It's a last part of the short story 'Pictures' by Katherine Mansfield. <1917>

It was almost dark in the café. Men, palms, red plush seats, white marble tables, waiters in aprons, Miss Moss walked through them all. Hardly had she sat down when a very stout gentleman wearing a very small hat that floated on the top of his head like a little yacht flopped into the chair opposite hers.

"Good evening!" said he.

Miss Moss said, in her cheerful way: "Good evening!"

"Fine evening," said the stout gentleman.

"Yes, very fine. Quite a treat, isn't it?" said she.

He crooked a sausage finger at the waiter–"Bring me a large whisky"–and turned to Miss Moss. "What's yours?"

"Well, I think I'll take a brandy if it's all the same."

Five minutes later the stout gentleman leaned across the table and blew a puff of cigar smoke full in her face.

"That's a tempting bit o' ribbon! " said he.

Miss Moss blushed until a pulse at the top of her head that she never had felt before pounded away.

"I always was one for pink," said she.

The stout gentleman considered her, drumming with her fingers on the table.

"I like 'em firm and well covered," said he.

Miss Moss, to her surprise, gave a loud snigger.

Five minutes later the stout gentleman heaved himself up. "Well, am I goin' your way, or are you comin' mine?" he asked.

"I'll come with you, if it's all the same," said Miss Moss. And she sailed after the little yacht out of the café.

My question is : what does "I like 'em firm and well covered," mean?

Many thanks in advance.

  • 1
    It is easy to speculate but in the end, without more context, we are left with mere speculation. It is obvious that he is talking about something that according to his taste has to be firm and well covered; it might be cream puff pastry for all we know.
    – LPH
    Commented Jun 1 at 6:04
  • Where is the ribbon attached/tied to? Around her waist, hair, hat, dress neckline?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 1 at 7:42
  • 'em is plural. The statement causes her to blush.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 1 at 8:20
  • The story doesn't say what the "tempting" ribbon's attached to. Miss Moss is a singer who is down on her luck, hasn't worked in a while, and is unable to pay her rent; she's looking around London for a gig, perhaps in a low-budget film, but nothing is coming her way. It seems she's found a way to pay her rent. Whenever she looks in the mirror, the face in the glass scowls at her.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 1 at 8:41
  • 1
    There's definitely some sort of double entendre here but I can't say for sure what it is.
    – alphabet
    Commented Jun 1 at 19:46

2 Answers 2


My wild guess on the sentence of "I like 'em firm and well covered," is:

'firm' is insinuating 'firm figure' or 'stout' body, while 'well covered' aims at 'fleshy girl' instead of skinny body.

At Katherine Mansfield's time, the above expression may be sounded subtle or subdued.

Am I going too far?

(I am not a native English speaker.)

  • 2
    This was my best guess also, though "well covered" might mean "well-clothed." Either way, it's a strange way of speaking.
    – alphabet
    Commented Jun 2 at 21:58

The reference of the pronoun is ambiguous, and likely meant to be. Modernist writers such as Katherine Mansfield are not known for the clarity of their writing and often leave their true meaning veiled or uncertain. This 'deepens' the effect of the narrative and often leaves the reader filling in the gaps. Katherine Mansfield in particular is known for giving readers an impressionist-style 'picture' of a scene as though caught at a glance or overheard in snippets.

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