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Claudia and the mystery.., p.5
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       Claudia and the Mystery in the Painting, p.5

           Ann M. Martin
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  Jimmy laughed with us when he saw his reflection.

  “Claudia! Come here a minute,” Mary Anne called from downstairs. “I found something you might be interested in.”

  At this rate, I wasn’t going to accomplish much. “You want to go with me or stay here with Stacey?” I asked Jimmy. As an answer he plopped down on the bed.

  I ran downstairs.

  “Look!” Mary Anne held out a book, but it wasn’t a regular book. I recognized it immediately because I have one like it in my room. It looked like a book on the outside, but the cover opened to a hollow middle.

  I reached inside and pulled out a newspaper clipping, a small, glossy catalog, and a piece of folded paper with a list typed on it.

  Kristy joined us, pulling a dust cover off a chair as she walked past it.

  “What is it?” she asked, trying to see over my shoulder.

  I read aloud the headline on the clipping.


  A Connecticut artist with the cutesy signature Grandmother Madden demonstrates that it’s possible for anyone to have a show in New York City today. Her collection of paintings displays the skill of an amateur and has all the life of a stagnant pond. Stick figures inhabit scenes that no art lover would recognize.

  How that must have stung! I couldn’t even read the rest. To put so much work into your art, then have someone dismiss it so cruelly. I was beginning to understand why Grandmother Madden had lost her confidence.

  “And this is her catalog for that show.” I paged through it.

  “Stoneybrook,” said Kristy, pointing at the picture of a painting that showed some of the landmarks of our town — the lighthouse, Ambrose’s Sawmill, and even the Stoneybrook Public Library.

  “I don’t think they’re boring at all,” said Mary Anne. “That reviewer didn’t have to be so mean about her paintings.”

  “The paintings aren’t very big, are they? And they’re all the same shape,” said Kristy.

  “Some artists paint that way. It becomes part of their style,” I explained. “Like the colors they work with and their subjects. See how she used bright colors in every picture?” I thought the paintings were great. The people looked as if they were moving through the scenes, and each one of them was painted in so much detail. The women wore lace collars. The men had cuff links. Streaks of dirt were on the children’s clothes and faces. I didn’t know if I could paint so much in so small a space. There wasn’t one thing the reviewer said about Grandmother Madden that I agreed with.

  “What do you have there?” Ms. Madden bustled into the room.

  “Mary Anne found this when she was sorting the books,” I said, handing over the catalog and review. I still hadn’t had a chance to look at the list.

  “My grandmother’s last show.” Ms. Madden gazed at each painting. “And look at this.”

  She’d opened the catalog to the last page, which showed a group of paintings as they’d been hung. “Granny’s small paintings often fit together into a larger work. They each stand alone, but they can be combined side by side, up and down, or in a square.”

  I was fascinated. The amount of planning that must have gone into these paintings!

  “She had a special way of fitting them together if anyone wanted to buy more than one. In fact, the four paintings she gave to me and my cousins form one large painting. They’ll never be displayed together the way things are going between us, but if you ever saw it as a whole …” Ms. Madden sighed.

  “Here’s a list of paintings,” I said, handing her the typed sheet.

  Ms. Madden took it, then nodded. “This includes everything that she’d done up to the time of the show. Grandmother was very hard on herself and worked on each painting for months, sometimes years. You can tell by the details how much time she put into each of them. Let’s see.” Ms. Madden moved her finger down the list. “Twenty-two, that sounds about right. She gave my dad and my aunt each a painting, one to each one of her grandchildren, and she sold two in spite of this.” She held up the review. “And there are maybe three others that she sold before this show. I think they’re all in museums now. There’s one at the Stoneybrook Museum, in fact, but I haven’t had a chance to go see it yet.”

  Ms. Madden looked over the list again. “Twenty-two paintings, then she never painted again — and there are only half of these left.”

  I took the catalog and looked at each painting again, trying to memorize them so I’d recognize one if I saw it.

  “What should we do with these?” Mary Anne asked, holding up the newspaper clipping, then pointing at the catalog I was studying and the list Ms. Madden held. As I said, Mary Anne is super-organized.

  “Leave them on the library table and I’ll look at them later,” said Ms. Madden. “They may be the only record of some of the paintings.”

  I still couldn’t accept that Grandmother Madden had destroyed her paintings. I knew the BSC had a big job ahead of us, helping Ms. Madden get ready for the sale. We couldn’t tear the house apart, hunting for paintings. Besides, the Madden cousins had probably already done that. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that the missing paintings still existed — and that if we kept our eyes open as we worked, we might find a clue to their whereabouts.

  “You brought a different crew with you today,” Ms. Madden said when she answered the door Tuesday afternoon and four of us trooped in.

  “This is Nicky. He’s come to play with Jimmy.” I put my hand on Nicky’s shoulder. “He’s Mal’s brother. This is Mallory and Jessi,” I said, continuing my introductions. “This is Ms. Madden and Jimmy.”

  “Thanks so much for helping out,” said Ms. Madden. “Claudia, you know what needs to be done, so I wonder if you’d put everyone to work. I have to run some errands, but I’ll be back as soon as possible. Jimmy, listen to Claudia,” she said, and she was gone.

  “Jimmy, do you want to show Nicky around the house?” I asked. Jimmy was sitting on the bottom step of the back staircase, his chin resting in his hands, staring at the floor.

  He shrugged.

  Mallory knelt beside him. “I saw something down at the end of the yard. I’m not sure what it was, but it looked like —”

  “You want to see my tree house?” Jimmy asked her. “It’s not my tree house for always, but it’s mine for now.”

  “Sure,” said Mallory. “Can Nicky come too?”

  Jimmy nodded.

  “I guess I’ll go to the tree house,” said Mallory, taking charge of the baby-sitting duties for that day and freeing me to go back to the studio to work.

  “Jessi, how about going in the library and sorting through the books?” I said. “Ms. Madden wants them all on the shelves, by subject, if you can. I think Mary Anne was doing general categories like fiction, history, art books. If you have any questions, I’ll be upstairs.” And that’s where I headed. I knew that Jessi would be happy working with books for as long as it took.

  I was halfway into the room, heading for a pile of paintings leaning against the wall, before I noticed the man in the studio. “Whoa!” I said, then felt a little stupid and scared all at once. “What are you doing here?”

  “I’m helping Rebecca,” he said gruffly. “I’m her husband.”

  The man was youngish, with wavy, sandy-colored hair. I thought he’d be cute if he didn’t look so grumpy.

  “I’m Claudia, from the Baby-Sitters Club. I’m helping too,” I said. I wanted so much to look through the paintings, but Ms. Madden’s husband stood between me and them. I wasn’t sure what I should do.

  “I think I can handle things in here,” he said. “You go help out downstairs.”

  “Sure,” I replied. I glanced over my shoulder a couple of times on my way to the front stairs. He seemed to forget about me pretty quickly. He was looking through the stacks of paintings in the studio, one by one, very slowly.

  A piece of paper rose into the air at my feet, then settled slowly on the step in front of me. I leaned over to pick it up
and recognized it immediately. It was the list that we’d found in the fake book the day before. At least, it was a copy of the list. On this one check marks had been made by the names of some of the paintings and lines had been drawn through several others. I decided to compare it to the paintings listed in the catalog for Grandmother Madden’s last show to see if I could figure out what the checks and lines meant.

  I poked my head in the library doorway. “Hey, Jessi, have you seen a catalog — it looks sort of like a magazine — of an art exhibit? Mary Anne found it in here yesterday. I thought she left it on the table, but maybe Ms. Madden moved it.”

  Jessi put down the book she’d been glancing through and looked around the room. “I haven’t seen it anyplace, but I haven’t really looked for anything like that either.”

  I pulled the fake book off the shelf and opened it. It was empty. I checked shelves, tables, and even under chairs, but the catalog was nowhere to be found.

  “What was in the catalog?” Jessi asked.

  “Lists and illustrations of the paintings in Grandmother Madden’s last show,” I replied. “I wanted to look at it again.”

  “If I see it, I’ll call you,” Jessi said and turned back to the bookshelves.

  I knew I should start working, but instead I wandered through each room of the house, looking for … I don’t know what. I ended up in the kitchen. Kristy had started sorting dishes into boxes the day before. I pulled a few plates out of the cabinet and stacked them beside matching cups.

  “Mom! Dad! Look what we found!” Jimmy burst into the house, followed by Nicky and Mal. Mal was holding a large golden-colored cat. “Where’s my mom?” Jimmy asked.

  “She went to run some errands,” I said.

  Jimmy called up the stairs. “Dad! Come here a minute. I have a surprise for you.”

  Jimmy was so excited. For the first time since I’d met him, he looked totally happy. He had on a smile that wouldn’t stop as he knelt by Mal and the cat, stroking the cat’s soft fur.

  Before I could say anything, Jimmy’s dad came halfway down the stairs and stopped.

  “Look, Dad, a cat. Can we keep it? Please?”

  “It was in the tree house,” Nicky said.

  “It has an injured paw,” Mal said. “Somehow it climbed up into the tree house, but it couldn’t jump down because of its paw. Look.” Mal set the cat down on the floor and it limped toward Jimmy, then rubbed against his leg.

  “It likes me. See, it really does.” Jimmy leaned down and kissed the cat on the top of its head.

  “The cat has a collar,” I said, giving it a pat. It was purring loudly as Nicky and Jimmy stroked it.

  “That means it may belong to someone else,” Jimmy’s dad said. He scooped up the cat and looked at its paw. “There’s a nasty cut here. That’s why it’s limping.” He gently set the cat down again.

  “Look. There’s a name,” said Mal, examining the collar. Jessi had joined us, and everyone was grouped tightly around the cat, who seemed to love the attention.

  “Goldie,” said Jimmy. “Its name is Goldie. I bet she’s a girl.”

  I heard a gasp from the doorway.

  “A cat, Mom, we found a cat!” said Jimmy.

  The rest of us moved aside, so Jimmy could show his mom the injured cat.

  Ms. Madden turned pale and leaned against the doorjamb. “Goldie?” she said.

  “That’s her name,” said Jimmy’s dad. “It’s here on her collar.”

  “It can’t be,” said Ms. Madden.

  “Why?” Jimmy’s dad asked.

  “Granny had a cat. She looked exactly like that one, and her name was Goldie. In fact, Granny had several cats that looked like that, all named Goldie. When one died, she got another. The one she had when she died went home with my aunt in Arizona. But for a minute I thought …” Ms. Madden shook her head.

  “Can we keep this one, Mom? Please?” Jimmy asked.

  “Son, she has a collar, so she must belong to someone,” his dad said.

  “The poor little thing is hurt. I’ll bet she’s hungry too,” said Ms. Madden. “We’ll take care of you, little one.” She reached out and scratched the cat’s head. “We’ll take you to the vet and have that paw fixed up.” The cat stretched out on the floor, still purring.

  “There’s an animal emergency clinic not too far away,” I said. “And they might even know who the cat belongs to. People call them about lost pets.”

  “I want Goldie to stay with us,” Jimmy said.

  “She can stay here until we find her owner,” said Jimmy’s dad. “Come on, let’s get her to the vet.”

  “You’re my cat, aren’t you, Goldie? You like me. I know you do,” Jimmy whispered, not very softly, into her ear.

  “It was silly of me to think for even a moment that this could be Granny’s cat,” Ms. Madden said. “This is a pretty common color for a cat and probably a common name too. I’ll leave it to you girls to help me find the cat’s owner. You know the town better than I do.”

  “I’d like to meet all your friends before we leave, Jimmy,” his dad said.

  Ms. Madden stood up quickly. “I forgot. You haven’t met my husband. This is Claudia, Jessi, Mallory, and Nicky. The Baby-sitters Club has been so much help,” she added, smiling. “This is my husband —”

  “And my dad,” Jimmy interrupted.

  “James Cook,” Ms. Madden finished. “He’s adjusted his work schedule so he can help out for the rest of the week.”

  “I’m glad to meet you,” Mallory said. “Jimmy’s mentioned you a few times.”

  Jimmy seemed so much happier with his dad around. He grabbed his father’s hand. “Let’s take Goldie to the doctor now, please?”

  “We’ll put up a few signs around the neighborhood, describing Goldie. Maybe we can find out who lost her,” suggested Jessi.

  “And we’ll keep our eyes open for any ‘lost cat’ signs,” said Mallory.

  “I knew I could count on you,” said Ms. Madden.

  Mr. Cook looked us all over, after his wife said she could count on us. He raised one eyebrow and shook his head slightly. I don’t think he knew any such thing.

  “Mrs. O’Neal?” I stood in the doorway of the Kaleidoscope Room, waiting for the woman to turn around.

  “Are you Claudia?” she asked when she heard me.

  I nodded. “It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. O’Neal.”

  “Nice to meet you finally, Claudia. Come in and see my, I mean, the new Kaleidoscope Room,” she said.

  “It’s great,” I replied, meaning it. There was a rainbow of paints on a shelf, colored pencils with new sharp points in a box on the counter, stacks of paper waiting for pictures. Add a little chocolate and it would be perfect.

  “I’m not so sure your friend Abby thought it was,” Mrs. O’Neal said.

  I knew Abby didn’t have any complaints about the room. That would have been easy to fix.

  “You’re the artist, however, and if you think it’s okay …”

  I hated to burst Mrs. O’Neal’s bubble, but I was going to have to reinforce Abby’s message that the kids needed more freedom with their projects if they were going to want to come to the room. “The room is terrific,” I said. “And so are all these supplies. You can do some great projects here.”

  “And we have space in the hall to serve as a gallery, where the children can display their finished work,” Mrs. O’Neal said proudly.

  “They’ll love that.” I took a deep breath. She’d given me my opening. “I taught an art class for a while. I used to give the kids supplies and let them create something that was uniquely them.”

  “You mean you let them do anything they wanted to do?” Mrs. O’Neal looked shocked.

  “Not exactly. We usually had some guidelines, but sometimes the best projects were the ones that the kids came up with on their own.”

  “I don’t know.” She shook her head. “What purpose would that serve?”

  “The purpose should be —” I broke of
f, then tried again. “I think the purpose should be to let children try a lot of different media and discover that art is fun.”

  “But what will we hang in the gallery?” Mrs. O’Neal said.

  “The works they create.” I had to wonder why the museum had put Mrs. O’Neal in charge of a kids’ art room when it seemed as if she knew so little about working with kids. “It will help them build confidence to see their paintings or sculptures or collages, whatever they make, displayed.”

  “What if it doesn’t look like anything?” Mrs. O’Neal asked.

  “They’ll still learn something from working with the materials.”

  “I don’t know.” Mrs. O’Neal was clutching her pearls, just the way Abby had described.

  “Could you give it a try?” I asked.

  “It couldn’t turn out much worse than the project I planned for last Saturday,” Mrs. O’Neal said. “Can you come tomorrow? The room is supposed to open on Friday.”

  “Tomorrow?” I shook my head. “I can’t come tomorrow, but Mary Anne Spier, who helped me with my art classes, can.” I’d already cleared this with her. Abby wanted to come too, but I wasn’t sure I could sell the idea and Abby at the same time.

  “Why can’t you make it tomorrow?” Mrs. O’Neal asked.

  “I’m baby-sitting. For Rebecca Madden’s son.”

  “Madden? As in Grandmother Madden?” Mrs. O’Neal let go of her pearls.

  “The Baby-sitters Club members are helping get Grandmother Madden’s house ready for the sale her family is having this weekend.”

  “I’m going to that sale. I love Grandmother Madden’s work. Have you seen the painting we have here in the museum? It’s exquisite,” said Mrs. O’Neal.

  “I was going to look at it this afternoon. I’ve heard a lot about her paintings, but I haven’t seen one yet,” I confessed. I figured I’d probably walked by Grandmother Madden’s painting before — I love spending time at the museum — but simply hadn’t paid a lot of attention to it.

  “It’s a pity that Grandmother Madden’s work was so underappreciated when she was living,” Mrs. O’Neal said sadly. “Her subjects practically invite you to come into the picture, they are so alive.”

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