بخش 05

مجموعه: مجموعه بدبیاری ها / کتاب: سیرک مرگبار / فصل 5

بخش 05

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CHAPTER Eleven

There is another writer I know, who, like myself, is thought by a great deal of people to be dead. His name is William Shakespeare, and he has written four kinds of plays: comedies, romances, histories, and tragedies. Comedies, of course, are stories in which people tell jokes and trip over things, and romances are stories in which people fall in love and probably get married. Histories are retellings of things that actually happened, like my history of the Baudelaire orphans, and tragedies are stories that usually begin fairly happily and then steadily go downhill, until all of the characters are dead, wounded, or otherwise inconvenienced. It is usually not much fun to watch a tragedy, whether you are in the audience or one of the characters, and out of all Shakespeare’s tragedies possibly the least fun example is King Lear, which tells the story of a king who goes mad while his daughters plot to murder one another and other people who are getting on their nerves. Toward the end of the play, one of William Shakespeare’s characters remarks that “Humanity must perforce prey upon itself, like monsters of the deep,” a sentence which here means “How sad it is that people end up hurting one another as if they were ferocious sea monsters,” and when the character utters those unhappy words, the people in Shakespeare’s audience often weep, or sigh, or remind themselves to see a comedy next time.

I am sorry to report that the story of the Baudelaire orphans has reached a point where it is appropriate to borrow Mr. Shakespeare’s rather depressing sentence to describe how the Baudelaire orphans felt as they addressed the crowd gathered at the edge of the lion pit and tried to continue the story they found themselves in without turning it into a tragedy, when it seemed that everyone was eager to hurt one another. Count Olaf and his henchmen were eager to see Violet and Klaus jump to their carnivorous deaths, so that Caligari Carnival would become more popular, and Madame Lulu would continue telling Olaf’s fortune. Esmé Squalor was eager to see Madame Lulu thrown into the pit, so that she could get all of Olaf’s attention, and the Baudelaires’ coworkers were eager to help, so they could join Olaf’s troupe. The reporter from The Daily Punctilio and the other members of the audience were eager to see violence and sloppy eating, so their visit to the carnival would be worthwhile, and the lions were eager for a meal, after being whipped and denied food for so long. It seemed that every member of humanity gathered at the roller coaster that afternoon was eager for something awful to occur, and the children felt awful as Violet and Klaus stepped toward the plank and pretended they were just as eager.

“Thank you, Count Olaf, for choosing my other head and I as the first victims in the lion show,” Klaus said grandly in his high-pitched voice.

“Um, you’re welcome,” Count Olaf replied, looking a bit surprised. “Now, jump into the pit so we can watch the lions devour you.”

“And do it quickly!” cried the man with pimples on his chin. “I’d like my carnival visit to be worthwhile!”

“Instead of watching a freak jump into the pit,” Violet said, thinking quickly, “wouldn’t you rather watch someone push a freak into the pit? That would be much more violent.”

“Grr!” Sunny growled, in disguised agreement.

“That’s a good point,” one of the white-faced women said thoughtfully.

“Oh yes!” cried the woman with dyed hair. “I want to see the two-headed freak thrown to the lions!”

“I agree,” Esmé said, glaring at the two older Baudelaires and then at Madame Lulu. “I’d like to see someone thrown into the pit.”

The crowd cheered and applauded, and Sunny watched as her two siblings took a step toward the plank that hung over the pit where the lions were waiting hungrily. There are tiresome people who say that if you ever find yourself in a difficult situation, you should stop and figure out the right thing to do, but the three siblings already knew that the right thing to do was to dash over to the roller-coaster carts, hook up the fan belt, and escape into the hinterlands with Madame Lulu and her archival library, after calmly explaining to the gathered crowd that bloodshed was not a proper form of entertainment and that Count Olaf and his troupe ought to be arrested that very instant. But there are times in this harum-scarum world when figuring out the right thing to do is quite simple, but doing the right thing is simply impossible, and then you must do something else. The three Baudelaires, standing in their disguises in the midst of a crowd eager for violence and sloppy eating, knew that they could not do the right thing, but they thought they could try to get the crowd as frantic as possible, so that they might slip away in the confusion. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny weren’t sure if using the techniques of stalling and mob psychology was the right thing to do, but the Baudelaire orphans could not think of anything else, and whether or not it was the right thing to do, their plan did seem to be working.

“This is absolutely thrilling!” exclaimed the reporter excitedly. “I can see the headline now: ‘FREAKS PUSHED INTO LION PIT!’ Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see that!”

Sunny made the loudest growl she could, and pointed one of her tiny fingers at Count Olaf. “What Chabo is trying to convey in her half-wolf language,” Klaus said, “is that Count Olaf ought to be the one to push us into the pit. After all, the lion show was his idea.”

“That’s true!” the pimpled man said. “Let’s see Olaf throw Beverly and Elliot into the pit!”

Count Olaf scowled at the Baudelaires, and then gave the crowd a smile that showed quite a few of his filthy teeth. “I am deeply honored to be asked,” he said, bowing slightly, “but I’m afraid it would not be appropriate at this time.”

“Why not?” demanded the woman with dyed hair.

Count Olaf paused for a moment, and then made a short, high-pitched sound as disguised as Sunny’s growl. “I’m allergic to cats,” he explained. “You see? I’m sneezing already, and I’m not even on the plank.”

“Your allergies didn’t bother you when you were whipping the lions,” Violet said.

“That’s true,” the hook-handed man said. “I didn’t even know you had allergies, Olaf.”

Count Olaf glared at his henchman. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, but the crowd didn’t want to hear another one of the villain’s speeches.

“Push the freak in, Olaf!” someone shouted, and everyone cheered. Count Olaf frowned, but grabbed Klaus’s hand and led the two eldest Baudelaires onto the plank. But as the crowd roared around them and the lions roared beneath them, the Baudelaires could see that Count Olaf was no more eager to get any closer to the hungry lions than they were.

“Throwing people into pits isn’t really my job,” Count Olaf said nervously to the crowd. “I’m more of an actor.”

“I have an idea,” Esmé said suddenly, in a false sweet voice, “Madame Lulu, why don’t you walk down that plank and throw your freak to its death?”

“This is not really my job either, please,” Madame Lulu protested, looking at the children nervously. “I am fortune-teller, not freak-thrower.”

“Don’t be so modest, Madame Lulu,” Count Olaf said with a nasty smile. “Even though the lion show was my idea, you’re the most important person here at the carnival. Take my place on the plank, so we can see someone get pushed to their death.”

“What a nice offer!” the reporter cried. “You’re a very generous person, Count Olaf!”

“Let’s see Madame Lulu throw Beverly and Elliot into the pit!” cried the pimpled man, and everyone cheered again. As mob psychology began to take hold, the crowd seemed to be as flexible as it was excited, and they gave the fortune-teller an enormous round of applause as she nervously took Count Olaf’s place on the plank. The piece of wood teetered for a moment from the weight of so many people standing on it, and the older Baudelaires had to struggle to keep their balance. The crowd gasped in excitement, and then groaned as the two disguised children managed not to fall.

“This is so exciting!” squealed the reporter. “Maybe Lulu will fall in, too!”

“Yes,” Esmé snarled. “Maybe she will.”

“I don’t care who falls in!” announced the pimpled man. Frustrated by the delay in violence and sloppy eating, he tossed his cold beverage into the pit and splashed several lions, who roared in annoyance. “To me, a woman in a turban is just as freaky as a two-headed person. I’m not prejudiced!”

“Me neither!” agreed someone who was wearing a hat with the words CALIGARI CARNIVAL printed on it. “I’m just eager for this show to finally get started! I hope Madame Lulu is brave enough to push that freak in!”

“It doesn’t matter if she’s brave enough,” the bald man replied with a chuckle. “Everyone will do what they’re expected to do. What other choice do they have?”

Violet and Klaus had reached the end of the plank, and they tried as hard as they could to think of an answer to the bald man’s question. Below them was a roaring mass of hungry lions, who had gathered so closely together below the wooden board that they just seemed to be a mass of waving claws and open mouths, and around them was a roaring crowd of people who were watching them with eager smiles on their faces. The Baudelaires had succeeded in getting the crowd more and more frantic, but they still hadn’t found an opportunity to slip away in the confusion, and now it seemed like that opportunity would never knock. With difficulty, Violet turned her head to face her brother, and Klaus squinted back at her, and Sunny could see that her siblings’ eyes were filled with tears.

“Our luck may have run out,” she said.

“Stop whispering to your heads!” Count Olaf ordered in a terrible voice. “Madame Lulu, push them in this instant”

“We’re increasing the suspense!” Klaus cried back desperately.

“The suspense has been increased enough,” replied the man with the pimpled chin impatiently. “I’m getting tired of all this stalling!”

“Me, too!” cried the woman with dyed hair.

“Me, too!” cried someone else standing nearby. “Olaf, hit Lulu with the whip! That’ll get her to stop stalling!”

“Just one moment, please,” Madame Lulu said, and took another step toward Violet and Klaus. The plank teetered again, and the lions roared, hoping that their lunch was about to arrive. Madame Lulu looked at the elder Baudelaires frantically and the children saw her shoulders shrug slightly underneath her shimmering robe.

“Enough of this!” the hook-handed man said, and stepped forward impatiently. “I’ll throw them in myself. I guess I’m the only person here brave enough to do it!”

“Oh, no,” Hugo said. “I’m brave enough, too, and so are Colette and Kevin.”

“Freaks who are brave?” the hook-handed man sneered. “Don’t be ridiculous!”

“We are brave,” Hugo insisted. “Count Olaf, let us prove it to you, and then you can employ us!”

“Employ you?” Count Olaf asked with a frown.

“What a wonderful idea!” Esmé exclaimed, as if the idea had not been hers.

“Yes,” Colette said. “We’d like to find something else to do, and this seems like a wonderful opportunity.”

Kevin stepped forward and held out both his hands. “I know I’m a freak,” he said to Olaf, “but I think I could be just as useful as the hook-handed man, or your bald associate.”

“What?” the bald man snapped. “A freak like you, as useful as me? Don’t be ridiculous!”

“I can be useful,” Kevin insisted. “You just watch.”

“Stop all this bickering!” the pimpled man said crankily. “I didn’t visit this carnival to hear people argue about their work problems.”

“You’re distracting me and my other head,” Violet said in her low, disguised voice. “Let’s get off this plank and we can all discuss this matter calmly.”

“I don’t want to discuss things calmly!” cried the woman with dyed hair. “I can do that at home!”

“Yes!” agreed the reporter from The Daily Punctilio. “‘PEOPLE DISCUSS THINGS CALMLY’ is a boring headline! Somebody throw somebody else into the lion pit, and we’ll all get what we want!”

“Madame Lulu will do it, please!” Madame Lulu announced in a booming voice, and grabbed Violet and Klaus by the shirt. The Baudelaires looked up at her and saw a tear appear in one of her eyes, and she leaned down to speak to them. “I’m sorry, Baudelaires,” she murmured quietly, without a trace of accent, and reached down to Violet’s hand and took the fan belt away from her.

Sunny was so upset that she forgot to growl. “Trenceth!” she shrieked, which meant something along the lines of, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” but if the fake fortune-teller was ashamed of herself she did not behave accordingly. “Madame Lulu always says you must always give people what they want,” she said grandly in her disguised voice. “She will do the throwing, please, and she will do it now!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Hugo said, stepping forward eagerly. “I’ll do it!”

“You’re the one being ridiculous!” Colette said, contorting her body toward Lulu. “I’ll do it!”

“No, I’ll do it!” Kevin cried. “With both hands!”

“I’ll do it!” the bald man cried, blocking Kevin’s way. “I don’t want a freak like you for a coworker!”

“I’ll do it!” cried the hook-handed man.

“I’ll do it!” cried one of the white-faced women.

“I’ll do it!” cried the other one.

“I’ll get someone else to do it!” cried Esmé Squalor.

Count Olaf unwound his whip and flicked it over the heads of the crowd with a mighty snap! that made everyone cower, a word which here means “cringe and duck and hope not to get whipped.” “Silence!” he commanded in a terrible roar. “All of you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. You’re arguing like a bunch of children! I want to see those lions devouring someone this very instant, and whoever has the courage to carry out my orders will get a special reward!”

This speech, of course, was just the latest example of Count Olaf’s tedious philosophy concerning a stubborn mule moving in the proper direction if there is a carrot dangling in front of it, but the offer of a special reward finally got the crowd as frantic as possible. In a moment, the crowd of carnival visitors had become a mob of volunteers, all of whom swarmed eagerly forward to finally throw someone to the lions. Hugo lunged forward to push Madame Lulu, but bumped into the box that the white-faced women were holding, and the three of them fell in a heap at the edge of the pit. The hook-handed man lunged forward to grab Violet and Klaus, but his hook caught in the cord of the reporter’s microphone and became hopelessly entangled. Colette contorted her arms so as to grab Lulu’s ankles, but grabbed Esmé Squalor’s ankle by accident, and got her hands all twisted around one of Esmé’s fashionable shoes. The woman with dyed hair decided she might give it a try, and leaned forward to push the elder Baudelaires, but they stepped to the side and the woman fell into her husband, who accidentally slapped the man with pimples on his chin, and the three carnival visitors began arguing loudly. Quite a few people who were standing nearby decided to get in on the argument, and gathered around to shout in each other’s faces. Within moments of Count Olaf’s announcement, the Baudelaires were in the middle of a furious mass of humanity, who were standing over the children, yelling and pushing and preying on themselves like monsters of the deep, while the lions roared furiously in the pit below.

But then the siblings heard another sound in the pit, a horrible crunching and ripping sound that was far worse than the roaring of beasts. The crowd stopped arguing to see what was making the noise, but the Baudelaires were not interested in seeing anything more, and stepped back from the terrible sound, and huddled against one another with their eyes shut as tightly as possible. Even in this position, however, the children could hear the terrible, terrible sounds from the pit, even over the laughter and cheers of the carnival visitors as they crowded together at the edge of the pit to see what was happening, and so the three youngsters turned away from the commotion, and, with their eyes still closed, slipped away in the confusion, stumbling through all of the cheering people until at last they were in the clear, a phrase which here means “far enough away from the roller coaster that they could no longer see or hear what was going on.”

But the Baudelaire orphans, of course, could still imagine what was happening, as I can imagine it, even though I was not there that afternoon and have only read descriptions of what occurred down in the pit. The article in The Daily Punctilio says that it was Madame Lulu who fell first, but newspaper articles are often inaccurate, so it is impossible to say if this is actually true. Perhaps she did fall first, and the bald man fell after her, or perhaps Lulu managed to push the bald man in as she tried to escape his grasp, only to slip and join him in the pit just moments later. Or perhaps these two people were still struggling when the plank teetered one more time, and the lions reached both of them at the same time. It is likely that I will never know, just as I will probably never know the location of the fan belt, no matter how many times I return to Caligari Carnival to search for it. At first I thought that Madame Lulu dropped the strip of rubber on the ground near the pit, but I have searched the entire area with a shovel and a flashlight and found no sign of it, and none of the carnival visitors whose houses I have searched seem to have taken it home for a souvenir. Then I thought that perhaps the fan belt was thrown into the air during all the commotion, and perhaps landed up in the tracks of the roller coaster, but I have climbed over every inch without success. And there is, of course, the possibility that it has burned away, but lightning devices are generally made of a certain type of rubber that is difficult to burn, so that possibility seems remote. And so I must admit that I do not know for certain where the fan belt is, and, like knowing whether it was the bald man or Madame Lulu who fell first, that this may be information that will never come to me. But I can imagine that the small strip of rubber ended up in the same place as the woman who removed it from the lightning device and gave it to the Baudelaire orphans, only to snatch it back at the last minute, and in the same place as the associate of Olaf’s who was so eager to get a special reward. If I close my eyes, as the Baudelaire orphans closed their eyes as they stumbled away from this unfortunate event, I can imagine that the fan belt, like the bald man and my former associate Olivia, fell into the pit that Olaf and his henchmen had dug, and ended up in the belly of the beast.

CHAPTER Twelve

When the Baudelaire orphans finally opened their eyes, they found that they had stumbled to the entrance of Madame Lulu’s fortune-telling tent, with the initials V.F.D. still staring out at them. Most of the carnival visitors had walked over to the lion pit to see the show, so the siblings were alone in the fading afternoon, and once again there was no one watching over them as they stood in front of the tent, trembling and crying quietly. The last time they had stood for so long at the tent’s entrance, the decoration had seemed to change before their very eyes until they saw that it was not a painting of an eye, but the insignia of an organization that might help them. Now they stood and stared again, hoping that something would change before their very eyes until they saw what it was that they could do. But nothing seemed to change no matter how hard they looked. The carnival remained silent, and the afternoon continued to creep toward evening, and the insignia on the tent simply stared back at the weeping Baudelaires.

“I wonder where the fan belt is,” Violet said finally. Her voice was faint and almost hoarse, but her tears had stopped at last. “I wonder if it fell to the ground, or was thrown onto the tracks of the roller coaster, or if it ended up—”

“How can you think about a fan belt at a time like this?” Klaus asked, although his voice was not angry. Like his sister, he was still trembling inside the shirt they shared, and felt very tired, as is often the case after a long cry.

“I don’t want to think about anything else,” Violet said. “I don’t want to think about Madame Lulu and the lions, and I don’t want to think about Count Olaf and the crowd, and I don’t want to think about whether or not we did the right thing.”

“Right,” Sunny said gently.

“I agree,” Klaus said. “We did the best we could.”

“I’m not so sure,” Violet replied. “I had the fan belt in my hand. It was all we needed to finish the invention and escape from this awful place.”

“You couldn’t finish the invention,” Klaus said. “We were surrounded by a crowd of people who wanted to see someone thrown to the lions. It’s not our fault that she fell in instead.”

“And bald,” Sunny added.

“But we made the crowd even more frantic,” Violet said. “First we stalled the show, and then we used mob psychology to get them excited about throwing somebody into the pit.”

“Count Olaf is the one who thought up this whole ghastly scheme,” Klaus said. “What happened to Madame Lulu is his fault, not ours.”

“We promised to take her with us,” Violet insisted. “Madame Lulu kept her promise and didn’t tell Count Olaf who we were, but we didn’t keep ours.”

“We tried,” Klaus said. “We tried to keep ours.”

“Trying’s not good enough,” Violet said. “Are we going to try to find one of our parents? Are we going to try to defeat Count Olaf?”

“Yes,” Sunny said firmly, and wrapped her arms around Violet’s leg. The eldest Baudelaire looked down at her sister and her eyes filled with tears.

“Why are we here?” she asked. “We thought we could put on disguises and get ourselves out of trouble, but we’re worse off than when we began. We don’t know what V.F.D. stands for. We don’t know where the Snicket file is. And we don’t know if one of our parents is really alive.”

“There are some things we might not know,” Klaus said, “but that doesn’t mean we should give up. We can find out what we need to know. We can find out anything.”

Violet smiled through her tears. “You sound like a researcher,” she said.

The middle Baudelaire reached into his pocket and pulled out his glasses. “I am a researcher,” he said, and stepped toward the entrance to the tent. “Let’s get to work.”

“Ghede!” Sunny said, which meant something like, “I almost forgot about the archival library!” and she followed her siblings through the flap in the tent.

As soon as the Baudelaire orphans stepped inside, they saw that Madame Lulu had made quite a few preparations for her escape with the children, and it made them very sad to think that she would never return to the fortune-telling tent to collect the things she had waiting for her. Her disguise kit was all packed up again, and waiting by the door so she could take it with her. There was a cardboard box standing next to the cupboard, filled with food that could be eaten on the journey. And laid out on the table, next to Madame Lulu’s replacement crystal ball and various parts of the lightning device she had dismantled, was a large piece of paper that was badly torn and looked very old, but the Baudelaires saw at once that it could help them.

“It’s a map,” Violet said. “It’s a map of the Mortmain Mountains. She must have had it among her papers.”

Klaus put his glasses on and peered at it closely. “Those mountains must be very cold this time of year,” he said. “I didn’t realize the altitude was so high.”

“Never mind the altitude,” Violet said. “Can you find the headquarters Lulu was talking about?”

“Let’s see,” Klaus said. “There’s a star next to Plath Pass, but the key says that a star indicates a campground.”

“Key?” Sunny asked.

“This chart in the corner of the map is called a key,” Klaus explained. “You see? The mapmaker explains what each symbol means, so the map doesn’t get too cluttered.”

“There’s a black rectangle there in the Richter Range,” she said. “See? Over in the east?”

“A black rectangle indicates hibernation grounds,” Klaus said. “There must be quite a few bears in the Mortmain Mountains. Look, there are five hibernation grounds near Silent Springs, and a large cluster of them at the top of Paucity Peak.”

“And here,” Violet said, “in the Valley of Four Drafts, where it looks like Madame Lulu spilled coffee.”

“Valley of Four Drafts!” Klaus said.

“V.F.D.!” Sunny cried.

The Baudelaires peered together at the spot on the map. The Valley of Four Drafts was high up in the Mortmain Mountains, where it would be very cold. The Stricken Stream began there, and wound its way down to the sea in sagging curves through the hinterlands, and the map showed many, many hibernation grounds along the way. There was a small brown stain in the center of the valley, where four gaps in the mountains came together and where Lulu had probably spilled coffee, but there were no markings for a headquarters or for anything else.

“Do you think it means something?” Violet asked. “Or is it just a coincidence, like all the V.F.D.s we’ve come across?”

“I thought the V in V.F.D. stood for ‘volunteer,’” Klaus said. “That’s what we found written on a page of the Quagmire notebooks, and it’s what Jacques Snicket said.”

“Winnow?” Sunny asked, which meant “But where else could the headquarters be? There’s no other marking on the map.”

“Well, if V.F.D. is a secret organization,” Violet said, “they might not put their headquarters on a map.”

“Or it could be marked secretly,” Klaus said, and leaned in to take a good look at the stain. “Maybe this isn’t just a stain,” he said. “Maybe it’s a secret marking. Maybe Madame Lulu put some coffee here on purpose, so she could find the headquarters, but nobody else could.”

“I guess we’ll have to travel there,” Violet said with a sigh, “and find out.”

“How are we going to travel there?” Klaus said. “We don’t know where the fan belt is.”

“We might be missing some parts,” Violet replied, “but that doesn’t mean we should give up. I can build something else.”

“You sound like an inventor,” he said.

Violet smiled, and took her hair ribbon out of her pocket. “I am an inventor,” she said. “I’ll look around here and see if there’s anything else we can use. Klaus, you look under the table at the archival library.”

“We’d better get out of the clothes we’re sharing,” Klaus said, “or we can’t do two things at once.”

“Ingredi,” Sunny said, which meant “Meanwhile, I’ll look through all this food and make sure we have everything we need to prepare meals.”

“Good idea,” Violet said. “We’d better hurry before someone finds us.”

“There you are!” called a voice from the entrance to the tent, and the Baudelaires jumped. Violet hurriedly stuffed her ribbon back into her pocket, and Klaus removed his glasses, so they could turn around without revealing their disguise. Count Olaf and Esmé Squalor were standing together in the doorway of the tent, with their arms around one another, looking tired but happy, as if they were two parents coming home after a long day at work, instead of a vicious villain and his scheming girlfriend coming into a fortune-teller’s tent after an afternoon of violence. Esmé Squalor was clutching a small bouquet of ivy her boyfriend had apparently given her, and Count Olaf was holding a flaming torch, which was shining as brightly as his wicked eyes.

“I’ve been looking everywhere for you two,” he said. “What are you doing in here?”

“We decided to let all of you freaks join us,” Esmé said, “even though you weren’t very courageous at the lions’ pit.”

“That’s very kind of you to offer,” Violet said quickly, “but you don’t want cowards like us in your troupe.”

“Sure we do,” Count Olaf said, with a nasty smile. “We keep losing assistants, and it’s always good to have a few to spare. I even asked the woman who runs the gift caravan to join us, but she was too worried about her precious figurines to know that opportunity was knocking.”

“Besides,” Esmé said, stroking Olaf’s hair, “you don’t really have any choice. We’re going to burn this carnival down to eliminate all the evidence that we’ve been here. Most of the tents are already on fire, and the carnival visitors and carnival workers are running for their lives. If you don’t join us, where can you possibly go?”

The Baudelaires looked at one another in dismay. “I guess you’re right,” Klaus said.

“Of course we’re right,” Esmé said. “Now get out of here and help us pack up the trunk.”

“Wait a minute,” Count Olaf said, and strode over to the table. “What’s this?” he demanded. “It looks like a map.”

“It is a map,” Klaus admitted with a sigh, wishing he had hidden it in his pockets. “A map of the Mortmain Mountains.”

“The Mortmain Mountains?” Count Olaf said, examining the map eagerly. “Why, that’s where we’re heading! Lulu said that if there was a parent alive, they’d be hiding up there! Does the map show any headquarters on it?”

“I think these black rectangles indicate headquarters,” Esmé said, peering over Olaf’s shoulder. “I’m pretty good at reading maps.”

“No, they represent campgrounds,” Olaf said, looking at the key, but then his face broke out into a smile. “Wait a minute,” he said, and pointed to the stain the Baudelaires had been examining. “I haven’t seen one of these in a long time,” he said, stroking his scraggly chin.

“A small brown stain?” Esmé asked. “You saw that this morning.”

“This is a coded stain,” Count Olaf explained. “I was taught to use this on maps when I was a little boy. It’s to mark a secret location without anyone else noticing.”

“Except a smashing genius,” Esmé said. “I guess we’re heading for the Valley of Four Drafts.”

“V.F.D.,” Count Olaf said, and giggled. “That’s appropriate. Well, let’s go. Is there anything else useful in here?”

The Baudelaires looked quickly at the table, where the archival library was hidden. Underneath the black tablecloth decorated with silver stars was all the crucial information Madame Lulu had gathered to give her visitors what they wanted. The children knew that all sorts of important secrets could be found in the gathering of paper, and they shuddered to think what Count Olaf would do if he discovered all those secrets.

“No,” Klaus said finally. “Nothing else useful.”

Count Olaf frowned, and kneeled down so that his face was right next to Klaus’s. Even without his glasses, the middle Baudelaire could see that Olaf had not washed his one eyebrow for quite some time, and could smell his breath as he spoke. “I think you’re lying to me,” the villain said, and waved the lit torch in Klaus’s face.

“My other head is telling the truth,” Violet said.

“Then what is that food doing there?” Count Olaf demanded, pointing at the cardboard box. “Don’t you think food would be useful for a long journey?”

The Baudelaires sighed in relief. “Grr!” Sunny growled.

“Chabo compliments you on your cleverness,” Klaus said, “and so do we. We hadn’t noticed that box.”

“That’s why I’m the boss,” Count Olaf said, “because I’m smart and I have good eyesight.” He laughed nastily, and put the torch in Klaus’s hand. “Now then,” he said, “I want you to light this tent on fire, and then bring the box of food over to the car. Chabo, come with me. I’m sure I’ll find something for you to sink your teeth into.”

“Grr,” Sunny said doubtfully.

“Chabo would prefer to stay with us,” Violet said.

“I couldn’t care less what Chabo would prefer,” Olaf snarled, and picked up the youngest Baudelaire as if she were a watermelon. “Now get busy.”

Count Olaf and Esmé Squalor walked out of the tent with Chabo, leaving the elder Baudelaires alone with the flaming torch.

“We’d better pick up the box first,” Klaus said, “and light the tent from the outside. Otherwise we’ll be surrounded by flames in no time.”

“Are we really going to follow Olaf’s orders?” Violet asked, looking at the table again. “The archival library might have the answers to all our questions.”

“I don’t think we have a choice,” Klaus said. “Olaf is burning down the whole carnival, and riding with him is our only chance to get to the Mortmain Mountains. You don’t have time to invent something, and I don’t have time to look through the library.”

“We could find one of the other carnival employees,” Violet said, “and ask them if they would help us.”

“Everyone either thinks that we’re freaks or murderers,” Klaus said. “Sometimes even I think so.”

“If we join Count Olaf,” Violet said, “we might become even more freakish and murderous.”

“But if we don’t join him,” Klaus asked, “where can we possibly go?”

“I don’t know,” Violet said sadly, “but this can’t be the right thing to do, can it?”

“Maybe it’s harum-scarum,” Klaus said, “like Olivia said.”

“Maybe it is,” Violet said, and walked awkwardly with her brother to the cardboard box and picked it up. Klaus held the torch, and the two Baudelaires walked out of the fortune-telling tent for the last time.

When they first stepped out, still wearing the same pair of pants, it seemed as if night had already fallen, although the air was black and not the blue of the famous hinterlands sunsets. But then Violet and Klaus realized that the air was filling with smoke. Looking around, they saw that many of the tents and caravans were already on fire, as Count Olaf had said, and the flames were billowing black smoke up into the sky. Around them, the last of the carnival visitors were rushing to escape from Olaf’s treachery, and in the distance the siblings could hear the panicked roars of the lions, who were still trapped in the pit.

“This isn’t the kind of violence I like!” shouted the man with pimples on his face, coughing in the smoke as he ran by. “I prefer it when other people are in danger!”

“Me, too!” said the reporter from The Daily Punctilio, running alongside him. “Olaf told me that the Baudelaires are responsible! I can see the headline now: ‘BAUDELAIRES CONTINUE THEIR LIVES OF CRIME!’”

“What kind of children would do such a terrible thing?” asked the man with the pimpled chin, but Violet and Klaus could not hear the answer over the voice of Count Olaf.

“Hurry up, you two-headed freak!” he called from around the corner. “If you don’t come here right this minute, we’re leaving without you!”

“Grr!” Sunny growled frantically, and at the sound of their baby sister’s disguised voice, the older Baudelaires threw the lit torch into the fortune-telling tent, and ran toward Olaf’s voice without looking back, although it wouldn’t have mattered if they had looked. There was so much fire and smoke around them one more burning tent wouldn’t have made the carnival look any different. The only difference was that they would have known that part of the fire was of their own devising, a phrase which here means “because of their part in Count Olaf’s treachery,” and although neither Violet nor Klaus saw this with their own eyes, they knew it in their hearts, and I doubt that they would ever forget it.

When the older Baudelaires rounded the corner, they saw that all of Olaf’s other henchmen were already waiting at the long, black automobile, which was parked in front of the freaks’ caravan. Hugo, Colette, and Kevin were crowded in the back seat with the two white-faced women, while Esmé Squalor sat in the front, with Sunny on her lap. The hook-handed man took the box out of the older Baudelaires’ hands and threw it into the trunk while Count Olaf pointed to the caravan with his whip, which looked much shorter, and rough around the edges.

“You two will ride in that,” he said. “We’re going to attach it to the automobile and pull you along with us.”

“Isn’t there room in the car?” Violet asked nervously.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” the hook-handed man said with a sneer. “It’s too crowded. Good thing Colette is a contortionist, so she can curl into a ball at our feet.”

“Chabo already gnawed my whip down so it could be used as a connecting rope,” Count Olaf said. “I’ll just tie the caravan to the car with a double slipknot, and then we’ll ride off into the sunset.”

“Excuse me,” Violet said, “but I know a knot called the Devil’s Tongue that I think will hold better.”

“And if I remember the map correctly,” Klaus said, “we should ride east until we find Stricken Stream, so we should drive that way, away from the sunset.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” Count Olaf said quickly. “That’s what I meant. Tie it yourself if you want. I’ll go start the engine.”

Olaf tossed the rope to Klaus while the hook-handed man reached into the trunk again, and brought out a pair of walkie-talkies the children remembered from when they were living in Olaf’s home. “Take one of these,” he said, putting one in Violet’s hand, “so we can contact you if we need to tell you something.”

“Hurry up,” Count Olaf snapped, taking the other walkie-talkie. “The air is filling with smoke.”

The villain and his henchmen got into the automobile, and Violet and Klaus knelt down to attach the caravan. “I can’t believe I’m using this knot to help Count Olaf,” she said. “It feels like I’m using my inventing skills to participate in something wicked.”

“We’re all participating,” Klaus said glumly. “Sunny used her teeth to turn that whip into a connecting rope, and I used my map skills to tell Olaf which direction to head.”

“At least we’ll get there, too,” Violet said, “and maybe one of our parents will be waiting for us. There. The knot’s tied. Let’s get in the caravan.”

“I wish we were riding with Sunny,” Klaus said.

“We are,” Violet said. “We’re not getting to the Mortmain Mountains the way we want, but we’re getting there, and that’s what counts.”

“I hope so,” Klaus said, and he and his sister stepped into the freaks’ caravan and shut the door. Count Olaf started the engine of the car, and the caravan began to rock gently back and forth as the automobile pulled them away from the carnival. The hammocks swayed above the two siblings, and the rack of clothing creaked beside them, but the knot Violet had tied held fast, and the two vehicles began traveling in the direction Klaus had pointed.

“We might as well get comfortable,” Violet said. “We’ll be traveling a long time.”

“All night at least,” Klaus said, “and probably most of the next day. I hope they’ll stop and share the food.”

“Maybe we can make some hot chocolate later,” Violet said.

“With cinnamon,” Klaus said, smiling as he thought of Sunny’s recipe. “But what should we do in the meantime?”

Violet sighed, and she and her brother sat down on a chair so she could lay her head on the table, which was shaking slightly as the caravan headed out into the hinterlands. The eldest Baudelaire put down the walkie-talkie next to the set of dominoes. “Let’s just sit,” she said, “and think.”

Klaus nodded in agreement, and the two Baudelaires sat and thought for the rest of the afternoon, as the automobile pulled them farther and farther away from the burning carnival. Violet tried to imagine what the V.F.D. headquarters might look like, and hoped that one of their parents would be there. Klaus tried to imagine what Olaf and his troupe were talking about, and hoped that Sunny was not too frightened. And both the older Baudelaires thought about all that had happened at Caligari Carnival, and wondered whether or not they had done the right things. They had disguised themselves in order to find the answers to their questions, and now the answers were burning up under Madame Lulu’s table, as her archival library went up in smoke. They had encouraged their coworkers to find employment someplace where they wouldn’t be considered freaks, and now they had joined Count Olaf’s evil troupe. And they had promised Madame Lulu that they would take her with them, so she could lead them to V.F.D. and become a noble person again, but she had fallen into the lion pit and become nothing but a meal. Violet and Klaus thought about all of the trouble they were in, and wondered if it was all due to simple misfortune, or if some of it was of their own devising. These were not the most pleasant thoughts in the world, but it still felt good to sit and think about them, instead of hiding and lying and frantically thinking up plans. It was peaceful to sit and think in the freaks’ caravan, even when the caravan tilted slightly as they reached the beginning of the Mortmain Mountains and began to head uphill. It was so peaceful to sit and think that both Violet and Klaus felt as if they were waking up from a long sleep when Count Olaf’s voice came out of the walkie-talkie.

“Are you there?” Olaf asked. “Press the red button and speak to me!”

Violet rubbed her eyes, picked up the walkie-talkie, and held it so both she and her brother could hear. “We’re here,” she said.

“Good,” Count Olaf replied, “because I wanted to tell you that I learned something else from Madame Lulu.”

“What did you learn?” Klaus asked.

There was a pause, and the two children could hear cruel peals of laughter coming from the small device in Violet’s hand. “I learned that you are the Baudelaires!” Count Olaf cried in triumph. “I learned that you three brats followed me here and tricked me with sneaky disguises. But I’m too clever for you!”

Olaf began to laugh again, but over his laughter the two siblings could hear another sound that made them feel as shaky as the caravan. It was Sunny, and she was whimpering in fear.

“Don’t hurt her!” Violet cried. “Don’t you dare hurt her!”

“Hurt her?” Count Olaf snarled. “Why, I wouldn’t dream of hurting her! After all, I need one orphan to steal the fortune. First I’m going to make sure both of your parents are dead, and then I’m going to use Sunny to become very, very rich! No, I wouldn’t worry about this bucktoothed twerp—not yet. If I were you, I’d worry about yourselves! Say bye-bye to your sister, Baudebrats!”

“But we’re tied together,” Klaus said. “We hitched our caravan to you.”

“Look out the window,” Count Olaf said, and hung up the walkie-talkie. Violet and Klaus looked at one another, and then staggered to their feet and moved the curtain away from the window. The curtain parted as if they were watching a play, and if I were you I would pretend that this is a play, instead of a book—perhaps a tragedy, written by William Shakespeare—and that you are leaving the theater early to go home and hide under a sofa, because you will recall that there was a certain expression that, I’m sorry to say, must be used three times before this story is over, and it is in the thirteenth chapter when this expression will be used for the third time. The chapter is very short, because the end of this story happened so quickly that it does not take many words to describe, but the chapter does contain the third occasion requiring the expression “the belly of the beast,” and you would be wise to leave before the chapter begins, because that time didn’t count.

CHAPTER Thirteen

With the curtain parted, Violet and Klaus looked out the window and gasped at what they saw. In front of them was Count Olaf’s long, black automobile, winding its crooked way up the road toward the peaks of the Mortmain Mountains, with the freaks’ caravan tied to the bumper. They could not see their baby sister, who was trapped in the front seat with Olaf and his villainous girlfriend, but they could imagine how frightened and desperate she was. But the older Baudelaires also saw something that made them frightened and desperate, and it was something they had never thought to imagine.

Hugo was leaning out of the back window of the automobile, his hump hidden in the oversized coat Esmé Squalor had given him as a present, and he was holding tight to Colette’s ankles. The contortionist had twisted her body around to the back of the car so that her head was lying on the middle of the trunk, between two of the bullet holes that had provided air for the Baudelaires on their way to Caligari Carnival. Like her coworker, Colette was also holding tight to someone’s ankles—the ambidextrous ankles of Kevin, so that all three of Madame Lulu’s former employees were in a sort of human chain. At the end of the chain were Kevin’s hands, which were gripping a long, rusty knife. Kevin looked up at Violet and Klaus, gave them a triumphant grin, and brought the knife down as hard as he could on the knot Violet had tied.

The Devil’s Tongue is a very strong knot, and normally it would take a while for a knife to saw through it, even if it was very sharp, but the equal strength in Kevin’s two arms meant that the knife moved with a freakish power, instead of normally, and in an instant the knot was split in two.

“No!” Violet yelled.

“Sunny!” Klaus screamed.

With the caravan unhitched, the two vehicles began going in opposite directions. Count Olaf’s car continued to wind its way up the mountain, but without anything pulling it, the caravan began to roll back down, the way a grapefruit will roll down a flight of stairs if you let it go, and there was no way for Violet or Klaus to steer or stop the caravan from the inside. The Baudelaires screamed again, all three of them, Violet and Klaus alone in the rattling caravan, and Sunny in the car full of villains, as the two vehicles slipped further and further away from each other, but even though Count Olaf was getting closer and closer to what he wanted and the older Baudelaires were getting further and further away, it seemed to the children that all three siblings were ending up at the same place. Even as Count Olaf’s automobile slipped out of view, and the caravan began to slip on the bumpy road, it seemed to the Baudelaire orphans that they were all slipping into the belly of the beast, and that time, I’m sorry to say, counted very, very much.

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