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متن انگلیسی فصل
If you have ever experienced something that feels strangely familiar, as if the exact same thing has happened to you before, then you are experiencing what the French call “déjà vu.” Like most French expressions—“ennui,” which is a fancy term for severe boredom, or “la petite mort,” which describes a feeling that part of you has died—“déjà vu” refers to something that is usually not very pleasant, and it was not pleasant for the Baudelaire orphans to stand outside the freaks’ caravan listening to Count Olaf and experiencing the queasy feeling of déjà vu.
“These lions are going to be the most exciting thing at Caligari Carnival!” Olaf announced, as more and more people drew near to see what all the fuss was about. “As you all know, unless you are incredibly dim-witted, a stubborn mule will move in the proper direction if there is a carrot in front of it, and a stick behind it. It will move toward the carrot, because it wants the reward of food, and away from the stick, because it does not want the punishment of pain. And these lions will do the same.”
“What’s going on?” Hugo asked the children, walking out of the caravan with Colette and Kevin close behind.
“Déjà vu,” Sunny said bitterly. Even the youngest Baudelaire recognized Count Olaf’s cruel speech about the stubborn mule from when the three children had been living in Olaf’s house. Back then, the villain had talked about a stubborn mule in order to force Violet to marry him, a plot that thankfully had been foiled at the last minute, but now he was using the very same words to cook up another scheme, and it gave the siblings a queasy feeling to watch it happen.
“These lions,” Count Olaf said, “will do as I say, because they want to avoid the punishment of this whip!” With a flourish, he flicked his whip at the lions again, who cowered behind the bars, and some of the visitors to the carnival applauded.
“But if the whip is the stick,” asked the bald man, “what is the carrot?”
“The carrot?” Olaf repeated, and laughed in a particularly nasty way. “The reward for the lions who obey me will be a delicious meal. Lions are carnivorous, which means they eat meat, and here at Caligari Carnival they’ll have the finest meat we have to offer.” He turned and pointed his whip at the entrance to the freaks’ caravan, where the Baudelaires were standing with their coworkers. “The freaks you see here aren’t normal people, and so they lead depressing lives,” he announced. “They’ll be happy to exhibit themselves in the name of entertainment.”
“Of course we will,” Colette said. “We do it every day.”
“Then you won’t mind being the most important part of the lion show,” Olaf replied. “We’re not going to feed these lions regular meals, so they’ll be very, very hungry by the time the show begins. Each day, instead of a show at the House of Freaks, we’ll randomly choose one freak and watch the lions devour them.”
Everyone cheered again, except for Hugo, Colette, Kevin, and the three siblings, who all stood in horrified silence.
“That will be exciting!” said the man with pimples on his face. “Just think—violence and sloppy eating combined in one fabulous show!”
“I couldn’t agree more!” said a woman who was standing nearby. “It was hilarious watching that two-headed freak eat, but it’ll be even more hilarious watching the two-headed freak get eaten!”
“I’d prefer to watch the hunchback get eaten,” said someone else in the crowd. “He’s so funny! He doesn’t even have a regular back!”
“The fun starts tomorrow afternoon!” Count Olaf cried. “See you then!”
“I can’t wait,” said the woman, as the crowd began to disperse, a word which here means “walk off to purchase souvenirs or leave the carnival.” “I’m going to tell all my friends.”
“I’m going to call that reporter at The Daily Punctilio,” the man with pimples said, heading toward the phone booth. “This carnival is about to get very popular, and maybe they’ll write an article about it.”
“You were right, boss,” said the hook-handed man. “Things are about to get much better here.”
“Of course he was right, please,” Madame Lulu said. “He is brilliant man, and brave man, and generous man. He is brilliant for thinking of the lion show, please. He is brave man for hitting lions with whip, please. And he is generous man for giving lions to Lulu.”
“He gave those lions to you?” asked a sinister voice. “They were presents?”
Now that most of the carnival visitors had departed, the Baudelaires could see Esmé Squalor step forward from the doorway of another caravan and walk toward Count Olaf and Madame Lulu. As she passed the lions’ trailer, she ran her enormous fingernails along the bars, and the lions whimpered in fear. “So you gave Madame Lulu some lions,” she said. “What did you get me?”
Count Olaf scratched his head with one scraggly hand, and looked a little embarrassed. “Nothing,” he admitted. “But you can share my whip, if you’d like.”
Madame Lulu leaned over and gave Olaf a kiss on the cheek. “He gave lions to me, please, because I did such wonderful fortune-telling.”
“You should have seen it, Esmé,” Olaf said. “Lulu and I entered the fortune-telling tent and turned out all the lights, and the crystal ball began to hum its magical hum. Then, magical lightning crackled above us, and Madame Lulu told me to concentrate as hard as I could. While I closed my eyes, she gazed into her crystal ball and told me that one of the Baudelaire parents is alive and hiding in the Mortmain Mountains. As a reward, I gave her these lions.”
“So Madame Lulu needs a carrot, too, eh?” the hook-handed man said with a laugh.
“First thing tomorrow morning,” Olaf continued, “Madame Lulu will consult her crystal ball again, and tell me where the Baudelaires are.”
Esmé glared at Lulu. “And what sort of gift will you give then, Olaf?”
“Be reasonable, my dear,” Count Olaf said to his girlfriend. “The lions will make Caligari Carnival much more popular, so Madame Lulu can devote her time to fortune-telling and give us the information we need to finally steal the Baudelaire fortune.”
“I hate to criticize,” Hugo said hesitantly, “but is there any way we can make the carnival more popular without feeding us to the lions? I must confess that I’m a little nervous about that part.”
“You heard the crowd when I told them about the new attraction,” Count Olaf said. “They couldn’t wait to see the lions devour you, and all of us need to do our part to give people what they want. Your part is to return to the freaks’ caravan until tomorrow. And the rest of us will do our part and start digging the pit.”
“Pit?” one of the white-faced women asked. “What do we need a pit for?”
“To keep the lions in,” Olaf replied, “so they only eat whichever freak jumps down there. Let’s dig it over by the roller coaster.”
“Good idea, boss,” the bald man said.
“There are shovels in tool caravan,” Lulu said. “I will show you, please.”
“I’m not going to dig a pit,” Esmé announced as the others walked away. “I might break a nail. Besides, I need to talk to Count Olaf—alone.”
“Oh, all right,” Count Olaf said. “Let’s go in the guest caravan where we won’t be disturbed.”
Olaf and Esmé walked off in one direction, and Madame Lulu led the henchmen in the other, leaving the three children alone with their coworkers.
“Well, we’d better go inside,” Colette said. “Maybe we can think of a way not to get eaten.”
“Oh, let’s not think about those fearsome creatures,” Hugo said with a shudder. “Let’s play another game of dominoes instead.”
“Chabo, my other head, and I will be along in a moment,” Violet said. “We want to finish our hot chocolate.”
“You might as well enjoy it,” Kevin said glumly, following Hugo and Colette back into the freaks’ caravan. “It might turn out to be the last hot chocolate you ever drink.”
Kevin shut the door with both hands, and the Baudelaires stepped farther away from the caravan so they could talk without being overheard.
“Adding cinnamon to hot chocolate is a terrific idea, Sunny,” Violet said, “but I’m having trouble enjoying it.”
“Ificat,” Sunny said, which meant “Me too.”
“Count Olaf’s latest scheme leaves a bad taste in my mouth,” Klaus said, “and I don’t think cinnamon will help.”
“We have to get into that fortune-telling tent,” Violet said, “and this may be our only chance.”
“Do you think it’s really true?” Klaus asked. “Do you think Madame Lulu really saw something in her crystal ball?”
“I don’t know,” Violet said, “but I do know from my studies of electricity that lightning can’t appear inside a tent. Something mysterious is going on, and we need to find out what it is.”
“Chow!” Sunny said, which meant “Before we’re thrown to the lions!”
“But do you think it’s real?” Klaus asked.
“I don’t know,” Violet said testily, a word which here means “in her regular voice, forgetting her disguise because she was becoming very frustrated and upset.” “I don’t know if Madame Lulu is a fortune-teller. I don’t know how Count Olaf always knows where we are. I don’t know where the Snicket file is, or why someone else had Olaf’s tattoo, or what V.F.D. stands for, or why there’s a secret passageway that leads to our house, or—”
“If our parents are alive?” Klaus interrupted. “Do you know if one of our parents is really alive?”
The middle Baudelaire’s voice quivered, and his sisters turned to look at him—a feat that was difficult for Violet, who was still sharing his shirt—and saw that he was crying. Violet leaned so that her head was against his while Sunny put her mug down and crawled closer to hug his knees, and the three Baudelaires stood quietly together for a few moments.
Grief, a type of sadness that most often occurs when you have lost someone you love, is a sneaky thing, because it can disappear for a long time, and then pop back up when you least expect it. When I am able, I go out walking on Briny Beach very early in the morning, which is the best time to find materials important to the Baudelaire case, and the ocean is so peaceful that I feel peaceful, too, as if I am no longer grieving for the woman I love and will never see again. But then, when I am cold and duck into a teashop where the owner is expecting me, I have only to reach for the sugar bowl before my grief returns, and I find myself crying so loudly that other customers ask me if I could possibly lower my sobs. With the Baudelaire orphans, it was as if their grief were a very heavy object that they each took turns carrying so that they would not all be crying at once, but sometimes the object was too heavy for one of them to move without weeping, so Violet and Sunny stood next to Klaus, reminding him that this was something they could all carry together until at last they found a safe place to lay it down.
“I’m sorry I was testy, Klaus,” Violet said. “There’s just so much we don’t know that it’s hard to think about all at once.”
“Chithvee,” Sunny said, which meant “But I can’t help thinking about our parents.”
“Me neither,” Violet admitted. “I keep wondering if one of them survived the fire.”
“But if they did,” Klaus said, “why would they be hiding in a faraway place? Why aren’t they trying to find us?”
“Maybe they are,” Violet said quietly. “Maybe they’re searching for us everywhere they can think of, but they can’t find us, because we’ve been hiding and disguising ourselves for so long.”
“But why doesn’t our mother or father contact Mr. Poe?” Klaus said.
“We’ve tried to contact him,” Violet pointed out, “but he doesn’t answer our telegrams, and we can’t seem to reach him by phone. If one of our parents has survived the fire, maybe they’re having the same wretched luck.”
“Galfuskin,” Sunny pointed out. By “Galfuskin” she meant something like, “This is all guesswork—let’s go to the fortune-telling tent and see if we can find out anything for sure, and we’d better do it soon before the others get back.”
“You’re right, Sunny,” Violet said, and put her mug down next to Sunny’s. Klaus put down his mug, and all three Baudelaires took disguised steps away from their hot chocolate. Violet and Klaus walked awkwardly in their shared pants, leaning against one another with every step, and Sunny followed alongside, still crawling so that she would look half wolf if anyone watched them as they made their way through the carnival toward the fortune-telling tent. But no one was watching the Baudelaire orphans. The visitors to the carnival had gone home to tell their friends about the lion show happening the next day. The children’s coworkers were in the freaks’ caravan bemoaning their fate, a word which here means “playing dominoes, rather than trying to think of a way out of their predicament.” Madame Lulu and Olaf’s assistants were digging the pit, over by the roller coaster still covered in ivy. Count Olaf and Esmé Squalor were bickering in the guest caravan, which was located at the far end of the carnival where I had stayed with my brother so many years ago, and the rest of Madame Lulu’s employees were closing down the carnival and hoping that someday they might work in a less miserable place. So nobody was watching as the children approached the tent next to Lulu’s caravan, and stopped for a minute at the flap that led inside.
The fortune-telling tent no longer stands at Caligari Carnival, or anywhere else for that matter. Anyone wandering through the blackened and desolate hinterlands would scarcely be able to tell that there had been any tents at all. But even if everything looked exactly the same as when the Baudelaire orphans stayed there, it is unlikely that a traveler would understand what the tent’s decoration meant, as nowadays there are so few living experts on such subjects, and the experts who are alive are all in terrible circumstances, or, in my case, on their way to terrible circumstances in the hopes of making them less terrible. But the Baudelaire orphans—who, as you will recall, had only arrived at the carnival the night before, and so had never seen the fortune-telling tent in daylight until this very moment—could see how the tent was decorated, which is why they stopped to stare at it.
At first glance, the painting on the fortune-telling tent seemed to depict an eye, like the decoration on Madame Lulu’s caravan and the tattoo on Count Olaf’s ankle. The three children had seen similar eyes wherever they went, from a building in the shape of an eye when they were working in a lumbermill, to an eye on Esmé Squalor’s purse when they were hiding in a hospital, to a huge swarm of eyes that surrounded them in their most frightening nightmares, and although the siblings never understood quite what these eyes meant, they were so weary of gazing at them that they would never pause to look at one again. But there are many things in life that become different if you take a long look at them, and as the children paused in front of the fortune-telling tent, the painting seemed to change before their very eyes, until it did not seem like a painting at all, but an insignia.
An insignia is sort of a mark that usually stands for an organization or a business, and the mark can be of any sort whatsoever. Sometimes an insignia can be a simple shape, such as a wavy line to indicate an organization concerned with rivers or oceans, or a square to indicate an organization concerned with geometry or sugar cubes. Sometimes an insignia can be a small picture of something, such as a torch, to indicate an organization that is flammable, or the three-eyed girl outside the House of Freaks, indicating that people who were unusual in some way were on display inside. And sometimes an insignia can be part of the name of the organization, such as the first few letters, or its initials. The Baudelaires, of course, were not involved in any sort of business, aside from disguising themselves as carnival freaks, and as far as they knew they were not members of an organization of any kind, and they had never even been to the hinterlands until Count Olaf’s car had taken them down Rarely Ridden Road, but the three children took a long look at the insignia on Madame Lulu’s tent, because they knew that it was important to them somehow, as if whoever had painted the insignia knew they would come here, and wanted to bring them inside.
“Do you think…” Klaus said, his voice trailing off as he squinted at the tent.
“I didn’t see it at first glance,” Violet said, “but as I took a long look…”
“Volu…” Sunny said, and without another word the three children peered into the entrance, and, seeing no sign of anyone inside, took a few steps forward. If someone had been watching the youngsters, they would have seen these few hesitant steps as they entered the fortune-teller’s tent as quietly as they could. But there was no one watching. There was no one to see the flap of cloth as it closed quietly behind them, making the whole tent shiver ever so slightly, and there was no one to notice that the painting shivered, too. There was no one watching the Baudelaire orphans as they drew closer to finding the answers to their questions, or solving the mysteries of their lives. There was no one to take a long look at the painting on the tent to see that it was not an image of an eye, as it appeared to be at first glance, but an insignia, standing for an organization the children knew only as V.F.D.
There are many difficult things in this world to hide, but a secret is not one of them. It is difficult to hide an airplane, for instance, because you generally need to find a deep hole or an enormous haystack, and sneak the airplane inside in the middle of the night, but it is easy to hide a secret about an airplane, because you can merely write it on a tiny piece of paper and tape it to the bottom of your mattress any time you are at home. It is difficult to hide a symphony orchestra, because you usually need to rent a soundproof room and borrow as many sleeping bags as you can find, but it is easy to hide a secret about a symphony orchestra, because you can merely whisper it into the ear of a trustworthy friend or music critic. And it is difficult to hide yourself, because you sometimes need to stuff yourself into the trunk of an automobile, or concoct a disguise out of whatever you can find, but it is easy to hide a secret about yourself, because you can merely type it into a book and hope it falls into the right hands. My dear sister, if you are reading this, I am still alive, and heading north to try and find you.
Had the Baudelaire orphans been looking for an airplane as they stepped inside Madame Lulu’s fortune-telling tent, they would have known to look for the tip of a wing, sticking out from under an enormous black tablecloth decorated with shiny silver stars, which hung over a table in the center of the tent. Had they been looking for a symphony orchestra, they would have known to listen for the sound of someone coughing or bumping up against an oboe as they hid in the corners of the tent, which were covered in heavy curtains. But the children were not looking for methods of air travel or professional musicians. They were looking for secrets, and the tent was so big that they scarcely knew where to begin looking. Was there news of the Baudelaire parents hidden in the cupboard that stood near the entrance? Could there be information about the Snicket file stuffed into the large trunk that stood in one of the corners? And was it possible the children could find out the meaning of V.F.D. by gazing into the crystal ball placed in the center of the table? Violet, Klaus, and Sunny looked around the tent, and then at one another, and it seemed that the secrets concerning them could be hidden just about anywhere.
“Where do you think we should look?” Violet asked.
“I don’t know,” Klaus replied, squinting all around him. “I’m not even sure what to look for.”
“Well, maybe we should look for answers the way Count Olaf did,” Violet said. “He told the whole story of his fortune-telling experience.”
“I remember,” Klaus said. “First he entered Madame Lulu’s tent. We’ve done that. Then, he said they turned out all the lights.”
The Baudelaires looked up, and noticed for the first time that the ceiling of the tent was decorated with small lights in the shape of stars, matching the stars on the tablecloth.
“Switch!” Sunny said, pointing to a pair of switches attached to one of the tent poles.
“Good work, Sunny,” Violet said. “Here, Klaus, walk with me so I can get a look at those switches.”
The two older Baudelaires walked freakishly over to the pole, but when they reached the switches Violet frowned and shook her head.
“What’s wrong?” Klaus asked.
“I wish I had a ribbon,” Violet said, “to tie up my hair. It’s hard to think seriously with my powdery hair getting in my eyes. But my hair ribbon is somewhere at Heimlich….”
Her voice trailed off, and Klaus saw that she had reached her hand into the pocket of Count Olaf’s pants and was drawing out a ribbon that looked just like the one she usually wore.
“Yerz,” Sunny said.
“It is mine,” Violet said, looking at it closely. “Count Olaf must have kept it when he was preparing me for surgery, and left it in his pocket.”
“I’m glad you got it back,” Klaus said, with a slight shudder. “I don’t like to think about Olaf getting his filthy hands on our possessions. Do you need some help tying your hair up? It might be difficult using only one hand, and I don’t think you should take your other one out from under the shirt. We don’t want to mess up our disguise.”
“I think I can manage it with one hand,” Violet said. “Ah, there we go. I feel less like a freak and more like Violet Baudelaire with my hair up like this. Now, let’s see. Both these switches are attached to wires that run up to the top of the tent. One of them obviously controls the lights, but what does the other one do?”
The Baudelaires looked up again, and saw something else attached to the ceiling of the tent. In between the stars was a small, round mirror, hanging from a piece of metal, which held it at an odd angle. Attached to the metal was a long strip of rubber, which led to a large knot of wires and gears, which in turn was attached to some more mirrors arranged in a sort of wheel.
“What?” Sunny asked.
“I don’t know,” Klaus said. “It sure doesn’t look like anything I’ve read about.”
“It’s an invention of some sort,” Violet said, studying it carefully. She began to point to different parts of the strange device, but it was as if she were talking to herself instead of her siblings. “That piece of rubber looks like a fan belt, which transmits torque from an automotive engine in order to help cool the radiator. But why would you want to—oh, I see. It moves those other mirrors around, which—but how would—wait a minute. Klaus, see that small hole in the upper corner of the tent?”
“Not without my glasses,” Klaus said.
“Well, there’s a small rip up there,” Violet said. “What direction are we facing, if we face that small hole?”
“Let me think for a moment,” Klaus said. “Last night, the sun was setting as we got out of the car.”
“Yirat,” Sunny said, which meant “I remember—the famous hinterlands sunset.”
“And the car is over there,” Klaus said, turning around and dragging his older sister with them. “So that way is west, and the rip in the tent faces east.”
“East,” Violet said with a smile, “the direction of the sunrise.”
“That’s right,” Klaus said, “but what does that have to do with anything?”
Violet said nothing, just stood and smiled at her siblings, and Klaus and Sunny smiled back. Even with the fake scars penciled on her face, Violet was smiling in a way the other Baudelaires recognized at once. It was the sort of smile that appeared when Violet had figured out a difficult problem, usually having to do with an invention of some sort. She had smiled this way when the siblings were in jail, and she figured out how a pitcher of water could help break them out. She had smiled this way when she had looked over some evidence she had found in a suitcase, which could convince Mr. Poe that their Uncle Monty had been murdered. And she was smiling this way now, as she looked up at the strange device on the ceiling, and then back down at the two switches on the wall.
“Watch this,” she said, and flicked the first switch. Immediately, the gears began to spin, and the long strip of rubber began to move, and the wheel of mirrors became a whirring circle.
“But what does it do?” Klaus said.
“Listen,” Violet said, and the children could hear a low, buzzing hum coming from the machine. “That’s the hum Count Olaf was talking about. He thought it was coming from the crystal ball, but it was coming from this invention.”
“I thought a magical hum sounded fishy,” Klaus said.
“Legror?” Sunny asked, which meant “But what about the lightning?”
“You see how that larger mirror is angled?” Violet said. “It’s pointed so that it reflects any light that comes out of the small hole in the tent.”
“But there isn’t any light coming from it,” Klaus said.
“Not now,” Violet said, “because the hole is facing east, and it’s late in the afternoon. But in the morning, when Madame Lulu does her fortune-telling, the sun is rising, and the light of the sunrise would shine right on that mirror. And that mirror would reflect it onto the other mirrors, put into motion by the torquated belt—”
“Wait,” Klaus said. “I don’t understand.”
“That’s O.K.,” Violet said. “Count Olaf doesn’t understand either. When he walks into the tent in the morning, Madame Lulu turns this invention on and the room is filled with flickering lights. Remember when I used the refraction of light to make a signaling device at Lake Lachrymose? It’s the same thing, but Lulu tells him that it’s magical lightning.”
“But wouldn’t Olaf look up and see that it wasn’t magical lightning?”
“Not if the lights were off,” Violet said, flicking the other switch, and above them the stars went out. The cloth of the tent was so thick that no light from outside shone in, and the Baudelaires found themselves in utter darkness. It reminded the children of when they were climbing down the elevator shaft of 667 Dark Avenue, except that had been silent, and here they were surrounded by the sound of the machine’s hum.
“Eerie,” Sunny said.
“It is spooky,” Klaus agreed. “No wonder Olaf thought it was a magical hum.”
“Imagine how it would feel if the room were flickering with lightning,” Violet said. “That’s the sort of trickery that makes people believe in fortune-telling.”
“So Madame Lulu is a fake,” Klaus said.
Violet flicked both switches again, and the lights went on as the invention went off. “She’s a fake, all right,” Violet said. “I bet that crystal ball is just plain glass. She tricks Count Olaf into thinking she’s a fortune-teller, so he’ll buy her things like lions and new turbans.”
“Chesro?” Sunny asked, and looked up at her siblings. By “Chesro?” Sunny meant something along the lines of, “But if she’s a fake, how did she know that one of our parents was alive?” but her siblings were almost afraid to answer her.
“She didn’t, Sunny,” Violet said quietly. “Madame Lulu’s information is as fake as her magic lightning.”
Sunny made a small, quiet sound that her siblings could scarcely hear behind her beard, and hugged Violet and Klaus’s legs while her little body shivered with sadness. Suddenly, it was Sunny’s turn to bear the burden of Baudelaire grief, but she did not bear it for long, because Klaus thought of something that made the Baudelaires collect themselves.
“Wait a minute,” Klaus said. “Madame Lulu may be a fake, but her information might be real. After all, she always told Count Olaf where we were staying, and she was right about that.”
“That’s true,” Violet said. “I forgot about that.”
“After all,” Klaus said, reaching with difficulty into his pocket. “We first thought that one of our parents might be alive after we read this.” He unfolded a piece of paper that his sisters recognized as the thirteenth page of the Snicket file. There was a photograph, stapled to the page, which showed the Baudelaire parents, standing next to one man the Baudelaires had met briefly at the Village of Fowl Devotees, and one man the children did not recognize, and below the photograph was a sentence Klaus had read so many times that he did not need his glasses to read it again. “‘Because of the evidence discussed on page nine, experts now suspect that there may in fact be one survivor of the fire, but the survivor’s whereabouts are unknown,’” he recited. “Maybe Madame Lulu knows about this.”
“But how?” Violet asked.
“Well, let’s see,” Klaus said. “Count Olaf said that after the appearance of magical lightning, Madame Lulu told him to close his eyes so she could concentrate.”
“There!” Sunny said, pointing to the table with the crystal ball.
“No, Sunny,” Violet said. “The crystal ball couldn’t tell her. It’s not magical, remember?”
“There!” Sunny insisted, and walked over to the table. Violet and Klaus followed her, walking awkwardly, and saw what she was pointing at. Sticking out from under the tablecloth was a tiny speck of white. Kneeling down in their shared pants, the older Baudelaires could see it was the very edge of a piece of paper.
“Good thing you’re closer to the ground than we are, Sunny,” said Klaus. “We never would have noticed that.”
“But what is it?” Violet asked, sliding it out from under the tablecloth.
Klaus reached into his pocket again, removed his glasses, and put them on. “Now I feel less like a freak and more like myself,” he said with a smile, and began to read out loud. “‘My Dear Duchess, Your masked ball sounds like a fantastic evening, and I look forward to…’” His voice trailed off, and he scanned the rest of the page. “It’s just a note about some party,” he said.
“What’s it doing underneath a tablecloth?” Violet asked.
“It doesn’t seem important to me,” Klaus said, “but I guess it was important enough to Lulu that she hid it.
“Let’s see what else she’s hiding,” Violet said, and lifted the end of the tablecloth. All three Baudelaires gasped.
It may seem strange to read that there was a library underneath Madame Lulu’s table, but as the Baudelaire orphans knew, there are almost as many kinds of libraries as there are kinds of readers. The children had encountered a private library at the home of Justice Strauss, who they missed very much, and a scientific library at the home of Uncle Monty, who they would never see again. They had seen an academic library at Prufrock Preparatory School, and a library at Lucky Smells Lumbermill that was understocked, a word which here means “empty except for three books.” There are public libraries and medical libraries, secret libraries and forbidden libraries, libraries of records and libraries of auction catalogs, and there are archival libraries, which is a fancy term for a collection of files and documents rather than books. Archival libraries are usually found at universities, museums, or other quiet places—such as underneath a table—where people can go and examine whatever papers they like, in order to find the information they need. The Baudelaire orphans gazed at the enormous piles of papers that were stuffed underneath the table, and realized that Madame Lulu had an archival library that just might contain the information they were looking for.
“Look at all this,” Violet said. “There are newspaper articles, magazines, letters, files, photographs—all sorts of documents. Madame Lulu tells people to close their eyes and concentrate, and then she looks through all this material and finds the answers.”
“And they can’t hear her shuffling paper,” Klaus said, “over the hum of the lightning device.”
“It’s like taking a test,” Violet said, “with all the answers hidden in your school desk.”
“Cheat!” Sunny said.
“It is cheating,” Klaus said, “but maybe her cheating can help us. Look, here’s an article from The Daily Punctilio.”
“VILLAGE OF FOWL DEVOTEES TO PARTICIPATE IN NEW GUARDIAN PROGRAM,” Violet said, peering over his shoulder at the headline.
“‘The Council of Elders announced yesterday that they would care for the troublesome Baudelaire orphans,’” Klaus read, “‘as part of the city government’s new program inspired by the aphorism “It takes a village to raise a child.”’”
“That’s how Count Olaf found us!” Violet said. “Madame Lulu pretended that the crystal ball told her where we were, but she just read it in the newspaper!”
Klaus flipped through a pile of paper until he saw his own name on a list. “Look,” he said. “It’s a list of new students at Prufrock Preparatory School. Somehow Madame Lulu got ahold of it and passed on the information to Olaf.”
“Us!” Sunny said, showing a photograph to her siblings. Violet and Klaus looked at it and saw their sister was right. The youngest Baudelaire had found a small, blurry photograph of the three Baudelaires sitting on the edge of Damocles Dock, where they had arrived for their stay with Aunt Josephine. In the background they could see Mr. Poe reaching his hand out to call for a taxi, while Violet stared glumly into a paper sack.
“Those are the peppermints Mr. Poe gave us,” Violet said quietly. “I’d almost forgotten about those.”
“But who took this?” Klaus asked. “Who was watching us that day?”
“Back,” Sunny said, and turned the photograph over. On the back, someone had written something in messy handwriting the children could scarcely read.
“I think it says, ‘This might be hopeful,’” Klaus said.
“Or ‘helpful,’” Violet said. “‘This might be helpful.’ And it’s signed with one initial—I think it’s an R, or maybe a K. But who would want a photograph of us?”
“It gives me the shivers to think someone took our picture when we didn’t know it,” Klaus said. “That means someone could be taking our photograph at any moment.”
The Baudelaires looked around hurriedly, but could see no photographer lurking in the tent. “Let’s calm down,” Violet said. “Remember the time we watched a scary movie when our parents were out for the evening, and we were jumpy for the rest of the night? Every time we heard a noise we thought vampires were breaking into the house to take us away.”
“Maybe somebody was breaking into the house to take us away,” Klaus said, and pointed to the photograph. “Sometimes things can go on right in front of your nose, but you don’t know about them.”
“Heebie-jeebies,” Sunny said, which meant something like, “Let’s get out of here. I’m really getting the creeps.”
“Me, too,” Violet said, “but let’s take all these documents with us. Maybe we can find someplace to look through them and find the information we want.”
“We can’t take all these papers with us,” Klaus said. “There are stacks and stacks. It would be like checking out every single book in the library, just to find the one you wanted to read.”
“We’ll stuff our pockets,” Violet said.
“My pockets are already stuffed,” Klaus said. “I have page thirteen of the Snicket file, and all those fragments from the Quagmire notebooks. I can’t get rid of those, but I don’t have room for anything else. It’s as if all the world’s secrets are here on paper, but which secrets do we take with us?”
“Maybe we can look through it quickly right here,” Violet said, “and take anything that has our names on it.”
“That’s not the best method of research,” Klaus said, “but I guess it will have to do. Here, help me lift the tablecloth so we can see everything better.”
Violet and Klaus began to lift the tablecloth together, but it was quite difficult to do in their disguise. Like eating an ear of corn, lifting the tablecloth while sharing a shirt was trickier than it looked, and the tablecloth slid back and forth as the older Baudelaires struggled with it. As I’m sure you know, if you slide a tablecloth back and forth, the things sitting on the tablecloth will slide, too, and Madame Lulu’s crystal ball began to slide closer and closer to the edge of the table.
“Mishap,” Sunny said.
“Sunny’s right,” Violet said. “Let’s be careful.”
“Right,” Klaus said. “We don’t want—”
Klaus did not get to finish his sentence about what he and his sisters did not want, because with a dull thunk and a loud, clattering crash! his sentence was finished for him. One of the most troublesome things in life is that what you do or do not want has very little to do with what does or does not happen. You might want to become the sort of author who works calmly at home, for example, but something could happen that would lead you to become the sort of author who works frantically in the homes of other people, often without their knowledge. You might want to marry someone you love very much, but something could happen that would prevent the two of you from ever seeing one another again. You might want to find out something important about your parents, but something could happen that would mean you wouldn’t find out for quite some time. And you might want, at a particular moment, for a crystal ball not to fall off a table and shatter into a thousand pieces, and even if it happened that the crystal ball did shatter, you might want the sound not to attract anyone’s attention. But the sad truth is that the truth is sad, and that what you want does not matter. A series of unfortunate events can happen to anyone, no matter what they want, and even though the three children did not want the flap of the fortune-telling tent to open, and they did not want Madame Lulu to step inside, as the afternoon turned to evening at Caligari Carnival, everything happened to the Baudelaire orphans that they did not want at all.
“What are you doing here, please?” Madame Lulu snarled. She strode quickly toward them, her own eyes glaring as angrily as the eye she was wearing around her neck. “What are the freaks doing in the tent, please, and what are the freaks doing under the table, please, and please answer me this instant, please, or you will be very, very sorry, please, thank you!”
The Baudelaire orphans looked up at the fake fortune-teller, and a strange thing happened. Rather than quaking with fear, or crying out in horror, or huddling together as Lulu shrieked at them, the three children stood resolute, a phrase which here means “did not become frightened at all.” Now that they knew that Madame Lulu used a machine on her ceiling and an archival library under her table to disguise herself as a magical and mysterious person, it was as if every frightening thing about her had melted away, and she was just a woman with an odd accent and a bad temper who had crucial information the Baudelaires needed. As Madame Lulu carried on, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny watched her without a terrified thought in their heads. Madame Lulu yelled and yelled, but the children felt just as angry at Lulu as Lulu was at them.
“How dare you, please, enter the tent without permission of Madame Lulu!” Madame Lulu cried. “I am the boss of Caligari Carnival, please, and you must obey me every single moment of your freakish lives! Please, I have never seen, please, the freaks who are so ungrateful to Madame Lulu! You are in the worst of the trouble, please!” By now, Lulu had reached the table, and saw the pile of broken glass which sparkled all over the floor. “You are the breakers of the crystal ball!” she bellowed, pointing a dirty fingernail at the Baudelaires. “You should be ashamed of your freaky selves! The crystal ball is the very valuable thing, please, and is having of the magical powers!”
“Fraud!” Sunny cried.
“That crystal ball wasn’t magical!” Violet translated angrily. “It was plain glass! And you’re not a real fortune-teller, either! We analyzed your lightning device, and we found your archival library.”
“This is all one big disguise,” Klaus said, gesturing around the tent. “You’re the one who should be ashamed of yourself.”
“Ple—” Madame Lulu said, but she shut her mouth before she could finish the word. She looked down at the Baudelaires, and her eyes grew very wide. Then she sat down in a chair, lay her head down next to the crystal ball, and began to cry. “I am ashamed of myself,” she said, in an unaccented voice, and reached up to her turban. With a flick of her wrist, she unraveled the turban, and her long, blond hair fell down around her tearstained face. “I am utterly ashamed of myself,” she said, through her tears, and her shoulders shook with sobs.
The Baudelaires looked at one another and then at the quaking woman sitting near them. It is hard for decent people to stay angry at someone who has burst into tears, which is why it is often a good idea to burst into tears if a decent person is yelling at you. The three children watched as Madame Lulu cried and cried, pausing only to wipe her eyes with her sleeves, and they could not help but feel a little bit sad, too, even as their anger continued.
“Madame Lulu,” Violet said firmly, although not as firmly as she would have liked, “why did you—”
“Oh,” Madame Lulu cried, at the sound of her name, “don’t call me that.” She reached up to her neck and yanked on the cord that held the eye around her neck. It broke with a snap! and she dropped it to the ground where it lay amid the pieces of shattered glass while she went on sobbing. “My name is Olivia,” she said finally, with a shuddering sigh. “I’m not Madame Lulu and I’m not a fortune-teller.”
“But why are you pretending to be these things?” Klaus asked. “Why are you wearing a disguise? Why are you helping Count Olaf?”
“I try to help everyone,” Olivia said sadly. “My motto is ‘give people what they want.’ That’s why I’m here at the carnival. I pretend to be a fortune-teller, and tell people whatever it is they want to hear. If Count Olaf or one of his henchmen steps inside and asks me where the Baudelaires are, I tell them. If Jacques Snicket or another volunteer steps inside and asks me if his brother is alive, I tell them.”
The Baudelaires felt so many questions tripping up inside them that they could scarcely decide which one to ask. “But where do you learn the answers?” Violet asked, pointing to the piles of paper underneath the table. “Where does all this information come from?”
“Libraries, mostly,” Olivia said, wiping her eyes. “If you want people to think you’re a fortune-teller, you have to answer their questions, and the answer to nearly every question is written down someplace. It just might take a while to find. It’s taken me a long time to gather my archival library, and I still don’t have all of the answers I’ve been looking for. So sometimes, when someone asks me a question and I don’t know the answer, I just make something up.”
“When you told Count Olaf that one of our parents was alive,” Klaus asked, “were you making it up, or did you know the answer?”
Olivia frowned. “Count Olaf didn’t ask anything about the parents of any carnival frea—wait a minute. Your voices sound different. Beverly, you have a ribbon in your hair, and your other head is wearing glasses. What’s going on?”
The three children looked at one another in surprise. They had been so interested in what Olivia was saying that they had completely forgotten about their disguises, but now it appeared that disguises might not be necessary. The siblings needed to have their questions answered honestly, and it seemed more likely that Olivia would give them honest answers if the children were honest themselves. Without speaking, the Baudelaires stood up and removed their disguises. Violet and Klaus unbuttoned the shirt they were sharing, stretching the arms they had been keeping cooped up, and then stepped out of the fur-cuffed pants, while Sunny unwrapped the beard from around her. In no time at all the Baudelaires were standing in the tent in their regular clothing—except for Violet, who was still wearing a hospital gown from her stay in the Surgical Ward—with their disguises on the floor in a heap. The older Baudelaires even shook their heads vigorously, a word which here means “in order to shake talcum powder out of their hair,” and rubbed at their faces so their disguised scars would disappear.
“I’m not really Beverly,” Violet said, “and this is my brother, not my other head. And that’s not Chabo the Wolf Baby. She’s—”
“I know who she is,” Olivia said, looking at all of them amazedly. “I know who all of you are. You’re the Baudelaires!”
“Yes,” Klaus said, and he and his sisters smiled. It felt as if it had been one hundred years since someone had called the Baudelaires by their proper names, and when Olivia recognized them, it was as if they were finally themselves again, instead of carnival freaks or any other fake identity. “Yes,” Klaus said again. “We’re the Baudelaires—three of them, anyway. We’re not sure, but we think there may be a fourth. We think one of our parents may be alive.”
“Not sure?” Olivia asked. “Isn’t the answer in the Snicket file?”
“We just have the last page of the Snicket file,” Klaus said, and pulled page thirteen out of his pocket again. “We’re trying to find the rest of it before Olaf does. But the last page says that there may be a survivor of the fire. Do you know if that’s true?”
“I have no idea,” Olivia admitted. “I’ve been looking for the Snicket file myself. Every time I see a piece of paper blow by, I chase after it to see if it’s one of the pages.”
“But you told Count Olaf that one of our parents is alive,” Violet said, “and that they’re hiding in the Mortmain Mountains.”
“I was just guessing,” Olivia said. “If one of your parents has survived, though, that’s probably where they’d be. Somewhere in the Mortmain Mountains is one of the last surviving headquarters of V.F.D. But you know that, of course.”
“We don’t know that,” Klaus said. “We don’t even know what V.F.D. stands for.”
“Then how did you learn to disguise yourselves?” Olivia asked in astonishment. “You used all three phases of V.F.D. Disguise Training—veiled facial disguises, with your fake scars, various finery disguises, with the clothing you wore, and voice fakery disguises, with the different voices you used. Now that I think of it, you’re even using disguises that look like things in my disguise kit.”
Olivia stood up and walked over to the trunk that sat in the corner. Taking a key out of her pocket, she unlocked it and began to go through its contents. The siblings watched as she lifted an assortment of things out of the trunk, all of which the children recognized. First she removed a wig that looked like the one Count Olaf had used when he was pretending to be a woman named Shirley, and then a fake wooden leg he had used as part of his ship captain disguise. She removed a pair of pots that Olaf’s bald associate had used when the children were living in Paltryville, and a motorcycle helmet that looked identical to the one Esmé Squalor had used to disguise herself as a police officer. Finally, Olivia held up a shirt with fancy ruffles all over it, exactly like the one that lay at the Baudelaires’ feet. “You see,” she said. “This is the same shirt as the one you two were wearing.”
“But we got ours from Count Olaf’s trunk,” Violet said.
“That makes sense,” Olivia replied. “All volunteers have the same disguise kit. There are people using these disguises all over the world, trying to bring Count Olaf to justice.”
“What?” Sunny asked.
“I’m confused, too,” Klaus said. “We’re all confused, Olivia. What is V.F.D.? Sometimes it seems like they’re good people, and sometimes it seems like they’re bad people.”
“It’s not as simple as all that,” Olivia said sadly. She took a surgical mask out of the trunk and held it in her hand. “The items in the disguise kit are just things, Baudelaires. You can use these things to help people or to harm them, and many people use them to do both. Sometimes it’s hard to know which disguise to use, or what to do once you’ve put one on.”
“I don’t understand,” Violet said.
“Some people are like those lions Olaf brought here,” Olivia said. “They start out being good people, but before they know it they’ve become something else. Those lions used to be noble creatures. A friend of mine trained them to smell smoke, which was very helpful in our work. But now Count Olaf is denying them food, and hitting them with his whip, and tomorrow afternoon they’ll probably devour one of the freaks. The world is a harum-scarum place.”
“Harum?” Sunny asked.
“It’s complicated and confusing,” Olivia explained. “They say that long ago it was simple and quiet, but that might be a legend. There was a schism in V.F.D.—a great big fight between many of the members—and since then it’s been hard for me to know what to do. I never thought I’d be the sort of person who helps villains, but now I do. Haven’t you ever found yourself doing something you never thought you’d do?”
“I guess so,” Klaus said, and turned to his sisters. “Remember when we stole those keys from Hal, at the Library of Records? I never thought I’d be a thief.”
“Flynn,” Sunny said, which meant something like, “And I never thought I would become a violent person, but I engaged in a sword fight with Dr. Orwell.”
“We’ve all done things we never thought we’d do,” Violet said, “but we always had a good reason.”
“Everybody thinks they have a good reason,” Olivia said. “Count Olaf thinks getting a fortune is a good reason to slaughter you. Esmé Squalor thinks being Olaf’s girlfriend is a good reason to join his troupe. And when I told Count Olaf where to find you, I had a good reason—because my motto is ‘give people what they want.’”
“Dubious,” Sunny said.
“Sunny’s not sure that’s a very good reason,” Violet translated, “and I must say I agree with her. You’ve caused a lot of grief, Olivia, to a lot of people, just so you could give Count Olaf what he wanted.”
Olivia nodded, and tears appeared in her eyes once more. “I know it,” she said miserably. “I’m ashamed of myself. But I don’t know what else to do.”
“You could stop helping Olaf,” Klaus said, “and help us instead. You could tell us everything you know about V.F.D. And you could take us to the Mortmain Mountains to see if one of our parents is really alive.”
“I don’t know,” Olivia said. “I’ve behaved so badly for so long, but maybe I could change.” She stood up straight, and looked sadly around the darkening tent. “I used to be a noble person,” she said. “Do you think I could be noble again?”
“I don’t know,” Klaus said, “but let’s find out. We could leave together, right now, and head north.”
“But how?” Olivia asked. “We don’t have a car, or a minivan, or four horses, or a large slingshot, or any other way to get out of the hinterlands.”
Violet retied the ribbon in her hair, and looked up at the ceiling in thought. “Olivia,” she said finally, “do the carts on that roller coaster still work?”
“The carts?” Olivia repeated. “Sort of. The wheels move, but there’s a small engine in each cart, and I think the engines have rusted away.”
“I think I could rebuild an engine using your lightning device,” Violet said. “After all, that piece of rubber is a bit like—”
“A fan belt!” Olivia finished. “That’s a good idea, Violet.”
“I’ll sneak out to the roller coaster tonight,” Violet said, “and get to work. We’ll leave in the morning, before anyone gets up.”
“Better not do it tonight,” Olivia said. “Count Olaf or his henchmen are always lurking around at night. It’d be better to leave in the afternoon, when everyone is at the House of Freaks. You can put the invention together first thing in the morning, when Olaf will be in here asking the crystal ball about you.”
“What will you do then?” Klaus asked.
“I have a spare crystal ball,” Olivia answered. “That isn’t the first one that’s been broken.”
“That’s not what I mean,” Klaus said. “I mean, you won’t tell Count Olaf that we’re here at the carnival, will you?”
Olivia paused for a moment, and shook her head. “No,” she said, but she did not sound very sure.
“Promise?” Sunny asked.
Olivia looked down at the youngest Baudelaire for a long time without answering. “Yes,” she finally said, in a very quiet voice. “I promise, if you promise to take me with you to find V.F.D.”
“We promise,” Violet said, and her siblings nodded in agreement. “Now, let’s start at the beginning. What does V.F.D. stand for?”
“Madame Lulu!” called a scratchy voice from outside the tent. The Baudelaires looked at one another in dismay as Count Olaf called the fake name of the woman beside them. “Madame Lulu! Where are you?”
“I am in fortune-telling tent, my Olaf,” Olivia replied, slipping into her accent as easily as the Baudelaires could slip into the ruffled shirt. “But do not come in, please. I am doing secret ritual with crystal ball of mine.”
“Well, hurry up,” Olaf said grumpily. “The pit is done, and I’m very thirsty. Come pour us all some wine.”
“Just one minute, my Olaf,” Olivia said, reaching down to grab the material for her turban. “Why don’t you be taking of a shower, please? You must be sweaty from the pit digging, and when you are done we will all be having of the wine together.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Count Olaf replied. “I took a shower ten days ago. I’ll go put on some extra cologne and meet you in your caravan.”
“Yes, my Olaf,” Olivia called, and then turned to whisper to the children as she wound the turban around her hair. “We’d better cut short our conversation,” she said. “The others will be looking for you. When we leave here tomorrow, I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”
“Couldn’t you just tell us a few things now?” Klaus asked. The Baudelaires had never been closer to the answers they were seeking, and delaying things any further was almost more than they could stand.
“No, no,” Olivia decided. “Here, I’d better help you get back into your disguises or you’ll get caught.”
The three children looked at one another reluctantly. “I guess you’re right,” Violet said finally. “The others will be looking for us.”
“Proffco,” Sunny said, which meant “I guess so,” and began to wind the beard around her. Violet and Klaus stepped into the fur-cuffed pants, and buttoned the shirt around them, while Olivia tied her necklace back together so she could become Madame Lulu once more.
“Our scars,” Klaus remembered, looking at his sister’s face. “We rubbed them off.”
“And our hair needs repowdering,” Violet said.
“I have a makeup pencil, please,” Olivia said, reaching into the trunk, “and also the powder of talcum.”
“You don’t have to use your accent right now,” Violet said, taking the ribbon out of her hair.
“Is good to practice, please,” Olivia replied. “I must be thinking of myself as Madame Lulu, otherwise I will please be forgetting of the disguise.”
“But you’ll remember our promises, won’t you?” Klaus asked.
“Promises?” Madame Lulu repeated.
“You promised you wouldn’t tell Count Olaf that we’re here,” Violet said, “and we promised to take you with us to the Mortmain Mountains.”
“Of course, Beverly,” Madame Lulu replied. “I will be keeping of the promise to freaks.”
“I’m not Beverly,” Violet said, “and I’m not a freak.”
Madame Lulu smiled, and leaned in to pencil a scar on the eldest Baudelaire’s face. “But it is time for disguises, please,” she said. “Don’t be forgetting of your disguised voices, or you will be recognized.”
“We won’t forget our disguises,” Klaus said, putting his glasses back in his pocket, “and you won’t forget your promise, right?”
“Of course, please,” Madame Lulu said, leading the children out of the fortune-telling tent. “Do not be of the worrying, please.”
The siblings stepped out of the tent with Madame Lulu, and found themselves bathed in the blue light of the famous hinterlands sunset. The light made each of them look a bit different, as if they were wearing another blue disguise on top of their carnival disguises. The powder in Violet’s hair made her head look a pale, strange color, Klaus’s fake scars looked darker and more sinister in the shadows, and Sunny looked like a small blue cloud, with small sparks of light where her teeth reflected the last of the sun. And Madame Lulu looked more like a fortune-teller, as the sunset glistened on the jewel in her turban, and shone on her long robe in an eerie light that looked almost magical.
“Good night, my freaky ones,” she said, and the Baudelaires looked at this mysterious woman and wondered if she had really changed her motto, and would become a noble person once more. “I will be keeping of the promise,” Madame Lulu said, but the Baudelaire orphans did not know if she was speaking the truth, or just telling them what they wanted to hear.
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