The Luncheon

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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 hardly think I would have recognised her. She addressed, me brightly. "Well, it's many years since we first met. How time does fly! We're none of us 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 overlooking a cemetery 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 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 was spending the morning at the Luxembourg and would I give her a little luncheon at Foyot's afterwards? 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 have learned to say no to a woman. (Few men, I may add, learn this until they are too old to make it of any consequence to a woman what they say.) I had eighty francs (gold francs) to last me the rest 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 my friend—by correspon¬dence—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 (a charming age, but not one that excites a sudden and devastating passion at first sight), 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 bill of fare was brought, for the prices were a great deal higher than I had anticipated. 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 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 bill of fare, 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 had a little caviare. I never mind caviare." My heart sank a little. I knew I could not afford caviare, but I could not very well 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 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 promptly. "Except white wine," she proceeded as though I had not spoken. "These French white wines are so light. They're wonderful for the digestion." "What would you like?" I asked, hospitable still, but not exactly effusive. She gave me a bright and amicable flash of her white teeth. "My doctor won't let me drink anything but cham¬pagne." I fancy I turned a trifle pale. I ordered half a bottle. I mentioned casually that my doctor had absolutely forbid¬den me to drink champagne. "What are you going to drink, then?" ' "Water." She ate the...
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