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The Luncheon

This story happened twenty years ago when I lived in Paris. I had a small room and very little money. A lady had read a book of mine and had written to me about it. She was in Paris and wanted to have a talk with me. She asked me to give her a small luncheon at a restaurant that she named. I was very young then and I could not say “no” to a lady.

I had only eighty francs; all the money I had till the end of the month. “A small luncheon will not cost more than fifteen francs,” I thought, “and if I don’t take coffee for the next two weeks, I shall have enough money till the end of the month.

So we met at the restaurant that she had chosen. She was a woman of forty. She talked a lot, but as she wanted to talk about me, I was ready to listen to her. When the waiter brought the menu, I saw that the prices were very high. But she said “I never eat anything much for luncheon.”

“Oh, don’t say that!” I answered.

“I never eat more than one thing. I think people eat too much in our days. I can eat now a little fish only. Have they got any salmon?”

They had, and I ordered it for my guest. The waiter asked her: “Will you have anything while we are preparing it?”

“No” she answered, “I never eat more than one thing. But if you have a little caviar — I like caviar.”

I knew I had not enough money to pay for caviar. But I could not tell her that. For myself I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, a beefsteak. Then came the question of drinks. “What will you drink?” I asked her. “My doctor lets me drink only champagne.” It seemed to me that my face became white. But I ordered half a bottle of champagne.

She ate the caviar and she ate the salmon. She talked of art, literature and music. But all I wanted to know was what the “small” luncheon would cost me. “Shall I be able to pay the bill?” I asked myself again and again. “What shall I do if the bill comes to more than I have?” If the bill comes to more, I shall leave my watch and say that I shall come back and pay later, I decided.

The waiter brought another dish. She ate and I spoke of literature. At last she finished.

Then the waiter came up to us with a large basket full of peaches. They were not in season then and their price was very high. My guest took one of them.

“Coffee?” I asked her some minutes later. “Yes, just an ice cream and coffee” she answered.

“You know” she said as she ate the ice-cream, “I usually don’t eat luncheon. I have a cup of coffee in the morning and then dinner. But if I must have luncheon, then I never eat more than one thing.” The bill came, and when I had paid it, I had the whole month before me and not a penny in my pocket. I am not a bad man. But I am glad that today she weighs more than three hundred pounds. So I had my revenge at last.

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