10/04/2004: "The Black Frog of Calaveras County"
By Edgar Allen Twain
I am a solitary creature given to prolonged fits of melancholy. It is
therefore quite understandable that, due to my natural inclinations, I
have made few acquaintances and even fewer close friends. Thus it was with
the utmost surprise when I received a telegram for one Simon Wheeler, a
man practically unknown to me save through a mutual contact, a certain Mr.
Leonidas W. Smiley, a man of similar temprement to my own with whom I
have, on occasion, conducted business dealings.
The telegram, which read simply: "Urgent. Please Come. Angel's Camp. S.
Wheeler." alighted within my being the greatest curiosity. Angel's Camp
was, indeed, a mining town and the brevity of the message hinted at the
possibility of a discovery to which a great deal of discretion should be
attached. By "reading between the lines", I quickly deduced that a new vein
of Gold had been discovered and that investors were being sought out. Eager
for a chance to exploit this opportunity, I had my servant prepare my horse
and set out with particular haste towards Angel's Camp.
I arrived in town shortly after nightfall and, after some inquiry,
eventually found Wheeler sitting by the bar-room stove of an old,
dilapidated tavern. But how could this be the same Simon Wheeler whom
Leonidas Smiley had introduced to me not two years ago on Rutledge Street?
That man had appeared goon-natured and garrulous, with a rosy hue to his
cheeks and, despite being bald and somewhat portly, the very picture of
The Simon Wheeler whom I now gazed upon sat alone, fidgeting nervously and
shooting distrustful glances about the room each time an ancient stool
squeaked or a glass loudly clinked against one of its brethren. He had
lost a great deal of weight and his once ruddy complexion was now the
ghastly ashen. He eyes, which I recalled as dancing and full of light had
transformed into leaden orbs which had shrank into his skull. With no small
amount of reticence, I held forth my hand in greeting and said "Mr.
Wheeler, I received your telegram…"
"I …you were the only one I could contact," he interrupted in what I can
only describe as a sort of monotone croak the effect of which increased
the already unwholesome atmosphere of the surroundings by tenfold.
"Leonidas spoke highly of you as rational man of business - one not given
to childish flights of fancy. I find myself in desperate need of such a
man as yourself."
"I'm afraid I don't understand, Mr. Wheeler. If you could…"
"I beg of you, please fetch a chair and seat yourself close enough that
others may not hear what I am about to impart to you." He shot another
suspicious glance about the tavern, taking in its half dozen or so shabby
I did as he requested and no sooner had I seated myself opposite him than
he sprang forward with surprising speed, seizing my left forearm, and
fixing my eyes to his. "Leonidas considered you of balanced mind, do you
share that opinion?" he hissed through broken, yellow teeth. I answered
that I liked to consider myself as such and was not easily given over to
superstition or unwarranted fears,for I gathered this to be the most
inopportune circumstance under which to explain by battle with depression.
I also inquired as to the health of Leonidas whom I had not seen in
As if in a trance he ignored my inquiry and continued, "There is a
something that I want…that I need to tell you. The effect of this
information on a man of less sober character than yourself, I dare not
gauge. When I have finished with my story, I shall go and neither you nor
anyone else shall hear from me again."
I attempted to protest, but so strong was his grip and so icy his stare
that I dare not move. "You have, no doubt, heard rumors? Recriminations
about Leonidas' slavery to the bottle and to cards?"
"Sir, I assure you that I give no credence to idle gossip. In my dealings
with him, Leonidas conducted himself with most professional manners. I
"The rumors were, of course true," Wheeler continued as if I had never
spoken. "The twin demons of alcohol and gambling had left him in
considerable debt. So much so, that he sought me out for a small loan. One
which I can honestly say that I would've happily provided him even knowing,
as I did in my heart, that its repayment was most unlikely.
Oh, if only I had given him the money and sent him on his way, but by the
foulest of coincidences he arrived in Angel's Camp on the day of our annual
Bullfrog Festival. I judge by the puzzled look on your face that you're
unfamiliar with our festival."
The fact that he had acknowledged my expression took me back a bit, for so
lost in thought had he appeared that I was certain he registered nothing
outside of his own recollections. I opened my mouth, but before I could
confess my ignorance of local custom, he resumed his monologue:
"On the last Saturday of July, for as long as anyone around these parts
can remember, Angel's Camp has conducted its annual Bullfrog Festival
. Music and food are provided by the various households of the community
and the day culminates with a bullfrog jumping contest. The prize, awarded
to the man whose frog leaps the furthest, is fifty dollars. No great
amount to either you or I, but a significant windfall to men who scratch
their living from the dirt - and to a man with creditors on his heels.
When Leonidas arrived and expressed curiosity as to the crowd gathering in
the square, I informed him as to the particulars of the festival and the
contest. Feigning amusement he quickly suggested that go off in search of
a bullfrog to enter in the competition - 'strictly for merriment.' And so
we retired to the banks of the river where, after spending most of the
morning seeking amphibians, we found ourselves empty handed.
By this point Leonidas had grown weary of the hunt and had just suggested
that we return to village to see if any of the miners possessed a frog
worth betting on when we witnessed a flash of ebony streak from the
river's bank to beneath a small bush over twenty feet distant. As we crept
up to the bush, our eyes perceived another flash of movement - this time
from the bush to a pile of leaves, again some twenty feet away.
Leonidas, in what I must confess was the most ungentlemanly display, dashed
himself upon the pile and began scampering about on his hands and knees. A
few minutes later, Leonidas righted himself and held forth the most unusual
creature for my inspection - a Bullfrog, huge and as black as Indigo ink.
Giddy with delight at the prospect of claiming the fifty dollar prize,
Leonidas raced towards the village, his obsidian quarry grasped firmly in
his hands. Shocked by what I deemed to be my friend's immature behavior, I
lagged behind. A decision that has haunted me these past months, and which
will continue to haunt me for my remaining days - I pray that they be few.
I would latter learn that when Leonidas arrived in Angel's Camp he walked
up to the first group of men that he saw conjugating together and attempted
to place bets with them that his black frog would win that day's
competition by jumping at least fifteen feet.
These men, miners all, are a close-knit community and hold no small distain
towards outsiders, especially those attempting to compete for what they
feel to be their prize money. So, it was with great pleasure that they
informed Leonidas of something which had completely slipped my mind. This
year was a Leap Year and therefore 'Leap Year rules' would be implemented.
Every four years, on a Leap Year, it was explained to Leonidas, the prize
money is doubled to one hundred dollars. This news naturally brought a
smile to Leonidas face - one which turned to a malevolent scowl once it was
further explained that money would be awarded to the man whose frog jumped
the shortest distance. This explanation was followed by riotous
laughter at Leonidas' expense.
I arrived on the scene just as the mocking laughter was dying down and in
time to witness Leonidas regain his composure, or so I thought, and
announce with showman-like flair 'Gentlemen, so confident am I in the
superiority of my black frog, that I will gladly wager that, not only will
he jump the smallest distance, but - like the best trained hunting dog -
he will obey my command to remain perfectly still.' Once more the crowd
burst into laughter; however this time Leonidas joined in with them,
letting forth a shrill cackle.
A short time later, after securing the miners wagers, Leonidas crept off
in the direction of the woods, refusing to acknowledge my presence. I know
now that I should've pursued him and attempted to glean his designs, but
so embarrassed was I by his behavior that I wished no one to perceive a
connection between us.
Less than an hour later, an announcement was made for all the men who would
be entering frogs in the jumping contest to assemble before a white line
which had been chalked into the grass. About two dozen men (Leonidas among
them), closely followed by a noisy pack of children, stepped forward and
squatted, placing their frogs on the line. The frogs instantaneously began
leaping in all the directions of the compass - with the sole exception of
Leonidas' black bullfrog which remained perfectly still, apparently
obeying Leonidas' command to 'sit.'
Now all eyes turned to Leonidas' black frog and suddenly the air was
punctuated with screams of horror from the children and cries of disgust
from the adults as the reason why the frog remained steadfast became
clearly visible, for Leonidas had amputated all of the poor creatures legs.
Rising to his feet, Leonidas addressed the angry crowd, "You dared to make
sport of me?" he bellowed. "You, a pack of ignorant rustics, dared to
laugh in my face? Well, I ask you, who's laughing now?" Once more Leonidas
let forth a shrill cackle as he was seized up and carried off by a mob of
several dozen miners.
Mericful Lord, how I wanted to intercede on Leonidas' behalf, but I know
full well that had I stepped forward and acknowledged him as my friend,
so caught up in their frenzy were the miners, that they would've visited
upon me the same punishment they planned to deliver upon Leonidas. Racked
with guilt, I waited and waited for news of my friends fate, but miners
never spoke of what had happened to Leonidas.
For months I searched, fruitlessly, for any scrap of information as to
Leonidas' whereabouts. And then, a few weeks ago while I was visiting
Baltimore on business, this caught my eye."
Wheeler shaky hand reached into his coat pocket and removed a large piece
of paper which had been folded into quarters. Carefully he unfolded the
paper and handed it to me. It was an advertisement for a traveling circus
called "The Garibaldi Family Carnival of Wonders" which seemed to feature
the usual assortment of trained ponies, acrobats, and…
It took all of my strength to stifle the scream, for there - directly
beneath the words "The Human Tadpole" - was a depiction of the limbless
torso of Leonidas W. Smiley.