by Nathaniel Hawthorne
It makes me melancholy to see how like fools some very sensible
people act in the matter of choosing wives. They perplex their
judgments by a most undue attention to little niceties of
personal appearance, habits, disposition, and other trifles which
concern nobody but the lady herself. An unhappy gentleman,
resolving to wed nothing short of perfection, keeps his heart and
hand till both get so old and withered that no tolerable woman
will accept them. Now this is the very height of absurdity. A
kind Providence has so skilfully adapted sex to sex and the mass
of individuals to each other, that, with certain obvious
exceptions, any male and female may be moderately happy in the
married state. The true rule is to ascertain that the match is
fundamentally a good one, and then to take it for granted that
all minor objections, should there be such, will vanish, if you
let them alone. Only put yourself beyond hazard as to the real
basis of matrimonial bliss, and it is scarcely to be imagined
what miracles, in the way of recognizing smaller incongruities,
connubial love will effect.
For my own part I freely confess that, in my bachelorship, I was
precisely such an over-curious simpleton as I now advise the
reader not to be. My early habits had gifted me with a feminine
sensibility and too exquisite refinement. I was the accomplished
graduate of a dry goods store, where, by dint of ministering to
the whims of fine ladies, and suiting silken hose to delicate
limbs, and handling satins, ribbons, chintzes calicoes, tapes,
gauze, and cambric needles, I grew up a very ladylike sort of a
gentleman. It is not assuming too much to affirm that the ladies
themselves were hardly so ladylike as Thomas Bullfrog. So
painfully acute was my sense of female imperfection, and such
varied excellence did I require in the woman whom I could love,
that there was an awful risk of my getting no wife at all, or of
being driven to perpetrate matrimony with my own image in the
looking-glass. Besides the fundamental principle already hinted
at, I demanded the fresh bloom of youth, pearly teeth, glossy
ringlets, and the whole list of lovely items, with the utmost
delicacy of habits and sentiments, a silken texture of mind, and,
above all, a virgin heart. In a word, if a young angel just from
paradise, yet dressed in earthly fashion, had come and offered me
her hand, it is by no means certain that I should have taken it.
There was every chance of my becoming a most miserable old
bachelor, when, by the best luck in the world, I made a journey
into another state, and was smitten by, and smote again, and
wooed, won, and married, the present Mrs. Bullfrog, all in the
space of a fortnight. Owing to these extempore measures, I not
only gave my bride credit for certain perfections which have not
as yet come to light, but also overlooked a few trifling defects,
which, however, glimmered on my perception long before the close
of the honeymoon. Yet, as there was no mistake about the
fundamental principle aforesaid, I soon learned, as will be
seen, to estimate Mrs. Bullfrog's deficiencies and superfluities
at exactly their proper value.
The same morning that Mrs. Bullfrog and I came together as a
unit, we took two seats in the stage-coach and began our journey
towards my place of business. There being no other passengers, we
were as much alone and as free to give vent to our raptures as if
I had hired a hack for the matrimonial jaunt. My bride looked
charmingly in a green silk calash and riding habit of pelisse
cloth; and whenever her red lips parted with a smile, each tooth
appeared like an inestimable pearl. Such was my passionate warmth
that--we had rattled out of the village, gentle reader, and were
lonely as Adam and Eve in paradise--I plead guilty to no less
freedom than a kiss. The gentle eye of Mrs. Bullfrog scarcely
rebuked me for the profanation. Emboldened by her indulgence, I
threw back the calash from her polished brow, and suffered my
fingers, white and delicate as her own, to stray among those dark
and glossy curls which realized my daydreams of rich hair.
"My love," said Mrs. Bullfrog tenderly, "you will disarrange my
"Oh, no, my sweet Laura!" replied I, still playing with the
glossy ringlet. "Even your fair hand could not manage a curl more
delicately than mine. I propose myself the pleasure of doing up
your hair in papers every evening at the same time with my own."
"Mr. Bullfrog," repeated she, "you must not disarrange my curls."
This was spoken in a more decided tone than I had happened to
hear, until then, from my gentlest of all gentle brides. At the
same time she put up her hand and took mine prisoner; but merely
drew it away from the forbidden ringlet, and then immediately
released it. Now, I am a fidgety little man, and always love to
have something in my fingers; so that, being debarred from my
wife's curls, I looked about me for any other plaything. On the
front seat of the coach there was one of those small baskets in
which travelling ladies who are too delicate to appear at a
public table generally carry a supply of gingerbread, biscuits
and cheese, cold ham, and other light refreshments, merely to
sustain nature to the journey's end. Such airy diet will
sometimes keep them in pretty good flesh for a week together.
Laying hold of this same little basket, I thrust my hand under
the newspaper with which it was carefully covered.
"What's this, my dear?" cried I; for the black neck of a bottle
had popped out of the basket.
"A bottle of Kalydor, Mr. Bullfrog," said my wife, coolly taking
the basket from my hands and replacing it on the front seat.
There was no possibility of doubting my wife's word; but I never
knew genuine Kalydor, such as I use for my own complexion, to
smell so much like cherry brandy. I was about to express my fears
that the lotion would injure her skin, when an accident occurred
which threatened more than a skin-deep injury. Our Jehu had
carelessly driven over a heap of gravel and fairly capsized the
coach, with the wheels in the air and our heels where our heads
should have been. What became of my wits I cannot imagine; they
have always had a perverse trick of deserting me just when they
were most needed; but so it chanced, that in the confusion of our
overthrow I quite forgot that there was a Mrs. Bullfrog in the
world. Like many men's wives, the good lady served her husband as
a steppingstone. I had scrambled out of the coach and was
instinctively settling my cravat, when somebody brushed roughly
by me, and I heard a smart thwack upon the coachman's ear.
"Take that, you villain!" cried a strange, hoarse voice. "You
have ruined me, you blackguard! I shall never be the woman I have
And then came a second thwack, aimed at the driver's other ear;
but which missed it, and hit him on the nose, causing a terrible
effusion of blood. Now, who or what fearful apparition was
inflicting this punishment on the poor fellow remained an
impenetrable mystery to me. The blows were given by a person of
grisly aspect, with a head almost bald, and sunken cheeks,
apparently of the feminine gender, though hardly to be classed in
the gentler sex. There being no teeth to modulate the voice, it
had a mumbled fierceness, not passionate, but stern, which
absolutely made me quiver like calf's-foot jelly. Who could the
phantom be? The most awful circumstance of the affair is yet to
be told: for this ogre, or whatever it was, had a riding habit
like Mrs. Bullfrog's, and also a green silk calash dangling down
her back by the strings. In my terror and turmoil of mind I could
imagine nothing less than that the Old Nick, at the moment of our
overturn, had annihilated my wife and jumped into her petticoats.
This idea seemed the most probable, since I could nowhere
perceive Mrs. Bullfrog alive, nor, though I looked very sharply
about the coach, could I detect any traces of that beloved
woman's dead body. There would have been a comfort in giving her
"Come, sir, bestir yourself! Help this rascal to set up the
coach," sai the hobgoblin to me; then, with a terrific screech at
three countrymen at a distance, "Here, you fellows, ain't you
ashamed to stand off when a poor woman is in distress?"
The countrymen, instead of fleeing for their lives, came running
at full speed, and laid hold of the topsy-turvy coach. I, also,
though a small-sized man, went to work like a son of Anak. The
coachman, too, with the blood still streaming from his nose,
tugged and toiled most manfully, dreading, doubtless, that the
next blow might break his head. And yet, bemauled as the poor
fellow had been, he seemed to glance at me with an eye of pity,
as if my case were more deplorable than his. But I cherished a
hope that all would turn out a dream, and seized the opportunity,
as we raised the coach, to jam two of my fingers under the wheel,
trusting that the pain would awaken me.
"Why, here we are, all to rights again!" exclaimed a sweet voice
behind. "Thank you for your assistance, gentlemen. My dear Mr.
Bullfrog, how you perspire! Do let me wipe your face. Don't take
this little accident too much to heart, good driver. We ought to
be thankful that none of our necks are broken."
"We might have spared one neck out of the three," muttered the
driver, rubbing his ear and pulling his nose, to ascertain
whether he had been cuffed or not. "Why, the woman's a witch!"
I fear that the reader will not believe, yet it is positively a
fact, that there stood Mrs. Bullfrog, with her glossy ringlets
curling on her brow, and two rows of orient pearls gleaming
between her parted lips, which wore a most angelic smile. She had
regained her riding habit and calash from the grisly phantom, and
was, in all respects, the lovely woman who had been sitting by my
side at the instant of our overturn. How she had happened to
disappear, and who had supplied her place, and whence she did now
return, were problems too knotty for me to solve. There stood my
wife. That was the one thing certain among a heap of mysteries.
Nothing remained but to help her into the coach, and plod on,
through the journey of the day and the journey of life, as
comfortably as we could. As the driver closed the door upon us, I
heard him whisper to the three countrymen,"How do you suppose a
fellow feels shut up in the cage with a she tiger?"
Of course this query could have no reference to my situation.
Yet, unreasonable as it may appear, I confess that my feelings
were not altogether so ecstatic as when I first called Mrs.
Bullfrog mine. True, she was a sweet woman and an angel of a
wife; but what if a Gorgon should return, amid the transports of
our connubial bliss, and take the angel's place. I recollected
the tale of a fairy, who half the time was a beautiful woman and
half the time a hideous monster. Had I taken that very fairy to
be the wife of my bosom? While such whims and chimeras were
flitting across my fancy I began to look askance at Mrs.
Bullfrog, almost expecting that the transformation would be
wrought before my eyes.
To divert my mind, I took up the newspaper which had covered the
little basket of refreshments, and which now lay at the bottom of
the coach, blushing with a deep-red stain and emitting a potent
spirituous fume from the contents of the broken bottle of
Kalydor. The paper was two or three years old, but contained an
article of several columns, in which I soon grew wonderfully
interested. It was the report of a trial for breach of promise of
marriage, giving the testimony in full, with fervid extracts from
both the gentleman's and lady's amatory correspondence. The
deserted damsel had personally appeared in court, and had borne
energetic evidence to her lover's perfidy and the strength of her
blighted affections. On the defendant's part there had been an
attempt, though insufficiently sustained, to blast the
plaintiff's character, and a plea, in mitigation of damages, on
account of her unamiable temper. A horrible idea was suggested by
the lady's name.
"Madam," said I, holding the newspaper before Mrs. Bullfrog's
eyes,--and, though a small, delicate, and thin-visaged man, I
feel assured that I looked very terrific,--"madam," repeated I,
through my shut teeth, "were you the plaintiff in this cause?"
"Oh, my dear Mr. Bullfrog," replied my wife, sweetly, "I thought
all the world knew that!"
"Horror! horror!" exclaimed I, sinking back on the seat.
Covering my face with both hands, I emitted a deep and deathlike
groan, as if my tormented soul were rending me asunder--I, the
most exquisitely fastidious of men, and whose wife was to have
been the most delicate and refined of women, with all the fresh
dew-drops glittering on her virgin rosebud of a heart!
I thought of the glossy ringlets and pearly teeth; I thought of
the Kalydor; I thought of the coachman's bruised ear and bloody
nose; I thought of the tender love secrets which she had
whispered to the judge and jury and a thousand tittering
auditors,--and gave another groan!
"Mr. Bullfrog," said my wife.
As I made no reply, she gently took my hands within her own,
removed them from my face, and fixed her eyes steadfastly on
"Mr. Bullfrog," said she, not unkindly, yet with all the decision
of her strong character, "let me advise you to overcome this
foolish weakness, and prove yourself, to the best of your
ability, as good a husband as I will be a wife. You have
discovered, perhaps, some little imperfections in your bride.
Well, what did you expect? Women are not angels. If they were,
they would go to heaven for husbands; or, at least, be more
difficult in their choice on earth."
"But why conceal those imperfections?" interposed I, tremulously.
"Now, my love, are not you a most unreasonable little man?" said
Mrs. Bullfrog, patting me on the cheek. "Ought a woman to
disclose her frailties earlier than the wedding day? Few
husbands, I assure you, make the discovery in such good season,
and still fewer complain that these trifles are concealed too
long. Well, what a strange man you are! Poh! you are joking."
"But the suit for breach of promise!" groaned I.
"Ah, and is that the rub?" exclaimed my wife. "Is it possible
that you view that affair in an objectionable light? Mr.
Bullfrog, I never could have dreamed it! Is it an objection that
I have triumphantly defended myself against slander and
vindicated my purity in a court of justice? Or do you complain
because your wife has shown the proper spirit of a woman, and
punished the villain who trifled with her affections?"
"But," persisted I, shrinking into a corner of the coach,
however,--for I did not know precisely how much contradiction the
proper spirit of a woman would endure,--"but, my love, would it
not have been more dignified to treat the villain with the silent
contempt he merited?"
"That is all very well, Mr. Bullfrog," said my wife, slyly; "but,
in that case, where would have been the five thousand dollars
which are to stock your dry goods store?"
"Mrs. Bullfrog, upon your honor," demanded I, as if my life hung
upon her words, "is there no mistake about those five thousand
"Upon my word and honor there is none," replied she. "The jury
gave me every cent the rascal had; and I have kept it all for my
"Then, thou dear woman," cried I, with an overwhelming gush of
tenderness, "let me fold thee to my heart. The basis of
matrimonial bliss is secure, and all thy little defects and
frailties are forgiven. Nay, since the result has been so
fortunate, I rejoice at the wrongs which drove thee to this
blessed lawsuit. Happy Bullfrog that I am!"