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Claudia and the mystery.., p.7
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       Claudia and the Mystery in the Painting, p.7

           Ann M. Martin
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Mary Anne opened cabinet doors until she found the clay in a large plastic bucket. She took out a hunk and placed it on the table in front of Jamie. “Here you go. Make lots of snakes.”

  “I want to paint them too,” he said. “I want a green snake and a black snake and a copperhead. I have a whole book about snakes at home and I know what they look like. Can I paint them, please?”

  “We can probably work something out,” Mary Anne said.

  “Do you think the kids who want to make pictures have to paint on the tables?” Abby asked. “Can’t they use these easels?”

  “Sure. Why?” asked Mary Anne.

  “Last time Mrs. O’Neal wanted them to paint at the tables,” Abby explained. “I know I’m the only one here who’s allergic to paint, but keeping the paints close to the windows and keeping the windows open will mean I don’t get so stuffed up.”

  Mary Anne hung paper on each easel, while Abby opened windows, then filled baby food jars with different colors of paint, placing a brush in each jar.

  Abby picked up a brush that stood in a jar of red paint. She made a few dots on the paper. She put that brush back and picked up the one from the jar of blue paint. She drew a fat blue line around the red dots. “I haven’t done this in years,” she said, adding more colors.

  Mary Anne found safety scissors, paste, and colored paper and set them out on another table. “There’s lots of good stuff here,” she said. “I bet the kids will really have fun today.”

  “Hmmm?” said Abby, intent on her painting.

  “Never mind,” Mary Anne said. She turned to greet Ms. Madden and Jimmy. “I’m so glad you could come.” Jimmy stood behind his mother.

  “Jimmy loves to paint,” Ms. Madden said.

  “But my daddy doesn’t like it,” said Jimmy in a low voice.

  “Daddy doesn’t mind if you come here and make pictures,” Ms. Madden said with a laugh.

  “But he told you —”

  “Really, Jimmy, it’s okay.” Ms. Madden ushered him into the room. “There’s clay and easels and some colored paper here. What would you like to do?”

  Mary Anne slipped an apron over Jimmy’s head.

  “I want to paint,” said Jimmy, going straight to the easel beside Abby.

  “I’ll be back for him in about an hour,” said Ms. Madden. “He does love to paint.”

  “We’ll let him paint all he wants to,” said Mary Anne. Whether his dad likes it or not, she thought.

  Mrs. Pike dropped off Margo, who headed for the clay table, where Jamie was seated.

  Corrie’s mom waved to Mary Anne, then disappeared. Corrie paused in the doorway.

  “Hi, Corrie.” Mary Anne greeted her. “What do you feel like doing today?”

  “Do I have to paint somebody else’s picture?” Corrie asked in a low voice.

  “You may paint anything you want,” Mary Anne assured her.

  “Okay, then I’ll paint,” said Corrie.

  Mary Anne helped her with her apron. “Abby, Corrie would like to paint,” she said.

  “Just a minute,” Abby said. “I’m almost finished with this picture.” Hanging out to dry on the line next to Abby was a row of pictures, designs mostly, in a variety of colors. The one she was working on was done entirely in blue.

  “Abby?” Mary Anne said gently. “May Corrie have a turn?”

  Abby removed her blue painting from the easel and hung it on the line to dry. “That was fun,” she said.

  Mary Anne hung a sheet of paper on the easel for Corrie. Corrie picked up a brush and started to outline a person. Abby stood beside her.

  Mary Anne felt a tug on her shirt. “What do you need, Jamie?” she asked.

  “We want to paint our snakes now,” he said.

  “Abby, can you find some newspaper to put on the table, so that Jamie and Margo can paint the clay?” Mary Anne asked.

  Abby continued to watch Corrie paint.

  “Abby?” Mary Anne repeated.

  “What?” Abby asked, finally looking at Mary Anne.

  “Jamie and Margo need some help painting their clay,” Mary Anne pointed out.

  “No problem,” Abby said. “What do you want me to do?”

  “Find newspaper to cover the table,” Mary Anne said.

  Abby nodded, then started looking through the cabinets.

  “I need brown and green and black,” said Jamie.

  “I want blue and red,” said Margo.

  “There’s no such thing as a blue-and-red snake,” said Jamie.

  “This is a snake out of a fairy story. It’s a good snake and it’s really a princess,” said Margo. “But somebody has to kiss it first.”

  “Not me,” said Jamie.

  Mary Anne turned back to the easels.

  “I’m finished with this one,” said Jimmy.

  “Jimmy, that’s a terrific painting,” Mary Anne said. “It looks a little like a Van Gogh.” Jimmy’s painting was of a big yellow flower surrounded by a lot of trees. The flower was bigger than any of the trees.

  “I’m going to paint my cat, Goldie, next,” he said.

  “I’m finished with this painting,” Corrie called out. “I want to do another one.”

  Mary Anne gave her a new sheet of paper. “These dancers remind me of Degas,” she said. “He painted pictures of ballet dancers and he also made sculptures of ballerinas.”

  Corrie smiled broadly and started in on her next painting.

  Before long, the drying lines were filled with paintings by Abby, Jimmy, and Corrie.

  “Do you think they’ll choose one of these to hang in the gallery?” Corrie asked Mary Anne.

  “I’m sure of it.”

  “Where should I put this snake?” Jamie called out. “There’s no more room on the table.”

  He was right. The table was covered with snakes of all shapes, colors, and sizes, and Margo was busy making yet another snake princess.

  Abby spread newspaper on a second table and moved some of the snakes to it.

  “How is it going in here?” Mrs. O’Neal asked from the doorway.

  “Fun!” Jamie said.

  The other children continued to paint.

  “It’s quiet and the work is very good,” said Mrs. O’Neal, sounding surprised. She finally came into the room and walked along the line of paintings. “This doesn’t look like it was done by a young child at all.” She pointed at Corrie’s painting of the dancers.

  Corrie’s cheeks flushed as she painted a pink skirt on yet another ballerina.

  “I’m amazed at what these children can do. Look at this flower! It looks so real I want to pick it. And those snakes … are you sure they won’t bite?” asked Mrs. O’Neal.

  Mary Anne and Abby exchanged smiles while Margo and Jamie beamed.

  “Regular little Michelangelos, these children are,” said Mrs. O’Neal. “We’ll have a good beginning for our Kaleidoscope Gallery. In fact, I don’t know how I’m going to choose.”

  Corrie looked up, panic on her face.

  “A few of each,” suggested Mary Anne, patting Corrie’s shoulder.

  “I’ll be just like my great-grandmother,” said Jimmy. “She has a painting hanging in this museum too.”

  “Your great-grandmother is an artist?” said Mrs. O’Neal.

  “Grandmother Madden,” said Jimmy. “And my mom paints pictures too. Can I take this picture of Goldie home to show my mom?”

  “A cat, just like in your great-grandmother’s paintings,” said Mrs. O’Neal. “That’s wonderful, just wonderful.”

  “I’ll leave it up to you girls to choose which paintings and which sculptures to display,” Mrs. O’Neal continued. “You’ve done such a good job, how would you like to work with the Kaleidoscope Program? The room will be open after school and on Saturdays. I could use you. I didn’t think letting the children decide on their own projects would be a good idea, but it seems to have worked very well indeed.”

  “I’d like to help out sometimes,” said Abby.

  “I would too,” said Mary Anne.

  “I need a lot of hands for the opening on Friday night,” Mrs. O’Neal said. “Do you think you could come then? Claudia has already agreed to be here.”

  “We could probably bring a few more people too, if you want. I bet some of the other members of the Baby-sitters Club would help out,” said Mary Anne.

  “Come around seven and we’ll set up. Now, be sure to clean up before you close the room,” said Mrs. O’Neal. “And don’t forget to hang some of these wonderful paintings and display some of the sculptures to show people what we do in our program.”

  “Is the hall the only place we can display the work?” Mary Anne asked.

  “You may use the entire hall,” Mrs. O’Neal said. “There were some screens too.”

  “Where are they?” Mary Anne asked, hoping that might solve the space problem.

  “I put them in this closet,” said Mrs. O’Neal, crossing the room and opening the door to a storage area.

  “Okay, great,” said Mary Anne.

  “Don’t forget to clean up in here before you leave,” Mrs. O’Neal reminded them again as she exited, a cloud of flowery perfume lingering in the air.

  “Okay, cleanup time,” said Mary Anne. “Your parents will be here soon to pick you guys up. Finish what you’re working on now and then go wash your hands.”

  “Are you going to hang any of my paintings?” Corrie asked Abby.

  “Of course. You’re as good as …” Abby glanced at Mary Anne, then said quickly, “Pele.”

  “Who?” asked Corrie.

  Mrs. Addison appeared at the door. “Corrie, are you ready to go home?”

  Corrie looked from her mother to Abby.

  Abby noticed Mrs. Addison glancing at her watch. “Quick, wash your hands,” said Abby. “We’ll see you Friday night at the opening.”

  Looking at the kids’ paintings, Abby was sure it would be an exhibition the Stoneybrook Museum would never forget.

  “Did you have a good time at the Kaleidoscope Room?” I asked Jimmy when I ran into him later at the Maddens’. I’d been worried about how things would work out and was glad to see that Jimmy had a smile on his face.

  “I painted this picture of Goldie,” he said, holding it up for me to see. “Mary Anne and Abby are going to hang some of my pictures in the gallery, just like Great-Granny’s. And my dad is going to go see them. Mom promised.”

  “That’s terrific!” I admired the cat. It was very good. Jimmy had captured the contented expression Goldie had developed since she’d moved into the Maddens’.

  “Where is Goldie? I want her to see her picture,” said Jimmy.

  “Last time I saw her, she was in her basket in the kitchen, napping,” I said. I took Jimmy by the hand and led him through the hallway.

  He knelt beside the cat and showed her the picture he’d painted. “I’m going to hang it right here.” He held it against the refrigerator.

  “Here, Jimmy,” said Kristy. She tore off a few pieces of tape from a roll on the counter and stuck the picture to the side of the refrigerator, down low where the cat could see it.

  “Is Stacey still around?” I asked. We’d all been working so hard that I hadn’t seen anyone else since we’d arrived.

  “She’s gone, but Mary Anne took her place in the library,” said Kristy.

  I wanted to talk to Mary Anne about the Kaleidoscope Room, but there was still a lot to do in the studio. I didn’t want to lose any time that I had to work up there. “Want to go up to the studio and help me decide which paints to throw away?” I asked Jimmy.

  He nodded, gave Goldie one last pat, then ran ahead of me up the stairs.

  I made a side trip into one of the bedrooms to pick up a large trash can I’d seen there earlier. As I pulled it along, I heard something knock against the side. An empty plastic garbage bag was lining the can, so I pulled it loose to see what was under it. And there was the Japanese portrait I’d been searching for. I pulled it out, balanced it on an easel, and gazed at it. The woman’s secret smile still intrigued me.

  I felt Jimmy’s hand in mine. He leaned his head against my waist and said in a muffled voice, “Please don’t tell my mom.”

  “Tell her what?” I knelt beside him and put my arm around him. He hid his face in my shoulder and I felt tears soak through my cotton shirt.

  “It was an accident,” he said. “I didn’t mean to knock it over.”

  “Jimmy, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “I came up here to look for Mom that day, and the painting fell over. I picked it up and …” His finger touched the surface of the portrait.

  Then I saw what he was upset about. There was a chip in the textured background of the painting. I looked a little closer. “That’s not such a big deal,” I assured him. “I think it can be fixed.” If I had a chance to buy the portrait, that’s exactly what I’d do. But for now, I decided I better leave it alone. I wanted to study the painting to learn more about its texture anyway. “Has the painting been in the trash can all this time?” I asked.

  Jimmy shook his head. “I stuck it in the cabinet over there, with the other paintings. But then I got worried that somebody would find it.”

  “What cabinet? What other paintings?” I felt a fluttering in my stomach. I walked to the wall Jimmy pointed out. Some paintings were leaning against it. I moved them out of the way. The wall was paneled, and I had to look hard to see the door and the tiny latch because it looked like another seam in the wood. I pulled the door open and the fluttering in my stomach became a full-fledged churning. Lots more paintings were inside … and some of them were small squares, about the size of Grandmother Madden’s. I pulled them out one by one, and the churning died down as each canvas turned out to be the work of a student.

  But the last painting made me pause. It was a small square, and it was done in the primitive style with figures that reminded me of a Grandmother Madden. Yet something about it — the colors, for one thing — lacked the vibrancy of Grandmother Madden’s. I decided that I better show it to Ms. Madden anyway. It could be from an experiment, an attempt at something new by her grandmother. The picture captured my attention the same way a Madden did. There was every bit as much to see in it as there’d been in the painting I’d studied at the museum.

  “I want to show this to your mom,” I said to Jimmy.

  “Are you going to tell her about the other picture?” Jimmy asked, worry lines forming a crease between his eyebrows.

  “We’ll just show her this one now,” I said. I knew I’d have to show her the damaged painting eventually, but I didn’t think I had to do it that minute. “Do you want to come with me?”

  “I think I’ll go play with Goldie,” he answered, and zipped out the door.

  I tucked the painting under my arm and headed toward the library to see if I could find Ms. Madden. As soon as I took one step into the hall, I wished I could turn around and shut the studio doors. Mr. Ogura was standing in front of me. I can’t begin to describe the look on his face when he saw the painting I was holding.

  “What do you have there?” he asked, reaching for it in slow motion.

  I turned it and held it against my chest. I didn’t want to show it to him before Ms. Madden had a chance to see it.

  “Let me see,” he said, walking toward me as I moved backward. I stumbled against the doorjamb behind me.

  “I’d like Ms. Madden to see it first,” I said.

  Mr. Ogura’s eyes narrowed and his hand remained outstretched.

  I clutched the painting more tightly.

  “I don’t think Ms. Madden is home right now,” Mr. Ogura said. “Let me show it to her when she returns. I’m sure she’ll want an expert opinion on it. No doubt Rebecca will want me to take it into the office to show it to one of our art experts.”

  I shook my head. “I want Ms. Madden to see it first,” I repeated. I wondered if he, too, thought the painting might be a Madden. Why else would he be so interes
ted in it?

  In the next instant Mr. Ogura pulled the picture out of my arms, leaving me empty-handed and openmouthed.

  “I want to see this in better light.” He moved into the hallway.

  I stayed close to him, like a shadow.

  “Claudia! Claudia, come here a minute,” Mary Anne called from the foot of the front staircase.

  “Go ahead,” Mr. Ogura said.

  I hesitated.

  “Claudia, I have something you’ll want to see,” Mary Anne called again.

  “I’ll be right back,” I said to Mr. Ogura. “Please don’t take that painting anyplace.”

  I ran down the steps and into the library. “What?” I asked Mary Anne breathlessly, looking over my shoulder to see if Mr. Ogura had followed with the painting.

  Mary Anne held up a color photograph of a cat that looked like Goldie. “Behind the photo was something you’ll like even more,” she said, handing me a small painting. I saw the cat again, painted in oils and signed “Rebecca.”

  “The cat,” I whispered. “I didn’t check for the cat! Mary Anne, I’ll be right back.” I carried the painted cat with me as I hurried back to the studio.

  “Claudia, how’s it going?” Ms. Madden ran up the back steps just as I ran up the front steps.

  “Ms. Madden, you’re home! I found a painting. You have to see it. Mr. Ogura has it in here.” I pushed open the studio doors. Funny, I was sure I’d left them open when I’d gone downstairs a few minutes before.

  “Mr. Ogura?” Ms. Madden looked puzzled. “I thought he was going to Japan this week. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe he’s going next week.”

  My mind’s eye flashed back to the airline tickets I’d seen in Mr. Ogura’s car earlier in the week. They were for Japan Airlines, I remembered. Maybe the guy was okay. I hadn’t had a chance to call Estates Unlimited yet. At any rate, he wasn’t in the studio and neither was the painting. I looked out the window, but his car was nowhere in sight. Maybe he’d parked in front. I whirled around, then ran back the way I’d come, leaving a surprised Ms. Madden behind.

  I heard a sickening thud as I rounded the corner at the bottom of the staircase. Mr. Ogura wasn’t in sight, but the painting had been leaning against the newel post and when I flew by it, I knocked it over. Slowly, I picked it up and turned it over, hoping I hadn’t caused any irreparable damage. A few flakes of paint drifted off as I turned it right side up, but otherwise it seemed okay.

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