A Toad in A Hole by Anonymous
The Friars of Fairoak were assembled in a chamber adjoining the great hall
of their house: the Abbot was seated in his chair of eminence, and all
eyes were turned on Father Nicodemus.
Not a word was uttered, until he who seemed to be the object of so much
interest, at length ventured to speak. "It be-hoveth not one of my years,
perchance," said he, "to disturb the silence of my elders and superiors;
but, truly, I know not what meaneth this meeting; and surely my desire to
be edified is lawful. Hath it been decided that we should follow the
example of our next-door neighbours, the Arroasian Friars, and,
henceforth, be tongue-tied? If not, do we come here to eat, or pray, or
hold council?—Ye seem somewhat too grave for those bidden to a
feast, and there lurk too many smiles about the faces of many of ye, for
this your silence to be a prelude to prayers. I cannot think, we are about
to consult on aught; because, with reverence be it spoken, those who pass
for the wisest among us, look more silly than is their wont. But if we be
here to eat—let us eat; if to pray, let us pray; and if to hold
council, what is to be the knotty subject of our debate?"
"Thyself," replied the Abbot.
"On what score?" inquired Nicodemus.
"On divers scores," quoth the Abbot; "thy misdeeds have grown rank: we
must even root them out of thee, or root thee out of our fraternity, on
which thou art bringing contumely. I tell thee, Brother Nicodemus, thy
offences are numberless as the weeds which grow by the way-side. Here be
many who have much to say of thee:—speak, Brother Ulick!"
"Brother Nicodemus," said Father Ulick, "hath, truly, ever been a gross
"And a lover of deep and most frequent potations," quoth Father Edmund.
"And a roamer beyond due bounds," added Father Hugo.
"Yea, and given to the utterance of many fictions," muttered his brother.
"Very voluble also, and not altogether of so staid aspect, as becometh one
of his order and mellow years," drawled Father James.
"To speak plainly—a glutton," said the first speaker.
"Ay, and a drunkard," said the second.
"Moreover, a night-walker," said the third.
"Also a liar," said the fourth.
"Finally, a babbler and a buffoon," said the fifth.
"Ye rate me roundly, brethren," cried Nicodemus; "and, truly, were ye my
judges, I should speedily be convicted of these offences whereof I am
accused: but not a man among you is fitted to sit in judgment on the
special misfeasance with which he chargeth me. And I will reason with you,
and tell you why. Now, first, to deal with Brother Ulick—who
upbraideth me with gross feeding:—until he can prove that his
stomach and mine are of the same quality, clamour, and power digestive, I
will not, without protest, permit him to accuse me of devouring swinishly.
He is of so poor and weak a frame, that he cannot eat aught but soppets,
without suffering the pangs of indigestion, and the nocturnal visits of
incubi, and more sprites than tempted Saint Anthony. It is no virtue in
him to be abstemious; he is enforced to avoid eating the tithe of what
would be needful to a man of moderate stomach; and behold, how lean he
looks! Next, Brother Edmund hath twitted me with being a deep drinker:—now,
it is well known, that Brother Edmund must not take a second cup after his
repast; being so puny of brain, that if he do, his head is racked with
myriads of pains and aches on the morrow, and it lieth like a log on his
shoulder,—if perchance he be enabled to rise from his pallet. Shall
he, then, pronounce dogmatically on the quantity of potation lawful to a
man in good health? I say, nay. Brother Hugo, who chargeth me with
roaming, is lame; and his brother, who saith that I am an utterer of
fictions, hath a brain which is truly incompetent to conceive an idea, or
to comprehend a fact. Brother James, who arraigneth me of volubility,
passeth for a sage pillar of the church; because, having nought to say, he
looks grave and holds his peace. I will be tried, if you will, by Brother
James, for gross feeding; he having a good digestion and an appetite equal
to mine own:—or by Brother Hugo, for drinking abundantly; inasmuch
as he is wont to solace himself under his infirmity, with a full flask:—or
by Brother Ulick, for the utterance of fictions; because he hath written a
history of some of The Fathers, and admireth the blossoms of the brain:—or
by Brother Edmund, for not being sufficiently sedate; as he is, truly, a
comfortable talker himself and although forced to eschew wine, of a most
cheerful countenance. By Hugo's brother I will be tried on no charge;—seeing
that he is, was, and ever will be—in charity I speak it—an
egregious fool. Have ye aught else to set up against me, brethren?"
"Much more, Brother Nicodemus," said the Abbot, "much more, to our sorrow.
The cry of our vassals hath come up against thee; and it is now grown so
loud and frequent, that we are unwillingly enforced to assume our
authority, as their lord and thy Superior, to redress their grievances and
correct thy errors."
"Correct me!" exclaimed Father Nicodemus; "Why, what say the
rogues? Dare they throw blur, blain, or blemish on my good name? Would
that I might hear one of them!"
"Thou shalt be gratified:—call in John of the Hough."
In a few moments John of the Hough appeared, with his head bound up, and
looking alarmed as a recently-punished hound when brought again into the
presence of him by whom he has been chastised.
"Fear not," said the Abbot; "fear not, John o' the Hough, but speak
boldly; and our benison or malison be on thee, as thou speakest true or
"Father Nicodemus," said John o' the Hough, in a voice rendered almost
inaudible by fear, "broke my head with a cudgel he weareth under his
"When did he do this?" inquired the Abbot.
"On the feast of St. James and Jude; oft before, and since, too, without
provocation; and, lastly, on Monday se'nnight."
"Why, thou strangely perverse varlet, dost thou say it was I who beat
thee?" demanded the accused friar.
"Ay, truly, most respected Father Nicodemus."
"Dost thou dare to repeat it? I am amazed at thy boldness;—or,
rather, thy stupidity; or, perhaps, at thy loss of memory. Know, thou
naughty hind, it was thyself who cudgelled thee! Didst thou not know that
if thou wert to vex a dog he would snap at thee?—or hew and hack a
tree, and not fly, it would fall on thee?—or grieve and wound the
feelings of thy ghostly friend Father Nicodemus, he would cudgel thee?—Did
I rouse myself into a rage? Did I call myself a thief?—Answer me, my
"No, truly, Father Nicodemus."
"Did I threaten, if I were not a son of Holy Mother Church, to kick myself
out of thy house? Answer me, my son; did I?"
"No, truly, Father Nicodemus."
"Am I less than a dog, or a tree? Answer me, my son; am I?"
"No, truly, Father Nicodemus; but, truly, also—"
"None of thy buts, my son; respond to me with plain ay or no. Didst thou
not do all these things antecedent to my breaking thy sconce?"
"Ay, truly, Father Nicodemus."
"Then how canst thou say I beat thee? Should I have carried my
staff to thy house, did I not know thee to be a churl, and an enemy to the
good brotherhood of this house? Was I to go into the lion's den without my
defence? Should I have demeaned myself to phlebotomize thee with my
cudgel, (and doubtless the operation was salubrious,) hadst thou not
aspersed me? Was it for me to stand by, tamely, with three feet of
blackthorn at my belt, and hear a brother of this religious order
betwitted, as I was by thee, with petty larceny? Was it not thine own
breath, then, that brought the cudgel upon thy caput? Answer me, my son."
"Lead forth John of the Hough, and call in the miller of Homford," said
the Abbot, before John of the Hough could reply. "Now, miller," continued
he, as soon as the miller entered, "what hast thou to allege against this
our good brother, Nicodemus?"
"I allege," replied the miller, "that he is naught."
"Oh! thou especial rogue!" exclaimed Father Nicodemus; "dost thou
come here to bear witness against me? I will impeach thy testimony by one
assertion, which thou canst not gainsay; for the evidence of it is written
on thy brow, thou brawny villain! Thou bearest malice against me, because
I, some six years ago, inflicted a cracked crown on thee, for robbing this
holy house of its lawful meal. I deemed the punishment adequate to the
offence, and spoke not of it to the Abbot, in consideration of thy
promising to mend thy ways. Hadst thou not well merited that mark of my
attention to the interests of my brethren, the whole lordship would have
heard of it. And didst thou ever say I made the wound? Never:—thy
tale was that some of thy mill-gear had done it. But I will be judged by
any here, if the scar be not of my blackthorn's making. I will summon
three score, at least, who shall prove it to be my mark. Let it be viewed
with that on the head of thy foster-brother, John of the Hongh:—I
will abide by the comparison. Thou hast hoarded malice in thy heart from
that day; and now thou comest here to vomit it forth, as thou deemest, to
my undoing. But, be sure, caitiff, that I shall testify upon thy sconce
hereafter: for I know thou art rogue enough to rob if thou canst, and fool
enough to rob with so little discretion as to be easily detected; and even
if my present staff be worn out, there be others in the woods:—ergo—"
"Peace, Brother Nicodemus!" exclaimed the Abbot; "approach not a single
pace nearer to the miller; neither do thou threaten nor browbeat him, I
"Were it not for the reverence I owe to those who are round me, and my
unwillingness to commit even so trifling a sin," said Nicodemus, "I would
take this slanderous and ungrateful knave betwixt my finger and thumb, and
drop him among the hungry eels of his own mill-stream. I chafe apace:—lay
hands on me, brethren!—for I wax wroth, and am sure, in these moods,—so
weak is man—to do mischief ere my humour subside."
"Speak on, miller," said the Abbot; "and thou, Brother Nicodemus, give way
to thine inward enemy, at thy peril."
"I will tell him,—an' you will hold him back and seize his staff,"
said the miller,—"how he and the roystering boatman of Frampton
"My time is coming," exclaimed Nicodemus, interrupting the miller: "bid
him withdraw, or he will have a sore head at his supper."
"They caroused and carolled," said the miller, "with two travellers, like
skeldring Jacks o' the flagon, until—"
"Lay hands on Nicodemus, all!" cried the Abbot, as the enraged friar
strode towards the miller;—"lay hands on the madman at once!"
"It is too late," said Nicodemus, drawing forth a cudgel from beneath his
cloak; "do not hinder me now, for my blackthorn reverences not the heads
of the holy fraternity of Fairoak. Hold off, I say!" exclaimed he, as
several of his brethren roughly attempted to seize him; "hold off, and mar
me not in this mood; or to-day will, hereafter, be called the Feast of
Blows. Nay, then, if you will not, I strike:—may you be marked, but
not maimed!" The friar began to level a few of the most resolute of those
about him as he spoke. "I will deal lightly as my cudgel will let me,"
pursued he. "I strike indiscriminately, and without malice, I protest. May
blessings follow these blows! Brother Ulick, I grieve that you have thrust
yourself within my reach. Look to the Abbot, some of ye, for,—miserable
me!—I have laid him low. Man is weak, and this must be atoned for by
fasting. Where is the author of this mischief? Miller, where art thou?"
Father Nicodemus continued to lay about him very lustily for several
minutes; but, before he could deal with the miller as he wished, Friar
Hugo's brother, who was on the floor, caught him by the legs, and suddenly
threw him prostrate. He was immediately overwhelmed by numbers, bound hand
and foot, and carried to his own cell; where he was closely confined, and
most vigilantly watched, until the superiors of his order could be
assembled. He was tried in the chamber which had been the scene of his
exploits: the charge of having rudely raised his hand against the Abbot,
and belaboured the holy brotherhood, was fully proved; and, ere
twenty-four hours had elapsed, Father Nicodemus found himself enclosed,
with a pitcher of water and a loaf, in a niche of a stone wall, in the
lowest vault of Fairoak Abbey.
He soon began to feel round him, in order to ascertain if there were any
chance of escaping from the tomb to which he had been consigned: the walls
were old, but tolerably sound; he considered, however, that it was his
duty to break out if he could; and he immediately determined on making an
attempt. Putting his back to the wall, which had been built up to enclose
him for ever from the world, and his feet against the opposite side of the
niche, he strained every nerve to push one of them down. The old wall at
length began to move: he reversed his position, and with his feet firmly
planted against the new work, he made such a tremendous effort, that the
ancient stones and mortar gave way behind him: the next moment he found
himself lying on his back, with a quantity of rubbish about him, on the
cold pavement of a vault, into which sufficient light glimmered, through a
grating, to enable him to ascertain that he was no longer in any part of
The tongue-tied neighbours to whom Nicodemus had alluded, when he broke
silence at that meeting of his brethren which terminated so unfortunately,
were monks of the same order as those of Fairoak Abbey; among whom, about
a century and a half before the time of Nicodemus, such dissensions took
place, that the heads of the order were compelled to interfere; and under
their sanction and advice, two-and-twenty monks, who were desirous of
following the fine example of the Arroasians of Saint Augustin,—who
neither wore linen nor ate flesh, and observed a perpetual silence,—seceded
from the community, and elected an Abbot of their own. The left-wing of
Fairoak Abbey was assigned to them for a residence, and the rents of a
certain portion of its lands were set apart for their support. Their first
care was to separate themselves, by stout walls, from all communication
with their late brethren; and up to the days of Nicodemus, no friendly
communion had taken place between the Arroasian and its mother Abbey.
Nicodemus had no doubt but that he was in one of the vaults of the silent
monks: in order that he might not be recognised as a brother of Fairoak,
he took off his black cloak and hood, and even his cassock and rochet, and
concealed them beneath a few stones, in a corner of the recess from which
he had just liberated himself. With some difficulty, he reached the
inhabited part of the building: after terrifying several of the
Arroasians, by abruptly breaking upon their meditations, he at length
found an old white cloak and hood, arrayed in which he took a seat at the
table of the refectory, and, to the amazement of the monks, tacitly helped
himself to a portion of their frugal repast. The Superior of the
community, by signs, requested him to state who and what he was; but
Nicodemus, pointing to the old Arroasian habit which he now wore, wisely
held his peace. The good friars knew not how to act:—Nicodemus was
suffered to enter into quiet possession of a vacant cell; he joined in
their silent devotions, and acted in every respect as though he had been
an Arroasian all his life.
By degrees the good monks became reconciled to his presence, and looked
upon him as a brother. He behaved most discreetly for several months: but
at length having grown weary of bread, water, and silence, he, one
evening, stole over the garden-wall, resolving to have an eel-pie and some
malmsey, spiced with a little jovial chat, in the company of his trusty
friend, the boatman of Frampton Ferry. His first care, on finding himself
at large, was to go to the coppice of Fairoak, and cut a yard of good
blackthorn, which he slung by a hazel gad to his girdle, but beneath his
cassock. Resuming his path towards the Ferry, he strode on at a brisk rate
for a few minutes; when, to his great dismay, he heard the sound of the
bell which summoned the Arroasians to meet in the chapel of their Abbey.
"A murrain on thy noisy tongue!" exclaimed Nicodemus, "on what emergency
is thy tail tugged, to make thee yell at this unwonted hour? There is a
grievous penalty attached to the offence of quitting the walls, either by
day or by night; and as I am now deemed a true Arroasian, by Botolph, I
stand here in jeopardy; for they will assuredly discover my absence. I
will return at once, slink into my cell, and be found there afflicted with
a lethargy, when they come to search for me; or, if occasion serve, join
my brethren boldly in the chapel."
The bell had scarcely ceased to toll, when Nicodemus reached the
garden-wall again: he clambered over it, alighted safely on a heap of
manure, and was immediately seized by half a score of the stoutest among
the Arroasians. Unluckily for Nicodemus, the Superior himself had seen a
figure, in the costume of the Abbey, scaling the garden-wall, and had
immediately ordered the bell to be rung, and a watch to be set, in order
to take the offender in the fact, on his return. The mode of administering
justice among the Arroasians, was much more summary than in the Abbey of
Fairoak. Nicodemus was brought into the Superior's cell, and divested of
his cloak; his cassock was then turned down from his belt, and a
bull's-hide thong severely applied to his back, before he could recover
himself from the surprise into which his sudden capture had thrown him.
His wrath rose, not gradually as it did of old,—but in a moment,
under the pain and indignity of the thong, it mounted to its highest
pitch. Breaking from those who were holding him, he plucked the blackthorn
he had cut, from beneath his cassock, and without either benediction or
excuse, silently but severely belaboured all present, the Superior himself
not excepted. When his rage and strength were somewhat exhausted, the
prostrate brethren rallied a little, and with the aid of the remainder of
the community, who came to their assistance, they contrived to despoil
Nicodemus of his staff, and to secure him from doing further mischief.
The next morning, Nicodemus was stripped of his Arroasian habit; and,
attired in nothing but the linen in which he had first appeared among the
brethren, he was conducted, with very little ceremony, to the vaults
beneath the Abbey. Every member of the community advanced to give him a
parting embrace, and the Superior pointed with his finger to a recess in
the wall: Nicodemus was immediately ushered into it, the wall was built up
behind him, and once more he found himself entombed alive.
"But that I am not so strong as I was of yore, after the lenten fare of my
late brethren," said Nicodemus, "I should not be content to die thus, in a
coffin of stones and mortar. What luck hast thou here, Nicodemus?"
continued the friar, as, poking about the floor of his narrow cell, he
felt something like a garment, with his foot. "By rood and by rochet, mine
own attire!—the cloak and cassock, or I am much mistaken, which I
left behind me when I was last here;—for surely these are my old
quarters! I did not think to be twice tenant of this hole; but man is
weak, and I was born to be the bane of blackthorn. The lazy rogues found
this niche ready-made to their hands, and, truth to say, they have walled
me up like workmen. Ah, me! there is no soft place for me to bulge my back
through now. Hope have I none: but I will betake me to my anthems; and
perchance, in due season, I may light upon some means of making egress."
Nicodemus had, by this time, contrived to put on his cassock and cloak,
which somewhat comforted his shivering body, and he forthwith began to
chant his favourite anthem in such a lusty tone, that it was faintly heard
by the Fairoak Abbey cellarman, and one of the friars who was in the
vaults with him, selecting the ripest wines. On the alarm being given, a
score of the brethren betook themselves to the vaults; and, with torches
in their hands, searched every corner for the anthem-singer, but without
success. At length the cellarman ventured to observe, that, in his
opinion, the sounds came from the wall; and the colour left the cheeks of
all as the recollection of Nicodemus flashed upon them. They gathered
round the place where they had enclosed him, and soon felt satisfied that
the awful anthem was there more distinctly heard, than in any other part
of the vault. The whole fraternity soon assembled, and endeavoured to come
to some resolution as to how they ought to act. With fear and trembling,
Father Hugo's brother moved that they should at once open the wall: this
proposal was at first rejected with contempt, on account of the known
stupidity of the person with whom it originated; but as no one ventured to
suggest anything, either better or worse, it was at last unanimously
agreed to. With much solemnity, they proceeded to make a large opening in
the wall. In a few minutes, Father Nicodemus appeared before them, arrayed
in his cloak and cassock, and not much leaner or less rosy than when they
bade him, as they thought, an eternal adieu, nearly a year before. The
friars shouted, "A miracle! a miracle!" and Nicodemus did not deem it by
any means necessary to contradict them. "Ho, ho! brethren," exclaimed he,
"you are coming to do me justice at last, are you? By faith and troth, but
you are tardy! Your consciences, methinks, might have urged you to enact
this piece of good-fellowship some week or two ago. To dwell ten months
and more in so dark and solitary a den, like a toad in a hole, is no
child's-play. Let the man who doubts, assume my place, and judge for
himself. I ask no one to believe me on my bare word. You have wronged me,
brethren, much; but I forgive you freely."
"A miracle! a miracle!" again shouted the amazed monks: they most
respectfully declined the proffered familiarities of Nicodemus, and still
gazed on him with profound awe, even after the most incredulous among them
were convinced, by the celerity with which a venison pasty, flanked by a
platter of brawn, and a capacious jack of Cyprus wine vanished before him,
in the refectory, that he was truly their Brother Nicodemus, and still in
the flesh. Ere long, the jolly friar became Abbot of Fairoak: he was
dubbed a saint after his decease; but as no miracles were ever wrought at
his shrine, his name has since been struck out of the calendar.