In The Swim by A. A. Milne

“Do you tango?” asked Miss Hopkins, as soon as we were comfortably seated. I know her name was Hopkins, because I had her down on my programme as Popkins, which seemed too good to be true; and, in order to give her a chance of reconsidering it, I had asked her if she was one of the Popkinses of Hampshire. It had then turned out that she was really one of the Hopkinses of Maida Vale.

“No,” I said, “I don’t.” She was only the fifth person who had asked me, but then she was only my fifth partner.

“Oh, you ought to. You must be up-to-date, you know.”

“I’m always a bit late with these things,” I explained. “The waltz came to England in 1812, but I didn’t really master it till 1904.”

“I’m afraid if you wait as long as that before you master the tango it will be out.”

“That’s what I thought. By the time I learnt the tango, the bingo would be in. My idea was to learn the bingo in advance, so as to be ready for it. Think how you’ll all envy me in 1917. Think how Society will flock to my Bingo Quick Lunches. I shall be the only man in London who bingoes properly. Of course, by 1918 you’ll all be at it.”

“Then we must have one together in 1918,” smiled Miss Hopkins.

“In 1918,” I pointed out coldly, “I shall be learning the pongo.”

My next partner had no name that I could discover, but a fund of conversation.

“Do you tango?” she asked me as soon as we were comfortably seated.

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“No,” I said, “I don’t. But,” I added, “I once learned the minuet.”

“Oh, they’re not very much alike, are they?”

“Not a bit. However, luckily that doesn’t matter, because I’ve forgotten all the steps now.”

She seemed a little puzzled and decided to change the subject.

“Are you going to learn the tango?” she asked.

“I don’t think so. It took me four months to learn the minuet.”

“But they’re quite different, aren’t they?”

“Quite,” I agreed.

As she seemed to have exhausted herself for the moment, it was obviously my business to say something. There was only one thing to say.

“Do you tango?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “I don’t.”

“Are you going to learn?”

“Oh, yes!”

“Ah!” I said; and five minutes later we parted for ever.

The next dance really was a tango, and I saw to my horror that I had a name down for it. With some difficulty I found the owner of it, and prepared to explain to her that unfortunately I couldn’t dance the tango, but that for profound conversation about it I was undoubtedly the man. Luckily she explained first.

“I’m afraid I can’t do this,” she apologised. “I’m so sorry.”

“Not at all,” I said magnanimously. “We’ll sit it out.”

We found a comfortable seat.

“Do you tango?” she asked.

I was tired of saying “No.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to find somebody else to do it with?”

“Quite, thanks. The fact is I do it rather differently from the way they’re doing it here to-night. You see, I actually learnt it in the Argentine.”

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She was very much interested to hear this.

“Really? Are you out there much? I’ve got an uncle living there now. I wonder if—-“

“When I say I learnt it in the Argentine,” I explained, “I mean that I was actually taught it in St. John’s Wood, but that my dancing mistress came from—-“

“In St. John’s Wood?” she said eagerly. “But how funny! My sister is learning there. I wonder if—-“

She was a very difficult person to talk to. Her relations seemed to spread themselves all over the place.

“Perhaps that is hardly doing justice to the situation,” I explained again. “It would be more accurate to put it like this. When I decided–by the way, does your family frequent Paris? No? Good. Well, when I decided to learn the tango, the fact that my friends the Hopkinses of St. John’s Wood, or rather Maida Vale, had already learnt it in Paris naturally led me to—- I say, what about an ice? It’s getting awfully hot in here.”

“Oh, I don’t think—-“

“I’ll go and get them,” I said hastily; and I went and took a long time getting them, and, as it turned out that she didn’t want hers after all, a longer time eating them. When I was ready for conversation again the next dance was beginning. With a bow I relinquished her to another.

“Come along,” said a bright voice behind me; “this is ours.”

“Hallo, Norah, is that you? Come on.”

We hurried in, danced in silence, and then found ourselves a comfortable seat. For a moment neither of us spoke….

“Have you learnt the tango yet?” asked Norah.

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“Fourteen,” I said aloud.

“Help! Does that mean that I’m the fourteenth person who has asked you?”

“The night is yet young, Norah. You are only the eighth. But I was betting that you’d ask me before I counted twenty. You lost, and you owe me a pair of ivory-backed hair-brushes and a cigar-cutter.”

“Bother! Anyhow, I’m not going to be stopped talking about the tango if I want to. Did you know I was learning? I can do the scissors.”

“Good. We’ll do the new Fleet Street movement together, the scissors-and-paste. You go into the ball-room and do the scissors, and I’ll–er–stick here and do the paste.”

“Can’t you really do any of it at all, and aren’t you going to learn?”

“I can’t do any of it at all, Norah. I am not going to learn, Norah.”

“It isn’t so very difficult, you know. I’d teach you myself for tuppence.”

“Will you stop talking about it for threepence?” I asked, and I took out three coppers.

“No.”

I sighed and put them back again.

. . . . .

It was the last dance of the evening. My hostess, finding me lonely, had dragged me up to somebody, and I and whatever her name was were in the supper-room drinking our farewell soup. So far we had said nothing to each other. I waited anxiously for her to begin. Suddenly she began.

“Have you thought about Christmas presents yet?” she asked.

I nearly swooned. With difficulty I remained in an upright position. She was the first person who had not begun by asking me if I danced the tango!

“Excuse me,” I said. “I’m afraid I didn’t–would you tell me your name again?”

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I felt that it ought to be celebrated in some way. I had some notion of writing a sonnet to her.

“Hopkins,” she said; “I knew you’d forgotten me.”

“Of course I haven’t,” I said, suddenly remembering her. The sonnet would never be written now. “We had a dance together before.”

“Yes,” she said. “Let me see,” she added, “I did ask you if you danced the tango, didn’t I?”

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