Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures


“Ah, me!  It’s no use wishing - none at all: but I do wish that yesterday fourteen years could come back again.  Little did I think, Mr. Caudle, when you brought me home from church, your lawful wedded wife - little, I say, did I think that I should keep my wedding dinner in the manner I have done to-day.  Fourteen years ago!  Yes, I see you now, in your blue coat with bright buttons, and your white watered-satin waistcoat, and a moss-rose bud in your button-hole, which you said was like me.  What?

You never talked such nonsense?

“Ha!  Mr. Caudle, you don’t know what you talked that day - but I do.  Yes; and you then sat at the table as if your face, as I may say, was buttered with happiness, and - What?  No, Mr. Caudle, don’t say that; I have not wiped the butter off - not I.  If you above all men are not happy, you ought to be, gracious knows!

“Yes, I will talk of fourteen years ago.  Ha! you sat beside me then, and picked out all sorts of nice things for me.  You’d have given me pearls and diamonds to eat if I could have swallowed ’em.  Yes, I say, you sat beside me, and - What do you talk about?

You couldn’t sit beside me to-day?

“That’s nothing at all to do with it.  But it’s so like you.  I can’t speak but you fly off to something else.  Ha! and when the health of the young couple was drunk, what a speech you made then!  It was delicious!  How you made everybody cry as if their hearts were breaking; and I recollect it as if it was yesterday, how the tears ran down dear father’s nose, and how dear mother nearly went into a fit!  Dear souls!  They little thought, with all your fine talk, how you’d use me.

How have you used me?

“Oh, Mr. Caudle, how can you ask that question?  It’s well for you I can’t see you blush.  How have you used me?

“Well, that the same tongue could make a speech like that, and then talk as it did to-day!

How did you talk?

“Why, shamefully!  What did you say about your wedded happiness?  Why, nothing.  What did you say about your wife?  Worse than nothing: just as if she were a bargain you were sorry for, but were obliged to make the best of.  What do you say?

And bad’s the best?

“If you say that again, Caudle, I’ll rise from my bed.

You didn’t say it?

“What, then, did you say?  Something very like it, I know.  Yes, a pretty speech of thanks for a husband!  And everybody could see that you didn’t care a pin for me; and that’s why you had ’em here: that’s why you invited ’em, to insult me to their faces.  What?

I made you invite ’em?

“Oh, Caudle, what an aggravating man you are!

“I suppose you’ll say next I made you invite Miss Prettyman?  Oh yes; don’t tell me that her brother brought her without you knowing it.  What?

Didn’t I hear him say so?

“Of course I did; but do you suppose I’m quite a fool?  Do you think I don’t know that that was all settled between you?  And she must be a nice person to come unasked to a woman’s house?  But I know why she came.  Oh yes; she came to look about her.

“Oh, the meaning’s plain enough. - She came to see how she should like the rooms - how she should like my seat at the fireplace; how she - and if it isn’t enough to break a mother’s heart to be treated so! - how she should like my dear children.

“Now, it’s no use your bouncing about at - but of course that’s it; I can’t mention Miss Prettyman but you fling about as if you were in a fit.  Of course that shows there’s something in it.  Otherwise, why should you disturb yourself?  Do you think I didn’t see her looking at the ciphers on the spoons as if she already saw mine scratched out and hers there?  No, I sha’n’t drive you mad, Mr. Caudle; and if I do it’s your own fault.  No other man would treat the wife of his bosom in - What do you say?

You might as well have married a hedgehog?

“Well, now it’s come to something!  But it’s always the case!  Whenever you’ve seen that Miss Prettyman, I’m sure to be abused.  A hedgehog!  A pretty thing for a woman to be called by her husband!  Now you don’t think I’ll lie quietly in bed, and be called a hedgehog - do you, Mr. Caudle?

“Well, I only hope Miss Prettyman had a good dinner, that’s all.  I had none!  You know I had none - how was I to get any?  You know that the only part of the turkey I care for is the merry-thought.  And that, of course, went to Miss Prettyman.  Oh, I saw you laugh when you put it on her plate!  And you don’t suppose, after such an insult as that, I’d taste another thing upon the table?  No, I should hope I have more spirit than that.  Yes; and you took wine with her four times.  What do you say?

Only twice?

“Oh, you were so lost - fascinated, Mr. Caudle; yes, fascinated - that you didn’t know what you did.  However, I do think while I’m alive I might be treated with respect at my own table.  I say, while I’m alive; for I know I sha’n’t last long, and then Miss Prettyman may come and take it all.  I’m wasting daily, and no wonder.  I never say anything about it, but every week my gowns are taken in.

“I’ve lived to learn something, to be sure!  Miss Prettyman turned up her nose at my custards.  It isn’t sufficient that you are always finding fault yourself, but you must bring women home to sneer at me at my own table.  What do you say?

She didn’t turn up her nose?

“I know she did; not but what it’s needless - Providence has turned it up quite enough for her already.  And she must give herself airs over my custards!  Oh, I saw her mincing with the spoon as if she was chewing sand.  What do you say?

She praised my plum-pudding?

“Who asked her to praise it?  Like her impudence, I think!

“Yes, a pretty day I’ve passed.  I shall not forget this wedding-day, I think!  And as I say, a pretty speech you made in the way of thanks.  No, Caudle, if I was to live a hundred years - you needn’t groan, Mr. Caudle, I shall not trouble you half that time - if I was to live a hundred years, I should never forget it.  Never!  You didn’t even so much as bring one of your children into your speech.  And - dear creatures! - what have they done to offend you?  No; I shall not drive you mad.  It’s you, Mr. Caudle, who’ll drive me mad.  Everybody says so.

“And you suppose I didn’t see how it was managed that you and that Miss Prettyman were always partners at whist?

How was it managed?

“Why, plain enough.  Of course you packed the cards, and could cut what you liked.  You’d settled that between you.  Yes; and when she took a trick, instead of leading off a trump - she play whist, indeed! - what did you say to her, when she found it was wrong?  Oh - it was impossible that her heart should mistake!  And this, Mr. Caudle, before people - with your own wife in the room!

“And Miss Prettyman - I won’t hold my tongue.  I will talk of Miss Prettyman: who’s she, indeed, that I shouldn’t talk of her?  I suppose she thinks she sings?  What do you say?

She sings like a mermaid?

“Yes, very - very like a mermaid; for she never sings but she exposes herself.  She might, I think, have chosen another song.  ‘I love somebody,’ indeed; as if I didn’t know who was meant by that ‘somebody’; and all the room knew it, of course; and that was what it was done for, nothing else.

“However, Mr. Caudle, as my mind’s made up, I shall say no more about the matter to-night, but try to go to sleep.”

And to my astonishment and gratitude,” writes Caudle, “she kept her word.”

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