Alfred Polly is apprenticed to a large hosiery and gentleman's outfitting shop as a boy of 14. He resents having to working for someone else, and when one of his friends rebels against the management in spectacular fashion and leaves, he decides it is time to move on. After his father dies and leaves him a generous bequest, he purchases his own outfitters shop in Fishbourne, a quiet town in south-east England.
At about the same time he marries, but he and his wife Miriam prove ill-suited. She constantly nags him, resents the time he spends in reading his beloved books, and tells him he ought to do something to better himself. Increasingly bored with life, he begins arguing with their neighbours and fellow traders, simply for excitement. One day when feeling particularly frustrated he realises that he has been in the shop for fifteen years, with no sign of anything more interesting. He feels his life is going nowhere. Suffering from chronic indigestion, and faced with the threat of bankruptcy after a fall in business and an unpleasant letter from his solicitors, he decides that the only way he can escape from everything is by setting fire to his shop and killing himself, having made sure that the insurance will see his widow is well provided for. The shop and several other properties are set alight, and he ends up rescuing other people in the street.
Shortly afterwards, everyone thinks he has been drowned in an accident, but instead he has succeeded in escaping. He finds a new life by moving to a nearby neighbourhood where he is unrecognized, takes a job at the Potwell Inn, stands up to the local neighbourhood bully and becomes a hero.
This report prepared by John Van der Kiste