The Three Fat Women of Antibes
(Extract from the story by S. Maugham. Abridged)
One was called Mrs. Richman and she was a widow. The second was called Mrs. Sutcliffe; she was American and she had. divorced two husbands. The third was called Miss Hickson and she was a spinster.
They were great friends, Miss Hickson, Mrs. Richman and Arrow Sutcliffe. It was their fat that had brought them together' and bridge that had cemented their alliance. They would have been independent of anyone else if they had not needed a fourth at bridge.2 It was for this reason that Frank* invited Lena Finch to come and stay with them at Antibes. They were spending some weeks there on Frank's suggestion. She proposed then that they should take a house at Antibes, where they could get plenty of exercise — everyone knew that nothing slimmed you like swimming. With a cook of their own they could at least avoid things that were obviously fattening. The plan worked very well.
* Frank — Frances Hickson
But the fourth at bridge continued to be the difficulty. One morning when they were sitting in pyjamas on the terrace, drinking their tea (without milk or sugar), Frank looked up from the letters.
'Lena Finch is coming down to the Riviera,' she said. 'What about asking her to come here for a fortnight?'
'Does she play bridge?' asked Beatrice*.
* Beatrice — Mis. Richman
'You bet your life she does,'3 boomed Frank in her deep voice. 'And a damned good game too. We should be absolutely independent of outsiders.'4
It was settled. And three days later Lena Finch arrived. Frank met her at the station. She was in deep mourning for the recent death of her husband. Lena was not, however, unduly depressed. Frank introduced the stranger to her two friends and they sat down in what was known as the Monkey House. It was crowded with chattering people, who were seated at the tables having drinks. The conversation was gay and easy, and presently they strolled back to the villa for luncheon.
In each napkin were two little antifat rusks. Lena gave a bright smile as she put them by the side of her plate.
'May I have some bread?' she asked.
The grossest indecency would not have fallen on the ears of those three women.5 Not one of them had eaten bread for ten years.
Frank, the good hostess, recovered herself first.
'Of course, darling,' she said and turning to the butler asked him to bring some.
'And some butter,' said Lena in that pleasant easy way of hers.
There was a moment's embarrassed silence.
'I don't know if there's any in the house,' said Frank, 'but I'll inquire'.
The butler brought a long crisp roll of French bread. Lena slit it in two and plastered it with the butter, which was miraculously produced.6
A grilled sole was served. The rest of the luncheon consisted of lamb cutlets, with the fat carefully removed, and spinach boiled in water, with stewed pears to end up with, Lena tasted her pears and gave the butler a look of inquiry. That resourceful man understood her at once and though powdered sugar had never been served at that table before handed her without a moment's hesitation a bowl of it. She helped herself liberally.7 The other three pretended not to notice. Coffee was served and Lena took three lumps of sugar in hers.
'You have a very sweet tooth,' said Arrow in a tone which she struggled to keep friendly.8
But human nature is weak. You must not ask too much of it. They ate grilled fish while Lena ate macaroni sizzling with cheese and butter; they ate grilled cutlets and boiled spinach while Lena ate pate de foie gras;9 twice a week they ate hard-boiled eggs and raw tomatoes, while Lena ate peas swimming in cream and potatoes cooked in all sorts of delicious ways. The chef was a good chef and he leapt at the opportunity afforded him10 to send up one dish more rich, tasty and succulent than the other.
The butler disclosed the fact11 that he could make half a dozen kinds of cocktail and Lena informed them that the doctor recommended her to drink burgundy at luncheon and champagne at dinner. The three fat women persevered.
Lena was going to stay with friends on the Italian Riviera and Frank saw her off by the same train as that by which she had arrived. When she turned away from the departing train she heaved such a vast sigh of relief12 that the platform shook beneath her.
She passed through the Monkey House, looking about her to say Good morning to anyone she knew, and then stopped dead still.13 Beatrice was sitting at one of the tables, by herself.
'Beatrice, what are you doing?' she cried in her deep voice. Beatrice looked at her coolly.
'Eating,' she answered.
In front of Beatrice was a plate of croissants14 and a plate of butter, a pot of strawberry jam, coffee and a jug of cream. Beatrice was spreading butter thick on the delicious hot bread, covering this with jam, and then pouring the thick cream overall.
The tears welled up to Frank's eyes. Suddenly she felt very weak and womanly. Speechless she sank down on a chair by Beatrice's side. A waiter came up. With a pathetic gesture she waved towards the coffee and croissants.
'I'll have the same,' she sighed. In a moment the waiter brought her croissants, butter, jam and coffee.
'Where's the cream, you fool?' she roared like a lioness.
She began to eat. She ate gluttonously. The place was beginning to fill up with bathers. Presently Arrow strolled along. On her way she caught sight of Frank and Beatrice. She stopped. She could hardly believe her eyes.
'My God!' she cried. 'You beasts. You hogs.'
She seized a chair. 'Waiter.' In the twinkling of an eye the waiter was at her side.
'Bring me what these ladies are having,' she ordered.
Frank lifted her great heavy head from her plate.
'Bring me some pate de foie gras,' she boomed.
The coffee was brought and the hot rolls and cream and the pate de foie gras. They spread the cream on the pate and they ate it. They devoured great spoonfuls of jam. They crunched the delicious crisp bread voluptuously. They ate with solemn, ecstatic fervour.
'I haven't eaten potatoes for twenty-five years,' said Frank in a far-off brooding tone.
'Waiter,' cried Beatrice, 'bring fried potatoes for three.' The potatoes were brought. They ate them with their fingers.
'Bring me a dry Martini,' said Arrow.
'Bring me a double dry Martini,' said Frank.
'Bring three double dry Martinis,' said Beatrice.
They were brought and drunk at a gulp.
'I wonder if they've got any chocolate eclaires,' said Beatrice.
'Of course they have.'
And of course they had. Frank thrust one whole into her huge mouth, swallowed it and seized another, but before she ate it she looked at the other two and plunged a vindictive dagger into the heart of the monstrous Lena.15
'You can say what you like, but the troth is she played a damned rotten game of bridge, really.'
'Lousy,' agreed Arrow.
But Beatrice suddenly thought she would like a meringue.
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