Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures


“Pooh!  A pretty temper you come to bed in, Mr. Caudle, I can see!  Oh, don’t deny it - I think I ought to know by this time.  But it’s always the way; whenever I get up a few things, the house can hardly hold you!  Nobody cries out more about clean linen than you do - and nobody leads a poor woman so miserable a life when she tries to make her husband comfortable.  Yes, Mr. Caudle - comfortable!  You needn’t keep chewing the word, as if you couldn’t swallow it.

Was there ever such a woman?

“No, Caudle; I hope not: I should hope no other wife was ever put upon as I am!  It’s all very well for you.  I can’t have a little wash at home like anybody else but you must go about the house swearing to yourself, and looking at your wife as if she was your bitterest enemy.  But I suppose you’d rather we didn’t wash at all.  Yes; then you’d be happy!  To be sure you would - you’d like to have all the children in their dirt, like potatoes: anything, so that it didn’t disturb you.  I wish you’d had a wife who never washed - she’d have suited you, she would.  Yes; a fine lady who’d have let your children go that you might have scraped ’em.  She’d have been much better cared for than I am.  I only wish I could let all of you go without clean linen at all - yes, all of you.  I wish I could!  And if I wasn’t a slave to my family, unlike anybody else, I should.

“No, Mr. Caudle; the house isn’t tossed about in water as if it was Noah’s Ark.  And you ought to be ashamed of yourself to talk of Noah’s Ark in that loose manner.  I’m sure I don’t know what I’ve done to be married to a man of such principles.  No: and the whole house doesn’t taste of soap-suds either; and if it did, any other man but yourself would be above naming it.  I suppose I don’t like washing-day any more than yourself.  What do you say?

Yes, I do?

“Ha! you’re wrong there, Mr. Caudle.  No; I don’t like it because it makes everybody else uncomfortable.  No; and I ought not to have been born a mermaid, that I might always have been in water.  A mermaid, indeed!  What next will you call me?  But no man, Mr. Caudle, says such things to his wife as you.  However, as I’ve said before, it can’t last long, that’s one comfort.  What do you say?

You’re glad of it?

“You’re a brute, Mr. Caudle!  No, you didn’t mean washing: I know what you mean.  A pretty speech to a woman who’s been the wife to you I have!  You’ll repent it when it’s too late: yes, I wouldn’t have your feelings when I’m gone, Caudle; no, not for the Bank of England.

“And when we only wash once a fortnight!  Ha!  I only wish you had some wives, they’d wash once a week!  Besides, if once a fortnight’s too much for you, why don’t you give me money that we may have things to go a month?  Is it my fault if we’re short?  What do you say?

My ‘once a fortnight’ lasts three days?

“No, it doesn’t; never; well, very seldom, and that’s the same thing.  Can I help it, if the blacks will fly, and the things must be rinsed again?  Don’t say that; I’m not made happy by the blacks, and they don’t prolong my enjoyment; and, more than that, you’re an unfeeling man to say so.  You’re enough to make a woman wish herself in her grave - you are, Caudle.

“And a pretty example you set to your sons!  Because we’d a little wash to-day, and there wasn’t a hot dinner - and who thinks of getting anything hot for washer-women? - because you hadn’t everything as you always have it, you must swear at the cold mutton - and you don’t know what that mutton costs a pound, I dare say - you must swear at a sweet, wholesome joint like a lord.  What?

You didn’t swear?

“Yes; it’s very well for you to say so; but I know when you’re swearing; and you swear when you little think it; and I say you must go on swearing as you did, and seize your hat like a savage, and rush out of the house, and go and take your dinner at a tavern!  A pretty wife people must think you have, when they find you dining at a public-house.  A nice home they must think you have, Mr. Caudle!  What?

You’ll do so every time I wash?

“Very well, Mr. Caudle - very well.  We’ll soon see who’s tired of that, first; for I’ll wash a stocking a day if that’s all, sooner than you should have everything as you like.  Ha! that’s so like you: you’d trample everybody under foot, if you could - you know you would, Caudle, so don’t deny it.

“Now, if you begin to shout in that manner, I’ll leave the bed.  It’s very hard that I can’t say a single word to you, but you must almost raise the place.

You didn’t shout?

“I don’t know what you call shouting, then!  I’m sure the people must hear you in the next house.  No - it won’t do to call me soft names, now, Caudle: I’m not the fool that I was when I was first married - I know better now.  You’re to treat me in the manner you have, all day; and then at night, the only time and place when I can get a word in, you want to go to sleep.  How can you be so mean, Caudle?


Why can’t I put the washing out?

“Now, you have asked that a thousand times, but it’s no use, Caudle; so don’t ask it again.  I won’t put it out.  What do you say?

Mrs. Prettyman says it’s quite as cheap?

“Pray, what’s Mrs. Prettyman to me?  I should think, Mr. Caudle, that I know very well how to take care of my family without Mrs. Prettyman’s advice.  Mrs. Prettyman, indeed!  I only wish she’d come here, that I might tell her so!  Mrs. Prettyman!  But, perhaps she’d better come and take care of your house for you!  Oh, yes!  I’ve no doubt she’d do it much better than I do - much.  No, Caudle!  I won’t hold my tongue.  I think I ought to be mistress of my own washing by this time - and after the wife I’ve been to you, it’s cruel of you to go on as you do.

“Don’t tell me about putting the washing out.  I say it isn’t so cheap - I don’t care whether you wash by the dozen or not - it isn’t so cheap; I’ve reduced everything, and I save at least a shilling a week.  What do you say?

A trumpery shilling?

“Ha!  I only hope to goodness you’ll not come to want, talking of shillings in the way you do.  Now, don’t begin about your comfort: don’t go on aggravating me, and asking me if your comfort’s not worth a shilling a week?  That’s nothing at all to do with it - nothing: but that’s your way - when I talk of one thing, you talk of another; that’s so like you men, and you know it.  Allow me to tell you, Mr. Caudle, that a shilling a week is two pound twelve a year; and take two pound twelve a year for, let us say, thirty years, and - well, you needn’t groan, Mr. Caudle - I don’t suppose it will be so long; oh, no! you’ll have somebody else to look after your washing long before that - and if it wasn’t for my dear children’s sake I shouldn’t care how soon.  You know my mind - and so, good-night, Mr. Caudle.”

Thankful for her silence,” writes Caudle, “I was fast dropping to sleep; when, jogging my elbow, my wife observed - ‘Mind, there’s the cold mutton to-morrow - nothing hot till that’s gone.  Remember, too, as it was a short wash to-day, we wash again on Wednesday.’”

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