MR. LEON BEN ISRAEL had been waiting in his office in Silver Square, Hatton Gardens, for Inspector Rhys, of Scotland Yard, with an impatience that almost amounted to frenzy.
"There, one thing at a time," the Inspector said. "Now, let me see if I've got the facts right. The night before last, about 5 o'clock, when you were closing down for the day, two strangers called upon you. At that moment, your three assistants were upstairs, and you were alone in this room, where we are talking now. I think your safe was open."
"That is quite right," Ben Israel said. "My safe usually is open about 5 o'clock. You see, I always lock it myself, and set the combination before I leave."
"I quite understand," Rhys replied. "Mind you, that's a habit of yours that any smart thief could find out."
"Yes, I suppose it is," Ben Israel reflected. "Well, I was quite alone when they came in, and, as they appeared to be gentleman, I had no suspicious. I was just about to secure the safe when they fell upon me suddenly and what you call knocked me out. But they were not quite quick enough, because I got my hands on one man's face, and I must have twisted his nose pretty well off. After that, I remember no more till I found two of my clerks bending over me and, as soon as I was equal to it, we went through the safe. Now, strange, to say, Inspector, there was nothing missing with the exception of a pearl which I had in a tiny wooden box. Good Lord, they might have taken fifty thousand pounds worth of stuff, but they didn't—only the pearl."
"Was it a very valuable stone?"
"Oh, yes," Ben Israel groaned. "One of the finest in the world. It was pledged with me for a comparatively small sum, a week or two ago, and I took it without question. You will perhaps remember, Inspector, that a little time back Princess Zenia of Monarcho lost a pearl necklace in the Cranleigh Restaurant where she was dining. I don't mean to say that she actually lost it, because, as a matter of fact, the string, if I may so call it, gave way, and the pearls were scattered all over the floor. They were all picked up, with the exception of one, but that one was the finest of the lot, and was at the base of the necklace. Of course, somebody stole it. But when that pearl was pledged with me, I had no thought of the Princess. It was only afterwards, when I heard the details, that I came to the conclusion that I had the missing pearl in my safe. You may say that I ought to have given it up, indeed, I meant to, but not at a loss to myself, if I could help it, and that's about all there is to it, Inspector. I want you to find, for me, the men who robbed me, and, when you have done that. I shall be quite content."
"Yes, I expect you would," the Inspector said drily. "You don't seem to be aware of the fact that a reward of two thousand pounds is offered for the missing pearl, and it's long odds that you didn't advance that much of it."
Mr. Ben Israel groaned dismally.
"I didn't," he confessed. "So if you can find those men and get the pearl back. I shall be fortunate."
"Oh, no doubt, no doubt," Rhys said. "But you can't arrest prisoners without some sort of clue. Now, tell me, did those chaps leave anything behind them?"
"Well, I'm not quite sure as to that," Ben Israel said. "I certainly found something that struck me as rather curious, but how it came into my office, I can't tell."
With that, the eminent jeweller took a small object, wrapped in a piece of tissue paper, from a drawer in his desk. It had the appearance of a glass marble, opaque for the most part, with a tiny medallion in the centre of green enamel, slightly flecked with blue. Rhys examined it with keen interest.
"Where did you find this?" he asked.
"Oh, close to the safe. I don't know if, but it looks very much to me like an artificial eye."
"That's exactly what it is," Rhys announced. "And a very fine piece of work, too. I am not going to say that one of those men dropped it during the attack upon you, but it looks very much as if something of the sort had happened. If you don't mind, I'll take this with me, because it might prove a valuable clue. Now, tell me, who pawned that pearl with you?"
"Ah, that I don't know," Ben Israel said mournfully. "He had every appearance of being a gentleman, tall and well-dressed, with a neat, black moustache, and a scar over one eye. That's all I can tell you."
"Well, that's not bad for a start," the Inspector said. "Don't make any sort of statement, and don't allow those reporter fellows to get anything out of you. It's just possible that, in a day or two, I shall have something important to tell you."
With that, Inspector Rhys made his way thoughtfully westward and came, at length, to a house, not far from the Admiralty Arch, where he stopped, and giving his name, was admitted presently into the presence of a little man in spectacles.
"Good morning, Dr. Johnson," he said. "I come to you for a bit of advice. I know that you are a specialist as far as artificial aids are concerned, and that you have done a good deal during the war to supply our unfortunate men with the necessary equipment. Artificial eyes, for instance."
"That's quite in my line," the little man said.
"So I am told. Now, there were a good many men in the Army of doubtful antecedents who are now at liberty. Some of these, of course, must have lost limbs or eyes, and a good many of them, no doubt, came to you for advice. Now, will you kindly look at this."
With that, Rhys took the eye from his pocket, and handed it across to the little Professor. The latter examined it with the eye of an expert before he passed it back again.
"A very fine piece of work," he said. "There's only one man in London who could have turned out an eye like that. You see how cleverly those little flecks of blue are mingled with the grey of the iris. It must have been faithfully copied from the owner's remaining eye. You would like to know who made it?"
"I came for no other purpose," Rhys said. "If you can tell me, you are furthering the interests of justice."
"Oh, well, in that case, I have no further scruples. The man who made that eye is called Elias, and he works alone in a little shop in Mead-street, off the Tottenham Court Road. It is the third house on the left hand side—you can't mistake it, and perhaps you had better mention my name."
A few minutes later, and the inspector was on his way to the street in question. He found an old-fashioned shop, very small and stuffy, as if it had been overlooked in the general improvements and forgotten. As Rhys stepped inside, he noticed at a bench in the back of the shop a small, dried-up looking individual working under a powerful light with a shade over his eyes. He seemed to be doing something with a delicate instrument, and was so engrossed that Rhys had to speak twice before the old man looked up and noticed his presence.
"I am Inspector Rhys, of Scotland Yard," the officer said. "And I have been sent to you by Dr. Johnson, who tells me that you can give me certain information. He says you are the best artificial eye maker in London, and that all the fine work for our wounded soldiers passed through your hands. Now, without any further argument, did you happen to make this?"
The old man's eyes lighted up as he saw the little object that Rhys laid on the desk before him.
"Yes, sir," he said. "I made that. That is my workmanship, sure, and one of my biggest triumphs, if I may say so. It is no easy matter to get those little points of colouring."
"Then you know, who this was made for?"
"Most assuredly I do. The man came to me with an order from a Government Department, and I not only made that eye, but I did all the enamel colour work before it was fired. All the work was done here, in this room, day by day, with the patient sitting on that chair yonder."
"Perhaps you can tell me his name?"
Elias reached down a slender-looking volume from a shelf over his desk, and proceeded to turn over the leaves.
"Yes, here it is," he said presently. "Though really there was no occasion to look. The man that eye was made for is called Calgar, and he lost his own eye not long before the war finished. He used to be a lieutenant, but got into trouble and was dismissed from the service. Rather a bad lot, I should say. It's a funny thing, but he came to me, only two days ago, for a fresh eye. He said he had lost the one I made for him, and that was evidently the truth, because that bit of glass you brought me was the original eye that I made. Now I am making another one for him. Here it is, Inspector. For some reason or another he wanted the back of it hollowed out. He said the original eye was a bit heavy, so you see, I am making a hollow eye, and if he doesn't find that comfortable, I suggest that he should fill it with some sort of hard wax. It's only a fad, of course."
Rhys, however, was not quite so sure of that, but he made no comment, and asked no questions, except as to where the man Calgar was to he found. He gave a hint to the effect that there was something serious behind this investigation, and warned Elias that he might find himself in trouble if he mentioned the fact that the Inspector had been to see him. All he wanted now, was the address to where the new eye was to be sent, and that Elias should communicate with him on the telephone directly the orb in question was in the post.
"I can't tell you where he lives," Elias said. "He is at a little flat in Carlisle Gardens with a gentleman called Massinger. I believe he is some sort of relation."
Rhys said nothing, but there was a sort of twinkle in his eye as he heard the name of Massinger. With a few final words of warning to the ancient artist in artificial eyes, he made his way back to Scotland Yard and at once called in one of his assistants.
"Look here, Walton," he said. "I've got that Silver Square safe robbery in hand. I may say I have got it so far in hand as to be practicably sure who the men are who made that assault upon Leon Ben Israel. Also I know why they did it. But, before I go any further, I must have a little more information. I have discovered that in a flat in Carlisle Gardens dwells a certain individual called Massinger. Ever heard of him? It's in your line, you know, and I want you to find out."
"Massinger, Massinger," Walton mused. "Oh, if it's the Massinger I know, then that's just his game. I had him in hand twice previous to 1914, and he slipped out of rather a nasty business because he volunteered for service. Till quite lately I haven't heard of him. But I know he was demobilised two or three months ago, and I gather, from what you say, sir, that he is up to his old tricks again."
"I am quite sure of it," Rhys said. "Well, there you are, Walton. I want you to find out all that this chap has been doing lately, and, if you can, whether he was dining at the Cranleigh Restaurant the night that the Princess Zenia of Monarcho was there and lost a pearl from her famous necklace. Wait a minute, that's not quite all. I am told that Massinger has a friend staying with him—a man called Calgar who is blind in one eye. He had, or has, an artificial one. Now, off you go, and get all this information for me as soon as possible."
Walton drifted into the office quite late the same evening with a fair budget of news for his chief. Massinger was living in a Carlisle Gardens flat, apparently in a condition of considerable prosperity. This was all the more strange, because, a little while back, he had been compelled to accept the hospitality of one of the Rowton Houses. Now he had the flat furnished, and was sharing it with a man called Calgar. Calgar had not been out the last day or two, in consequence of a slight accident, to all of which Rhys listened with placid satisfaction. It was quite plain to him that he was on the right track now, and equally clear that Calgar was more or less in hiding until the artificial eye that Elias was making for him could be delivered.
But there was a good deal to be done yet. In ordinary circumstances it would have been an easy matter to arrest Massinger and Calgar, and confront them with Ben Israel, but then the eminent jeweller had told the Inspector that his office was dimly lighted at the time of the assault, and that he was not prepared to identify his assailants. Therefore, it would be necessary to wait until he was in a position to strike a vital blow. And there was some hurry, too, because, on the following morning, Walton turned up with a fresh piece of information to the effect that Massinger and Calgar were giving up the flat in a day or two, and that already they had secured their passage to America.
This was somewhat disturbing. It pointed to the fact that those two shady individuals were leaving their country for a long term, and that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, they were taking the big pearl with them. On the other side of the water they would be able to get a good price for it, and no impertinent questions asked, provided they could smuggle it across, which would be no easy matter, considering the cleverness of the Customs House officials. That was, unless they could devise some ingenious hiding place for the pearl, which, no doubt, they had done. And Rhys smiled to himself as he recalled the various bits of information that he had gathered during the last few days. He began to see, quite plainly, where the pearl would be hidden, and before he slept that night he had worked out the drama to the last detail. All he had to do now, was to wait until the telephone message from Elias arrived, and that came all in good time.
It reached him the following afternoon, about four o'clock. The message ran to the effect that the new eye had been posted that morning, shortly after ten, and that it would probably reach Calgar somewhere near four o'clock the same afternoon. Almost on the top of this information came a further piece of news from Walton to the effect that Massinger and Calgar had packed up their belongings and were turning the flat over to the agents before noon the next day. They had ordered something rather special in the way of a dinner from an adjacent restaurant, which meal they intended to partake of in the seclusion of the flat.
It was about half-past ten before Rhys set out for Carlisle Gardens, and a little later he was shot up to the fifth floor in the lift. He rang the bell at No. 17, and was not at all surprised when Massinger himself came to the door. Evidently there were no servant left, or this would not have happened. Nor was Rhys long in realising that he had found the man he wanted. He saw a tall, slim, well-set-up individual with a slight, black moustache and a scar over his left eye. Massinger looked superciliously at his visitor and demanded to know what he wanted. Very dexterously Rhys inserted his foot inside the door and pushed his way into the hall.
"What the devil does this mean?" Massinger demanded.
"I think you had better take it quietly," Rhys said. "There is my card, from which you will see that I am representing Scotland Yard. Moreover, my business is not entirely with you—I also want to see your friend, Calgar."
"Calgar? Calgar?" Massinger bluffed. "Really, I don't know what you are talking about."
"It really isn't the slightest use," Rhys said, almost pityingly. "The man I speak of is in the dining-room. The Preston Restaurant people sent in a dinner for two to-night. You had better take it quietly, because, you see, I have got three of my men downstairs waiting if there's any trouble. I want you and Calgar on a charge of stealing a pearl from the Cranleigh restaurant on the night of the third instant, and also for fraudulently pawning the same with Mr. Leon Ben Israel, of Golden Square. Also, on a charge of robbing that gentleman with violence. Let me see, isn't that the dining-room door? Yes, I thought so. Now, will you be good enough to precede me, and, if you are foolish enough to try any violence—"
"Oh, that's not in my line," Massinger said insolently. "Of course, I know all about that lost pearl from the papers, and if you can find it here, you are welcome to keep it, as far as I am concerned. Come along and get it over."
In the dining-room Calgar was seated, smoking a cigarette and sipping his liqueur. Rhys noted with intense satisfaction that Massinger's accomplice was wearing his new eye. He introduced himself to that individual, and stated his business as crisply as he had done to Massinger.
"Now then," he said, "don't let's waste any further time. I know everything. I even know what a part Mr. Elias, of the Tottenham Court road, has played in this clever business. Calgar, would you be good enough to remove that new artificial eye of yours, or shall I call up my men and have it removed by force?"
There was no fight in either of the criminals as this remark fell from Rhys's lips. They stared at one another in consternation and then after a little prodding, Calgar, slowly and reluctantly, removed his false eye. As Rhys had expected, the hollow in the back had been filled with some hard waxen compound, which gave a little as Rhys crushed the thin, fine glass between his thumb and forefinger. As he did so, the missing pearl rolled out on the table and Rhys coolly dropped it in his pocket.
"Very neat, gentlemen," he said. "Very neat. And now perhaps you will put on your hats and come along with me."