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Authors: Lois Gladys Leppard

Mandie Collection, The: 4 (4 page)

BOOK: Mandie Collection, The: 4
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Mandie looked at her friends and they both nodded.

“Then we’ll just go see this young man do his magic tricks tomorrow night,” Senator Morton said. “I’ll get the tickets.”

“Thank you, Senator,” Mrs. Taft smiled. Turning back to the young people, she said, “Senator Morton and I thought perhaps y’all would like to begin your sightseeing tomorrow with a tour of the catacombs, and then maybe the Colosseum and the other ruins here in Rome.”

“Oh, the catacombs would be great!” Mandie exclaimed.

“Yes, I think they would be very interesting,” Jonathan agreed.

“Well, I suppose we’ll have to see them sometime or other, but I’m not very anxious to visit dead people,” Celia said hesitantly.

Mandie and Jonathan laughed. The adults smiled.

“I’ll stay right with you, Celia, I promise,” Mandie said solemnly.

“So will I,” Jonathan added.

“Celia, dear, if you’d rather not go inside, I believe there’s a little refreshment stand at the entrance where you can wait,” Mrs. Taft suggested.

“Oh, no,” Celia quickly objected. “I’ll have to go inside. You see, I have to keep up with my journal, and I’d hate to write in it that I was there and didn’t go inside.”

When they had all finished eating, Mandie asked the waiter for some food to take to her kitten. She had locked Snowball in their bathroom and brought the key with her.

Snowball was curled up asleep in the middle of the huge marble bathtub when Mandie opened the door. Seeing his mistress, he stood up, stretched, and yawned.

“Here,” Mandie said to him, holding out the saucer of food she had brought. “Here’s your dinner, Snowball.”

Sniffing the aroma of food, Snowball jumped out of the bathtub and rushed to his mistress. Mandie placed the saucer and a cup of water in a corner for him. He quickly devoured it all.

Putting the key back in the bathroom door lock, Mandie went in to the bedroom and got ready for bed. “This was a lot easier than trying to tie Snowball under the table or somewhere while we ate,” she told Celia.

“As long as the maid doesn’t have a duplicate key....” Celia answered, getting into her nightgown and robe. “She might accidentally let him out.”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that,” Mandie said. “Well, I’ll just take
him with us tomorrow. He’s pretty good about walking with his leash and harness on now.”

“I’ll help you with him,” Celia promised.

It was warm in the room, and the girls pulled back some of the heavy draperies looking for a window they could open. To their surprise they found a French door behind one of the curtains.

Mandie pressed her face against the glass and peered out. “Well, we have a door,” she said. “Hey, Celia, look, there are steps outside that go down.”

Celia looked over Mandie’s shoulder. “They must lead to the street.”

“It looks that way,” Mandie said.

Celia continued peering through the glass. “There’s a balcony out there, too.”

Mandie tried to turn the doorknob. “It’s locked,” she said, noticing a large key in the lock. “Should we unlock it and open the door a bit for some air?”

“Oh, no, no,” Celia protested. “Please don’t, Mandie. It’s so dark. Someone could be outside.”

Mandie laughed. “All right. When it’s daylight I’ll open it and look outside.” She turned toward the window they had uncovered. “If you’ll help me, I think we can push this window up so we can get some air.”

The window was huge, and it took the strength of both girls to raise it. A cool breeze immediately floated into their room.

“Mmmm!” Mandie breathed in. “It was worth all the trouble, wasn’t it?”

Celia looked outside. There was nothing there but another wall of the hotel. “I suppose so... as long as someone can’t get in.” She walked over to the French door. “But we’ve got to cover this door. Somebody might look in while we’re asleep.” She pulled the curtains shut.

The girls hopped into the big bed, and Snowball pounced on their feet. With the window open, they could hear a lot of noise from the outside. Someone was singing opera in loud, high notes, and someone else was playing an accordion. The buzz of conversation on the street below sounded like a hundred people talking in loud tones all at once.

“This sure is different from home, where everything is quiet and you can hear the jarflies at night, isn’t it?” Mandie said. She wiggled around in an effort to dislodge Snowball, who had curled up on her
feet. “Snowball, I didn’t need you to heat up my feet.” She reached down to push him to one side.

Snowball meowed and gradually inched his way back toward her feet.

The girls were tired from the long journey from France, but they were wide awake with the excitement of being in Rome. They talked into the wee hours of the morning.

When the maid came in at dawn and pulled back the draperies, Mandie and Celia had trouble getting their eyes all the way open.

Mandie rubbed her eyelids as she sat up. “Feels like dirt in my eyes.”


Buon giorno, signorina
,” the maid said as Mandie swung her feet out of the bed. The girl had brought a breakfast tray, and she placed it on a table nearby.

“Sorry, I don’t understand Italian,” Mandie apologized as she smiled at the heavy-set young girl.

“I only said, good morning, miss,” the maid translated. “Would you like me to pour out coffee?”

“Oh, you speak English, thank goodness,” Mandie said, standing up and stretching. Celia joined her by the table. “Pour out the coffee? No, we don’t want it poured out. We’ll drink it.”

“Then I go.” The girl smiled as she left the room.

“Mandie, I think she meant pour it out into our cups,” Celia explained. “My mother has some friends back home who came from England, and that’s the way they say it.”

“Well, I’m glad you understand these things,” Mandie said, laughing.

As soon as everyone had enjoyed a light breakfast in their rooms, Mrs. Taft and Senator Morton took the young people sightseeing.

It was a bright, clear day and warm. As they rode down the cobblestone streets of Rome in a hired carriage, the girls were overwhelmed by the huge stone buildings, the grassy parks with fountains everywhere they looked, and the crowds of people on the streets, who all seemed to be talking loudly and gesturing with their hands. Mandie and Celia, who were both country girls, had never seen such a bustling, interesting city.

Mrs. Taft laid out their plans. “We’ll go to the catacombs first,” she said. “Then we’ll have something to eat at noon and go on to some of the ruins, or the Colosseum.”

“Yes, let’s go to the catacombs first and get that over with,” Celia remarked, patting the mesh bag in her lap that contained her journal.

“And write in our journals about it?” Mandie asked. She had the harness and leash on Snowball, who sat purring at her side.

“Yes, that will be something to write about,” Celia agreed.

At the entrance to the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, a Franciscan monk greeted them together with lots of other visitors. He wore a long, brown hooded robe, and had leather sandals on his feet. He gave a brief explanation of the tour in several different languages.

“If you will please follow me,” he said, “we will enter the basilica here. It was built in the fourth century in honor of the Apostles Peter and Paul.” He led the way inside the rectangular building, which contained two aisles amid rows of huge columns and a nave.

Celia held on to Mandie’s hand as they followed the others.

“Over here,” the monk said, indicating a huge archway, “you will find the entrance to the underground catacombs.” Then he gestured toward the display cases along the walls. “Inside these cases you will see some of the precious gems of our country. These and other artifacts here were found in ruins that have only recently been uncovered.”

Everyone crowded around the thick glass-covered displays to gaze at the arrangements of sparkling gems and artifacts of gold and silver.

Mandie gasped. “Oh, they’re beautiful! Look at that huge ruby in the center of this piece. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“Neither have I,” Celia said in wonder.

Jonathan smiled at their enthusiasm.

Mrs. Taft and Senator Morton led the way, and Mandie held Snowball tightly as she and Celia and Jonathan descended the stairs. They soon found themselves in an underground cavern lit only by candles, and having a damp odor. The visitors were silent in reverence for the Christians buried there. The walls were rough stone, and crevices in the wall held small crypts containing the remains of the dead.

Celia began shaking, and she grabbed on to Mandie’s hand.

“Celia,” Mandie said, “Jonathan and I are right here with you. There is nothing to be afraid of. Dead people can’t hurt you,” she tried to reassure her friend.

“I know,” Celia replied in a quivering voice. “I’m sorry to be such a scaredy-cat, but the very thought of people buried here gives me the jitters.” She laughed nervously.

There were several archways leading into the various sections of the catacombs. The crowd had thinned out after a quick look, and Mrs. Taft and Senator Morton became engrossed with carved tablets in the walls, which they tried to decipher.

Jonathan led the girls forward. “Here’s another room over here,” he said. “Look!” He stepped through an archway into a corridor that went around a bend, and the girls followed.

Mandie freed her hand from Celia’s long enough to push her bonnet back so she could see better. The long ribbon secured it on her neck. Celia pushed hers back too.

“I don’t know whether it’s hot or cold down here,” Mandie remarked, breaking the silence. “I feel hot, but the air around us feels cold.”

The young people looked around the room for some connecting corridor.

“This seems to be a dead end,” Mandie said.

“You’re right,” Jonathan agreed. “But look at this carving on the wall.”

The three inspected the ancient writing, barely visible from the light of only one candle near the archway they had come through.

“Is it Latin, Jonathan?” Mandie asked, pointing to the inscription.

Jonathan bent to look closer. At that moment the candle went out. Jonathan caught his breath. The girls grabbed each other. The three were left in complete darkness. The bend in the corridor kept light from coming in from other rooms.

“Where is everybody?” Mandie cried. “I can’t hear a sound.”

There was not a single noise to indicate that anyone else remained in the underground caverns.

Jonathan began feeling his way along the wall. “I think I can locate the archway that we came through,” he said. “You girls hold on to my coat.”

Mandie and Celia took hold of his coattail and followed him closely in the blackness.

“Wh-what do you suppose made the candle go out?” Celia stammered.

“There must have been a draft down here,” Jonathan said, moving along in small, careful steps. “Let’s see, I believe I’ve found the entrance.” He moved a little more and said, “Yes, I think this is where we came in. Now, stay close together.”

He stepped cautiously through the archway. It was still completely dark in the corridor.

“Jonathan, what happened to the candles that were along the way when we came in here?” Mandie asked, holding tightly to her kitten.

“They all seem to have gone out,” Jonathan said, still moving slowly as he felt his way along the stone wall.

“Then someone must have put them out,” Mandie reasoned. “I don’t see how a little draft could blow them all out at once.”

“Oh, no!” Celia moaned.

“Don’t panic,” Jonathan told the girls. “We’ll be out of here in no time, and then we’ll find out what happened.”

“Why don’t we call out for help?” Celia asked.

“Too embarrassing,” Jonathan said, as he kept inching his way along. “Don’t worry. We’ll be out of here soon.”

As they moved along at a snail’s pace, Jonathan suddenly cried out. “Ouch!” He stood still.

“What’s wrong?” Mandie asked.

“Nothing. I must have put my hand right on top of a candle that just went out. The wax was hot,” he explained.

They moved along through what seemed to be several rooms, and still no light appeared anywhere. The girls were getting frantic. Every time they whispered, their voices echoed back at them.

“Jonathan, someone has put out all the candles, or we would have found a lighted one by now,” Mandie complained, nervously clutching Snowball.

“It sure looks that way,” Jonathan admitted. “But if we keep going, we’re bound to find the entrance. Then we can get out of this place.”

“I don’t understand why we keep moving and still don’t find anyone else down here,” Mandie said shakily. “Where is my grandmother... and the senator?”

Jonathan kept feeling his way along with the girls closely following, but they didn’t find a single light or another person anywhere.

“We must have made a wrong turn somewhere,” Mandie decided. “I don’t know how we’re ever going to get out of here. We seem to be going deeper and deeper inside these caverns.”

Jonathan sighed. “You may be right, Mandie,” he said.

CHAPTER FOUR

LOST IN THE DARK

“Jonathan, I’m getting tired,” Mandie complained. “We must have walked a mile by now and haven’t gotten anyplace.” She and Celia were close behind him.

“My legs are getting so wobbly I can hardly stand up.” Celia’s voice quivered in fright.

“I’m sorry,” Jonathan replied. Just then he stumbled on something and the girls almost fell because they were still holding on to his coat-tail. “I’m sorry again,” he said. “My foot hit something rough and moveable, probably a stone.”

“Do you think we could rest for a minute?” Mandie asked. “Snowball is squirming so. I’d like to set him down.”

“All right. A minute would be the time it takes to count to sixty.” Jonathan was apparently trying to joke, but his voice sounded nervous. “Hold on, now, so you don’t fall. I’m going to stop here.”

Mandie sighed heavily. “I don’t understand how all this happened to us,” she said.

“Neither do I,” Jonathan replied. “I’m beginning to think someone deliberately blew out the candle in the room where we were.”

“But all the other candles were out, too,” Celia added in a shaky voice.

BOOK: Mandie Collection, The: 4
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