Whitsun Day is the one day of the year in which the marriage tax is declared null by the British government, thus affording 24 hours of relief to those couples unable to get hitched due to dire economic circumstances. It is on that day the narrator has been forced to take a later train than the usual one he rides. It is almost 1:30 on an unpleasantly hot Saturday when the quarter-full train pulls from the station. As the train takes off, a panorama of the backside of homes, a fishing dock and a river are displayed through the open windows.
As the afternoon wears on, these site are replaced by stretches of farmland, industrial canals and another town that looks like the last one. What he doesn’t take much notice of as the train is moving are the weddings that are taking place as a result of the holiday. The bright afternoon sun throws its light on certain scenes while others remain hidden in the shade. Only when the movement comes to a stop at each station is given enough time to pay attention to the weddings.
The first thing that strikes him is the loudness that these wedding produce. The second thing he notices is how the brides and their maids dress in an attempt to reproduce fashion, but succeed only in becoming parodies of style. The next gives him enough time to notice how all the mothers of the brides share the common physical trait of being overweight, that yellow, purple and green are the hot colors of the moment and how every single wedding party seems to include a dirty-minded uncle somewhere. Cafes, banquet halls and yards all serve well for stringing the bunting and hosting the party. And then, amid a hail of confetti and last minute advice, the bride and groom were waved goodbye on the train platform.
As the train makes its way closer to London, the landscape grows more urban in atmosphere and a dozen more marriages would take place before he arrives. As the train begins to move well past being only a quarter-full, he ponders how none of the grooms and their brides ever stop to contemplate how they will share something with each of the other newly wedding couples for as long as their marriage lasts.
The light, but unavoidably apparent sense of scorn toward that the narrator has expressed in his thoughts about these wedding ceremonies and what they represent undergoes an ironic shift as the train pulls into the station. London’s industrial dark suddenly takes on a sense of magic as he realizes that the collection of so many newly married couples has given a meaning to the coincidence that has brought them all together in the same. Amid imagery of arrows, showers and rain, the full significance of the massive potential for all the fertility to come together and change the world overwhelms his previous attitude.