THERE was junk on my lot. How it sucks into empty spaces! Despite my glaring and inhospitable sign, a rusty bed spring arrived between dark and dawn. A heap of rubbish gathered around the nucleus. I saw nothing arrive, but the heap grew silently, like a crystal. Bottles, palm leaves, and old water tanks added themselves to the ensemble and gave it character. An automobile body topped the mass: it was without seats, without leather, without hardware. It had been efficiently and ultimately plundered and abandoned.

Neighbors complained. I telephoned to the City, to the County, to the Garbage Commission. My junk heap was an outlaw; no government would recognize it. I inquired of friends. There was a public dump, I learned vaguely, somewhere by the Bay.

Fortunately I had a conveyance: a trailer. I loaded the trash and drove over crooked, cobbled streets, the junk swaying and clashing behind me. It was a district of smokes and smells, foundries, can factories, glassworks, machine shops. Spur tracks cut across the streets, and dusty dumpy switch engines pushed freight cars by twos and threes.

I had wondered about junk, and now I began to see. All these things I was carrying away had once come out of a factory, new, bright, and shiny; had been carefully shipped and sold and paid for. It was alarming. How much junk there must be! Here were a half-million people, consecrated to junk. Some sweated, in grimy overalls, to make it. Some nailed it up in boxes, adding to its bulk. Some drove locomotives, pushcarts, lorries, drays, or three-wheeled motorcycles to separate it, for the geometry of space would otherwise choke off its production at the factories. Then there were the sailors, trainmen, and vegetable-peddlers who brought it in from outside. And all of these people, every one of them, help to consume it. Consume? What a foolish word! What of the conservation of energy? Are we not taught that nothing can be created, and nothing destroyed? Soon or late, all these things become junk, and must be laboriously carried away.

True, there are exceptions. There are cigars, for instance, that practically take care of themselves. And there are gasoline and flash-light powders. But on the other hand, there are yeast, and dried apples —

The evening grew dark; one-armed men at the railroad crossings changed their discs of tin for red and green lanterns. The gas works spouted fire. An admirable commodity, gas. I had lost my way.

How wide a district this was, how many factories! And this process had been going on for fifty years. Even before that, Yankee traders had come in with shiploads of ‘notions,’ junk these many years. Where did it go to? Why was the city not buried in it, with only here and there a clock tower or an electric sign looming up out of chaos ?

Before me was a high wagon with tubs behind. I slowed to the pace of the horses and followed. I looked over my shoulder, and behind was another, and another. I was in a procession, a slow-moving, serious, silent procession, with a mighty purpose, a pilgrimage to an economic sacrament.

The city glowed dirty red in the sky behind. Before me was darkness, punctured by an occasional street-lamp. Far ahead, a wagon turned, and the next and the next followed.

Irregular cluttered hills lined this side road. They were the great terminal moraine that the city pushes ahead of itself. Fires burned and smoldered, and heavy smoke hung in layers. Ragged men climbed slowly through the wreckage, heads bent attentively downward. Occasionally one stopped, picked something up, examined it, and dropped it. There were no quarrels over a prize. Who would quarrel where there is so much?

A hand was raised in front of me, a voice cried ‘Stop!’ and I stopped.

‘You can’t dump that here,’ said the voice. ‘Take it away.’

‘But the policeman told me —’

‘That’s all right, he is the policeman; what he tells you is his business. I am Master of the Dump. Get out.’

The man spoke as one having authority, and my heart sank. Were all men’s hands against me? Was I to be turned away from every resting place, to wander the earth forever, with a wagonload of junk tied to my rear spring? I was awed at the man’s power, his withering scorn of policemen. He transcended Government. He was economic. Policemen might quit, there would be a few murders until we adjusted ourselves, but no serious derangement. Even a mayor might go on a year’s vacation. But the Master of the Dump

— let him once lift his hand against the scavengers, and disease and death would stalk into the city overnight.

A desperate, bold thought prompted me. I had heard of wickedness in high places. Aldermen were unprincipled, even judges took bribes, and a Master of the Dump?

‘For fifty cents, now—’

His manner instantly changed. ‘ Anywhere,’ he suggested graciously. ‘Wait

— don’t unhitch that trailer. Come around here; you can turn and save you the trouble. Don’t unload it, I’ll attend to that. One minute!’

He shouted. A bearded gnome arose as from the earth and came to help. The two lifted off the bed spring, the water tanks, the bottles, carefully scrutinizing each article as they set it down. Last came the automobile body. The bearded man set it down gently and stroked the rotten upholstery with affection. I paid the fee and was forgotten. I contemplated the empty trailer with a deep sense of relief.

On a low mound, silhouetted against the dull red of the fires, stood the two men, one short, grave, and bearded, the other ragged, powerful, and austere. They were bent over the old automobile body.

‘Nice little buggy, nice little buggy,’ said the bearded man lovingly.

The other grumbled: ‘Fool — drag it out here — throw it away — good as new.’

The gnome reached into a long leathern wallet. Their hands met, coins clinked, and the Master of the Dump strode off.

Cycle upon cycle! Perhaps, after all, I was wrong. Perhaps there is no junk!