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Claudia and the mystery.., p.3
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       Claudia and the Mystery in the Painting, p.3

           Ann M. Martin
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  “I’d like to buy it,” I said, realizing that I actually would like to hang it in my room, “but not for a hundred dollars.” I wondered how much it would really cost at the sale. I might have to come see if I could afford it. I also wondered exactly what Jimmy meant about his dad’s getting mad whenever his mom mentioned painting.

  I watched as Jimmy gathered up a collection of paintbrushes and rolled them off the edge of the table one by one. “Do you want to go outside for a while? Or show me the rest of the house?” I asked him.

  Before Jimmy could answer, I heard footsteps on the porch below. I went to the window. A man was standing on the porch steps, looking up. I couldn’t tell whether he saw me. He moved out of sight, toward the house.

  “There’s a man downstairs on the side porch,” I said. “We should probably go tell your mom.” I remembered what she’d said about people trying to see what was going to be in the sale.

  “Maybe it’s my dad!” Jimmy straightened up and ran out of the room before I could say anything. I followed him.

  “Dad!” Jimmy shouted as he opened the door. Immediately, his shoulders slumped.

  I was pretty sure that the man standing in the doorway wasn’t Jimmy’s dad. He was too young, for one thing. And he was Asian-American. “Hi,” he said to me. “You’re not … Where’s Rebecca Madden?” He looked surprised that someone had answered the door.

  “No, she’s upstairs. Jimmy, please go tell your mother there’s someone to see her.” I wanted to let the man know that Ms. Madden was at home, but I didn’t want to leave him downstairs alone or let him in until Ms. Madden said it was all right.

  “That’s okay. Don’t bother her. I work for the company that’s helping her with the sale,” he said, turning to leave.

  Jimmy trudged up the stairs, looking as sad as he’d looked happy a few minutes earlier.

  “Ms. Madden will be here in a minute,” I told him firmly. “Please, wait right here until she comes.”

  “Really, since Rebecca is busy, I’ll come back another time,” the young man said.

  As I watched him walk toward his car, I noticed that he looked up at the second floor a lot. I kept checking over my shoulder while I waited for Ms. Madden to come downstairs. When the man started to get into his car, I went upstairs to find Ms. Madden myself. She might need to talk to him.

  Ms. Madden was in a bedroom, lying on the floor, reaching underneath the bed.

  “Excuse me,” I said from the doorway. She twisted into what had to be an uncomfortable position, her head off the floor and looking over her shoulder.

  “Is Jimmy okay?” she asked.

  “He’s fine,” I answered, although her question made me realize I wasn’t sure where he was. “But there’s a man downstairs who says he works for the estate company. He’s leaving, but I thought you might want to talk to him.”

  Ms. Madden rolled out from under the bed and stood up, brushing dirt off her clothes. “Is it Mr. Ogura?”

  “He didn’t give his name, but he’s Asian-American,” I said, immediately feeling silly that I’d been so suspicious. “I didn’t know if you’d want him to come inside. You said that there were people trying to get in the house….”

  “You did exactly the right thing,” Ms. Madden assured me with a smile. “But it’s okay to let Mr. Ogura in when he comes by. He’s helping me decide how to price some of the pieces that may be valuable.”

  “Have you seen Jimmy?” I asked. “I sent him up here to find you.”

  “No, I haven’t. Maybe I’ll try to catch Mr. Ogura. There are a few things I want to ask him.”

  After Ms. Madden left, I went into the studio and then into each of the other rooms on the second floor, calling out Jimmy’s name. There wasn’t a sign of him anyplace.

  I ran into Ms. Madden on the front staircase, which was much wider and more open than the stairs leading from the back hallway.

  “Did you catch Mr. Ogura?” I asked. I wished I had tried harder to convince him to wait.

  Ms. Madden shook her head. “No, and I didn’t find Jimmy. But it’s not unusual for him to get distracted when you tell him to do something. Go check in the backyard,” she said. “There’s a tree house near the stream that runs along our property line. You’ll probably find him there. That’s where he’s spent most of his time since we came here.”

  I ran to the tree house. “Jimmy! Where are you? Jimmy!” I yelled. He didn’t answer me, but I heard something like a hiccup, so I climbed up to the tree house.

  There he was, in a corner, huddled into a tight little ball. His shoulders were shaking. I crawled to him (I couldn’t stand up, because the ceiling was so low) and put my hand on his back. “Hey, what’s the matter?” I asked in a soft voice.

  “I thought … hic … I thought it was going to be my daddy. And I miss him. I want to see him. It’s been days and days.” Jimmy threw himself into my lap and cried louder.

  I had no idea if he was going to see his dad anytime soon, so I patted him on the back until he quieted down. It’s a good way to comfort just about anybody, especially when you’re not sure what to say. Then I took a tissue out of my pocket (I always make sure I have extra tissues when I’m baby-sitting) and wiped his face dry. “Feeling better?” I asked. He nodded. “Let’s go tell your mom you’re found.” Jimmy climbed down and I followed him inside the house.

  “Jimmy, I don’t want you running off without telling Claudia where you’re going,” Ms. Madden greeted him. “I have to get this house in shape in one week, and if you frighten your baby-sitter away …”

  Jimmy looked as if he might start crying again, but then Ms. Madden hugged him. “It’s okay,” she said. “I just don’t know how I’m going to get everything done in time.”

  “I’ll help. We’ll help. The Baby-sitters Club, I mean.” I jumped in with the offer.

  “You will?”

  “It’ll be fun,” I said, starting to worry a little, now that I’d volunteered everybody else. At least I knew I’d enjoy it.

  “I can pay,” said Ms. Madden. “And you could still help me with Jimmy too. Won’t that be fun, Jimbo? To have some big girls around to play with?”

  Jimmy didn’t say anything. He started kicking the floor with his toe again.

  “Jimmy and I are going to New York tomorrow to see his dad.”

  “We are? Really truly?” Jimmy stood tall, almost smiling.

  “Really truly,” his mother answered. “And I think his dad is going to come back with us. We won’t be home until Monday, late in the day. Could I show you some things that need to be done? That way you could start after school and not have to wait until I return.”

  I followed her around while she explained what she wanted done in each room. We finally ended up in the studio. “This must be a great place to paint in,” I said, trying to work around to the subject of Grandmother Madden.

  “It’s too bad that my grandmother stopped using it for her studio,” Ms. Madden said. “Her students were the ones who painted in here after —”

  “Do you really think she destroyed her paintings?” I blurted out. I just could not believe that an artist could do that.

  “After her last show, when the reviews were so awful, she became terribly discouraged. I do think it’s possible to stop believing in yourself. In fact, I’ve been there.” Ms. Madden looked around the room, her eyes sad. “I wish she were around today to see how valuable the paintings she gave each of her grandchildren have become and how much people admire her paintings that are displayed in museums.”

  “But all her paintings? The ones she still had?” I pressed.

  “I’m very certain there aren’t any paintings left here. If there were, my cousins would be here helping me, making sure they didn’t miss out on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They were as surprised as I was when Granny left me the house. We had figured she would divide everything equally, even though as a kid I spent more time with her than any of them because I liked to paint as
much as she did. When we came to visit, they would run around outside, exploring or climbing up to the tree house, but Granny and I would come up here. I thought it must be like heaven.

  “Suzanne and Rob and Julie thought Granny was odd. She didn’t dress the way other grandmothers dressed and she gave us presents she’d made, not bought. Of course, those things are worth a lot of money now. And the paintings that she gave each of us are too. But I wouldn’t sell mine for the world.” Ms. Madden looked around the studio as if she could still see her grandmother there working. I could guess how she felt because it was the way I felt about Mimi.

  “There was a big court battle over the house and the will, but when no Grandmother Madden paintings turned up, my cousins decided that I could have the house. And here we are.” She spread her arms out. “Lots of paintings, but no Grandmother Maddens.”

  I followed her gaze around the room, thinking I might ask her about the Japanese portrait. When I looked at the spot where I’d left it, there was an empty space. The painting was gone!

  “Jimmy, what happened to that picture of the Japanese woman — the one you said was all gloppy?” I asked.

  “I don’t know.”

  “What are you talking about?” Ms. Madden asked.

  “There was a portrait of a woman wearing a kimono, and I put it over there.” I pointed. “It’s gone.”

  “Gone? You’re sure it’s gone?”

  I walked around, looking at the paintings, but didn’t see the portrait anyplace. It would have been easy to pick out because it was one of the few framed paintings.

  “I’d better check the rest of the house.” Ms. Madden left. I could hear her moving from room to room. I thought about helping, but since this was the first time I’d been in the house, how would I know if something else were missing?

  Jimmy and I still hadn’t had much of a chance to play, so I started a game of I Spy. I had just spied something yellow (a plastic banana) when Ms. Madden returned.

  “Nothing else seems to be missing,” Ms. Madden said. “I’m sure it’ll turn up. Maybe you forgot where you put it.”

  “Maybe,” I said. The phone rang, which struck me as odd. I didn’t expect phone service in a house that had been shut up for six years. But maybe since Ms. Madden and Jimmy were staying here, they’d had it turned on.

  “I’m about ready to finish up for today, Claudia, but let me answer the phone before you go.” Ms. Madden hurried out into the hall, followed by Jimmy.

  I took one more look around for the Japanese portrait, then went downstairs. Ms. Madden was in the kitchen, twisting the phone cord around her finger as she talked.

  “I know I promised I’d get the paintings to you this week, but there’s a problem.” As I walked into the room, she turned her back to me and said something I couldn’t hear, then hung up.

  Paintings? What paintings was she talking about? It couldn’t be Madden primitives. She’d insisted her grandmother had destroyed all the paintings that she’d still had after her last show.

  “Claudia, thanks so much for your help this morning. I enjoyed meeting you, and I know Jimmy enjoyed seeing someone besides me for a change. Let me show you where we keep the key before you leave.” Ms. Madden went outside and lifted one of the stones at the edge of the drive. “I keep meaning to have another one made, but I haven’t had time yet. I’ll leave this one here for you to use Monday, in case we aren’t back by the time you arrive.”

  “I’ll see you then,” I said.

  Jimmy stood behind his mother and waved as I walked away.

  So much had happened in the short time I’d been at the house. I couldn’t wait until Monday to come back again.

  Since Mrs. O’Neal had said she was in charge of the Kaleidoscope Room, it hadn’t occurred to me that she wouldn’t know anything about how to set up projects for kids — fun, creative projects, anyway.

  Abby arrived at the museum just as Corrie Addison’s and Jamie Newton’s parents dropped them off. She would have liked to have had a little time to look around the room without the kids, but it was too late.

  “Hi, Abby,” Corrie said. “Is Claudia coming?” Corrie’s nine years old and she likes art as much as I do. She’s good at it too.

  “Not today. It’s just me,” Abby replied.

  Corrie looked a little disappointed. “Will any other kids be here?” she asked, twisting her brownish-blonde hair around her finger.

  “Marilyn and Carolyn Arnold are supposed to come,” Abby said.

  Jamie reached up and took Abby’s hand. He had a Band-Aid across the back of each of his hands. Jamie is four. He’s one of our all-time favorite baby-sitting charges.

  “What happened?” Abby asked, touching each Band-Aid lightly. They were decorated with balloons.

  “Scratches,” he said.

  Abby led the kids through the side entrance of the museum. In a cheerful room, a woman wearing a gray silk suit was placing sheets of paper on the table. Her hair was in a perfect French twist and she would have fit in any office in the city, Abby told me later. But she didn’t exactly look dressed for art projects.

  “Hi, I’m Abby Stevenson from the Baby-sitters Club. We’re here to try out your new room.”

  The woman turned around quickly. Her hand went to her throat, rubbing the string of pearls she wore around her neck. She smiled stiffly. “How nice of you to come. Abby? I thought Claudia Kishi was coming.”

  “Claudia had another job this morning, so she asked me to come in her place,” said Abby, trying to sound happy about it. She heard Corrie sigh.

  “Where is Claudee?” Jamie asked.

  “She’s baby-sitting for someone else,” Abby said.

  Corrie pulled out a chair and sat down at the table where the woman had set out some paper. Jamie went around to the other side and sat down across from her.

  “Paint aprons first, boys and girls,” the woman said. She pulled out bright red aprons and dropped one over Corrie’s head.

  Corrie pulled it down quickly.

  “I can do it myself,” Jamie said before she could put his on him. He stuck his head through the hole, and twisted the apron around until it was in the right place.

  Marilyn Arnold rushed into the room, followed by her twin sister, Carolyn. The twins, who are eight, are identical, like Abby and Anna. And, like Abby and Anna, they’re also as different as they are alike. Their mom used to dress them in matching outfits, but lately each girl has developed her own individual style.

  Mrs. O’Neal grabbed two more aprons and approached the girls. “Aren’t you too cute? Twins,” she said. “How does your mother tell you apart?”

  “Hi, Marilyn. Hi, Carolyn,” Abby greeted them. Actually, it’s easy to tell the Arnold twins apart, just by their clothes. They like very different styles. Carolyn was dressed in leggings and a loose top, and Marilyn wore jeans and a T-shirt.

  “Where’s Claudia?” Carolyn asked. “I thought she’d be here and I wanted her to see this outfit.”

  “She’s baby-sitting,” Abby said for the third time.

  The girls put on their aprons, then started to wander around the room.

  They checked out the tables. On one, some clay was set out, on another, sheets of paper. The others were clear. Easels were set up near the windows, and unopened jars of paint were lined up on the shelves.

  “What are we supposed to do with these?” Corrie asked, holding up one of the sheets of paper that Mrs. O’Neal had laid out. The outline of a bear was drawn on one side.

  “That’s your painting project for today,” Mrs. O’Neal said. “Girls, come over here and join us.” She rounded up Marilyn and Carolyn, who were sticking their fingers in the clay, and guided them to the paint table.

  “Where’s the paint?” Jamie asked.

  At the mention of paint, Abby’s nose started to twitch as if she were going to sneeze. She headed toward the windows and opened each one a little to keep her paint allergy from taking hold.

  Mrs. O’Neal put a
jar of brown paint in the middle of the table. She had stuck four brushes in it.

  “Brown? That’s all the paint you have? Brown?” asked Marilyn.

  “It’s a bear,” said Mrs. O’Neal. “And after you’re finished, you’ll be the first artists to display your work in our special Kaleidoscope Gallery.” Mrs. O’Neal walked to the door and pointed at a blank wall in the hall across from the room.

  “But what if we want to decorate it?” asked Corrie. Her hands were folded in her lap and she was chewing on her lower lip. “If everyone uses brown paint, they’ll all look alike. How will my mom and dad know which one I painted?”

  “You’ll sign it, of course,” said Mrs. O’Neal.

  “There are lots of paints here,” said Abby, taking down a jar of red, one of purple, another of blue. “How about if we open these?” she asked Mrs. O’Neal. She wondered why Mrs. O’Neal didn’t give the kids a sheet of paper and let them make their own bears. And why didn’t they use the easels. Abby wanted to say something, but she felt so out of place in the art room that she didn’t dare.

  Mrs. O’Neal looked at the jar of brown paint already sitting on the table, then at Abby holding the three other jars. “I suppose. I mean, if you’re careful not to mix up the colors.”

  Abby poured paint into some baby food jars she found under the sink and set out more brushes. She sneezed once, but the open windows ventilated the room and she didn’t feel too stuffy. Jamie was already painting his bear brown, but the girls waited.

  “I think I’ll make my bear quilted,” said Corrie.

  Mrs. O’Neal stood behind her chair and watched, tapping a manicured nail on her front tooth, as Corrie painted a blue square on the bear’s stomach.

  Carolyn dipped a brush in the purple paint and splashed a thick line directly down the middle of her bear.

  “That’s an interesting look for a bear,” Mrs. O’Neal said, but Abby could tell that she didn’t really approve.

  Jamie finished painting his bear and moved to the table where the clay waited. He took a lump and rolled it around on the table, making a long, snakelike cylinder. Mrs. O’Neal followed him, pointing out the molds he could use to make different shapes.

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