A Municipal Report

A Municipal Report written by O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) in 1909.
This story is written in first person.

And did you know that the man who wrote this story was accused of embezzlement from the bank he worked at to fund his writing career, and then fled the country but returned when he got news that his wife was terminally ill. Mr. Porter was then caught, tried and sent to prison where he stayed for over 3 years working as a clerk in the prison pharmacy. He wrote magazine articles while he was there, under the name O. Henry.

Anyway, the story is written in the point of view of a man (I don’t believe we ever learn his name) who was sent by a newspaper company to sign a contract with a woman they knew as Azalea Adair. Who had been sending them poems and essays to the paper, they sent nameless man to strike a deal with her for 2 cents a word before someone else discovered her and paid her much more. The story starts with the narrator arriving in Nashville, Tennessee and describes the place on several occasions as a quiet place. He then gets to his hotel, which is described as a beautiful place with marvelous architecture. After he arrives there and as gone up to his room and come back down he is accosted by a drunken menace know as Major Caswell who was unfourtanly well known to the staff of the hotel. Major Caswell buys the narrator a drink and then railed on about family tree’s against the narrators wishes but he went along as not to be rude, whenever the narrator finally made his escape the  clerk apologized and said that they wished to kick him out of the bar but they had no legal grounds to do so. And so, the next day as he heads out of the hotel he looks around for a taxi, there is only one around, which is run by an older black fellow (who you find out later is a descendent of kings) who is dressed in a peculiar jacket that used to be an army coat but was no longer in it’s former glory but it had been decorated with love, all the buttons were missing except one button. When the narrator tells him where he’s going the driver show an interest in why he’s going there showing a familiarity to the address. When they get to Mrs. Adair’s house the coachman tried to claim that her house was outside of town warranting a two dollar fare instead of the regular 50 cents. The narrator didn’t fall for that but he gave the man 2 dollars anyway after the coachman  begged him for it. Next, we find out Mrs. Adair is an sweet old woman with slight money problems because of reasons we find out later. Well, anyway after they talked for a bit, Mrs. Adair asked if he liked some tea she was out for the moment but she was going to send a little black girl to go buy some. When Mrs. Adair handed a dollar for the tea to the little girl the narrator recognized it as one of the dollars he handed to the coachman because it had been torn then put back together using a strip of blue tape. The little girl ran back into the house to use the back door, but she didn’t get out of the house before we heard yelling and a scream. Mrs. Adair rushed to go sort things out, she came back and apologized that tea might have to wait. The narrator said goodbye, but afterwards realized he never asked her whole name but decided to do that tomorrow, he also couldn’t stand slighting the old woman into 2 cents a word so he lied and said she was holding out at eight cents. When he got back to the hotel he was once again accosted by Major Caswell who paid for a round of drinks with our narrator with the same dollar bill he gave to the coachman, and that he saw Mrs. Adair give to the little girl. He goes back to Mrs. Adair’s house the next day using the same coach man. The narrator noticed Mrs. Adair looked paler and frailer than the previous day, she signed the contract for eight cents a word. After she signed the contract she got paler and started to slip out of her chair, he told the coach man to go get the doctor, he returned with one. The diagnosis was mal-nourishment, in his words the result of poverty, pride, and starvation. Mrs. Adair had many friends who would aid her but she wouldn’t accept anything except from the coachman who was once owned by her family. The doctor also revealed that Mrs. Adair’s last name was Caswell, wife to the drunk Major Caswell who uses every last penny she gets from anywhere to go get drunk. The next day when the narrator went for a stroll he spotted the cab driver, his coat was in even worse condition than it was before and the button was missing. About two hours he noticed a crowd growing, he curiously pushed to the front, he saw a doctor checking to see if Major Caswell was alive, he was not. It was found out that he was found in a dark alley and brought into the drug store by a few citizens. Major Caswell’s hands were clenched so tight that his fingers would not open, while the narrator stood there that fingers of the right hand relaxed and dropped something at the narrator’s feet he quietly covered it up with his foot. A little later he picked it up and pocketed it, he figured in his last moments he yanked something retained something of the killers. When the narrator got back to his hotel room he pulled out the missing button from the coachman’s coat and threw it into the  river. 

I personally think what the narrator did was a good thing to do. Maybe it was against the law, and it did help the Coachman get away with murder, but I would have done it, too. And then onto the subject of the Coachman, I can’t say I blame him either, murder is wrong, but why he did it was pure. He wanted to protect Mrs. Caswell, and in that time period and to a woman of that generation divorce wasn’t an option, so there really wasn’t another avenue they could take. This story also brings up the issue of alcoholism, and what it does to a marriage. Alcohol does nasty things to a person, it turns a human into Major Caswell for example, rude, uncaring, in debt, and in this case abusive. He may have never actually hit her, but he spent all her money on alcohol so she didn’t have any for food.

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