Mr Polly is an ordinary middle-aged man who is tired of his wife’s nagging and his dreary job as the owner of a regional gentleman’s outfitters. Faced with the threat of bankruptcy, he concludes that the only way to escape his frustrating existence is by burning his shop to the ground, and killing himself. Unexpected events, however, conspire at the last moment to lead the bewildered Mr Polly to a bright new future – after he saves a life, fakes his death, and escapes to a life of heroism, hope and ultimate happiness.
274 pages, with a reading time of ~4.25 hours (68,537 words), and first published in 1910. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2009.
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“Hole!” said Mr. Polly, and then for a change, and with greatly increased emphasis: “‘Ole!” He paused, and then broke out with one of his private and peculiar idioms. “Oh! Beastly Silly Wheeze of a Hole!”
He was sitting on a stile between two threadbare looking fields, and suffering acutely from indigestion.
He suffered from indigestion now nearly every afternoon in his life, but as he lacked introspection he projected the associated discomfort upon the world. Every afternoon he discovered afresh that life as a whole and every aspect of life that presented itself was “beastly.” And this afternoon, lured by the delusive blueness of a sky that was blue because the wind was in the east, he had come out in the hope of snatching something of the joyousness of spring. The mysterious alchemy of mind and body refused, however, to permit any joyousness whatever in the spring.
He had had a little difficulty in finding his cap before he came out. He wanted his cap–the new golf cap–and Mrs. Polly must needs fish out his old soft brown felt hat. “‘Ere’s your ‘at,” she said in a tone of insincere encouragement.
He had been routing among the piled newspapers under the kitchen dresser, and had turned quite hopefully and taken the thing. He put it on. But it didn’t feel right. Nothing felt right. He put a trembling hand upon the crown of the thing and pressed it on his head, and tried it askew to the right and then askew to the left.
Then the full sense of the indignity offered him came home to him. The hat masked the upper sinister quarter of his face, and he spoke with a wrathful eye regarding his wife from under the brim. In a voice thick with fury he said: “I s’pose you’d like me to wear that silly Mud Pie for ever, eh? I tell you I won’t. I’m sick of it. I’m pretty near sick of everything, comes to that…. Hat!”
He clutched it with quivering fingers. “Hat!” he repeated. Then he flung it to the ground, and kicked it with extraordinary fury across the kitchen. It flew up against the door and dropped to the ground with its ribbon band half off.
“Shan’t go out!” he said, and sticking his hands into his jacket pockets discovered the missing cap in the right one.
There was nothing for it but to go straight upstairs without a word, and out, slamming the shop door hard.
“Beauty!” said Mrs. Polly at last to a tremendous silence, picking up and dusting the rejected headdress. “Tantrums,” she added. “I ‘aven’t patience.” And moving with the slow reluctance of a deeply offended woman, she began to pile together the simple apparatus of their recent meal, for transportation to the scullery sink.
The repast she had prepared for him did not seem to her to justify his ingratitude. There had been the cold pork from Sunday and some nice cold potatoes, and Rashdall’s Mixed Pickles, of which he was inordinately fond. He had eaten three gherkins, two onions, a small cauliflower head and several capers with every appearance of appetite, and indeed with avidity; and then there had been cold suet pudding to follow, with treacle, and then a nice bit of cheese. It was the pale, hard sort of cheese he liked; red cheese he declared was indigestible. He had also had three big slices of greyish baker’s bread, and had drunk the best part of the jugful of beer…. But there seems to be no pleasing some people.
“Tantrums!” said Mrs. Polly at the sink, struggling with the mustard on his plate and expressing the only solution of the problem that occurred to her.
And Mr. Polly sat on the stile and hated the whole scheme of life–which was at once excessive and inadequate as a solution. He hated Foxbourne, he hated Foxbourne High Street, he hated his shop and his wife and his neighbours–every blessed neighbour–and with indescribable bitterness he hated himself.
“Why did I ever get in this silly Hole?” he said. “Why did I ever?”
He sat on the stile, and looked with eyes that seemed blurred with impalpable flaws at a world in which even the spring buds were wilted, the sunlight metallic and the shadows mixed with blue-black ink.
To the moralist I know he might have served as a figure of sinful discontent, but that is because it is the habit of moralists to ignore material circumstances,–if indeed one may speak of a recent meal as a circumstance,–with Mr. Polly circum. Drink, indeed, our teachers will criticise nowadays both as regards quantity and quality, but neither church nor state nor school will raise a warning finger between a man and his hunger and his wife’s catering. So on nearly every day in his life Mr. Polly fell into a violent rage and hatred against the outer world in the afternoon, and never suspected that it was this inner world to which I am with such masterly delicacy alluding, that was thus reflecting its sinister disorder upon the things without.