Looking slightly worn but with the old sardonic smile still in place, the former governor of Maryland emerged from his tiny office at 10:10 a.m. yesterday.

"They just turned it down," Marvin Mandel said calmly.

And with those words the once-powerful governor -- the man who could "always work it out" -- acknowledged that nothing now stands between him and a four-year term in jail.

When the news came that the U.S. Supreme Court, his last hope for exoneration, had turned down his appeal, Mandel was at his desk in the small, wood-paneled office on the third floor of the Arnold post office where he operates a consulting firm.

First work came in a phone call from a radio reporter, confirmation a few minutes later from his lawyer, Arnold Weiner.

"I've got some bad news for you," Weiner recalled telling the former governor. And all he could remember Mandel saying was, "Oh my."

While Mandel was characteristically cool, his friends and assoicates in the world of Maryland politics expressed their feelings more openly.

William Hundley, a lawyer for one of Mandel's codefendants, called it "blue Monday." John Hanson Briscoe, the former House speaker, had his own theory for what happened.

"Mandel got caught up in the Watergate syndrome," said Briscoe. "What he did was certainly not a surprise to anyone in government who knows what goes on. You give your friends breaks and shortcuts and help them when you can. It's something that has always gone on and probably still does and will as long as people are human."

"I'm just sorry they [the Supreme Court justices] didn't hear the case. It's real cloud on our judicial system," said state Sen. Harry McGuirk, who for years has wielded almost as much power in Annapolis as Mandel once did.

Referring to two tie votes by which the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals first reversed itself and then decided against a second rehearing of the issues, McGuirk said: "The average American citizen thinks that two tie votes is a draw.

"But now after two the votes he's still a loser."

None of Mandel's codefendants could be reached for comment yesterday, but their wives and lawyers expressed relief that, at least, it was over.

"You always have hopes," said the wife of Irvin Kovens. "You live with hope. You don't know whether it's going to be bad or good but at least you hope. Now it's over."

Ann Cory, wife of lawyer Ernest N. Cory Jr., also one of Mandel's codefendants, felt that there was some relief to the ending. "At least it's over at last. It's been so long and deadly.And now we can begin to live again."

The Supreme Court's decision ended a dizzying four-year legal battle that saw Mandel and five codefendants convicted, then apparently cleared, and now, headed for prison.

Since his August 1977 conviction and the beginning of the appeals process, there have been at last five crucial moments when Mandel believed his fate would finally be determined. But each time, instead, there was more uncertainty, or as lawyer Weiner but it, alternating moments of "euphoria" and "depression."

Friends and associates of Mandel had noted that in recent months -- since an appellate court reinstated by a tie vote the convection it had previously reversed -- the former governor had become resigned to the fate of a convicted felon unable to control his own destiny.

"He is no longer the center of manipulations," remarked one of his closest political advisers. "Other people are doing it to him. It's so un-Mandel-esque."

And indeed it was for a man who had once controlled the state of Maryland with elaborate political maneuvering and an unmatched air of confidence.

After the appelate court defeat, Mandel himself said he was beginning to feel like "Marvin in Wonderland. . . taking Alice's place. . . seeing new wonders every day."

Another old friend from Mandel's early political days, Richard Rombro, said yesterday: "It has hurt him. "He's a much more subdued guy now. It [the conviction] has hurt him."

Some of that hurt was apparent in Mandel's remarks yesterday in the hours after learning that his long lega l battle was over.

"In the last three years we've been virtually living in a prison. While there are no bars or walls, we've been confined," he said as he looked at his wife, Jeanne. "It's humiliating. I haven't been able to do the things I know best, work at the things that I love."

"I'm an attorney, and I can't practice law," said Mandel, who resigned from the bar to avoid disbarment because of his conviction.

"I was in government, and I would like to express my opinions about what's happening in the state and country. . . and I've carefully stayed out of being involved."

The small show of emotion was uncharacteristic of Mandel, who went through a mistrial, a second trial and his early appeals with a proud stoicism. t

But a lot has changed since Mandel and his five codefendants -- most of them close friends -- sat together in the Baltimore courtroom where they stood trial. In the hours after they learned their fate yesterday, none called the former governor to commiserate.

"They've all fallen apart. The only one Marvin is still close to is Irv [Kovens]. They've been under a tremendous amount of stress," said one of Madel's closest political advisers.

Others said that several of the defendants preferred to give up the expensive appeals process before going to the Supreme Court. "They just did it for Marvin because he's got the history books to worry about," said a Mandel associate.

Indeed, Mandel said he still believes that "somehow, some way, some day, the whole thing will come out in spite of this latest decision. I know in my heart I've never done anything to hurt the people of Maryland."

Mandel has found his own way to deal with the uncertainties his conviction and appeals have wrought.

Yesterday at 7:45 a.m. he set out for his favorite breakfast haunt, Chick and Ruth's Delly in Annapolis as on any other business day, he ate his bagel and cream cheese, read the Baltimore papers and greeted old friends.

One of those who joined him was former Senate majority leader Roy Staten, who testified at Mandel's trial and was once considered Mandel's voice on the Senate floor. The talk did not turn to the trial or the Supreme Court.

"It's just a regular business day," Mandel kept saying. "There's nothing I can do about what happens. So what's the use of trying?"