Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures


“There, it isn’t often that I ask you to do anything for me, Mr. Caudle, goodness knows! and when I do, I’m always refused - of course.  Oh yes! anybody but your own lawful wife.  Every other husband aboard the boat could behave like a husband - but I was left to shift for myself.  To be sure, that’s nothing new; I always am.  Every other man, worthy to be called a man, could smuggle a few things for his wife - but I might as well be alone in the world.  Not one poor half-dozen of silk stockings could you put in your hat for me; and everybody else was rolled in lace, and I don’t know what.  Eh?  What, Mr. Caudle?

What do I want with silk stockings?

“Well - it’s come to something now!  There was a time, I believe, when I had a foot - yes, and an ankle, too; but when once a woman’s married, she has nothing of the sort; of course.  No: I’m not a cherub, Mr. Caudle; don’t say that.  I know very well what I am.

“I dare say now, you’d have been delighted to smuggle for Miss Prettyman?  Silk stockings become her!

You wish Miss Prettyman was in the moon?

“Not you, Mr. Caudle; that’s only your art - your hypocrisy.  A nice person too she’d be for the moon: it would be none the brighter for her being in it, I know.  And when you saw the Custom House officers look at me, as though they were piercing me through, what was your conduct?  Shameful.  You twittered about and fidgeted, and flushed up as if I really was a smuggler.

So I was?

“What had that to do with it?  It wasn’t the part of a husband, I think, to fidget in that way, and show it.

You couldn’t help it?

“Humph!  And you call yourself a person of strong mind, I believe?  One of the lords of the creation!  Ha! ha! couldn’t help it!

“But I may do all I can to save the money, and this is always my reward.  Yes, Mr. Caudle; I shall save a great deal.

How much?

“I sha’n’t tell you: I know your meanness - you’d want to stop it out of the house allowance.  No: it’s nothing to you where I got the money from to buy so many things.  The money was my own.  Well, and if it was yours first, that’s nothing to do with it.  No; I haven’t saved it out of the puddings.  But it’s always the woman who saves who’s despised.  It’s only your fine-lady wives who’re properly thought of.  If I was to ruin you, Caudle, then you’d think something of me.

“I sha’n’t go to sleep.  It’s very well for you, who’re no sooner in bed than you’re fast as a church; but I can’t sleep in that way.  It’s my mind keeps me awake.  And after all, I do feel so happy to-night, it’s very hard I can’t enjoy my thoughts.

No: I can’t think in silence!

“There’s much enjoyment in that, to be sure!  I’ve no doubt now you could listen to Miss Prettyman - oh, I don’t care, I will speak.  It was a little more than odd, I think, that she should be on the jetty when the boat came in.  Ha! she’d been looking for you all the morning with a telescope, I’ve no doubt - she’s bold enough for anything.  And then how she sneered and giggled when she saw me, - and said ‘how fat I’d got:’ like her impudence, I think.  What?

Well she might?

“But I know what she wanted; yes - she’d have liked to have had me searched.  She laughed on purpose.

“I only wish I’d taken two of the dear girls with me.  What things I could have stitched about ’em!  No - I’m not ashamed of myself to make my innocent children smugglers: the more innocent they looked, the better; but there you are with what you call your principles again; as if it wasn’t given to everybody by nature to smuggle.  I’m sure of it - it’s born with us.  And nicely I’ve cheated ’em this day.  Lace, and velvet, and silk stockings, and other things, - to say nothing of the tumblers and decanters.  No: I didn’t look as if I wanted a direction, for fear somebody should break me.  That’s another of what you call your jokes; but you should keep ’em for those who like ’em.  I don’t.

What have I made, after all?

“I’ve told you - you shall never, never know.  Yes, I know you’d been fined a hundred pounds if they’d searched me; but I never meant that they should.  I daresay you wouldn’t smuggle - oh no! you don’t think it worth your while.  You’re quite a conjuror, you are, Caudle.  Ha! ha! ha!

What am I laughing at?

“Oh, you little know - such a clever creature!  Ha! ha!  Well, now, I’ll tell you.  I knew what an unaccommodating animal you were, so I made you smuggle whether or not.


“Why, when you were out at the Café, I got your great rough coat, and if I didn’t stitch ten yards of best black velvet under the lining I’m a sinful woman!  And to see how innocent you looked when the officers walked round and round you!  It was a happy moment, Caudle, to see you.

“What do you call it?

A shameful trick - unworthy of a wife?  I couldn’t care much for you?

“As if I didn’t prove that by trusting you with ten yards of velvet.  But I don’t care what you say: I’ve saved everything - all but that beautiful English novel, that I’ve forgot the name of.  And if they didn’t take it out of my hand, and chopped it to bits like so much dog’s-meat.

Served me right?

“And when I so seldom buy a book!  No: I don’t see how it served me right.  If you can buy the same book in France for four shillings that people here have the impudence to ask more than a guinea for - well, if they do steal it, that’s their affair, not ours.  As if there was anything in a book to steal!

“And now, Caudle, when are you going home?  What?

Our time isn’t up?

“That’s nothing to do with it.  If we even lose a week’s lodging - and we mayn’t do that - we shall save it again in living.  But you’re such a man!  Your home’s the last place with you.  I’m sure I don’t get a wink of a night, thinking what may happen.  Three fires last week; and any one might as well have been at our house as not.

No - they mightn’t?

“Well, you know what I mean - but you’re such a man!

“I’m sure, too, we’ve had quite enough of this place.  But there’s no keeping you out of the libraries, Caudle.  You’re getting quite a gambler.  And I don’t think it’s a nice example to set your children, raffling as you do for French clocks, and I don’t know what.  But that’s not the worst; you never win anything.  Oh, I forgot.  Yes; a needle-case, that under my nose you gave to Miss Prettyman.  A nice thing for a married man to make presents: and to such a creature as that, too!  A needle-case!  I wonder whenever she has a needle in her hand!

“I know I shall feel ill with anxiety if I stop here.  Nobody left in the house but that Mrs. Closepeg.  And she is such a stupid woman.  It was only last night that I dreamt I saw our cat quite a skeleton, and the canary stiff on its back at the bottom of the cage.  You know, Caudle, I’m never happy when I’m away from home; and yet you will stay here.  No, home’s my comfort!  I never want to stir over the threshold, and you know it.  If thieves were to break in, what could that Mrs. Closepeg do against ’em?  And so, Caudle, you’ll go home on Saturday?  Our dear - dear home!  On Saturday, Caudle?”

What I answered,” says Caudle, “I forget; but I know that on the Saturday we were once again shipped on board theRed Rover’.”

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