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Authors: Lois Gladys Leppard

Mandie Collection, The: 4 (9 page)

BOOK: Mandie Collection, The: 4
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Senator Morton was able to get a public carriage right away, and they were soon on their way. They traveled through a part of the city where the young people had not been before. They enjoyed the ride and the scenery. Soon the driver pulled up in front of a huge marble building with bright electric lights illuminating the whole area.

An attendant assisted everyone from the carriage, and the girls looked around with excitement.

Mandie’s blue eyes sparkled. “All these electric lights are going
to have us spoiled,” she said. “Everything is so much brighter than with oil or gas lamps.”

“You probably don’t know it, but the people of Franklin are getting up a petition to have electricity run into your town,” her grandmother replied. “And if they do, your mother will get it, I’m sure.”

“It might be all right in our house,” Mandie said, glancing at the many light bulbs overhead as they entered the restaurant. “We’re supposed to get it at our school sometime, too.”

“Yes, lots of places in Asheville already have it,” Mrs. Taft told her. She turned to take the senator’s arm to enter the dining room.

Jonathan stepped between the girls and held out both arms. “My pleasure, young ladies,” he said with his mischievous smile.

Mandie and Celia each took an arm, and they followed the adults into the dining room. Mandie’s dress was a little too long, and she had to be careful not to trip on it.

The head waiter led them all to a table near a small platform where a trio of uniformed men were tuning their musical instruments.

After everyone was seated, Mandie looked about the room. Almost every table was occupied. All the diners looked well dressed, and were of many different nationalities.

All at once, for no reason at all, Mandie felt terribly homesick—homesick for her mother and her stepfather, who was also her Uncle John, and for her lifetime friend, Joe Woodard. Joe—what would he think of this place and the countries they had been to? And the mysterious events that had happened? A slight smile curved her lips as she stared into space. Joe was always trying to keep her out of trouble, but he usually managed to become involved before her adventures ended.

Celia nudged her friend. “Mandie!” she whispered.

Mandie came back to the present with a start. Her grandmother was waiting to hear what Mandie wanted to order.

“I’m sorry, Grandmother. My mind was back in North Carolina,” Mandie said.

Mrs. Taft looked at her with concern. “I hope you don’t get homesick, dear,” she said. “We have lots more traveling to do. But right now we must order our food.”

The waiter, who stood patiently beside Senator Morton, smiled at Mandie.

“What do they have, Grandmother?” Mandie asked.

“Dear, the waiter just ran down a long list, but we’ve all decided to have ham,” Mrs. Taft explained. “It’s familiar to us, and it’s rather late for us to be eating a big meal. But they also have many kinds of vegetables and salads.” She looked up at the waiter, who immediately ran through his list again for Mandie.

Mandie shrugged. “I guess I’ll have ham, too,” she said. “And I’ll have to take Snowball something to eat.”

“No, dear, that would be too messy,” Mrs. Taft told her. “We can get something at our hotel for him, I’m sure.”

Before long, they were all enjoying their meal. The musicians roamed the dining room as they played and sang Italian songs, and they gave special attention to Mandie and her friends. They stopped at the end of the table and played several soft tunes. Mandie, Celia, and Jonathan eagerly applauded. Senator Morton dropped money into the cloth bag which hung from the shoulder of one of the men.

Then as the senator and Mrs. Taft held their own conversation at the other end of the table, the young people spoke quietly among themselves.

Mandie said to her friends, “This is more fun than the dining room in our hotel. I wish we could come here every night.”

“It would be awfully expensive, I imagine,” Celia replied.

“I don’t think we’ll be spending much more time here in Italy, anyway,” Jonathan told the girls. “In order to visit all the places your grandmother has planned for you to see, I’d think we’d be going on into Switzerland soon.”

Mandie looked at him. “I hadn’t thought about that,” she said. “Yes, we do have a limited amount of time, so we have to spread it over several countries. Maybe we can come back to Europe next summer.”

Jonathan looked worried. “I have no idea what my father will do about me.” He sighed. “I’d rather go home to New York and go to school there. I’ve been to so many foreign schools.”

“It would be nice if you could stay home with your father and go to school there,” Mandie said with a wistful smile. “That’s what I wanted to do. I tried to get my mother to let me stay home and go to school in Franklin, but she thought I’d get a better education at the school Celia and I go to in Asheville.”

“But as your grandmother said, Mandie, we can’t stay home with our mothers forever,” Celia said.

“We could,” Mandie quickly replied. “We might have to grow up, but we don’t have to get married and leave home.”

“Oh, Mandie,” Jonathan teased, “you’ll get married someday.”

Before Mandie could answer, Celia spoke up. “Mandie, you know Joe expects you to marry him when you both grow up. He—”

“Celia!” Mandie quickly interrupted. Her face turned red. “I don’t have to marry Joe or anyone else if I don’t want to. I wish you’d—”

“I’m sorry, Mandie,” Celia said. “I didn’t mean to—”

“Girls!” Mrs. Taft spoke sharply. “What is going on? I expect you both to act like young ladies.”

“I’m sorry, Grandmother,” Mandie said meekly. She glanced at her friend and added, “Please forgive me, Celia. I didn’t mean to shout at you.”

“That’s all right, Mandie,” Celia said, smiling. “I started it. I’m sorry, too.”

Jonathan smiled mischievously. “Now that we’re all sorry, let’s change the subject,” he said. “Have you girls discussed the robbery at the catacombs today?”

“Well, yes, we did,” Mandie told him, “—and the loss of my bag. But we haven’t figured out anything new, have you?”

“The senator told me there have been several gem robberies in other countries recently, and it’s always a national treasure of some kind,” Jonathan said. “The police think these are all connected.”

“They do?” Mandie gasped. “You mean there are what you’d call international thieves?”

“Yes, there always have been,” Jonathan replied. “These people steal something and then cross over the border into another country so the police can’t so easily find them. They probably assume the police can’t do anything to them once they’re in another county,” he explained.

“But they can, can’t they?” Celia asked.

“They certainly can,” the boy agreed. “The European countries cooperate with each other when it comes to crooks like that.”

“I wonder if they’ll ever find your bag, Mandie,” Celia said.

Mandie shook her head. “No, that’s gone,” she said. “Grandmother and Senator Morton decided it wasn’t worth the trouble to go through a formal police report, so no one is even looking for it.”

“That’s too bad,” Jonathan said sympathetically.

Mandie took a sip of tea. “It doesn’t really matter. I don’t think I had anything in it that can’t be replaced, and I have this other bag.” She held up the one she was carrying.

Mrs. Taft caught their attention. “Girls, Jonathan. Senator Morton and I have decided that we’ll travel on into Switzerland this weekend. So y’all need to let us know if there is anything else you especially want to see here in Rome in the next two days.”

The young people looked at each other and thought for a moment.

Jonathan spoke first. “You girls may want to see Trevi Fountain,” he said, winking at Mandie. “They say if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the water there, you will return to Rome some day.”

“Really!” the girls exclaimed.

“Then let’s do go see it.” Mandie smiled eagerly at her grandmother.

“Please,” Celia added.

“We’ll do that tomorrow,” Mrs. Taft agreed. “Then there are a couple of other places the senator and I want to visit.”

“I’d also like to go back by the entrance to the catacombs, to see if they found the thief who took the ruby,” Mandie suggested.

“We won’t have to do that,” Senator Morton said. “It’ll certainly be in the newspaper when the thief is apprehended. And if nothing does appear in the paper before we leave, we can ask the police.”

“Thank you, Senator,” Mandie said. “I hadn’t even thought about the newspaper.”

Mrs. Taft looked around the table. “If everyone is finished, I think it would be nice to take a stroll before going back to the hotel,” she said.

They all agreed and once they were outside the restaurant, Senator Morton led them through several narrow cobblestone streets where the local people were walking about or sitting in small groups conversing animatedly in their native tongue.

As they passed bakeries and shops of all kinds, Mandie took in deep breaths of air. “Italy even smells different from France,” she said with a laugh. “There’s a delicious edible aroma here.”

“It’s the highly seasoned foods and wonderful breads,” Mrs. Taft explained.

“The city is noisier, too, I think,” Celia added.

Senator Morton laughed. “That’s because the Italians are such fun-loving, friendly people, and they love nothing better than to talk,” he told them.

“I think the French are more dignified,” Jonathan said.

“Well, so far, I love them all in every country,” Mandie decided.

After a long stroll, Senator Morton hired a public carriage and they rode back to their hotel. The day had been an exciting one.

When they arrived at their hotel, Mrs. Taft told the girls to get to bed immediately since it had been such a long day.

There were no arguments.

As Mandie and Celia entered their bedroom, Mandie glanced at the closed bathroom door. “Snowball!” she exclaimed, rushing into the bathroom to get him.

Mandie and Celia found the white kitten curled up in the huge lavatory, sound asleep.

“Look at that,” Mandie said. “I make him a nice soft bed in the bathtub, and he climbs up here in the sink.” She picked him up.

“Mandie, do you know what we forgot?” Celia asked.

“Food for Snowball!” Mandie exclaimed. “I’ll ask Grandmother if I can go downstairs and get something for him.”

Mrs. Taft reluctantly agreed, but told the girls to hurry back.

When Mandie and Celia approached the front desk, they were surprised to see George Rushton standing there, talking to the clerk.

“Hello, Mr. Rushton,” Mandie greeted him. “Are you already finished with your performance for tonight?”

The magician turned and smiled at the girls. “I didn’t have one scheduled for tonight,” he said. “However, I am working on setting up a performance right here in the hotel in the next few days. I don’t know the exact date. I’ll have to let you know, but I would be proud to have you young ladies come.”

Mandie and Celia became flustered with the important man’s invitation. “Thank you,” they managed.

“We have to see what my grandmother has planned before we can say whether or not we can come,” Mandie told him.

The clerk spoke up then. “Miss Shaw, I believe we have something here that belongs to you.” He stooped under the counter, and when he stood up he held Mandie’s missing bag in his hand.

“My bag!” Mandie reached for it. “Where did you get it?”

“Someone left it here on the counter tonight,” the clerk explained. “No one saw who it was, but they also left this piece of paper.” He handed her a note.

Mandie read it aloud: “Property of Miss Amanda Shaw.” She turned the note over. “That’s all there is on the paper.”

George Rushton looked over Mandie’s shoulder at the note. “It would be impossible to identify anyone from that,” he said. “But at least you got your bag back.”

Mandie examined the purse. It was dirty and looked almost as if it had been dropped in the mud. “It’s so soiled I don’t know if I will ever use it again,” she said, untying the drawstrings. “But it looks like everything is still in it—my money, my comb, and my handkerchief.”

Celia examined the stained bag. “Maybe you ought to just throw it away, Mandie,” she suggested.

“I think so,” Mandie agreed. “I’ll just wrap everything in the handkerchief.” She spread it out on the counter and rolled the money and comb in it. Turning to the clerk, she said, “Could you please just drop the bag in a waste can?”

“Wait!” George Rushton spoke up. “My maid could wash it for you. She comes in every day, and I could ask her to try to clean it so that you could use it again.”

“Oh, would you?” Mandie said, smiling. “That would be so nice of you, Mr. Rushton.”

The magician picked up the bag. “No trouble at all,” he said. “I should get to my room. I’ll leave the bag here at the desk for you.”

“Thank you,” Mandie called after the tall man as he walked on down the corridor.

“Mandie, what did you do with the note?” Celia asked, looking around.

“Oh, I guess Mr. Rushton took it with the bag. It doesn’t matter,” Mandie said, turning to the clerk. “I need some food for my kitten. Can you tell me where I could get it?”

“Sí, sí, Signorina
,” the clerk replied with a big smile. “I will have something sent up to your room right away.”

Mandie looked at him in surprise. “I don’t want to cause extra work for anyone. I could carry it upstairs.”

“No, no, I must find a maid,” the man explained. “We will send something up soon.”

The girls thanked the clerk and returned to their suite. When they got there, Mrs. Taft was relaxing in her robe, reading a book. Mandie told her grandmother about the missing bag turning up at the counter downstairs, and Mr. Rushton’s offer to clean it.

“That’s strange, dear. You didn’t have your name on the bag, did you?” Mrs. Taft asked.

“No, I didn’t, Grandmother,” Mandie replied. “I don’t know how anyone would know the bag belonged to me.”

“And your belongings were still in it?” Mrs. Taft asked.

“Yes,” Mandie said. “Even the money.”

Mrs. Taft looked puzzled.

BOOK: Mandie Collection, The: 4
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