A strange case of what the eye doesn't see ...

Click to follow
"My grandfather was a professional gardener," said old Lord Callway, as we sat in the club one evening over our brandies and cocoa. "I have never told anyone that before. But it was from him that the family fortune derived. Yes, a mere gardener..."

"I didn't know it was possible to make a fortune out of gardening," said Major Garforth.

"Well, my grandfather worked on a big estate as a lawnboy. Anyone here know what a lawnboy was?"

We murmured ignorance.

"There were huge lawns on those old country estates, and they all had to be kept as smooth as velvet in case any of the resident gentry should have a sudden yen to play croquet. So the staff mowed the lawns pretty often, and as you must know if you have ever mowed a lawn, a lawn-mower can be hurt pretty badly by hitting a stone or a piece of metal left in the lawn. It only requires a pair of scissors left on the grass, or a chunk of statuary ..."

We all visualised the damage done to a lawn-mower's blades and winced.

"That was what a lawnboy was for. To pick up all those things. It was his job to go over the sacred turf the day before the mowing, or even hours before, and use his keen young eyes to pick up anything left in the grass, no matter how small, in case it should injure the mower. It was tiring and exacting work, because he knew that if he missed anything it might lead to trouble, but it did at least have the compensation that you were allowed to keep anything you found.

"Well, my grandfather worked on the Missington Hall Estate in Warwickshire. Anyone know it?"

We all murmured apathy.

"It's gone now. Covered by the geography department of Warwick University or something. All forgotten. But famous once as the scene of the Missington Jewel Robbery. One of those country house robberies you got so often in those days. Thieves broke in and stole the famous Missington sapphire and several other jewels. Never found again."

Lord Callway drifted off into silence. We all glanced at each other. Could that be the end of the story?

"Anyway," said Lord Callway, jerking awake again, "the police scoured the area for suspicious strangers and picked up a man who was waiting for a train at the nearby station. Odd sort of a bloke, with a glass eye, except - and this was the oddest part - his glass eye was missing. And he couldn't explain where it had got to. Bit like dropping a contact lens nowadays, I suppose. Nor could he really explain what he was doing in the area, but they couldn't tie him to the crime at all. In fact, they were on the verge of letting him go when my grandfather - then aged about 13 or 14 - came forward with the missing glass eye! He had found it on the lawn that morning while doing a lawn search.

"Well, of course, this was the missing piece of evidence they were looking for. They tried it on, or in, the suspect. It fitted perfectly. This proved that he must have been on the Missington lawns at about the time of the crime. He was led away and tried. For all I know he is still in prison."

We all waited for the punchline. It never came.

"And your grandfather got the reward, did he?" said the Major. "That's how he got rich?"

"Oh, no," said Lord Callway. "My grandfather got the jewels."

"The jewels! How?"

"He happened to pick them up at the same time as he found the glass eye. The man must have dropped them in his flight. My grandfather took a shine to them, and kept them, as it was his right to do. When he grew up he invested them wisely."


"By going into the arms trade and buying the peerage whose title I am proud to bear," said Lord Callway. "He designed the coat of arms himself. Very few coats of arms include a large eye. Not many people realise it is a glass eye."

The next day I met a nephew of Lord Callway and asked him how much truth there was in the story. Not a scrap, he said, considering the title had been in the family since 1500.