Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures


“Ah, you’re very late to-night, dear.

It’s not late?

“Well, then, it isn’t, that’s all.  Of course, a woman can never tell when it’s late.  You were late on Tuesday, too; a little late on the Friday before; on the Wednesday before that - now, you needn’t twist about in that manner; I’m not going to say anything - no; for I see it’s now no use.  Once, I own, it used to fret me when you stayed out; but that’s all over: you’ve now brought me to that state, Caudle - and it’s your own fault entirely - that I don’t care whether you ever come home or not.  I never thought I could be brought to think so little of you; but you’ve done it: you’ve been treading on the worm for these twenty years, and it’s turned at last.

“Now, I’m not going to quarrel; that’s all over: I don’t feel enough for you to quarrel with, - I don’t, Caudle, as true as I’m in this bed.  All I want of you is - any other man would speak to his wife, and not lie there like a log - all I want is this.  Just tell me where you were on Tuesday?  You were not at dear mother’s, though you know she’s not well, and you know she thinks of leaving the dear children her money; but you never had any feeling for anybody belonging to me.  And you were not at your Club: no, I know that.  And you were not at any theatre.

How do I know?

“Ha, Mr. Caudle!  I only wish I didn’t know.  No; you were not at any of these places; but I know well enough where you were.

Then why do I ask if I know?

“That’s it: just to prove what a hypocrite you are: just to show you that you can’t deceive me.

“So, Mr. Caudle - you’ve turned billiard-player, sir.

Only once?

“That’s quite enough: you might as well play a thousand times; for you’re a lost man, Caudle.  Only once, indeed!  I wonder, if I was to say ‘Only once,’ what would you say to me?  But, of course, a man can do no wrong in anything.

“And you’re a lord of the creation, Mr. Caudle; and you can stay away from the comforts of your blessed fireside, and the society of your own wife and children - though, to be sure, you never thought anything of them - to push ivory balls about with a long stick upon a green table-cloth.  What pleasure any man can take in such stuff must astonish any sensible woman.  I pity you, Caudle!

“And you can go and do nothing but make ‘cannons’ - for that’s the gibberish they talk at billiards - when there’s the manly and athletic game of cribbage, as my poor grandmother used to call it, at your own hearth.  You can go into a billiard-room - you, a respectable tradesman, or as you set yourself up for one, for if the world knew all, there’s very little respectability in you - you can go and play billiards with a set of creatures in mustachios, when you might take a nice quiet hand with me at home.  But no! anything but cribbage with your own wife!

“Caudle, it’s all over now; you’ve gone to destruction.  I never knew a man enter a billiard-room that he wasn’t lost for ever.  There was my uncle Wardle; a better man never broke the bread of life: he took to billiards, and he didn’t live with aunt a month afterwards.

A lucky fellow?

“And that’s what you call a man who leaves his wife - a ‘lucky fellow’?  But, to be sure, what can I expect?  We shall not be together long, now: it’s been some time coming, but, at last, we must separate: and the wife I’ve been to you!

“But I know who it is; it’s that fiend Prettyman.  I will call him a fiend, and I’m by no means a foolish woman: you’d no more have thought of billiards than a goose, if it hadn’t been for him.  Now, it’s no use, Caudle, your telling me that you have only been once, and that you can’t hit a ball anyhow - you’ll soon get over all that; and then you’ll never be at home.  You’ll be a marked man, Caudle; yes, marked: there’ll be something about you that’ll be dreadful; for if I couldn’t tell a billiard-player by his looks, I’ve no eyes, that’s all.  They all of ’em look as yellow as parchment, and wear mustachios - I suppose you’ll let yours grow now; though they’ll be a good deal troubled to come.  I know that.  Yes, they’ve all a yellow and sly look; just for all as if they were first cousins to people that picked pockets.  And that will be your case, Caudle: in six months the dear children won’t know their own father.

“Well, if I know myself at all, I could have borne anything but billiards.  The companions you’ll find!  The Captains that will be always borrowing fifty pounds of you!  I tell you, Caudle, a billiard-room’s a place where ruin of all sorts is made easy, I may say, to the lowest understanding, so you can’t miss it.  It’s a chapel-of-ease for the devil to preach in - don’t tell me not to be eloquent: I don’t know what you mean, Mr. Caudle, and I shall be just as eloquent as I like.  But I never can open my lips - and it isn’t often, goodness knows! - that I’m not insulted.

“No, I won’t be quiet on this matter; I won’t, Caudle: on any other, I wouldn’t say a word - and you know it - if you didn’t like it; but on this matter I will speak.  I know you can’t play at billiards; and never could learn.  I dare say not; but that makes it all the worse, for look at the money you’ll lose; see the ruin you’ll be brought to.  It’s no use your telling me you’ll not play - now you can’t help it.  And nicely you’ll be eaten up.  Don’t talk to me; dear aunt told me all about it.  The lots of fellows that go every day into billiard-rooms to get their dinners, just as a fox sneaks into a farm-yard to look about him for a fat goose - and they’ll eat you up, Caudle; I know they will.

“Billiard-balls, indeed!  Well, in my time I’ve been over Woolwich Arsenal - you were something like a man then, for it was just before we were married - and then I saw all sorts of balls; mountains of ’em, to be shot away at churches, and into people’s peaceable habitations, breaking the china, and nobody knows what - I say, I’ve seen all these balls - well, I know I’ve said that before; but I choose to say it again - and there’s not one of ’em, iron as they are, that could do half the mischief of a billiard-ball.  That’s a ball, Caudle, that’s gone through many a wife’s heart, to say nothing of her children.  And that’s a ball, that night and day you’ll be destroying your family with.  Don’t tell me you’ll not play!  When once a man’s given to it - as my poor aunt used to say - the devil’s always tempting him with a ball, as he tempted Eve with an apple.

“I shall never think of being happy any more.  No; that’s quite out of the question.  You’ll be there every night - I know you will, better than you, so don’t deny it - every night over that wicked green cloth.  Green, indeed!  It’s red, crimson red, Caudle, if you could only properly see it - crimson red, with the hearts those balls have broken.  Don’t tell me not to be pathetic - I shall: as pathetic as it suits me.  I suppose I may speak.  However, I’ve done.  It’s all settled now.  You’re a billiard-player, and I’m a wretched woman.”

I did not deny either position,” writes Caudle, “and for this reason - I wanted to sleep.”

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