فصل 03

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فصل 03

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CHAPTER Three As I’m sure you know, there are many words in our mysterious and confusing language that can mean two completely different things. The word “bear,” for instance, can refer to a rather husky mammal found in the woods, as in the sentence “The bear moved quietly toward the camp counselor, who was too busy putting on lipstick to notice,” but it can also refer to how much someone can handle, as in the sentence “The loss of my camp counselor is more than I can bear.” The word “yarn” can refer both to a colorful strand of wool, as in the sentence “His sweater was made of yarn,” and to a long and rambling story, as in the sentence “His yarn about how he lost his sweater almost put me to sleep.” The word “hard” can refer both to something that is difficult and something that is firm to the touch, and unless you come across a sentence like “The bears bear hard hard yarn yarns” you are unlikely to be confused. But as the Baudelaire orphans followed Friday across the coastal shelf toward the island where she lived, they experienced both definitions of the word “cordial,” which can refer both to a person who is friendly and to a drink that is sweet, and the more they had of one the more they were confused about the other.

“Perhaps you would care for some coconut cordial,” Friday said, in a cordial tone of voice, and she reached down to the seashell that hung around her neck. With one slim finger she plucked out a stopper, and the children could see that the shell had been fashioned into a sort of canteen. “You must be thirsty from your journey through the storm.”

“We are thirsty,” Violet admitted, “but isn’t fresh water better for thirst?”

“There’s no fresh water on the island,” Friday said. “There’s some saltwater falls that we use for washing, and a saltwater pool that’s perfect for swimming. But all we drink is coconut cordial. We drain the milk from coconuts and allow it to ferment.”

“Ferment?” Sunny asked.

“Friday means that the coconut milk sits around for some time, and undergoes a chemical process making it sweeter and stronger,” Klaus explained, having learned about fermentation in a book about a vineyard his parents had kept in the Baudelaire library.

“The sweetness will wash away the taste of the storm,” Friday said, and passed the seashell to the three children. One by one they each took a sip of the cordial. As Friday had said, the cordial was quite sweet, but there was another taste beyond the sweetness, something odd and strong that made them a bit dizzy. Violet and Klaus both winced as the cordial slipped thickly down their throats, and Sunny coughed as soon as the first drop reached her tongue.

“It’s a little strong for us, Friday,” Violet said, handing the seashell back to Friday.

“You’ll get used to it,” Friday said with a smile, “when you drink it at every meal. That’s one of the customs here.”

“I see,” Klaus said, making a note in his commonplace book. “What other customs do you have here?”

“Not too many,” Friday said, looking first at Klaus’s notebook and then around her, where the Baudelaires could see the distant figures of other islanders, all dressed in white, walking around the costal shelf and poking at the wreckage they found. “Every time there’s a storm, we go storm scavenging and present what we’ve found to a man named Ishmael. Ishmael has been on this island longer than any of us, and he injured his feet some time ago and keeps them covered in island clay, which has healing powers. Ishmael can’t even stand, but he serves as the island’s facilitator.”

“Demarc?” Sunny asked Klaus.

“A facilitator is someone who helps other people make decisions,” the middle Baudelaire explained.

Friday nodded in agreement. “Ishmael decides what detritus might be of use to us, and what the sheep should drag away.”

“There are sheep on the island?” Violet asked.

“A herd of wild sheep washed up on our shores many, many years ago,” Friday said, “and they roam free, except when they’re needed to drag our scavenged items to the arboretum, on the far side of the island over that brae over there.”

“Brae?” Sunny asked.

“A brae is a steep hill,” Klaus said, “and an arboretum is a place where trees grow.”

“All that grows in the island’s arboretum is one enormous apple tree,” Friday said, “or at least, that’s what I’ve heard.”

“You’ve never been to the far side of the island?” Violet asked.

“No one goes to the far side of the island,” Friday said. “Ishmael says it’s too dangerous with all the items the sheep have brought there. Nobody even picks the bitter apples from the tree, except on Decision Day.”

“Holiday?” Sunny asked.

“I guess it’s something of a holiday,” Friday said. “Once a year, the tides turn in this part of the ocean, and the coastal shelf is completely covered in water. It’s the one time a year that it’s deep enough to sail away from the island. All year long we build an enormous outrigger, which is a type of canoe, and the day the tides turn we have a feast and a talent show. Then anyone who wishes to leave our colony indicates their decision by taking a bite of bitter apple and spitting it onto the ground before boarding the outrigger and bidding us farewell.”

“Yuck,” the youngest Baudelaire said, imagining a crowd of people spitting up apple.

“There’s nothing yucky about it,” Friday said with a frown. “It’s the colony’s most important custom.”

“I’m sure it’s wonderful,” Violet said, reminding her sister with a stern glance that it is not polite to insult the customs of others.

“It is,” Friday said. “Of course, people rarely leave this island. No one has left since before I was born, so each year we simply light the outrigger on fire, and push it out to sea. Watching a burning outrigger slowly vanish on the horizon is a beautiful sight.”

“It sounds beautiful,” Klaus said, although the middle Baudelaire thought it sounded more creepy than beautiful, “but it seems a waste to build a canoe every year only to burn it up.”

“It gives us something to do,” Friday said with a shrug. “Besides building the outrigger, there’s not much to occupy us on the island. We catch fish, and cook meals, and do the laundry, but that still leaves much of the day unoccupied.”

“Cook?” Sunny asked eagerly.

“My sister is something of a chef,” Klaus said. “I’m sure she’d be happy to help with the cooking.”

Friday smiled, and put her hands in the deep pockets of her robe. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she said. “Are you sure you don’t want another sip of cordial?”

All three Baudelaires shook their heads. “No, thank you,” Violet said, “but it’s kind of you to offer.”

“Ishmael says that everyone should be treated with kindness,” Friday said, “unless they are unkind themselves. That’s why I left that horrible man Count Olaf behind. Were you traveling with him?”

The Baudelaires looked at one another, unsure of how to answer this question. On one hand, Friday seemed very cordial, but like the cordial she offered, there was something else besides sweetness in her description of the island. The colony’s customs sounded very strict, and although the siblings were relieved to be out of Count Olaf’s company, there seemed something cruel about abandoning Olaf on the coastal shelf, even though he certainly would have done the same to the orphans if he’d had the opportunity. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny were not sure how Friday would react if they admitted being in the villain’s company, and they did not reply for a moment, until the middle Baudelaire remembered an expression he had read in a novel about people who were very, very polite.

“It depends on how you look at it,” Klaus said, using a phrase which sounds like an answer but scarcely means anything at all. Friday gave him a curious look, but the children had reached the end of the coastal shelf and were standing at the edge of the island. It was a sloping beach with sand so white that Friday’s white robe looked almost invisible, and at the top of the slope was an outrigger, fashioned from wild grasses and the limbs of trees, which looked nearly finished, as if Decision Day was arriving soon. Past the outrigger was an enormous white tent, as long as a school bus. The Baudelaires followed Friday inside the tent, and found to their surprise that it was filled with sheep, who all lay dozing on the ground. The sheep appeared to be tied together with thick, frayed rope, and towering over the sheep was an old man smiling at the Baudelaires through a beard as thick and wild as the sheep’s woolly coats. He sat in an enormous chair that looked as if it were fashioned out of white clay, and two more piles of clay rose up where his feet should have been. He was wearing a robe like Friday’s and had a similar seashell hanging from his belt, and his voice was as cordial as Friday’s as he smiled down at the three siblings.

“What have we here?” he said.

“I found three castaways on the coastal shelf,” Friday said proudly.

“Welcome, castaways,” Ishmael said. “Forgive me for remaining seated, but my feet are quite sore today, so I’m making use of our healing clay. It’s very nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Ishmael,” said Violet, who thought healing clay was of dubious scientific efficacy, a phrase which here means “unlikely to heal sore feet.”

“Call me Ish,” said Ishmael, leaning down to scratch the heads of one of the sheep. “And what shall I call you?”

“Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire,” Friday chimed in, before the siblings could introduce themselves.

“Baudelaire?” Ishmael repeated, and raised his eyebrows. He gazed at the three children in silence as he took a long sip of cordial from his seashell, and for just one moment his smile seemed to disappear. But then he gazed down at the siblings and grinned heartily. “We haven’t had new islanders in quite some time. You’re welcome to stay as long as you’d like, unless you’re unkind, of course.”

“Thank you,” Klaus said, as kindly as he could. “Friday has told us a few things about the island. It sounds quite interesting.”

“It depends on how you look at it,” Ishmael said. “Even if you want to leave, you’ll only have the opportunity once a year. In the meantime, Friday, why don’t you show them to a tent, so they can change their clothes? We should have some new woolen robes that fit you nicely.”

“We would appreciate that,” Violet said. “Our concierge uniforms are quite soaked from the storm.”

“I’m sure they are,” Ishmael said, twisting a strand of beard in his fingers. “Besides, our custom is to wear nothing but white, to match the sand of the islands, the healing clay of the pool, and the wool of the wild sheep. Friday, I’m surprised you are choosing to break with tradition.”

Friday blushed, and her hand rose to the sunglasses she was wearing. “I found these in the wreckage,” she said. “The sun is so bright on the island, I thought they might come in handy.”

“I won’t force you,” Ishmael said calmly, “but it seems to me you might prefer to dress according to custom, rather than showing off your new eyewear.”

“You’re right, Ishmael,” Friday said quietly, and removed her sunglasses with one hand while the other hand darted into one of her robe’s deep pockets.

“That’s better,” Ishmael said, and smiled at the Baudelaires. “I hope you will enjoy living on this island,” he said. “We’re all castaways here, from one storm or another, and rather than trying to return to the world, we’ve built a colony safe from the world’s treachery.”

“There was a treacherous person with them,” Friday piped up eagerly. “His name was Count Olaf, but he was so nasty that I didn’t let him come with us.”

“Olaf?” Ishmael said, and his eyebrows raised again. “Is this man a friend of yours?”

“Fat chance,” Sunny said.

“No, he isn’t,” Violet translated quickly. “To tell you the truth, we’ve been trying to escape from Count Olaf for quite some time.”

“He’s a dreadful man,” Klaus said.

“Same boat,” Sunny said.

“Hmmm,” Ishmael said thoughtfully. “Is that the whole story, Baudelaires?”

The children looked at one another. Of course, the few sentences they’d uttered were not the whole story. There was much, much more to the story of the Baudelaires and Count Olaf, and if the children had recited all of it Ishmael probably would have wept until the tears melted away the clay so his feet were bare and he had nothing to sit on. The Baudelaires could have told the island’s facilitator about all of Count Olaf’s schemes, from his vicious murder of Uncle Monty to his betrayal of Madame Lulu at the Caligari Carnival. They could have told him about his disguises, from his false peg leg when he was pretending to be Captain Sham, to his running shoes and turban when he was calling himself Coach Genghis. They could have told Ishmael about Olaf’s many comrades, from his girlfriend Esmé Squalor to the two white-faced women who had disappeared in the Mortmain Mountains, and they could have told Ishmael about all of the unsolved mysteries that still kept the Baudelaires awake at night, from the disappearance of Captain Widdershins from an underwater cavern to the strange taxi driver who had approached the children outside the Hotel Denouement, and of course they could have told Ishmael about that ghastly day at Briny Beach, when they first heard the news of their parents’ deaths. But if the Baudelaires had told Ishmael the whole story, they would have had to tell the parts that put the Baudelaires in an unfavorable light, a phrase which here means “the things the Baudelaires had done that were perhaps as treacherous as Olaf.” They would have talked about their own schemes, from digging a pit to trap Esmé to starting the fire that destroyed the Hotel Denouement. They would have mentioned their own disguises, from Sunny pretending to be Chabo the Wolf Baby to Violet and Klaus pretending to be Snow Scouts, and their own comrades, from Justice Strauss, who turned out to be more useful than they had first thought, to Fiona, who turned out to be more treacherous than they had imagined. If the Baudelaire orphans had told Ishmael the whole story, they might have looked as villainous as Count Olaf. The Baudelaires did not want to find themselves back on the coastal shelf, with all the detritus of the storm. They wanted to be safe from treachery and harm, even if the customs of the island colony were not exactly to their liking, and so, rather than telling Ishmael the whole story, the Baudelaires merely nodded, and said the safest thing they could think of.

“It depends on how you look at it,” Violet said, and her siblings nodded in agreement.

“Very well,” Ishmael said. “Run along and find your robes, and once you’ve changed, please give all of your old things to Friday and we’ll haul them off to the arboretum.”

“Everything?” Klaus said.

Ishmael nodded. “That’s our custom.”

“Occulaklaus?” Sunny asked, and her siblings quickly explained that she meant something like, “What about Klaus’s glasses?”

“He can scarcely read without them,” Violet added.

Ishmael raised his eyebrows again. “Well, there’s no library here,” he said quickly, with a nervous glance at Friday, “but I suppose your eyeglasses are of some use. Now, hurry along, Baudelaires, unless you’d like a sip of cordial before you go.”

“No, thank you,” Klaus said, wondering how many times he and his siblings would be offered this strange, sweet beverage. “My siblings and I tried some, and didn’t care much for the taste.”

“I won’t force you,” Ishmael said again, “but your initial opinion on just about anything may change over time. See you soon, Baudelaires.”

He gave them a small wave, and the Baudelaires waved back as Friday led them out of the tent and farther uphill where more tents were fluttering in the morning breeze.

“Choose any tent you like,” Friday said. “We all switch tents each day—except for Ishmael, because of his feet.”

“Isn’t it confusing to sleep in a different place each night?” Violet asked.

“It depends on how you look at it,” Friday said, taking a sip from her seashell. “I’ve never slept any other way.”

“Have you lived your whole life on this island?” Klaus said.

“Yes,” Friday said. “My mother and father took an ocean cruise while she was pregnant, and ran into a terrible storm. My father was devoured by a manatee, and my mother was washed ashore when she was pregnant with me. You’ll meet her soon. Now please hurry up and change.”

“Prompt,” Sunny assured her, and Friday took her hand out of her pocket and shook Sunny’s. The Baudelaires walked into the nearest tent, where a pile of robes lay folded in one corner. In moments, they changed into their new clothes, happy to discard their concierge uniforms, which were soaked and salty from the night’s storm. When they were finished, however, they stood and stared for a moment at the pile of damp clothing. The Baudelaires felt strange to don the garments of shibboleth, a phrase which here means “wear the warm and somewhat unflattering clothing that was customary to people they hardly knew.” It felt as if the three siblings were casting away everything that had happened to them prior to their arrival on the island. Their clothing, of course, was not the Baudelaires’ whole story, as clothing is never anyone’s whole story, except perhaps in the case of Esmé Squalor, whose villainous and fashionable clothing revealed just how villainous and fashionable she was. But the Baudelaires could not help but feel that they were abandoning their previous lives, in favor of new lives on an island of strange customs.

“I won’t throw away this ribbon,” Violet said, winding the slender piece of cloth through her fingertips. “I’m still going to invent things, no matter what Ishmael says.”

“I’m not throwing away my commonplace book,” Klaus said, holding the dark blue notebook. “I’ll still research things, even if there’s no library here.”

“No throw this,” Sunny said, and held up a small metal implement so her siblings could see. One end was a small, simple handle, perfect for Sunny’s petite hands, and the other end branched into several sturdy wires that were meshed together like a small shrubbery.

“What is that?” Violet asked.

“Whisk,” Sunny said, and she was exactly right. A whisk is a kitchen tool used to mix ingredients together rapidly, and the youngest Baudelaire was happy to have such a useful item in her possession.

“Yes,” Klaus said. “I remember our father used to use it when he prepared scrambled eggs. But where did it come from?”

“Gal Friday,” Sunny said.

“She knows Sunny can cook,” Violet said, “but she must have thought Ishmael would make her throw the whisk away.”

“I guess she’s not so eager to follow all of the colony’s customs,” Klaus said.

“Guesso,” Sunny agreed, and put the whisk in one of her robe’s deep pockets. Klaus did the same with his commonplace book, and Violet did the same with her ribbon, and the three of them stood together for a moment, sharing their pocketed secrets. It felt strange to be keeping secrets from people who had taken them in so kindly, just as it felt strange not to tell Ishmael their whole story. The secrets of the ribbon, the commonplace book, and the whisk felt submerged, a word for “hidden” that usually applies to things underwater, such as a submarine submerged in the sea, or a boat’s figurehead submerged in a coastal shelf, and with each step the Baudelaires took out of the tent, they felt their submerged secrets bumping up against them from within the pockets of their robes.

The word “ferment,” like the words “bear,” “yarn,” and “hard,” can mean two completely different things. One meaning is the chemical process by which the juice of certain fruits becomes sweeter and stronger, as Klaus explained to his siblings on the coastal shelf. But the other meaning of “ferment” refers to something building inside someone, like a secret that may be eventually found out, or a scheme that someone has been planning for quite some time. As the three Baudelaires exited the tent, and handed the detritus of their previous lives to Friday, they felt their own secrets fermenting inside them, and wondered what other secrets and schemes lay undiscovered. The Baudelaire orphans followed Friday back down the sloping beach, and wondered what else was fermenting on this strange island that was their new home.

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