ditch ; the forget-me-nots grew here and the meadow-sweet ; there was a hedge close by, with hawthorn and elder bushes ; and the white-flowered convolvulus climbed over it. Here were colours to be seen ; and yonder flew a butterfly ; the toad thought it was a flower which had broken loose, the better to look about the world ; it was such a natural thing to do.

‘ If one could only get along like that,’ said the toad. 1 Ah ! ah ! how delightful ! ‘

It stayed in the ditch for eight days and nights, and had no want of food. The ninth day it thought, ‘ Farther on now ! ‘ but what more beautiful could be found ? Perhaps a little toad, or some green frogs. During the past night, it had sounded in the wind as if there were cousins in the neighbourhood. ‘ It is lovely to live ! to come up out of the well ; to lie among stinging-nettles ;

to crawl along a dusty road, and to rest in the wet ditch ! but forward still ! let us find frogs or a little toad ; one cannot do without that ; Nature is not enough for one ! ‘ And so it set out again on its wanderings. It came into the field, to a big pond with sedges round it, and it made its way into these.

‘ It is too wet for you here, isn’t it ? ‘ said the frogs, ‘ but you are very welcome ! Are you a he or a she ? It does not matter, you are welcome all the same.’

And so it was invited to a concert in the evening, a family concert ; great enthusiasm and thin voices, we all know that kind. There were no refreshments, except free drinks, the whole pond if they liked.

1 Now I shall travel farther ! ‘ said the little toad. It was always craving after something better. It saw the stars twinkle, so big and so clear ; it saw the new moon shine, it saw the sun rise, higher and higher.

‘ I am still in the well, in a bigger well ; I must get higher up ! I have a restlessness and a longing.’

And when the moon was full and round, the poor creature thought, ‘ Can that be the bucket, which is let down, and which I can jump into, to come higher up ! or is the sun the big bucket ? how big it is, and how beaming ; it could hold all of us together. I must watch for my chance ! Oh, what a brightness there is in my head ! I don’t believe the jewel can shine better ! but I haven’t got it, and I don’t weep for it. No ; higher up in brightness and gladness ! I have an assurance, and yet a fear it is a hard step to take ! but one must take it ! forwards ! right out on the highway ! ‘

And it stepped out, as well as such a crawling creature can, and then it was on the highway where people lived ; there were both flower-gardens and kitchen-gardens. It rested beside a kitchen-garden.

‘How many different beings there are, which I have never known ! and how big and blessed the world is !

But one must also look about in it, and not remain sitting in one place,’ and so it hopped into the kitchen-garden. ‘ How green it is how lovely it is here ! ‘

‘ I know that well enough ! ‘ said the caterpillar on the leaf. ‘ My leaf is the biggest one here ! it hides half the world, but I can do without that.’

‘ Cluck, cluck,’ was heard, and fowls came tripping into the garden. The foremost hen was long-sighted ; she saw the caterpillar on the curly leaf, and pecked at it, so that it fell to the ground, where it wriggled and twisted itself. The hen looked first with one eye and then with the other, for it did not know what was to be the end of this wriggling.

‘ It does not do that with any good intent,’ thought the hen, and lifted its head to peck at it. The toad became so frightened, that it crawled right up towards the hen.

‘ So it has friends to help it ! ‘ said the hen, ‘ look at that crawler ! ‘ and it turned away. ‘ I don’t care a bit about the little green mouthful : it only tickles one’s throat I ‘ The other fowls were of the same opinion, and so they went away.

‘ I wriggled myself away from it ! ‘ said the caterpillar, ‘ it is a good thing to have presence of mind ; but the hardest task remains, to get back on to my cabbage leaf. Where is it ? ‘

And the little toad came and expressed its sympathy. It was glad that it had frightened the hens with its ugliness.

‘ What do you mean by that ? ‘ asked the caterpillar. ‘ I wriggled myself away from them. You are very unpleasant to look at ! May I be allowed to occupy my own place ? Now I smell cabbage I Now I am close to my leaf ! There is nothing so nice as one’s own ! But I must get higher up ‘

‘ Yes, higher up ! ‘ said the little toad, ‘ higher up ! it feels as I do ! but it is not in a good humour to-day ; that comes from the fright. We all wish to get higher up ! ‘ And it looked up as high as it could.

The stork sat in his nest on the farmer’s roof ; he chattered, and the mother-stork chattered.

‘ How high up they live ! ‘ thought the toad ; ‘ if one could only get up there ! ‘

In the farm-house lived two young students. The one was a poet, the other a naturalist ; the one sang and wrote in gladness about all that God had made, and as it was reflected in his heart ; he sang it out, short, clear, and rich in melodious verse. The other took hold of the thing itself ; aye, split it up, if necessary. He took our Lord’s creation as a vast sum in arithmetic, subtracted, multiplied, wanted to know it out and in and to talk with understanding about it ; and it was perfect understanding, and he talked in gladness and with wisdom about it. They were good, happy fellows, both of them.

‘ There sits a good specimen of a toad,’ said the naturalist. ‘I must have it in spirit.’

‘ You have two others already,’ said the poet , ‘ let it sit in peace, and enjoy itself ! ‘

‘ But it is so beautifully ugly,’ said the other.

‘ Yes, if we could find the jewel in its head ! ‘ said the poet, ‘ I myself would help to split it up.’

‘ The jewel ! ‘ said the other ; ‘ you are good at natural history ! ‘

‘ But is there not something very beautiful in the common belief that the toad, the very ugliest of animals, often carries hidden in its head the most precious jewel ‘ Is it not the same with men ? What a jewel had not Aesop, and Socrates ! ‘ The toad heard no more, and it did not understand the half of it. The two friends went on, and it escaped being put in spirit.

‘ They also talked about the jewel ! ‘ said the toad. ‘ It is a good thing that I have not got it ; otherwise I should have got into trouble.’

There was a chattering on the farmer’s roof ; the fatherstork was delivering a lecture to his family, and they looked down askance at the two young men in the kitchen -garden.

‘ Man is the most conceited creature ! ‘ said the stork. ‘ Listen how they chatter ! and yet they can’t give a single decent croak. They are vain of their oratorical powers and their language ! And it is a rare language ! It becomes unintelligible every day’s journey that we do. The one doesn’t understand the other. Our language we can talk over the whole world, both in Denmark and in Egypt. And men can’t fly at all ! they fly along by means of an invention which they call a railway, but they often break their necks with that. I get shivers in my bill, when I think of it ; the world can exist without men. We can do without them. Let us only keep frogs and rain-worms ! ‘

‘ That was a grand speech ! ‘ thought the little toad. ‘ What a big man he is, and how high he sits, higher than I have ever seen any one before ! and how he can swim ! ‘ it exclaimed, when the stork with outspread wings flew through the air.

And the mother-stork spoke in the nest, and told about the land of Egypt, about the water of the Nile, and about all the splendid mud which was in foreign lands ; it sounded quite new and charming to the little toad.

‘ I must go to Egypt,’ it said, ‘ if only the stork would take me with it ; or one of the young ones. I would do it a service in return on its wedding-day. Yes, I am sure I shall get to Egypt, for I am so lucky. All the longing and desire which I have is much better than having a jewel in one’s head.’

And it just had the jewel ; the eternal longing and desire, upwards, always upwards ! it shone within it, shone in gladness, and beamed with desire.

At that moment came the stork ; it had seen the toad in the grass, and he swooped down, and took hold of the little creature, not altogether gently. The bill pinched, the wind whistled ; it was not pleasant, but upwards it went up to Egypt, it knew ; and so its eyes shone, as if a spark flew out of them. ‘ Quack ! ack ! ‘

The body was dead, the toad was killed. But the spark from his eyes, what became of it ?

The sunbeam took it, the sunbeam bore the jewel from the head of the toad. Whither ?

You must not ask the naturalist, rather ask the poet ; he will tell it you as a story ; and the caterpillar is in it, and the stork-family is in it. Think ! the caterpillar is transformed, and becomes a lovely butterfly ! The storkfamily flies over mountains and seas, to distant Africa, and yet finds the shortest way home again to Denmark, to the same place, the same roof ! Yes, it is really almost too like a fairy tale, and yet it is true ! You may quite well ask the naturalist about it ; he must admit it, and you yourself know it too, for you have seen it.

But the jewel in the head of the toad ?

Look for it in the sun, see it there if you can. The splendour there is too strong. We have not yet got the eyes to look into all the glories which God has created, but some day we shall get them, and that will be the loveliest story, for we shall be in it ourselves !

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