The Magnificent Grinning Toad of Gilchrist County

You don’t know about this toad, without you having read a short story by the name of The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calavares County, but that doesn’t matter. That story was by Mr. Mark Twain, and while I know that I am not of such esteemed pedigree, I do hope to be able to afford some comfort to any tired eyes that may stumble upon this little anecdote.

***********

Over the lazy river, across the fields, and straight through the Blue Mountains, lies the County of Calavares where a miraculous frog by the name of Dan’l Webster, astounded the folks by being able to out-jump any other frog in the land. His master, a Mr. Smiley, however, was hoodwinked by a stranger one day and lost not only old Dan’l but his entire fame and fortune. This was by all accounts a most unfortunate occurrence. Now Mr. Smiley meant well, but he was ultimately no better than that stranger, but as is often the nature of con-men and gamblers, Mr. Smiley packed his bags and moved on to the next territory where wealth was to be had. That land happened to only be on the other side of those aforementioned boundaries, in the county of Gilchrist.

While ambling along the overgrown footpaths through the county, Mr. Smiley couldn’t help notice that he was being followed. He never saw the follower, but was able to hear the leaves rustling behind him. This stalker, however, was a hard one to beat, for every time Mr. Smiley tried to catch him in the act, he only found the footpath as empty as a milk bucket in August. Confounded, he scratched his head and wondered as to why every time he took a step, he heard the scurry of  little feet behind him. Well, sense soon caught up to old noggin, and just in the middle of a stride he jumped around and caught the tiny critter dead in his tracks.

He was astounded by what he saw, none other than a horny toad! And what was it doing at old Mr. Smiley? Well smiling of course! Boy, this toad sure had a grin. Stretching from ear to ear, or rather from horn to horn, the toad couldn’t help but flash his pearly whites at the fact he’d been found out. (Something tells me though, that this wasn’t exactly an accident). And after staring at the horny toad for a second, Mr. Smiley blinked and leaped into the air higher than the frog of old. For he wasn’t surprised or scared or nothing- he always knew luck would send him a gift and now it was here for the reaping! And to hell with frogs anyways, he thought, they’re only good for jumping and the folks have grown tired of them. Toads now, they’re in “vogue,” have a grin wider than the river, and just guaranteed to tickle your bones.

Then as Mr. Smiley and his great smiling horny toad, dubbed Henry Clay, pranced down the footpath he repeated this pitch over and over.

***************

The day had slipped into night and it was then when Mr. Smiley and Henry Clay reached the village of Perkins, and headed straight for the tavern. Bursting over the threshold with more exuberance he had felt in a long time, the old man crossed to the barkeep and confidently nodded to the fine bourbon on the top shelf. The barkeep (with a rather obnoxious mustache, in the curled style no less) did his job and curtly asked Mr. Smiley for the two dollars.

“How about this,” replied the trickster, “I’ll lay four dollars that this here toad of mine can tickle your bones and that will be payment enough, for jumpin’ frogs are out of style.”

“Well I don’t know nothin’ about frogs, but I do know that’s only one everyday horny toad. Ain’t nothing funny ’bout him ‘cept it’s been plopped here on my counter.” This barkeeps lips were as tight as a clam under that curly mustache.

Without waiting for explicit consent, Mr. Smiley cupped Henry Clay in his hands and turned his back to the barkeep. He spoke softly to his pet.

Turning around the duo met a rather quizzical expression in the other man, who couldn’t help but to wait in anticipation. Mr. Smiley was silent. Henry Clay was motionless. Then in a great flurry of action, Mr. Smiley slammed his hands on the counter for dramatic effect and let out a hoot and a holler that made the barkeep near jump out of skin. But it was all to great affect for when the barkeep looked down at the toad he nearly jumped out of his skin again- for that toad was grinning! He had never seen such a ridiculous sight in all his life and couldn’t help but burst into hysterics.

Recognizing his cue, Mr. Smiley scooped up his toad, and skipped down the street to the next saloon. Laughter could be heard following the pair all through the night.

********************

Following a sound night of restful sleep, Mr. Smiley was once again confronted by the fickle hand of fate. As the birds chirped in the early light of the dawn, the schemer was gathering his bags to move on to more fertile hunting grounds when he notices something odd. The small wooden box in which he kept ol’ Henry Clay was ajar. The toad was missing!

Mr. Smiley, however, was so stranger to misfortune and did not let panic take him over. He got onto his belly, in the cool dirt, and spied a track of minuscule footprints bounding their way into the foliage just a few feet away. Following the path, Mr. Smiley silently prayed that bad luck would not befall him again. The previous night had been successful but his immediate livelihood depended on a string of such sleazy triumphs.

After what seemed like hours trekking through the forest, sometimes losing the footprints, and swatting mosquitoes, Mr. Smiley came to a dead end at the base of a large and ancient oak. He scratched his head and accepted his defeat. Smiley was heading on back to civilization when he heard a strangely familiar rustle behind him. Just as sure as his name was Mr. Smiley, he grinned from ear to ear, and let out a shrill cry of enthusiasm as he turned to face was surely was his beloved toad, Henry Clay.

*******************

Well, my friends, on that day out there in the woods Mr. Smiley never did see Henry Clay again. What was in fact standing there behind the man was a massive black bear that had been sleeping up in the branches of that equally massive oak tree. Now, I’m not saying that Mr. Smiley met an unfortunate end, he could very well still be running for his life in Gilchrist County. Or Calavares County. Or all over these united States for all that matters.

But we’ll never know. Only Henry Clay as he looked on from his perch atop the trunk.

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