Reprinted from The Strand Magazine Vol. XIX-67, 1909
Waiters are proverbially clever; in fact, they are mostly too clever for anything or anybody. The man who ever gets the better of a waiter has yet to be found. Not that waiters are not human after all, and who would blame them? - but they have a sublime way of juggling with your change, and in such a way, too, that would have you believe that coppers were withdrawn from circulation for the time being.
There are two waiters "par excellence" who claim special notice at our hands at present. There is no half-and-half way about them; they take the cake, the biscuit, the pancake, the bun, the wedding cake, and the champion cake all in one. They catch and throw, and juggle and throw, and catch and throw again; sometimes they miss, and then there's a crash and a bang, and the fragments of plates and glasses fly like chaff in the wind.
They are stage waiters, and form part of a group of four clever performers who go by the name of The Rambler Troupe, and their ramblings have taken them to most parts of the habitable globe, to the intense enjoyment of thousands of people.
It has been the writer's good fortune to witness the Ramblers' clever act at the Alhambra Theatre, Leicester Square, one of the best places of amusement in London.
The photographs as shown in this article are exact reproductions of the doings that take place on the stage. They will convey in some measure the marvelous proceedings which take place in the course of this the most extraordinary dinner on earth.
An elderly gentleman and a lady of prepossessing appearance enter the dining room of a restaurant. They are received by two waiters of the most approved and up-to-date type; their names will be Garcon No. 1 and Garcon No. 2. Garcon No. 1 takes upon himself the onerous task of unloading the happy pair of their coats, stick and fan. With an artful twist he throws up the gentleman's hat (whilst the latter isn't looking) and catches it on the back of his head in the most comical manner. Now, however, they are entering upon a more serious phase of the business. It is proverbially difficult to do two things properly at one and the same time, so that our worthy guest places a half-smoked Havana of the finest brand upon the edge of a small table close by. The waiters spot this, of course, and there's a rush for the coveted weed.
Garcon No. 2 makes a dash, but misses. Garcon No. 1 quickly picks up table and all and by an artful twist, and an equally artful jerk, he throws the cigar up into the air and catches it in his open mouth with the consummate skill of an expert juggler. Result: Consternation of Garcon No. 2.
In the meantime our guests have taken their places. But the cumbersome standard lamps, with their gorgeous shades of flaming red silk, are found to be in the way.
"Here, garcon, remove these lamps, will you?"
"Yes, sir," comes from both attendants, simultaneously, and no sooner said than done. Quicker than lightning those lamps fly right up to the ceiling and are caught again and placed aside, to the horror and amazement of the diners!
It is the waiters' turn to be startled, however, for no sooner have they returned with the necessaries "to follow" than the lady does a little juggling of her own. Up go the serviettes, to the consternation of Garcons 1 and 2, who are fairly caught at their own game.
The example seems contagious. So up go the gentleman's knives and forks and spoons in a rush. He has quite forgotten his dinner; he will show his fair partner that she is by no means the only pebble on the beach. But, lo! Her knives and her spoons and her forks follow his knives, spoons and forks in rapid succession. In fact, it is a case of a knife for a knife and a spoon for a spoon!
The waiters are happy. Here at last they have met with a pair worthy of their steel! No. 1 is jubilant; No. 2 tries to look like it.
"Enough, enough; soup, waiter, do you hear? Bring the soup, or I'll wipe the floor with you."
"Clear or thick?"
"Clear, and be quick about it," comes the stinging reply.
There is a lull and a hush, a dead silence creeps over an overstrung audience. Whatever is going to happen now?
Whoop-brr-bang! Enter the soup! It flies from one side of the room to the other, from one pair of hands into another pair of hands. Flop! Has he missed it? No, he smiles and bows and scrapes and "Clear or thick, madam?" in a whisper, follows what promised to be an exciting episode. It is an anticlimax such as we meet with every day.
The lid is removed and a cloud of steam rises to the ceiling. It is soup, real soup, and spectators gaze aghast. After all, "the proof of the soup is in the steaming."
Whoop-brr-bang! Out goes the soup! Back it flies the way it came, over the heads of the guests on to the very tip of the soup ladle, where it whirrs and twists fast enough to be turned into ice cream, if only the motion lasted long enough.
The dinner proper is nearly over by this time, and the bill is duly presented. With a flourish and much twisting of the silver dish in his right hand Garcon No. 2 approaches timidly. He nearly drops the dish on the gentleman's head, recovers himself in time, smiles, and gets a splendid tip for the quiet way in which he and his friend have performed their duties.
Proverbially suspicious Garcon No. 1 approaches from behind and is on the point of seizing what seems to him a fair share of the profits, when, with a dexterous jerk, up go the coins to disappear in a glittering shower into the waistcoat pocket of Garcon No. 2.
Next their bottles go tick-tack, bang-bang, tick-tack, bang-bang on the edge of the dining table to the tune of a popular waltz. Not content with juggling all the available bottles, they unite in thorough good fellowship, and we see them enjoying themselves with oranges, of all things! Twenty oranges are on the move in rhythmical progression, and a very pretty sight it is, too.
These are quickly put by, though, and now comes one of the most extraordinary features of the evening. True to their profession our waiters, assisted by their guests, quickly proceed in clearing the remains of the feast, and here Garcon No. 1 comes in with a vengeance. His late guests and Garcon No. 2 have before them two piles of plates, numbering something like 100 altogether. These have evidently to be transferred from one table to another. Whirr-whizz-whirr-whizz follow each other for quite 30 seconds, while the plates fly from one table to another with amazing swiftness.
Garcon No. 1 catches them in their flight and places them on the table before him, without missing so much as a solitary one.
It is awful to contemplate what might happen should the unfortunate man miss a couple, or even one, of the delicate missiles as they come in quick succession.
The bottles are gone, the fruit is gone, the plates are gone. There are only the tables, and chairs and lamps and flowers left. Hurrah! Up goes a chair, then a table, then a lamp, and a bouquet. Then more chairs and more tables and more lamps and more bouquets. They fly all over the room. The air is thick with them. Yet not one is missed. They all come back to their owners in due course. The Ramblers are clever - very clever, in fact, and they are genuinely funny and amusing.