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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Frog Catcher

By Henry James Finn (1787–1840)

[Born in Sydney, Cape Breton. Perished in the burning of the steamboat Lexington, Long Island Sound, 1840. American Comic Annual. 1831.]

ONCE upon a time, there lived in a town in Vermont, a little whippersnapper of a fellow, named Timothy Drew. Timmy was not more than five feet one, in his thick-soled boots. When standing by the side of his tall neighbors, he appeared like a dwarf among giants. Tall people are too apt to look down on those of less dimensions. Thus did the long-legged Yankees hector poor Timmy for not being a greater man. But, what our hero wanted in bulk, he made up in spirit. This is generally the case with small men. As for Timmy, he was “all pluck and gristle!” No steel-trap was smarter!

How such a little one grew on the Green Mountains, was always a mystery. Whether he was actually raised there, is, indeed, uncertain. Some say he was of Canadian descent, and was brought to the States by a Vermont peddler, who took him in barter for wooden cucumber-seeds. But Timmy was above following the cart. He disliked trade as too precarious a calling, and preferred a mechanic art. Though small, Timmy always knew which side of his bread had butter on it. Let it not be supposed that Timothy Drew always put up with coarse jibes at his size. On necessary occasions he was “chock-full of fight.” To be sure, he could not strike higher than the abdomen of his associates; but his blows were so rapid that he beat out the daylights of a ten-footer, before one could say “Jack Robinson.” A threat from Timmy was enough. How many belligerents have been quelled by this expressive admonition;—“If you say that ’ere again, I’ll knock you into the middle of next week!” This occurred in Timmy’s younger days. Age cooled his transports, and taught him to endure. He thought it beneath the dignity of an old man to quarrel with idle striplings.

Timmy Drew was a natural shoemaker. No man could hammer out a piece of sole-leather with such expedition. He used his knee for a lap-stone, and by dint of thumping, it became as hard and stiff as an iron hinge. Timmy’s shop was situated near the foot of a pleasant valley on the edge of a pond, above which thousands of water-lilies lifted their snowy heads. In the spring it was a fashionable watering-place for bullfrogs, who gathered there from all parts, to spend the warm season. Many of these were of extraordinary size, and they drew near his shop, raised their heads, and swelled out their throats like bladders, until the welkin rung with their music. Timmy, engaged at his work, beat time for them with his hammer, and the hours passed away as pleasantly as the day is long.

Timmy Drew was not one of those shoemakers that eternally stick to their bench like a ball of wax. It was always his rule to carry his work to the dwellings of his customers, to make sure of the fit. On his way home, he usually stopped at the tavern to inquire the news, and take a drop of something to drink. Here it was that the wags fastened upon him with their jokes, and often made him feel as uncomfortable as a short-tailed horse in fly-time. Still Timmy loved to sit in the bar, and talk with the company, which generally consisted of jolly peddlers, recruiting from the fatigues of the last cruise. With such society much was to be learned, and Timmy listened with intense curiosity to their long-spun tales of the wonderful and wild. There is no person that can describe an incredible fact with greater plausibility than a Yankee peddler. His difficult profession teaches him to preserve an iron gravity in expatiating on his wares, which in few cases can be said to recommend themselves. Thus, narratives, sufficient to embarrass the speech of any other relater, carry with them conviction, when soberly received from such a respectable source…. It would be impossible to repeat all the jokes played off on the poor shoemaker. The standing jest, however, was on his diminutive stature, which never was more conspicuous than in their company, for most of them were as tall as bean-poles. On this subject Timmy once gave them a memorable retort. Half a dozen of the party were sitting by the fire, when our hero entered the room. He sat down, but they affected to overlook him. This goaded Timmy, and he preserved a moody silence. Presently one of them spoke: “I wonder what has become of little Timmy Drew? I hav’n’t seen that are fellow for a week. By gosh! the frogs must have chawed him up.” “If he was sitting here before your eyes, you wouldn’t see him,” said another, “he’s so darnation small.” Timmy began to grow uneasy. “I snaggers,” said another, “no more you wouldn’t; for he isn’t knee-high to a toad. I called t’other day at his shop to get my new boots; but I couldn’t see nobody in the place. Then I heard something scratching in a corner, like a rat. I went to take up a boot, and I heard Timmy sing out, ‘Halloo!’ ‘Where the dickens are you?’ said I. ‘Here,’ said Timmy, ‘in this ’ere boot;’ and, I snaggers, there he was, sure enough, in the bottom of the boot, rasping off a peg!” A general roar of laughter brought Timmy on his legs. His dander was raised. “You boast of your bulk,” said he, straining up to his full height, and looking contemptuously around; “why, I am like a fourpenny-bit among six cents—worth the whole of ye!”

I shall now describe a melancholy joke, which they played off on the unfortunate shoemaker;—I say melancholy, for so it proved to him. A fashionable tailor in a neighboring village came out with a flaming advertisement, which was pasted up in the bar-room of the tavern, and excited general attention. He purported to have for sale a splendid assortment of coats, pantaloons, and waistcoats, of all colors and fashions; also, a great variety of trimmings, such as tape, thread, buckram, frogs, button-moulds, and all the endless small articles that make up a tailor’s stock.

The next time Timmy made his appearance, they pointed out to him the advertisement. They especially called his attention to the article of “frogs,” and reminded him of the great quantity to be caught in Lily Pond. “Why, Timmy,” said they, “if you would give up shoemaking, and take to frog-catching, you would make your ’tarnal fortune!” “Yes, Timmy,” said another, “you might bag a thousand in a half a day, and folks say they will bring a dollar a hundred.” “Two for a cent apiece, they brought in New York, when I was there last,” said a cross-eyed fellow, tipping the wink. “There’s frogs enough in Lily Pond,” said Timmy; “but it’s darnation hard work to catch ’em. I swaggers, I chased one nearly half a day before I took him—he jumped like a grasshopper. I wanted him for bait. They’re plaguey slippery fellows.” “Never mind, Timmy, take a fish-net, and scoop ’em up. You must have ’em alive, and fresh. A lot at this time would fetch a great price.” “I’ll tell you what, Timmy,” said one of them, taking him aside, “I’ll go you shares. Say nothing about it to nobody. To-morrow night I’ll come and help you catch ’em, and we’ll divide the gain.” Timmy was in raptures.

As Timmy walked home that night, one of those lucky thoughts came into his head, which are always the offspring of solitude and reflection. Thought he, “These ’ere frogs in a manner belong to me, since my shop stands nearest the pond. Why should I make two bites at a cherry, and divide profits with Jo Gawky? By gravy! I’ll get up early to-morrow morning, catch the frogs, and be off with them to the tailor’s before sunrise, and so keep all the money myself.”

Timmy was awake with the lark. Never before was there such a stir amongst the frogs of Lily Pond. But they were taken by surprise. With infinite difficulty he filled his bag, and departed on his journey.

Mr. Buckram, the tailor, was an elderly gentleman, very nervous and very peevish. He was extremely nice in his dress, and prided himself on keeping his shop as neat as wax-work. In his manner he was grave and abrupt, and in countenance severe. I can see him now, handling his shears with all the solemnity of a magistrate, with spectacles on nose, and prodigious ruffles puffing from his bosom.

He was thus engaged one pleasant spring morning, when a short, stubbed fellow, with a bag on his shoulder, entered the shop. The old gentleman was absorbed in his employment, and did not notice his visitor. But his inattention was ascribed by Timmy to deafness, and he approached and applied his mouth to the tailor’s ear, exclaiming—“I say, mister! do you want any frogs to-day?” The old gentleman dropped his shears, and sprung back in astonishment and alarm.—“Do you want any frogs this morning?” shouted Timmy, at the top of his voice. “No!” said the tailor, eying him over his spectacles, as if doubting whether he was a fool or a madman. “I have got a fine lot here,” rejoined Timmy, shaking his bag. “They are jest from the pond, and as lively as kittens.” “Don’t bellow in my ears,” said the old man pettishly, “I am not deaf. Tell me what you want, and begone!” “I want to sell you these ’ere frogs, old gentleman. You shall have them at a bargain. Only one dollar a hundred. I won’t take a cent less. Do you want them?” The old man now got a glance at the frogs, and was sensible it was an attempt at imposition. He trembled with passion. “No!” exclaimed he, “get out of my shop, you rascal!” “I say you do want ’em,” said Timmy, bristling up. “I know you want ’em; but you’re playing offish like, to beat down the price. I won’t take a mill less. Will you have them, or not, old man?” “Scoundrel!” shouted the enraged tailor, “get out of my shop this minute!”

Puzzled, mortified, and angry, Timmy slowly turned on his heel, and withdrew. “He won’t buy them,” thought he, “for what they are worth, and as for taking nothing for them, I won’t. And yet I don’t want to lug them back again; but if I ever plague myself by catching frogs again, may I be buttered! Curse the old curmudgeon! I’ll try him once more”—and he again entered the shop.

“I say, Mr. Buckram, are you willing to give me anything for these ’ere frogs?” The old man was now goaded past endurance. Stamping with rage, he seized his great shears to beat out the speaker’s brains. “Well, then,” said Timmy, bitterly, “take ’em among ye for nothing,”—at the same time emptying the contents of his bag on the floor and marching out.

Imagine the scene that followed! One hundred live bull-frogs emptied upon the floor of a tailor’s shop! It was a subject for the pencil of Cruikshanks. Some jumped this way and some that way, some under the bench and some upon it, some into the fireplace and some behind the door. Every nook and corner of the shop was occupied in an instant. Such a spectacle was never seen before. The old man was nearly distracted. He rent his hair, and stamped in a paroxysm of rage. Then seizing a broom, he made vain endeavors to sweep them out at the door. But they were as contrary as hogs, and when he swept one way, they jumped another. He tried to catch them with his hands, but they were as slippery as eels, and passed through his fingers. It was enough to exhaust the patience of Job. The neighbors, seeing Mr. Buckram sweeping frogs out of his shop, gathered around in amazement, to inquire if they were about to be beset with the plagues of Egypt. But old Buckram was in such a passion that he could not answer a word, and they were afraid to venture within the reach of his broom. It is astonishing what talk the incident made in the village. Not even the far-famed frogs of Windham excited more.

Thus were the golden visions of the frog-catcher resolved into thin air. How many speculators have been equally disappointed!

After this affair Timothy Drew could never endure the sight of a bullfrog. Whether he discovered the joke that had been played upon him, is uncertain. He was unwilling to converse on the subject. His irritability when it was mentioned only provoked inquiry. People were continually vexing him with questions. “Well, Timmy, how goes the frog market?” “How do you sell frogs?” Even the children would call after him as he passed—“There goes the frog-catcher!” Some mischievous person went so far as to disfigure his sign, so that it read—

  • BY T. DREW.