28 December 2012

In the Affirmative

Robin Maugham, Somerset and All the Maughams (New York: New American Library, 1966), pp. 40-41:
There was a large party up at the big house on New Year's Eve, and Willie [i.e., W. Somerset Maugham] and I were invited. A minute or so before midnight someone gaily suggested that we should all sing Auld Lang Syne. Immediately Willie's face froze with dismay -- not because he was afraid that the hackneyed tune would remind him of Gerald [Haxton, recently deceased]: by now he could cope with the misery. I could see from his hectic glances to right and to left that the reason for his consternation was more superficial and immediate. From childhood Willie had had a morbid dread of physical contact with strangers, and he was now suddenly confronted with the prospect of his hands being crossed and then clasped in the sticky palms of two unknown females who had come in late and who were now standing on either side of him. Into his eyes came the frantic look of a hunted animal. I was wondering how Willie would get out of his predicament when he spoke. 
"When on New Year's Eve," Willie said, "I hear people singing that song in which they ask themselves the question 'should old acquaintance be forgot,' I can only tell you that my own answer is in the affirmative." 
That did the trick. Hands that had been crossed and outstretched to clasp Willie's fell down in limp despondency. Mouths that had been opened to chant merrily closed with a snap. And Willie had saved himself.