“What could he possibly want?” you say.
He had a snug little burrow, precisely the right size and shape for a toad. He had a few good friends who knew when to drop by and when to mind their own business. And he had all the bugs, grubs, and worms his warty body could consume.
What could a toad that had everything possibly want?
Warticus I. Toad wanted . . . to be loved. More specifically, to be kissed.
One day in early spring, he looked at himself in the mirror and said, “Warticus, old fellow, face the facts. You are a toad. A brown, snub-nosed, lumpy-bumpy toad. Nobody loves you. Nobody even likes you.”
“I like you, Warty!” said Darticus B. Newt, popping his pointed nose into Toad’s hole. “May I borrow some high viscosity oil?”
Toad smiled in spite of himself and invited his old friend inside. Newt was an inventor, always building something exciting. They discussed Toad’s troubles over tea.
“By the by,” said Newt. “Why aren’t you hibernating? And why are you up during the day?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” Toad replied. “Could you sleep if no one loved you?” He took a long sip of tea, then whispered, “If you’d never even been kissed?”
Newt noddded. He didn’t dare admit that he himself had never been kissed. “That is a problem.”
“And Newt,” Toad inquired, “why aren’t you hibernating?”
Newt stood and stretched. “I was asleep. But in mid-December I had the most amazing dream, and I have been awake ever since.”
“What month are we in now?”
“March. So you see,” Newt said with a glimmer in his eye, “it’s nearly time to wake up anyway.”
Toad settled himself beside the fire with a broad yawn. Newt paced up and down and stared at the ceiling. His tail lashed about as it did when he was in high good humor. “I dreamed of the most excellent invention. It was a flying apparatus, completely powered by…” here he looked at Toad, “gas!”
Toad sat on the edge of his chair, fully awake. “Yes! Go on, go on!”
“It was a dirigible airship.” He snatched the poker from the hearth and drew in the dirt of Toad’s floor. “The ship had a cylindrical shape with semi-spherical ends, like so. The structure was enveloped in varnished silk!” Here Newt stopped sketching and looked at Toad again.
Toad stifled a yawn. “Go on.”
“It was exactly six feet in length and had a diameter of…“
“And how did your dream end?” interrupted Toad, who had no patience for particulars.
Newt sank onto the sofa and sighed. “We floated over the palace and wished the royal family a happy Easter. The king invited us to tea, took a tour of my dirigible, and appointed me court inventor.”
“What did he appoint me?”
“Aahh…” Here Newt told a little falsehood, being the good friend that he was. In his dream, the queen had shrieked and subsequently fainted at the site of Toad. The king had banished the hapless creature to the darkest dungeon. “You were appointed His Majesty’s court musician.”
This satisfied Toad, who played the tuba uncommonly well. What satisfied him even more was the thought of being acquainted with the royal family–to be specific, her highness, the fair Princess Priscilla. Princesses had been known to kiss amphibians in times past. “Let’s build it!” he cried. “I’ll arrange for everything!”
“We may run into trouble finding a tank of hydrogen gas,” said the ever-practical Newt.
“Great grubs, Newt! Didn’t I tell you I’d take care of everything? Leave it to me.”
Newt had hoped to hear this. To own the truth, it was the precise reason he had paid the visit. Newt was clever, true, but woefully short of ready cash. “Where shall we build it?”
Toad clapped his toes. “I know just the place! Farmer McGrudggin’s old abandoned barn. The humans think it haunted by McGrudggin’s departed mother-in-law, who perished by choking on a parsnip. We shall be able to build your great flying machine there utterly undisturbed!”
Newt’s tongue flickered out and his tail twitched. “I’m not certain the barn is the best place, old friend. The lighting will be very poor, and…“
“Darticus B. Newt, are you nervous?” Toad’s bulgy eyes bored into his friend’s. “You are an amphibian of science. Surely you are not scared of ghosts? Don’t be faint-hearted, old friend. We shall build in the daylight, much as I detest it, and I will see you home well before dark.”
Newt gave Toad a shy smile, and they shook toes. “Let the building begin!”
As promised, Toad procured everything Newt needed. There was some difficulty finding a hydrogen air tank, so the resourceful creature bought a helium tank, instead. “After all,” reasoned Toad, “gas is gas.”
His old crone, Biticus U. Beaver, was delighted to provide the spruce wood for the engine and propellers, for a nominal fee. The silk proved another challenge; it was readily available, but even the generous Toad found the cost a little daunting. So he purchased satin, instead.
Newt began construction right away, although he was disappointed about the satin. “It may be too heavy,” he muttered, “but then, beggars can’t be choosers. He also wished it were a different color. The dirigible in his dream had been a gleaming white, which looked like a lovely cloud against the azure sky. Toad had bought bright pink. Not exactly a fitting color for two strapping amphibians. But never mind.
Toad watched his partner busy building. He knew Newt well enough to give him a broad birth as he worked and not to ask questions. “Well, Darty, my boy,” Toad said as noon neared, “how ‘bout I go hunt us up some grubs?”
Newt dropped his wrench. “N-n-now you promised not to leave me. Toad, you promised.”
“Black beetles, Newt! Surely you aren’t afraid of McGruggin’s mother-in-law in broad daylight? Ghosts never haunt until the moon is high. And besides, there’s no such thing as ghosts! I’ll bring you back a juicy worm.” And with that he crawled out of the old barn and into the woods to dig up some dinner.
When he returned, Newt was nowhere to be found. The barn door was ajar and satin trailed out into the hay field that surrounded the decrepit building. Toad followed the pink trail all the way back to his own burrow door. It, too, was wide open.
“Newt, what ever are you doing under there?” Toad bent down and asked his friend, who was hiding under the kitchen table.
Newt stared back without saying anything. He seemed to be worlds away. Toad fished a plump nightcrawler out of his vest pocket and dangled its wriggling tail in front of Newt’s nose. That did the trick.
Sluurrp! went the worm, and Newt slithered out of hiding. He grabbed toad by the collar. “You’re wrong about Mr. McGruggin’s mother-in-law, Toad. Totally wrong!” Newt shook so, he shook Toad. “She spoke to me! She did!”
Toad freed himself from his friend. “Did she now? And what did she say?”
Newt gulped. “She said, and I quote, ‘Whooo, whooo, whooo are you? And what, what, what do you doooo in my barn?” Here Newt burst into tears.
Now it was Toad’s turn to shake Newt. “Pull yourself together, old chap. That was only Ostentious the Owl. You know, he thinks he owns that beat-up barn.” Merciful mealworms, Toad thought, I’ll never get kissed at this rate!
Newt quit crying and hiccupped a time or two. “That was an owl?” Then he laughed as hysterically as he’d cried.
Toad towed Newt back to the building. In no time the dirigible was done.
It was light enough that with a little pulling on Toad’s part, and a lot of pushing on Newt’s, they were able to maneuver it outside. They donned their goggles and hopped atop the motor.
“Give her the gas!” Newt commanded. Toad obeyed, and up the dirigible duo flew. “You know,” observed Newt, “I thought this heavy satin would weigh us down, but we’re flying fabulously. Give her more gas!”
They floated up past cottage tops and treetops. They floated over golden fields of grain. They floated toward the Great City and above Royal Palace, looking like a bright pink pill against a grey sky.
When Toad saw the royal residence, he lost his mind. He leaned over the motor’s edge and accidentally pressed the nozzle on the helium tank to full tilt. Up they shot like a pink rocket into a cloud heavy with rain.
“This will never do!” Newt cried. “The moisture will wet the satin and make us sink!”
Newt knew what he was talking about. The wet satin sagged against the wooden frame, and the dirigible took a thrilling nose-dive right into Princess Pricilla’s reflecting pool.
Sploosh! went the dirigible and its contents, and splat! went Toad, right onto the lips of the princess, who’d been reflecting upon her beauty at the tragic moment of their demise.
Her highness squealed and peeled the offending Toad from her face. She flung him far, hurtling him into His Majesty King Alfred’s rose garden. Toad had a prickly landing but plucked himself out of the soft soil as best he could. He quickly burrowed into the earth, with one ear open.
“Find him, father!” shrieked the princess. “KILL HIM!”
“Now, now,” cooed the king (who, along with the queen, had come running at the sound of their daughter’s distress), “no harm, no foul. Toads are good for gardens, eating grubs and bugs, and what have you.”
“What is that in the water?” inquired the queen. “That creature under the giant pink lily pad?”
And so Newt’s dream, as far as it concerned him, came true. The king was so impressed with Newt’s dirigible, he was appointed court inventor. He often dined on delectable earthworms of the evening with his friend, Toad, whose lot wasn’t so bad, either.
You see, among the roses lived a lovely Toadess, who, unlike the princess, didn’t object one bit to being kissed. In fact, she rather liked it. In the spring she and her Toady had a splendid spawn of tadpoles in the reflecting pool. And that summer, they all took turns riding in Uncle Newt’s latest invention, a spectacular submarine.
1. What kind of animal is Warty?
2. What was Newt’s dream about?
3. What had scared Newt out in the barn?
4. Where did the flying dirigible crash?
5. Who did Toad find that didn’t mind being kissed?