The Little Rheinschloss
I go sometimes into the Bierhalle and restaurant called Old Munich. Not long ago it was a resort of interesting Bohemians, but now only artists and musicians and literary folk frequent it. But the Pilsner is yet good, and I take some diversion from the conversation of Waiter No.18.
For many years the customers of Old Munich have accepted the place as a faithful copy from the ancient German town. The big hall with its smoky rafters, rows of imported steins, portrait of Goethe, and verses painted on the wallstranslated into German from the original of the Cincinnati poetsseems atmospherically correct when viewed through the bottom of a glass.
But not long ago the proprietors added the room above, called it the Little Rheinschloss, and built in a stairway. Up there was an imitation stone parapet, ivy-covered, and the walls were painted to represent depth and distance, with the Rhine winding at the base of the vineyarded slopes, and the Castle of Ehrenbreitstein looming directly opposite the entrance. Of course, there were tables and chairs; and you could have beer and food brought you, as you naturally would on the top of a castle on the Rhine.
I went into Old Munich one afternoon when there were few customers, and sat at my usual table near the stairway. I was shocked and almost displeased to perceive that the glass cigarcase by the orchestra stand had been smashed to smithereens. I did not like things to happen in Old Munich. Nothing had ever happened there before.
Waiter No.18 came and breathed on my neck. I was his by right of discovery. Eighteens brain was built like a corral. It was full of ideas, which, when he opened the gate, came huddling out like a flock of sheep that might get together afterward or might not. I did not shine as a shepherd. As a type Eighteen fitted nowhere. I did not find out if he had a nationality, family creed, grievance, hobby, soul, preference, home or vote. He only came always to my table, and, as long as his leisure would permit, let words flutter from him like swallows leaving a barn at daylight.
How did the cigar-case come to be broken, Eighteen? I asked, with a certain feeling of personal grievance.
I can tell you about that, sir, said he, resting his foot on the chair next to mine. Did you ever have anybody hand you a double handful of good luck while both your hands was full of bad luck, and stop to notice how your fingers behaved?
No riddles, Eighteen, said I. Leave out palmistry and manicuring.
You remember, said Eighteen, the guy in the hammered brass Prince Albert and the oroide gold pants and the amalgamated copper hat, that carried the combination meat-axe, ice-pick, and liberty-pole, and used to stand on the first landing as you go up to the Little Rindslosh?
Why, yes, said I. The halberdier. I never noticed him particularly. I remember I thought he was only a suit of armour. He had a perfect poise.
He had more than that, said Eighteen. He was me friend. He was an advertisement. The boss hired him to stand on the stairs for a kind of scenery, to show there was something doing in the has-been line upstairs. What did you call hima what kind of a beer?
A halberdier, said I. That was an ancient man-at-arms of many hundred years ago.
Some mistake, said Eighteen. This one wasnt that old. He wasnt over twenty-three or four.
It was the bosss idea, rigging a man up in an antebellum suit of tinware and standing him on the landing of the slosh. He bought the goods at a Fourth Avenue antique store, and hung a sign out: Able-bodied halhalberdier wanted. Costume furnished.
The same morning a young man with wrecked good clothes and a hungry look comes in, bringing the sign with him. I was filling the mustard-pots at my station.
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