The well was deep, and therefore the rope was long; the wheel went around with difficulty when the waterfilled bucket had to be pulled up over the side of the well. The sun could never mirror itself down in the water, no matter how brightly it shone; but as far down as its rays penetrated, green weeds were growing from between the stones.
There was a family of toads living down there. It was an immigrant family which, as a matter of fact, had come down there headlong in the person of the old toad mother, who was still living. The green frogs that swam in the water had made their homes there for a much longer time, but they acknowledged their cousins and called them "well guests." The latter, however, had no thoughts of ever leaving, they found it very comfortable here on the dry land, as they called the wet stones.
Mamma Frog had once traveled; she'd been in the bucket when it had gone up, but the light above had been too strong for her and given her a frightful pain in the eyes. Luckily she had managed to get out of the bucket. She'd fallen into the water with a tremendous splash and been laid up for three days with a backache. She didn't have much to tell about the world above, but she did know, and so did all the others, that the well wasn't the whole world. Mamma Toad, on the other hand, might have told them a few things about it, but she never answered when anyone inquired, so they stopped inquiring.
"Big and ugly, fat and loathsome, she is!" said the young green frogs. "And her brats are getting to be just like her!"
"Maybe so," said Mamma Toad, "but one of them has a jewel in its head, if I don't have it myself!"
And the green frogs listened and stared at her, and as they didn't like this news, they made faces at her and dived down to the bottom. But the young toads stretched out their hind legs proudly. Each of them thought it was the one which had the jewel, so they all kept their heads quite rigid, but at last they began to ask what it was they had to be proud of and just what a jewel was, anyway.
"It's something so glorious and precious," said Mamma Toad, "that I can't describe it. It's something you wear for your own pleasure and others become irritated over. But ask no more, for I won't answer."
"Well, I haven't got the jewel," said the smallest Toad, which was as ugly as it could be. "Why should I have anything so splendid? And if it irritates others, why, it wouldn't please me. No, all I want is to get up to the top of the well sometime and take one peep out! It must be wonderful up there!"
"Better stay where you are," said the old Toad. "You're at home here, and you know what it's like. Keep away from the bucket, or it may squash you! And even if you did get safely into it you might fall out. Not everyone can come down as luckily as I did and keep limbs and eggs all safe and sound."
"Croak!" said the little one; and that was the same as when we humans say, "Oh!"
It had such a great desire to get up to the top of the well and look out; it felt an intense longing for the green things up there. And next morning, when the bucket, filled with water, was being pulled up and happened to pause for an instant beside the stone where the Toad sat, the little creature quivered through and through and then jumped into the bucket. It sank to the bottom of the water, which soon was drawn up and emptied out.
"Phooie, what a nuisance!" said the man when he saw it. "That's the ugliest thing I've ever seen!" And then he kicked with his heavy wooden shoe at the Toad, which came close to being crippled, but managed to escape into the middle of some tall nettles. It saw stalk after stalk around it; it looked upward and saw the sun shining on the leaves, making them quite transparent.
For the Toad it was the same as it is for us when we come suddenly into a great forest, where the sun shines between leaves and branches.
"It's much prettier here than down in that well! You could stay here for your whole lifetime!" said the little Toad. It lay there for an hour; it lay there for two hours. "Now what could there be outside? Since I've come this far I might as well go farther." So it crept as fast as it could, until it came out into the road, where the sun shone on it; and then it was powdered with dust as it hopped across the road.