TROUBLE IN MAYAPAN
A Norreys Jewel Adventure
By Andre Norton
5: "Every River Rock Hides A Diamond!”
Peter lined up in a row the six animal figures. One, the long snouted anteater, was fashioned of what seemed to be the same green stone of that jaguar which had been delivered to him at dawn. The alligator next to it was of a reddish metallic substance, verdigris stains about the eye pits and fangs. Then came the sloth, made of the same metal. Peter picked up the fourth, the bat. He hardly dared to believe that his guess about that might be true, but the weight of it was a good answer-- solid gold! A monkey was next to that and last of all, more angular of line, was a silver lama the only beast of burden known to the men of pre-Columbian South America.
“What's the stuff this is carved from?” Peter tapped the green anteater with his fingernail.
Piast's answer came eagerly. “What was once one of the minor mysteries of this continent. That is jade-- pure jade. It has been found again and again, set in ornaments, fashioned into figures such as these. But, until a very few years ago, the source of it on this side of the ocean could not be located. That is one of the reasons why the idea persisted that both Americas must have had overseas contacts long before the period of European colonization.”
“Such jade was in the jealous possession of nobles and kings-- treasured by them far above gold or even the far more precious emeralds of Columbia-- because it was so rare. The story is told that when one of the Spanish conquerors levied tribute upon an Aztec noble, demanding the most prized belonging of his captive, he was given four beads of this-- laid out upon a dish of solid gold.”
“Nowadays we know that jade is native to California, Montana and outcroppings of it may exist elsewhere too---”
“Yes, the anteater is of jade, and the alligator and the sloth-- they are of that bronze of which only the ancient men of this world knew the secret. Imagine, if you can, the height to which they had raised their knowledge of metal work-- they possessed the secret of a bronze alloy which would take a temper so that they could make out of it gem cutting tools! Had they gained such a mastery over iron-- what could they not have done!”
“These images are in such fine condition that I cannot help but believe that they have been preserved in some high, dry place-- like those caves and cities of the mountains in Peru where even the mummies of forgotten rulers have not yet withered into dust and the colors of their beautifully woven burial wrappings are as fresh as they were a thousand years ago. I have only cleaned these a little and yet-- see-- they are almost uneaten by time. Only where, I ask you, where is there a high dry place in this jungle land?”
“There are the Mist Mountains---” Norgate suggested.
Piast nodded vigorously. “And yet that story is just another tale to bring laughter from foolish lips. Many times have I heard the unimaginative cackle over it.”
“What are the Mist Mountains?” Peter put the anteater back in line.
“It's a tall tale which came out of the war days,” Norgate began. “most of the boys who used the Maya City field-- it wasn’t ready until the last six months of the war in Europe-- were A.T.C. pilots ferrying supplies, men and planes overseas. We get storms suddenly down here and, when they do come, they're not the kind any sensible flyer tries to ride out. Get off the beam and out over the jungle in one of those and, brother, your family better start hunting for the insurance papers! Even the old hands who barnstormed flights down here before the war don't venture out after the warnings go up.”
“But that kind of weather has the nasty habit of breaking without much warning, and that happened a few dozen times. We lost ships-- never knew what happened to them-- they may have been blown out over the gulf and were lost in the drink or they may have crashed inland where there are no points of civilization. Anyway, there was one pilot on the run from Florida into Maya City who was a very old hand. He came down here in '36 and had a nice little business of his own, hedge-hopping, hauling prospectors-- things like that. He knew the country as well as any flyer up to that time did.”
“Well, he was caught in a beauty of a storm. And, to save his neck, ran before it. In no time at all he was so far from the beam that his radio man was talking to himself when he wanted to hear something. The ship was off the map so far they might have been wafted into the fourth dimension. When the clouds cleared enough for them to take a look-see eastward, they were over solid jungle, flat, green, and deadly. A crash there would mean the end, and any attempt to land meant a crash.”
“Of course none of those A.T.C. planes were meant to fly indefinitely. They had to have a little gas now and then or they didn’t stay airborne. And this one had just about used up its supply for the trip. By that time too, the navigator was so far from all the contact points he knew that he was spending most of the time praying for a good guess.”
“That’s when they first saw the Mist Mountains. Coming right up out of the jungle as big as the Andes. In fact, at first they thought that that’s what the mountains were-- the Andes. Only the pilot, who knew all that was known of Mayapan, guessed that they were part of the never-never land which has never been explored. He turned tail to them and beat it out-- but quick. Cracked up after using his last teaspoon of gas to bring them in on a half-cleared sugar plantation. As for his mountains-- well, we were kind of busy long about then and nobody was very interested in adding new details on the local map. There was a spot of bother across the big pond which was absorbing most of our attention. George Conners, the pilot, erased himself and the bomber he was flying, the next trip but one-- he'd had a little too much luck in the past. And the Mist Mountains just got to be a story kicked around among the boys. There was no percentage anyone could see in a lot of rocky mountains a hundred miles from nowhere. And without a decent landing place how could you get there anyway?”
“You see?” Piast flung out his hands. “Anything, anything at all may exist in the jungle-- and who cares?”
“Thinking of that book `The Lost World‘, Gregori? You know, a guy could pick up a nice bit of change supplying a live brontosaurus for any zoo in the world. You get from somewhere few thousand bucks backing money and I'll fly you in. I'm a sucker for a treasure hunt, too.”
Peter's eyes swung back to the row of grotesque figures.
“You say my brother gave you these, Mr. Piast---?”
“No. Perhaps I did not express myself clearly. He did not give them to me-- it was a business venture, you understand. One of the men whom he had staked in a prospecting venture sent them to him. Carter brought them to me for valuation since he had no knowledge of antiquities. I was to act as his agent in the matter of sale. Do-- do you wish to continue this arrangement, Mr. Lord?” For the first time the Pole's quiet voice sounded thin, faded.
“If Carter wanted to deal with you-- than I do, too. But when did he bring them to you?”
“It was-- let me see--” the other produced a thick ledger and turned the pages carefully, starting about a third of the way through. “It was about six months ago, Mr. Lord-- that he gave me the first two-- the anteater and the bat. Then, just a few days before he was taken ill, he dropped in very early one morning with the others. He was so happy that day-- it was his lucky day he said. A piece of great good fortune had come his way and now he would be able to do things which he had planned for a long time. He wished me luck too, said that maybe one of these pieces would bring it. Also he told me one other thing-- that the number seven was traditionally lucky. That I did not understand-- because, if he meant the figures, there are but six. Perhaps he knew of a seventh---”
“A seventh! Listen, what kind of animals, birds or insects might be represented in such a collection?” demanded Peter.
“These are all animals or creatures native to this country---” began Piast when Norgate cut in:
“With one important exception---”
“Maybe a jaguar.” Peter made the suggestion almost before the other had finished.
“A jaguar-- or perhaps a puma,” Piast corrected. “They are different and mean different things in native lore. A puma is a friend to man, a good spirit. While the jaguar is connected with dark and evil acts. But either one might be included in such a collection as this.”
“And Carter never told you which of the porkknockers he staked found these?” persisted Peter. "Did you ever hear him speak of an Aubrey Romanes?”
“Romanes? Romanes?” Piast repeated the name slowly. “No, I do not think that Carter ever mentioned such a man to me. Was he a countryman of yours, Mr. Lord?”
“Supposedly,” Peter answered wearily, “though the past couple of days has led me to wonder about that too. Just how well did you know Carter, Mr. Piast?”
“We were friends. He had a liking for the old things, though he knew little about them. Sometimes of an evening he would come to join our little circle-- there is Señor Oberen, and Captain Norgate, here, and Dr. Llanolles of the Ministry of Education, and Señor Curly Downes. We have a common interest in the up country lands and its legends. When we heard new tales from up country or had news from the rivers we would share it. Señor Oberen is interested in native gems-- he collects in a small way so he is eager to know of new finds in the river basins-- that is where our diamonds and beryls come from. Why, every river rock is said to hide a diamond in this land, and the lucky man may discover a fortune in one washing pan.”
“Did my brother buy diamonds?”
“But certainly you must know something of your brother's business Mr. Lord.” Piast was openly surprised. “He sold supplies to porkknockers. In return he received gold dust, diamonds, crude rubber or cinchona bark. He had a well established business. Though whether he might have continued to fare so well-- after the coming of the Geneva Import Corporation-- that is another question.”
“The Geneva Import Corporation,” remarked Norgate blandly, “is a very interesting concern. Sometimes I think that our esteemed friend, Colonel Pedimonte of the secret police might indulge himself with a bit of research in that direction----”
“And the Geneva Import Corporation also supplies porkknockers?”
“Among other occupations, yes,” Norgate answered Peter. “But you should know all about them by now-- the way your partner has been asking questions all over town. Though, I grant you, he's clever about it-- deuced clever. If it wasn't that I have a few lines out in dark places on my own accord, I wouldn't have gotten on to Kane. Do you know-- it might be amusing sometime for all of us to have a little truth session-- everyone present to speak freely and openly. For example you-- Mr. Peter Lord-- doubtless have a few secrets which would astound us all. As for the busy Mr. Kane----”
“Yes? And what about the busy Mr. Kane?” The question came from across the room. As if they were three puppets on a single string their heads turned. Kane lounged by the doorway, a polite smile curving his lips. But, as Peter noted, his eyes were not smiling at all.
“Remarkable acoustics in this place,” he continued. “For example your voice carries exceedingly well, Norgate. And the idea of a truth session is one I shall keep in mind-- it may come in useful.”
Norgate's perfect teeth flashed in a wide grin, he showed no sign of embarrassment.
“Any time, Mr. Kane, any time. Until the weather is reported clear-- and I get a commission, I'm chained here in town. And I like parties.”
Peter decided it was time to break this up. “Mr. Piast, this is Mr. Kane of New York---”
“A field agent for the House of Norreys,” Kane added smoothly.
“The House of Norreys! Diamonds, is it, Mr. Kane? But I have heard no rumors of a major strike recently---”
“Not diamonds, no. Those we shall buy through Castro as always. But Mr. Van Norreys is in the market for fancy stones, amethysts of good color, black pearls, topaz and aquamarines---”
“All of those have been found in Mayapan, that is true. But not for some years have any such gems of value been offered on the market. However these sales are uncertain-- at any hour a porkknocker may bring in a treasure before undreamed of-- it has so happened in the past.”
“Do you deal in stones?” queried Kane.
“I?” Piast shook his head. “I possess some pieces of jewelry of the colonial period, yes. And,” he touched his forehead with his fingers, “this is indeed luck! It is of that variety which the House of Norreys was often interested in-- in past years. If you will but come with me, gentlemen---”
He hurried out of the shop room, pausing only to lock the door behind them, and down the hall which gave on a flight of stairs.
“To the dungeons,” Norgate said in Peter's ear. “The good General was very medieval minded in more ways than one. Piast cleared out the torture room, but I assure you that there was a very fully equipped one here before he moved in.”
“He also had this built in, the General did.” Piast must have heard the flyer's words as he stopped before a door of gleaming metal set flat in a wall of concrete blocks.
“Great Guns! A vault that size---!” burst out Kane.
“For his private treasury, I think.” Piast was busy turning a series of small dials.
“Which was merely a supplement to the public one, by all accounts,” remarked Norgate. “Only he didn't get away to Paris with the contents when the end came. If he does do any haunting I should think it would be right around here.”
“Come in, come in,” Piast stepped through the ponderous door and beckoned them to join him.
The vault was a real room of some size, floored, walled and ceiled with metal. A whole filing cabinet of drawers faced them. While set in the side walls were a series of glass fronted cupboards, completely lined in velvet of dull shades.
“The late General Morgales was also a collector of jewelry,” Piast explained. “It was his pleasure to come here from time to time and look upon his best items as they lay on display. Unfortunately I cannot compete with my predecessor as I would wish. But in those two cases to your left, Mr. Kane, you will see my best offerings.”
“I'm not an expert,” began Kane and then stopped short as he saw the necklace, earrings and two bracelets arranged on the black velvet of the first case.
It was Peter who dared to ask the question.
“Are they real?”
Piast nodded. “Yes. By tradition they are said to have been a part of the General's own collection. The large stone is a brown diamond, the smaller ones gem topaz. The set was designed in Paris by Devieux Fres. Unfortunately the diamond is flawed and the market for topaz limited. There is no longer a fashionable call for the stones---”
“Do you have a good photograph of it?” demanded Kane.
“No, but one could be made. Do you think then that Norreys might really be interested in it?” the Pole asked eagerly. “I accepted this as part payment on a debt and have too much capital tied up in it to please me.”
“I can't promise anything. But it will do no harm to send photographs and a technical report on it to New York. But what is all this?” Kane passed on to the next case.
“These, gentlemen, are not for sale,” Piast tapped the glass front of the case and gazed fondly at its contents. “She must have been a queen, the lady for whom these were designed-- do you not agree? As dainty a princess as that incomparable Nefertiti of Egypt whose portrait head still has the power to send men a little mad. Look at the grace of those wings-- the intricate scrolling---”
Here too lay a necklace and earrings fashioned of fine soft gold. Butterflies, their wings lifted to catch some passing breeze, were fastened to tiny links of a short chain. Part was gone, broken off and lost sometime in the centuries gone, what remained was not enough to span any woman's throat.
“It was sold to me by Dona Alvira de Furentues. She has conceived a dislike for it, springing from an old legend of her family concerning disasters linked with it. According to tales she has heard it was part of the dowry of a lady who came into the Furentues House from Mexico, a lady who was not happy nor well treated after she made an unwilling wedding voyage to Mayapan. Yet it is clearly native work of the finest-- maybe Aztec-- maybe Mayan. I have not yet been able to identify it. There were men who followed Cortez and married Indian brides. And so I can dream exciting dreams of this and how it came to me-- through whose fair hands it must have passed. No, this is not for sale.”
“Have you anything else?” asked Kane.
“Native work, such as you have seen upstairs. I supply some museums in the United States and Great Britain. This territory is virtually unknown as yet to their field men. And, through Señor Downes, I have been able to establish contact with some of the shy jungle peoples. Señor Downes has extraordinary control over the tribesmen of the interior.”
Piast closed his vault and they went back to the sales room where Peter wandered about looking at the treasures on tables and chests while Kane went over the papers concerning the jewel set Piast wished to sell. Most of the small objects set out for sale were of native work. But, in a collection of cutting tools of various kinds, Peter came across a strange knife which he carried into the stronger light from one of the barred windows.
The blade was hardly thicker than one of those needles which are used for carpet baling and the hilt had been cut down from a much larger one. It was a wicked looking weapon, sharp and vicious.
“What's this?” Peter asked Norgate who had drifted over to see his find.
“A dandy little tool for sharp work in close quarters. That has been cut down from a fine rapier. You could stab a man with that and leave hardly any trace of wound. It's tough too, the best steel and temper---”
Peter balanced the blade across his palm. It weighed surprisingly little, less than a third of the jungle knife which he had seen in Carter's equipment. Yet it was clearly more deadly than that larger weapon. He had an odd feeling, as he stood weighing it so, that it belonged where it lay, in his hand, as if it meant safety. Impulsively he went up to Piast.
“Ah,” the Pole looked up from his papers, “I see you have found a great curiosity. That is very old-- maybe fifteenth, sixteenth century, cut down from a fine Italian rapier. With all our vaunted modern ability, gentlemen, we cannot equal in some things the work older craftsmen have done. That is the weapon of an assassin, a workman in death. It is meant to be carried in such a sheath as this---”
He picked up a carved leather sheath about eight inches long with two straps dangling from it. “About the forearm under the sleeve-- so. Then there was a certain twist these murderers knew which sent the blade sliding down out of the sheath into the hand which needed it. Yes, a trick of their nefarious trade which certain of the underground re-learned during the war.”
“Do you have a sheath to fit this?”
“No. It came to me without one, part of an odd lot of old weapons I bought when Señor Keith Williams returned to the United States last year. He knew nothing of its history-- unfortunately.”
Peter bent the blade slightly, the supple steel sprung with a slight 'ting' back into place. It would be rather neat to know that wrist twist-- or whatever it was-- which could control such a weapon. Useful sort of information.
When Peter left the shop of Gregori Piast sometime later, the assassins blade was his own.
Digitized and edited by Jay Watts ~ aka: Lotsawatts ~ February, 2016
Never before seen novel by Andre Norton
Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights - Andre-Norton-Books.com
Donated by – Victor Horadam
Duplication of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.