Cab driver Douglas Ellmore hacks in the everyday work world of Alexandria shuttling businessmen here and there. But for four days during the Reagan inaugural, he was in the money, "a country boy" hired on a solo fare by a big spender from Nevada. There was lots of waiting outside fancy places with your basic Republican glitter -- limos, furs, diamonds.

Then he found a three-carat, $15,000 diamond earring. And returned it.

Ellmore's story began on the Sunday before the big event, outside the Georgetown Club. He spotted a group of well-dressed people scouring the walkway as though someone had lost a contact lens. Figures in stylish, designer clothes were bent over and eyes were searching the ground Black-suited limousine drivers were scurrying about.

"What ya' lookin' for?" Ellmore asked.

An earring, somebody answered. A diamond earring.

In his 10 years as a cabbie, the 35-year-old Ellmore, born and raised in Alexandria, has seen a lot of people looking for things -- umbrellas, wallets, packages -- and considers himself an accomplished lost-and-found detective. He even has one of those metal detectors people use at the beach. He knows how to look.

But no luck this night. After a few minutes of searching, the partying crowd swooped into waiting limos, rushing off to yet another inaugural gathering. Later he found out they were friends of Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton.

Left behind were Ellmore and, somewhere in the dirt, a three-carat diamond set on a platinum base, worth about $15,000. But it was too dark and Ellmore still had his own fare to chauffeur.

"All night I'm thinking right where the limo was parked," Ellmore said. "I know I can find it." Early the next morning he went back, driving from his home in the Prince George's County of Hillcrest Heights to the Georgetown Club on Wisconsin Avenue NW.

His interest was the search, not the treasure. "I'm just a country boy," he said yesterday, as if that somehow explained it.

Ellmore used a little whisk broom and straining dish to clear away the dirt from the bushes in front of the club. "I was surprised. No one else was there. A couple of whisks and the thing just pops up," Ellmore said.

Bauble in hand, he realized it was no ordinary earring.

"I just knew that it was big and fancy. It was so big it scared me, if you want to know the truth." he said.

Now to find out who owned it. After asking around, Ellmore reached a limousine rental official, who put him in touch with the Inaugural Committee, which in turn called Wayne Newton's office, which eventually got in touch with a doctor named Parvin Modaber in Las Vegas. Success. It was her earring and she could describe it.

Her mother had given it to her years ago, she said. She had given up trying to find it.

John Grinnell of the Inaugural Committee wrapped the treasure in tissue, placed it in a box within a box and, not to call attention to it, mailed it to Las Vegas parcel post, uninsured. It arrived safely this week.

Reward, you're thinking, reward. What's Ellmore's reward?

"I'm not expecting a reward. I tell you though," Ellmore said yesterday with a little disappointment in his voice, "I did expect to hear from them [the earring owner and her husband]. A thank you. They're doctors, aren't they? I guess they're busy."

Ellmore does not know it yet, and at the risk of giving away part of a happy ending, it can now be told that Modaber says there's a $200 watch in the mail for Ellmore along with a note of thanks. CAPTION: Picture, Alexandria cabbie Douglas Ellmore: A "country boy" found -- and returned -- a $15,000 diamond earring "so big it scared me." By Larry Morris -- The Washington Post