A Norreys Jewel Adventure

By Andre Norton


3: “Emeralds, Señor? You Jest?”

     There was an emerald green lizard streaking across the ceiling map of cracks and crevices. Emerald green---. Peter punched the lumpy pillow into a more comfortable position under his head. Not being used to this siesta business he had no inclination to doze away what had always been the heart of the working day for him. At last he rolled over and reached for his shoes. There was no sound from Kane’s room. But then Kane was used to life in the tropics and probably had no trouble in adapting to this boring routine.

     Then too, Kane had had something on his mind ever since they walked by the villa which housed the Geneva Export Corporation. He Peter Lord, was a raw outsider in this world, but even he could guess that there had been something queer about that European gatekeeper who had walked a short beat right inside the iron picket barrier---almost as if he were a guard on sentry duty.

     Kane had taken one good look at the fellow and had frozen up. And yet that glance had not been one of real recognition---.

     Peter tied his shoe laces and decided against putting on a jacket. There was a chance now for him to slip away and do something that a certain shyness had kept him from mentioning to his companion during the morning---something he wanted to do alone.

     He crossed the patio of the Casa Negro, slipping between two perches where chained parakeets voiced bored and rude disapproval of disturbances, and went down the short passage to the street where sunshine made a cruel hot plate of wall and pavement. Maya City was a city of the dead---asleep.

     Peter kept to such shadows as house walls afforded until coming into an avenue of some importance where dusty, yellowed palms drooped in ragged fringes. He passed the American consulate and found what he sought only a short distance beyond. The gate in the white wall stood ajar and, within the enclosure it guarded were trees, bushes and some grass which had not yet succumbed to the torture of the dry season.

     And here also white stones stood straight and tall, each a sentry above a small plot of alien ground. Those close to the gate were weathered, the letters carved into them softened by the hammer of time.

     “James Morton, first Mate of the Brig Newhaven, in the twenty-first year of his life. 1834,” Peter could read the nearest well enough. He hurried on toward the far end of the last row. It was there, right enough, the brown grass just beginning to creep up the mound.

     “Captain Carter Lord, 1922-1947”

     As he read that single bald line on the stone, he began to wish that he hadn’t come. Because the patchy strip of ground had nothing to do with Carter. Its drabness was not real. Carter was a tall, slim, uniformed figure swinging on a train with a half salute of farewell and a wide grin, he was lines of hopeful and excited writing in a pack of letters, he was anything but a white stone in a parched little resting place for exiles. Peter turned away abruptly and knew that he could never bear to come here again---at least not for a long, long time.

     Carter had left him a job to do, he would keep that in his mind for now. And so now he turned into the door of the consulate. There was no one in the outer office and he hesitated, wondering whether it was etiquette to shout or otherwise disturb the somnolent peace to announce one’s arrival. He compromised by shuffling his feet as loudly as possible on the floor and found he was able to produce quite a respectable amount of noise.

     In due time, he was cheered by the slow motion appearance of a bespectacled young man, whose annoyance was plain in a deep frown line between his slightly protruding eyes.


     Peter wondered if it were possible for any one's eyebrows to rise to the hair line---from the way those on the pale face across the counter were sweeping up it seemed that that feat might be accomplished, and it was a gesture which conveyed contempt in a very competent manner.

     “I'm Peter Lord-- from the States, your office here handled my brother’s affairs after his death?---”

     “Oh yes.” if possible the young man’s distaste was more manifest. “Carter Lord. Mr. Masterson attended to the matter himself---”

     “May I see Mr. Masterson?”

     From the shock the other then displayed Peter gathered that he must just have committed a rank diplomatic sin.

     “Mr. Masterson is out of the city for the weekend. If you wish to leave a message---”

     The heat and something else, something which had perhaps not been born at the sight of that white stone, but which had been strengthened by it, worked in Peter. His reply had an edge to it.

     “I'm trying to locate my brother's files and business papers, the ones which were not sent on to me. Have you any idea of where they are?”

     It seemed to give the clerk a great deal of pleasure to be able to shake his head, so much that he went on shaking it several seconds longer than necessary.

     “Mr. Masterson took full charge of the whole affair. You would have to see him----”

     “And when do you expect him back?”

     “Sometime Monday or Tuesday. He was indefinite about it when he left.”

     “All right.” beaten Peter was about to leave when he remembered something else. “Look here, don't you people keep a record of the Americans living and working in this country?”

     The clerk who had been oozing toward the inner door sighed loudly and unattractively. “Mayapanian law requires all foreigners to register at their consulates if they remain in the country more than seven days. But you will have to have the permission of the consul to inspect the register.”

     “Then how about your doing it for me? I want to locate Aubrey Romanes, an ex-GI who took his discharge down here and is prospecting up country---”

     “We have no such person listed.”

     Peter leaned across the counter rail which had clearly been devised to keep the public from the throats of the personnel. “And why are you so sure of that?”

     “Because you’re not the first to come around asking for him. Mr. Masterson-- and this office-- is tired of being bothered. There is no Aubrey Romanes in Mayapan. And if you want to see Mr. Masterson, you can come back Tuesday!”

     Apparently goaded beyond endurance the clerk fled into the inner sanctum and Peter wandered back to the glare of the street nursing a new problem, that of the existence of Aubrey Romanes. He hesitated in the skeleton shade of one of the wind shredded palms and wondered where to go next.

     “Señor Lord,” Diaz Tomás, a little more frayed, a trifle limper with heat, stood within the outer edge of the circle of shadow watching him, “Thees ees the siesta hour, Señor. Eet ees mos‘ difficult to do business now---”

     “Listen,” Peter interrupted him. “Do you know anything about porkknockers?”

     “Porkknockers? But of course, Señor. They are the prospectors-- the wild men who hunt een the jungle for gold and diamonds---”

     “Supposing you wanted to find out something about one of them-- where would you start asking questions?”

     Diaz patted his round face with a far from white handkerchief, sopping up the greasy beads from the beginning of a fat and bristly under jowl as he considered the problem.

     “There are cafes, Señor, cafes they visit when they are een funds. There ees fo‘ example the Emerald Parrot---”

     “Emeralds certainly pop up in the conversation,” commented Peter, “All right, Tomás, suppose you make yourself useful and show me the Emerald Parrot.”

     “Now, Señor? But thees ees the hour of siesta!”

     Peter’s fingers sank into the flabby flesh of the smaller man’s arm. “You told me that before-- remember? But I am a mad Norte Americano and do not believe in siestas. We shall visit the Emerald Parrot-- now!”

     Tomás shrugged himself out of the other’s grip. “Ver’ well, Señor. But Dona Eustacia-- she weel not be een a good humor. You are warned.”

     “I am warned.” returned Peter.

     The Emerald Parrot was a place of no-grace or dignity but undoubtedly it had been the scene-of-much history, most of it unsavory. It consisted of two dirty and vile smelling rooms on a side alley where the stink of raw native rum poisoned the air and thickened the heat bottled up between filthy walls. Tomes spat expertly on the floor and drummed with the palm of his fat hand on the stained and greasy bar. He was answered by a wild scream of rage and a cackle of Spanish profanity as, with a whir of wings, a huge bird beat across the empty tables and settled, to waddle down the bar spitting obscenities, its wrinkled, lids only half hiding evil eyes as glittering bright as its feathers.

     Tomás drew back hurriedly when the creature snapped at his fingers, and waved his arm to shoo it away. Peter kept to a prudent distance. He had never before seen a bird who had so much of the arrogance of a successful gangster.

     “Sooo-- Sooo, my little one. And who has disturbed you now?” The voice out of the gloom was low and sweet, sweet as the thick sugar which lay in the coarse bags on the wharves, drawing to it all the blundering bees of Mayapan, there was a disquieting note in all that sweetness, one did not altogether trust----

     Tomás swept off his hat and bowed grandly toward its source.

     “Dona Eustacia---”

     “Soo-- eet ees you, little man,” her English was surprisingly good. “And why do you stir about when all honest men rest? Even Cortez knows that that ees wrong. Do you not, my mos’ precious one?”

     As she advanced to the front of the bar room Peter drew a long breath of amazement. He had expected a slattern, one of the frowsy women of mixed blood, such as those he had seen on the streets during the morning. But Dona Eustacia plainly had no kinship with those examples of Mayapanian femininity.

     In the first place, matching his six feet in height, the proprietor of the Emerald Parrot held her elaborately dressed head high. Yet her largeness was not grotesque and she moved gracefully with the carriage of a woman who is justly proud of her figure. Her blue-white hair was puffed and curled into an almost wig-like state and in it was the high comb of Spain. Her skin was very white, without blemish, and showed to perfection against the dull, matt black of her full skirted, tight bodiced dress.

     The fingers of both her hands were weighted with rings, flashing gem fire in all colors and she wore a long necklace of pearls which Peter thought might compare favorably with those owned by Kaatje Van Norreys.

     “And who ees thees Norte Amerieano who has lost hees tongue at the sight of my great beauty, Tomás? You should mind better your manners and eentroduce us---” She laughed, opening her mouth widely and showing a fine set of strong yellowish teeth.

     “Eet ees the Señor Peter Lord, brother to the Señor Carter Lord.”

     She waved her hands, striking fire with the jewels on her finger, “But thees ees an honor, Señor. Many, many times has your brother stood just so een the Emerald Parrot. Cortez had a great affection for heem, had you not, my love?” She crooned to the bird who fluttered up to her shoulder and perched there, now and again putting its beak to her ear, after surveying the visitors narrowly, as if it were whispering secret advice.

     “Cortez, Cortez,” With one hand she stroked the parrot's head. “You must not be so suspicious, Now eet ees my guess that Señor Peter Lord has come to me for a good reason, ees that not so, Señor? But eef I am right, we must first show our hospitality, mast we not, my pet? Eff you will be so good as to follow me now, Señores---”

     Her skirts made a whispering sound as she turned, and rustled faintly as she walked before them with quick, graceful steps. But Cortez turned his head around to watch them with a measuring beady eye which would admit no virtue in them.

     They passed out of the sour smelling cafe rooms, down a corridor into another world where there was cleanliness and light. A patio, the core of which was a pool containing brightly colored fish, was their goal. Dona Eustacia waved her visitors to a bench, but she herself chose a high backed chair of ancient polished wood and Cortez hooked his claws over the carven crest which topped his mistress‘ head.

     “Thees ees your first visit to Mayapan, Señor?”

     “Yes, madam, and it is extremely courteous or you to allow me to interrupt your siesta hour---”

     She laughed. “Señor, now I shall tell you a little secret. I, Dona Eustaoia, do not keep the siesta. I am too old to coddle the flesh any longer. Also, I find eet ees sometimes ver’ profitable to be awake when others sleep. But now-- I know well the customs of the Norte Americanos-- let us to thees so important business of yours.”

     “I have been told that the Emerald Parrot is a favorite with the porkknockers from up country---”

     “That ees true,” Dona Eustacia extended her gemmed hands, “See, all of these are from the jungle country. Sometimes I sight a lucky man, a man who ees going to make a good find. I, Eustacia, can tell such men! Then I make with heem what you Norte Americanos call 'a little deal‘. I give to heem supplies, whatever he wants. And within six months, a year, I have another ring for the finger. But you, Señor, surely you do not intend to turn porkknocker! The jungle ees not for those who have no knowledge of eets bite. Many, many men have left their bones een there-- countrymen of yours. When the war was over there were soldiers who believed that diamonds and gold lay for the picking up een the river country. Against all warnings they would try prospecting. Some of them had listened to the tall tales told een thees ver' bar by the junglemen. And when that fever ees on a man there ees no reasoning weeth heem. Stay out of the jungle, Señor, eet ees not for such as you!”

     “l‘m not planning any trip inland, but l am trying to locate a man who did go-- about eight months ago. He was a former American soldier who took his discharge here and turned porkknocker. His name is Aubrey Romanes. Was he ever one of the patrons of the Emerald Parrot?”

     “Aubrey Romanes? And of what appearance was he-- this Americano porkknocker?”

     “That I can't tell you. I know nothing of him except that he was my brother's partner in an up country venture.”

     “Aubrey Romanes,” she repeated for the second time, “No, Señor, that name I have not heard before. But I shall eenquire eef you wish eet. Eef he has passed eento the jungle someone will know. Eet eee ver’ eemportent that you find thees Romanes?”

     Peter hedged as well as he could under the demand of those shrewd eyes. “I am here in Maya City to settle my bothers business affairs. Since Romanes was a partner of his, I feel that I should get in touch with him as soon as possible.”

     Dona Eustacia nodded. “True. Like all Norte Amehicanos you understand well the business. I, too, am a good business woman, Señor. And eef I can aid you I will.”

     “I have intruded upon your time long enough,” Peter got to his feet. “May I thank you for your gracious answer to my intrusion.” He managed a bow, which, if not as low as that made by Tomás, was at least not too ungraceful.

     “For a Norte Americano, Señor,” she observed frankly, “You have a feeling for Mayapanian ways which I find unusual. You have not seen the Emerald Parrot at eats best. Come again and do so. Also, should I hear news of your Romanes you shell have eet. Hasta la vista, Señor Lord.”

     She clapped her hands sharply and an Indian girl, barefooted, but in a spotlessly clean white dress, came to show them out, not through the empty cafe, but into the next street through Dona Eustacia’s own quarters.

     “Well,” Peter turned to Tomás. “Is there any other place where we can ask questions about Romanes?”

     “No, Señor. Eef Dona Eustacia cannot tell us of thees Romanes, than no one can, for she knows the junglemen better than anyone else een thees city. For many, many years has she controlled the porkknockers. Not one of them does a thing that she speedily does not know of eet. You saw her jewels-- they are all real. I, Diaz Tomás, swear eet ees true, on the hem of San Martin's cloak will I swear eet. She wears a fortune and yet there ees no man living who would dare to try and take eet from her. She ees a ver' strong person, Señor, ver' strong-- een spirit also. And they say that those she does not favor have eell luck sniffing at their heels-- eef not worse.” He made a curious little gesture with two crossed fingers to ward off the misfortune of speaking about the unknown so plainly.

     “But there was an Aubrey Romanes!” persisted Peter.

     Diaz Tomás was forced to trot to keep up with the long legged strides of the American and now he paused again to pat dry his sweating face. “Señor, eef your Romanes ees a porkknocker he must possess a government permit to enter the back country. Have you yet gone to the Ministry of Minerals and Mines to see eef such a permit has been issued?”

     Peter stopped so short that the other bounced ahead of him. “That's an idea! Where is this Ministry of Minerals and Mines?”

     Tomás beamed, pointing down a side street. "Thees way, Señor. The hour of siesta ees almost over, now ees a ver' good time to ask questions. I, Diaz Tomás, will show you where---”

     It was cool in the colonial building which housed the registration bureau for prospectors, cool and quiet and somehow remote from the dust and glare of the rest of the city. Tomás led the way through a maze of corridors and rooms to one on the second floor where an impressive legend in Spanish marked the end of their quest.

     The clerk in charge had returned to his post after the long noon rest and he waited for their pleasure with a quiet politeness which matched the formal elegance of the office.

     “But certainly, Señor, eet will be most easy to see whether thees Americano soldier applied for a license. All such applications are listed een our files here. You will pardon me please for one moment, Señor.”

     But when he returned he was obviously upset, “Señor, I am most sorry to tell you that the proper file ees missing! And these should not be so. There ees a strict rule that never are these files to be removed from place. But, Señor, young men, sometimes they do not see the wisdom of such orders, they are eempatient. One of our clerks has doubtless removed eet and forgot to return eet to the proper shelf. A search will be made at once. Perhaps-- Señor, eef you could return tomorrow?---”

     “Of course,” the clerk's distress was real and Peter felt sorry for him.

     “Señor, when the file ees again een my hands, I shall look up at once the record of thees Señor Aubrey Romanes and send eet to you-- that will be even better-- that you shall not have to journey here again!” The little man brightened as he made this suggestion. “Also, eef you wish, you might visit the Claims Registration Office-- eet ees within the second door down thees ver' hallway. Eef the man you seek has made any finds he will have recorded them there. All prospectors do that as soon as possible.”

     “That is a splendid idea, Señor. And thank you for your kindness.”

     The clerk of the Claim Bureau was a younger, less gentle man who affected the brusqueness of northern officials. But he ran through a card file efficiently and pleasantly enough at their request.

     “No, Señor, no claim has been recorded in the name of Aubrey Romanes or in the name of Carter Lord. In what section of the territory inland did you believe this claim to lie?”

     “That's just it, I don't know. Though my brother did mention the Rio Jaguar country.”

     “Now I can tell you at once, Señor, that that country has not been looked upon with favor by porkknockers. It has a bad name-- for fever, for hostile Indios-- Upon the fingers of one hand can I count the claims from there which are in our files. And none have been made within the year.”

     Peter thanked him and was turning away when a sudden thought sent him back to ask one more question.

     “Have you had an emerald claim filed recently?”

     “Emeralds, Señor? You jest. There are diamonds and gold-- yes, they are to be found in Mayapan. But never have emeralds been heard of here.”

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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