Somerset Maugham - The Luncheon
I caught sight of her at the play and in answer to her beckoning I went over during the interval and sat down beside her. It was long since I had last seen her and if someone had not mentioned her name I do not think I would have recognized her. She addressed me brightly.
"Well, it's many years since we first met. How time flies! We are not getting any younger. Do you remember the first time I saw you? You asked me to, luncheon."
Did I remember?
It was twenty years ago and I was living in Paris. I had a tiny apartment in the Latin Quarter' and I was earning barely enough money to keep body and soul together. She had read a book of mine and had written to me about it. I answered, thanking her, and presently I received from her another letter saying that she was passing through Paris and would like to have a chat with me; but her time was limited and the only free moment she had was on the following Thursday. She asked me if I would give her a little luncheon at Foyot's. Foyot's is a restaurant at which the French senators eat and it was so far beyond my means that I had never even thought of going there. But I was flattered and I was too young to say no to a woman. I had eighty francs to live on till the end of the month and a modest luncheon should not cost more than fifteen. If I cut out coffee for the next two weeks I could manage well enough.
I answered that I would meet her at Foyot's on Thursday at half past twelve.
She was not so young as I expected and in appearance imposing rather than attractive. She was in fact a woman of forty, and she gave me the impression of having more teeth, white and large and even, than were necessary for any practical purpose. She was talkative, but since she seemed inclined to talk about me I was prepared to be an attentive listener. I was startled when the menu was brought, for the prices were a great deal higher than I had expected. But she reassured me.
"I never eat anything for luncheon," she said.
"Oh, don't say that!" I answered generously.
"I never eat more than one thing. I think people eat too much nowadays. A little fish, perhaps. I wonder if they have any salmon."
Well, it was early in the year for salmon and it was not on the menu, but I asked the waiter if there was any. Yes, they had a beautiful salmon, it was the first they had had. I ordered it for my guest. The waiter asked her if she would have something while it was being cooked.
"No," she answered, "I never eat more than one thing. Unless you had a little caviare.' I never mind caviare."
My heart sank a little. I knew I could not afford caviare, but I could not tell her that. I told the waiter by all means to bring caviare. For myself I chose the cheapest dish on the menu and that was a mutton chop.
"I think you're unwise to eat meat," she said. "I don't know how you can expect to work after eating heavy things like chops. I never overload my stomach."
Then came the question of drink.
"I never drink anything for luncheon," she said.
"Neither do I," I answered promptly.
"Except white wine," she went on as though I had not spoken. "These French white wines are so light. They are wonderful for the digestion."
"What would you like?" I asked her.
"My doctor won't let me drink anything but champagne." I think I turned a little pale. I ordered half a bottle. I mentioned casually that my doctor had absolutely forbidden me to drink champagne.
"What are you going to drink, then?"
She ate the caviare and she ate the salmon. She talked gaily of art and literature and music. But I wondered what the bill would come to. When my mutton chop arrived she said:
"I see that you're in the habit of eating a heavy luncheon. I'm sure it's a mistake. Why don't you follow my example and just eat one thing? I'm sure you'd feel much better then."