Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures


“When I took up the paper to-day, Caudle, you might have knocked me down with a feather!  Now, don’t be a hypocrite - you know what’s the matter.  And when you haven’t a bed to lie upon, and are brought to sleep upon coal sacks - and then I can tell you, Mr. Caudle, you may sleep by yourself - then you’ll know what’s the matter.  Now, I’ve seen your name, and don’t deny it.  Yes, - the Eel-Pie Island Railway - and among the Directors, Job Caudle, Esq., of the Turtle-Dovery, and - no, I won’t be quiet.  It isn’t often - goodness knows! - that I speak; but seeing what I do, I won’t be silent.

What do I see?

“Why, there, Mr. Caudle, at the foot of the bed, I see all the blessed children in tatters - I see you in a gaol, and the carpets hung out of the windows.

“And now I know why you talk in your sleep about a broad and narrow gauge!  I couldn’t think what was on your mind - but now it’s out.  Ha!  Mr. Caudle, there’s something about a broad and narrow way that I wish you’d remember - but you’re turned quite a heathen: yes, you think of nothing but money now.

Don’t I like money?

“To be sure I do; but then I like it when I’m certain of it; no risks for me.  Yes, it’s all very well to talk about fortunes made in no time: they’re like shirts made in no time - it’s ten to one if they hang long together.

“And now it’s plain enough why you can’t eat or drink, or sleep, or do anything.  All your mind’s allotted into railways; for you shan’t make me believe that Eel-Pie Island’s the only one.  Oh, no!  I can see by the looks of you.  Why, in a little time, if you haven’t as many lines in your face as there are lines laid down!  Every one of your features seems cut up - and all seem travelling from one another.  Six months ago, Caudle, you hadn’t a wrinkle; yes, you’d a cheek as smooth as any china, and now your face is like the Map of England.

“At your time of life, too!  You, who were for always going small and sure!  You to make heads-and-tails of your money in this way!  It’s that stock-broker’s dog at Flam Cottage - he’s bitten you, I’m sure of it.  You’re not fit to manage your own property now; and I should only be acting the part of a good wife if I were to call in the mad-doctors.

“Well, I shall never know rest any more now.  There won’t be a soul knock at the door after this that I sha’n’t think it’s the man coming to take possession.  ’Twill be something for the Chalkpits to laugh at when we’re sold up.  I think I see ’em here, bidding for all our little articles of bigotry and virtue, and - what are you laughing at?

They’re not bigotry and virtue; but bijouterie and vertu?

“It’s all the same: only you’re never so happy as when you’re taking me up.

“If I can tell what’s coming to the world, I’m a sinner!  Everybody’s for turning their farthings into double sovereigns and cheating their neighbours of the balance.  And you, too - you’re beside yourself, Caudle - I’m sure of it.  I’ve watched you when you thought me fast asleep.  And then you’ve lain, and whispered and whispered, and then hugged yourself, and laughed at the bed-posts, as if you’d seen ’em turned to sovereign gold.  I do believe that you sometimes think the patchwork quilt is made of thousand-pound bank-notes.

“Well, when we’re brought to the Union, then you’ll find out your mistake.  But it will be a poor satisfaction for me every night to tell you of it.  What, Mr. Caudle?

They won’t let me tell you of it?

“And you call that ‘some comfort’?  And after the wife I’ve been to you!  But now I recollect.  I think I’ve heard you praise that Union before; though, like a fond fool as I’ve always been, I never once suspected the reason of it.

“And now, of course, day and night, you’ll never be at home.  No, you’ll live and sleep at Eel-Pie Island!  I shall be left alone with nothing but my thoughts, thinking when the broker will come, and you’ll be with your brother directors.  I may slave and I toil to save sixpences; and you’ll be throwing away hundreds.  And then the expensive tastes you’ve got!  Nothing good enough for you now.  I’m sure you sometimes think yourself King Solomon.  But that comes of making money - if, indeed, you have made any - without earning it.  No; I don’t talk nonsense: people can make money without earning it.  And when they do, why it’s like taking a lot of spirits at one draught; it gets into their head, and they don’t know what they’re about.  And you’re in that state now, Mr. Caudle: I’m sure of it, by the way of you.  There’s a tipsiness of the pocket as well as of the stomach - and you’re in that condition at this very moment.

“Not that I should so much mind - that is, if you have made money - if you’d stop at the Eel-Pie line.  But I know what these things are: they’re like treacle to flies: when men are well in ’em, they can’t get out of ’em: or, if they do, it’s often without a feather to fly with.  No: if you’ve really made money by the Eel-Pie line, and will give it to me to take care of for the dear children, why, perhaps, love, I’ll say no more of the matter.  What?


“Yes, of course: I never ask you for money, but that’s the word.

“And now, catch you stopping at the Eel-Pie line!  Oh no; I know your aggravating spirit.  In a day or two I shall see another fine flourish in the paper, with a proposal for a branch from Eel-Pie Island to the Chelsea Bun-house.  Give you a mile of rail, and - I know you men - you’ll take a hundred.  Well, if it didn’t make me quiver to read that stuff in the paper, - and your name to it!  But I suppose it was Mr. Prettyman’s work; for his precious name’s among ’em.  How you tell the people ‘that eel-pies are now become an essential element of civilisation’ - I learnt all the words by heart, that I might say ’em to you - ‘that the Eastern population of London are cut off from the blessings of such a necessary - and that by means of the projected line eel-pies will be brought home to the business and bosoms of Ratcliff Highway and the adjacent dependencies.’  Well, when you men - lords of the creation, as you call yourselves - do get together to make up a company, or anything of the sort - is there any story-book can come up to you?  And so you look solemnly in one another’s faces, and, never so much as moving the corners of your mouths, pick one another’s pockets.  No, I’m not using hard words, Mr. Caudle - but only the words that’s proper.

“And this I must say.  Whatever you’ve got, I’m none the better for it.  You never give me any of your Eel-Pie shares.  What do you say?

You will give me some?

“Not I - I’ll have nothing to do with any wickedness of the kind.  If, like any other husband, you choose to throw a heap of money into my lap - what?

You’ll think of it?  When the Eel-Pies go up?

“Then I know what they’re worth - they’ll never fetch a farthing.”

She was suddenly silent” - writes Caudle - “and I was sinking into sleep, when she elbowed me, and cried, ‘Caudle, do you think they’ll be up to-morrow?’”

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