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A Municipal Report
by [?]

“What is that to you?” I asked a little sharply.

“Nothin’, suh, jus’ nothin’. Only it’s a lonesome kind of part of town and few folks ever has business out there. Step right in. The seats is clean—jes’ got back from a funeral, suh. ”

A mile and a half it must have been to our journey’s end. I could hear nothing but the fearful rattle of the ancient hack over the uneven brick paving; I could smell nothing but the drizzle, now further flavoured with coal smoke and something like a mixture of tar and oleander blossoms. All I could see through the streaming windows were two rows of dim houses.

The city has an area of 10 square miles; 181 miles of streets, of which 137 miles are paved; a system of waterworks that cost $2,000,000, with 77 miles of mains.

Eighty-sixty-one Jessamine Street was a decayed mansion. Thirty yards back from the street it stood, outmerged in a splendid grove of trees and untrimmed shrubbery. A row of box bushes overflowed and almost hid the paling fence from sight; the gate was kept closed by a rope noose that encircled the gate-post and the first paling of the gate. But when you got inside you saw that 861 was a shell, a shadow, a ghost of former grandeur and excellence. But in the story, I have not yet got inside.

When the hack had ceased from rattling and the weary quadrupeds came to a rest I handed my jehu his fifty cents with an additional quarter, feeling a glow of conscious generosity as I did so. H
e refused it.

“It’s two dollars, suh,” he said.

“How’s that?” I asked. “I plainly heard you call out at the hotel: ‘Fifty cents to any part of the town. ’ ”

“It’s two dollars, suh,” he repeated obstinately. “It’s a long ways from the hotel. ”

“It is within the city limits and well within them,” I argued. “Don’t think that you have picked up a greenhorn Yankee. Do you see those hills over there?” I went on, pointing toward the east (I could not see them, myself, for the drizzle); “well, I was born and raised on their other side. You old fool nigger, can’t you tell people from other people when you see ’em?”

The grim face of King Cetewayo softened. “Is you from the South, suh? I reckon it was them shoes of yourn fooled me. There is somethin’ sharp in the toes for a Southern gen’l’man to wear. ”

“Then the charge is fifty cents, I suppose?” said I inexorably.

His former expression, a mingling of cupidity and hostility, returned, remained ten minutes, and vanished.

“Boss,” he said, “fifty cents is right; but I needstwo dollars, suh; I’m obleegedto have two dollars. I ain’t demandin’ it now, suh; after I knows whar you’s from; I’m jus’ sayin’ that I hasto have two dollars to-night, and business is mighty po’. ”

Peace and confidence settled upon his heavy features. He had been luckier than he had hoped. Instead of having picked up a greenhorn, ignorant of rates, he had come upon an inheritance.

“You confounded old rascal,” I said, reaching down into my pocket, “you ought to be turned over to the police. ”

For the first time I saw him smile. He knew; he knew; He Knew.

I gave him two one-dollar bills. As I handed them over I noticed that one of them had seen parlous times. Its upper right-hand corner was missing, and it had been torn through in the middle, but joined again. A strip of blue tissue-paper, pasted over the split, preserved its negotiability.

Enough of the African bandit for the present: I left him happy, lifted the rope and opened the creaky gate.