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A Summer Cold
by [?]

WHEN I am not feeling very well I go to Beatrice for sympathy and advice. Anyhow I get the advice.

“I think,” I said carelessly, wishing to break it to her as gently as possible, “I think I have hay-fever.”

“Nonsense,” said Beatrice.

That annoyed me. Why shouldn’t I have hay-fever if I wanted to?

“If you’re going to begrudge me every little thing,” I began.

“You haven’t even got a cold.”

As luck would have it a sneeze chose that moment for its arrival.

“There!” I said triumphantly.

“Why, my dear boy, if you had hay-fever you’d be sneezing all day.”

“That was only a sample. There are lots more where that came from.”

“Don’t be so silly. Fancy starting hay-fever in September.”

“I’m not starting it. I am, I earnestly hope, just finishing it. If you want to know, I’ve had a cold all the summer.”

“Well, I haven’t noticed it.”

“That’s because I’m such a good actor. I’ve been playing the part of a man who hasn’t had a cold all the summer. My performance is considered to be most life-like.”

Beatrice disdained to answer, and by and by I sneezed again.

“You certainly have a cold,” she said, putting down her work.

“Come, this is something.”

“You must be careful. How did you catch it?”

“I didn’t catch it. It caught me.”

“Last week-end?”

“No, last May.”

Beatrice picked up her work again impatiently. I sneezed a third time.

“Is this more the sort of thing you want?” I said.

“What I say is that you couldn’t have had hay-fever all the summer without people knowing.”

“But, my dear Beatrice, people do know. In this quiet little suburb you are rather out of the way of the busy world. Rumours of war, depressions on the Stock Exchange, my hay-fever–these things pass you by. But the clubs are full of it. I assure you that, all over the country, England’s stately homes have been plunged into mourning by the news of my sufferings, historic piles have bowed their heads and wept.”

“I suppose you mean that in every house you’ve been to this summer you’ve told them that you had it, and they’ve been foolish enough to believe you.”

“That’s putting it a little crudely. What happens is–“

“Well, all I can say is, you know a very silly lot of people.”

“What happens is that when the mahogany has been cleared of its polished silver and choice napery, and wine of a rare old vintage is circulating from hand to hand–“

“If they wanted to take any notice of you at all, they could have given you a bread poultice and sent you to bed.”

“Then, as we impatiently bite the ends off our priceless Havanas–“

“They might know that you couldn’t possibly have hay-fever.”

I sat up suddenly and spoke to Beatrice.

“Why on earth SHOULDN’T I have hay-fever?” I demanded. “Have you any idea what hay-fever is? I suppose you think I ought to be running about wildly, trying to eat hay–or yapping and showing an unaccountable aversion from dried grass? I take it that there are grades of hay-fever, as there are of everything else. I have it at present in a mild form. Instead of being thankful that it is no worse, you–“

“My dear boy, hay-fever is a thing people have all their lives, and it comes on every summer. You’ve never even pretended to have it before this year.”

“Yes, but you must start SOME time. I’m a little backward, perhaps. Just because there are a few infant prodigies about, don’t despise me. In a year or two I shall be as regular as the rest of them.” And I sneezed again.

Beatrice got up with an air of decision and left the room. For a moment I thought she was angry and had gone for a policeman, but as the minutes went by and she didn’t return I began to fear that she might have left the house for good. I was wondering how I should break the news to her husband when, to my relief, she came in again.