19th December 2013
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The Three Fat Women of
A short story by
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 all in the comfortable forties and they were all well off.
Mrs. Sutcliffe had the odd first name of Arrow. When she was young and slender
she had liked it well enough. It suited her and the jests it occasioned though
too often repeated were very flattering; she was not disinclined to believe that
it suited her character too: it suggested directness, speed and purpose. She
liked it less now that her delicate features had grown muzzy with fat, that her
arms and shoulders were so substantial and her hips so massive. It was
increasingly difficult to find dresses to make her look as she liked to look.
The jests her name gave rise to now were made behind her back and she very well
knew that they were far from obliging. But she was by no means resigned to
middle age. She still wore blue to bring out the colour of her eyes and, with
the help of art, her fair hair had kept its lustre. What she liked about
Beatrice Richman and Frances Hickson was that they were both so much fatter than
she, it made her look quite slim; they were both of them older and much inclined
to treat her as a little young thing. It was not disagreeable. They were
good-natured women and they chaffed her pleasantly about her beaux; they had
both given up the thought of that kind of nonsense, indeed Miss Hickson had
never given it a moment's consideration, but they were sympathetic to her
flirtations. It was understood that one of these days Arrow would make a third
"Only you mustn't get any heavier, darling," said Mrs. Richman.
"And for goodness' sake
make certain of his bridge," said Miss Hickson.
They saw for her a man of about
fifty, but well-preserved and of distinguished carriage, an admiral on the
retired list and a good golfer, or a widower without encumbrances, but in any
case with a substantial income. Arrow listened to them amiably, and kept to
herself that fact that this was not at all her idea. It was true that she would
have liked to marry again, but her fancy turned to a dark slim Italian with
flashing eyes and a sonorous title or to a Spanish don of noble lineage; and not
a day more than thirty. There were times when, looking in her mirror, she was
certain she did not look any more than that herself.
They were great friends, Miss
Hickson, Mrs. Richman and Arrow
Sutcliff. It was their fat that had
brought them together and bridge that had cemented their alliance. They had met
But if I'm never to eat a thing
I like, life isn't worth living," she expostulated.
She shrugged her disapproving
shoulders. Afterwards she told Miss Hickson that she was beginning to suspect he
wasn't so clever as she had thought. Miss Hickson gave a great guffaw. She was
that sort of woman. She had a deep bass voice, a large flat sallow face from
which twinkled little bright eyes; she walked with a slouch, her hands in her
pockets, and when she could do so without exciting attention smoked a long
cigar. She dressed as like a man as she could.
“What the deuce should I look
like with frills and furbelows?" she said.
“When you’re as fat as l am you may just as well be comfortable.”
She wore tweeds and heavy boots
and whenever she could went about bareheaded. But she was as strong as an ox and
boasted that few men could drive a longer ball than she. She was plain of
speech, and she could swear more variously than a stevedore.
Though her name was
Never were three women greater
friends. They would have been independent of anyone else if they had not needed
a fourth at bridge. They were fierce, enthusiastic players and the moment this
day's cure was over they sat down at the bridge table. Arrow, feminine as she
was, played the best game of the three, a hard brilliant game, in which she
showed no mercy and never conceded a point or failed to take advantage of a
mistake. Beatrice was solid and reliable. Frank was dashing; she was a great
theorist, and had all the authorities at the tip of her tongue. They had long
arguments over the rival systems. They bombarded one another with Culbertson and
Sims. It was obvious that not one of them ever played a card without fifteen
good reasons, but it was also obvious from the subsequent conversation that
there were fifteen equally good reasons why she should not have played it. Life
would have been perfect, even with the prospect of twenty-four hours of that
filthy soup when the doctor's rotten (Beatrice) bloody (Frank) lousy (Arrow)
scales pretended one hadn't lost an ounce in two days, if only there had not
been this constant difficulty of finding someone to play with them who was in
It was for this reason that on
the occasion with which this narrative deals Frank invited Lena Finch to come
and stay with them at
But the fourth at bridge
continued to be the difficulty. This person played like a foot, the other was so
slow that it drove you frantic, one was quarrelsome, another was a bad loser, a
third was next door to a crook. It was strange how hard it was to find exactly
the player you wanted.
One morning when they were
sitting in pyjamas on the terrace overlooking the sea, drinking their tea
(without milk or sugar) and eating a rusk prepared by Dr. Hudebert and
guaranteed not to be fattening, Frank looked up from her letters.
"Lena Finch is coming down
"Who's she?" asked
"She married a cousin of
mine. He died a couple of months ago and she's just recovering from a nervous
breakdown. What about asking her to come here for a fortnight?"
"Does she play
bridge?" asked Beatrice.
"You bet your life she
does," boomed Frank in her deep voice.
"And a damned good game
too. We should be absolutely independent of outsiders."
"How old is she?"
"Same age as I am."
"That sounds all
It was settled. Frank, with her
usual decisiveness, stalked out as soon as she had finished her breakfast to
send a wire, and three days later Lena Finch arrived. Frank met her at the
station. She was in deep but not obtrusive mourning for the recent death of her
husband. Frank had not seen her for two years. She kissed her warmly and took a
good look at tier.
very thin, darling," she said.
been through a good deal lately. I've lost a lot of weight."
Frank sighed, but whether from
sympathy with her cousin's sad loss, or from envy, was not obvious.
"What will you have,
"Oh, I don't know, what you
all have, a dry Martini or a White Lady."
Arrow and Beatrice gave her a
quick look. Everyone knows how fattening cocktails are.
"I daresay you're tired
after your journey," said Frank kindly.
She ordered a dry Martini for
"We find alcohol isn't very
good in all this heat," she explained.
it never affects me at all,"
Arrow went very slightly pale
under her rouge (neither she nor Beatrice ever wet their faces when they bathed
and they thought it absurd of Frank, a woman of her size, to pretend she liked
diving) but she said nothing. The conversation was gay and easy, they all said
the obvious things with gusto, and presently they strolled back to the villa for
In each napkin were two little
"May I have some
bread?" she asked.
The grossest indecency would not
have fallen on the ears of those three women with such a shock. Not one of them
had eaten bread for ten years. Even Beatrice, greedy as she was, drew the line
there. 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,"
There was a moment's embarrassed
"I don't know if there's
any in the house," said Frank, "but I'll enquire. There may be some in
"I adore bread and butter,
don't you?" said
Beatrice gave a sickly smile and
an evasive reply. The butler brought a long crisp roll of French bread.
"We eat very simply here,"
said Frank. "I hope you won't mind."
"Oh, no, I like my food
very plain," said
The three friends exchanged a
glance. Frank's great sallow face sagged a little and she looked with distaste
at the dry, insipid sole on her plate. Beatrice came to the rescue.
"It's such a bore, we can't
get cream here," she said. "It's one of the things one has to do
without on the
"What a pity," said
The rest of the luncheon consisted of
lamb cutlets, with the fat carefully removed so that Beatrice should not be led
astray, and spinach boiled in water, with stewed pears to end up with.
"You have a very sweet
tooth," said Arrow in a tone which she struggled to keep friendly.
"We think saccharine so
much more sweetening," said Frank, is she put a tiny tablet of it into her
Beatrice's mouth drooped at the
comers, and she gave the lump sugar a yearning look.
Beatrice stifled a sigh, and
reached for the saccharine.
Frank was relieved when they
could sit down to the bridge table. It was plain to her that Arrow and Beatrice
were upset. She wanted them to like Lena and she was anxious that
"Do you play Vanderbilt or
Culbertson?" she asked her.
"I have no
"I play strict
Culbertson," said Arrow acidly.
The three fat women braced
themselves to the fray. No conventions indeed! They'd learn her. When it came to
bridge even Frank's family feeling was forgotten and she settled down with the
same determination as the others to trim the stranger in their midst. But the
light of nature served
After a couple of hours they
parted, Frank and Beatrice to have a round of golf, and Arrow to take a brisk
walk with a young Prince Roccamare whose acquaintance she had lately made. He
was very sweet and young and good-looking.
They met again just before
"I hope you've been all
"Oh, don't apologise. I had
a lovely sleep and then I went down to Juan and had a cocktail. And d'you know
what I discovered? You'll be so pleased. I found a dear little tea-shop where
they've got the most beautiful thick fresh cream. I've ordered half a pint to be
sent every day. I thought it would be my little contribution to the
Her eyes were shining. She was
evidently expecting them to be delighted.
"How very kind of
you," said Frank, with a look that sought to quell the indignation that she
saw on the faces of her two friends. "But we never eat cream. In this
climate it makes one so bilious."
"I shall have to eat it all
myself then," said
"Don't you ever think of
your figure?" Arrow asked with icy deliberation.
"The doctor said I must
"Did he say you must eat
bread and butter and potatoes and cream?"
"Yes. That's what I thought
you meant when you said you had simple food."
"You'll get simply
enormous," said Beatrice.
"No, I shan't. You see,
nothing ever makes me fat. I've always eaten everything I wanted to and it's
never had the slightest effect on me."
The stony silence that followed
this speech was only broken by the entrance of the butler.
"Mademoiselle est servie,”
They talked the matter over late
that night, after
"It's not very nice for me
to sit there and see her eat all the things I particularly like," said
"It's not very nice for any
of us," Frank snapped back.
"You should never have
asked her here," said Arrow.
"How was I to know?"
"I can't help thinking that
if she really cared for her husband she would hardly eat so much," said
Beatrice. "He's only been buried two months. I mean, I think you ought to
show some respect for the dead."
"Why can't she eat the same
as we do?" asked Arrow viciously. "She's a guest."
"Well, you heard what she
said. The doctor told her she must eat."
"Then she ought to go to a
"It's more than flesh and
blood can stand, Frank," moaned Beatrice.
"If I can stand it you can
"She's your cousin, she's
not our cousin," said Arrow. "I'm not going to sit there for fourteen
days and watch that woman make a hog of herself."
"It's so vulgar to attach
all this importance to food," Frank boomed, and her voice was deeper than
ever. "After all the only thing that counts really is spirit."
"Are you calling me vulgar,
Frank?" asked Arrow with flashing eyes.
"No, of course she
isn't," interrupted Beatrice.
"I wouldn't put it past you
to go down in the kitchen when we're all in bed and have a good square meal on
Frank sprang to her feet.
"How dare you say that,
Arrow! I'd never ask anybody to do what I'm not prepared to do myself. Have you
known me all these years and do you think me capable of such a mean thing?"
"How is it you never take
off any weight then?"
Frank gave a gasp and burst into
a flood of tears.
"What a cruel thing to say!
I've lost pounds and pounds."
She wept like a child. Her vast
body shook and great tears splashed on her mountainous bosom.
"Darling, I didn't mean
it," cried Arrow.
She threw herself on her knees
and enveloped what she could of Frank in her own plump arms. She wept and the
mascara ran down her cheeks.
"D'you mean to say I don't look
thinner?" Frank sobbed. "After all I've gone through."
"Yes, dear, of course you
do," cried Arrow through her tears. "Everybody's noticed it."
Beatrice, though naturally of a
placid disposition, began to cry gently. It was very pathetic. Indeed, it would
have been a hard heart that failed to be moved by the sight of Frank, that
lion-hearted woman, crying her eyes out. Presently, however, they dried their
tears and had a little brandy and water, which every doctor had told them was
the least fattening thing they could drink, and then they felt much better. They
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 pâté de foie gras; 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 him to send up one dish more rich. tasty and succulent than
"Poor Jim," sighed
The butler disclosed the fact
that he could make half a dozen kinds of cocktail and
"I think it's such a pity
to quarrel over bridge," she said. "After all, it's only a game."
It was all very well for her.
She had had a square meal and half a bottle of champagne. Besides, she had
phenomenal luck. She was winning all their money. The score was put down in a
book after each session, and hers mounted up day after day with unfailing
regularity. Was there no justice in the world? They began to hate one another.
And though they hated her too they could not resist confiding in her. Each of
them went to her separately and told her how detestable the others were. Arrow
said she was sure it was bad for her to see so much of women so much older than
herself. She had a good mind to sacrifice her share of the lease and go to
"I must have intellectual
conversation," she boomed. "When you have a brain like mine you've got
to consort with your intellectual equals."
Beatrice only wanted peace and
"Really I hate women,"
she said. "They're so unreliable; they're so malicious."
By the time
"I don't know how to thank
you," she said, as she got into the carriage. "I've had a wonderful
If there was one thing that
Frank Hickson prided herself on more than on being a match for any man it was
that she was a gentle-woman, and her reply was perfect in its combination of
majesty and graciousness.
"We've all enjoyed having
But when she turned away from
the departing train she heaved such a vast sigh of relief that the platform
shook beneath her. She flung back her massive shoulders and strode home to the
"Ouf!” she roared at
She changed into her one-piece
bathing-suit, put on her espadrilles and a man's dressing-gown (no nonsense
about it) and went to Eden Roc. There was still time for a bathe before
luncheon. She passed through the Monkey House, looking about her to say good
morning to anyone she knew, for she felt on a sudden at peace with mankind, and
then stopped dead still. She could not believe her eyes. Beatrice was sitting at
one of the tables, by herself; she wore the pyjamas she had bought at Molyneux's
a day or two before, she had a string of pearls round her neck, and Frank's
quick eyes saw that she had just had her hair waved; her cheeks, her eyes, her
lips were made up. Fat, nay vast, as she was, none could deny that she was an
extremely handsome woman. But what was she doing? With the slouching gait of the
Neanderthal man which was Frank's characteristic walk she went up to Beatrice.
In her back bathing-dress Frank looked like the huge cetacean which the Japanese
catch in the
"Beatrice, what are you
doing?" she cried in her deep voice.
It was like the roll of thunder
in the distant mountains. Beatrice looked at her coolly.
"Damn it, I can see you're
In front of Beatrice was a plate
of croissants 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 over all.
yourself," said Frank.
"I don't care,"
mumbled Beatrice with her mouth full.
"You'll put on pounds and
"Go to hell!"
She actually laughed in Frank's
face. My God, how good those croissants smelt!
"I'm disappointed in you,
Beatrice. I thought you had more character."
"It's your fault. That
blasted woman. You would have her down. For a fortnight I've watched her gorge
like a hog. It's more than flesh and blood can stand. I'm going to have one
square meal if I bust."
The tears welled up to Frank's
eyes. Suddenly she felt very weak and womanly. She would have liked a strong man
to take her on his knee and pet her and cuddle her and call her little baby
names. 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 listlessly reached out her
hand to take a roll, but Beatrice snatched away the plate.
"No, you don't," she
said. "You wait till you get your own."
Frank called her a name which
ladies seldom apply to one another in affection . In a moment the waiter brought
her croissants butter, jam and coffee.
"Where’s the cream, you
fool?" she roared like a lioness at bay.
She began to eat. She ate
gluttonously. The place was beginning to fill up with bathers coming to enjoy a
cocktail or two after having done their duty by the sun and the sea. Presently
Arrow strolled along with Prince Roccamare. She had on a beautiful silk wrap
which she held tightly round her with one hand in order to look as slim as
possible and she bore her head high so that he should not see her double chin.
She was laughing gaily. She felt like a girl. He had just told her (in Italian)
that her eyes made the blue of the Mediterranean look like pea-soup. He left her
to go into the men's room to brush his sleek black hair and they arranged to
meet in five minutes for a drink. Arrow walked on to the women's room to put a
little more rouge on her cheeks and a little more red on her lips. On her way
she caught sight of Frank and Beatrice. She stopped. She could hardly believe
"My God!" she cried.
"You beasts. You hogs." She seized a chair. "Waiter."
Her appointment went clean out
of her head. 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 pâté de
foie gras" she boomed.
"All right. I'll have some
The coffee was brought and the
hot rolls and cream and the pate’ de foie gras and they set to. They spread
the cream on the pâté and they ate it. They devoured great spoonfuls of jam.
They crunched the delicious crisp bread voluptuously. What was love to Arrow
then? Let the Prince keep his palace in
"I haven't eaten potatoes
for twenty-five years," said Frank in a far-off brooding tone.
Beatrice, "bring fried potatoes for three."
"Trčs bien, Madame."
The potatoes were brought. Not
all the perfumes of
"Bring me a dry Martini," said
"You can't have a dry
Martini in the middle of a meal, Arrow," said Frank.
"Can't I? You wait and
"All right then. Bring me a
double dry Martini," said Frank.
"Bring three double dry
Martinis," said Beatrice.
They were brought and drunk at a
gulp. The women looked at one another and sighed. The misunderstandings of the
last fortnight dissolved and the sincere affection each had for the other welled
up again in their hearts. They could hardly believe that they had ever
contemplated the possibility of severing a friendship that had brought them so
much solid satisfaction. They finished the potatoes.
"I wonder if they've got
any chocolate éclairs," 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
"You can say what you like,
but the truth is she played a damned rotten game of bridge, really."
"Lousy," agreed Arrow.
But Beatrice suddenly thought she would like a meringue. (kindly supplied by Ian Dalziel)
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