BACK THERE IN THE GRASS
BY GOUVERNEUR MORRIS
It was spring in the South Seas
when, for the first time, I went ashore
at Batengo, whicbr-is the Polynesian
village, and the only one on the
big grass island of the same name.
There is a cable station just up the
beach from the village, and a good
natured young chap named Graves
had charge of it. He was an upstand
ing, clean-cut fellow. Don, who dis
likes anything Polynesian or Melane
sian, took to him at once. He gave
us lunch on the porch, and because
he had not seen a white man for
two months, or a liver-and-white dog
for two years, he told us the entire
story of his young life and plans for
the future thrown in.
The future was very simple. There
was a girl coming out to him from
the states by the next steamer; the
captain of that steamer would join
them together in holy wedlock, and
after that the Lord would provide.
He led the way to his bedroom, and
stood in silent rapture before a large
photograph that leaned against the
wall over his dressing table.
"The usual cable agent," I said,
"keeps from going mad by having a
dog or cat or some pet or other to
talk to. But I can understand a photo
graph like this being all-sufficient to
any man even if he had never seen
the original. Allow me to shake hands
"You haven't asked me my busi
ness in these parts," I said, "but Fll
tell you. I'm collecting grasses for
the Bronx Botanical Garden."
"Then, by Jove!" said Graves, "you
have certainly come to the right
place. Grass! The place is all grass;
there are fifty kinds right around my
'Tve noticed only eighteen," I said,
"but that isn't the point The point
is: When do the Batengo Island
-ses begin to go to seed?" And I
"'ink you've got me stump
ed, don't you?" he said. "That a mere
cable agent wouldn't notice such
things. Well, that grass there," and
he pointed "beach nut we call it
is the first to ripen seed, and, as far
as I know, it does it just six weeks
"In that case," I said, "expect me
"Anything I can do to help you
while you're gone? I've got lpads of
spare time "
"If you knew anything about
"I don't. But I'll blow back into
the interior and look around. I've
been meaning to right along, just for
fun. But I can never get any of them
to go with me."
"Yes. Poor lot. They're commit
ting race suicide as fast as they can.
There are more wooden gods than
people in Batengo village, and the
superstition's so thick you could cut
it with a knife."
"They say that if you go 'back
there in the grass' something awful
will happen to you."
"As what?" I asked.
"The last man to try it," said
Graves, "in the memory of the old-
est inhabitant, was a woman. When
they found her she was all black and
swollen at least that's what they
say. Something had bitten her just
above the ankle."
"Nonsense," I said, "there are no
snakes in the whole Batengo group."
"They didn't say it was a snake,"
said Graves. "They said the marks
of the bite were like those that would
be made by the teeth of a very little
Five weeks later I was once more
coasting along the wavering hiUs of
Batengo Island, with a sharp eye out
for a first sight of the cable station
station and Graves. . And when at
last we rounded on the cable station
t let off both barrels' of my gun.
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