John and Maria


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The carriage rumbled on towards Brighton, where the newly-married John and Maria were going to spend their honeymoon.  They were both fatigued after the wedding and all the preparations for it, and they sat languidly facing each other in the carriage, watching the countryside flow past, and smiling, half-shyly and half-complicity at each other. 

It would  been very easy to be lulled to sleep by the movement of the carriage, but somehow they both just managed to stay awake.  John swallowed painfully, aware that the sore throat which had plagued him at the beginning of the week and then disappeared with the excitement of the wedding had returned.  His nose was beginning to itch, and as a result it began to run.

He shifted slightly, and withdrew a spotless folded white handkerchief from his trouser pocket, unfolded it carefully and blew his nose as discreetly as he could, returning the handkerchief to his pocket.

Maria glanced at him - he looked a little paler than usual, but she put it down to general tiredness, which was natural in the circumstances. She looked out of the window again, it was early autumn and the leaves on the trees were just beginning to turn different shades of gold, russet and brown.

Again John needed to blow his nose, so he took out his handkerchief and blew, a little more loudly this time, and then sighed quietly.

“Are you feeling all right?” Maria asked him. 

John swallowed painfully.  “I think I’m coming down with a cold, today of all days!” he said.  “I probably caught it from William when he came round on Sunday.  He had a streaming cold, and was coughing and sneezing a lot during lunch.  By Monday I had a sore throat and was sure I had caught his cold, but I managed to stave it off until now. It’s probably because I’ve just relaxed after the wedding.”

“Poor darling, we’ll just have to take it easy and not do too much until you are better,” Maria said sympathetically, smiling fondly at him.

Eventually the carriage reached Brighton, and drove along the promenade until it reached their hotel.  When it had stopped outside, the steps were let down and the door opened, and John helped Maria to climb down. Whilst their luggage was being removed, he ushered Maria into the hotel and up to the reception desk.  Maria saw him twitch his nose, then he removed his handkerchief again and wiped it quickly, before saying to the man behind the desk, “Good evening, I have a reservation in the name of Mr and Mrs Anderson.”

The hotel manager glanced quickly at his reservation book, “Ah yes, we have booked you into Suite 10 on the first floor, it has a balcony with a view of the sea.”  He gave the keys to the porter who had taken their luggage from the carriage, and they were led to the lift and taken up to the first floor.

When the porter had deposited their luggage Maria asked him if they could have a pot of tea, which he went off to arrange.  John had gone onto the balcony to have a look at the view and Maria joined him there.  They stood side by side in quiet companionship, when Maria heard John’s breath become a bit uneven and he half closed his eyes, raising his now-crumpled handkerchief to his nose. 

“Ah … ah … ahchoo ooo,  ah … ah … cheooo oooo,” he went, sneezing violently into his handkerchief.

“Bless you, my dear,” said Maria, touching his arm sympathetically.

John blew his nose wetly and loudly, swallowed painfully and said, “Thag you!”, his nose still muffled in his now-damp handkerchief.

“Come inside, it’s getting quite chilly out here, and I don’t want your cold to develop into something worse.  In any case, the tea has just arrived.”

They went back inside and Maria poured out the tea.  John sat on the sofa, and Maria decided to write to her mother to let her know that they had arrived safely. “Dearest Mama,” she wrote, “John and I have arrived in Brighton, after a journey of nearly two hours.  We have a very good room at the front of the hotel, overlooking the promenade and the sea, and the hotel appears to have excellent facilities. Unfortunately John appears to have developed a cold after the reception, as he is blowing his nose and sneezing quite a bit.”  At this point John gave a good illustration of this, by sneezing three times, blowing his nose fiercely and then sneezing twice more.       

“He thinks he caught it from his brother William last weekend.  I shall probably succumb to it myself as we are now married. …”

When they had finished their tea, it was time to change for dinner. When she had finished, John asked Maria if she could help him with his tie.  She had helped her father and brothers in this way before when their valet was ill, so she gladly went over to help him.  She took the ends of the tie and was just about to cross them over, when she realised that John was gasping slightly, prior to another sneeze.  She watched, fascinated in spite of herself.  He moved slightly away from her to avoid sneezing on her, and dragged his handkerchief out of his pocket as quickly as he could. Holding it in front of his nose and mouth, his head moved back and he sneezed into it, keeping it over the lower part of his face in readiness for the next sneeze.  In all he sneezed six times, his body bending with the powerfulness of the explosions.  When he had finished, he took the handkerchief away for a minute, sighed deeply, and then carefully blew his nose, wiping it as dry as he could. 

“I’b sorry,” he said, smiling ruefully at her.

“Don’t be, it isn’t your fault.  I know you didn’t mean to catch a cold, it’s just one of those things and we’ll deal with it as best we can,” Maria replied.  “Perhaps we should have dinner in the hotel dining room, rather than going to find somewhere else to eat.” 

John agreed, and they went down to dinner after he had collected two clean handkerchiefs and distributed them around his pockets. His cold became worse, if anything, during dinner, and when they went into the lounge for coffee afterwards the elderly lady sitting at the next table, who reminded Maria of a Mrs Bennet in a book she had recently read, remarked that, "Your husband does seem  to be suffering from a nasty cold!"

“Yes,” replied Maria, “It came on this afternoon after our wedding reception.”

At this, one of the lady’s daughters giggled and said, “Wedding!  I can guess who else will be sniffling and sneezing tomorrow!”

“Hush dear!” said her mother severely, obviously used to her daughter’s  indiscretions and unable to do anything about them.

Maria blushed slightly, and when the family’s attention was on another subject, she turned to John and suggested that he needed an early night to nurse his cold.  They went back to their rooms, their progress along the first floor corridor punctuated by John’s sneezes.

When they got to their suite they both prepared for bed.  Maria could hear John in the bathroom, blowing his nose tiredly.  When she was ready, she climbed into the tall four-poster bed, and snuggled down, waiting for John. Eventually he came out of the bathroom, wearing a dark blue velvet robe over his white nightshirt.  He came over to her and sat on the side of the bed, a large handkerchief in front of his face.

“Look, as I’ve got such a streaming cold, I thought you might prefer it if I slept in the dressing room until I’m over it.  I would hate to think I gave you my cold and ruined your honeymoon.”

Maria couldn’t believe what he had just said.  “As we’re married now,” she said carefully, “I think we should share everything.  In any case, even if you did sleep in another room, I am quite likely to catch it anyway, perhaps nearer the end of our holiday. Wouldn’t it be better if we both had it at the same time, then we could look after each other and we’d both be feeling better about the same time?”

John gave a relieved sigh, and grinned ruefully at her.  “Well, if you’re sure …”.  Maria put her hand up to his cheek, and stroked it gently as a sign of encouragement.       

 “Take your robe off, and come to bed,” she urged him.  He put his robe over a chair and climbed into bed beside her.

He snuggled up to Maria, changed his handkerchief into his other hand, and began to stroke her gently with his free hand. Maria turned towards him, drew his face towards hers, and kissed him gently on the mouth.  He responded, opening his mouth and finding her tongue.  Occasionally he had to stop to blow his nose, as he was finding it increasingly hard to breathe. Then he knew he had to sneeze, and Maria knew it too.  He found his handkerchief and tried to hold it in front of his nose, but Maria stopped him, and whispered, “Sneeze on me, give me your cold!”       

He duly obliged, spraying her face three times as he did so.  Maria inhaled deeply with each spray, hoping to catch his cold as soon as possible.  They then made love for the first time, eventually subsiding happily into sleep.  Once or twice when John had woken up and Maria was asleep, he would sneeze over her, realising that she really did want to catch his cold.

The next morning Maria woke up to the sound of John coughing into his handkerchief. “How do you feel today?” she asked him.

“Worse, if anything, although my sore throat seems to have turned into a cough.  I did manage to get some sleep, but my nose is all stuffed up, even though I still keep sneezing.  I’m down to my last two clean handkerchiefs, I didn’t realise I would need so many, so I think I’d better buy some more today.”

After breakfast in their rooms, they decided to walk around the shops and see if they could find a draper’s.  Eventually they found one which had a good selection of bedlinens, towels and handkerchiefs in the window, and they went in.  They asked to look at both men’s and ladies handkerchiefs, as Maria was beginning to think she might need extra ones as well.

John bought a dozen extra large ones for himself, and two dozen for Maria, one dozen pretty ones with lace and embroidery on them, and one dozen larger, more functional ones for when she had a cold.  Whilst paying for them, another sneeze overtook him, and he used his last clean handkerchief to catch it. 

“Well, you certainly look as if you need some more of these!” said the shopkeeper, and John agreed with him.

Later that day, Maria started to write to her sister Sarah.  She told her all about the journey, their hotel, and Brighton, and then about John’s cold.  Her throat had been feeling scratchy since late morning, and she suddenly felt the beginnings of an itch at the back of her nose.  She knew what it was and tried to ignore it, as she felt rather embarrassed to be seen sneezing. But it was no good.  The itch increased in intensity, and she took one of her new handkerchiefs out of her pocket.  She unfolded it carefully, folded it more or less in half to make a triangular shape and held it in front of her nose as the sneeze started to take hold. 

She gasped, "…Ah …ah…ah tishoooo!Burying her nose in the fabric, she waited to see if there would be another one.  "Ah … uh…  uh  shoo ooo."   She swallowed painfully, realised there would be no more sneezes for a while, and blew her nose gently.  When she looked up, it was to see John smiling at her fondly. 

“Well, it looks like you’ve caught a nasty cold from somewhere!”