Marvin Mandel was back in town today, a furloughed convict patrolling his old haunts and taking in the attention as if it were an elixir.

The former Maryland governor, on a five-day furlough from the federal prison camp at Eglin (Florida) Air Force Base, bought a band for his watch, wolfed down a bagel with cream cheese at his favorite deli, went crabbing with his stepson and chatted with reporters and passersby on Annapolis streets.

Strolling hand in hand with his wife, Jeanne, and her son Paul, Mandel, wearing a blue pullover shirt, jeans and moccasins, told reporters, "There is no way to describe" his first visit to Maryland since he began serving a three-year sentence in May.

"Fourteen long months," Mandel repeated.

When someone told the tanned, trimmed-down ex-governor that he looked good, Mandel said he had lost 15 pounds since his incarceration but quipped, "If you think I look so good, why don't you volunteer to go back for me?"

The two-term Democrat has been out of the governor's office for nearly four years now -- since his conviction of federal charges of racketeering and mail fraud -- but his reception today indicated that to some supporters his appeal cannot be diminished by a prison term.

At Chic & Ruth's Delly, the Main Street hangout where the front booth still bears the sign "Governor's Office" to mark the 10 years that Mandel began his days there, customers lined up to pay tribute to Mandel and bemoan his fate.

"He was one of the best governors this state ever had," said George M. Nutwell, who served as registrar of wills in Anne Arundel County for 20 years. "I don't know if he was guilty or not, but he was a hell of a help to me in getting a new bridge over the South River."

Mandel met this morning with Annapolis attorney Bruce C. Bereano, who said he and Mandel's trial lawyer, Arnold M. Weiner, are following the effort by Mandel co-defendant Harry W. Rogers to win release from prison.

A federal magistrate in Pensacola, Fla., is waiting for Rogers' lawyer and federal prosecutors to file briefs before ruling on Rodgers' plea that continued confinement would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

"If that ruling is favorable," Bereano said after his meeting with Mandel, "we will take steps to take advantage of it in behalf of the governor."

Bereano said that counting four months of accumulated good time, Mandel already has served 18 months, which he said is "longer than others similarly situated are forced to serve."

The U.S. Parole Commission has repeatedly rejected efforts by Mandel to win early release, even though both the judge who sentenced him and the federal prosecutor in Baltimore have recommended that he be paroled.

If Rodgers' appeal fails, Bereano said he might renew his suggestion that Mandel be permitted to return to Annapolis on a work-release program. When Bereano first suggested that last February, he said Federal Bureau of Prisions chief Norman Carlson said the request was premature.

Mandel said he is spending most of his furlough with his family and that he hopes that his friends "will understand" if he doesn't look them up.

One of those he barely missed seeing today was Blair Lee III, Mandel's lieutenant governor, who was eating in a French restaurant here when Mandel walked by on the sidewalk.

Delly owner Charles (Chic) Levitt, who went to dinner with the Mandels Saturday night in Baltimore's Little Italy, said that when Mandel strolled into Sabatino's restaurant, many of the diners and waiters applauded.

Mandel will return to Eglin Wednesday after "enjoying the Maryland scenery and breathing this wonderful Maryland air," he said. Reverting to his legal training. Mandel declined "to talk about myself," but said that "I don't know anyone who wouldn't resent" being forced to serve more than the usual time for his crime.

He already is dreading the trip back to the prison in the Florida panhandle, but is looking forward to another furlough, for which he is eligible in three months, or an early release.