OLIVE CAME QUICKLY, even excitedly, into the garden where, on this warm, calm, autumn evening, Inspector Bobby Owen, of the Wychshire County Police, wherein he doubled the parts of head of the somewhat scanty Wychshire C.I.D. with that of secretary to the chief constable, Colonel Glynne, was busily gardening. True, the gardening was being done at the moment from the depths of a comfortable deck chair, but spiritually Bobby was hard at it, digging with fervour, hoeing, sowing, mowing, pruning, weeding, one and all with extreme and extraordinary energy. Not quite realizing what a bustle of work she was interrupting, Olive said:
“Oh, Bobby, shut your eyes and open your mouth.” Disappointedly she added: “Oh,
Bobby opened the first named, regarded her severely, spoke with dignity.
“If you are trying to insinuate—” he began, but as to utter these words his mouth had to remain open, Olive saw and seized her opportunity and popped something therein.
“Um-m-m,” Bobby concluded his observations.
“Well?” said Olive expectantly.
“Not so bad,” said Bobby critically.
“It’s heavenly,” said Olive conclusively. Then she added: “If you had been more appreciative you could have had this one, too, but now I’ll have it myself.”
Therewith she popped a second something into her own mouth and contentedly sat down to munch on the grass by his side. Bobby watched her. He said wistfully:
“If you had told me that before—”
“Ah-ha,” said Olive.
“What is it?” asked Bobby.
“That’s for a good little detective to find out,” said Olive.
Scared by even this faint suggestion of work, Bobby sank back into his chair.
“Nothing doing,” he said.
“Oh, yes, there is,” said Olive, firmly this time. “They’re just the most scrumptious chocolates that ever were, and they’re a mystery, too, and Mrs. Weston gave me some to taste, because she wants a lot more to sell at the bazaar next week, and she wants you to find out.”
“Why can’t she go herself?”
“It’s a long way for them, we’re much nearer, and then there’s the petrol. Mr. Weston wants it all. Mrs. Weston says she daren’t even fill her lighter. He’s a sort of inspector for salesmen or something, and he has to use his car all the time. Besides,” added Olive candidly, “I offered, because if I can get the recipe I should like to try myself.”
“Suppose this Miss Floyd doesn’t want to tell?”
“Well, she mightn’t,” admitted Olive, “but it would be mean, and besides Mrs. Weston said she wouldn’t mind paying her. She told Mr. Weston and he was awfully interested and said that would be all right, she could pay as much as she liked, as it was for the church bazaar. Mrs. Weston was rather surprised, because Mr. Weston doesn’t take much interest in church work generally.”
Bobby mused on this. He thought Mr. Weston sounded very generous, but then he didn’t know Mr. Weston, and quite possibly that gentleman was of a liberal and generous disposition by nature.
He said thoughtfully:
“It may be a girl who lives in a lonely sort of cottage near Barsley Forest village, but right in the forest. I think her name is Floyd and I think there’s an invalid mother who has married again. I remember altering the beat of one of our chaps so as to pass by their cottage. It’s a lonely sort of place for one thing and the man’s a bit of a bad lot, too, or sup-posed to be, so I thought it might be as well to keep an eye on the place occasionally. He’s under suspicion of having been mixed up in a burglary or two, and he’s been sent up for petty larceny, I think. I don’t remember exactly. Stealing rabbits out of traps, too, I think. Anyhow, I know I thought it might be as well to let him see we existed. Possibly that’s why the girl has her money sent to the post office, to keep it safe from step-papa.”
“We’ll go and see her to-morrow, Bobby, shall we?” decided Olive. “You know, Bobby, those chocolates are really delicious. I’ve never tasted anything quite like them. I’m sure that girl could sell as many as she liked to make. It’s what Walters’s said. She could work up a very good business if she wanted to.”
“Perhaps she doesn’t want,” Bobby said. “Are you going to try to cajole her out of her valuable secret?”
He spoke half jestingly, but Olive was beginning to look serious.
“Bobby,” she said, “do you think it might really be valuable? I mean, suppose a manufacturer began to make them and advertised a lot and all that?”
“Might mean a fortune,” Bobby said, still half jestingly. “It all depends.”
“I was only thinking they would be nice to make,” Olive explained.
She was looking troubled now. “Mrs. Weston says Walters’s say people are beginning to ask for them and they charge seven and six a pound and that’s rather a lot for chocolates.”
“Suggests a fair margin for profit,” Bobby agreed. Now he, too, was beginning to look interested. “What sort of a chap is Mr. Weston?” he asked.
“She’ll have to be told,” Olive declared. “I mean I don’t want the recipe, if it’s going to be worth a lot of money. I don’t think we’ll go, shall we? Mr. Weston? I don’t like him very much. I’ve only seen him once or twice, though. I expect he’s all right. Only I promised Mrs. Weston I would try and get it for her—the recipe, I mean.”
Bobby was thinking hard. The official part of him warned him that it was no affair of his and that only the most utter, hopeless fool of a policeman would ever risk seeking trouble when trouble was always so persistently finding him. The human part of him suggested that a girl who might possibly have hit upon some unusual flavouring for her homemade chocolates ought to be given a hint not to part with her secret without due consideration. In the confectionery trade a new flavour might well have its value. Olive’s voice broke in upon his thoughts.
“I did promise,” she said, for she was one of those rare people who believe that promises should hold.
Possibly it was this remark that influenced Bobby. Or it may have been mere curiosity, a marked trait in his character, so that he could never hear of anything unusual without wanting to get to the bottom of it. Or it may have been even a kind of uneasy premonition that lonely girls in possession of a trade secret of possible cash value might just conceivably come to be in need of police protection. Anyhow, he said:
“We’ll go and have a look round if you like. To-morrow’s Sunday and I’m not on duty for a wonder.” He paused to regard this fact with faint surprise, for it was his deep conviction that he was on duty practically every Sunday. “It’s a goodish way, but there’s a drop of petrol to spare and if the weather keeps up we could take some lunch and make a sort of picnic of it.”
Olive thought this a very good idea. What with war work and threatening air raids and ordinary police routine, it was long since Bobby had had anything even remotely resembling a holiday. Do him good, she decided. Do them both good, for that matter.
“Even if she wants to keep the recipe to herself,” Olive went on, “I expect she would be willing to make some for the bazaar. Mrs. Weston would love to have them for her stall and she could charge as much as she liked, because you can at a bazaar.”
“So you can and so you do,” agreed Bobby; and Olive looked at him severely, for she did not altogether approve of the tone in which this last remark had been uttered.
“Chasing a chocolate to its lair,” murmured Bobby. “What’s the difficulty, anyway?”
“Mrs. Weston always does her shopping in Tombes, or at least most of it, because she says there aren’t any queues there, like there are in Midwych, and besides she knows people, and she gets these miracle chocolates at Walters’s, the big tea shop, and they cost seven and six a pound, and Walters’s say now people know about them they sell out ever so quickly, and they could sell more if they could get them, but they can’t. It’s the flavour. Isn’t it wonderful?”
“Not bad,” admitted Bobby.
“Not bad,” repeated Olive, surveying him with scorn. “I wish I had kept that one I gave you for myself, instead of wasting it on you. It’s absolutely different from anything else I ever tasted, sweet and not a bit sickly and sharp, too, and refreshing and scented as well—makes you think of woods and fields and the early morning and dew and things like that.”
“Careful,” Bobby warned her. “Careful now, or you’ll be dropping into poetry.”
“They are poetry,” Olive answered with conviction.
“Ode to a chocolate,” murmured Bobby, and Olive went on unheedingly:
“You see, they’re homemade and Mrs. Weston wants the recipe so she can make lots and lots for her stall at the bazaar. She says she’ll charge ten shillings a pound, because they’re so awfully delicious and you can at a bazaar, can’t you? And she says they’ll sell like anything and I expect they will, too, because they really are so nice and absolutely different.”
“Well,” commented Bobby, “I suppose it’s no worse giving ten bob for a pound of chocolates than four or five bob for a pound of tomatoes.”
“I should like the recipe myself,” Olive added thought-fully.
Bobby composed himself to resume his gardening by lying back in his deck chair and closing his eyes. Olive poked him violently in the ribs. Bobby opened a reproachful eye—only one though, so as to be able to resume his gardening more quickly.
“Here. I say,” he protested.
“It’s where you come in,” Olive told him.
“Me,” protested Bobby. “My good girl, I don’t know any-thing about making chocolates.”
“You see,” explained Olive, unheeding this unnecessary disclaimer. “Walters’s say they get them from a Miss Floyd and they don’t know her address and they send the money to the Barsley Forest post office, and they are always asking her to send more, and she never does, so Mrs. Weston wants me to try to find Miss Floyd and ask her for the recipe.”