Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures


“Caudle, have you looked under the bed?

What for?

“Bless the man!  Why, for thieves, to be sure.  Do you suppose I’d sleep in a strange bed without?  Don’t tell me it’s nonsense!  I shouldn’t sleep a wink all night.  Not that you’d care for that; not that you’d - hush!  I’m sure I heard somebody.  No; it’s not a bit like a mouse.  Yes; that’s like you - laugh.  It would be no laughing matter if - I’m sure there is somebody! - I’m sure there is!

“ - Yes, Mr. Caudle; now I am satisfied.  Any other man would have got up and looked himself; especially after my sufferings on board that nasty ship.  But catch you stirring!  Oh, no!  You’d let me lie here and be robbed and killed, for what you’d care.  Why you’re not going to sleep?  What do you say?

It’s the strange air - and you’re always sleepy in a strange air?

“That shows the feelings you have, after what I’ve gone through.  And yawning, too, in that brutal manner!  Caudle, you’ve no more heart than that wooden figure in a white petticoat at the front of the ship.

“No; I couldn’t leave my temper at home.  I dare say!  Because for once in your life you’ve brought me out - yes, I say once, or two or three times, it isn’t more; because, as I say, you once bring me out, I’m to be a slave and say nothing.  Pleasure, indeed!  A great deal of pleasure I’m to have, if I’m told to hold my tongue.  A nice way that of pleasing a woman.

“Dear me! if the bed doesn’t spin round and dance about!  I’ve got all that filthy ship in my head!  No: I sha’n’t be well in the morning.  But nothing ever ails anybody but yourself.  You needn’t groan in that way, Mr. Caudle, disturbing the people, perhaps, in the next room.  It’s a mercy I’m alive, I’m sure.  If once I wouldn’t have given all the world for anybody to have thrown me overboard!  What are you smacking your lips at, Mr. Caudle?  But I know what you mean - of course, you’d never have stirred to stop ’em; not you.  And then you might have known that the wind would have blown to-day; but that’s why you came.

“Whatever I should have done if it hadn’t been for that good soul - that blessed Captain Large!  I’m sure all the women who go to Margate ought to pray for him; so attentive in sea-sickness, and so much of a gentleman!  How I should have got down stairs without him when I first began to turn, I don’t know.  Don’t tell me I never complained to you; you might have seen I was ill.  And when everybody was looking like a bad wax-candle, you could walk about, and make what you call your jokes upon the little buoy that was never sick at the Nore, and such unfeeling trash.

“Yes, Caudle; we’ve now been married many years, but if we were to live together for a thousand years to come - what are you clasping your hands at? - a thousand years to come, I say, I shall never forget your conduct this day.  You could go to the other end of the ship and smoke a cigar, when you knew I should be ill - oh, you knew it; for I always am.  The brutal way, too, in which you took that cold brandy-and-water - you thought I didn’t see you; but ill as I was, hardly able to hold my head up, I was watching you all the time.  Three glasses of cold brandy-and-water; and you sipped ’em, and drank the health of people who you didn’t care a pin about; whilst the health of your own lawful wife was nothing.  Three glasses of brandy-and-water, and I left - as I may say - alone!  You didn’t hear ’em, but everybody was crying shame of you.

“What do you say?

A good deal my own fault?  I took too much dinner?

“Well, you are a man!  If I took more than the breast and leg of that young goose - a thing, I may say, just out of the shell - with the slightest bit of stuffing, I’m a wicked woman.  What do you say?

Lobster salad?

“La! - how can you speak of it?  A month-old baby would have eaten more.  What?

Gooseberry pie?

“Well, if you’ll name that you’ll name anything.  Ate too much indeed!  Do you think I was going to pay for a dinner, and eat nothing?  No, Mr. Caudle; it’s a good thing for you that I know a little more of the value of money than that.

“But, of course, you were better engaged than in attending to me.  Mr. Prettyman came on board at Gravesend.  A planned thing, of course.  You think I didn’t see him give you a letter.

It wasn’t a letter; it was a newspaper?

“I daresay; ill as I was, I had my eyes.  It was the smallest newspaper I ever saw, that’s all.  But of course, a letter from Miss Prettyman - Now, Caudle, if you begin to cry out in that manner, I’ll get up.  Do you forget that you are not at your own house? making that noise!  Disturbing everybody!  Why, we shall have the landlord up!  And you could smoke and drink ‘forward,’ as you called it.  What?

You couldn’t smoke anywhere else?

“That’s nothing to do with it.  Yes; forward.  What a pity that Miss Prettyman wasn’t with you!  I’m sure nothing could be too forward for her.  No, I won’t hold my tongue; and I ought not to be ashamed of myself.  It isn’t treason, is it, to speak of Miss Prettyman?  After all I’ve suffered to-day, and I’m not to open my lips!  Yes; I’m to be brought away from my own home, dragged down here to the sea-side, and made ill! and I’m not to speak.  I should like to know what next.

“It’s a mercy some of the dear children were not drowned; not that their father would have cared, so long as he could have had his brandy and cigars.  Peter was as near through one of the holes as -

It’s no such thing?

“It’s very well for you to say so, but you know what an inquisitive boy he is, and how he likes to wander among steam-engines.  No, I won’t let you sleep.  What a man you are!  What?

I’ve said that before?

“That’s no matter; I’ll say it again.  Go to sleep, indeed! as if one could never have a little rational conversation.  No, I sha’n’t be too late for the Margate boat in the morning; I can wake up at what hour I like, and you ought to know that by this time.

“A miserable creature they must have thought me in the ladies’ cabin, with nobody coming down to see how I was.

You came a dozen times?

“No, Caudle, that won’t do.  I know better.  You never came at all.  Oh, no! cigars and brandy took all your attention.  And when I was so ill, that I didn’t know a single thing that was going on about me, and you never came.  Every other woman’s husband was there - ha! twenty times.  And what must have been my feelings to hear ’em tapping at the door, and making all sorts of kind inquiries - something like husbands and I was left to be ill alone?  Yes; and you want to get me into an argument.  You want to know, if I was so ill that I knew nothing, how could I know that you didn’t come to the cabin-door?  That’s just like your aggravating way; but I’m not to be caught in that manner, Caudle.  No.”

It is very possible,” writes Caudle, “that she talked two hours more, but, happily, the wind got suddenly up - the waves bellowed - and, soothed by the sweet lullaby (to say nothing of the Dolphin’s brandy-and-water) I somehow sank to repose.”

1 of 2
2 of 2