LECTURE I – MR. CAUDLE HAS LENT FIVE POUNDS TO A FRIEND
“You ought to be very rich, Mr. Caudle. I wonder who’d lend you five pounds? But so it is: a wife may work and may slave! Ha, dear! the many things that might have been done with five pounds. As if people picked up money in the street! But you always were a fool, Mr. Caudle! I’ve wanted a black satin gown these three years, and that five pounds would have entirely bought it. But it’s no matter how I go, – not at all. Everybody says I don’t dress as becomes your wife – and I don’t; but what’s that to you, Mr. Caudle? Nothing. Oh, no! you can have fine feelings for everybody but those belonging to you. I wish people knew you, as I do – that’s all. You like to be called liberal – and your poor family pays for it.
“All the girls want bonnets, and where they’re to come from I can’t tell. Half five pounds would have bought ’em – but now they must go without. Of course, they belong to you: and anybody but your own flesh and body, Mr. Caudle!
“The man called for the water-rate to-day; but I should like to know how people are to pay taxes, who throw away five pounds to every fellow that asks them?
“Perhaps you don’t know that Jack, this morning, knocked his shuttlecock through his bedroom window. I was going to send for the glazier to mend it; but after you lent that five pounds I was sure we couldn’t afford it. Oh, no! the window must go as it is; and pretty weather for a dear child to sleep with a broken window. He’s got a cold already on his lungs, and I shouldn’t at all wonder if that broken window settled him. If the dear boy dies, his death will be upon his father’s head; for I’m sure we can’t now pay to mend windows. We might though, and do a good many more things too, if people didn’t throw away their five pounds.
“Next Tuesday the fire-insurance is due. I should like to know how it’s to be paid? Why, it can’t be paid at all! That five pounds would have more than done it – and now, insurance is out of the question. And there never were so many fires as there are now. I shall never close my eyes all night, – but what’s that to you, so people can call you liberal, Mr. Caudle? Your wife and children may all be burnt alive in their beds – as all of us to a certainty shall be, for the insurance must drop. And after we’ve insured for so many years! But how, I should like to know, are people to insure who make ducks and drakes of their five pounds?
“I did think we might go to Margate this summer. There’s poor little Caroline, I’m sure she wants the sea. But no, dear creature! she must stop at home – all of us must stop at home – she’ll go into a consumption, there’s no doubt of that; yes – sweet little angel! – I’ve made up my mind to lose her, now. The child might have been saved; but people can’t save their children and throw away their five pounds too.
“I wonder where poor little Mopsy is! While you were lending that five pounds, the dog ran out of the shop. You know, I never let it go into the street, for fear it should be bit by some mad dog, and come home and bite all the children. It wouldn’t now at all astonish me if the animal was to come back with the hydrophobia, and give it to all the family. However, what’s your family to you, so you can play the liberal creature with five pounds?
“Do you hear that shutter, how it’s banging to and fro? Yes, – I know what it wants as well as you; it wants a new fastening. I was going to send for the blacksmith to-day, but now it’s out of the question: now it must bang of nights, since you’ve thrown away five pounds.
“Ha! there’s the soot falling down the chimney. If I hate the smell of anything, it’s the smell of soot. And you know it; but what are my feelings to you? Sweep the chimney! Yes, it’s all very fine to say sweep the chimney – but how are chimneys to be swept – how are they to be paid for by people who don’t take care of their five pounds?
“Do you hear the mice running about the room? I hear them. If they were to drag only you out of bed, it would be no matter. Set a trap for them! Yes, it’s easy enough to say – set a trap for ’em. But how are people to afford mouse-traps, when every day they lose five pounds?
“Hark! I’m sure there’s a noise downstairs. It wouldn’t at all surprise me if there were thieves in the house. Well, it may be the cat; but thieves are pretty sure to come in some night. There’s a wretched fastening to the back-door; but these are not times to afford bolts and bars, when people won’t take care of their five pounds.
“Mary Anne ought to have gone to the dentist’s to-morrow. She wants three teeth taken out. Now, it can’t be done. Three teeth that quite disfigure the child’s mouth. But there they must stop, and spoil the sweetest face that was ever made. Otherwise, she’d have been a wife for a lord. Now, when she grows up, who’ll have her? Nobody. We shall die, and leave her alone and unprotected in the world. But what do you care for that? Nothing; so you can squander away five pounds.”
“And thus,” comments Caudle, “according to my wife, she – dear soul! – couldn’t have a satin gown – the girls couldn’t have new bonnets – the water-rate must stand over – Jack must get his death through a broken window – our fire-insurance couldn’t be paid, so that we should all fall victims to the devouring element – we couldn’t go to Margate, and Caroline would go to an early grave – the dog would come home and bite us all mad – the shutter would go banging for ever – the soot would always fall – the mice never let us have a wink of sleep – thieves be always breaking in the house – our dear Mary Anne be for ever left an unprotected maid, – and with other evils falling upon us, all, all because I would go on lending five pounds!”
Categories: English Literature