Gateway to the Classics: Tommy Smith's Animals by Edmund Selous
Tommy Smith's Animals by  Edmund Selous

The Frog and the Toad

"Tommy Smith takes a turn in the garden next day,

And he finds the frog ready with something to say."

A S soon as he had had his breakfast, Tommy Smith went out into the garden. It had been raining a little, and the first thing he saw was a large yellow frog sitting on the wet grass. Tommy Smith had a stick in his hand, and he at once lifted it up over his shoulder.

"Don't hit me," said the frog. "That would be a very  wicked thing to do."

Tommy Smith was so surprised to hear a frog speak that he dropped his stick and stood with both his eyes wide open for several seconds.

"Why do you want to kill me?" said the frog.

Tommy Smith thought he must say something, so he answered, "Because you are a nasty, stupid frog."

"I don't know what you mean by calling me nasty," said the frog. "Look at my bright smooth skin, how nice and clean it is—cleaner than your own face, I daresay, although it is not long since you have washed it. As for my being stupid, you see that I can speak your language, although you cannot speak mine; and there are lots of other things which I am able to do, but you are not. I think I can catch a fly better than you can."

By this time it seemed to Tommy Smith as if it was quite natural to be talking to an animal, so he said, "I never thought that a frog could catch a fly."

"You shall see," said the frog. And as he spoke a fly settled on a blade of grass just in front of him. Then all at once a pink streak seemed to shoot out of the frog's mouth; back it came again—snap! His mouth, which had been wide open, was shut once more, and the fly was nowhere to be seen.

"Have you caught it?" said Tommy Smith.

"Yes," said the frog, "and swallowed it too."

"But how did you do it?" said Tommy Smith; "and what was that funny pink thing that came out of your mouth?"

"That was my tongue," the frog answered.

"Your tongue!" cried Tommy Smith. "But it looked so funny—not at all like my own tongue."

"No," said the frog. "My tongue is quite different from yours, and I do not use it in the same way. Hold out your hand so that I can hop into it, and then I will show you all about it."

Tommy Smith did as he was told, and—plop! there was the frog sitting in his hand. He at once opened his mouth, which was a very wide one, and allowed Tommy Smith to look at his tongue. What a funny tongue it was! It seemed to be turned backwards, for the tip, which was forked, instead of being just inside the lips as it is with us, was right down the throat, whilst the root of it was where the tip of our tongue is.

"But how do you use a tongue like that?" said Tommy Smith.

"Put the tip of your forefinger against your thumb," said the frog; "only, first, you must turn your hand so that the back of it is towards the ground, and the palm upwards." Tommy Smith did so. "Now shoot your finger back as hard as you can." Tommy Smith did this too. "That," said the frog, "is the way I shoot my tongue out of my mouth when I want to catch a fly. Like this"—and he shot it out again. "You see it flies out like the lash of a whip, and my aim is so good that it always hits what I want it to, whether it is a fly or any other insect. Then I bring it back, just as you would bring your finger back to your thumb again, or as the lash of a whip flies back when you jerk the handle. The tip of it goes right down my throat where it was before, and the fly goes down with it."

"But why does the fly stay on your tongue?" said Tommy Smith. "Why doesn't it fly away?"

"It would if it could, of course," said the frog; "but it can't. My tongue, you see, is sticky—just feel it,—and so whatever it touches sticks to it, and comes back with it, if it isn't too large."

"Well, it is very curious," said Tommy Smith. "But when you said you could catch a fly, I did not know that you were going to eat it too. Then, do you like flies? and do you eat them every day?"

"I eat them when I can get them," said the frog; "but I like them better at night than in the daytime, if only I can catch them asleep. You  eat during the day, and go to sleep at night. I  am a frog, and we frogs like to be quiet in the daytime, and come out to feed when it is dark. We eat all sorts of insects—beetles, and flies, and moths, and caterpillars, and we eat slugs as well, and that is why we are so useful."

"Useful?" cried Tommy Smith. "Oh, I don't believe that! I am sure that a frog can be of no use to anybody."

"If you were a gardener you would think differently," said the frog; "at least, if you were not a very ignorant one. Have I not told you that I eat slugs and insects, and do you not know that slugs and insects eat the leaves of the flowers and vegetables in your garden? Have you never seen your father or his gardener pouring something over his rose-trees to kill the insects upon them? Now, I eat a great many insects in a single night, and I am only one  of the frogs in your garden. There are others there besides me. If we were all to be killed, your father would find it much more difficult to have nice roses, and he would lose other flowers too, for there are insects which do harm to all of them. As for the slugs, if you will go out some night with a lantern, you may see them feeding on some of the handsomest plants, with your own eyes. That is to say, unless one of us frogs has been there; for if we have, you will not see any. Then you have seen caterpillars feeding on the cabbages. Well, I  feed on those caterpillars. So always remember that the boy who kills a frog, does harm to his father's garden."

"I don't want to do that," said Tommy Smith; "so, if what you say is true"—

"You can find it in a natural history book, if you look," said the frog; "but I ought to know best myself. And I can tell you this, that when a frog speaks to a little boy, he always speaks the truth."

"Well, then," said Tommy Smith, "I will never hurt a frog again."

How pleased the poor frog was when he heard that. He gave a great hop out of Tommy Smith's hand, and came down upon the grass again, and then he hopped about for a little while, jumping higher each time than the time before. "Frogs always speak the truth," he said,—"when they speak to little boys. And now, perhaps, you would like to learn something more about me. Ask me any question you like, and I will answer it, because of what you have just promised."

This puzzled Tommy Smith a little, because he did not know where to begin, but at last he said, "You seem to me a very big frog. Were you always as big as you are now?"

"Why, of course not," said the frog, "a frog grows up just as much as a little boy does. I was once so small that you would hardly have been able to see me. But, besides being smaller, I was quite a different shape to what I am now. I had no legs at all, but instead of them I had a long tail, with which I used to swim about in the water, so that I was much more like a fish than a frog, and many people would have thought that I was a fish."

"That sounds very funny," said Tommy Smith.

"But were not you once much smaller than you are now?" said the frog.

"Oh yes!" Tommy Smith answered, "but however small I was, I was always a little boy, and had hands and feet, just as I have now."

"With you it is different," said the frog; "but there are some animals who are one thing when they are born, but change into another as they grow older. It is so with us frogs, and, if you listen, I will tell you all about it."

"Go on," said Tommy Smith, "I should like to hear very much."

"In the nice warm weather," the frog continued, "we hop about the country, and then we like to come into gardens. But in the winter we go to ponds and ditches and bury ourselves in the mud at the bottom, and go to sleep there. In the early spring, when the weather begins to get a little warmer, we come up again, and then the mother frog lays a lot of eggs, which float about in the water, and look like a great ball of jelly. After a time, out of each egg there comes a tiny little brown thing, and directly it comes out, it begins to swim about in the water, as well as if it had had swimming lessons, although, of course, it has never had any. It soon grows bigger, and then you can see that it has a large round head and a long tail, but you cannot see any legs. But, as it goes on growing, a small pair of hind legs come out, one on each side of the tail, and then every day the tail gets smaller and the hind legs larger. Still there are no front legs yet, but at last these come too. The tail is now quite short, and the head and body begin to look like a frog's head and body, which they did not do before, and they go on looking more and more like one, until, at last, the little brown thing with a tail, that swam about like a fish in the water, has changed into a little baby frog, that hops about on the land. Then this little baby frog grows larger and larger, until, at last, he becomes a fine fat frog, as big and as handsome as I am."

"It all seems very curious," said little Tommy Smith; "and I never knew anything about it before."

"That is because nobody ever told you," said the frog, "and you have never thought of finding out for yourself. But have you not passed by ponds in the spring time and seen those little brown things with tails that I have been telling you about, swimming about in them?"

"Oh yes, I have!" said Tommy Smith; "but I always thought that those were tadpoles."

"They are tadpoles," said the frog, "but they are young frogs for all that. A little tadpole grows into a big frog, just as a little boy grows into a big man. So you see, what a funny life mine has been, and what a lot of curious things have happened to me."

"Yes, you have had a funny life, Mr. Frog," said Tommy Smith, "and I think it is very interesting. But is there any other clever thing you can do besides catching flies? I can catch flies myself, but I do it with my hand instead of with my tongue."

"I can change my skin," said the frog, "and that  is something which you  cannot do."

"No," said Tommy Smith; "and I do not believe you can do it either. I think you are only laughing at me."

"Well," said the frog, "as it happens, my skin fits me quite comfortably now, and is not at all too tight, so I do not want to change it yet. But I have a cousin—a toad—who is quite ready to have a new one. He lives a little way off, in the shrubbery; so if you would like to see how he does it, I can bring you to him. He is very good natured, like myself, and if you will only promise to leave off hurting him, as well as me, he will be very pleased to show you, I am sure. I must tell you, too, that he is almost as useful in a garden as I am, for he lives on the same things, and catches flies and slugs just as I do."

"Then isn't he quite  as useful?" said Tommy Smith; but as the frog didn't seem to hear, he went on with—"Then I will not hurt him any more than I will you."

"Come along, then," said the frog; and he began to hop in front of the little boy until they came to the shrubbery, where, in the mould beside a laurel bush, there sat a great, solemn-looking toad.

"I have brought someone to see you," said the frog. "This is little Tommy Smith, who used to be such a bad boy, and kill every animal he saw; but now he has promised not to hurt either of us."

"I am glad to hear it," answered the toad, "and I hope he will soon learn to leave other creatures alone too. Well, what is it he wants?"

"He wants to see you change your skin," said the frog.

"He had better look at me, then," said the toad, "for that is just what I am doing."

Tommy Smith bent down to look, and then he saw that the toad was wriggling about in rather a funny way, as if he was a little uncomfortable. He noticed, too, that his skin had split along the back, and it seemed to be wrinkling up and getting loose all over him, although it had been too tight before. This loose skin was dirty and old-looking, but underneath it, where it was split, Tommy Smith could see a nice new one that looked ever so much better. The more the toad wriggled, the looser the old skin got, and it was soon plain that he was wriggling himself out of it, just as you might wriggle your hand out of an old glove. At last he had got right out of it, and there lay the old skin on the ground.

"You see," said the frog, "that is how we change our skin, just as you would change a suit of clothes. Does he not look handsome in his new one?"

"Very handsome—for a toad," said Tommy Smith. (The toad only heard the first two words of this, so he was very pleased.) "But what is he doing with his old skin, now that he has got it off?"

"If you wait a little, you will see," said the frog.

All this time the toad was pushing his old skin backwards and forwards with his two front feet, and he kept on doing this until, at last, he had rolled it up into a sort of ball. Then all at once he opened his great wide mouth and swallowed the ball, just as if it had been a large pill.

Tommy Smith was so surprised that he could hardly believe his eyes. "He has swallowed his own skin!" he cried.

"Of course I have," said the toad; "and the best thing to do with it, I  think. I always like to be tidy, and not to leave things lying about. Now, good-morning," and he began to crawl away, for he was not an idle  toad, but had business to attend to.

"And I have something to see about," said the frog, "so I will say good-bye, too, for the present. But remember what you have promised—never to hurt a frog or a toad;" and, with two or three great hops, he was out of sight.

Tommy Smith stood thinking about it all for some time, and then he ran into the house to tell everybody all the wonderful things he had learnt about frogs and toads, and to beg them never to kill any, because they do good in the garden.

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