I saw her in the theatre. I sat down beside her during the interval. It was long since I had last seen her and if someone had mentioned her name I hardly think I would have recognized her. She addressed me brightly.
“Well, it is many years since we first met. How time does fly! 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 small apartment in a Latin Quarter and I was earning only just enough money to keep body and sole together. She had read a book of mine and had written to me about it. I answered, thanked 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. Would I 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 was too young to have learned to say no to a woman. I had eighty francs (gold francs) to last me the rest of the month and a decent luncheon should not cost more than fifteen. If I stopped drinking coffee for the next two weeks I could manage well enough.
I answered that I would meet my friend at Foyot’s on Thursday at half past twelve. She was not so young as I expected. She was in fact a woman of forty and she gave me the impression of having more teeth than were necessary for any practical purpose. She talked a lot, 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 good deal higher than I had expected. But she assured 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 far 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, a beautiful salmon had just come in, 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 have a little caviar. I never mind caviar.” My heart sank a little. I knew I could not afford caviar, but I could not very well tell her that. I told the waiter to bring caviar. For myself I chose the cheapest dish on the menu and that was a mutton chop.
“I think you are unwise to eat meat,” she said. “I don’t know how you can expect to work after eating heavy things like chops. I don’t believe in overloading my stomach.”
Then came the question of drink.
“I never drink anything for luncheon,” she said.
“Neither do I,” I answered immediately. “Except white wine,” she continued 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, hospitable, but not exactly emotional. She gave me a bright and friendly flash of her white teeth.
“My doctor will not let me drink anything but champagne.”
I imagine 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?”
So she ate the caviar and then salmon. She talked happily of art and literature and music. But I wondered what the bill would come to. When my mutton chop arrived she took me quite seriously to task.
“I see you are in the habit of eating a heavy luncheon. I am sure it is a mistake. Why don’t you follow my example and just eat one thing? I am sure you would feel so much better for it.”
“I am only going to eat one thing,” I said as the waiter came again with the menu.
She waved him aside with an airy gesture.
“No, no, I never eat anything for luncheon. Just a bite, I never want more than that, and I eat that more as an excuse for conversation than anything else. I couldn’t possibly eat anything more – unless they had some of those great asparagus. I should be sorry to leave Paris without having some of them.”
My heart sank. I had seen them in the shops and I knew that they were horribly expensive.
“Madam wants to know if you had any of those great asparagus,” I asked the waiter.
I tried with all my might to will him to say no. A happy smile spread over his face, and he assured me that they had some so large, so tender, and so very rich, that it was a miracle.
“I am not in the least hungry,” my guest sighed, “but if you insist I don’t mind having some asparagus.” I ordered them. “Aren’t you going to have any?” “No, I never eat asparagus. I know there are people who don’t like them. The fact is, you ruin your palate by all the meat you eat.” We waited for the asparagus to be cooked. Panic seized me. It was not a question now how much money I should have left over for the rest of the month, but whether I had enough to pay the bill. It would be mortifying to find myself ten francs short and be obliged to borrow from my guest. I could not bring myself to do that. I knew exactly how much I had and if the bill came to more I made a decision that I would put my hand in my pocket and with a dramatic cry startup and say it had been stolen. Of course, it would be unfortunate if she had not money enough either to pay the bill. Then the only thing would be to leave my watch and say I would come back and pay later. The asparagus appeared. They were big, delicious and appetizing. I watched the shameless woman thrust asparagus down her throat and the smell of the melted butter hit my nose. At last she finished. “Coffee?! I said. “Yes, just an ice cream and coffee,” she answered. I was past caring now, so I ordered coffee for myself and an ice cream and coffee for her. “You know there is one thing I thoroughly believe in, “ she said, as she ate the ice-cream. One should always get up from a meal feeling one could eat a little more.” “Are you still hungry?” I asked weakly. “Oh no, I’m not hungry: you see, I don’t eat luncheon. I have a cup of coffee in the morning and then dinner but I never eat more than one thing for luncheon. I was speaking for you.” Oh, I see!” Then a terrible thing happened. While we were waiting for the coffee, the headwaiter with a pleasant smile on his false face came up to us bearing a large basket full of big peaches. They were beautiful; they had the rich tone of Italian country. But surely peaches were not in season then? God knew what they cost. “You see, you have filled your stomach with a lot of meat” – my one miserable little chop – and you can’t eat any more. But I have just had a snack and I shall enjoy a peach.” The bill came and when I paid it I found that I had only enough for a quite inadequate tip. Her eyes rested for an instant on the three francs I left for the waiter. But when I walked out of the restaurant I had the whole month before me and not a penny in my pocket. “Follow my example,” she said as we shook hands, “and never eat more than one thing for luncheon. “I will do better than that,” I answered. “I will eat nothing for dinner tonight.” “Humorist!” she cried happily, jumping into the cab. “You are quite a humorist.” But I have had my revenge at last. I do not believe that I am a vindictive man, but when the immortal gods take a hand in the matter it is pardonable to observe the result with complacency. Today she weighs one hundred and thirty-three kilograms.