Authors: Mandie,the Forbidden Attic (v1.0) [html]
Mandie and the Forbidden Attic
Lois Gladys Leppard
To My Very Special Cousins,
H. D. “Jack” Wilson
Mary Ellen Mundy Wilson,
With Love and Thanks
Encouragement Over the Years
Mandie’s heart did flipflops as the train came to a halt beside the depot in Asheville, North Carolina.
“Well, here we are,” Uncle John said. “I see the rig from the school is out there.”
Mandie could not speak. She knew the dreaded time for parting had come. She would be left at the school alone while her mother and Uncle John returned home to the city of Franklin where they lived. She couldn’t stand the thought of leaving them.
It seemed like only yesterday that her father had died and she went to live with Uncle John. Mandie didn’t know her real mother, Elizabeth, until Uncle John brought them together. Then before long Uncle John and Mandie’s mother were married, and Mandie was delighted. But now, they were making her go to the boarding school her mother had attended.
“Come along, Amanda,” her mother urged.
As though in a daze, Mandie trudged down the aisle. She felt numb and detached from the scene as she stepped off the train.
Elizabeth hurried over to the waiting surrey, and the old Negro driver came forward to greet her.
“Uncle Cal!” Elizabeth said as the family joined her. “This is my daughter, Amanda, and my husband, John Shaw.”
Uncle Cal tipped his hat.
“John is my first husband’s brother,” she explained. “You probably remember Jim. I left the school to marry him. He was Amanda’s father.”
“Yessum, I sho’ do ’member Mr. Shaw,” the old man replied. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. John Shaw,” he said, shaking hands.
Mandie held out her small gloved hand. “How do you do, Uncle Cal,” she said.
“I’se jes’ fine, Missy.” The old man squeezed her hand warmly. “You sho’ de spittin’ image of yo’ mama when she be ’bout yo’ age,” he said, surveying the little blue-eyed blonde. “Jes’ wait ’til Phoebe see you. She gonna think Miz Lizbeth done come back to school agin.”
Mandie smiled. “Thank you, Uncle Cal.” Instantly, she knew she had a friend.
Uncle John began helping the old man load Mandie’s trunk and bags onto the surrey. As Mandie watched them, pains of protest gripped her stomach. But she had promised her mother and Uncle John that she would give the school a try. They promised her that if she couldn’t be happy there, they would bring her back home, and she could go to school in Franklin.
Mandie was determined to fight the sadness and loneliness of being separated from her mother and Uncle John. She would trust God to give her the strength.
As they drove the short distance from the train station to the school, Mandie rode in silence. She did not hear the horses clip-clopping down the cobblestone streets, nor her mother’s conversation with Uncle Cal. She saw nothing of the town as they passed through. She was trying to be brave, but it wasn’t easy.
As Uncle Cal turned the surrey up a half-circle graveled driveway, Mandie stared at the huge white clapboard house surrounded by magnolia trees at the top of a hill.
The surrey stopped in front of the long two-story porch supported by six huge white pillars. A small sign to the left of the heavy double doors read “The Misses Heathwood’s School for Girls.” Tall narrow windows trimmed with colorful stained glass flanked each side of the doors. Above the doors, matching stained glass edged a fan-shaped transom of glass panes.
Behind the bannisters along the veranda were white rocking chairs with green, flowered cushions. Over to the left, a wooden swing hung by chains attached to the ceiling. At the corner, the porch turned and went around the left side of the house.
Mandie’s attention returned to the doorway as a short, thin, elderly lady, wearing a simple black dress, came out to welcome them. Leaving the surrey, John, Elizabeth and Mandie started across the lawn.
“My, my, Elizabeth, dear. I’m so glad to see you,” the schoolmistress said, smoothing her jet black hair with her hand. “This must be your husband and Amanda, of course.”
“Yes, Miss Prudence, this is my husband, John Shaw,” Elizabeth replied.
John removed his hat and nodded his head slightly. “How do you do, ma’am,” he said.
Miss Prudence nodded in acknowledgment.
“And, Amanda,” Elizabeth continued, resting her neatly-gloved hand on Mandie’s shoulder. She pushed her daughter a little forward. “Amanda, this is Miss Prudence Heathwood.”
Not knowing what else to say, Mandie echoed her uncle’s greeting. “How do you do, ma’am.”
“Welcome, Amanda. I know you’re going to like it here,” Miss Prudence told her.
Mandie wished she could be that sure.
Miss Prudence called to the Negro who waited by the surrey. “Uncle Cal, please take Miss Amanda’s things to the third floor, room three.
“Yessum,” Uncle Cal replied.
Miss Prudence turned back to Elizabeth. “Do come in, Elizabeth—all of you,” she said, leading the way.
They followed the woman through the doorway into a large center hallway. Mandie stared upward. Delicate plaster-of-Paris angels and roses decorated the high white ceiling. Across the hall a huge chandelier, which seemed to hold a hundred candles, hung near the curved staircase leading to a second-story balcony. Dark wooden wainscoting covered the lower third of the wallpapered walls.
Miss Prudence led them off to the right into an alcove furnished with huge tapestry-covered chairs. A large flower arrangement sat on a marble-topped table.
They sat down in big, comfortable chairs.
Elizabeth leaned forward. “John and I will be taking the train home this afternoon,” she said.
“Oh? You aren’t staying at your mother’s?” Miss Prudence asked.
“No, she’s out of town,” Elizabeth answered.
She’s always out of town when we come to Asheville
, Mandie thought.
Maybe she is still angry with Uncle John for reuniting Mother and me after she went to so much trouble to separate us
Mandie hardly looked up when a maid came in to serve cold lemonade. Mandie’s mother and Miss Prudence continued their conversation, but Mandie didn’t hear it. She was deep in her own thoughts.
She still couldn’t understand why her father hadn’t revealed the truth about her mother and stepmother. Her stepmother had been so unkind. Without Uncle Ned, her father’s old Cherokee friend, Mandie wouldn’t have found her Uncle John and her real mother.
Maybe Grandmother doesn’t want me because my father was half Cherokee
, she thought.
Suddenly Mandie realized that someone was talking to her. “I’m sorry, Mother, I didn’t understand what you said,” she apologized.
“Miss Prudence was saying that we may use the guest room on this floor to freshen up. It’ll soon be time to go to the dining room,” her mother explained.
Mandie quickly rose. “Yes, ma’am. That would be a good idea.”
Miss Prudence led the way down the hallway. “Right this way,” she said. “Of course, Elizabeth, you know where it is. I don’t think we’ve changed a thing since you were a student here. We haven’t even installed those new electric lights everyone is talking about.”
She stopped at the guest-room doorway. “I’ll meet you in the dining room at twelve sharp. The other girls have already arrived. We can accommodate only twenty at the table at a time, so we have two sittings.”
“Then you have twice as many girls now as you did when I was here.” Elizabeth smiled. “We’ll be prompt.”
The guest room was beautifully decorated. A handsome four-poster bed stood in the middle of the floor. Clean towels and a large ceramic bowl and pitcher of water waited on a washstand in the corner. But going to a door in the far wall by the fireplace, Elizabeth found a bathroom, complete with water tank high on the wall, and a chain to pull for flushing the commode. There was a bathtub standing on four feet
that looked like claws, and an enormous marble lavatory with cut glass handles on the faucets.
“This is lovely. I should be out shortly,” Elizabeth said, closing the bathroom door behind her.
Uncle John sat down in a velvet-covered chair near the bed. “I’ll rest here,” he said.
“Me too,” Mandie added. Plopping down onto a footstool, she removed her bonnet and gloves, and discarded her small purse on the floor. She was wearing a very proper traveling dress of brown silk and matching buttoned shoes, white silk stockings under the long, full skirt, and white gloves with tiny pearl buttons. The outfit was only one of many that her mother had a seamstress make for Mandie’s school term. Mandie was already tired of the fancy clothes. She sighed, propped her elbow on her knee, and rested her chin in her hand.
“Tired?” Uncle John asked.
“I’m so tired and disgusted already!” Mandie told him in a shaky voice. She fought back the tears.
“Come now, dear,” he said, reaching to pat her blonde head. “You promised us you would at least try it.”
“I know, Uncle John. It’s just all so strange.” She took a deep breath to steady her voice. “I’ve never been in a place like this before.”
“It’ll take time. But before you know it you’ll be home for a holiday and telling us how much you like the school.”
“I’ll try. But please tell Uncle Ned not to forget his promise to visit me on the first full moon. That will be Thursday of next week.”
“I will, Mandie. We all love that old Indian. I’m sure he’ll keep his word to your father when he died to watch over you. He’ll be here. You can depend on him.”
The sound of laughter and talking drifted down the hall.
Uncle John looked at his pocket watch.
“Wash up, Mandie, and get your mother. It’s time to eat.”
A few minutes later, Elizabeth led the way to the huge dining room where several girls stood behind chairs around the long table. Sparkling red glass dishes lay on the crisp white tablecloth, ready for the meal. The Shaws hesitated just inside the French doors. Miss Prudence entered from the opposite side of the room and motioned for them to sit near her at the head of the table.
Mandie reluctantly took her place behind the chair next to Uncle John. On the other side of her, a tall girl with black hair and deep black eyes stared at her without speaking, or even smiling.
Miss Prudence shook a little silver bell as she stood at the head of the table. “Young ladies,” she announced, “we will return our thanks.” Miss Prudence watched to see that every head was bowed and then spoke, “Our Gracious Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for this food of which we are about to partake, and ask Thy blessings on it and on all who are present. Amen. Please be seated.”
There was a scraping of chairs as they all sat down.
“Since everyone has arrived now,” Miss Prudence continued, “we would like you to get acquainted. Please introduce yourselves and tell us where you are from. We will begin with Etrulia and go around the table.”
The introductions began, but Mandie was too tense to remember the names.
Then the girl next to her spoke. “I’m April Snow,” the black-haired girl said in a rebellious tone, “and I’m from Nashville, Tennessee.”
There was silence and Mandie realized they were waiting for her to speak.
“My name is Amanda Shaw, Mandie for short, and I’m
from Franklin,” she said, twisting her fingers together.
“And, young ladies,” Miss Prudence added, “these are Amanda’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Shaw.”
John and Elizabeth smiled, but Mandie caught her breath. These were not her parents, plural. She had only one real parent—her mother. Miss Prudence knew that Uncle John was not Mandie’s father. How could she say such a thing? Mandie wanted all the world to know that her dear father was Jim Shaw and that he was in heaven now. Mandie didn’t dare speak up, but she realized it would be difficult to untangle Miss Prudence’s remark.
At the end of the meal Miss Prudence stood again and rang the bell.
“Since classes don’t begin until tomorrow,” she announced, “you may have the rest of the day to unpack and get to know one another.”
Everyone left quickly so that the table could be cleared and reset for the second seating. Miss Prudence took the opportunity to show the Shaws around.
On the main floor, they toured the dining room, kitchen, parlor, music room, library, and two classrooms. Miss Prudence’s and Miss Hope’s rooms were on this floor. A connecting room also served as the school office.
On the second floor, there were more classrooms, two huge bedrooms and two baths. Each bedroom had four double beds to accommodate eight girls. Mandie’s room was on the third floor where the new students lived. There were three bedrooms with four double beds, two bathrooms, and more classrooms.