The Toad.

A man leads a donkey along a street. The donkey pulls a heavy loaded cart and the man pulls his whip back over his shoulder as if he is about to whip the donkey. Beside the cart, a group of boys observe a toad which sits in a hole in the street in front of the cart. In the background, a gentleman and a woman walk away from the scene. The man reads and the woman wears a bonnet and holds a parasol. Half-page illustration contained within a single-ruled border.
We see the surface, but the life below,1
The common soul of all things, who can know ?2
The clouds were rosy with the sunset’s glow ;3
The stormy day was over. Evening came,4
The west transformed the rising mist to flame.5
Close by a rain-filled rut, an ugly sight,6
A toad, half-dazzled, looked up at the light.7
The leaves grew purple, and their stems were red,8
The very rut a grass-lined mirror shone ;9
The evening, like an unfurled banner spread,10
Subdued the bird’s song to a lower tone.11
Nature was hushed ; and gravely dreaming there,12
Free from all sense of shame, or fear, or care13
The harmless toad gazed at the orb of day.14
Perhaps this thing we curse felt himself blest,15
Linked with the Infinite, like all the rest.16
The lightnings on the meanest vision play,17
The foulest creature in his eye-balls blear18
Holds all the vastness of the starry sphere.19
A man who chanced to pass descried the brute,20
And shudd’ring, crush’d its head beneath his foot ;21
He was a priest, and read a book of prayer.22
A woman, flower in boddice, next came by,23
And with her parasol put out an eye.24
The priest was old, the woman young and fair !25
Then came four school-boys, cheerful as the sky,26
Giddy with hope and sport, and spirits high ;27
Loud, free, and happy ; how get through the day,28
Save by tormenting weak things in their way ?29
The toad was crawling slowly, seeking shade ;30
The children spied it out, and shouting ran,31
Here, let us kill the nasty thing,” they said ;32
And since he’s ugly, hurt him all we can.”33
Then laughing, each—the child laughs when he kills34
Begin to prick his blinded eye anew,35
The passers-by applauding, laughing too.36
From every wound the loathsome blood distils,37
At every blow the froth starts more and more.38
The vicious thing, he foams !” the children roar.39
Head crush’d, eye hanging, one leg torn away,40
Thro’ grass and briar he forced his wretched way.41
It seemed that death disdained so foul a prey !42
At length he reached the rut, and plunging found43
Relief and shelter in the swampy ground.44
The children, rosy-cheeked and flaxen haired,45
Said ’t was the finest sport they’d ever shared ;46
Talked all at once ; at last, devised to throw47
A good large stone to give the final blow.48
All watch the creature in its hiding-place49
With cruel transport in each youthful face.50
Then one runs off and brings a huge stone back,51
And cries, “ Look out, we ’ll see how this will do.”52
That very moment down the rugged track53
A wretched ass his heavy cart-load drew54
Old, meagre, lame, worn-out ; a scare-crow quite,55
Each step he took seemed like to be the last56
Nearing his journey’s end in piteous plight,57
While heavy blows rained on him thick and fast ;58
The road was rough, the muddy ruts were deep,59
The wheels came creaking, grinding down the steep ;60
The ass could hardly stand, the carter swore,61
The patient creature whip and burden bore,62
Lost in deep dreams beyond our mental ken.63
The children heard the cart, turned round, and then64
Loudly called out, “ Nay, do not throw the stone,65
Just wait a moment, leave the toad alone,66
The wheel will crush it, ’t will be better fun,”67
And then they waited, breathless, till ’twas done.68
The cart came onward through the rut. The ass69
Saw the toad lying where the wheel must pass,70
And bent his head, poor sufferer, to see71
A thing that suffered even more than he ;72
He seemed to sniff the battered bleeding mass.73
Then, gathering all his strength and forcing back74
The heavy cart from out the beaten track,75
Despite his driver’s shouts and blows, the ass76
Stiffened his bleeding muscles ’gainst the load77
And turned the wheel aside and spared the toad,78
And ’neath a shower of blows pursued his road.79
Then, one small hand the stone it held let fall,80
And of those children, one, he tells the story,81
Heard, sounding from the great sky’s arch of glory,82
A voice that said, “ Be merciful to all !”83