Greener Than You Think

Overview

Ward Moore's classic novel "Greener Than You Think" posits a world with Bermuda grass running out of control -- choking out every other plant and destroying the food supply of animals and humanity alike. Originally published in 1947.
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Greener Than You Think

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Overview

Ward Moore's classic novel "Greener Than You Think" posits a world with Bermuda grass running out of control -- choking out every other plant and destroying the food supply of animals and humanity alike. Originally published in 1947.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781434462282
  • Publisher: Wildside Press
  • Publication date: 2/5/2008
  • Pages: 308
  • Sales rank: 1,011,235
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Ward Moore (1903-1978) was an American writer. Born in New Jersey, Moore moved to California in 1929, where he worked for the Federal Writers Project during the Great Depression. Moore wrote alternate history, book reviews, short stories, science fiction, as well as contributing articles to newspapers and magazines. He was a regular contributor to several science fiction and fantasy magazines in the 1950s. He died in Pacific Grove, California, in 1978.
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Read an Excerpt

ONE

Albert Weener Begins

1. I always knew I should write a book. Something to help tired minds lay aside the cares of the day. But I always say you never can tell what's around the corner till you turn it, and everyone has become so accustomed to fantastic occurrences in the last twenty one years that the inspiring and relaxing novel I used to dream about would be today as unreal as Atlantis. Instead, I find I must write of the things which have happened to me in that time.

It all began with the word itself.

"Grass. Gramina. The family Gramineae. Grasses."

"Oh," I responded doubtfully. The picture in my mind was only of a vague area in parks edged with benches for the idle.

Anyway, I was far too resentful to pay strict attention. I had set out in good faith, not for the first time in my career as a salesman, to answer an ad offering "$50 or more daily to top producers," naturally expecting the searching once-over of an alert sales manager, back to the light, behind a shiny-topped desk. When you've handled as many products as I had an ad like that has the right sound. But the world is full of crackpots and some of the most pernicious are those who hoodwink unsuspecting canvassers into anticipating a sizzling deal where there is actually only a warm hope. No genuinely high-class proposition ever came from a layout without aggressiveness enough to put on some kind of front; working out of an office, for instance, not an outdated, rundown apartment in the wrong part of Hollywood.

"It's only a temporary drawback, Weener, which restricts the Metamorphizer's efficacy to grasses."

The wheeling syllables, coming in a deep voice from themiddle-aged woman, emphasized the absurdity of the whole business. The stuffy apartment, the unhomelike livingroom--dust and books its only furniture--the unbelievable kitchen, looking like a pictured warning to housewives, were only guffaws before the final buffoonery of discovering the J S Francis who'd inserted that promising ad to be Josephine Spencer Francis. Wrong location, wrong atmosphere, wrong gender.

Now I'm not the sort of man who would restrict women to a place in the nursery. No indeed, I believe they are in some ways just as capable as I am. If Miss Francis had been one of those well-groomed, efficient ladies who have earned their place in the business world without at the same time sacrificing femininity, I'm sure I would not have suffered such a pang for my lost time and carfare.

But well-groomed and feminine were alike inapplicable adjectives. Towering above me--she was at least five foot ten while I am of average height--she strode up and down the kitchen which apparently was office and laboratory also, waving her arms, speaking too exuberantly, the antithesis of moderation and restraint. She was an aggregate of cylinders, big and small. Her shapeless legs were columns with large flatheeled shoes for their bases, supporting the inverted pediment of great hips. Her too short, grease-spotted skirt was a mighty barrel and on it was placed the tremendous drum of her torso.

"A little more work," she rumbled, "a few interesting problems solved, and the Metamorphizer will change the basic structure of any plant inoculated with it."

Large as she was, her face and head were disproportionately big. Her eyes I can only speak of as enormous. I dare say there are some who would have called them beautiful. In moments of intensity they bored into mine and held them till I felt quite uncomfortable.

"Think of what this discovery means," she urged me. "Think of it, Weener. Plants will be capable of making use of anything within reach. Understand, Weener, anything. Rocks, quartz, decomposed granite--anything."

She took a gold Victorian toothpick from the pocket of her mannish jacket and used it energetically. I shuddered. "Unfortunately," she went on, a little indistinctly, "unfortunately, I lack resources for further experiment right now--"

This too, I thought despairingly. A slight cash investment--just enough to get production started--how many wishful times I've heard it. I was a salesman, not a sucker, and anyway I was for the moment without liquid capital.

"It will change the face of the world, Weener. No more used-up areas, no more frantic scrabbling for the few bits of naturally rich ground, no more struggle to get artificial fertilizers to worn-out soil in the face of ignorance and poverty."

She thrust out a hand--surprisingly finely and economically molded, barely missing a piled-up heap of dishes crowned by a flowerpot trailing droopy tendrils. Excitedly she paced the floor largely taken up by jars and flats of vegetation, some green and flourishing, others gray and sickly, all constricting her movements as did the stove supporting a glass tank, robbed of the goldfish which should rightfully have gaped against its sides and containing instead some slimy growth topped by a bubbling brown scum. I simply couldn't understand how any woman could so far oppose what must have been her natural instinct as to live and work in such a slatternly place. It wasn't just her kitchen which was disordered and dirty; her person too was slovenly and possibly unclean. The lank gray hair swishing about her ears was dark, perhaps from vigor, but more likely from frugality with soap and water. Her massive, heavy-chinned face was untouched by makeup and suggested an equal innocence of other attentions.

"Fertilizers! Poo! Expedients, Weener--miserable, makeshift expedients!" Her unavoidable eyes bit into mine. "What is a fertilizer? A tidbit, a pap, a lolly-pop. Indians use fish; Chinese, night-soil; agricultural chemists concoct tasty tonics of nitrogen and potash--where's your progress? Putting a mechanical whip on a buggy instead of inventing an internal combustion engine. I've gone directly to the heart of the matter. Like Watt. Like Maxwell. Like Almroth Wright. No use being held back because you've only poor materials to work with--leap ahead with imagination. Change the plant itself, Weener, change the plant itself!"

It was no longer politeness which held me. If I could have freed myself from her eyes I would have escaped thankfully.

"Nourish 'em on anything," she shouted, rubbing the round end of the toothpick vigorously into her ear. "Sow a barren waste, a worthless slagheap with life-giving corn or wheat, inoculate the plants with the Metamorphizer--and you have a crop fatter than Iowa's or the Ukraine's best. The whole world will teem with abundance."

Perhaps--but what was the sales angle? Where did I come in? I didn't know a dandelion from a toadstool and was quite content to keep my distance from nature. Had she inserted the ad merely to lure a listener? Her whole procedure was irregular: not a word about territories and commissions. If I could bring her to the point of mentioning the necessary investment, maybe I could get away gracefully. "You said you were stuck," I prompted, resolved to get the painful interview over with.

"Stuck? Stuck? Oh--money to perfect the Metamorphizer. Luckily it will do it itself."

"I don't catch."

"Look about you--what do you see?"

I glanced around and started to say, a measuring glass on a dirty plate next to half a cold fried egg, but she stopped me with a sweep of her arm which came dangerously close to the flasks and retorts--all holding dirty-colored liquids--which cluttered the sink. "No, no. I mean outside."

I couldn't see outside, because instead of a window I was facing a sickly leaf unaccountably preserved in a jar of alcohol. I said nothing.

"Metaphorically, of course. Wheatfields. Acres and acres of wheat. Bread, wheat, a grass. And cornfields. Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois--not a state in the Union without corn. Milo, oats, sorghum, rye--all grasses. And the Metamorphizer will work on all of them."

I'm always a man with an open mind. She might--it was just possible--she might have something after all. But could I work with her? Go out in the sticks and talk to farmers; learn to sit on fence rails and whittle, asking after crops as if they were of interest to me? No, no ... it was fantastic, out of the question.

A different, more practical setup now.... At least there would have been no lack of prospects, if you wanted to go miles from civilization to find them; no answers like We never read magazines, thank you. Of course it was hardly believable a woman without interest in keeping herself presentable could invent any such fabulous product, but there was a bare chance of making a few sales just on the idea.

The idea. It suddenly struck me she had the whole thing backwards. Grasses, she said, and went on about wheat and corn and going out to the rubes. Southern California was dotted with lawns, wasn't it? Why rush around to the hinterland when there was a big territory next door? And undoubtedly a better one?

"Revive your old tired lawn," I improvised. "No manures, fuss, cuss, or muss. One shot of the Meta--one shot of Francis' Amazing Discovery and your lawn springs to new life."

"Lawns? Nonsense!" she snorted, rudely, I thought. "Do you think I've spent years in order to satisfy suburban vanity? Lawns indeed!"

"Lawns indeed, Miss Francis," I retorted with some spirit. "I'm a salesman and I know something about marketing a product. Yours should be sold to householders for their lawns."

"Should it? Well, I say it shouldn't. Listen to me: there are two ways of making a discovery. One is to cut off a cat's hind-leg. The discovery is then made that a cat with one leg cut off has three legs. Hah!

"The other way is to find out your need and then search for a method of filling it. My work is with plants. I don't take a daisy and see if I can make it produce a red and black petaled monstrosity. If I did I'd be a fashionable horticulturist, delighted to encourage imbeciles to grow grass in a desert.

"My method is the second one. I want no more backward countries; no more famines in India or China; no more dustbowls; no more wars, depressions, hungry children. For this I produced the Metamorphizer--to make not two blades of grass grow where one sprouted before, but whole fields flourish where only rocks and sand-piles lay.

"No, Weener, it won't do--I can't trade in my vision as a downpayment on a means to encourage a waste of ground, seed and water. You may think I lost such rights when I thought up the name Metamorphizer to appeal on the popular level, but there's a difference."

That was a clincher. Anyone who believed Metamorphizer had sales-appeal just wasn't all there. But why should I disillusion her and wound her pride? Down underneath her rough exterior I supposed she could be as sensitive as I; and I hope I am not without chivalry.

I said nothing, but of course her interdiction of the only possibility killed any weakening inclination. And yet ... yet.... After all, I had to have something....

"All right, Weener. This pump--" she produced miraculously from the jumble an unwieldy engine dragging a long and tangling tail of hose behind it, the end lost among mementos of unfinished meals "--this pump is full of the Metamorphizer, enough to inoculate a hundred and fifty acres when added in proper proportion to the irrigating water. I have a table worked out to show you about that. The tank holds five gallons; get $50 a gallon--a dollar and a half an acre and keep ten percent for yourself. Be sure to return the pump every night."

I had to say for her that when she got down to business she didn't waste any words. Perhaps this contrasting directness so startled me I was roped in before I could refuse. On the other hand, of course, I would be helping out someone who needed my assistance badly, since she couldn't, with all the obvious factors against her, be having a very easy time. Sometimes it is advisable to temper business judgment with kindness.

Her first offer was ridiculous in its assumption that a salesman's talent, skill and effort were worth only a miserable ten percent, as though I were a literary agent with something a cinch to sell. I began to feel more at home as we ironed out the details and I brought the knowledge acquired with much hard work and painful experience into the bargaining. Fifty percent I wanted and fifty percent I finally got by demanding seventyfive. She became as interested in the contest as she had been before in benefits to humanity and I perceived a keen mind under all her eccentricity.

I can't truthfully say I got to like her, but I reconciled myself and eventually was on my way with the pump--a trifling weight to Miss Francis, judging by the way she handled it, but uncomfortably heavy to me--strapped to my back and ten feet of recalcitrant hose coiled round my shoulder. She turned her imperious eyes on me again and repeated for the fourth or fifth time the instructions for applying, as though I were less intelligent than she. I went out through the barren livingroom and took a backward glance at the scaling stucco walls of the apartment-house, shaking my head. It was a queer place for Albert Weener, the crackerjack salesman who had once led his team in a national contest to put over a three-piece aluminum deal, to be working out of. And for a woman. And for such a woman....

2. Everything is for the best, is my philosophy and Make your cross your crutch is a good thought to hold; so I reminded myself that it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown and no one sees the bright side of things if he wears dark glasses. Since it takes all kinds to make a world and Josephine Spencer Francis was one of those kinds, wasn't it only reasonable to suppose there were other kinds who would buy the stuff she'd invented? The only way to sell something is first to sell yourself and I piously went over the virtues of the Metamorphizer in my mind. What if by its very nature there could be no repeat business? I wasn't tying myself to it for life.

All that remained was to find myself a customer. I tried to recall the location of the nearest rural territory. San Fernando valley, probably--a long, tiresome trip. And expensive, unless I wished to demean myself by thumbing rides--a difficult thing to do, burdened as I was by the pump. If she hadn't balked unreasonably about putting the stuff on lawns, I'd have prospects right at hand.

I was suddenly lawn-conscious. There was probably not a Los Angeles street I hadn't covered at some time--magazines, vacuums, old gold, near-nylons--and I must have been aware of green spaces before most of the houses, but now for the first time I saw lawns. Neat, sharply confined, smooth-shaven lawns. Sagging, slipping, eager-to-keep-up-appearances but fighting-a-losing-game lawns. Ragged, weedy, dissolute lawns. Half-bare, repulsively crippled, hummocky lawns. Bright lawns, insistent on former respectability and trimness; yellow and gray lawns, touched with the craziness of age, quite beyond all interest in looks, content to doze easily in the sun. If Miss Francis' mixture was on the up-and-up and she hadn't introduced a perfectly unreasonable condition--why, I couldn't miss.

On the other hand, I thought suddenly, I'm the salesman, not she. It was up to me as a practical man to determine where and how I could sell to the best advantage. With sudden resolution I walked over a twinkling greensward and rang the bell.

"Good afternoon, madam. I can see from your garden you're a lady who's interested in keeping it lovely."

"Not my garden and Mrs Smith's not home." The door shut. Not gently.

The next house had no lawn at all, but was fronted with a rank growth of ivy. I felt no one had a right to plant ivy when I was selling something effective only on the family Gramineae. I tramped over the ivy hard and rang the doorbell on the other side.

"Good afternoon, madam. I can see from the appearance of your lawn you're a lady who really cares for her garden. I'm introducing to a restricted group--just one or two in each neighborhood--a new preparation, an astounding discovery by a renowned scientist which will make your grass twice as green and many times as vigorous upon one application, without the aid of anything else, natural or artificial."

"My gardener takes care of all that."

"But, madam--"

"There is a city ordinance against unlicensed solicitors. Have you a license, young man?"

After the fifth refusal I began to think less unkindly of Miss Francis' idea of selling the stuff to farmers and to wonder what was wrong with my technique. After some understandable hesitation--for I don't make a practice of being odd or conspicuous--I sat down on the curb to think. Besides, the pump was getting wearisomely heavy. I couldn't decide exactly what was unsatisfactory in my routine. The stuff had neither been used nor advertised, so there could be no prejudice against it; no one had yet allowed me to get so far as quoting price, so it wasn't too expensive.

The process of elimination brought me to the absurd conclusion that the fault must lie in me. Not in my appearance, I reasoned, for I was a personable young man, a little over thirty at the time, with no obvious defects a few visits to the dentist wouldn't have removed. Of course I do have an unfortunate skin condition, but such a thing's an act of God, as the lawyers say, and people must take me as I am.

No, it wasn't my appearance ... or was it? That monstrously outsized pump! Who wanted to listen to a sales-talk from a man apparently prepared for an immediate gas-attack? There is little use in pressing your trousers between two boards under the mattress if you discount such neatness with the accouterment of an invading Martian. I uncoiled the hose from my shoulder and eased the incubus from my back. Leaving them visible from the corner of my eye, I crossed the most miserable lawn yet encountered.

It was composed of what I since learned is Bermuda, a plant most Southern Californians call--with many profane prefixes--devil-grass. It was yellow, the dirty, grayish yellow of moldy straw; and bald, scuffed spots immodestly exposed the cracked, parched earth beneath. Over the walk, interwoven stolons had been felted down into a ragged mat, repellent alike to foot and eye. Perversely, onto what had once been flowerbeds, the runners crept erect, bristling spines showing faintly green on top--the only live color in the miserable expanse. Where the grass had gone to seed there were patches of muddy purple, patches which enhanced rather than relieved the diseased color of the whole and emphasized the dying air of the yard. It was a neglected, unvalued thing; an odious appendage, a mistake never rectified.

"Madam," I began, "your lawn is deplorable." There was no use giving her the line about I-can-see-you-are-a-lady-who-cares-for-lovely-things. Anyway, now the pump was off my back I felt reckless. I threw the whole book of salesmanship away. "It's the most neglected lawn in the neighborhood. It is, madam, I'm sorry to say, no less than a disgrace."

She was a woman beyond the age of childbearing, her dress revealing the outlines of her corset, and she looked at me coldly through rimless glassing biting the bridge of her inadequate nose. "So what?" she asked.

"Madam," I said, "for ten dollars I can make this the finest lawn in the block, the pride of your family and the envy of your neighbors."

"I can do better things with ten dollars than spend it on a bunch of dead grass."

Gratefully I knew I had her then and was glad I hadn't weakly given in to an impulse to carry out the crackpot's original instructions. When they start to argue, my motto is, they're sold. I took a good breath and wound up for the clincher.

I won't say she was an easy sale, but after all I'm a psychologist; I found all her weak points and touched them expertly. Even so, she made me cut my price in half, leaving me only two-fifty according to my agreement with Miss Francis, but it was an icebreaker.

I got the pump and hose, collecting at the same time an audience of brats who assisted me by shouting, "What ya goin a do, mister?" "What's at thing for, mister?" "You goin a water Mrs Dinkman's front yard, mister?" "Do your teeth awwis look so funny, mister? My grampa takes his teeth out at night and puts 'em in a glass of water. Do you take out your teeth at night, mister?" "You goin a put that stuff on our garden too, mister?" "Hay, Shirley--come on over and see the funny-looking man who's fixing up Dinkman's yard."

They were untiring, shrilling their questions, exclamations and comments, completely driving from my mind the details of the actual application of the Metamorphizer. Anyway, Miss Francis had been concerned with putting it in the irrigation water--which didn't apply in this case. I thought a moment. A gallon was enough for thirty acres; half a pint should suffice for this--more than suffice. Irrigation water, nonsense--I'd squirt it on and tell the woman to hose it down afterward--that'd be the same as putting it in the water, wouldn't it?

To come to this practical conclusion under the brunt of the children's assault was a remarkable feat. As I dribbled the stuff over the sorry devil-grass they kicked the pump--and my shins--mimicking my actions, tripping me as they skipped under my legs, getting wet with the Metamorphizer--I hoped with mutually deleterious effect--and generally making me more than ever thankful for my bachelor condition.

Two-fifty, I thought, angrily squirting a fine mist at a particularly dreary spot--and it isn't even selling. Manual labor. Working with my hands. I might as well be a gardener. College training. Wide experience. Alert and aggressive. In order to dribble stuff smelling sickeningly of carnations on a wasted yard. I coiled up my hose disgustedly and collected a reluctant five dollars.

"It don't look any different," commented Mrs Dinkman dubiously.

"Madam, Professor Francis' remarkable discovery works miracles, but not in the twinkling of an eye. In a week you'll see for yourself, provided of course you wet it down properly."

"In a week you'll be far gone with my five dollars," diagnosed Mrs Dinkman.

While this might be superficially true, it was an unfair and unkind thing to say, and it wounded me. I reached into my pocket and drew out an old card--one printed before I'd had an irreconcilable difference with the firm employing me at the time.

"I can always be reached at this address, Mrs Dinkman," I said, "should you have any cause for dissatisfaction--which I'm sure is quite impossible. Besides, I shall be daily in this district demonstrating the value of Dr Francis' Lawn Tonic."

That was certainly true; unless I made a better connection. Degrading manual labor or not, I intended to sell as many local people as possible on the strength of having found a weak spot in the wall of sales-resistance before the effects of the Metamorphizer became apparent. For, in strict confidence, and despite its being an undesirable negative attitude, I was a little dubious that those effects--or lack of them--would stimulate further sales.

3. My alarm clock, as it did every morning, Sundays included, rang at six-thirty, for I am a man of habit. I turned it off, remembering instantly I had given Miss Francis neither her pump nor her share of the sale. Of course it was more convenient and timesaving to bring them both together and I was sure she didn't expect me to follow instructions to the letter, like an officeboy, any more in these matters than she had in her restriction to agricultural use.

Still, it was remiss of me. The fact is, I had spent her money as well as my own--not on dissipation, I hasten to say, but on dinner and an installment of my roomrent. This was embarrassing, but I looked upon it merely as an advance--quite as if I'd had the customary drawing-account--to be charged against my next commissions. My acceptance of the advance merely indicated my faith in the future of the Metamorphizer.

I dissolved a yeastcake in a glass of water; it's very healthy and I'd heard it alleviated dermal irritations. Lathering my face, I glanced over the list culled from the dictionary and stuck in the mirror the night before, for I have never been too tired to improve my mind. By this easy method of increasing my vocabulary I had progressed, at the time, down to the letter K.

While drinking my coffee--never more than two cups--it was my custom to read and digest stock and bond quotations, for though I had no investments--the only time I had been able to take a flurry there was an unforeseen recession in the market--I thought a man who didn't keep up with trends and conditions unfitted for a place in the business-world. Besides, I didn't expect to be straitened indefinitely and I believed in being ready to take proper advantage of opportunity when it came.

As a man may devote the graver part of his mind to a subject and then turn for relaxation to a lighter aspect, so I had for years been interested in a stock called Consolidated Pemmican and Allied Concentrates. It wasn't a high-priced issue, nor were its fluctuations startling. For six months of the year, year in and year out, it would be quoted at 1/16 of a cent a share; for the other six months it stood at 1/8. I didn't know what pemmican was and I didn't particularly care, but if a man could invest at 1/16 he could double his money overnight when it rose to 1/8. Then he could reverse the process by selling before it went down and so snowball into fortune. It was a daydream, but a harmless one.

Satisfying myself Consolidated Pemmican was bumbling along at its low level, I reluctantly prepared to resume Miss Francis' pump. It seemed less heavy as I wound the hose over my shoulder and I felt this wasn't due to the negligible quantity I'd expended on Mrs Dinkman's grass. I just knew I was going to have a successful day. I had to.

In moments of fancy I often think a salesman is more truly a creative artist than many of those who arrogate the title to themselves. He uses words, on one hand, and the receptivity of prospects on the other, to mold a cohesive and satisfying whole, a work of Art, signed and dated on the dotted line. Like any such work, the creation implies thoughtful and careful preparation. So it was that I got off the bus, polishing a new sales-talk to fit the changed situation. "One of your neighbors..." "I have just applied..." I sneered my way past those houses refusing my services the day before; they couldn't have the Metamorphizer at any price now. Then it hit my eyes.

Mrs Dinkman's lawn, I mean.

The one so neglected, ailing and yellow only yesterday.

It wasn't sad and sickly now. The most enthusiastic homeowner wouldn't have disdained it. There wasn't a single bare spot visible in the whole lush, healthy expanse. And it was green. Green. Not just here and there, but over every inch of soft, undulating surface; a pale apple-green where the blades waved to expose its underparts and a rich, dazzling emerald on top. Even the runners, sinuously encroaching upon the sidewalk, were deeply virescent.

The Metamorphizer worked.

The Metamorphizer not only worked, but it worked with unbelievable rapidity. Overnight. I knew nothing about the speed at which ordinary fertilizers, plant stimulants or hormones took hold, but commonsense told me nothing like this had ever happened so quickly. I had been indulging in a little legitimate puffery in saying the innoculant worked miracles, but if anything that had been an understatement. It just went to show how impossible it is for a real salesman to be too enthusiastic.

Nerves in knees and fingers quivering, I walked over to join the group curiously inspecting the translated lawn. I, I had done this; out of the most miserable I'd made the loveliest--and for a paltry five dollars. I tried to recapture the memory of what it had looked like in order to relish the contrast more, but it was impossible; the vivid present blotted out the decayed past completely.

"Overnight," someone said. "Yessir, just overnight.Wouldn't've believed it if I hadn't noticed just yesterday how much worse an the city dump it looked."

"Bet 'at stuff's ten inches high."

"Brother, you can say that again. Foot'd be closer."

"Anyhow it's uh fattest lookin' grass I seen sence I lef' Texas."

"An the greenest. Guess I never did see such a green before."

While they exclaimed about the beauty and vigor of the growth, my mind was racing in high along practical lines. Achievement isn't worth much unless you can harness it, and in today's triumph I saw tomorrow's benefit. No more canvassing with a pump undignifiedly on my back, no more manual labor; no, bold as the thought was, not even any more direct selling for me. This was big, too big to be approached in any cockroach, build-up-slowly-from-the-bottom way. It was a real top deal, in a class with nylon or jukeboxes or bubblegum. You could smell the money in it.

First of all I'd have to tie Josephine Francis down with an ironclad contract. Agents; dealerships; distributors and a general sales-manager, Albert Weener, at the top. Incorporate. Get it all down in black and white and signed by Miss Francis right away. For her own good. An idealistic scientist, a frail woman, protect her from the vultures who'd try to rob her as soon as they saw what the Metamorphizer would do. Such a woman wouldn't have any business sense. I'd see she got a comfortable living out of it and free her from responsibility. Then she could potter around all she liked.

Incorporate. Interest big money. Put it on a nationwide basis. A cut for the general sales-manager on every sale. Besides stock. Take the patent in the company's name. In six months I'd be on my way to being a millionaire. I had certainly been right up on my toes in picking the Metamorphizer as a winner in spite of Miss Francis' kitchen and her lack of aggressiveness. Instinct, the unerring instinct of a wide-awake salesman for the right product--and for the right market. I mustn't forget that. Had I been content with her original limitation I'd still be bumbling around trying to interest Farmer Hicks in some Metamorphizer for his hay.

"Ja notice how thick it was?"

"Well, that's Bermuda for you. Tell me they actually plant it on purpose in Florida."

"No kiddin?"

"Yessir. Know one thing--even if it looks pretty right now, I wouldn't want that stuff on my place. Have to cut it every day."

"Bet ya. Tough-lookin too. I rather take my exercise in bed."

That's an angle, I thought--have to get old lady Francis to modify her formula or something. Else we'll never get rich. Slow down the rate of growth, dilute it--ought to be more profitable too.... Have to find out how cheaply the inoculant can be produced--no more inefficient hand methods.... Of course the fastness of growth wouldn't affect the sale to farmers--help it in fact. No doubt she'd had more than I originally thought in that aspect, I conceded generously. We could let them apply it themselves ... mailorder advertising ... cut costs that way.... Think of clover and alfalfa--or weren't they grasses? Anyway, imagine hay or wheat as tall as Iowa corn and corn higher than a smalltown cityhall! Fortune--there'd be a dozen fortunes in it.

I began perspiring. The deal was getting bigger and bigger. It wasn't just a simple matter of cutting in on a good thing. All the angles, which were multiplying at a tremendous rate, had to be covered before I saw Miss Francis again; I daren't miss any bets. I needed a staff of agricultural experts--anyway someone who could cover the scientific side. Whatever happened to my freshman chemistry? And a mob of lawyers; you'd have to plug every loophole--tight. But here I was without a financial resource--couldn't hire a ditchdigger, much less the highpriced talent I needed--and someone else might get a brainstorm when he saw the lawn and beat me to it. I visioned myself cheated of my million....

Yes ... a really fast worker--some unethical promoter willing to stoop to devious methods--might pass at any moment and grasp the possibilities, have Miss Francis signed up before I'd even got the deal straight in my mind. How could he miss, seeing this lawn? Splendid, magnificent, beautiful. No one would ever call this stuff devil-grass--angelgrass would be more appropriate to the implications of such a heavenly green. Millions in it--simply millions....

"Say--aren't you the fellow put this stuff on?"

Half a dozen vacant faces gaped at me, the burdening pump, the caudal hose. Curiosity, interest, imbecile amusement argued in their expression with the respect due the worker of the transformation; it was the sort of look connected with salesresistance of the most obstinate kind. They distracted me from thinking things through.

"Miz Dinkman's sure looking for you. Says she's going to sue you."

Here was an unfortunate development, an angle to end all angles. Unfavorable publicity, the abortifacient of new enterprises, would mean you could hardly give the stuff away. My imagination raced through columns of newsprint in which the Metamorphizer was made the butt of reporters' humor. Mrs Dinkman's ire would have to be placated, bought off. Perhaps I'd better discuss developments with Miss Francis right away, after all.

Whatever I decided, it was advisable for me to leave this vicinity. I was in no financial position to soothe Mrs Dinkman and it was dubious, in view of her attitude, whether it would be possible to sell any more in the immediate neighborhood. Probably a new territory was the answer to my problem; a few sales would give me both cash in hand and time to think.

While I hesitated, Mrs Dinkman, belligerency dancing like a sparkling aura about her, came out of her garage with a rusty, rattling lawnmower. I'm no authority on gardentools, but this creaking, rickety machine was clearly no match for the lusty growth. The audience felt so too, and there was a stir of sporting interest as they settled down to watch the contest.

Determination was implicit in the sharply unnatural lines of her corset and the firm set of her glasses as she charged into the gently swaying runners. The wheels turned rebelliously, the mower bit, its rusty blades grated against the knife, something clanked forcibly and the machine stopped. Mrs. Dinkman pushed, her back arched with effort--the mower didn't budge. She pulled it back. It whirred gratefully; the clanking stopped and she tried again. This time it chewed a handful of grass from the edge, found it distasteful and quit once more.

"Anybody know how to make this damn thing work?" Mrs Dinkman asked exasperatedly.

"Needs oil," was helpfully volunteered.

She retired into the garage and returned with a lopsided oilcan. "Oil it," she commanded regally. The helpful one reluctantly pressed his thumb against the wry bottom of the can, aiming the twisted spout at odd parts of the mower. "I dunno," he commented.

"I don't either," said Mrs Dinkman. "You--Greener, Weener--whatever your name is!"

There was no possibility of evasion. "Yes, ma'am?"

"You made this stuff grow; now you can cut it down."

Uncouth guffaws from the watching idiots.

"Mrs Dinkman, I--"

"Get behind that lawnmower, young man, if you don't want to be involved in a lawsuit."

I wasn't afraid of such a consequence in itself, having at the moment nothing to attach, but I thought of Miss Francis and future sales and that impalpable thing known as "goodwill." "Yes, ma'am," I repeated.

I discarded pump and hose to move reluctantly toward the mower. Under my feet I felt the springiness of the grass; was it pure fancy--or did it truly differ in quality from the lawns I'd trod so indifferently the day before?

I took the handle. If oiling had improved the machine, its previous efficiency must have been slight. It went shakily over the first inch of grass and then, as it had for Mrs Dinkman, it stopped for me.

By now the spectators had increased to a small crowd and their dull humor had taken the form of cheerfully offering much gratuitous advice. "Tie into it, Slim--build up the old muscle." "Back her up and take a good run." "Go home an' do some settin'-up exercises--come back next year." "Got to put the old back behind it, Bud--give her the gas." "Need a decent mower--no use trying to cut stuff like that with an antique." "Yeah--get a good mower--one made since the Civil War." "No one around here got an honest-to-god lawnmower?"

The last query evidently nettled local pride, for soon a blithe, beam-shouldered little man trundled up a shiny, rubber tired machine. "This'll do the business," he announced confidently as I relinquished the spotlight to him with understandable readiness. "It's a regular jimdandy."

It certainly was. The devil-grass came irreverently above the wheels and flowed with graceful inquisitiveness over the blades, but the brisk little man pushed heartily and the mechanism revolved with a barely audible clicking. It did not balk, complain or hesitate. Cleanly severed ends of grass whirled into the air and floated down on the neat smooth swath left behind. Everyone smiled relievedly at the jimdandy's triumph and my sigh was loudest and most heartfelt. I edged away as unobtrusively as I could.

4. I have no sympathy with weaklings who complain of the cards being stacked, but it did seem as though fate were dealing unkindly with me. Here was a good proposition, coming just at the time I needed it most and it was turning bad rapidly. Walking the short distance to Miss Francis' I was unable to settle my mind, to strike a mental balance-sheet. There was money; there had to be money--lots and lots of it--in the Metamorphizer, but it was possible there was trouble--lots and lots of it--also. The thing was, well, dangerous. What was the use of expending ability in selling something which could have kickbacks acting as deterrents to future sales? Of course a man had to take risks....

The door, after a properly prudent hesitation, clicked brokenly. Miss Francis looked as though she'd added insomnia to her other abstentions, otherwise she had not changed, even to her skirt and the smudge on her left nostril. "If you've come about the icebox you're a week late. I fixed it myself," she greeted me gruffly.

"Weener," I reminded her, "Albert Weener--remember? I'm selling--that is, I'm going to sell the product you invented to make plants eat anything."

"Oh. Weener--yes." She produced the toothpick and scratched her chin with it. "About the Metamorphizer." She paused and rubbed her elbow. "A mistake, I'm afraid. An error."

Aha, I thought, a new deal. Someone's offered to back her. Steal her brainchild, negate all my efforts to make her independent, and cheat me of the reward of my spadework. You wouldn't think of her as a frail credulous woman, easily taken in by the first smooth talker, but a woman is a woman after all.

"Look, Miss Francis," I argued, "you've got a big thing here, a great thing. The possibilities are practically unlimited. Of course you'll have to have a manager to put it across--an executive, a man with business experience--someone who can tap the great reservoir of buying power by the conviction of a new need. Organize a sales campaign; rationalize production. Put the whole thing on a commercial basis. For all this you need a man who has contacted the public on every level--preferably door-to-door and with a varied background."

She strode past the stove, which had gathered new accreta during the night and looked in the cloudy mirror as though searching for a misplaced thought. "No doubt, Weener, no doubt. But before all these romantically streamlined things eventuate there must be a hiatus. In my haste I overlooked a detail yesterday, trivial maybe--perhaps vital. I should never have let you start out so soon."

This was bad; I was struggling now for my job and for the future of the Metamorphizer. "Miss Francis, I don't know what you mean by mistakes or trivial details or how I could have started out too soon, but whatever the trouble is I'm sure it can be smoothed out easily. Sometimes, you know, obstacles which appear tremendous prove to be nothing at all in experienced hands. I myself have had occasion to put things right for a number of different concerns. Really, Miss Francis, you mustn't let opportunity slip through your fingers. Believe me, I know what a big thing your discovery is--I've seen what it does."

She turned those too sharp eyes on me discomfortingly. "Ah," she said, "so soon?"

"Well," I began, "it certainly acted quickly..."

I stopped when I saw she wasn't hearing me. She sat down in the only empty chair and drummed her fingers against big white teeth. "Even under a microscope," she muttered, "no perceptible reaction for fortyeight hours. Laboratory conditions? Or my own idiocy? But I approximated..." Her voice trailed off and for a full minute the absolute silence of the kitchen was broken only by the melodramatic dripping of a tap.

She made an effort to pull herself together and addressed me in her old abrupt way. "Corn or wheat?"

"Ay?"

"You said you've seen what it does. I asked you if you had applied it to corn or wheat--or what?"

She was looking at me so fixedly I had a slight difficulty in putting my words in good order. "It was neither, ma'am. I applied some of the stuff to a lawn--"

"A lawn, Weener?"

"Y-yes, ma'am."

"But I said--"

"General instructions, Miss Francis. I'm sure you didn't mean to tie my hands."

Another long silence.

"No, Weener--I didn't mean to tie your hands."

"Well, as I was saying, I applied some of the stuff to a lawn. Exactly according to your instructions--"

"In the irrigation water?"

"Well, not precisely. But just as good, I assure you."

"Go on."

"A terrible lawn. All shot. Last night. This morning--"

"Stop. What kind of grass? Or don't you know?"

"Of course I know," I answered indignantly. Did she think I was an idiot? "It was devil-grass."

"Ah." She rubbed the back of her hand against her singularly smooth cheek. "Bermuda. Cynodon dactylon. Stupid, stupid, stupid. How could I have been so blind? Did I think only the corn would be affected and not the weeds in the furrows? Or that something like this might not happen?"

I didn't feel like wasting any more time listening to her soliloquy. "This morning," I continued, "it was as green--"

"All right, Weener, spare me your poetry. Show it to me."

"Well now, Miss Francis..." I wanted, understandably enough, to discuss future arrangements before she saw Dinkman's lawn.

"Immediately, Weener."

When dealing with childish persons you have to cater to their whims. I rid myself of the pump--I'd never dreamed I'd be reluctant to part with the monster--while she made perfunctory and unconvincing motions to fit herself for the street. Of course she neither washed nor made-up, but she peered in the glass argumentatively, pulled her jacket down decisively, threw her shoulders back to raise it askew again and gave the swirl of hair a halfhearted pat.

"I'd like to go over the matter of organizing--"

"Not now."

I was naturally reluctant to be seen on the street with so conspicuous a figure, but I could hardly escape. I tried to match her swinging stride, but as she was at least six inches taller I had to give a sort of skip between steps, which was less than dignified. Searching my mind to find a tactful approach again to the subject of proper distribution of the Metamorphizer, I felt my opportunity slipping away every moment. She, on her part, was silent and so abstracted that I often had to put out a guiding hand to avert collision with other pedestrians or stationary objects.

I doubt if I'd been gone from Mrs Dinkman's three quarters of an hour. I had left a small group excited at the free show consequent upon the too successful beautification of a local eyesore; I returned to a sizable crowd viewing an impressive phenomenon. The homely levity had vanished; no one shouted jovial advice. Opinions and comments passed in whispers accompanied by furtive glances toward the lawn, as though it were sentient and might be offended by rude speculation. As we pushed through the bystanders I was suddenly aware of their cautious avoidance of contact with the grass itself. The nearest onlookers stood a respectful yard back and when unbalanced by the push of those behind went through such antics to avoid treading on it, while at the same time preserving the convention of innocence of any taboo that they frequently pivoted and pirouetted on one foot in an awkward ballet. The very hiding of their inhibition emphasized the new awesomeness of the grass; it was no longer to be lightly approached or frivolously treated.

Now I am not what is generally called a man of religious sensibilities, having long ago discarded belief in the supernatural; and I am not overcome at odd moments by mystical feelings. Furthermore I had been intimate with this particular patch of vegetation for some eighteen hours. I had viewed its decaying state; I had injected life into it; I had seen it in the first flush of resurrection. In spite of all this, I too fell under the spell of the grass and knew something compounded of wonder and apprehension.

The neatly cut swaths of the little man with the jimdandy mower came to a dramatic end in the middle of the yard. Beyond this shorn portion the grass rose in a threatening crest, taller than a man's knees; green, aloof and derisive. But it was not this forbidding sight which gave me such a queer turn. It was the mown part; for I recalled how the brisk man's machine had cut close and left behind short, crisp stems. Now this piece was almost as high as when I'd first seen it--grown faster in an hour than ordinary grass in a month.

5. I stole a look at Miss Francis to see how she was taking the sight, but there was no emotion visible on her face. The toothpick was once more in play and the luminous eyes fixed straight ahead. Her legs were spread apart and she seemed firmly in position for hours to come, as though she would wait for the grass to exhaust its phenomenal growth.

"Why did they quit cutting?" I asked the man standing beside me.

"Mower give out--dulled the blades so they wouldn't cut no more."

"Going to give up and let it grow?"

"Hell, no. Sent for a gardener with a power-mower. Big one. Cut anything. Ought to be here now."

He was, too, honking the crowd from the driveway. Mrs Dinkman was with him, looking at once indignant, persecuted, uncomfortable and self-righteous. It was evident they had failed to reach any agreement.

The gardener slammed the door of the senescent truck with vehement lack of affection. "I cut lots a devil-grass, lady, but I won't tie into this overgrown stuff at that price. You got no right to expect it. I know what's fair and it's not reasonable to count on me cutting this like it was an ordinary lawn. You know yourself it isn't fair."

"I'll give you ten dollars and that's my last word."

"Listen, lady, when I get through this job I'll have to take my mower apart and have it resharpened. You think I can afford to do that for a ten-dollar job?"

"Ten dollars," repeated Mrs Dinkman firmly.

The gardener appealed to the gallery. "Listen, folks: now I ask you--is this fair? I'm willing to be reasonable. I understand this lady's in trouble and I'm willing to help, but I can't do a twenty-five-dollar job for ten bucks, can I?"

It was doubtful if the observers were particularly concerned with justice; what they desired was action, swift and drastic. A general resentment at being balked of their amusement was manifest in murmurs of "Go ahead, do it." "What's the matter with you?" "Don't be dumb--do it for nothing--you'll get plenty business out of it." They appealed to his nobler and baser natures, but he remained adamant.

Not to be balked by his churlishness, they passed a hat and collected $8.67, which I thought a remarkably generous admission price. When this was added to Mrs Dinkman's ten dollars the gardener, still protesting, reluctantly agreed to perform.

Mrs Dinkman prudently holding the total, he unloaded the powermower with many flourishes, making quite an undertaking of oiling and adjusting the roller, setting the blades; bending down to assure himself of the gasoline in the small tank, finally wheeling the contraption into place with great spirit. The motor started with a disgruntled put! changing into a series of resigned explosions as he guided it over the lawn crosswise to the lines of his predecessor. Miss Francis followed every motion with rapt attention.

"Did you expect this?" I asked.

"Ay? The abnormally stimulated growth, you mean?"

"Yes."

"Yes and no. Work in the laboratory didn't indicate it. My own fault; I didn't realize at once making available so much free nitrogen would have such instant results. But last night--"

"Yes?"

"Not now. Later."

The power-mower went nicely, I might almost say smoothly, over the stuff cut before, muttering and chickling happily to itself as it dragged the panting gardener, inescapably harnessed, in its wake. But the mown area was narrow and the machine quickly jerked through it and made the last easy journey along the wall of untouched devil-grass beyond.

The gardener, without hesitation, aimed his machine at the thicket of grass. It growled, slowed, coughed, spat, struggled and thrashed on and finally conked out.

"Ah," said Miss Francis.

"Oh," said the spectators.

"Son of a bitch," said the gardener.

He yanked the grumbling mower back angrily, inspecting its mechanism in the manner of a mother with a wayward son and began again. There was desperate determination in his shoulders as he added his forward thrust to the protesting rhythm. The machine went at the grass like a bulldog attacking a borzoi: it bit, chewed, held on. It cut a new six inches readily, another foot slowly--and then with jolts and misfires and loud imprecations from the gardener, it gave up again.

"You," judged Mrs Dinkman, "don't know how to cut grass."

The gardener wiped his sweaty forehead with the inside of his wrist. "You--you should have a law against you," he answered bitterly and inadequately.

But the crowd evidently agreed with Mrs Dinkman's verdict, for there were mutterings of "It's a farmer's job." "Get somebody with a scythe." "That's right--get a scythe." "Got to have a scythe to cut hay like that." These remarks, uttered loudly enough for him to hear, so discouraged the gardener that after three more futile tries he reloaded his equipment and left amidst jeers and expressions of disfavor without attempting to collect any of the money.

For some reason the failure of the power-mower lightened the atmosphere. Everyone, including Mrs Dinkman, seemed convinced that scything was the solution. Tension relaxed and the bystanders began talking in something above a whisper.

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