Page 11

By the time that Hans-Peter, the postmaster, came home for his 12:27 p.m. lunch, the boy was gone. His room was empty. The postmaster's wife had packed away the toy soldiers, stored the clothing in alphabetized, labeled boxes, and repainted the walls.

19. Long Hours in the Laboratory

Commander Melanoff, whose life was greatly changed now that he had Nanny to tend Ruth, began to spend hours each day in the experimental laboratory in one of the mansion's turrets. He had always been happiest in the lab, where he could mix and measure and taste things in his ongoing search for the next hugely successful candy, the thing that would rival Lickety Twist and add more billions to his fortune.

He had to admit, privately, that it was easier to do his experiments with his wife still buried in the avalanche and now, clearly, long (he sniffed at the thought) dead. She had insisted on tidying the lab all the time. Every time he thought he had come close, had been very near to the kind of perfection he sought—just the right combination of nuts and chocolate and caramel and marshmallow and raisins—he would return eagerly the next morning and find it all gone: the containers washed and dried and put away (bowls to the left of cartons, pans before pots, stirring spoons arranged by size) and his scribbled notes about proportions taken out with the trash. With a sigh, he would begin again: measuring, stirring, simmering, tasting. But his efforts had seemed doomed.

And then, of course, with the avalanche tragedy, he had lost his enthusiasm and the utensils in the lab had gathered dust for years. Now, with renewed vigor, he washed everything, unpacked new ingredients, and began again.

Carefully he melted and measured some chocolate.

Through the closed door of the lab, he could hear the cheerful, busy sounds of the household: the children playing, Nanny scrubbing and cooking, Baby Ruth giggling in her playpen, the cats (for the Willoughby cat had made friends quite quickly with the Melanoff cat) leaping about and pouncing on imaginary mice.

Happily he chopped some nuts. He added them to the chocolate, dipped a finger in for a taste, thought it over, and decided that it had been a mistake. He remembered now that the chocolate should coat the outside of the candy bar; the nuts should be mixed with the caramel on the inside. He threw away the chocolate-and-nuts mixture and began again.

Below, downstairs, he heard the oven timer in the kitchen make its buzzing signal. He could picture Nanny, in her flowered apron, leaning down and opening the oven door to peer inside at whatever fine-smelling thing she was cooking for dinner. Oh, if he were not such a decent man, he might be tempted to pat her large behind affectionately as she bent over.

Shaking his head to rid it of such improper thoughts, he stirred the freshly melted chocolate and set it aside. In another pan he began to warm and soften some caramel. Again he picked up his chopping knife and went to work on some walnuts. When they were reduced to small bits, he sprinkled them into the warm caramel, dipped in his finger, and tasted. No, he thought. They should be pecans, not walnuts. He sighed, but it was not a sigh of frustration; it was more a little breath of happiness and creativity (combined, slightly, with the thought of Nanny, below in the kitchen), and he began again.

Of course, he thought, although the perfect combination of ingredients was essential, still (as he had explained to the children) he would need the perfect name for this new confection. He would have it printed in blue, he thought. No: red. He would have it printed in large red letters on the wrapper of the candy bar.

Choco-nut? Pecan-o-choc? Silly names. He dismissed them in his mind and began chopping pecans. The name didn't need to contain the ingredients, he realized. His previous success had started with a mention of the act of eating—lick had become Lickety-Twist. This candy bar, with all its caramel, would involve chewing. Chew, he thought. Chewy-Gooey. That had a ring to it.

He pictured in his mind a child at a candy counter. "I want a Chewy-Gooey."

"I want three Chewy-Gooeys." He could imagine the eagerness with which buyers would place their orders.

He frowned and poured the chopped pecans into the fresh pan of melted caramel. Maybe it wasn't really a good idea to refer to gooey-ness. It might make parents nervous. They would think about cavities and dental bills.

From below, he could hear happy laughter and Nanny's cheerful singsong voice: "Patty-cake, patty-cake! Baker's man!" He pictured her softly clapping her hands, and he imagined the infant's delighted smile. Sweet child. Baby Ruth.

20. A Confectionary Recognition

The boy had hiked happily to the next village, yodeling a bit as he walked the path, waving now and then to milkmaids and shepherds, picking an occasional flower. Here in the open hills he found that the sound of the cowbells, which had previously caused his head to ache, was now a charming background to the scenery: the blue sky, the green blossom-strewn meadows, the snowy Alps. He glanced upward at the towering peak whose shadow fell across his own village and thought with a surge of pride of those brave climbers who had been lost on its heights. He had peered through a neighbor's binoculars once and seen them there, frozen forever, dotting the sheer icy cliffs. There was talk of putting their outlines on a postage stamp or perhaps even the Swiss flag. National heroes, they were, those stiff shapes with their ropes and axes. One had been there for more than fifty years.

Though the boy could not see this from where he walked, two more figures had now joined that illustrious group. Quick-frozen as Popsicles, crampons on their heads like crowns, their Birkenstocks and Bermuda shorts stiffened into museum-quality artifacts in the clear, thin air, Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby had become the late Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby, and their children were true orphans—and heirs—at last.

The boy, trudging along and thinking about an itinerary, a plan for his quest, regretted that he had not paid more careful attention to the letters that his mother, with increasing annoyance, sent off to his father, the letters that were never answered. He knew the name Melanoff, of course; it was his own name. But he had no idea where to look for, or how to find, the man he had once called Papa.

Entering the next small village, with its red-shuttered wooden houses, each decorated with window boxes filled with geraniums and marigolds, the boy looked around for a shop. He was hungry. Although his mother had not packed food for him—his knapsack was filled with clean underwear and vitamins—he had, at the last minute, remembered to bring money. He had opened his bank with its small gold key and removed his savings: quite a significant amount. His mother was a wealthy woman and there had been no way to shop or spend during the years they had lived in the buried train car. Dutifully she had given him his substantial allowance every week. When they were rescued, she had taken her own money to the local bank because she was a sensible and organized woman. But the boy had not wanted to part with his. He liked the crisp bills with their interesting pictures; he was especially fond of the hundred-franc note that showed a blond boy feeding a lamb. And so, although his mother pointed out that he would not be earning interest, she allowed him to keep his savings at home.

Now the bills filled the pockets of his lederhosen and the crevices within his knapsack, and his hat, with its silly feather that he loathed, was stuffed with Swiss francs as well.

In the small shop and café next to the little train station, he bought a meat salad called Wurstsalat; Apfelküchlein, a deep-fried apple cookie that he loved; and a glass of milk. From the café he watched a train enter the station, discharge two passengers, and continue on, disappearing around the mountains. His hunger was satisfied and he felt happy, but he was beginning to worry a bit about his own lack of a plan. Perhaps the village had an inn where he could spend the night? Or, as a good old-fashioned boy might, in order to save money, he could curl up in a barn?

But a boy with a quest, he knew, should be getting on with it, should be pursuing his dream, not lolling about in a barn, daydreaming. Thinking, considering his options, the boy decided to finish his lunch with a piece of candy, something he had never been allowed at home. It felt grown up and a bit dangerous, buying candy. But there was a selection in the small shop's glass case. Mostly Swiss chocolates. He examined them, leaning forward against the glass, trying to choose among the exotic names that were lettered on small cards: Mandoline, Giandujotti, Stracciatella, Noisettine, Nussfin, Caramelita, Amande de Luxe, Nussor, Macchiato, Cornet Reve, and Noccino.

The shopkeeper watched the boy with an amused smile. These elegant chocolates were most often purchased by travelers wanting to take a gift home. He gestured to the boy, indicating a different selection, the ordinary, everyday candies that children of the village bought with their coins. He watched the boy's eyes light up as if he had recognized an old friend.

"Oh! I'll take that!" he said enthusiastically to the shopkeeper, pointing. Then he remembered to speak German. "Vat callen zei it?"

The shopkeeper reached into the case and handed the long spiral candy to the boy. "Lickety Twist," he said.

Memories flooded back. In his best German the boy asked if he could see the original wrapper in which the candy had been packed. The shopkeeper, being Swiss, was too polite to criticize the terrible German and so orderly that he had folded the discarded wrapping neatly and put it away. Now he retrieved it and handed it to the boy, who examined it with a surge of excitement. The wrapping contained the address of the Melanoff candy factory.

It was a very long distance—halfway around the world—from the small Swiss village. The boy looked around, thinking about the magnitude of such a journey. From where he stood, he could hear a rooster in a nearby farmyard, children singing in a kindergarten, and the rush of water from a small waterfall that tumbled down from the rocks at the foot of the mountain. Everything here in Switzerland was placid and beautiful and had not changed, it seemed, in a hundred, perhaps a thousand, years.

One of his scratchy wool knee socks was prickered with twigs and had drooped on his leg. He glanced down at it, thinking how distressed his mother would have been to see that he looked disheveled. He grinned. Then, sucking his long, pliable candy, the boy went next door to the little railroad station and studied the maps attached to the wall for a few long, silent minutes. Finally, with a feeling of adventure and a determined sense of future, he bought a ticket to Rotterdam.

21. A Decision, an Announcement, and an Unexpected Arrival

It had taken a month. But Commander Melanoff felt certain, taking a test bite alone in his lab, that the candy was perfect. His masterpiece. So many false starts! He chuckled now, realizing that it had been simple in the end: the addition of a tiny portion of nougat before he poured the melted chocolate over and allowed it to harden on the small, delectable bar.

Now that his experimental work was complete, he would give the formula, the recipe, to the workers at his factory, and they could begin production, mixing the ingredients in huge stainless-steel vats. Thousands of the bars would soon be popping out in orderly rows from the final machine, and then they would go to the packaging department, where they would be hygienically sealed into their paper wrappers with the name in bright red letters, then packed into cartons and shipped to distributors throughout the world.

Soon they would appear in corner stores, in movie theater refreshment cases, in vending machines everywhere. He could picture them there. He could picture laughing children, indulgent grandmothers, teenagers, all of them, pointing to what would soon be familiar red letters and asking for—