luncheon

The Luncheon

By W. Somerset Maugham 珀石译

作者毛姆(1874-1965),英国小说家,善于洞察人类本性。作品基调愤世嫉俗,其短篇小说尤为脍炙人口。本篇是典型的毛姆式的嘲讽文体,结局出人意料。

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 recognized 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 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 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 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 (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 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 by all means to bring caviar. 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 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.

"Neithre 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 champagne." I fancy I turned a trifle 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?"

"Water."

She ate the caviar 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 took me quite seriously to task.

"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 ever so much better for it."

"I am only going to eat one thing," I said, as the waiter came again with the bill of fare.

She waved him aside with an airy gesture.

"No, no, I never eat anything for luncheon. Just a bite, 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 giant asparagus. I should be sorry to leave Paris without having some of them."

"Madame wants to know if you have any of those giant asparagus," I asked the waiter.

I tried with all my might to will him to say no. A happy smile spread over his broad, priestlike face, and he assured me that they had some so large, so splendid, so tender, that it was a marvel.

"I'm 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 of 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 had made up my mind that I would put my hand in my pocket and with a dramatic cry start up and say it had been picked. Of course it would be awkward 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 enormous, succulent, and appetizing. The smell of the melted butter tickled my nostrils as the nostrils of Jehovah were tickled by the burned offerings of the virtuous Semites. I watched the abandoned woman thrust them down her throat in large voluptuous mouthfuls and in my polite way I discoursed on the condition of the drama in the Balkans. 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's 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 faintly.

"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 head waiter, with an ingratiating smile on his false face, came up to us bearing a large basket full of peaches. They had the blush of an innocent girl; they had the rich tone of an Italian landscape. But surely

peaches were not in season then? Lord knew what they cost. I knew too—a little later, for my guest, going on with her conversation, absentmindedly took one.

"You see, you've filled your stomach with a lot of meat"--my one miserable little chop --"and you can't eat any more. But I've 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 and I knew that she thought me mean. 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'll do better than that," I retorted. "I'll eat nothing for dinner tonight."

"Humorist!" she cried gaily, jumping into a cab. "You're 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 twenty-one stone."

午餐

我在看演出的时候瞧见了她,她也朝我示意了一下,于是中间休息的时候,我走过去坐在她的身边。我上次见她已经是很久以前的事了,如果不是有人提起她的名字,我很难想到还会认出她来。她愉快地同我打招呼。“哎呀,我们第一次见面是在许多年以前了,时间过的可真快!我们都不年轻了。你还记不记得我第一次见你时的情景?你邀我去吃午餐。”

我还记不记得?

那是二十年前的事了,我住在巴黎拉丁区一间狭小的公寓里,公寓正对着一个公墓。我赚的钱仅够糊口。她读了我写的一本书,写信来与我讨论,我回信感谢了她一番。不久我又收到她的来信,说她正好路过巴黎,想与我聊聊。但她时间有限,只有随后的那个星期四有空。星期四早上她在卢森堡公园,问我是否愿意请她在弗沃特餐厅吃一顿简单的午餐?弗沃特餐厅是法国参议员们常去的地方,消费远远超过我的能力,所以我从未想过要去那里。但是,我有些受宠若惊,并且我还太年轻,根本没学会怎样拒绝女人。(我想再说一句,男人们不到所说的话对一个女人无法产生任何影响的年纪时,很少有几个掌握这一技巧的。)我当时有80法郎(金币),还能维持到月底,一次简单的午餐应该不会超过15法郎的。我把下两个星期的咖啡钱省下来,应该足够能应付了。

我回信约她星期四中午12点半在弗沃特见面。她不如我想象的那么年轻,外貌威严,说不上漂亮。她其实已经40岁了(一个美妙的年龄,但却不会让人顿生激情,一见倾心)。她给我的印象是牙齿又白又大又整齐,而且好像比实际需要的还多了几

颗。她很健谈,既然她喜欢谈论我,那我也就乐意当一回专心的听众。

菜单递上来时,我吃了一惊,因为价格比我预期的要高出许多。但是她再三向我保证:

“午餐时,我从来不吃任何东西,”她说。

“噢,别这么说!”我一副慷慨的样子。

“我只吃一样东西,我觉得现在人们吃得太多了。也许,一条小鱼就可以了。不知道他们这里有没有鲑鱼?”

当时还未到吃鲑鱼的季节,所以菜单上没有。但我还是问了侍者。有,刚进了一条美丽的鲑鱼——是今年餐厅进的第一条。我为我的客人点了它。侍者又问要不要一边等一边吃点其他东西。

“不用了,”她说,“我向来只吃一样东西,除非你这里有鱼子酱。我不介意要点鱼子酱。”

我的心稍稍一沉。我知道我吃不起鱼子酱,但是却说不出口。我告诉侍者无论如何一定要上鱼子酱,我自己则点了菜单上最便宜的菜——羊排。

“我觉得你吃肉是不明智的,”她说,“我不知道你在吃了羊排这样油腻的东西后还如何工作。我不喜欢吃得太饱。”

接着是喝什么的问题。

“午餐时我不喝东西,”她说。

“我也不喝,”我赶紧说。

“除了白葡萄酒,”她自顾自地说,好像我什么都没说。

“这些法国白葡萄酒口味很淡,对消化大有好处。”

“那你要什么?”我问,虽然仍旧好客,但已经不那么热情洋溢了。

她朝我露出和蔼可亲的笑容,白牙闪了闪。

“我的医生除了香槟不允许我喝其他任何东西。”

我想我的脸有些发白。我要了半瓶香槟,装作不在意地提起,我的医生严禁我喝香槟。

“那你喝什么?”

“水吧。”

她吃着鱼子酱和鲑鱼,愉快地谈论着艺术、文学、音乐,但是我却担心着帐单的数额。等我的羊排送来的时候,她开始态度严肃的教训起我来。

“看来你习惯午餐吃得比较油腻,这肯定不是好习惯。为什么不学学我,就只吃一样东西呢?我保证你会感觉好极了。”

“我是只打算吃一样东西。”当侍者又拿着菜单走过来时我说。

她优雅地打了个手势让他走到一边。

“不,不,午餐时我从来不吃任何东西,就只一口,决不多要,而且我吃那么一点也只是为了有借口可以进行交谈,不是为了别的。我不可能再吃得下——除非他们有那种大芦笋。如果没有吃到那种大芦笋就离开巴黎,我会感到非常遗憾的。”

“这位女士想知道你们有那些大芦笋吗?”我问侍者。

我竭力希望他说没有。开心的微笑在他宽大的、牧师般的脸上绽开。他向我保证他们绝对有那样巨大的、鲜嫩的、美妙的芦笋,令人称羡。

“我一点也不饿,”我的客人叹了一口气,“但是如果你坚持,我也不介意来点芦笋。”结果我点了芦笋。

“你不来点吗?”

“不,我从来不吃芦笋。”

“我知道有些人不喜欢芦笋,但事实是,你吃的肉把你的味觉都毁了。”

我们等着芦笋做好。我非常惊慌,现在已经不是我能剩多少钱过完这个月的问题了,而是钱够不够结账。如果结账时发现差10法郎,得向客人借钱的话,那会使我颜面无存。我可做不出这种事。我知道自己有多少钱,我打定主意,如果账单上的钱超额,我就把手往口袋里一伸,然后戏剧性地大叫钱包被偷了。当然,如果她也没有足够的钱来付账的话,那会很尴尬。那么唯一的办法是把我的手表留下,然后说我过会儿回来付账。

芦笋端上来了,巨大多汁,让人垂涎。融化了的黄油的味道刺激着我的鼻孔就象虔诚的犹太人的贡品的香味钻入耶和华的鼻孔一样。我注视着这个放纵自己的女人心满意足地将芦笋大口大口地咽下,仍旧用非常礼貌的口气谈着巴尔干各国的戏剧。最后,她总算吃完了。“来点咖啡?”我说。

“好吧。就要冰淇淋和咖啡。”她说。

现在我已经不再担心帐单了,所以我给自己点了咖啡,给她点了冰淇淋和咖啡。

她一边吃着冰淇淋一边说,“你知道吧,有一件事我是非常相信的:一个人吃完一餐时,总应感到还能再吃点。”

“你还饿吗?”我问,语气虚弱无力。

“哦,不,我不饿;你瞧,我不吃午餐。我每天早晨喝一杯咖啡,然后是晚餐,午餐时我向来只吃一点。我是在说你。”

“哦,我明白!”

接着,可怕的事情发生了。我们等咖啡的时候,领班满脸虚伪,带着讨好的笑容,拿着满满一大篮桃子朝我们走了过来。那些桃子颜色象是纯洁少女脸上的粉红;充满着意大利风景的丰满色调。但是,现在肯定还不是吃桃的季节,天知道得要多少钱。不过后来我也知道了,因为我的这位客人,一边继续着她的谈话,一边心不在焉地拿起一个。

“你看你,胃里塞满了肉,”——我那可怜的一小块羊排——“吃不下更多的东西。但我只吃了一点点,所以我要再尝个桃子。”

结账的时候,我发现剩下的钱连付小费都很勉强。她扫了一眼我留给侍者的三法郎小费。我知道她觉得我小气。但是当我走出餐厅时,接下来还有整整一个月,而我的口袋里一分钱也没有了。

“你要向我学习,”她边说边跟我握手,“午餐吃的东西不要多于一种。”

“我会做得更好,”我回敬道,“今天晚上我不吃晚饭了。”

“真幽默,”她开心地叫道,跳上了一辆出租车,“你真是一个滑稽的人!”

但最终我还是报了仇。我并不认为自己是个报复心很强的人,但是,如果连老天也帮忙的话,那么我带着满意的心情来看这个结果也是可以原谅的了。今天她的体重肯定有21英磅。

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