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Unless you are unusually insouciant—which is merely a fancy way of saying “the opposite of curious”—or one of the Baudelaire orphans yourself, you are probably wondering whether or not the three children drank the coconut cordial that was offered them rather forcefully by Ishmael. Perhaps you have been in situations yourself, where you have been offered a beverage or food you would rather not consume by someone you would rather not refuse, or perhaps you have been warned about people who will offer such things and told to avoid succumbing, a word which here means “accepting, rather than refusing, what you are given.” Such situations are often referred to as incidents of “peer pressure,” as “peer” is a word for someone with whom you are associating and “pressure” is a word for the influence such people often have. If you are a braeman or braewoman—a term for someone who lives all alone on a hill—then peer pressure is fairly easy to avoid, as you have no peers except for the occasional wild sheep who may wander near your cave and try to pressure you into growing a woolly coat. But if you live among people, whether they are people in your family, in your school, or in your secret organization, then every moment of your life is an incident of peer pressure, and you cannot avoid it any more than a boat at sea can avoid a surrounding storm. If you wake up in the morning at a particular time, when you would rather hide your head under your pillow until you are too hungry to stand it any longer, then you are succumbing to the peer pressure of your warden or morning butler. If you eat a breakfast that someone prepares for you, or prepare your own breakfast from food you have purchased, when you would rather stomp your feet and demand delicacies from faraway lands, then you are succumbing to the peer pressure of your grocer or breakfast chef. All day long, everyone in the world is succumbing to peer pressure, whether it is the pressure of their fourth grade peers to play dodge ball during recess or the pressure of their fellow circus performers to balance rubber balls on their noses, and if you try to avoid every instance of peer pressure you will end up without any peers whatsoever, and the trick is to succumb to enough pressure that you do not drive your peers away, but not so much that you end up in a situation in which you are dead or otherwise uncomfortable. This is a difficult trick, and most people never master it, and end up dead or uncomfortable at least once during their lives.
The Baudelaire orphans had been uncomfortable more than enough times over the course of their misadventures, and having found themselves on a distant island with only one set of peers to choose from, they succumbed to the pressure of Ishmael, and Friday, and Mrs. Caliban, and all of the other islanders who lived with the children in their new home. They sat in Ishmael’s tent, and drank a bit of coconut cordial as they ate their lunch of spice-free ceviche, even though the drink left them feeling a bit dizzy and the food left them feeling a bit slimy, rather than leaving the colony and finding their own food and drink. They wore their white robes, even though they were a bit heavy for the warm weather, rather than trying to fashion garments of their own. And they kept quiet about the discouraged items they were keeping in their pockets—Violet’s hair ribbon, Klaus’s commonplace book, and Sunny’s whisk—rather than rocking the boat, as the colony’s facilitator had warned them, not even daring to ask Friday why she had given Sunny the kitchen implement in the first place.
But despite the strong taste of cordial, the bland taste of the food, the unflattering robes, and the secret items, the Baudelaires still felt more at home than they had in quite some time. Although the children had always managed to find a companion or two no matter where they wandered, the Baudelaires had not really been accepted by any sort of community since Count Olaf had framed the children for murder, forcing them to hide and disguise themselves countless times. The Baudelaires felt safe living with the colony, knowing that Count Olaf was not allowed near them, and that their associates, if they, too, ended up as castaways, would be welcomed into the tent as long as they, too, succumbed to the islanders’ peer pressure. Spiceless food, unflattering clothing, and suspicious beverages seemed a fair price to pay for a safe place to call home, and for a group of people who, if not exactly friends, were at least companions for as long as they wished to stay.
The days passed, and the island remained a safe if bland place for the siblings. Violet would have liked to spend her days assisting the islanders in the building of the enormous outrigger, but at Ishmael’s suggestion she assisted Friday, Robinson, and Professor Fletcher with the colony’s laundry, and spent most of her time at the saltwater falls, washing everyone’s robes and laying them out on rocks to dry in the sun. Klaus would have enjoyed walking over the brae to catalog all of the detritus the colonists had collected while storm scavenging, but everyone had agreed with the facilitator’s idea that the middle Baudelaire would stay at Ishmael’s side at all times, so he spent his days piling clay on the old man’s feet, and running to refill his seashell with cordial.
Only Sunny was allowed to do something in her area of expertise, but assisting Mrs. Caliban with the cooking was not very interesting, as the colony’s three meals were very easy to prepare. Every morning, the youngest Baudelaire would retrieve the seaweed that Alonso and Ariel had harvested from the sea, after it had been rinsed by Sherman and Robinson and laid out to dry by Erewhon and Weyden, and simply throw it into a bowl for breakfast. In the afternoon, Ferdinand and Larsen would bring an enormous pile of fish they had captured in the colony’s nets, so Sunny and Mrs. Caliban could mush it into ceviche with their runcible spoons, and in the evening the two chefs would light a fire and slowly simmer a pot of wild onions Omeros and Finn had picked, along with wild grasses reaped by Brewster and Calypso that served as dinner’s only spice, and serve the soup alongside seashells full of the coconut cordial Byam and Willa had fermented from coconuts Mr. Pitcairn and Ms. Marlow had gathered from the island’s coconut trees. None of these recipes was very challenging to prepare, and Sunny ended up spending much of her day in idleness, a word which here means “lounging around with Mrs. Caliban, sipping coconut cordial and staring at the sea.”
After so many frantic encounters and tragic experiences, the children were not accustomed to leading such a calm life, and for the first few days they felt a bit restless without the treachery of Count Olaf and his sinister mysteries, and the integrity of V.F.D. and its noble deeds, but with every good night’s sleep in the breezy comfort of a tent, and every day’s work at easy tasks, and every sip of the sweet coconut cordial, the strife and treachery of the children’s lives felt farther and farther away. After a few days, another storm arrived, just as Ishmael had predicted, and as the sky blackened and the island was covered in wind and rain, the Baudelaires huddled with the other islanders in the facilitator’s tent, and they were grateful for their uneventful life on the colony, rather than the stormy existence they had endured since their parents had died.
“Janiceps,” Sunny said to her siblings the next morning, as the Baudelaires walked along the coastal shelf. According to custom, the islanders were all storm scavenging, and here and there on the flat horizon, poking at the detritus of the storm. By “Janiceps,” the youngest Baudelaire meant “I’m of two minds about living here,” an expression which means that she couldn’t decide if she liked the island colony or not.
“I know what you mean,” Klaus said, who was carrying Sunny on his shoulders. “Life isn’t very exciting here, but at least we’re not in any danger.”
“I suppose we should be grateful for that,” Violet said, “even though life in the colony seems quite strict.”
“Ishmael keeps saying he won’t force us to do anything,” Klaus said, “but everything feels a bit forced anyway.”
“At least they forced Olaf away,” Violet pointed out, “which is more than V.F.D. ever accomplished.”
“Diaspora,” Sunny said, which meant something like, “We live in such a distant place that the battle between V.F.D. and their enemies seems very far away.”
“The only V.F.D. around here,” Klaus said, leaning down to peer into a pool of water, “is our Very Flavorless Diet.”
Violet smiled. “Not so long ago,” she said, “we were desperate to reach the last safe place by Thursday. Now, everywhere we look is safe, and we have no idea what day it is.”
“I still miss home,” Sunny said.
“Me too,” Klaus said. “For some reason I keep missing the library at Lucky Smells Lumbermill.”
“Charles’s library?” Violet asked, with an amazed smile. “It was a beautiful room, but it only had three books. Why on earth do you miss that place?”
“Three books are better than none,” Klaus said. “The only thing I’ve read since we arrived here is my own commonplace book. I suggested to Ishmael that he could dictate a history of the colony to me, and that I’d write it down so the islanders would know about how this place came to be. Other colonists could write down their own stories, and eventually this island would have its own library. But Ishmael said that he wouldn’t force me, but he didn’t think it would be a good idea to write a book that would upset people with its descriptions of storms and castaways. I don’t want to rock the boat, but I miss my research.”
“I know what you mean,” Violet said. “I keep missing Madame Lulu’s fortune-telling tent.”
“With all those phony magic tricks?” Klaus said.
“Her inventions were pretty ridiculous,” Violet admitted, “but if I had those simple mechanical materials, I think I could make a simple water filtration system. If we could manufacture fresh water, the islanders wouldn’t have to drink coconut cordial all day long. But Friday said that the drinking of the cordial was inveterate.”
“Nospine?” Sunny asked.
“She meant people had been drinking it for so long that they wouldn’t want to stop,” Violet said. “I don’t want to rock the boat, but I miss working on inventions. What about you, Sunny? What do you miss?”
“Fountain,” Sunny said.
“The Fowl Fountain, at the Village of Fowl Devotees?” Klaus asked.
“No,” Sunny said, shaking her head. “In city.”
“The Fountain of Victorious Finance?” Violet asked. “Why on earth would you miss that?”
“First swim,” Sunny said, and her siblings gasped.
“You can’t remember that,” Klaus said.
“You were just a few weeks old,” Violet said.
“I remember,” Sunny said firmly, and the elder Baudelaires shook their heads in wonder. Sunny was talking about an afternoon long ago, during an unusually hot autumn in the city. The Baudelaire parents had some business to attend to, and brought along the children, promising to stop at the ice cream store on the way home. The family had arrived at the banking district, pausing to rest at the Fountain of Victorious Finance, and the Baudelaires’ mother had hurried into a building with tall, curved towers poking out in all directions, while their father waited outside with the children. The hot weather made Sunny very cranky, and she began to fuss. To quiet her, the Baudelaires’ father dipped her bare feet in the water, and Sunny had smiled so enthusiastically that he had begun to dunk Sunny’s body, clothes and all, into the fountain, until the youngest Baudelaire was screaming with laughter. As you may know, the laughter of babies is often very contagious, and before long not only were Violet and Klaus also jumping into the fountain, but the Baudelaires’ father, too, all of them laughing and laughing as Sunny grew more and more delighted. Soon the Baudelaires’ mother came out of the building, and looked in astonishment for a moment at her soaking and giggling family, before putting down her pocketbook, kicking off her shoes, and joining them in the refreshing water. They laughed all the way home, each footstep a wet squish, and sat out on their front steps to dry in the sun. It was a wonderful day, but very long ago—so long ago Violet and Klaus had almost forgotten it themselves. But as Sunny reminded them, they could almost hear her newborn laughter, and see the incredulous looks of the bankers who were passing by.
“It’s hard to believe,” Violet said, “that our parents could laugh like that, when they were already involved with V.F.D. and all its troubles.”
“The schism must have seemed a world away that day,” Klaus said.
“And now,” Sunny said, and her siblings nodded in agreement. With the morning sun blazing overhead, and the sea sparkling at the edge of the coastal shelf, their surroundings seemed as far from trouble and treachery as that afternoon in the Fountain of Victorious Finance. But trouble and treachery are rarely as far away as one thinks they are on the clearest of days. On that faraway afternoon in the banking district, for instance, trouble could be found in the corridors of the towered building, where the Baudelaires’ mother was handed a weather report and a naval map that would reveal, when she studied them by candlelight that evening, far greater trouble than she had imagined, and treachery could be found just past the fountain, where a woman disguised as a pretzel vendor took a photograph of the laughing family, and slipped her camera into the coat pocket of a financial expert who was hurrying to a restaurant, where the coat-check boy would remove the camera and hide it in an enormous parfait glass of fruit that a certain playwright would order for dessert, only to have a quick-thinking waitress pretend that the cream in the zabaglione sauce had gone sour and dump the entire dish into a garbage can in the alley, where I had been sitting for hours, pretending to look for a lost puppy who was actually scurrying into the back entrance of the towered building, removing her disguise, and folding it into her handbag, and this morning on the coastal shelf was no different. The Baudelaires took a few more steps in silence, squinting into the sun, and then Sunny knocked gently on her brother’s head and pointed out at the horizon. The three children looked carefully, and saw an object resting unevenly on the edge of the shelf, and this was trouble, even though it didn’t look like trouble at the time. It was hard to say what it looked like, only that it was large, and square, and ragged, and the children hurried closer to get a better view. Violet led the way, stepping carefully around a few crabs snapping along the shelf, and Klaus followed behind, with Sunny still on his shoulders, and even when they reached the object they found it difficult to identify.
At first glance, the large, square, ragged object looked like a combination of everything the Baudelaires missed. It looked like a library, because the object seemed to be nothing more than stacks and stacks of books, piled neatly on top of one another in a huge cube. But it also looked like an invention, because wrapped around the cube of books, the way string is wrapped around a package, were thick straps that appeared to be made out of rubber, in varying shades of green, and on one side of the cube was affixed a large flap of battered wood. And it also looked like a fountain, as water was trickling out of it from all sides, leaking through the bloated pages of the books and splashing down to the sand of the coastal shelf. But although this was a very unusual sight, the children stared not at the cube but at something at the top of this strange contraption. It was a bare foot, hanging over the side of the cube as if there were someone sleeping on the top of all those books, and the Baudelaires could see, right on the ankle, a tattoo of an eye.
“Olaf?” Sunny asked, but her siblings shook their heads. They had seen Count Olaf’s foot more times than they would like to count, and this foot was much narrower and cleaner than the villain’s.
“Climb onto my back,” Violet said to her brother. “Maybe we can hoist Sunny to the top.”
Klaus nodded, climbed carefully onto his sister’s back, and then, very slowly, stood on Violet’s shoulders. The three Baudelaires stood in a trembling tower, and Sunny reached out her little hands and pulled herself up, as she had pulled herself out of the elevator shaft at 667 Dark Avenue not so long ago, and saw the woman who was lying unconscious on top of the stack of books. She was dressed in a dress of dark red velvet, which was streaked and soaked from the rain, and her hair lay sprawled behind her like a wide, tangled fan. The foot that was hanging over the side of the cube was bent a strange, wrong way, but she looked otherwise unharmed. Her eyes were closed, and her mouth was frowning, but her belly, full and round from her pregnancy, rose and fell with calm, deep breaths, and her hands, covered in long, white gloves, lay gently on her chest, as if she were comforting herself, or her child.
“Kit Snicket,” Sunny called down to her siblings, her voice hushed with amazement.
“Yes?” replied a voice that was high-pitched and grating, a word which here means “irritating, and sadly familiar.” From behind the cube of books, a figure stepped out to greet the children, and Sunny looked down and frowned as the tower of elder Baudelaires turned to face the person who was confronting them. This person was also wearing a talaric—a word which here means “just reaching the ankles”—dress that was streaked and soaked, although the dress was not just red but orange and yellow as well, the colors melting together as the person walked closer and closer to the children. This person was not wearing gloves, but a pile of seaweed had been arranged to resemble long hair, which cascaded hideously down this person’s back, and although this person’s belly was also full and round, it was full and round in an odd and unconvincing way. It would have been very unusual if the belly were genuine, because it was obvious from looking at the person’s face that the person was not a woman, and pregnancy occurs very rarely in males, although the male seahorse is a creature that becomes pregnant from time to time.
But this person, stepping closer and closer to the towered elder Baudelaires and gazing angrily up at the youngest, was no seahorse, of course. If the odd cube of books was trouble, then this man was treachery, and as is so often the case with treachery, his name was Count Olaf. Violet and Klaus stared at the villain, and Sunny stared at Kit, and then the three children looked out at the horizon, where other islanders who had spotted the strange object were heading toward them. Lastly, the Baudelaire orphans looked at one another, and wondered if a schism were so very far away after all, or if they had traveled a world away only to find all the trouble and treachery of the world staring them right in the face.
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