|The History of Mr. Polly has been made into
movies and a TV series, but read the book!
Given that we didn't think we would be able to celebrate even one wedding anniversary, we've done very well to get to No. 3. We're a good team, you might say.
I do say!
Not long ago, I related the story of our wedding. I thought I'd share with you this time the story of a quite different wedding, that of a very lovable fictional character, Mr. Polly.
A lot of you will recognise it, but I'm sure you won't mind reading this little fragment again if you have. If you haven't, it's a treat. The rest of the novel's even better.
This wedding comes from one of the most delightful of all English novels of the era. Its author was H G Wells, whose name is usually associated with science fiction. War of the Worlds, and all that. What is less well known is that Wells was also an acute observer of English life, with special sympathy for those lower down the social scale who were struggling with the massive changes brought by the times – the little shopkeepers, for example, and Mr. Polly was one of these. But then so was the father of Wells himself.
It's available free here on Gutenberg.org, but here's the wedding scene where Mr. Polly met his fate. The whole novel is beautifully constructed, funny and sympathetic. Please enjoy.
Until the conclusive moment of the service was attained, the eye of Mr. Voules watched Mr. Polly relentlessly, and then instantly he relieved guard, and blew his nose into a voluminous and richly patterned handkerchief, and sighed and looked round for the approval and sympathy of Mrs. Voules, and nodded to her brightly like one who has always foretold a successful issue to things. Mr. Polly felt then like a marionette that has just dropped off its wire. But it was long before that release arrived.
He became aware of Miriam breathing close to him.
"Hullo!" he said, and feeling that was clumsy and would meet the eye's disapproval: "Grey dress – suits you no end."
Miriam's eyes shone under her hat-brim.
"Not reely!" she whispered.
"You're all right," he said with the feeling of observation and criticism stiffening his lips. He cleared his throat.
The verger's hand pushed at him from behind. Someone was driving Miriam towards the altar rail and the clergyman. "We're in for it," said Mr. Polly to her sympathetically. "Where? Here? Right O." He was interested for a moment or so in something indescribably habitual in the clergyman's pose. What a lot of weddings he must have seen! Sick he must be of them!
"Don't let your attention wander," said the eye.
"Got the ring?" whispered Johnson.
"Pawned it yesterday," answered Mr. Polly and then had a dreadful moment under that pitiless scrutiny while he felt in the wrong waistcoat pocket....
The officiating clergy sighed deeply, began, and married them wearily and without any hitch.
"D'b'loved, we gath'd 'gether sight o' Gard 'n face this con'gation join 'gather Man, Worn' Holy Mat'my which is on'bl state stooted by Gard in times man's innocency...."
Mr. Polly's thoughts wandered wide and far, and once again something like a cold hand touched his heart, and he saw a sweet face in sunshine under the shadow of trees.
Someone was nudging him. It was Johnson's finger diverted his eyes to the crucial place in the prayer-book to which they had come.
"Wiltou lover, cumfer, oner, keeper sickness and health..."
"Say 'I will.'"
Mr. Polly moistened his lips. "I will," he said hoarsely.
Miriam, nearly inaudible, answered some similar demand.
Then the clergyman said: "Who gifs Worn married to this man?"
"Well, I'm doing that," said Mr. Voules in a refreshingly full voice and looking round the church. "You see, me and Martha Larkins being cousins – "
He was silenced by the clergyman's rapid grip directing the exchange of hands.
"Pete arf me," said the clergyman to Mr. Polly. "Take thee Mirum wed wife--"
"Take thee Mirum wed' wife," said Mr. Polly.
"Have hold this day ford."
"Have hold this day ford."
"Betworse, richpoo' – "
"Bet worsh, richpoo'...."
Then came Miriam's turn.
"Lego hands," said the clergyman; "got the ring? No! On the book. So! Here! Pete arf me, 'withis ring Ivy wed.'"
"Withis ring Ivy wed--"
So it went on, blurred and hurried, like the momentary vision of an utterly beautiful thing seen through the smoke of a passing train....
"Now, my boy," said Mr. Voules at last, gripping Mr. Polly's elbow tightly, "you've got to sign the registry, and there you are! Done!"
Before him stood Miriam, a little stiffly, the hat with a slight rake across her forehead, and a kind of questioning hesitation in her face. Mr. Voules urged him past her.
It was astounding. She was his wife!
H G Wells The History of Mr. Polly