Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures


“If I’m not to leave the house without being insulted, Mr. Caudle, I had better stay indoors all my life.

“What!  Don’t tell me to let you have one night’s rest!  I wonder at your impudence!  It’s mighty fine, I never can go out with you and - goodness knows! - it’s seldom enough without having my feelings torn to pieces by people of all sorts.  A set of bold minxes!

What am I raving about?

“Oh, you know very well - very well, indeed, Mr. Caudle.  A pretty person she must be to nod to a man walking with his own wife!  Don’t tell me that it’s Miss Prettyman - what’s Miss Prettyman to me?  Oh!

You’ve met her once or twice at her brother’s house?

“Yes, I dare say you have - no doubt of it.  I always thought there was something very tempting about that house - and now I know it all.  Now, it’s no use, Mr. Caudle, your beginning to talk loud, and twist and toss your arms about as if you were as innocent as a born babe - I’m not to be deceived by such tricks now.  No; there was a time when I was a fool and believed anything; but - I thank my stars! - I’ve got over that.

“A bold minx!  You suppose I didn’t see her laugh, too, when she nodded to you!  Oh yes, I knew what she thought me - a poor miserable creature, of course.  I could see that.  No - don’t say so, Caudle.  I don’t always see more than anybody else - but I can’t and won’t be blind, however agreeable it might be to you; I must have the use of my senses.  I’m sure, if a woman wants attention and respect from a man, she’d better be anything than his wife.  I’ve always thought so; and to-day’s decided it.

“No; I’m not ashamed of myself to talk so - certainly not.

A good, amiable young creature indeed!

“Yes; I dare say; very amiable, no doubt.  Of course, you think her so.  You suppose I didn’t see what sort of a bonnet she had on?  Oh, a very good creature!  And you think I didn’t see the smudges of court plaster about her face?

You didn’t see ’em?

“Very likely; but I did.  Very amiable, to be sure!  What do you say?

I made her blush at my ill manners?

“I should have liked to have seen her blush!  ’Twould have been rather difficult, Mr. Caudle, for a blush to come through all that paint.  No - I’m not a censorious woman, Mr. Caudle; quite the reverse.  No; and you may threaten to get up, if you like - I will speak.  I know what colour is, and I say it was paint.  I believe, Mr. Caudle, I once had a complexion - though of course you’ve quite forgotten that: I think I once had a colour - before your conduct destroyed it.  Before I knew you, people used to call me the Lily and Rose; but - what are you laughing at?  I see nothing to laugh at.  But as I say, anybody before your own wife.

“And I can’t walk out with you but you’re bowed to by every woman you meet!

What do I mean by every woman, when it’s only Miss Prettyman?

“That’s nothing at all to do with it.  How do I know who bows to you when I’m not by?  Everybody of course.  And if they don’t look at you, why you look at them.  Oh!  I’m sure you do.  You do it even when I’m out with you, and of course you do it when I’m away.  Now, don’t tell me, Caudle - don’t deny it.  The fact is, it’s become such a dreadful habit with you, that you don’t know when you do it, and when you don’t.  But I do.

“Miss Prettyman, indeed!  What do you say?

You won’t lie still and hear me scandalise that excellent young woman?

“Oh, of course you’ll take her part!  Though, to be sure, she may not be so much to blame after all.  For how is she to know you’re married?  You’re never seen out of doors with your own wife - never.  Wherever you go, you go alone.  Of course people think you’re a bachelor.  What do you say?

You well know you’re not?

“That’s nothing to do with it - I only ask, What must people think, when I’m never seen with you?  Other women go out with their husbands: but, as I’ve often said, I’m not like any other woman.  What are you sneering at, Mr. Caudle?

How do I know you’re sneering?

“Don’t tell me: I know well enough, by the movement of the pillow.

“No; you never take me out - and you know it.  No; and it’s not my own fault.  How can you lie there and say that?  Oh, all a poor excuse!  That’s what you always say.  You’re tired of asking me, indeed, because I always start some objection?  Of course I can’t go out a figure.  And when you ask me to go, you know very well that my bonnet isn’t as it should be - or that my gown hasn’t come home - or that I can’t leave the children - or that something keeps me indoors.  You know all this well enough before you ask me.  And that’s your art.  And when I do go out with you, I’m sure to suffer for it.  Yes, you needn’t repeat my words.  Suffer for it.  But you suppose I have no feelings: oh no, nobody has feelings but yourself.  Yes; I’d forgot: Miss Prettyman, perhaps - yes, she may have feelings, of course.

“And as I’ve said, I dare say a pretty dupe people think me.  To be sure; a poor forlorn creature I must look in everybody’s eyes.  But I knew you couldn’t be at Mr. Prettyman’s house night after night till eleven o’clock - and a great deal you thought of me sitting up for you - I knew you couldn’t be there without some cause.  And now I’ve found it out!  Oh, I don’t mind your swearing, Mr. Caudle!  It’s I, if I wasn’t a woman, who ought to swear.  But it’s like you men.  Lords of the creation, as you call yourselves!  Lords, indeed!  And pretty slaves you make of the poor creatures who’re tied to you.  But I’ll be separated, Caudle; I will; and then I’ll take care and let all the world know how you’ve used me.  What do you say?

I may say my worst?

“Ha! don’t you tempt any woman in that way - don’t, Caudle; for I wouldn’t answer for what I said.

“Miss Prettyman, indeed, and - oh yes! now I see!  Now the whole light breaks in upon me!  Now I know why you wished me to ask her with Mr. and Mrs. Prettyman to tea!  And I, like a poor blind fool, was nearly doing it.  But now, as I say, my eyes are open!  And you’d have brought her under my own roof - now it’s no use your bouncing about in that fashion - you’d have brought her into the very house, where - ”

Here,” says Caudle, “I could endure it no longer.  So I jumped out of bed, and went and slept somehow with the children.”

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