Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone

Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone by Dene Low Read Free Book Online

Book: Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone by Dene Low Read Free Book Online
Authors: Dene Low
gold foil box of chocolates in the shape of a heart. Uncle Augustus had given it to me as a birthday gift. Fortunately, Uncle had chosen it before his unfortunate episode with the beetle; therefore it was from one of the finest chocolatiers in London.
    Moriarty explained, "Excuse me, miss, but it occurs to me that the young messenger might be more persuaded to divulge information if he were sweetened up, as it were, by chocolates administered at propitious moments, rather than by threats."
    "Do you mean that we're to bribe him?" asked James, on the verge of outrage.
    "Naturally," I said as I tucked the gold box under my arm. "And if chocolates aren't enough, I intend to try money."
    "Or tears," said Jane. "Tears work quite well on most males. Even you, dearest brother. This is, after all, a crisis of international consequence and requires the utmost diplomacy."
    As Jane and I strode in the direction of the arboretum, I heard James mutter, "I'm not sure chocolates and tears are among the Home Office—approved methods of interrogation."
    Jane and I ignored James's comment as being unworthy of reply. The male of the species can be astonishingly out of touch with reality at times.
    The sight that met my eyes when we arrived at the arboretum was a pitiful one indeed. Thomas the gardener and his minions stood around a small, tearful, uniformed boy. I recognized the uniform as belonging to the messenger service in the nearest town—Upper Middle Totley-on-Wode.
    I dropped to one knee in front of the boy in order to be at eye level and said, "Thank you for bringing the message. What's your name?" I opened the box of chocolates.
    The boy's attention was immediately caught by the brilliantly colored foil-wrapped candies amid other tempting chocolates in little cups. "Ralph," he answered with a sniff. Before he could rub his nose on his sleeve, James thrust a white handkerchief into the urchin's hand, and Ralph obediently wiped his nose, although his attention remained on the chocolates.
    "Ralph. That's a nice name." I offered a milk chocolate crème to the little fellow, who immediately stuffed it into his mouth before eyeing the rest of the candy. I held a chocolate-covered caramel just out of his reach. "Who gave you the message to deliver to me?"
    Ralph's fingers stretched toward the chocolate. "Don't know him."
    "Was it someone in the messenger office?"
    "So you were not given the message at the office. Where did you get the message?" I waved the caramel a bit to keep his attention on it.
    "Foreign bloke at the train station." He snatched the caramel and popped it into his mouth.
    Jane proffered a butter crème. "Was he a foreign gentleman with a blond goatee, a wart on his nose, a plaid umbrella, and a high, squeaky voice?"
    The boy rolled his eyes and laughed at Jane's ridiculous description, his mood evidently much improved by the chocolate. "Not likely. More like a black mustache and slouch hat. Is voice weren't real high, neither—kind of breathy-like, though you were dead on bout the wart. But it were is boots what caught me eye. They was mucky, wif pretty bugs on em like this one ere." He reached into his uniform pocket and produced a Tou-eh-mah-mah butterfly, quite dead and
rather squashed, but with the "Phui" still plainly inscribed on its wings.
    When I reached for it, Ralph held it away until I popped a cherry cordial chocolate into his mouth. Then, to my surprise, the butterfly was lifted from my hand by Uncle Augustus. I had not heard him approach. His new physical prowess was quite extraordinary. Uncle usually galumphed like an elephant.
    "Well, niece, what do we have here?"
    "Don't eat it!" My protest died on my lips as I rose to my feet. Everyone but Uncle, James, and Jane looked at me oddly.
    Rather than eating the insect, Uncle extracted a slip of waxed paper from
Insectile Creatures,
which he still carried. Then he folded the paper over the butterfly and deposited it between the pages of

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