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Authors: Lois Gladys Leppard

Mandie Collection, The: 4 (8 page)

BOOK: Mandie Collection, The: 4
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Mrs. Taft and Senator Morton entered a small room at the end of a long corridor, and Mandie heard her grandmother greet someone. The young people pushed forward to see who it was.

“Good morning,” Mrs. Taft said courteously. “Imagine seeing you here.”

“Good morning, Mrs. Taft,” a male voice replied. “I am delighted to see you and the senator again.”

Mandie gasped and said, “It’s Mr. Rushton.”

The man kept looking from one side to the other, as if in a hurry to go on. “If you will excuse me, I hope to see you all later.” He quickly proceeded down the passageway.

Mandie watched him go, and when he got to the end of the corridor, he stopped to speak to another man. The candlelight was too dim to make out what the other man looked like. The two disappeared around the bend.

Mandie turned to Jonathan. “I wish I could have spoken to him. I would have asked him if you could use his equipment to show us some magic, Jonathan.”

“Mandie, you know that man isn’t going to let anyone touch his equipment,” Jonathan insisted.

“You never know till you ask,” Mandie replied.

Mandie and her friends caught up with her grandmother and the senator, but they quickly became bored with the place. Time seemed to drag. There were so many other things to see in Rome. Mandie wanted to move on.

The young people were relieved when the adults finally decided to leave.

“I believe we have seen about all there is to see, dears,” Mrs. Taft said. “Everything else is just more of the same. Shall we go now?”

“Yes, ma’am,” the three quickly answered.

“I don’t know about you young folks, but something tells me it’s time to have some more of that good Italian food,” Senator Morton said with a smile.

“Yes, sir,” the young people agreed.

They walked quickly through the passageways, and on upstairs. As they arrived at the top step, they were shocked to see policemen everywhere.

“My goodness!” Mandie cried. “What’s happened now?”

A policeman standing near the stairs stepped forward to speak to the senator. He was carrying a small notebook.

“Please, Signor, may I have your names and where you are from and where you are staying?” the policeman asked in perfect British English. He looked from one to the other of the group.

Senator Morton pulled their papers out of his pocket and handed them to the policeman. “Of course,” he said. “I believe you will find the information you need for all of us right here.”

The man took the papers and began copying information from them into his notebook.

“What has happened, officer?” Mrs. Taft asked.

“There has been a robbery, Signora,” the man said without looking up. “We must take all names and addresses of visitors and investigate.”

“You’re not talking about my bag, are you?” Mandie quickly asked.

The man stopped writing and smiled at her. “Signorina, I do not know anything about your bag. What is missing is the very large ruby from that case over there.” He pointed across the room toward the display case the young people had looked into the day before. He bent over his notebook again.

Mandie said, “My bag was stolen, too. At least I think it was stolen. Anyway it just disappeared.”

The policeman looked up again. “If you will please stop by our headquarters and make up a report, we will be happy to pursue the matter for you,” he said patiently. “Right now we must expend every effort to find the ruby. It is part of our national heritage.”

“Thank you. I understand,” Mandie replied. “And I’m sorry about your ruby. I sincerely hope you find it.”

The policeman finished taking the information and returned the papers to Senator Morton. “Thank you. You may proceed now,” he said.

Mrs. Taft walked slowly past the case where the ruby had been. “My, my, what a loss!” she exclaimed. “I remember seeing the stone.”

As they went outside, Senator Morton said, “They have a good police force here in Rome. They’ll probably find it. Whoever took it must still be in the catacombs.”

The young people lagged behind.

“And the catacombs have more levels than most people realize,” Mandie whispered to her friends.

“Yes, it’s a perfect place for thieves to hide,” Jonathan said quietly.

“They would have to know this place pretty well, or they’d get lost and maybe never find their way out,” Celia added.

“You are so right,” Mandie agreed. “But you know, I just don’t understand how anyone could have stolen the ruby. It was locked in that case, and there’s also a guard there. Remember, he came and looked for my bag for me.”

“That’s right,” Jonathan said. “Whoever took the ruby must be a professional thief. No one saw him.”

“Him or her,” Mandie added.

“Oh, Mandie, do you really think that strange woman could have been involved in this?” Celia asked nervously.

Mandie’s heart sank. “I don’t know,” she said. “But I feel so awful about asking the guard to help me find my bag. Maybe that’s when the thief took the ruby!”

Jonathan tried to console her. “You had no way of knowing.... Besides, whoever took it would have found a way, with or without the guard gone looking for your bag.”

“We should tell someone,” Celia urged.

“What would we tell them?” Jonathan asked. “We can’t prove any of this.”

Mrs. Taft stopped in front of a bench in the middle of a flower garden and sat down. “Let’s sit here while Senator Morton finds a carriage for us,” she suggested. The young people sat down with her. Senator Morton hurried down the road.

Mandie allowed Snowball to roam on his leash, and he immediately began to scamper in the grass.

“Whew! I didn’t realize I was tired until I sat down,” Mrs. Taft said, fanning herself with her white lace handkerchief. “It’s so warm out here after being in that cold place. But it was awfully interesting, didn’t y’all think so?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Mandie agreed. The others nodded.

“I don’t believe we would ever be able to cover the entire place,” Mrs. Taft continued. “There are so many nooks and crannies and
passageways and steps. The Franciscan monks are the custodians of the place, but I certainly didn’t see a single one.”

The young people exchanged glances.

“They probably have private living quarters where the public can’t go,” Mrs. Taft rambled on.

Jonathan cleared his throat.

Mandie, believing he was about to speak, quickly said, “They wouldn’t allow visitors to invade their private rooms, I’m sure.”

“No,” Jonathan agreed. “It might scare the monks, for one thing. I don’t imagine they are used to mixing with other people.”

“I, for one, wouldn’t want to go visiting monks,” Celia added.

Mrs. Taft rose. “I see Senator Morton waving at us,” she said. “Let’s go.” She started for the carriage the senator had procured.

Mandie picked up Snowball, and the young people lagged behind again so they could talk quietly.

Mandie nudged Jonathan. “I thought for a minute you were going to tell my grandmother that we had seen some of the monks,” she whispered.

“Do I look that dumb?” Jonathan replied sharply.

“Of course not,” Mandie answered, “but sometimes a person says things without thinking.”

“Speak for yourself,” Jonathan teased.

“Sorry,” Mandie whispered.

They all boarded the carriage, and Senator Morton took them to an inside restaurant for the midday meal. The decor was done entirely in black and white—the tile, the murals on the walls, the furniture, the china, even the tablecloths were of a black-and-white-checked fabric.

The waiter didn’t speak a word of English and couldn’t understand anything they were saying. He had to get another man, apparently the owner, to take their order. But he didn’t know much English, either. Finally, Senator Morton gave up and simply said,
“Ravioli.”

The man smiled broadly. “Ah,
ravioli!
” he said, and rushed off to get their food.

“What is
ravioli?
” Mandie asked.

The senator tried to explain: “It’s like macaroni, only shaped in squares and filled with meat or cheese. It is served in a spicy tomato
sauce,” he said. “I think you will all like it. If you don’t, we’ll try something else.”

When the food came, however, the young people ate eagerly, finding the dish very tasty. Even Snowball seemed to enjoy the portion that Mandie put on a saucer under the table.

After a while, the conversation turned to the theft at the catacombs.

Mrs. Taft showed her concern. “I feel sorry for these people,” she said. “Imagine how it would feel to have a national treasure stolen in our United States!”

Mandie dropped her fork suddenly onto her plate. “I just had a great idea! I wonder if the Italians are offering a reward for the return of the ruby. Maybe we could find it and collect the reward!”

“Amanda!” Mrs. Taft said sharply. “Don’t even consider such an idea. We will not become involved in this. It doesn’t concern us.”

Mandie meekly dropped her gaze. “Yes, Grandmother,” she said. “We won’t get into what is not our business.” Then under her breath, she added, “But I sure wish we could.”

Jonathan and Celia glanced at her in alarm.

CHAPTER SEVEN

OUT OF THE PAST

That afternoon they continued their sightseeing, and it was a day never to be forgotten by Mandie. The Bible came alive for her.

The senator took them to see St. Paul Outside the Walls, the most illustrious church in Rome and the burial place of the apostle Paul. As they alighted from their carriage, Senator Morton told them the story.

In awe, Mandie and her friends walked toward the giant stone structure.

“You mean the Paul in the Bible? He’s buried here?” Mandie could hardly believe it.

“That’s what the Italians say,” Mrs. Taft replied.

Mandie and Celia held hands as they gazed about them. The portico was composed of 150 columns, and a statue of the apostle Paul stood in the center. Mosaics on the facade glittered with gold and many other colors.

Inside, the senator directed them to a marble casket. “This sarcophagus is claimed to contain the remains of the apostle Paul,” he said.

Mandie felt her knees weaken as she stared. “I know the Bible is true,” she said, “but this makes it all so real to me.”

“And to me,” Celia whispered, squeezing Mandie’s hand.

Jonathan kicked at nothing on the floor and turned around.

When they had seen everything they wanted to see at St. Paul’s, the senator took them to St. Pietro in Vincoli, which in English means St. Peter in Chains. Here they viewed the chains used by Herod to keep Peter in prison.

And then they saw the famous statue of Moses by Michelangelo. As Mandie stared up at the immense sculpture, she felt as though Moses would come alive any moment. He looked so real, so majestic.

Mandie and Celia held hands most of the afternoon for support as they viewed the realities of the past. Jonathan volunteered to carry Snowball, who was well behaved for a change.

By the time they finally returned to their hotel late that afternoon, Mandie and Celia collapsed with fatigue on their big bed. Mrs. Taft had told them to get some rest before dinner, and they gratefully complied.

“Oh, Celia, I wish I could have lived when Jesus was living on earth,” Mandie told her friend. She turned over on her stomach and propped up on her elbows. “The people who actually knew Jesus then were the luckiest people who ever lived on this earth.”

“I agree, Mandie, but it would have been terrible to live through the time of His crucifixion,” Celia reminded her.

“Oh, you’re right,” Mandie said. “You know, I think this day will be the most important day in all our journey through Europe. Nothing else could compare with it.”

“Yes,” Celia agreed. “Including the robbery at the catacombs and the disappearance of your purse.”

“I still can’t remember for sure what I had in my bag,” Mandie said pensively. “I suppose it was nothing important. Anyway, whatever it was, it’s gone now.”

“Too bad,” Celia murmured.

Suddenly Mandie bounced off the bed. “Come to think of it, I have to find my other bag to take tonight.” She went to the bureau and began opening drawers until she found it.

“Here it is,” she said, holding up an embroidered drawstring bag of various colors. “With all these colors, it goes with everything I have. Now I have to find an extra comb and a handkerchief.” Finding these in another drawer, she put them in the bag.

Celia sat up on the side of the bed. “You had some money in your other bag, too, didn’t you?” she asked.

“Yes, but Grandmother still has some of my money, if I need it,” Mandie said, pulling the strings on the bag shut.

Celia got up and fetched her bag from a nearby chair. She opened it and pulled out a roll of paper money. “Here, Mandie, I’d like to share what I have with you. Take this.” She held out about half the bills to her friend.

“No, Celia,” Mandie protested. “My grandmother has more of my money. I can’t take yours.”

“Mandie, this is an opportunity for me to share something with you,” Celia insisted. “You’re my best friend, and you’re always so patient and considerate. I’d just like to give you something.”

Mandie sighed. “Well, if you insist. I’ll buy something nice to remind me of Rome and say that you gave it to me. Will that be all right?” She took the proffered bills and stuffed them into her bag.

Celia smiled. “Whatever you want to do with it is all right with me,” she agreed.

At that moment Mrs. Taft knocked and then opened the door. “Girls, it’s time to get dressed for dinner,” she said. “And please wear something special. Senator Morton is taking us to the
Roma Ristorante
, which is probably the most expensive place in Rome. You have about thirty minutes. And, Amanda, this is one time you’ll have to leave Snowball here. Just lock him in the bathroom. He’ll be all right.”

“Yes, Grandmother,” Mandie said.

Mrs. Taft left the room and closed the door.

The girls hurriedly flipped through their clothes in the huge wardrobe. Mandie chose her blue silk dress and Celia her yellow silk. They were dressed and waiting by the time Mrs. Taft returned. Mandie put a pillow in the bathtub and set Snowball on it, admonishing him to behave while she was gone. Then she locked the bathroom door.

BOOK: Mandie Collection, The: 4
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