For many generations past that problematical animal, the toad-in-a-hole (literal, not culinary) has been one of the most familiar and interesting personages of contemporary folk-lore and popular natural history. From time to time he turns up afresh, with his own wonted perennial vigour, on paper at least, in company with the great sea-serpent, the big gooseberry, the shower of frogs, the two-headed calf, and all the other common objects of the country or the seaside in the silly season. No extraordinary natural phenomenon on earth was ever better vouched for—in the fashion rendered familiar to us by the Tichborne claimant—that is to say, no other could ever get a larger number of unprejudiced witnesses to swear positively and unreservedly in its favour. Unfortunately, however, swearing alone no longer settles causes off-hand, as if by show of hands, ‘the Ayes have it,’ after the fashion prevalent in the good old days when the whole Hundred used to testify that of its certain knowledge John Nokes did not commit such and such a murder; whereupon John Nokes was forthwith acquitted accordingly. Nowadays, both justice and science have become more exacting; they insist upon the unpleasant and discourteous habit of cross-examining their witnesses (as if they doubted them, forsooth!), instead of accepting the witnesses’ own simple assertion that it’s all right, and there’s no need for making a fuss about it. Did you yourself see the block of stone in which the toad is said to have been found, before the toad himself was actually extracted? Did you examine it all round to make quite sure there was no hole, or crack, or passage in it anywhere? Did you satisfy yourself after the toad was released from his close quarters that no such hole, or crack, or passage had been dexterously closed up, with intent to deceive, by plaster, cement, or other artificial composition? Did you ever offer the workmen who found it a nominal reward—say five shillings—for the first perfectly unanswerable specimen of a genuine unadulterated antediluvian toad? Have you got the toad now present, and can you produce him here in court (on writ of habeas corpus or otherwise), together with all the fragments of the stone or tree from which he was extracted? These are the disagreeable, prying, inquisitorial, I may even say insulting, questions with which a modern man of science is ready to assail the truthful and reputable gentlemen who venture to assert their discovery, in these degenerate days, of the ancient and unsophisticated toad-in-a-hole.
Now, the worst of it is that the gentlemen in question, being unfamiliar with what is technically described as scientific methods of investigation, are very apt to lose their temper when thus cross-questioned, and to reply, after the fashion usually attributed to the female mind, with another question, whether the scientific person wishes to accuse them of downright lying. And as nothing on earth could be further from the scientific person’s mind than such an imputation, he is usually fain in the end to give up the social pursuit of postprandial natural history (the subject generally crops up about the same time as the after-dinner coffee), and to let the prehistoric toad go on his own triumphant way, unheeded.