Barrel Day

ANNUALLY, in our town, a brief notice appears in the daily prints advising the reading public that, pursuant to custom, a barrel will be placed in the vestibule of the library next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, to receive all over-due books.

‘You may bring them back,’ admonishes the ad., paternally. ‘Drop them into the barrel. No fines to pay. No questions asked.’

This beneficent act of mercy not only provides for the reclamation of books which have been out so long that the lessees are either ashamed or financially unable to return them, but restores these delinquents to their selfrenunciated library privileges. By this process they go through what might be called bibliophilistic bankruptcy, and come out clean.

By no means is this pardoning grace sought only by our weaker brethren. When the laden barrel is rolled in from the outer lobby, o’ nights, during Atonement Week, it contains an abundance of ethics, aesthetics, and mathematics, but almost no erotics. Punctilious persons, disposed to pass hasty judgment upon the questionable taste and obvious moral turpitude of them who slip stealthily in to cast an armful into the absolving barrel, are hereby advised that a single day’s catch includes a larger percentage of respectable literature than the average bookshop displays in the window. Indeed, the suddenly opulent, desirous of stocking their shelves with evidences of culture, — after having bought five feet of this, three cases of that, and two cubic yards of something other, — might go farther and fare worse than to apply for the barrel.

No; the people who avail themselves of this unique charity are not a bad sort; and if a discriminating person were obliged to choose on any of these expiation days a six weeks’ traveling companion, either from this shiftless company or from the first two hundred appearing at the receiving teller’s window in the Gibraltar Savings Bank, he would better stay by the barrel.

All of which inclines me to believe that a scheme similar to this might well be applied to many another of life’s engagements, for the benefit of their mental peace who are constitutionally tardy and forgetful, albeit lovable and sensitive.

With what eager joy would I not respond to the call of a barrel out in some dimly lit. vestibule, placed there to receive the belated settlements I am ashamed to offer in broad daylight. The idea intrigues me. Long ago it was tested and found practicable. For ages it was the custom of a certain ancient nation to assemble on an appointed day and confer upon a goat the entire annual output of iniquity, after which the goat was led out into the wilderness and left to die of remorse. The Chinese are reputed to have worked somewhat on this annualsettlement idea. Notwithstanding the latest report of the American Consortium of Bankers in China does not indicate that credit in the Land of the Lotus Lily is very much better than elsewhere, it is said that the Celestials generally observe an annual debt-paying day. Perhaps this would not be practicable with us; but I should like to see a Barrel Day duly heralded by a decree from the White House, to the following effect: —

It is hereby recommended that on Friday night, the thirteenth, a barrel shall be placed on the unlighted front porch of every home in these United States, wherein friends and relatives may cast — unobserved — whatsoever they will, to the relief of their several consciences and the improvement of their relationships, one with another. Postmasters are instructed to make a night delivery of all parcels marked ‘Barrel.'

I should like to slip a dozen teaspoons to the Chandlers in Seattle. They were married more than ten years ago, but probably have as much use for spoons now as they had then. We laid their wedding invitation aside and temporarily forgot it. Then a crowded schedule of business and social duties drove it into complete eclipse. We were away on an extended vacation. When, at length, somebody remembered, it was too late. We tried to think of a nice way to say we had forgotten all about it, but were not sufficiently ingenious. And Dick Chandler had sent us a cuckoo clock on the occasion of our marriage. It has n’t been wound up for a decade. It got to shouting ‘Piker!’ — so we retired it from business; not because it was lacking in veracity, but in courtesy. Now, if there were a Barrel Day, we might even yet put ourselves right with Dick Chandler.

I want to drop a note into the Webster barrel, sincerely congratulating them upon the birth of their eight-and-a-half pound son, — who is old enough now to read it himself, — together with our best wishes for the health of both mother and babe.

One time, when I had a bad cold on my chest, the Jim Slocums sent over a little nickel-plated vaporizing stove.

I do not recall that we used it, but I do recall that we forgot we had it. It must have been chucked away, accidentally, behind something else. We found it in the attic when we moved, five years later. And that was a long time ago. Poor Jim, alas, has departed for a country where he requires no stove. (On re-reading this sentence, in the galley-proof, it does n’t seem to say exactly what I had in mind; but as all alterations ‘other than typographical’ are charged to my account, I trust a kindly interpretation will be made. Jim was really a very fine fellow.) If I could even drop that old stove — if we still have it — into Jim Junior’s barrel, it might relieve me.

The night of Barrel Day would surely be one of sleepless activity for me. Williamson’s vietrola records; Fred Dobson’s galoshes; a dozen roses for Auntie McPherson, who was so seriouslyill, last June; Dave Kendall’s minnow-seine— if only I could sneak these things back to them in the dark, and run!

I too would put out a barrel. I want that Prince Albert coat back that somebody — I have forgotten who — borrowed, a year ago, to use in an amateur show. It might give the person who made off with my new set of tire-chains a chance to make his soul fit and seasoned for its passage, as it would jolly well need to be if I could clearly establish his identity.

Now that we have created so many high festivals — Mother’s Day, Children’s Day, Thrift Day, Be-nice-to-animals Day, Tighten-your-brakes Day, Feed-the-birds Day, Clean-up-the-backyard Day, Plant-a-tree Day, All Fools’ Day, and Dog Days — that it is likely the three hundred and sixty-five are all assigned, may we not speak for the remaining one-fourth, say, from six to twelve P.M., sometime, and call it Barrel Day ?

P.S. Harvey Graham! If this goes through, and you ‘re still alive, and have it, don’t forget that fly-book of mine. Need n’t bother about the reel. It always was a terrific back-lasher.