A Norreys Jewel Adventure

By Andre Norton


2: “A Veritable Pearl of a City!”

     “Letter for Mr. Peter Lord? Yes, sir, here it is.” The desk clerk of the Kingston dropped the envelope on the polished wood and Peter scooped it up.

     Maybe that hadn't been such a kid thing to do after all---to mail Carter's note to New York in a letter addressed to himself. At least it had allowed him to tell Mr. Mannerheim with truth that it was not in his possession that afternoon. And he didn't care at all for the thought of that single sheet of notepaper falling into the soft, fat hands of Mr. Mannerheim.

     But his hopes were higher than they had been a few hours before. If Kane thought enough of the deal to summon him to the Norreys apartment at night---why---the emerald might be as well as sold right now---and he was a good many steps nearer Mayapan.

     Peter found his way to the tall building Kane had mentioned, was whisked upward by elevator, and ended by being ushered into a long, low ceilinged room, the whole far end of which seemed to be one great window framing the gem lights of the dusky city.

     Kane came forward to meet him, but the tall American was not the only occupant of the room. By the fire place stood a slim young man whose hair was more silver gilt than blond. As he advanced smiling to be introduced he walked with a slight halt which was not quite a limp. And, when he stood facing Peter the boy saw that the youth of his body and movements was almost belied by stark lines around eyes and mouth.

     “Peter Lord, Lorens Van Norreys,” Kane waved a hand.

     “And very glad we are to see you, Mr. Lord. But come to the fire-- in spite of the very excellent central heating of this roof nest of ours-- the fire is still to be found good on a night such as this one. Or perhaps you are not of our fire worshiping fraternity?”

     Peter had already stretched his chilled hands toward the blaze. “It's perfect!”

     Van Norreys laughed. “Truly one of us! And now may I present my wife, Madam Van Norreys?”

     The girl on the couch within the circle of firelight held out her hand with a smile which has not marred by the faint white line across her left cheek. “You will please pardon my laziness. I have but recently returned from the hospital and have not yet rediscovered my feet---”

     Peter found himself bowing over that small hand, as he would have dared to salute the hands of his contemporaries back in Evansville.

     There was something about this small person, as she lay back among the many cushions, a crimson gold brocaded robe covering the not-yet-rediscovered feet, which demanded such deference. She was not as old as her husband and save for the pearls at her ears and around her childish throat, she was plainly dressed.

     Van Norreys dropped down on a footstool beside her couch. “Since Kaatje is a member of Norreys too, we asked you here, Mr. Lord, so that she could hear your story in person. First, though, I shall say that we will buy your emerald-- if you still wish to sell---”

     “I certainly do!” Peter broke in eagerly.

     “We can offer you twenty-five hundred----”

     Peter wondered if he had allowed his jaw to drop quite open. Twenty-five hundred! Half that amount might have been more believable.

     There came a little purr of laughter from Kaatje Van Norreys.

     “It is a beautiful stone, that one,” she commented. “Almost am I jealous of the woman who will someday wear it. Lorens, ever since he has seen it, has done nothing but think of a design fit to grace it best---”

     “It must be a modification of the Alexandrine pendant, I think,” her husband, said almost to himself “Eighteenth century-- these coldly modern settings could not do it justice. Red-gold with the small leaves---”

     Kane chuckled. “First kill your tiger-- before you skin him. Lord has not yet said he will sell.”

     “But he will,” returned Kaatje confidently. “And you, my red-headed one, shall go to this Mayapan and discover us many more-- for our talented designer to play with. Have we not decided that?”

     “I am willing to sell, Mr. Van Norreys. You know more about what it is worth than I do---”

     “Kane shook his head with a frown. “You are far too trusting. How do you know that we are not international gem thieves---?”

     “Because of my charm and Lorens' beauty!” Kaatje flashed. “You,” she turned her head to Peter, “Are like us. Therefore you will go to Mayapan with Lawrence---”

     “And why am I to be left behind?” Lorens demanded. “Do you dare now to hint that my days of going adventuring are past me?”

“Why?” Kaatje’s eyes were wide with mock surprise. “Have you not just since this very afternoon become a country gentleman-- the lord of a manor? What of this farm you have paid good money for? And what of Norreys? Sam Marusaki is still in the pearl islands watching your so dear friend Abdul-- that he does not steal from us more than half the year's catch. Which leaves only Kane---”

     “Footloose and fancy free?” The gentleman in question lit a cigarette. “All right, Kaatje, I’ll take the job. That is-- if Lord here is agreeable. What we have in mind is this,” he spoke directly to Peter now. “If we can locate the strike your brother knew, we'll buy out his share and maybe Romanes' too-- we have the capital you both probably lack. A new emerald source will be very valuable to us. And you say that no one else knows of this?---”

     “That’s what I thought this morning. Now I don't know.” Swiftly, Peter told of the visit of Mr. Mannerheim.

     Kane got to his feet, back to the fire. He had lost his look of quizzical amusement.

     “What about it, Lorens? This is known rival in the field?” he asked his partner.

     The Netherlander shook his head. “Not one that I have heard of before, no. And this Geneva Import Corporation-- that is new to me, also. But, since the war, there have been so many changes, new companies and old ones under new management. It might be well to ask e few questions, however,” without rising, he reached out a long arm and pulled to him an extension phone, to dial a number.

     “Chamberlain? This is Van Norreys. Very much at the top now, thank you. Have you, my friend, ever heard of a Geneva Import Corporation operating out of Maya City in Mayapan, South America-- they employ an Oscar Mannerheim. Yes? Very well, I shall be most eager to hear the result of your research. And in time perhaps I can return this favor. Thank you.”

     As he talked Peter brought out the envelope and passed it to Kane. “This is my brother's note about the business.”

     Kane read aloud from the much creased single sheet:

     “Dear Chan:

You remember that Romanes I staked for a trip up country? He seems able to deliver the goods. Hit something good in the Rio Jaguar territory. Sent this sample down river last week. If all works out o.k., we're in the chips-- plenty. I'm going up there for a look-see on my own. Keep this strictly undercover until you hear from me-- I’ll cable the good word.


     “That note was folded around the emerald in his belt pocket. I guess he didn't have time to send it before he took the fever. Anyway, I don’t think he ever went up country as he was planning to---”

     From under the edge of her crimson covering Kaatje Van Norreys produced a book with a bright green and orange paper jacket. “As soon as you told us about this, Lawrence, I sent Achmid to Brentanos to bring me the most recent book about Mayapan. All they had was this one, but it does tell a little about the country---”

     Peter read the title and identified it as a volume of personal reminiscence from the war days.

     “Gold diamonds and semi-precious stones are found there.” the girl continued.

     “So why not emeralds?” Van Norreys asked. “Well, that section is gem rich. From Brazil, the Guianas, and Columbia we have jade, pearls, diamonds, emeralds, topaz, almandine garnets, tourmaline, aquamarines, amethysts and carnelians. So I would not presume to say that this or that could not be found there. And Norreys is ripe for a little gamble just now. We cannot rest smugly forever on the pearls of our last venture.”

     “Thus you are ready to give your blessing on the project?” The lazy note had returned to Kane's voice. “Very well. Only it shall be an expedition in style, I warn you of that now. Not all tramp freighters are like the Samba we were lucky enough to voyage on last. I think that this time I shall take to the air. And what about supplies?”

     “Tomorrow I shall cable Gormez in Georgetown. He is one of our diamond buyers down there. And he will see that your equipment will be waiting at Maya City. What about it, Mr. Lord? Could you be ready to fly south-- maybe the day after tomorrow?”

     “It might be well,” suggested Kaatje, “To explain to Mr. Lord about the option. You have not the business mind, Lorens. I sadly fear that someday this lack will prove your undoing.”

     Van Norreys laughed. “Always the logical one, eh, my Kaatje? But you are most right. Lord, Norreys wishes to take an option on your brother’s property in Mayapan. We would also like for you to come into our employ-- as long as we investigate this rumored discovery. If you fly to Mayapan with Kane your expenses will be paid and also a salary.”

     “Do I pack my shooting irons?” broke in Kane.

     “Who knows the need for firmness? It may depend upon the degree of earnest endeavor-manifest in the action of Mr. Mannerheim and corporation. I do not quite like the thought of that gentleman---”

     “I didn’t like his looks,” Peter was blunt. “But the rest is all right with me, Mr. Van Norreys. Only this emerald find may be just the one stone, not a mine.”

     “There is the element of chance in every deal, as for me,” Lorens smiled, “Now and again I become a gambler. Now Kane, I have here the papers---” He went toward a big desk in the far corner of the room and Kane followed. Kaatje leaned forward in her nest of cushions.

     “There is here a puzzle,” she began. “Why did your brother, in his letter, address you as Chan? Me, I have a very great fund of curiosity and such matters intrigue me.”

     More than the heat of the fire made a scarlet pattern on Peter’s cheek bones.

     “It’s a sort of family joke. We had a great-great-grandfather who captained a China tea clipper in the old days. From one voyage he brought home a wife, a Manchu lady. The New England climate was so severe for her, she died young, but her son survived and every once in a generation or so one of our name inherits the hair and the bones and the eyes--. I did, as you have probably already noticed.” He was a little on the defensive.

     “But that is history to be proud of-- all the Manchus were warriors and strong rulers. You see, I have read of that other side of the world-- so that when Lorens talks of his life there I can follow him a little way along the path he has trod, and I have read some Chinese history. Of Manchu blood and heritage you have the right to be proud. Look at Lorens-- for all his yellow hair and blue eyes he is of East Indies blood-- far back. Me, I am only Rotterdam burger-- which is the dullest of dull----”

     “What is so dull?” Lorens had come up behind her couch, “This life, Kaatje?”

     “This?” She shook her head vigorously. “No, this life is very full and busy. Am I not becoming your gemologist-in-waiting with all my lessons. Soon I shall be able to qualify for a certificate-- which you have NOT, dear husband. And now I shall have-- to look forward to-- the reports from Mayapan!”

     Kane shook his head. “I’m not a very good correspondent, Kaatje.”

     “Ohh!” Her small hands covered her eyes as if to shut away a horrid sight. “What a monstrous untruth! Did you not first meet Lorens on paper? Were you not correspondents for many years before you met?”

     “That was when I was young. Now I have no time---”

     “I will not listen. One of you can oblige me. A day by day account of affairs-- why, you will have plenty of time for that?” She winked at Peter and wrinkled her nose disdainfully in Kane’s direction.

     But seventy hours and some hundreds of miles later, as the big amphibian circled twice over the crab-claw shaped bay before the tumble of white squares which was Maya City, neither of the two travelers in the front seats were thinking of reports to New York. Peter’s hands clutched tight on the buckle of his safety belt as they bounced down in waves and taxied in down a free lane of water. Kane shifted impatiently.

     “At least we’re strictly on schedule.” he commented.

     And still on Kane’s schedule they worked their way through customs---to be greeted at the last gate separating them from the city by a boisterous crowd of brown-skinned men. Peter had secretly imagined himself at home in Spanish, but the waves of staccato speech rising and falling around him made an untranslatable din.

     “Señor! Señor, I spik Americano-- ver’ well. I, Diaz Tomás-- eenterpeter, Señor. Ver’ good---”

     Both Kane and Peter could look down on the top of the once smart, but now much battered panama which covered the most of the bushy black thatch that served Señor Tomás as hair. But the round face turned up to them was all wide and pleading smile.

     “Fo’ the Americanos I have worked, Señores. See,” He waved on high a fan of finger-marked papers. “Diaz Tomás will treat you right, Señores. I am well acquaint’ weeth Maya City---”

     Kane dropped the bag he had been carrying. “All right, Señor Tomás. Can you get us and the baggage to the Casa Negro?---”

     In a second the fan of papers had been thrust into a sagging coat pocket as Thomas wheeled and shouted into the crowd. From the general chaos three men came at a quick shuffle to pick up the luggage and head around the corner of the custom house.

   “Thees way, Señores. There ees a car---”

     The car did exist and Tomás saw them loaded into it, taking his own seat besides the driver.

     “You have been to Mayapan before, Señores?”

     Peter marshaled his store of painfully acquired Spanish. “We have not had that pleasure, Señor Tomás.”

     “Then you have missed much, Señores,” Tomás kept stubbornly to his English. “Fo’ these ees a veritable pearl of a city, Señor. And old, ver’, ver’ old. I Diaz Tomás, can show to you where the pirates fought-- where Don Francisco Drake stood hees feet when hees wild men took these city. But here ees the Casa Negro!”

     Some minutes later Peter found himself alone in the middle of a huge, high ceilinged room which might comfortably have lodged an army corps. A bed of carved mahogany, the tall posters of which were draped with mosquito netting, a rocking chair of distinctly North American origin, a standing wooden cupboard, and a table completed the furnishings. The walls were washed white and bare of any decoration.

     He could hear the gurgle of water in a drain as Kane investigated the sliver of bathroom which connected their two apartments. As he shed his coat, the other’s dripping wet head was thrust around the edge of the door.

     “How about it, Lord? Do you want to see where Frankie Drake stood when he made the Dons bite the dust in the good old days?”

     “I’d rather visit Number twenty, Via Callico. Carter had his office there.”

     “An excellent suggestion. We can always wake up the consul later.”

   Number Twenty, Via Callico, was a thick walled building of the old Spanish colonial type which might once have been the headquarters of some government official. But within the arch of the doorway a series of name boards were hung up, some faded with the passage of time and one glaringly new, “Room Ten-- C. Norgate, Enterprises.”

     Peter pointed to the last. “That was Carter’s office number.”

     “Hmm-- must be a housing shortage down here too. They didn’t lose any time re-renting, did they? Shall we visit the enterprising Mr. Norgate? That isn’t a local name.”

     “Several Americans took their discharges and stayed on down here after the war was over. If Norgate is one of those he must have known Carter. We can ask anyway.”

     The door which bore the number ten was slightly ajar and swung in as Peter rapped on it. A call of “Come in” in accented Spanish brought both visitors over the threshold, Peter looking intently about him, trying to find some trace of Carter in this stone walled cell.

     Arising from a desk to greet them was a man wearing a crisply white, freshly laundered shirt, but his trousers were of a grey-blue and the coat swinging from the back of his chair was edged, collar and sleeve, with the glitter of metal braid. An officer’s peaked cap faced with some golden insignia rested on the desk top. Although his skin was no darker in shade than the warm brown of Tomás, the crisp curl of his hair and the shape of his nose betrayed his African blood.

     “What may I have the honor of doing for you, Señores,” he began in Spanish fluent enough. “but you are Americans---” he ended in English.

     “Very much so. And so, I take it are you,” returned Kane. “You are also C. Norgate?”

     “Crispin Norgate,” the owner of the name amplified. “Late of the Army Air Forces, and now head of the Mayapan Inland Ferry Service,” he grinned “rather an impressive title that-- isn’t it? And it just came to me between two swallows of coke on the first day. You in need of a spot of ferry service-- by air, of course?”

     “That might be on the program-- later. Just now we’re interested in the former tenant of this room. Did you know Carter Lord?”

     “Sure. He was one swell guy. In fact, it was his setting up here that gave me the idea to try it too. There’s not much chance for flyers of my race back home, you know. I did some jobs for Carter-- he had a good thing-- it was a damn shame-- his getting it that way!” Norgate’s hands went out in an expressive gesture.

     “Do you know what was done with his files and papers?” asked Peter. “I’m his brother---”

     “You are?” The dark eyes measured Peter soberly. “You’re Peter then-- he used to talk a lot---” His tone changed and he continues swiftly. “Masterson, he’s the consul, took charge of Carter’s things. You planning to start the business going again, Lord?”

     “Worth trying that?” asked Kane.

     “Worth it? Why, he was on to a regular gold mine! He had several guys prospecting for him back in the jungle country. You know, this is a good spot for anyone to locate in right now. That army air field has been taken over by a bunch of our boys and they’re going to put this country on the map. There’re mahogany and rubber back country, to say nothing of diamonds and gold. One of the fellows is experimenting with tropical fruit using deep-freeze methods to send it straight by plane to New York. We have a good climate and no competition-- or rather we didn’t have any---” For a moment his exuberance faded.

     “What kind of competition has shown up?” queried Kane.

     “It’s a European outfit-- call themselves the Geneva Import Corporation. Must have lots of capital the way they pass money out. They came here about four months ago and were quiet at first. But lately they’ve began to throw their weight around, after Carter’s death they busy and just about sewed up the up-river supply business.”

     “Hmm. I think, Peter, we’d better move on to see Mr. Masterson. But, Norgate, I want to keep in touch with that Inland Ferry service of yours, we may be needing it---”

     “You bet! You can always reach me here. And listen-- if you go straight on down this street you’ll get a good chance to look at the Geneva Import plant. Their H.Q. is in the big villa at the corner of the Plaza.”

     Kane’s eyes met Norgate’s and held for a swift instant of measuring glance.

     “Thanks,” his answer was almost a drawl--- “We may do that very thing.”

Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights -
Donated by – Victor Horadam

Edited by Jay P. Watts aka: “Lotsawatts” ~ February, 2016

Duplication (in whole or parts) of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.


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