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The Inca Emerald

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The Inca Emerald
Samuel Scoville

The Inca Emerald


The Beginning

It was a bushmaster which started the Quest of the Emerald – and only a possible bushmaster at that. One May evening in Cornwall, Big Jim Donegan, the lumber-king, sat in the misty moonlight with his slippered feet on the rail of the veranda of the great house in which he lived alone. He was puffing away at a corn-cob pipe as placidly as if he did not have more millions than Cornwall has hills – which is saying something, for Cornwall has twenty-seven of the latter. Along the gravel walk, which wound its way for nearly half a mile to the entrance of the estate, came the sound of a dragging footstep. A moment later, from out of the shadows stepped a man over six feet in height, a little stooped, and who wore a shiny frock-coat surmounted by a somewhat battered silk hat. The stranger had a long, clean-shaven, lantern-jawed face. His nose jutted out like a huge beak, a magnificent, domineering nose, which, however, did not seem in accord with his abstracted blue eyes and his precise voice.

"What do you want?" snapped Big Jim, bringing his feet to the floor with alarming suddenness.

The stranger blinked at him mildly for a moment with a gaze that seemed to be cataloguing the speaker.

"This is Mr. James Donegan," he finally stated.

"How do you know?" demanded the lumber-king.

"You have all the characteristics of a magnate," returned the other, calmly, "energy, confidence, bad temper, worse manners, and – "

"Whoa!" shouted Big Jim, whose bark was worse than his bite and who always respected people who stood up to him. "Never mind any more statistics. Who are you!"

"My name is Ditson," responded the other, sitting down without invitation in the most comfortable chair in sight. "Professor Amandus Ditson. I am connected with the Smithsonian National Museum."

"Well," returned Mr. Donegan, stiffening, "I don't intend to subscribe any money to the Smithsonian Museum or any other museum, so there's no use of your asking me."

"I had no intention of asking you for anything," returned Professor Ditson, severely. "I had understood that you were a collector of gems, and I came to place at your disposal certain information in regard to the finest emeralds probably now in existence. I too am a collector," he went on abstractedly.

"Humph!" grunted Big Jim. "What do you collect?" he inquired, regarding his visitor shrewdly.

"Bushmasters," responded Professor Ditson, simply.

"Come again," returned Big Jim, much puzzled, "I don't quite get you. What are bushmasters?"

"The bushmaster," announced Professor Ditson, with more animation than he had yet shown, "is the largest, the rarest and the deadliest of South American serpents. It attains a length of over twelve feet and has fangs an inch and a half long. You will hardly believe me," he went on, tapping Mr. Donegan's knee with a long, bony forefinger, "but there is not a single living specimen in captivity at present, even in our largest cities."

The lumber-king regarded the scientist with undisguised astonishment.

"Professor Amandus Ditson," he announced solemnly, "so far as I'm concerned, there can continue to be a lack of bushmasters not only in our great cities, but everywhere else. Snakes of any kind are absolutely nothing in my young life."

"Tut! tut!" responded the professor, reprovingly. "I think that I could convince you that you are wrong in your unfortunate aversion to reptiles."

"No you couldn't," returned Big Jim, positively, "not if you were to lecture all the rest of the year."

"Well," responded Professor Ditson soothingly, "suppose we discuss your hobby, which I understand is precious stones."

"Now you're talking," returned the other, enthusiastically, "I suppose I've about the finest collection of gems in this country, and in some lines perhaps the best on earth. Take pearls, for instance," he boasted. "Why, Professor Ditson, some boys right here in Cornwall helped me get the finest examples of pink and blue pearls that there are in any collection. When it comes to emeralds, there are half a dozen collectors who beat me out. What's all this dope you have about them, anyway?"

"Last year," replied the other, "I was in Peru at a time when they were repairing one of the oldest cathedrals in that country. A native workman, knowing that I was interested in rarities of all kinds, brought me an old manuscript, which turned out to be a map and a description of the celebrated Lake of Eldorado."

"That's the name of one of those dream places," interrupted Mr. Donegan, impatiently. "I've no time to listen to dreams."

Professor Ditson was much incensed.

"Sir," he returned austerely, "I deal in facts, not in dreams. I have traveled one thousand miles to see you, but if you can not speak more civilly, I shall be compelled to terminate this interview and go to some one with better manners and more sense."

"Just what I was going to suggest," murmured Big Jim, taken aback, but much pleased by the professor's independence. "So long, however, as you've beat me to it, go on. I'll hear you out anyway."

Professor Ditson stared at him sternly.

"For nearly four hundred years," he began at last, "there have been legends of a sacred lake somewhere in Bolivia or Peru. Once a year, before the Spanish conquest, the chief of the Incas, the dominant race of Peru, covered with gold-dust, would be ferried out to the center of this lake. There he would throw into the lake the best emerald that had been found in their mines during the year and then leap in himself. At the same time the other members of the tribe would stand on the shores with their backs to the lake and throw into the water over their shoulders emeralds and gold ornaments."

"Why on earth did they do that?" exclaimed the old collector.

"As an offering to the Spirit of the Lake," returned the professor. "The Spaniards, when they heard the story, named the lake, Eldorado – The Lake of the Golden Man. As the centuries went by, the location was lost – until I found it again."

There was a long pause, which was broken at last by the lumber-king.

"Have you any proof that this story of yours is true?" he inquired sarcastically.

For answer, the scientist fished a dingy bag from his pocket and shook out on the table a circlet of soft, pale gold in which gleamed three green stones.

"I found this ten feet from the shore," he said simply.

The lumber-king gasped as he studied the stones with an expert eye.

"Professor Ditson," he admitted at last, "you're all right and I'm all wrong. That's South American gold. I know it by the color. African gold is the deepest, and South American the palest. Those stones are emeralds," he went on; "flawed ones, to be sure, but of the right color. The common emerald from the Ural Mountains is grass-green," lectured Mr. Donegan, fairly started on his hobby. "A few emeralds are gray-green. Those come from the old mines of the Pharaohs along the coast of the Red Sea. They are found on mummies and in the ruins of Pompeii and along the beach in front of Alexandria, where treasure-ships have been wrecked."

Professor Ditson yawned rudely.

"Once in a blue moon," went on the old collector, earnestly, "a real spring-green emerald with a velvety luster, like these stones, turns up. We call 'em 'treasure emeralds,'" he continued, while Professor Ditson shifted uneasily in his chair. "Most of them are in Spanish collections, and they are supposed to be part of the loot that Cortez and Pizarro brought back to Spain when they conquered Mexico and Peru. How large did these old Peruvian emeralds run?" he inquired suddenly.

He had to repeat this question before Professor Ditson, who had been dozing lightly, roused himself.

"Ah yes, quite so, very interesting, I'm sure," responded that scientist, confusedly. "As to the size of South American emeralds," he went on, rubbing his eyes, "the Spanish record shows that Pizarro sent back to Spain several which were as large as pigeon eggs, and there is a native tradition that the last Inca threw into Eldorado an oval emerald as large as a hen's egg."

Donegan's face flushed with excitement.

"Professor Ditson," he said at last, "I've got to have one of those emeralds. Come in," he went on, getting up suddenly, "and I'll show you my collection."

Professor Ditson sat still.

"No, Mr. Donegan," he said, "it would be just a waste of time. To me, gems are just a lot of colored crystals."

The old lumber-king snorted.

"I suppose you prefer snakes," he said cuttingly.

Professor Ditson's face brightened at the word.
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