The story's title character is a man who somehow always seems to get what he wants. John makes up his mind to marry May Forster, the prettiest young woman in the village. After John asks her to marry him several times, May finally agrees. John says that his love for May is so great that he would come back from the dead if that was what she wanted him to do. Two days before his wedding, John leaves to visit his seriously ill godfather. May begs him not to go because she has a feeling that something bad will happen. John reassures her that nothing will prevent him from arriving at his wedding on time.
An abridged version of "John Charrington's Wedding" is read by Christopher Lee in the third episode of the five-part radio horror anthology mini-series Christopher Lee's Fireside Tales. The episode first aired on BBC Radio 2 in the United Kingdom on December 28, 2004.
The story's action takes place in the village of Brixham in south-east England. In common with all the other young men in the village, the narrator, known only as Geoffrey, considers May Forster to be the most beautiful young woman in Brixham. Geoffrey's friend John Charrington asks May Forster to marry him three times. Each time, she says no. Somehow, however, John Charrington always seems to get what he wants. The fourth time that John asks May to marry him, she agrees. The wedding is due to take place in early September. Geoffrey is to be the best man.
Most people in the village wonder if May Forster really loves John Charrington. Geoffrey wonders about that too. At sunset one day in August, Geoffrey is passing through the churchyard. He sees May sitting on a flat tombstone and John lying at her feet. The look on May's face leaves Geoffrey in no doubt that she truly loves John. Geoffrey hears John say, "my dear, I believe i should come back from the dead if you wanted me!'
Two days before the wedding is due to take place, Geoffrey has to travel to London on business. He sees that John and May are also at the train station. John gets into the same train carriage as Geoffrey. May has come to the station to say goodbye to John, who is traveling alone. John is going to see his godfather Mr. Branbridge, who is seriously ill, fifty miles away in Peasmarch Place. May does not want John to leave. She has a feeling that something bad will happen. John, however, has made up his mind to visit Branbridge and will not be dissuaded. He promises May that he will come back in time for their wedding. After the train leaves the station, Geoffrey asks John what he will do if Mr. Branbridge dies. John replies, "Alive or dead I mean to be married on Thursday!"
When Geoffrey comes back to Brixham the following afternoon, his sister tells him that John Charrington has not yet returned. That night, Geoffrey goes to John Charrington's house and finds out that John has still not returned. He goes to bed worried. The following morning, the day when the wedding is due to take place, Geoffrey receives a note asking him to meet John at the train station at three o'clock that afternoon. Geoffrey goes to May Forster's house. She explains that Mr. Branbridge asked John to stay another day and he felt he could not refuse.
John is not on the three o'clock train or the next one. Geoffrey gets tired of waiting and goes to the church. A lot of people are standing outside the church. Geoffrey thinks that they are still waiting for the wedding to start. Byles the gardener tells Geoffrey that the wedding is probably over by now. Byles says that John Charrington arrived precisely on time. He looked terrible, however, and went straight into the church without speaking to or looking at anybody.
The people outside the church are getting ready to throw rice and slippers at John and May when they come out of the building. When John and May do come out, all the people outside the church stand in still silence. The rice and slippers are not thrown. John does indeed look terrible. His coat has dust on it, his hair is unkempt, there is a black mark above his eyebrow and his face is very pale. May also looks very pale, as if she were entirely carved out of ivory. Instead of the peal of wedding bells, the tolling of funeral bells is head. This comes as a great shock to the bell ringers who flee in terror.
John and May get into a carriage to go to May's father's house for the reception. Geoffrey and May's father travel in a different carriage and arrive at the house first. When the door of the bridal carriage is opened, John is nowhere to be seen and May has fainted. May is carried into the house. When her veil is lifted, she is seen to have a look of absolute horror on her face. Her hair has turned white.
Shortly afterwards, a telegram arrives at May's father's house. It states that John Charrington is dead. He died when he fell from a dogcart that was taking him to the train station at half past one that afternoon, two hours before many of the people in Brixham saw him get married. Geoffrey remembers how John said, "I shall be married, dead, or alive!"
May never speaks about what happened in the bridal carriage. She dies less than a week later.
- ↑ Other episodes of Christopher Lee's Fireside Tales are based on "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe, "The Man of Science" by Jerome K. Jerome, "The Man and the Snake" by Ambrose Bierce and "The Monkey's Paw' by W.W.Jacobs.
- ↑ At weddings in late 19th century Britain, shoes were often thrown at the bride and groom. Neither rice nor shoes are commonly thrown at British weddings today, having been replaced by confetti. (See: Marc Abrahams, "Love, marriage... and a barrage of shoes", The Guardian, August 25, 2015.)
- ↑ A dogcart is a light horse-drawn vehicle which can carry a driver and one passenger. The passenger has to sit with his or her back to the driver and face the opposite direction to the driver. A dogcart is so named because it was originally designed for transporting hunting dogs. The dogs would be carried in a box behind the driver.