Story type: Literature
“Turn back observantly into your own youth, and awaken, warm, and vivify the eternal youth of your mind.”–FROEBEL.
When I was a little girl my sister and I lived in the country. She was younger than I, and the dearest, fattest little toddlekins of a sister you ever knew. She always wanted to do exactly as I did, so that I had to be very careful and do the right things; for if I had been naughty she would surely have been naughty too, and that would have made me very sad.
As we lived in the country we had none of the things to amuse us that city children have. We couldn’t walk in crowded streets and see people and look in at beautiful shop-windows, or hear the street-organs play and see the monkeys do tricks; we couldn’t go to dancing school, nor to children’s parties, nor to the circus to see the animals.
But we had lovely plays, after all.
In the spring we hunted for mayflowers, and sailed boats in the brooks, and gathered fluffy pussy-willows. We watched the yellow dandelions come, one by one, in the short green grass, and we stood under the maple-trees and watched the sap trickle from their trunks into the great wooden buckets; for that maple sap was to be boiled into maple sugar and syrup, and we liked to think about it. In the summer we went strawberrying and blueberrying, and played “hide and coop” behind the tall yellow haycocks, and rode on the top of the full haycarts. In the fall we went nutting, and pressed red and yellow autumn leaves between the pages of our great Webster’s Dictionary; we gathered apples, and watched the men at work at the cider-presses, and the farmers as they threshed their wheat and husked their corn. And in the winter we made snow men, and slid downhill from morning till night when there was any snow to slide upon, and went sleighing behind our dear old horse Jack, and roasted apples in the ashes of the great open fire.
But one of the things we cared for most was our froggery, and we used to play there for hours together in the long summer days.
Perhaps you don’t know what a froggery is; but you do know what a frog is, and so you can guess that a froggery is a place where frogs live. My little sister and I used at first to catch the frogs and keep them in tin cans filled with water; but when we thought about it we saw that the poor froggies couldn’t enjoy this, and that it was cruel to take them away from their homes and make them live in unfurnished tin houses. So one day I asked my father if he would give us a part of the garden brook for our very own. He laughed, and said, “Yes,” if we wouldn’t carry it away.
Our garden was as large as four or five city blocks, and a beautiful silver-clear brook flowed through it, turning here and there, and here and there breaking into tinkling little waterfalls, and dropping gently into clear, still pools.
It was one of these deep, quiet pools that we chose for our froggery. It was almost hidden on two sides by thick green alder-bushes, so that it was always cool and pleasant there, even on the hottest days.
My father put pieces of fine wire netting into the water on each of the four sides of the pool, and so arranged them that we could slip those on the banks up and down as we pleased. Whenever we went there we always took away the side fences, and sat flat down upon the smooth stones at the edges of the brook and played with the frogs.
Here we used to watch our gay young polliwogs grow into frogs, one leg at a time coming out at each “corner” of their fat wriggling bodies. We kept two great bull-frogs,–splendid bass singers both of them,– that had been stoned by naughty small boys, and left for dead by the roadside. We found them there, bound up their broken legs and bruised backs, and nursed them quite well again in one corner of the froggery that we called the hospital. In another corner was the nursery, and here we kept all the tiniest frogs; though we always let them out once a day to play with the older ones, for fear that they never would learn anything if they were kept entirely to themselves. One of our great bull-frogs grew so strong and well, after being in the hospital for a while, that he jumped over the highest of the wire fences, which was two feet higher than any frog ever was known to jump, so our hired man said,–jumped over and ran away. We called him the “General,” because he was the largest of our frogs and the oldest, we thought. (He hadn’t any gray hairs, but he was very much wrinkled.) We were sorry to lose the General, and couldn’t think why he should run away, when we gave him such good things to eat and tried to make him so happy. My father said that perhaps his home was in a large pond, some distance off, where there were so many hundred frogs that it was quite a gay city life for them, while the froggery was in a quiet brook in our quiet old garden. (If I were a frog, it seems to me I should like such a home better than a great noisy stagnant pond near the road, where I should be frightened to death half a dozen times a day; but there is no accounting for tastes!)
But what do you think? After staying away for three days and nights the General came back safe and sound! We knew it was our own beloved General, and not any common stranger-frog, because there was the scar on his back where the boys had stoned him. My little sister thought that perhaps the General was born in Lily Pad Pond, on the other side of the village, and only went back to get a sight of the pond lilies, which were just in full bloom. If that was so, I cannot blame the General; for snow-white pond lilies, with their golden hearts and the green frills round their necks, are the loveliest things in the world, as they float among their shiny pads on the surface of the pond. Did you ever see them?
All our frogs had names of their own, of course, and we knew them all apart, although they looked just alike to other people. There was Prince Pouter, Brownie, and Goldilegs; Bright-Eye, Chirp, and Gray Friar; Hop-o’-my-Thumb, Croaker, Baby Mine, Nimblefoot, Tiny Tim, and many others.
We were so afraid that our frogs wouldn’t like the froggery better than any other place in the brook that we gave them all the pleasures we could think of. They always had plenty of fat juicy flies and water-bugs for their dinners, and after a while we put some silver shiners and tiny minnows into the pool, so that they would have fishes to play with as well as other frogs. You know you do not always like to play with other children; sometimes you like kittens and dogs and birds better.
Then we gave our frogs little vacations once in a while. We tied a long soft woolen string very gently round one of their hind legs, fastened it to a twig of one of the alderbushes, and let them take a long swim and make calls on all their friends.
We had a singing-school for them once a week. It was very troublesome, for they didn’t like to stand in line a bit, and it is quite useless to try and teach a class in singing unless the scholars will stand in a row or keep in some sort of order. We used to put a nice little board across the pool, and then try to get the frogs to sit quietly in line during their lesson. The General behaved quite nicely, and really got into the spirit of the thing, so that he was a splendid example for the head of the class. Then we used to put Myron W. Whitney next in line, on account of his beautiful bass voice. We named him after a gentleman who had once sung in our church, and I hope if he ever heard of it he didn’t mind, for the frog was really a credit to him. Myron W. Whitney behaved nearly as well as the General, but we could never get him to sing unless we held the class just before bedtime, and then the little frogs were so sleepy that they kept tumbling out of the singing-school into the pool. That was the trouble with them all; they never could quite see the difference between school and pool. It seems to me they must have known it was very slight after all.
Towards the end of the summer we had trained them so well that once in a long while we could actually get them all still at once, and all facing the right way as they sat upon that board. Oh! it was a beautiful sight, and worth any amount of trouble and work! Twenty-one frogs in a row, all in fresh green suits, with clean white shirt fronts, washed every day. The General and Myron W. Whitney always looked as if they were bursting with pride, and as they were too fat and lazy to move, we could generally count upon their good behavior.
We thought that if we could only get them to look down into the pool, which made such a lovely looking-glass, and just see for once what a beautiful picture they made,–sitting so straight and still, and all so nicely graded as to size,–they would like it better and do it a little more willingly.
We thought, too, the baby frogs would be ashamed, when they looked in the glass, to see that while the big frogs stayed still of their own free will, THEY had to be held down with forked sticks. But we could never discover that they were ashamed.
So when everything was complete my little sister used to “let go” of the baby frogs (for, as I said, she had to hold them down while we were forming the line), and I would begin the lesson. Sometimes they would listen a minute, and then they would begin their pranks. They would insist on playing leap-frog, which is a very nice game, but not appropriate for school. Tiny Tim would jump from the foot of the class straight over all the others on to Myron W. Whitney’s back. Baby Mine would try to get between Croaker and Goldilegs, where there wasn’t any room. Nimblefoot would twist round on the board and turn his back to me, which was very impolite, as I was the teacher. Finally, Hop-o’-my- Thumb would go splash into the pool, and all the rest, save the good old General, would follow him, and the lesson would end. I suppose you have heard frogs singing just after sunset, when you were going to bed? Some people think the big bull-frogs say, “JUGO’RUM! JUGO’RUM! JUGO’RUM!” But I don’t think this is at all likely, as the frogs never drink anything but water in their whole lives.
We used to think that some of the frogs said, “KERCHUG! KERCHUG!” and that the largest one said, “GOTACRUMB! GOTACRUMB! GOTACRUMB!” Perhaps you can’t make it sound right, but if you listen to the frogs you can very soon do it.
We thought the frogs in our froggery the very best singers in all the country round. After our mother had tucked us in our little beds and kissed us good-night, she used to open the window, that we might hear the chirping and humming and kerchugging of our frogs down in the dear old garden.
As we wandered dreamily off into Sandman’s Land, the very last sound we heard was the cheerful chorus of our baby frogs, and the deep bass notes of Myron W. Whitney and the old General.
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