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Authors: P.G. Wodehouse

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Meet Mr Mulliner

BOOK: Meet Mr Mulliner
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M
EET
M
R
M
ULLINER

 

by

P.G. Wodehouse

 

 

 

 

 

T
O THE

E
ARL OF
O
XFORD AND
A
SQUITH

 

 

 

 

 

C
ONTENTS

 

1.
   
T
HE
T
RUTH
ABOUT
G
EORGE

2.
   
A S
LICE
OF
L
IFE

3.
   
M
ULLINER’S
B
UCK
-U-U
PPO

4.
   
T
HE
B
ISHOP’S
M
OVE

5.
   
C
AME
THE
D
AWN

6.
   
T
HE
S
TORY
OF
W
ILLIAM

7.
   
P
ORTRAIT
OF A
D
ISCIPLINARIAN

8.
   
T
HE
R
OMANCE OF A
B
ULB
-S
QUEEZER

9.
   
H
ONEYSUCKLE
C
OTTAGE

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

T
HE
T
RUTH
ABOUT
G
EORGE

 

 

T
WO
men were sitting in the bar-parlour of the Angler’s Rest as I
entered it; and one of them, I gathered from his low, excited voice and wide
gestures, was telling the other a story. I could hear nothing but an occasional
“Biggest I ever saw in my life!” and “Fully as large as that!” but in such a
place it was not difficult to imagine the rest; and when the second man,
catching my eye, winked at me with a sort of humorous misery, I smiled
sympathetically back at him.

The action had the effect of establishing a
bond between us; and when the storyteller finished his tale and left, he came
over to my table as if answering a formal invitation.

“Dreadful liars some men are,” he said
genially.

“Fishermen,” I suggested, “are
traditionally careless of the truth.”

“He wasn’t a fisherman,” said my
companion. “That was our local doctor. He was telling me about his latest case
of dropsy. Besides,” —he tapped me earnestly on the knee—” you must not fall
into the popular error about fishermen. Tradition has maligned them. I am a
fisherman myself, and I have never told a lie in my life.”

I could well believe it. He was a short,
stout, comfortable man of middle age, and the thing that struck me first about
him was the extraordinarily childlike candour of his eyes. They were large and
round and honest. I would have bought oil stock from him without a tremor.

The door leading into the white dusty road
opened, and a small man with rimless pince-nez and an anxious expression shot
in like a rabbit and had consumed a gin and ginger-beer almost before we knew
he was there. Having thus refreshed himself, he stood looking at us, seemingly
ill at ease.

“N-n-n-n-n-n—” he said.

We looked at him inquiringly.

“N-n-n-n-n-n-ice d-d-d-d—”

His nerve appeared to fail him, and he
vanished as abruptly as he had come.

“I think he was leading up to telling us
that it was a nice day,” hazarded my companion.

“It must be very embarrassing,” I said, “for
a man with such a painful impediment in his speech to open conversation with
strangers.”

“Probably trying to cure himself. Like my
nephew George. Have I ever told you about my nephew George?”

I reminded him that we had only just met,
and that this was the first time I had learned that he had a nephew George.

“Young George Mulliner. My name is Mulliner.
I will tell you about George’s case —in many ways a rather remarkable one.”

 

My nephew George (said Mr Mulliner) was as
nice a young fellow as you would ever wish to meet, but from childhood up he
had been cursed with a terrible stammer. If he had had to earn his living, he
would undoubtedly have found this affliction a great handicap, but fortunately
his father had left him a comfortable income; and George spent a not unhappy
life, residing in the village where he had been born and passing his days in
the usual country sports and his evenings in doing cross-word puzzles. By the
time he was thirty he knew more about Eli, the prophet, Ra, the Sun God, and
the bird Emu than anybody else in the county except Susan Blake, the vicar’s
daughter, who had also taken up the solving of cross-word puzzles and was the
first girl in Worcestershire to find out the meaning of “stearine” and “crepuscular.”

It was his association with Miss Blake
that first turned George’s thoughts to a serious endeavour to cure himself of
his stammer. Naturally, with this hobby in common, the young people saw a great
deal of one another: for George was always looking in at the vicarage to ask
her if she knew a word of seven letters meaning “appertaining to the profession
of plumbing,” and Susan was just as constant a caller at George’s cosy little
cottage—being frequently stumped, as girls will be, by words of eight letters
signifying “largely used in the manufacture of poppet-valves.” The consequence
was that one evening, just after she had helped him out of a tight place with
the word “disestablishmentarianism,” the boy suddenly awoke to the truth and
realised that she was all the world to him—or, as he put it to himself from force
of habit, precious, beloved, darling, much-loved, highly esteemed or valued.

And yet, every time he tried to tell her
so, he could get no farther than a sibilant gurgle which was no more practical
use than a hiccup.

Something obviously had to be done, and
George went to London to see a specialist.

“Yes?” said the specialist.

“I-I-I-I-I-I-I—” said George.

“You were saying?”

“Woo-woo-woo-woo-woo-woo—”

“Sing it,” said the specialist.

“S-s-s-s-s-s-s-s—?” said George, puzzled.

The specialist explained. He was a kindly
man with moth-eaten whiskers and an eye like a meditative cod-fish.

“Many people,” he said, “who are unable to
articulate clearly in ordinary speech find themselves lucid and bell-like when
they burst into song.”

It seemed a good idea to George. He
thought for a moment; then threw his head back, shut his eyes, and let it go in
a musical baritone.

“I love a lassie, a bonny, bonny lassie,”
sang George. “She’s as pure as the lily in the dell.”

“No doubt,” said the specialist, wincing a
little.

“She’s as sweet as the heather, the bonny
purple heather—Susan, my Worcestershire bluebell.”

“Ah!” said the specialist. “Sounds a nice
girl. Is this she?” he asked, adjusting his glasses and peering at the
photograph which George had extracted from the interior of the left side of his
under-vest.

George nodded, and drew in breath.

“Yes, sir,” he carolled, “that’s my baby.
No, sir, don’t mean maybe. Yes, sir, that’s my baby now. And, by the way, by
the way, when I meet that preacher I shall say— ‘Yes, sir. that’s my…’”

“Quite,” said the specialist, hurriedly.
He had a sensitive ear. “Quite, quite.”

“If you knew Susie like I know Susie,”
George was beginning, but the other stopped him.

“Quite. Exactly. I shouldn’t wonder. And
now,” said the specialist, “what precisely is the trouble? No,” he added,
hastily, as George inflated his lungs,” don’t sing it. Write the particulars on
this piece of paper.”

George did so.

“H’m!” said the specialist, examining the
screed. “You wish to woo, court, and become betrothed, engaged, affianced to
this girl, but you find yourself unable, incapable, incompetent, impotent, and
powerless. Every time you attempt it, your vocal cords fail, fall short, are
insufficient, wanting, deficient, and go blooey.”

George nodded.

“A not unusual case. I have had to deal
with this sort of thing before. The effect of love on the vocal cords of even a
normally eloquent subject is frequently deleterious. As regards the habitual
stammerer, tests have shown that in ninety-seven point five six nine recurring
of cases the divine passion reduces him to a condition where he sounds like a
soda-water siphon trying to recite
Gunga Din
. There is only one cure.”

“W-w-w-w-w—?” asked George.

“I will tell you. Stammering,” proceeded
the specialist, putting the tips of his fingers together and eyeing George
benevolently, “is mainly mental and is caused by shyness, which is caused by
the inferiority complex, which in its turn is caused by suppressed desires or
introverted inhibitions or something. The advice I give to all young men who
come in here behaving like soda-water siphons is to go out and make a point of
speaking to at least three perfect strangers every day. Engage these strangers
in conversation, persevering no matter how priceless a chump you may feel, and
before many weeks are out you will find that the little daily dose has had its
effect. Shyness will wear off, and with it the stammer.”

And, having requested the young man— in a
voice of the clearest timbre, free from all trace of impediment—to hand over a
fee of five guineas, the specialist sent George out into the world.

 

The more George thought about the advice he
had been given, the less he liked it. He shivered in the cab that took him to
the station to catch the train back to East Wobsley. Like all shy young men, he
had never hitherto looked upon himself as shy— preferring to attribute his
distaste for the society of his fellows to some subtle rareness of soul. But
now that the thing had been put squarely up to him, he was compelled to realise
that in all essentials he was a perfect rabbit. The thought of accosting
perfect strangers and forcing his conversation upon them sickened him.

But no Mulliner has ever shirked an
unpleasant duty. As he reached the platform and strode along it to the train,
his teeth were set, his eyes shone with an almost fanatical light of
determination, and he intended before his journey was over to conduct three
heart-to-heart chats if he had to sing every bar of them.

The compartment into which he had made his
way was empty at the moment, but just before the train started a very large,
fierce-looking man got in. George would have preferred somebody a little less
formidable for his first subject, but he braced himself and bent forward. And,
as he did so, the man spoke.

“The wur-wur-wur-wur-weather,” he said, “sus-sus-seems
to be ter-ter-taking a tur-tur-turn for the ber-ber-better, der-doesn’t it?”

George sank back as if he had been hit
between the eyes. The train had moved out of the dimness of the station by now,
and the sun was shining brightly on the speaker, illuminating his knobbly
shoulders, his craggy jaw, and, above all, the shockingly choleric look in his
eyes. To reply “Y-y-y-y-y-y-y-yes” to such a man would obviously be madness.

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