Herr Miller's Money

In the grand pension at the top of the hill lived Mr. Miller the Englishman, a stout fellow (so he described himself, flattering his physicality with a measure of old-fashioned trust in bulk). He was built as a cuboid, his heavy shoulders both bulky and angular at the same time and rising up to engulf his head between them. He had no neck to speak of, and thick fingers like sausages with which he clutched at his teacup in the morning, frowning disapprovingly at the young woman who ran the coffee shop at the bottom of the building when she forgot, as she inevitably did, to bring him milk instead of lemon juice. She (Frau Alttag, that is, the waitress) had been working there for several years, and was quite used to the Englishman’s idiosyncratic behaviour (so she thought, not having been to Britain or indeed outside of the town in her life), but was incapable of holding his preferences for drink for longer than the time it took her (once reprimanded by MIller himself) to fetch a glass from the kitchen and fill it with milk.

After his morning tea, and his morning frown at Frau Alttag, Mr. Miller would make his way slowly down the hill, stopping frequently along the way to either admire the view or to greet passers-by. This trip to the foot of the hill (and therefore to the rest of the town, the central square resting firmly at the flat spot at the very edge of the slope - as far west as it was possible for the town square to be without it being on a slant) took him the better part of an hour, although it was nothing compared to the return journey. That took Mr. Miller two or three hours, essentially all the time from when he completed his midday meal until arriving back at his pension in time to cook his own dinner.  To watch his progress from the footsteps to the high zenith of the hill was to watch an exercise in endurance which might have taxed a sherpa, so difficult did it seem for him. Mr. Miller paused often, and seeing this one could appreciate the equivalent stops on the journey down, for either that journey was so equally arduous that he had to pause every few minutes to get his breath, or he was cleverly creating a smokescreen by which to disguise his lack of general fitness - stopping on the descent deliberately to prevent an even greater contrast with his ascent. If it was the latter, it was all in vain, for the locals could see with their own eyes how Mr. Miller’s stoutness fought against him. He was obviously not completely lacking in muscle beneath his square outer covering of fat and tweed, but it was not enough for the job (or perhaps the heart and lungs that lay beneath it could not provide enough “puff” to enable it to work to its full potential). Mr. Miller wheezed and huffed, and stopped to catch his breath, and rubbed at his tired calves and generally gave the impression of someone who was scaling rather than a simple large hill a mountain proper, and moreover without the necessary oxygen tanks.

In the mornings, after his laboured descent but prior to his luncheon, he would shop in the market. Bread, butter, beef and lamb, tea, sugar, apples, milk (of course) and various kinds of cake were his favoured goods, although his trips into town were every day and so it was unnecessary for him to buy everything in one go. One day he might concentrate on meat, another on baked goods, and so forth. These would all go into a pair of crumpled plastic bags entirely at odds with his otherwise quite vintage look, and sit at his feet during lunch, ready to be part of the expedition to the summit of Neubruckestrasse when he had finished.  These carrier backs, covered in English, were so new that they had obviously been sent to him by someone in the Motherland (since he had not returned there within living memory), another aspect of his life that the townsfolk felt to be unusually eccentric. It was, of course, now wise to have bags in which to carry shopping instead of demanding them at the shop and suffering the odd looks of the (inevitable environmentalist) cashiers. But there were plenty of bags still to be had - local bags, perhaps canvas ones with comfortable handles, so why would a man like Mr. Miller trouble the flesh of his fingers with those throw-away English bags that were designed to cut into the hands like a medieval torture device? Another mystery of the inscrutable Mr. Miller.

But not the main mystery, the one which occasioned the most gossip amongst the townsfolk and which was serious enough that even a particularly diligent busybody from the town council was moved to look into at some length: From where did Mr. Miller get his money? He lived, after all, in a not inexpensive apartment, he appeared to do no work (and if he was working in private when did he do it, since he was in town all day), he ate lunch at one or another of the town’s three competing restaurants every day, and he bought food in the market. All with money that (as the council official’s investigation showed) was neither accounted for by any known bank robbery nor the result of forgery. Some of the town argued that Mr. Miller was simply rich, but the general feeling was that if he had been rich, surely he would have bought one of the more opulent houses on the north-east side and saved himself the trouble of his daily hill-climb. He did not seem, either, to have a bank account, and the money that came to him obviously did not come to him in the post, as discovered by the town’s unscrupulous postman, Herr Keinente, by means of steaming open Mr. Miller’s post for a month (actually amounting to a mere two letters, one from a benevolent society in Berlin asking for donations, then other a personal letter from a young woman called Kate who appeared from the letter to be Miller’s niece).


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