Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures


“O you’ll catch me, Mr. Caudle, telling you anything again.  Now, I don’t want to have any noise: I don’t wish you to put yourself in a passion.  All I say is this; never again do I open my lips to you about anybody.  No: if man and wife can’t be one, why there’s an end of everything.  Oh, you know well what I mean, Mr. Caudle: you’ve broken my confidence in the most shameful, the most heartless way, and I repeat it - I can never be again to you as I have been.  No: the little charm - it wasn’t much - that remained about married life, is gone for ever.  Yes; the bloom’s quite wiped off the plum now.

“Don’t be such a hypocrite, Caudle; don’t ask me what I mean!  Mrs. Badgerly has been here - more like a fiend, I’m sure, than a quiet woman.  I haven’t done trembling yet!  You know the state of my nerves, too; you know - yes, sir, I had nerves when you married me; and I haven’t just found ’em out.  Well, you’ve something to answer for, I think.  The Badgerlys are going to separate: she takes the girls, and he the boys, and all through you.  How you can lay your head upon that pillow and think of going to sleep, I can’t tell.

What have you done?

“Well, you have a face to ask the question.  Done?  You’ve broken my confidence, Mr. Caudle: you’ve taken advantage of my tenderness, my trust in you as a wife - the more fool I for my pains! - and you’ve separated a happy couple for ever.  No; I’m not talking in the clouds; I’m talking in your bed, the more my misfortune.

“Now, Caudle - yes, I shall sit up in the bed if I choose; I’m not going to sleep till I have this properly explained; for Mrs. Badgerly sha’n’t lay her separation at my door.  You won’t deny that you were at the club last night?  No, bad as you are, Caudle - and though you’re my husband, I can’t think you a good man; I try to do, but I can’t - bad as you are, you can’t deny you were at the club.  What?

You don’t deny it?

“That’s what I say - you can’t.  And now answer me this question.  What did you say - before the whole world - of Mr. Badgerly’s whiskers?  There’s nothing to laugh at, Caudle; if you’d have seen that poor woman to-day, you’d have a heart of stone to laugh.  What did you say of his whiskers?  Didn’t you tell everybody he dyed ’em?  Didn’t you hold the candle up to ’em, as you said, to show the purple?

To be sure you did?

“Ha! people who break jokes never care about breaking hearts.  Badgerly went home like a demon; called his wife a false woman: vowed he’d never enter a bed again with her, and to show he was in earnest, slept all night upon the sofa.  He said it was the dearest secret of his life; said she had told me; and that I had told you; and that’s how it has come out.  What do you say?

Badgerly was right.  I did tell you?

“I know I did: but when dear Mrs. Badgerly mentioned the matter to me and a few friends, as we were all laughing at tea together, quite in a confidential way - when she just spoke of her husband’s whiskers, and how long he was over ’em every morning - of course, poor soul! she never thought it was to be talked of in the world again.  Eh?

Then I had no right to tell you of it?

“And that’s the way I’m thanked for my confidence.  Because I don’t keep a secret from you, but show you, I may say, my naked soul, Caudle, that’s how I’m rewarded.  Poor Mrs. Badgerly - for all her hard words - after she went away, I’m sure my heart quite bled for her.  What do you say, Mr. Caudle?

Serves her right - she should hold her tongue?

“Yes; that’s like your tyranny - you’d never let a poor woman speak.  Eh - what, what, Mr. Caudle?

“That’s a very fine speech, I dare say; and wives are very much obliged to you, only there’s not a bit of truth in it.  No, we women don’t get together, and pick our husbands to pieces, just as sometimes mischievous little girls rip up their dolls.  That’s an old sentiment of yours, Mr. Caudle; but I’m sure you’ve no occasion to say it of me.  I hear a good deal of other people’s husbands, certainly; I can’t shut my ears; I wish I could: but I never say anything about you, - and I might, and you know it - and there’s somebody else that knows it, too.  No: I sit still and say nothing; what I have in my own bosom about you, Caudle, will be buried with me.  But I know what you think of wives.  I heard you talking to Mr. Prettyman, when you little thought I was listening, and you didn’t know much what you were saying - I heard you.  ‘My dear Prettyman,’ says you, ‘when some women get talking, they club all their husbands’ faults together; just as children club their cakes and apples, to make a common feast for the whole set.’  Eh?

You don’t remember it?

“But I do: and I remember, too, what brandy was left when Prettyman left.  ’Twould be odd if you could remember much about it, after that.

“And now you’ve gone and separated man and wife, and I’m to be blamed for it.  You’ve not only carried misery into a family, but broken my confidence.  You’ve proved to me that henceforth I’m not to trust you with anything, Mr. Caudle.  No; I’ll lock up whatever I know in my own breast, - for now I find nobody, not even one’s own husband, is to be relied upon.  From this moment, I may look upon myself as a solitary woman.  Now, it’s no use your trying to go to sleep.  What do you say?

You know that?

“Very well.  Now I want to ask you one question more.  Eh?

You want to ask me one?

“Very well - go on - I’m not afraid to be catechised.  I never dropped a syllable that as a wife I ought to have kept to myself - no, I’m not at all forgetting what I’ve said - and whatever you’ve got to ask me speak out at once.  No - I don’t want you to spare me; all I want you is to speak.

You will speak?

“Well then, do.


Who told people you’d a false front tooth?

“And is that all?  Well, I’m sure - as if the world couldn’t see it.  I know I did just mention it once, but then I thought everybody knew it - besides, I was aggravated to do it; yes, aggravated.  I remember it was that very day, at Mrs. Badgerly’s, when husbands’ whiskers came up.  Well, after we’d done with them, somebody said something about teeth.  Whereupon, Miss Prettyman - a minx! she was born to destroy the peace of families, I know she was: she was there; and if I’d only known that such a creature was - no I’m not rambling, not at all, and I’m coming to the tooth.  To be sure, this is a great deal you’ve got against me, isn’t it?  Well, somebody spoke about teeth, when Miss Prettyman, with one of her insulting leers, said ‘she thought Mr. Caudle had the whitest teeth she ever had beheld.’  Of course my blood was up - every wife’s would be: and I believe I might have said, ‘Yes, they were well enough; but when a young lady so very much praised a married man’s teeth, she perhaps didn’t know that one of the front ones was an elephant’s.’  Like her impudence! - I set her down for the rest of the evening.  But I can see the humour you’re in to-night.  You only came to bed to quarrel, and I’m not going to indulge you.  All I say is this, after the shameful mischief you’ve made at the Badgerlys’, you never break my confidence again.  Never - and now you know it.”

Caudle hereupon writes - “And here she seemed inclined to sleep.  Not for one moment did I think to prevent her.”

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