Mrs. Bullfrog 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 curls."
"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
"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 been!"
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 Christian burial.
"Come, sir, bestir yourself! Help this rascal to set up the coach,"
said 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
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
"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 mine.
"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 dollars?"
"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 dear Bullfrog."
"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!"