(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Mr. Polly sat on a stile and cursed. He cursed the world, his wife, and himself, for Mr. Polly was thirty-five years old and buried alive. He hated his slovenly wife, his fellow shopkeepers, and every other person in the world. He felt that his life had been nothing but one frustration after another, from babyhood into his middle thirties.

Mr. Polly had been the usual adored baby, kissed and petted by his parents. His mother had died when he was seven years old. After the routine sketchy schooling of his class, he was apprenticed by his father to the owner of a draper’s shop.

Although Mr. Polly was ill-suited to work in that shop or in any other, he served out his apprenticeship and then began a progression from one shop to another, being unable to hold one position for very long. He hated the bleak life in dreary dormitories. He also hated being told to hustle when he wanted to dream beautiful dreams about adventure and romance. He spent most of his money and all of his spare time on books that took him away from the humdrum of socks and neckties. He did not know what it was that he really wanted, but to anyone who might have studied him, the answer would have been simple. He wanted companions.

When his father died, Mr. Polly found himself in possession of several useless bits of bric-a-brac and three hundred and ninety-five pounds. It seemed at first that a whole new world was open to him with this new wealth. Various relatives had sensible suggestions for him, most of them centering on his opening a little shop. He put them off, for he wanted to spend his time in taking a holiday.

At his father’s funeral, which was a proper one, Mr. Polly had met aunts and cousins he did not know existed. Three of his cousins, all female, began to show attention to their rich relative, and before he was sure of what had happened, Mr. Polly found himself in possession of a wife, his cousin Miriam, and a draper’s shop. For the next fifteen years, Mr. Polly was a respectable though unhappy shopkeeper. He could get on with none of his neighbors, and he soon hated his slatternly wife as much as he hated the other shopkeepers.

For these reasons, Mr. Polly sat on the stile and cursed his luck. In addition to his other troubles, he found himself unable to meet the forthcoming rent for the first time in fifteen years. As well as he could figure, he was in debt sixty or seventy pounds. He knew how Miriam would greet this news; it was just too much for him.


(The entire section is 1028 words.)