When Gandhara Farm manager Betty Davis heard that an accused spy allegedly had tried to drop classified Navy secrets behind a telephone pole 200 yards up the road toward Poolesville, she shook her head and laughed.

"A lot of helicopters fly around here all the time, so close they scare the horses," Davis said. "But I always heard they were looking for marijuana fields."

The western Montgomery County town is only about 25 miles from Washington, but when it comes to big-time espionage, Poolesville is strictly small town.

"We haven't had one phone call" at Town Hall, said Town Clerk Nancy Frost.

"Oh, my goodness, was that in Poolesville?" gasped Mary Lou Hosler, office manager at Poolesville Elementary School.

"Only people who have asked about Partnership Road was an NBC crew," shrugged Charlie Kohlhoos, who runs an Exxon station in the middle of town. "Nobody else is interested."

"To tell you the truth, we had a couple of kids involved in a car wreck yesterday afternoon, and that's been pretty much the talk," said Larry Steele, owner of the restaurant that hosts the retired farmers' informal convention every morning. "Mr. John Allnutt was in here this morning and he didn't know anything about it," Steele continued. "And he lives about 200 yards from Partnership."

Until accused spy John Anthony Walker allegedly tried to turn Poolesville into Moscow-on-the-Potomac, the hottest gossip in town concerned the nearly completed WSSC sewage treatment plant.

"We got sludge," as Steele put it. And divorce. Told Walker had worked as a private detective, Steele said, "We got plenty of that. It's Peyton Place Two, here."

In Poolesville, where Larry's bar and grill adjoins the turn-of-the-19th-century stucco home he is renovating, the New Prosperity and the Old Propriety pace in uncertain harness.

The literate irony of the original land-grant tract names -- Accord, Discord, Concord, Conclusion, Fortune, Difficulty, Adventure, Partnership -- has been replaced by the flowery subdivision style of Summerhill and Westerly.

The oldest homes, in various states of renovation or disrepair or despair, are crowded log, stone and slab beside the painted siding and garish "new" brick of the developments.

The onetime family home of Mayor Charles Elgin has been turned into the Meadow Lark Inn, a white tablecloth and hot buffet establishment at the south end of town. At Larry's, where the clientele is regular and heavily workingclass, the main topics of conversation were Monday's accident and the Holmes-Williams bout. At the Meadow Lark, the business lunchers were talking lawsuits and savings and loans.

The population has risen from 350 only decades ago to 10 times that within the city proper, and 6,000 in the "Poolesville area," according to longtime real estate maestro Charles H. Jamison. Most of that is the result of the townhouse boom, a new pastel horizon of single-family dwellings visible through the trees toward Beallsville.

But Poolesville itself is still so quiet that the mail carrier in his Jeep cocks his head at unfamiliar cars. There is so little traffic that the smell of the air is stunning -- a mixture of cut weeds, rain-wet Tarmac and narcotic honeysuckle. The road is so narrow that cars have to pull off into the ditch to let the farm machinery pass.

In fact, for all its pastoral provincialty, Poolesville had a previous brush with espionage. In April of 1983, Lt. Col. Yevgeney N. Barmyantsev, the acting military attache at the Soviet Embassy, was arrested in the act of picking up eight rolls of undeveloped film behind a hollow tree near Little Seneca Creek Park -- just three miles east of Partnership Road.

"Listen, I think this spy stuff is great," joked Steele. "We've learned everything we know about it from you all. And it brings in reporters from all over the state to spend money in Poolesville."

And smiling, he hauled down the beer tap.