Don’t Go “Back There in the Grass”

Alfred Hitchock“Back There in the Grass”
Gouverneur Morris
It and Other Stories
ebook, various editions

No, that’s not a misspelling.  Gouverneur Morris (the first one from the American Revolution) was named after his Dutch mother’s family.  He was the John F. Kennedy of his day, meaning he, um, got around.

This one is his great grandson, who was a magazine writer in the early 20th century.  To my knowledge he didn’t write much in the way of the fantastic.  I read a couple of the other stories in It, including the title story (which was a disappointment), but they were all they type of mainstream things you would find in the upper tier magazines before the Great Depression.

I’d first read “Back There in the Grass” when I was a teenager in one of the Alfred Hitchcock Anthologies (Stories for Late at Night) in the school library or that I’d acquired from a garage sale.  The story has stayed with me all these years.  I came across a reference of Morris in a book I was reading the other day, and decided to see if I could find some electronic copies of his work.

There’s a danger in rereading stories you haven’t read since your youth; too often they don’t live up to your memory of them.  I’m glad to say that wasn’t the case here.

“Back There in the Grass” belongs to a genre known as South Sea Stories.  These were quite popular at one time, but now, aside from some works by Joseph Conrad, the genre is pretty much forgotten.

An unnamed narrator is traveling among the islands accompanied by his dog, collecting seed samples of the various grasses for a botanical garden.  On one of his stops, he meets a man named Graves, who operates the local cable station.  Graves is waiting for his fiancé to arrive in a few months so they can be married.  There are no trees on the island, and Graves tells the narrator about a valley that is supposed to have a large variety of grasses found no where else.  None of the island’s inhabitants will go there.  The last person who did was found bloated and swollen.  The narrator tells Graves he’ll be back in a few weeks when the grasses go to see.

He travels to some other islands, and upon his return to Graves’ island to gather seeds, Graves tells him about traveling to the valley.  Graves heard rustling in the grass.  Throwing rocks, he manages to hit one of the creatures and stun it.  It’s a woman only one foot tall.

Graves takes her back to his hut, where she becomes quite attached to Graves.  The creature is extremely jealous.  Graves’ fiancé is expected to arrive any day now.  And there was a reason the last person to visit that valley was found a bloated and blackened corpse.

I found “Back There in the Grass” to be very enjoyable.  It was better than I remembered it being.  The prose is denser than a lot of contemporary writing, but Morris managed to pack more character development and background details into a short story than many modern writers do in multiple chapters.  The pacing is good, and as the nature of the woman Graves brought back is gradually revealed, the tension grows to a very satisfying climax.

I didn’t provide a link because Morris’s work is either in the public domain or a number of pirates have put up copies.  I paid $2.99 for a collection of novels and short story collections.  That’s a bit steep for just a short story for the casual reader.  You’d be better served hunting down a copy of Stories for Late at Night, which also contains works by Jerome Bixby, Ray Bradbury, M. R. James, Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, Murray Leinster, William Hope Hodgson, and Frank Belknap Long.  (The hardcover at any rate; the contents were split across more than one volume for the paperbacks.)

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