A Queer Hiding Place

by Mrs. Molesworth

"Don't forget to give Theresa the pound from mamma," said Mabel, as she kissed her cousin Eleanor one afternoon when saying good-bye. "I must be quick; it's getting quite dark, and I was to be home early. Come along, Fred."

"You're sure you've got the pound, are you, Nelly?" asked Fred mischievously. "Mamma told Mabel about it ever so many times. She's so famous at remembering things herself, I like hearing her tell you not to forget."

Eleanor put her hand into her pocket.

"I think I've got it," she said; "I remember it was wrapped in a piece of blue paper, wasn't it? You gave it me just before we sat down to play our duet, and I was to say it was for aunt's subscription to—to—oh dear, I've forgotten," and she stood there in the hall, where she had come down to see the last of her visitors, looking the picture of perplexity.

"Oh, you silly girl!" said Mabel, impatiently. "It is mamma's subscription to Theresa's Christmas dinners' card. There now, don't you remember? You are so dreadfully absent, Eleanor!"

"I remember now—oh yes, of course. I won't forget again," said the girl; "little" girl one could scarcely call her, for though she was only thirteen she was as tall as her elder sister of eighteen. "Good-night again, Mabel. I must be quick, for I have to write to Charley before dinner. You know I dine late just now during the holidays," she added proudly.

"But the pound—the pound itself—have you got it?" repeated Fred.

Again went Eleanor's hand to her pocket.

"Oh dear, I forgot I was feeling for the pound," she exclaimed. "Yes, here it is! I'll give it to Theresa quite rightly, you'll see."

Eleanor hurried away to write her letter to Charley, for to-morrow would be Indian mail-day, and she had put it off too late the week before.

"Now I must give the pound to Theresa at once," she said, again depositing it in her pocket when she changed her dress for dinner. Something or other put it out of her head in the drawing-room—poor Eleanor's head was not a very secure place to keep anything in for long! It was not till she and her mother and Theresa and her seventeen-years' old brother Mark were at table, and half way through dinner, that the unlucky coin again returned into her memory. No thanks to her memory that it did so! It was only when she pulled out her handkerchief that the little paper packet came out with it and fell onto the floor.

"Oh," said Eleanor, as she stooped to pick it up, "what a good thing I've remembered it! Here, Theresa, here's a pound for you from aunty, for your—for the—oh, what is it? Your subscription for Christmas cards—no, I mean your subscription-card for Christmas dinners—yes, that's what it's for."

"All right," said Theresa, quietly, "I understand. But I wish you had given it me up-stairs, Nelly, I haven't got a pocket in this thin skirt. Never mind," and she unwrapped it as she spoke, and placed it on the table beside her.

"There now," she said, "I can't forget it. It is too conspicuous on the white cloth."

The sisters were sitting next each other; that is to say, Theresa was at one end with Mark opposite, and their mother and Eleanor were at the sides. The table was small, though large enough for a party of four.

Not long was the gold coin allowed to rest peacefully where Theresa had placed it. Eleanor's fingers soon picked it up. First she examined it curiously by the light of the candle beside her, then when she had satisfied herself as to its date and some other particulars, she took to "spinning" it on the table. This was not very successful; to spin a coin well requires a hard surface for it to twirl on. Eleanor tried once or twice, then ended by "spinning" the sovereign on to the floor. Down she ducked to pick it up again, thereby attracting her mother's notice.

"Nelly, my dear, what are you stooping down so awkwardly for?" she said.

"Oh," said Theresa, "it is all that pound. Do leave it alone, child, or it will be getting lost altogether," and she took it out of her sister's hand and put it under her wine-glass. "There," she said, "don't touch it again."

And for a course or two the pound was safe. But Theresa forgot that wine-glasses are not a fixture; after a while the table was cleared of them and the crumbs brushed away for dessert. The shining sovereign was again exposed to full view. Mother, Theresa, and Mark were talking busily about something interesting, Eleanor's ears were half-listening, but her restless fingers were unoccupied. They seized on the coin again, and a new series of experiments with it was the result, even though she herself was but vaguely conscious what she was about. At last just as she had found a new trick which amused the babyish side of her brain greatly, came a remark which thoroughly caught her attention.

"The day after to-morrow, Nelly, don't forget," said Theresa, "I'm going to have the Leonards at afternoon tea."

And the talk ran upon the Leonards, till they rose to go upstairs to the drawing-room. Then came the exclamation from Theresa. "My pound, Nelly, have you touched it? I put it under my wine-glass, but of course I forgot—the wine-glasses were changed. Henry," to the footman, "didn't you see it when you moved the glasses? It was there."

Henry grew red and stared.

"Yes, ma'am, it was there. I saw it. I left it on the cloth."

Eleanor stared too, though she did not grow red.

"Yes," she said, "it was there. I took it up again, but I'm sure I did nothing with it."

Nevertheless a diving process into her pocket ensued—in vain; then she got up and shook herself; then everybody began creeping and crawling about on the floor—in vain; then Mark got down a candle under the table, thereby, as it was in a high silver candle-stick, nearly setting everything on fire; then—then—I need not describe the well-known and most disagreeable experience of hunting for a lost object, which of course

"ere it comes to light,
We seek in every corner but the right."

On the whole poor Henry had the worst of it. He was told to examine "my tray," and to overhaul "my pantry," from top to bottom, which he did with no result. I think he would gladly have gone down the drain-pipe leading from "my sink," if he could have got into it.

"It is an uncomfortable affair," said Nelly's mother gravely. "You see the young man has so newly come."

"But, mother, I am sure I saw it after the dessert was on the table, and the servants out of the room," said Eleanor eagerly.

"Then, my dear, where is it?"

You can fancy what an unsettled, spoilt evening it was. The ladies went upstairs at last, but Mark would not give in. He stayed in the dining-room by himself, searching like a detective. Suddenly there came a shout of triumph.

"I have found it," he called upstairs; "it is all right, Nelly."

So it was—and where do you think it was?

I will help you to guess by telling you one circumstance. There had been nuts at dessert.

Well, what of that?

The salt-cellars had been left on the table. And buried in one of them, shining yellow and bright in the white powder, lay the coin! Was it not clever of Mark to have thought of it?

"Oh yes," said Eleanor, looking uncommonly ashamed of herself, "I remember—I pressed it down on to the salt, and then I covered it up. It looked so comfortable. Oh I am so sorry!"

See what comes of letting your fingers get into the way of "tricks," and letting your wits go wool-gathering.

But poor Henry's character was saved.