The Lost Collection Box

by Crystal Jones
© 2013 All Rights Reserved - 1901 words

Daisy Hamilton, private detective, was cold. Her office heating had broken down and she felt very sorry for herself on that wet November day.
“How can I work like this, wrapped up like an Eskimo in an igloo!” she said to herself. Then she remembered that it really wasn't so cold if you consider that lots of people didn't have anywhere to go to shelter for the night and had no money for a hot meal. Daisy put her electric kettle on, made some boiling instant coffee and had a currant bun spread with butter.
She was feeling a little better after her mid-morning snack when there came a knock on the door. “Yes, who is it?” she asked.
“I'm collecting for the poor,” said a voice.
“Please come in,” exclaimed Daisy trying to get rid of the crumbs on her desk.
A slender bald-headed man of medium height put his head round the door. “Er... I'm the vicar of St. Mark's, Reverend Marsden. May I come in?”
Reverend Marsden's movements were rather nervous and jerky. He rearranged his horn-rimmed glasses and blinked at Daisy. Soon he was more at ease drinking coffee and munching shortbread biscuits. “Thank you very much, Miss Hamilton. I don't suppose you have a lot of time to spare and I don't want to impose on you. I'm just collecting for the homeless at Christmas. We hope to give a hundred people Christmas Dinner this year. We've got a place near the church where we can cook and prepare everything and seat everybody.”
“That's a very good cause. May I contribute this...?” asked Daisy putting some notes into the collection box the Vicar had hesitatingly put on her desk. “Just a minute,” Daisy continued, “you mentioned not having much time, but actually at this time of the year people don't seem to have problems I can solve. What about if I became a volunteer over Christmas? Is there something I could do?”
The vicar looked delighted and was nearly jumping up and down in his chair with enthusiasm. “Oh, Miss Hamilton, it's so difficult to get people who are free at Christmas - everybody is busy with their families! We desperately need volunteers on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.”
“Well, I wouldn't mind coming in to give you a hand at all,” said Daisy, “I always think Christmas is for children and those in need.”
“Yes indeed. Look, I'll get my wife to phone you and tell you all about our little endeavour to try and make some homeless people happy at least one day a year.” The vicar got up leaving his collection box on her table. “Vicar, you're forgetting something!” pointed out Daisy.
“Oh, thank you,” said Reverend Marsden. “I’m so absent-minded!”
“And here’s my telephone number,” added Daisy handing him her business card.
“See you at Christmas!” said the vicar cheerfully as he was leaving the office.
Now Daisy remembered that she had to find a couple of nice Christmas presents for her friend Pam's children before it was impossible to get into the shops for the crowds.

Christmas Eve arrived with a terribly cold wind. Daisy got out of her warm bed to enjoy a light breakfast to get her going as she had agreed to arrive at the Church Hall at ten o'clock. Then the phone rang.
“Hello. This is Mrs. Marsden speaking!”
“Oh, hello, Mrs. Marsden. I'll be arriving soon for the preparation of the Christmas Dinner!”
The vicar’s wife coughed nervously, “Miss Hamilton – Daisy, I'm telephoning you to tell you I'm afraid there will be no Christmas Dinner at all!” Mrs. Marsden's voice broke down at the end of the sentence.
“Why? Whatever has happened, Mrs. Marsden - aren't you well?” Daisy had already met the vicar's wife to discuss the Christmas plans and had found her a very nice straightforward person.
“It's Cyril - my husband. That is - the money he collected for the Christmas dinner has been mislaid - it's lost!” At this point Mrs. Marsden began to sob.
“I'm coming round as soon as I can get there. Please don't despair!”Daisy pulled on her extra warm clothes and rushed over to the Vicarage.
When Daisy arrived, Mrs. Marsden was still upset. “Cyril managed to collect much more than he expected to,” she explained, “but he can't find the collection box!”
Daisy sat down in an old-fashioned armchair after taking off her coat. “Well, what do you think happened? Has it been stolen?”
“We really don't know - ah, here is my husband!”
The vicar was even more nervous than usual. “Daisy, I must have left the box somewhere - I'm rather forgetful, I do leave things about, I know.”
“When did you last see the collection box? Let's try to analyse what happened,” suggested Daisy.
“Well, it was about five-thirty yesterday afternoon and I had been round to ask our good friend Mrs. Highbrook-Smith for a contribution - and... I can’t remember if I brought the box home or not! I telephoned her to see if she had noticed it lying around in her home, but she hadn't.”
“And you've had a good look round the vicarage for it?” Daisy asked knowing the answer already. Reverend Marsden sadly nodded, “We’ve looked absolutely everywhere. I don't know how to face the people who gave so freely!” Reverend Marsden was very depressed.
“Are you sure you took the box to Mrs. Highbrook-Smith's?” said Daisy trying to find an alternative explanation.
“Absolutely, and she made a generous contribution too!”
“Mm, I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pay Mrs. Highbrook-Smith a little visit myself. Where does she live?” asked Daisy.
“Oh, but please don't offend her, will you? If it weren't for her, the repairs on the church wouldn't have been made. She's a very good lady indeed,” Reverend Marsden pleaded.
“Don't worry, I'll think of some excuse for going there,” said Daisy while Mrs. Marsden wrote down the address she had asked for. “Ah, will you give me that collection box over there which, I imagine, is similar to the lost one?”
“Yes, if it will help...” said the Vicar.
Daisy wrote 'Give to the poor' on a piece of paper and asked for some sticky tape to attach it to the box.
After this, Daisy drove off to Mrs. Highbrook-Smith's home in the rather richer area of the town. When she rang the doorbell, the lady herself answered the door.
“Sorry to bother you, but I'm collecting for the poor for Christmas. My name is Daisy Hamilton. I'm one of the volunteers of St. Mark's hoping to give people a better Christmas.”
“Oh do come in. I was just about to put the kettle on.” Mrs. Highbrook-Smith had a kind voice but seemed rather busy.
Daisy found herself inside a very noisy household. There were two small children, a girl and a boy, playing on the carpet in the sitting room making a terrible din. The boy of about six, wearing a cowboy outfit, was pretending to fire shots at toy soldiers. The girl, who was younger, in her St. James’s Ambulance Brigade uniform, was shouting at him that he wasn't supposed to do that, and picked up and nursed the poor soldiers who had been hit.
After a while Mrs. Highbrook-Smith came in with two cups of coffee and a plate of biscuits on a tray, and put it on the coffee table. “By the way, did Reverend Marsden find his collection box? He seemed quite worried.”
“I believe not,” replied Daisy putting her collection box down on the coffee table. “I think he's having a good look round at the Vicarage.”
Mrs. Highbrook-Smith sat down near Daisy. “Have you been a volunteer for a long time?”
“Well, not really. You know, we are going to prepare Christmas Dinner for the homeless in the Church Hall. I'm an assistant cook for the occasion.”
A baby's voice could be heard coming from upstairs. “Oh, that's little Alice, she wants her milk. Do come up and see her, Miss Hamilton.”
Mrs. Highbrook-Smith was proud of her family and showed Daisy her smallest child who had beautiful rosy cheeks and very fair hair. After she had gathered up Alice, Mrs. Highbrook-Smith suggested, “Let's go back downstairs and see what my two other terrible children are doing.”
Daisy sat down again in an armchair in the sitting-room while Mrs. Highbrook-Smith gave her baby daughter her milk.
“You've got a lovely family - what are the names of your older children?” Daisy asked.
“That's Ralph,” Mrs. Highbrook-Smith indicated the little cowboy, “and this little future nurse is Neree.”
“I’m sure she’ll be a very caring person when she grows up,” said Daisy smiling at the little girl.
Daisy had come to the conclusion that the missing collection box was simply not here and that Reverend Marsden must have left it somewhere else. “Well, I must go now,” she said, “otherwise the others will think I have let them down. Oh...” Daisy hesitated looking round the room. “Didn't I leave my collection box here on the coffee table?”
“Are you sure you put it there? You people from St. Mark's are always leaving boxes about,” Mrs. Highbrook-Smith joked. “Neree, where are you going?”
Neree was climbing the stairs to go up to her bedroom. Daisy and Mrs. Highbrook-Smith noticed she was carrying something.
“What's that you've got there, dear? Excuse me, Miss Hamilton, but could you see what Neree’s up to? I can't leave Alice until she has finished her milk...”
Daisy got up and followed Neree up the stairs into her bedroom. Soon she came down the stairs smiling with two collection boxes in her hands.
“Mrs. Highbrook-Smith,” exclaimed Daisy, “I've solved the mystery of Reverend Marsden's missing box. Your little girl is a real St. James’s Ambulance Brigade enthusiast! She took the two boxes thinking they were to collect money for her favourite charity. In fact she has a toy St. James's Ambulance Brigade collection box upstairs in her room!”
Mrs. Highbrook-Smith went pale. “Oh no, my goodness! I'm so sorry! I must telephone Reverend Marsden immediately.”
Daisy left with the two boxes both of which had been enriched with a ten pound note! She then rushed back to the vicarage where a thousand thanks were expressed and hasty arrangements were made to collect the food that had been ordered.

Daisy arrived at six o’clock on Christmas morning ready to cut onions, peel potatoes, mix seasoning, baste turkeys and do anything that was needed. The head cook was a retired restaurateur, Gloria Tramiel, a very pleasant lady full of energy who knew how to get the best out of everybody.
Christmas Dinner was a terrific success and nearly a hundred homeless turned up and all had a complete meal. There was lots of laughter and joking and, after, everybody went away with a warm blanket and a pair of gloves.
Daisy got back home at ten o'clock that night weary but happy everything had worked out all right. To her surprise she found a small parcel had been pushed through the letterbox. It was a soft quilted shopping bag Daisy’s friend Pam had made specially for her in her favourite colours mauve, purple and cerise. Daisy was very thrilled with her present and wanted to ring her friend to thank her, but just as she was going to, the telephone rang. It was Detective Inspector Ted Singleton, Daisy’s boyfriend. “I'll be there within the hour!”


Finished on 8th September 2013.