A Norreys Jewel Adventure

By Andre Norton


1: An Emerald for Sale.

     The rain was ice water driven neatly down every neck along Fifth Avenue. Peter Lord hunched his shoulders in a vain attempt to bring the collar of the shabby flight-jacket higher about his ears. He coughed and fumbled for a handkerchief.

     Before him was the destination had had traveled all night in a crowded day-coach to reach, but, in spite of the wet lash of the storm, he hesitated outside the elaborate iron grill which guarded the glass door. That door was so unlike the entrance to any jewelry store he had ever seen before. And he instinctively distrusted the absence of show windows ablaze with engagement diamonds and trade named watches. If it hadn't been for the crumpled clipping he carried in his wallet he would have turned around and----

     A harder gust of rain spat in his thin face and tugged at his dripping hat. He swallowed with a scratchy throat, coughed again and took the plunge through the forbidding portal. The door slid noiselessly back, obeying a light beam signal. He stepped warily in, to drip on a pavement of rust and white tiling.

   There were several glass cases about the room, unobtrusively placed, as if their contents did not really matter. And there were chairs thickly upholstered in rust and black leather.

     Peter remained just within the door. This was the wrong place for him sure enough. It looked more like a club than a place of business. And yet, when he glanced over his shoulder, he could read backwards the lettering which crossed the black pattern of the grill---“Norreys“.

     “You are looking for someone, sir?”

     Peter's heed snapped around.

     Out of the air or out of the tiles had appeared a short, stoutish man whose yellowish skin and smooth black hair suited the dull color scheme of the whole somber room.

     “This is Norreys, isn't it?” Peter pulled with cold fingers at the zipper which sealed his jacket pocket. He produced the page he had torn out of Time Magazine and held it out. Only the subject matter of those paragraphs of print certainly did not fit this atmosphere.

     “Of a surety this is the House of Norreys' establishment in New York, sir. And in what manner may we serve you?”

     Peter consulted the clipping for reassurance.

     “I’d like to see the Jonkheer Van Norreys---” he flushed guessing that his pronunciation of that unfamiliar title was probably not the proper one.

     “Mr. Van Norreys is out of the city just at the moment, sir. Perhaps you would care to see our Mr. Lamoyeaux---?”

     But that had not been one of the names mentioned in the article. And Peter had pinned all his frail hopes to that clipping.

     “How about Mr. Kane---?” He moved his feet nervously, leaving wet prints on the tiles.

     “Mr. Kane? I shall see, sir, whether Mr. Kane is in at the present---”

     The little man padded off on cat feet. Peter sighed. He might be in luck after all. Since reading Time he had thought that Kane would be in Singapore, Delhi or some other place at the ends of the earth. Kane---why, Kane was the best bet of all for him---being an American and coming from the same part of the country and all---

     “Mr. Kane is in, sir. If you will please to come this way---”

   Peter crossed the floor gingerly, trying not to drip more than necessary. They passed out of the dim elegance of the show room, and down a corridor walled by closed doors to one at the far end where his guide knocked twice and then motioned Peter to enter.

     With some of the same sinking feeling which had clawed at his middle when he had struck Jim Meyers for a job in the news office, Peter pulled off his battered hat and edged around the partly open door. But the room on the other side had none of the stiff grandeur of the outer ones.

     Instead he was standing in what appeared to be kind of a private museum. Above the desk which faced him a brightly painted demon mask, flanked by an arsenal of short, wavy bladed swords and knives, leered at all comers. And on the surface of the desk itself were small carvings among a litter of half unpacked boxes. The owner of the room had plainly been looking over his treasures when interrupted.

     “You wanted to see me?” The young man standing under the demon's jawbone threw an indifferently aimed ball of tissue paper in the general direction of the wastepaper basket and came forward. “I'm Lawrence Kane. What can I do for you?”

     Peter frankly stared. And the longer he studied that long, square jawed, sun brown face with its sign mark of the one unruly lock of dark red hair bobbing over the forehead, the more he could at last believe in the truth of those wild events chronicled in the clipping he still pinched between thumb and finger. Only the neatly pressed, well-tailored grey suit which covered Kane's wide shoulders, narrow waist and hips was wrong. Jungle dress or shirt and creaseless slacks would have been more in character.

     Kane glanced down at the tell-tale strip of paper in Peter’s hand and then he laughed.

     “So 'you've read that ballyhoo?” he observed rather wearily.

     “It’s true, isn’t it?” Peter blurted out.

     “True? Well, maybe that guff comes within a mile or so of the real story. Now please don't tell me that you're another reporter come down to ferret out our murky past. Somehow you don't look like---”

     Peter flushed. He was only too well aware that the worn jacket, cheap tweed slacks, which had lost any crease they might once have held, were not the usual New York business clothes. But his shoes had been shined that morning. His charcoal black hair was trimmed and the nails on his long, slim fingers were clean.

     He did not guess that Kane noticed these points or that the older man was deciding that he liked what he saw. And Kane was equally quick to note that flush on the plainly marked cheek bones-- those same sharply defined bones now, and the odd shape of the upper eyelid-- they were not quite of the American world. Kane had seen their like before-- somewhere---

     Peter endured that examination with an outward poise which had been painfully learned. He was able to laugh as he returned:

     “Sorry that I don’t look the part. Because I am a reporter-- or rather was one-- up until yesterday. On the Evansville, Ohio, News. But I didn't come here for an interview, Mr. Kane, but to see if you would be interested in buying this----”

     He plucked out the ball of cotton with it precious hard core. On the white blotter before Kane he dropped that core. It didn’t look like very much, that rough dark stone. But if it really was what Carter had claimed it to be---why---then---. Peter's tongue swept across his lips, he forced his sore throat muscles to move in a painful swallow and shifted his weight from foot to foot.

     “Sit down-- Mr.--- Mr.---”

     “Peter Lord,” Peter supplied mechanically.

     Kane had picked up the stone, looking at it through a jeweler's eye glass. He put it down again with some care and turned to the other.

     “Where did you get this?” his demand was sharp and curt.

     “Is-- is it really an emerald?” Pater countered. That was what had brought him there, the desire---the need to know whether Carter had been right.

     “I’m not an expert. To my belief it is. But I‘ll have it checked by our gemologist.” Kane pressed a button on the desk. “Now what's your story?”

     “If it is an emerald, would Norreys buy it?” Peter evaded.

     Kane shrugged. “That I cannot answer now. And we don‘t buy stuff without a pedigree. Where did you get the stone? Oh, Hamil---” the dark little man of the showroom appeared in the doorway. “Take this down to Van Droff and have him vet it-- thanks.”

     “Now,” he turned back to Peter--- “give.”

     But it had been so long since Peter had talked freely that he found it hard to begin. He would have to tell it all just as it had happened---so that’s the way it spilled out of him in a steady rush of words.

     “There was just the two of us, Carter and me. Mom and Dad were killed when their car overturned on a mountain road out west. The Simons took us in after that and they were swell to us. Carter wanted to be an engineer but there wasn’t money for college. So he tried to work his way through, but he never could get enough ahead to do it. Then the war started and he enlisted in the Engineers. He was good at it-- got a commission after a while. In 1945 he was sent down to this South American country, a little place not even on all the maps, right on the coast near the Guiana’s and Venezuela. It's called Mayapan.”

     “Anyway, the Army built a big airport there, we used it as a way station on overseas flights. Carter liked Mayapan. And he said that it could be important after the war-- that the air field he was helping to lay out could he used in the future for the commercial lines. So he took his discharge right there and started a business on his own-- supplying prospectors-- only they call them `porkknockers’-- who were going up country into the jungle. He had some of our guys with him on the deal, and they were doing fine.”

     “We-- we had it all worked out,” Peter's voice trailed off. This was the part it was hard to tell---to even think about. “I was through High by then and I even had a year of college—worked on the News during vacations. Carter wanted me to come down in the summers to help him out, when I was through, we would be partners---”

     “Then-- then in March Carter's letters stopped coming. When I cabled, I had an answer from the American consul. He said Carter was dead-- of fever.” Peter‘s voice remained under control. He was even able to continue serenely enough:

     “They sent Carter's stuff home, his personal things that is. He had an army automatic and a belt. There was a secret pocket in that belt-- he showed it to me on his last leave-- here in New York. We had four days just before he went south. And I found the emerald in that pocket along with a note to me.”

     “He'd been staking porkknockers, like I said a sort of a gamble. And one of the guys he staked was out of his old army outfit. This Aubrey Romanes had gone up country and sent word back that he had made a strike-- a big one. That stone was supposed to be just a sample of what he'd found. Carter didn't know whether to believe him or not-- seems that sometimes down there a few stones are found-- loose in the gravel of stream beds, but they‘re strays. The real source has never been discovered---”

     Kane nodded. “That's true enough.”

     “So Carter planned to head up country and join Romanes. Judging by the date on the note he died before he could go---”

     “And what do you propose to do now?”

     “Well, I thought if the stone is an emerald and I can sell it, I would buy a ticket to Mayapan. Carter had a good business started and maybe I can save some of it. He worked darn hard to get going-- it would be a dumb trick to throw it away---”

     “Do you know,” Kane had been fingering a carved ivory paper knife from among the jumble of curiosities, now he put it aside. “I think you have something there Lord. Yes, Hamil?” he raised his voice to answer the discreet knock at the door.

     “The report, sir.” The stone and a piece of paper were brought in to Kane.

     Peter fidgeted on the edge of his chair.

     “It seems, Mr. Lord, as if you do have the real thing---”

     Peter relaxed. “How much is it worth?”

     “Emeralds-- unflawed and of the best color-- just about top the price list in precious stones. I am not authorized to make you any offer at all. I can have it appraised and let Mr. Van Norreys see it. By the way, Lord, why did you come to us? Just because of that wild story in the magazine?”

     “Yes. It said that most of the firm members were ex-GI's-- and it told all about how you located that new pearling bed. Well, Carter was GI too----”

     Kane balanced the paper knife on the ball of his thumb. “Do you believe in hunches, Lord?”

     Peter blinked, and then, for the first time, his too-tight lips curved into a smile which broke wide the almost sullen mask of his face.

     “Sometimes I do---”

    “I always play my hunches. I learned the wisdom of that some years ago, Most of them have paid off, Now I have a hunch about this,” he touched the stone. “I don't know how much you understand of the gem trade---”

     “Practically nothing.”

     “It isn‘t just a matter of buying stones, cutting them properly and reselling them as jewelry-- though that is why the House of Norreys exists. There are a great many airtight monopolies in the business. The best known is that of the diamond trade-- almost everyone has heard of that sealed market. If all the diamonds in the South African mine vaults were dumped on the sales tables at once-- the prices would go down like a Helldiver after a Zero.”

     “The same is true-- in a smaller way-- of emeralds. Emerald mining is supervised by the governments in the few places where the gems have been discovered. Only a small portion of those found are allowed to reach the market. A new source, as yet un-bottled by such restriction, would mean a lot to any firm such as this one.”

     “If this prospector-- or porkknocker-- has found a new field, unknown, it would be very much worth the while of Norreys to investigate. Do you have the note your brother wrote?”

     “I can get it if necessary.”

     “Good enough. Now-- I would like Mr. Van Norreys to see this and maybe that note-- if you agree.”

     “Sure,” Peter responded eagerly. “I've all of Carter's papers-- that is all of them the consul sent along.”

     “Van Norreys won‘t be back until this evening. Where are you staying, Lord?”

     “At the Kingston, it's a little place down on 32nd Street. I stayed there with Carter once. I'm in Room 101---”

     Kane made a notation on the desk pad. “Do you want to leave this here?” He indicated the emerald. “I can give you a receipt for it.”

     “Maybe that would be better. I’d hate to lose it.”

     Kane grinned. “Yes, it isn’t the sort of pocket piece which make one comfortable. In the Norreys‘ vault it will keep you out of trouble.”

     Peter's oddly spaced eyebrows drew together in a little frown.

     “What makes you think it might get me into trouble?” he asked suddenly.

     “Its loss would mean trouble, wouldn’t it?”

     “It certainly would!” Peter folded away the receipt the other had scrawled. Thanks for giving me the time, Mr. Kane. I sure appreciate your bothering---”

     “Perhaps the thanks should be going the other way, Lord, You'll hear from me as soon as I can contact Van Norreys. You haven't gone to anyone else about this, have you?”

     “No-- just took a chance on you after I read that story.”

     “It may be an excellent thing for both of us that you do read `Time’ Lord.” was Kane's dismissal.

     Outside the rain still beat on sidewalk and building and the wind had lost none of its knife edge. Peter ducked across the streaming street and into the warmth and light of a big drug store. The hot coffee he ordered to draw some of the soreness from his throat was really hot and there was plenty of sugar at hand. He swallowed two aspirin hopefully. This was no time to crack up with the flu or something as silly as that.

     On the wall the big clock said eleven. He wasn’t really hungry yet. Of course he could kill time at a movie, but here in New York they'd probably come high. And those few bills in his wallet, the skimpy handful of change in his pocket, had to stretch a long way. No movie.

     He settled for two candy bars and two magazines of the fantastic adventure school. With these provisions for mind and body buttoned inside his jacket he got back to the Kingston and thankfully pulled off his waterlogged clothing.

     It was queer to be lying across a too firm, hotel bed in the middle of the morning, allowing a square of chocolate to dissolve on his tongue while he read, in magnificent leisure about bug-eyed monsters from the outer stars. He couldn’t remember, in the immediate past, of a single day spent in such idleness---not for a long, long time.

     The shrill ring of the telephone brought him out of a half-doze. His watch said half-past three. Van Norreys must have come back sooner than Kane had expected.

     But it was the desk clerk who answered him.

     “A Mr. Mannerheim to see you, sir.”

     Mannerheim---? He might be someone sent by Kane.

     “Send him up.”

     He had hardly time to pull on his robe before a knock at the door announced his visitor.

     The first thing that one noted about Oscar Mannerheim was his smile, a wide stretch of china bright teeth shown with a radiance which was a little over-powering. The odd thing about Mr. Mannerheim's beaming mouth was that his deeply set, dark eyes rarely agreed with its sentiments, any spark of good will which might have dwelt in their depths was adequately concealed from the world at large.

     “I am speaking to Mr. Peter Lord, yes?” the voice was soft, even insinuating, and yet something in its timbre made Peter uncomfortable.


     “You are indeed the brother of my poor friend Mr. Carter Lord---?”

     Peter's faint dislike of his visitor grew.


     Mr. Mannerheim’s smile faded into a dim but still present shadow of its usual exuberance. “Poor Carter. A great loss-- a very great loss to Mayapan, Mr. Lord. He had such a splendid future before him. We-- all his friends felt---”

     “You are from Mayapan then?” Peter couldn't stand any more of this.

     “I am. I have the good fortune to be a member of the Geneva Import Corporation of Maya City. And I had also the good luck to know you brother well. He perhaps mentioned to you in his letters my name-- I am Oscar Mannerheim!”

     He stood waiting, his round head a little on one side, as if he expected Peter to display some over whelming emotion at this revelation.

     “Sorry. Carter never mentioned you---”

     “But he told me of you-- many, many times. Of his little brother Peter---” persisted the tongue behind the Mannerheim smile. “That is why I have come to you now-- to ask your aid--”

     He paused and Peter obediently furnished the proper cue.

     “My aid?”

     “Yes. Your brother had among his papers a very important map belonging to my company-- the Geneva Import Corporation. We had arranged-- you understand-- for him to have surveyed some up river property we own-- property in the Rio Jaguar country---” there was a short hesitation after the word `country’, as if the other expected to see some sign of recognition from Peter. “He had this map completed just before his unfortunate death. We know that it was delivered to him. But, when we attempted to find it, we discovered that his papers had been sent to you. The Geneva Import Corporation is most desirous of obtaining the map. In fact, if there is no further delay in finding it, we will be able pay a small bonus to cover your trouble in the matter-- along with, naturally the fee still owing to Mr. Carter Lord.” With a flourish Mannerheim produced a wallet and unfolded with a sort of reverence a slip of green paper which he proffered with a gesture close to a bow.

     Peter read the sum above the spiky signature on the check. And, at first, the parade of figures didn't quite register. When they did he stood a little straighter.

     “And just what do you want in exchange for this?”

     “Merely to look through the papers belonging to your brother-- those which were sent to you after his death-- to look through them and abstract the map and the notes made for it. They are of value to no one but my company.”

     Peter held out the check, “I promise to look through the papers which are not here right now. And if I find among them any notes or map such as you mention we can talk this over again. But I cannot accept payment for what may not be there at all. So far as I know there isn't a single map there.”

     Mannerheim accepted the cheek cheerfully enough and appeared to be little disturbed at his dismissal.

     “Your promise to do so is enough for me, Mr. Lord. As I have stated, those notes are of no value except to my concern-- of no value at all. When you wish you may get in touch with me by calling this number.” He laid a card on the telephone stand, made a jerky half bow as he added: “Hasta la vista, Mr. Peter Lord.”

 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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