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Megan stared at the brown leather wallet in her hand. People were milling about to catch their buses and no one took notice of what she found on the pavement. Her bus wasn't due until five-fifteen and she could have time to take the wallet to the nearest authorities. Unfamiliar with Southampton, she sought help from the town library.

"I'm sorry. The only help we can give you is for us to hold on to the wallet until someone claims it. I suggest you take the wallet to the police station. I'll draw you a map dear." The helpful lady made a rough sketch for Megan.

Megan checked the time and tightened the straps on her rucksack. Clutching the brown wallet in her hot hand she trudged towards the police station when halfway down the road she saw her bus coming. Afraid to miss the last bus to Petersfield, she decided to deal with the wallet later.

Settling herself at the back of the crowded bus, Megan could feel the palm of her hand sweating against the wallet. She transferred it to her left hand as though it were a piece of hot coal then wiped her sweaty hand against her jeans. Megan's eyes drifted from passenger to passenger - mostly well coifed elderly ladies travelling singly or in pairs, people coming home from work and a smattering of schoolchildren in their school uniforms. She opened her rucksack, tucked the wallet in, then took out her denim jacket. The bus windows were open and the September air chilly in the bright sunlight.

The noisy bus that usually annoyed Megan did not disturb her today; the wallet she clutched tightly in her hand filled her mind. Why didn't she check the wallet for identification at the library when that lady was present? Why can't she do it now? Why is she making a fuss about it anyway?

Megan, you know very well why. You saw that the wallet was bulging with cash and you were afraid of parting with it. Admit it Megan. Admit it.

Admit what - that she's out of funds and had used all her credit cards to their limits? That ever since she left Ashbourne three weeks ago she has been spending money she didn't have on a vacation she couldn't afford? Megan, you can't stand the suspense. Go ahead, open it.

Soon as most of the passengers got off at the bus stop in Bitterne, Megan, with trembling hands carefully opened the wallet. Her heart raced when she saw crisp fifty pound notes and a few twenties. God, she had never seen fifty pound notes before. There were various cash receipts and a marketing list for staples. Megan stared at the shaky handwriting on the marketing list and felt guilty. Tomorrow she will go to the police and give them the wallet.

"Miss Johnson, will you be having your usual cooked breakfast tomorrow morning at ten?"

"May I have it earlier Mrs. Pilkington, seven o'clock would be just perfect."

"A very early start for you isn't it?"

"Need to catch an early bus to Southampton again." She wouldn't have had to if she had only taken care of business yesterday.

"Oh Miss Johnson, about your bill..." Mrs. Pilkington blushed at her own remark. She liked Miss Johnson but she had a business to run.

"I will settle it tomorrow Mrs. Pilkington." Megan rushed to her room without waiting for a reply. She shouldn't have bought the diamond studs on her visit to Amsterdam. She got carried away and now she realised it was a foolish expenditure. Live and learn, she told herself.

It was late and Megan couldn't get her mind to rest. She had had a warm bath and a glass of milk and still she was wide awake. Nobody saw me pick up the wallet. Besides, anyone who carried that much cash on them had to be crazy. I'll be going home soon anyway and no one will ever know about it. Megan finally drifted off to sleep just before the clock struck midnight.

The next morning as Mrs. Pilkington served the coffee she bluntly pronounced, "Miss Johnson, I have callers interested in your room and I'm afraid I must reply to their query before noon today." Mrs. Pilkington had to put her foot down. As much as she liked her guest from Ashbourne, business had to come first.

Silently Megan reached inside her rucksack and handed the B & B owner four fifty - pound notes.

"This should settle my bill and pay for one week in advance. Please keep the change...for the inconvenience I've caused."

"My Lord, I rarely see these things nowadays." Mrs. Pilkington exclaimed happily looking at the bills, obviously impressed. Handing Megan her change, Mrs. Pilkington brightly chirped, "No inconvenience was caused dear. We shall indeed see to it that your room is fresh and clean when you return from Southampton."

"I'm not going to Southampton today Mrs. Pilkington, Can you tell me where the nearest travel agency is in town? I might book for a trip to Cornwall before I return home."

"You will fall in love with Cornwall my dear. There's also a big sale going on in town, you'll enjoy that I'm sure."

Megan spent her morning in Petersfield feeling uptight. Get hold of yourself Megan. What's wrong? Her conscience started again. You should be ecstatic! Some poor soul's money paid your bills and there's more money to squander on your inane shopping sprees. No one will ever know. Have a ball!

Megan ran inside a newsagent's to distract herself. She wished she could get rid of her conscience and leave it somewhere. Her eyes panned the shelves full of books, CDs, videos, chocolates and candies. She can buy any of them now. Then she caught sight of the Hampshire Gazette headline - "Lottery Winner, Unfortunate Loser" Megan read further - Octogenarian "Instant" winner loses it all! Mr. Newsome of Liss in Hampshire, on his way to share his good fortune with his grandchildren, lost his winnings at the Southampton Bargate." Underneath the headline a photograph of an elderly man rubbing his eyes. Megan trembled. She ran to the bus stall quickly checking for buses to Liss. No, wait, she could call first and get enough information before going anywhere. She ran back to buy the Hampshire Gazette and obtained enough change for the telephone for her enquiries.

Mr. Sidney Newsome. Eighty-seven years old. Liss Hampshire. She made a mental note. There were seven listings under Newsome but none of them knew a Sidney. It was three in the afternoon when the idea crossed Megan's mind. She'll call the Hampshire Gazette.

"We could get you that information Miss Johnson, but we need to know the reason why before we furnish you with it. Are you related to Mr. Newsome?" Mr. Steele, the editor enquired.

"I found Mr. Newsome's wallet yesterday and I'd like to return it to him personally."

"How wonderful! He will be very pleased and we are extremely delighted that you called us. We can fix that up for you. May I say Miss Johnson that I and my colleagues here at the Gazette are very privileged to meet an honest citizen like you. We are certain you will be commended for Her Majesty's HONESTY award." Megan bit her lip. She wondered what Mr. Steele would say if he knew she had spent some of the poor old man's money.

Newspapers and television stations mentioned Megan's honesty and the meeting that the Hampshire Gazette arranged for her and Mr. Newsome. To quiet her anguished mind and to end the torture, Megan finally decided to pawn the diamond studs she bought in Amsterdam and got exactly two hundred pounds for it. She felt relieved that she could now face the old man and hand him his money in full.

Clutching Megan's hand, Mr. Newsome rheumy eyes peered through his thick spectacles. "How can I thank you Lass. Words cannot express. I promised my grandchildren a trip to Disneyland in Paris and I wanted to hand them the cash. I am so grateful it was you who found it. Lord knows when I could ever win anything again." He handed her a little yellow box tied with a red ribbon. "Miss Johnson, please take this gift as a token of my appreciation for your honesty." Blushing with embarrassment Megan untied the red ribbon and opened her gift. Neatly tucked inside the box were four fifty - pound notes.


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