Read ON FINDING THINGS of Adventures and Enthusiasms , free online book, by E. V. Lucas, on ReadCentral.com.

After the passage of several years since I had picked up anything, last week I found successively a carriage key (in Royal Hospital Road), a brooch (in Church Street, Kensington), and sixpence in a third-class compartment. It was as I stooped to pick up the sixpence, which had suddenly gleamed at me under the seat of the now empty carriage, that I said to myself that finding things is one of the purest of earthly joys.

And how rare!

I have, in a lifetime that now and then appals me by its length, found almost nothing. These three things this week; a brown-paper packet when I was about seven, containing eight pennies and one halfpenny; on the grass in the New Forest, when I was about twenty, a half-dollar piece; and at Brighton, not long after, a gold brooch of just sufficient value to make it decent to take it to the police station, from which, a year later, no one having claimed it, it was returned to me: these constitute nearly half a century’s haul. I might add now and then, perhaps, a safety-pin, pencil, some other trifle, which, however well supplied with such articles one may be, cannot be acquired from a clear sky without a thrill. Even Mr. Rockefeller, I take it, would not have been unmoved had he, instead of myself, stumbled on that treasure between Stony Cross and Boldrewood.

To be given such things is not a comparable experience. With a gift intention, consciousness, preparation, come in; to say nothing of obligation later. The event is also complicated (and therefore shorn of its glory) by the second person, since the gift must be given. But, suddenly dropping one’s eyes, to be aware of a coin that is sheer rapture. Other things can be exciting too, but a coin is best, because a coin is rarely identifiable by a previous owner; and I am naturally confining myself to those things the ownership of which could not possibly be traced. To find things which have to be surrendered is as impure a joy as the world contains, and no theme for this pen.

The special quality of the act of finding something, with its consequent exhilaration, is half unexpectedness and half separateness. There being no warning, and the article coming to you by chance, no one is to be thanked, no one to be owed anything. In short, you have achieved the greatest human triumph you have got something for nothing. That is the true idea: the “nothing” must be absolute; one must never have looked, never have had any finding intention, or even hope. To look for things is to change the whole theory to rob it of its divine suddenness; to become anxious, even avaricious; to partake of the nature of the rag-picker, the chiffonier, or those strange men that one notices walking, with bent heads, along the shore after a storm. (None the less that was a great moment, once, in the island of Coll, when after two hours’ systematic searching I found the plover’s nest.)

Finding things is at once so rare and pure a joy that to trifle with it is peculiarly heartless. Yet are there people so wantonly in need of sport as to do so. Every one knows of the purse laid on the path or pavement beside a fence, which, as the excited passer-by stoops to pick it up, is twitched through the palings by its adherent string. There is also the coin attached to a thread which can be dropped in the street and instantly pulled up again, setting every eye at a pavement scrutiny. Could there be lower tricks? I fear so, because some years ago, in the great days of a rendezvous of Bohemians in the Strand known as the Marble Halls, a wicked wag (I have been told) once nailed a bad but plausible sovereign to the floor and waited events. In the case of the purse and string the butts are few and far between and there is usually only a small audience to rejoice in their discomfiture, but the denouement of the cruel comedy of which acquisitiveness and cunning were the warp and woof at the Marble Halls was only too bitterly public. I am told, such is human resourcefulness in guile, that very few of those who saw the coin and marked it down as their own went for it right away, because had they done so the action might have been noticed and the booty claimed. Instead, the discoverer would look swiftly and stealthily round, and then gradually and with every affectation of nonchalance (which to those in the secret, watching from the corners of their wicked eyes, was so funny as to be an agony) he would get nearer and nearer until he was able at last to place one foot on it.

This accomplished, he would relax into something like real naturalness, and, practically certain of his prey, take things easily for a moment or so. Often, I am told, the poor dupe would, at this point, whistle the latest tune. Even now, however, he dared not abandon subterfuge, or his prize, were he seen to pick it up, might have to be surrendered or shared; so the next move was to drop his handkerchief, the idea being to pick up both it and the sovereign together. Such explosions of laughter as followed upon his failure to do so can (I am informed) rarely have been heard.

 Such was the conspiracy of the nailed sovereign, which, now and then, the victim, shaking the chagrin from him, would without shame himself join, and become a delighted spectator of his successor’s humiliation.

Can you conceive of a more impish hoax? But I should like to have witnessed it.