The Lure of the Waste-Basket


PERCHANCE this title is unwisely chosen for an article seeking publication, too fraught with evil suggestion to him who sits in the judgment seat, surrounded, if Tradition lie not, with these over-hospitable bits of office furniture; but let him stay his impetuous hand: this screed deals with the domestic, not the editorial, waste-basket. Let us affect the near-dramatic form for our contribution — thus: —

Place: a library.

Time: after breakfast.

The scene is temporarily clear of husbands, children, cooks, and all others who ‘just want to know about something.’

Dramatis Personæ: You, and the Waste-Basket.

You pick up your morning mail and, neglectful of a neat silver envelopeopener, tear open the topmost letter with your fingers. It is from The Boy-away-at-School. The waste-basket knows it will get not even the envelope and, lurking, bides its time. Having grasped and memorized your son’s latest wants, you open a long envelope which contains a cordial invitation to make a tour of the world in a luxurious steamer which will do all the necessary tipping for the trip, while you, surrounded by ’highly cultivated fellowpassengers,’ will find yourself eagerly awaited at each landing-place by patient donkeys, lofty camels, nimble jinrikshas. experienced guides, etc.

How small the compensation demanded for these privileges! How few the weeks required for a journey which will transform you from a home-keeping drone of homely wit to a person who can toss off such phrases as, ‘When I was last at Rangoon,’ or, ‘Doesn’t this remind you just a bit of Nagasaki ? ’ Oh, of course you can’t go. You waste no time in sentimental pity for those highly cultivated passengers who will be forced to make the trip without you; but you do glance admiringly at the illustrations; until a voice chirps out from a place at your feet: — W. B. Just hand over those folders to me, please. I am positively famished — have n’t had an old time-table even since last night.

You. Why should I give you these perfectly good and improving illustrations of mosques, dancing-girls, elephants bathing in rivers, pyramids — ?

W. B. (interrupting rudely). What will you do with them?

You (in a superior tone). The Youngest can cut them out and make a travel scrap-book. This will cultivate in him manual dexterity, neatness, a feeling for architecture, a sense for geography —

W. B. (in icy tones). You may possibly remember the last time that the Youngest made one of your educational scrap-books. Did he, or did he not, on that occasion, dip his mucilagebrush into your ink-bottle? And did you, or did you not, use that same ink to autograph a copy of your book which an admiring and wealthy friend had actually bought?

You (depressed by the recollection). You are never fair to The Youngest because he likes to play football with you. Now Froebel says —

W. B. (cynically). Did Froebel ever have to clear up the nursery afterwards? Come, hand me those folders and get on with your mail.

You surreptitiously slip out a particularly appealing picture of a venerable Mohammedan, and throw the rest into the waste-basket, which snaps viciously at them.

The next envelope has a festive and crested exterior. Unconsciously, before you open it, you ask yourself what you shall wear. It comes from a pretty lady whom you know slightly. You read from it as follows: ‘Whenever I have spoken to you of our “ Home for Insatiate Inebriates” you have been so sympathetic that I am now venturing to ask you to become one of our annual contributors for ten dollars or more.’

W. B. (chuckling hoarsely). Say, I want that. I like that new form. ‘So sympathetic,’ were you? That sweet smile of yours is a source of crushing expense to your family.

You (indignantly). I was not sympathetic. I don’t remember ever hearing her speak of her Insatiate Inebriates. I shall certainly not send her ten dollars, — but perhaps I ought to send her something; she gives such pleasant parties, and she is such a sweet —

W. B. (with intention). You’d better not decide that question till you have opened those bills. Give me that note, it will be a good nerve-tonic for me.

You. Just let me have the crest for The Eldest’s monogram book.

W. B. snorts at this allusion and devours letter with relish.

The next missive is directed to ‘Mr. and Mrs.’ and suggests a wedding, or even a ball. As you open it, four tickets are disclosed.

You (angrily). More tickets for that Charity concert, and I sent back eight only yesterday!

W. B. (eagerly). Yes, and you said that the next tickets that came without a stamped envelope for return you’d give to me, — you know you did.

You (weakly). It’s only a matter of two cents; politeness is cheap, you know.

W. B. But postage stamps are not. (Vindictively.) Think how many you have to send out with those manuscripts of yours that are always coming back!

The tickets slide into the wastebasket, and you murmur, ‘Perhaps she’ll think they went astray in the mail.’

The waste-basket munches happily while you read two letters from blessed friends who don’t want a thing.

You have now opened all your mail except the bills, which you always leave for the last, but not because you lack eagerness to pay them, — perish the thought!

Au contraire, you have a hobby, an expensive one to be sure, and that is to pay all bills before the twentieth of the month in which they are presented. Your only collection of curios consists of packages of original bills receipted ‘with thanks,’ not a ‘bill rendered’ among them. Nevertheless, on this especial morning it is a bill rendered, marked ‘please remit, ’ which greets your astonished eyes.

The waste-basket with its usual uncanny extra sense instantly grasps the situation.

W. B. (whispering). Tear it up fine and pay the original one.

You. But I have a New England conscience, and the receipt would not have the same value to me as a collector.

W. B. Nonsense, you have no secrets from me. I’ve seen you cheat yourself at solitaire at this very table under which I live. What matters a bill a month old anyway? Wastebaskets that belong to my club tell me that they actually burst their ribbons the first of every month in trying to contain all the ‘ bills rendered ’ fed to them. (Coaxingly.) Don’t spoil your unique collection of receipts for a mere scruple. Give me that bill and a dried leaf off the rubber plant. I’ll not ask for another morsel until the next maildelivery.

You (generously). Take it then, my friend; but I do not understand how I could have forgotten to pay it, since the article purchased was one without which life would be too complicated for endurance, which lightens our labors by cheerfully assuming half our burdens, and —

W. B. (with curiosity). Is it a bill for a social secretary or for a vacuum cleaner?

You. Ah! neither. It reads thus:

‘ For one wicker waste-basket, slightly damaged — 79 cents.’