As Green As Grass
Sheriff Cudworth was very skeptical at first. While riding alone into the attractive residential town about dusk one May evening, he was suddenly startled by appalling cries for help from the direction of a narrow road through the wooded country beyond that outskirts of the town.
Sheriff Cudworth sprang from his car and ran through the intervening woods and shrubbery. He soon came in view of the sandy road. A girl of nineteen, supporting a younger sister who was very near fainting, both of whom the sheriff knew well, uttered a cry of relief when she saw him approaching.
"Thank Heaven!" she exclaimed. "Courage, Mabel. Don't faint. Here's the sheriff. Oh, Mr. Cudworth, we have been terribly frightened.''
"Frightened by what, Miss Venner?" he inquired, gazing sharply around.
"That man — that horrible man!'' gasped the younger girl, still cowering close to her sister. "Has he gone. Clara? Has he — "
"Yes, yes, dear, he has gone. I never saw such a frightful — "
"There, there, calm yourselves," Cudworth kindly interrupted. He was a big, genial man around fifty and very popular in Shelby. "There's nothing to be afraid of. Where did you see the man? What sort of a fellow was he?"
"Frightful!" Clara Yenner repeated. "He came through the shrubbery over there and stood staring at us. We were afraid he was going to attack us. His eyes were like balls of fire. He was as green as grass."
"Green!" Cudworth echoed. "Do you mean he was a rube, a countryman?"
"No, no, not at all," Clara exclaimed. "I mean his color. He was bright green from head to foot."
"Nonsense!" Cudworth laughed. "Who ever heard of a green man? That's absurd. You aren't color blind, are you?"
"We aren't both color blind," said Mabel, hastening to corroborate her sister. "The man was green, Mr. Cudworth, nearly as green as grass. I saw him plainly. He was horrible. A half-clad, gigantic — "
"No, no, Mabel, not gigantic," Clara interrupted more calmly. "Don't exaggerate. He was appalling enough without that. He was quite tall, Mr. Cudworth, but not uncommonly large. Mabel was so frightened that he looked to her like a giant."
"How was he dressed?" asked the sheriff, scarcely able to credit the strange story.
"He wore shabby gray trousers and a flannel shirt, both very much soiled, and a tattered felt hat. He had no coat or vest. His shirt was partly unbuttoned, exposing his neck and breast. They were a striking shade of green, Mr. Cudworth, like his hands and face. I think he must be that color from head to foot. This sounds incredible, I know, but it's absolutely true," Clara Venner earnestly insisted. "He looked like a crazy man, a maniac. I never saw such a shocking — "
"Stop a moment," Cudworth interrupted. "There comes Doctor Wykoff. He also has seen this mysterious green man, perhaps, judging from the speed with which he is riding."
Doctor Alexis Wykoff was a prominent Shelby physician. He had more than a local reputation, too, due to his frequent contributions to the leading medical journals, to his discovery of a valuable vaccine, to his successful experiments with electricity as a curative agent, and to his profound and practical knowledge of botany and chemistry, having for years spent half his time in a well-equipped laboratory in the grounds of his estate. He was a well-built, impressive man of forty-five, with a strong and somewhat austere face, smooth shaven, with a very dark complexion and heavy brows. They were knit with a frown over his dark eyes when, mounted on a powerful roan horse, he approached in a cloud of dust through the woodland road and stopped near the sheriff and his companions.
"Well, well, what's wrong, Cudworth?" he inquired familiarly, evidently somewhat excited. "Good evening, young ladies. What's the trouble, sheriff?"
"Something more singular than seriously wrong, doctor, I imagine." Cudworth eyed him a bit curiously. "What led you to think there was any trouble?"
"I heard screams and cries for help, or thought I did," said the physician. "I came to find out what caused them."
"You heard them, Doctor Wykoff, all right," Cudworth told him. "These girls were badly frightened by some fellow, either a lunatic or the good Lord knows what, who has stained himself grass green and — "
"Grass green!" Doctor Wykoff exclaimed, interrupting. "Incredible!
"Where did you see him, Miss Venner?" He turned abruptly to the elder girl. "What was he doing? Where did he go?"
"He ran in that direction when we began to scream," said Clara, pointing into the woods. "He appeared like a wild man, Doctor Wykoff, and vanished as quickly as he came."
"I'll look for his footprints," Cudworth remarked. "I don't think, however, that we could trace him."
Doctor Wykoff dismounted and followed him, while the girls remained by the side of the road. The sheriff soon found several footprints in the damp earth under the shrubbery, one of which he carefully measured while telling the physician more precisely wrhat the two girls had stated.
"I don't take much stock in it," he quietly added. "There was a man here, no doubt, but I guess the green stuff was an optical illusion. They were deceived in the dusk, or got their absurd impression in some way from the surrounding foliage. There's no lunatic asylum near here from which an inmate has escaped, and surely no sane man would stain himself bright green."
"He'd be a bird," Doctor Wykoff said dryly.
"Bird is right," Cudworth muttered.
"That really is your opinion, sheriff, is it?" Doctor Wykoff inquired casually.
"Certainly." Cudworth paused and nodded. "Have you any other ?"
"None whatever," said the physician. He turned to remount his horse. "I'll ride on a bit, nevertheless, and try to find the fellow. If I succeed — "
"Grab him and bring him to me," Cudworth interrupted. "Take it from me, doctor. I'll put him through a laundry that will wash the green off him. The girls still are nervous. I'll take them home in my car."
But it is doubtful if Doctor Wykoff heard the last, for he was already riding away at top speed.
Sheriff Cudworth was not deeply impressed. He did not think the incident of serious importance. He decided that the Venner girls were mistaken, that in their sudden excitement both had received a wrong impression of the unknown man, whom they had seen only for a moment in the twilight. That he was really green seemed too extraordinary, too absurd and fantastical, for serious consideration.
But Sheriff Cudworth soon changed his mind. Other persons saw the mysterious green man. They confirmed the statements of the Venner girls. None had more than a brief glimpse of him, however, always in some part of the woods, into the depths of which he fled when discovered, uttering wild, discordant cries and making fierce gesticulations. Children playing in the woods caught sight of him and ran home in frantic terror. Petty thefts soon were reported. Footprints identical with that measured by the sheriff were found in back yards and alleys. The marauder was prowling into the town by night. Women became alarmed and dared not venture out. Doors and windows were kept securely locked. Men who never had owned a weapon, and who scarcely dared to fire one, bought guns, revolvers, and pistols. All efforts to trace and capture the "green man" were proving futile.
Shelby was becoming terrorized. The report went abroad that in the woods was a dangerous madman, a green maniac, whom the police could not capture. Sheriff Cudworth found himself with his reputation at stake and his official head in danger.
"It's got to be done! I've got to get that green guy, by thunder, if I lose a leg," he told himself.
Sheriff Cudworth was alone late that evening in his office on the ground floor of the county court house. He had been detained by a storm, which still was raging. Vivid lightning flashes illumined the two uncurtained windows behind him, while he sat at his desk and tried to solve the exasperating problem.
"This alleged green man can't be any different from other men," Cudworth grimly reasoned. He did not pretend to be an expert detective, but he had plenty of good common sense. "There must be some natural cause for his extraordinary color. He can't be simply perpetrating a hoax. He wouldn't prolong it day and night for two weeks. Furthermore, he could not have come from any great distance, or he would have been seen in other localities. He must be some local man, therefore, familiar with the town and neighboring woods, or we very soon could have run him down. He sure is not green in woodcraft. Green be hanged! I don't believe it."
Cudworth's frowning gaze rose a little. It rested on a mirror on a wall back of his desk. He felt a sudden chill. A vivid lightning flash illumined the window directly behind him, and he saw a man gazing through the window, his eyes were abnormally bright, and he had a round, repulsive face, drawn and tense, but void of any definite expression and of a peculiar shade of green.
Cudworth did not stir. He saw that his discovery was not suspected. He watched the uncanny figure in the feeble light from within when the glare without had vanished. Then the sheriff got up deliberately and removed his coat, as if the room was too warm and he had no intention of going out. Presently, without having glanced toward the window, he sauntered into the adjoining corridor. Then he hastened to the front door, stole quickly around the building, pistol in hand, and crept toward his office window. But his design had been suspected. The green man had fled.
Sheriff Cudworth made the most of what he had seen and of the deductions mentioned. He called late the following afternoon on Mrs. Dudley Carroll, a wealthy widow, prominent in local society, and whose home was the most beautiful in Shelby. She was a very attractive woman of middle age and was well acquainted with Cudworth and his family.
"What have I done, sheriff?" she said jestingly, laughing when she received him in her library. "Are you after me for something?"
"I would be, Mrs. Carroll, if I were a single man and about your own age," Cudworth dryly told her. "No, I'm not after you," he said more seriously when seated. "I've heard that your colored chauffeur, Sam White, has been away for a month or more."
"Sam?" Mrs. Carroll queried. "Yes, sheriff, he has. You surely don't want him for any offense. He has grown up in my employ. He's as honest as the day is long. He's the best-natured man in the world."
"I agree with you." Cudworth told her. "I merely want to learn where he has gone."
The sheriff was acquainted with Sam White. He had often seen him going to church on a Sunday with Mrs. Carroll's youngest servant, a pretty mulatto girl, named Eliza Black. Their names had always seemed to him to be absurdly antithetical, for Sam White was very dark, and Eliza Black almost fair by comparison.
"Well, to tell the truth, sheriff, I don't know where Sam has gone," Mrs. Carroll admitted. "He asked permission to go away for a week or two about a month ago," she explained. "I gave him some money and told him to go ahead and enjoy himself as it was his first holiday."
"Did he say where he was going?" Cudworth inquired.
"He did not," Mrs. Cudworth said more gravely. "He was very reticent about it."
"What did he say?"
"He stated that he had a little scheme in view, strictly private, and that he wanted to investigate it. He did not tell Eliza about it, either."
"Did he say when he would return?"
"Probably in a week or ten days was the way he put it. He admitted, however, that it might take a little longer."
"Have you heard from him during his absence?" Cudworth's calm blue eyes had narrowed slightly.
"Only once," said Mrs. Carroll. "Eliza received a letter from him three days after he left. The poor girl is dreadfully anxious about him. Perhaps he has been killed by that terrible madman we are hearing so much about. She made herself so ill over it that I called Doctor Wykoff yesterday. He prescribed for her, and said he thinks the madman will soon be caught. In fact, he is spending much of his own time trying to catch him."
"I heard so this morning," Cudworth informed her. "Did he say why he was specially anxious to secure the man ?"
"He did not."
"He may want to diagnose the extraordinary case," Cudworth allowed, "experiment to learn the cause and cure of so singular a malady. He has a very strong propensity for that sort of thing."
"Very true; that same propensity has made him quite famous," Mrs. Carroll reminded him. "You may question Eliza if you wish, sheriff, but I feel sure she can add nothing to what I have told you. I guess Sam will return safely sooner or later."
"I think so," Cudworth told her. "Do you know what he wrote to Eliza?"
"Not a word relating to his little scheme, or regarding his whereabouts. He did say, however, that he was with a friend, that he was feeling fine, and that he reckoned as how she wouldn't know her big stick of licorice when he came back home," Mrs. Carroll told him, laughing. "That was just the way he put it."
"Do you know where the letter was mailed?'' Cudworth inquired.
"In North Shelby,'' Mrs. Carroll quickly informed him. "Eliza called my attention to the postmark. So you see, sheriff. Sam has not gone very far away."
"Yes, I see." Cud worth smiled a bit oddly. "No, I won't question the girl." he added as he rose to go. "You know, Mrs. Carroll, I've always thought pretty well of Sam."
"Why not ?" she inquired. "He's an honest, simple, kind-hearted darky. Everybody thinks well of Sam."
Sheriff Cudworth had an idea that very few thought well of Sam about that time.
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To Save My Soul From Perdition
Sheriff Cudworth had rather more than an idea, when he first learned of Sam White's absence; when he also recalled the hurried arrival of Doctor Wykoff upon the spot where the Venner girls were so badly frightened.
Cudworth's idea had become a theory, and he looked more grimly determined, when he left and started for the home of the physician.
But Sheriff Cudworth did not call on the physician immediately. It was after six o'clock, and he figured that Doctor Wykoff probably was at dinner with his family, and that he could make the investigations he had in view secretly.
Cudworth strode on more rapidly and soon brought up at a low wall in the rear of the physician's extensive estate. It was about a quarter of a mile from the woodland road where the green man first had been seen. The sheriff deduced a point from the last, and hidden from observation by the intervening orchard, a stable, a garage, and a large cement laboratory, all of which occupied the rear grounds, he began an inspection of the earth on both sides of the wall.
Cudworth soon discovered what he was seeking, several footprints corresponding with that of the much wanted man. He found them on both sides of the wall, and he soon observed that all of them pointed away from the estate and toward the distant woods.
"Not one points toward the place," he muttered. "Plainly, then, he did not come this way and afterward depart. Instead, he only left in this direction and escaped toward the woods. The space between the tracks shows plainly that he was running. Directly in a line from the laboratory, too. Humph! I'll find out about that."
He sprang over the wall and stole through the orchard, where apple and peach trees were in blossom, sweet and beautiful in the softened light of the setting sun. He paused at the rear wall of the laboratory, where he briefly inspected two ground glass windows and peered through a small hole where a piece had been broken from one of the panes. He could see indistinctly that slats appeared to be nailed across the window, and that the room contained a cot on which a wrinkled blanket and pillow were lying.
Cudworth's features had hardened. He stole around to the front door to be sure it was locked and that the building was unoccupied. Then he returned to the rear and quickly broke the other window sufficiently for him to open it and enter.
He climbed over the sill into a shelved closet, where there were countless bottles, phials and jars, each labeled with a red sticker. It obviously was a closet in which poisons were stored for safe keeping.
Cudworth found the door unlocked, however, and he entered the adjoining room, a spacious, finely equipped laboratory. He had no immediate interest in the details of it, but hastened into a small rear room, instead, where he soon confirmed his suspicions. Stout slats were nailed across the window casing. The cot and the room itself were in some disorder. In one corner was a canvas extension case containing a quantity of clothing. The most of it had not been worn since it was laundered.
Cudworth crouched in the corner to examine the garments. The sun had set and the light in the room was waning, but after a brief search he found what he was seeking, the man's initials on one of the linen shirts. He was so intent upon his inspection of the garments that lie had no thought of an intruder until a threatening voice spoke.
"What are you doing? Get up!"
The sheriff sprang up as if electrified, turned sharply toward the door, and saw Doctor Alexis Wykoff.
"What are you doing?" he repeated. "Put down that gun." Cudworth eyed him sternly without moving. "It may go off by chance. You may end with killing me."
"You broke in here like a thief," Wykoff accused him with increasing severity.
"If I were to kill you, Cudworth, I could justify it in any criminal court."
"Could you justify it in your own conscience?" Cudworth demanded. "How about that?"
"A man with his liberty menaced, his reputation at stake, with his entire future involved and the happiness of his home and family, does not confer long with his conscience," Doctor Wykoff retorted. His voice trembled slightly, but he still maintained a threatening attitude.
"Put down the gun," Cudworth repeated. "You don't intend to shoot me, Wykoff, or you would have done so at once. Men bent upon murder don't stop to discuss the crime, or to point out to their victims the occasion for it."
"What are you doing here?" Wykoff again demanded.
"I want to learn what you know about Sam White," said the sheriff bluntly.
"Why do you suppose I know anything about him?"
"I know you do," Cudworth said sternly. "He has been confined here. That barred window tells the story. These garments, one bearing his initials, establish his identity. Come to your senses, Wykoff, and come across with the truth," he advised. "What experimental trick have you pulled off on Sam White, that has caused him to lose his head and turned him as green as a melon? Come across. Shooting me won't get you anything."
Doctor Wykoff drew up stiffly and tossed his pistol on the cot. "I did not intend to shoot you, Cudworth, as you inferred," he said coldly.
"That's more like it," said the sheriff.
"I would not kill you, Cudworth, or any other man, to save my soul from perdition," the physician repeated.
"Now you're talking, Wykoff," Cudworth said approvingly. "What the deuce is the meaning of all this? I know you have something to hide, or you would have come forward at once with a frank and open statement. It goes without saying, Doctor Wykoff, that I'll do anything that I can for you," Cudworth assured him in a kindly manner characteristic of him. "If it is necessary to suppress — "
"No more of that." Doctor Wykoff checked him gravely and drew back into the laboratory. "Come this way, Cudworth, and sit down. I'll tell you all about it."
"Take your own course."
"I have repeatedly been impelled to do so. There is so much at stake, however, that I refrained as long as I had any hope of getting hold of Sam White again and setting him right without exposure. There is a point, you know, beyond which a physician is not justified in experimenting on a human subject. I went a step too far."
"I suspected it," Cudworth told him as they sat down in the laboratory. "If Sam White — "
"I thought I possibly would find him here," Doctor Wykoff interrupted. "I hoped that I would, but I was not sure in what condition I would find him, or how violent he still might be. That's why I entered quietly and discovered you. I had my pistol only to awe and intimidate him. It's a singular case, Cudworth, and a most deplorable one."
"Tell me about it," said the sheriff. "I'll do all I can to aid you."
"You're very good." Doctor Wykoff thanked him with an appreciative nod. "But I must not go into the details at this time. It would take hours for me to state the scientific features of the case. I will tell you the superficial facts, however, and later give you all of the details."
"Very good," Cudworth said approvingly. "That may be sufficient."
"It is by no means a new thing, sheriff, for human beings to make alterations in their personal appearance, changes which they regard as improvements upon nature, or which fashion arbitrarily dictates. It began in the Garden of Eden and has been continued in every country and by every race up to the present day. Beauty is really a matter of taste and custom. Small feet is a requisite in China. The Fiji Islanders dye their hair various bright colors. Stained teeth and nails, painted bodies and — but, Lord Harry, why attempt to enumerate them!" he broke off abruptly. "You know all that as well as I." '
"Certainly." Cudworth nodded. "Go on."
"It's common enough right here at home," Doctor Wykoff continued. "Women paint, pencil their brows and stain their lips. Specialists study the problem of removing wrinkles and the telltale traces of approaching age. One's complexion is often one's chief concern. Observe my own. I am very dark and swarthy. That is one reason, perhaps, why I have made a special study of the skin and sought ways and means to modify the pigment causing one's color and complexion."
"I follow you," said Cudworth. "I anticipate what is coming."
"Quite likely." Doctor Wykoff smiled faintly. "The color of the skin has always held an important place among physical criteria of the human race. Physiology explains color as a consequence of climate and even diet. This pigment, or coloring matter under the epidermis, or rather under the second skin, is not peculiar to the Negroid or other colored races, but is common to all human beings. It is simply more abundant in certain people."
"I understand," said the sheriff. "But I must come to the point," Doctor Wykoff said, stiffening.
"I have been trying for a long time to find some way to reach and modify this coloring pigment so as to permanently alter one's complexion. I thought I had succeeded, both by means of an ingredient taken internally, and by the injection of a chemical composition into the skin. I have invented an electrical machine with which the injection may be accomplished, somewhat as tattoo work is done.
"Having faith in it, I was very anxious to get a willing subject for the experiment. I realized that my reputation would be placed in jeopardy, but I felt so sure I was right that I resolved to risk it. It so happened, however, that the subject came to me voluntarily."
"How did that occur?"
"It appeared that Sam White heard me discussing the possibility of altering one's color with a friend one day," Doctor Wykoff explained. "Well, he came to me a little later and wanted to know if I could reduce his color, as he put it," said the physician. "I asked him why he objected to it. He said he didn't specially object to it, but that he was in love with a mulatto girl, Eliza Black, who joshed him a good deal about his color, and that he feared she would not marry him because he was so dark."
"I see." Cudworth suppressed a smile.
"I told Sam I thought it could be done," Doctor Wykoff went on gravely. "I also was perfectly frank with him. I told him he would be taking a chance, that it was only an experiment, but he was very anxious for the operation."
"Sam is very fond of Eliza," Cudworth remarked.
"Well, to make a long story short, Cudworth, I consented to attempt it," said the physician. "I bound Sam to absolute secrecy." He paused, then shrugged his broad shoulders remorsefully. "Well, I performed the operation. Words could not describe my horror when I found, Cudworth, that the process not only had turned him green, but that the ingredients injected into his blood had also affected his brain.
"Sam went violently insane for a time," Doctor Wykoff continued. "I drugged him heavily to prevent his escape and kept him in the laboratory for two weeks, hoping his abnormal condition would in time be dispelled. It had begun to do so, I think, when he escaped. That was just before he terrified the Venner girls one evening. I was after him when I joined you at that time."
"I suspected it," Cudworth informed him.
"Since then I have been trying to get him back here," Wykoff went on. "I shall be ruined professionally and criminally liable unless he can be found and cured. I feel reasonably sure that he is gradually returning to a normal condition. I base that belief upon the latest descriptions of those who have seen him and say that his color is becoming darker and taking on a mottled appearance. If he could be found and brought here where I could give him proper treatment, I feel sure I could restore him to his normal condition. On the other hand, I will be hopelessly entangled — "
"Stop a bit!" Cudworth leaned forward. "Hush! Not a sound!"
"What do you hear?" Doctor Wykoff whispered.
"Wait. Not a sound. Don't move." Sheriff Cudworth arose and tiptoed toward the open front door. His trained ears detected a sound like stealthy footsteps back of the building. The physician waited, with ears strained and eyes aglow, his nerves quivering with suspense under a sudden unexpected hope the sheriff had inspired. Then he heard his voice from some point back of the building, shouting sternly:
"Hold on! I'll have you this time! Don't you bolt again, Sam, or I'll wing you with a chunk of lead. Come here. Come here at once, Sam, or I'll — "
Doctor Wykoff heard no more. He sprang up with a cry of relief and staggered toward the door just as Sheriff Cudworth, with a grip on the arm and neck of the much wanted man, returned to the laboratory.
It later appeared that Doctor Wykoff was right, that Sam White had begun to throw off his abnormal condition, that he had just begun to realize his own identity and that something was wrong with him, and he was returning to the physician for aid and advice.
It seems needless to add that Sam White received a generous amount of both. He came out of the experiment all right, and later married the mulatto girl. The true circumstances were never suspected by the public, much to Doctor Wykoff's relief.
The extraordinary feature of the case was that Sam White, when completely restored, was a shade darker than before.
~ The End ~