فصل 07

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فصل 07

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CHAPTER Seven

The predicament of the Baudelaire orphans as they sat abandoned on the coastal shelf, with Kit Snicket unconscious at the top of the cube of books above them, Count Olaf locked in a cage alongside them, and the Incredibly Deadly Viper curled at their feet, is an excellent opportunity to use the phrase “under a cloud.” The three children were certainly under a cloud that afternoon, and not just because one lone mass of condensed water vapor, which Klaus was able to identify as being of the cumulus variety, was hanging over them in the sky like another castaway from the previous night’s storm. The expression “under a cloud” refers to people who are out of favor in a particular community, the way most classrooms have at least one child who is quite unpopular, or most secret organizations have at least one rhetorical analyst who is under suspicion. The island’s only community had certainly placed Violet, Klaus, and Sunny under a cloud, and even in the blazing afternoon sun the children felt the chill of the colony’s suspicion and disapproval.

“I can’t believe it,” Violet said. “I can’t believe we’ve been abandoned.”

“We thought we could cast away everything that happened to us before we arrived here,” Klaus said, “but this place is no safer than anywhere else we’ve been.”

“But what to do?” Sunny asked.

Violet looked around the coastal shelf. “I suppose we can catch fish and harvest seaweed to eat,” she said. “Our meals won’t be much different from those on the island.”

“If fire,” Sunny said thoughtfully, “then saltbake carp.”

“We can’t live here,” Klaus pointed out. “Decision Day is approaching, and the coastal shelf will be underwater. We either have to live on the island, or figure out a way to get back to where we came from.”

“We’ll never survive a journey at sea without a boat,” Violet said, wishing she had her ribbon back so she could tie up her hair.

“Kit did,” Sunny pointed out.

“The library must have served as a sort of raft,” Klaus said, running his hand along the books, “but she couldn’t have come far on a boat of paper.”

“I hope she met up with the Quagmires,” Violet said.

“I hope she’ll wake up and tell us what happened,” Klaus said.

“Do you think she’s seriously hurt?” Violet asked.

“There’s no way to tell without a complete medical examination,” Klaus said, “but except for her ankle, she looks all right. She’s probably just exhausted from the storm.”

“Worried,” Sunny said sadly, wishing there was a dry, warm blanket on the coastal shelf that the Baudelaires might have used to cover their unconscious friend.

“We can’t just worry about Kit,” Klaus said. “We need to worry about ourselves.”

“We have to think of a plan,” Violet said wearily, and all three Baudelaires sighed. Even the Incredibly Deadly Viper seemed to sigh, and laid its head sympathetically on Sunny’s foot. The Baudelaires stood on the coastal shelf and thought of all their previous predicaments, and all the plans they’d thought up to make themselves safe, only to end up in the midst of another unfortunate event. The cloud they were under seemed to get bigger and darker, and the children might have sat there for quite some time had not the silence been broken by the voice of the man who was locked in a bird cage.

“I have a plan,” Count Olaf said. “Let me out and I’ll tell you what it is.”

Although Olaf was no longer using his high-pitched voice, he still sounded muffled from within the cage, and when the Baudelaires turned to look at him it was as if he were in one of his disguises. The yellow and orange dress he had been wearing covered most of him up, and the children could not see the curve of his false pregnancy or the tattoo of an eye he had on his ankle. Only a few toes and fingers extended from between the bird cage’s bars, and if the siblings peered closely they could see the wet curve of his mouth, and one blinking eye staring out from his captivity.

“We’re not letting you out,” Violet said. “We have enough trouble without you wandering around loose.”

“Suit yourself,” Olaf said, and his dress rustled as he attempted to shrug. “But you’ll drown as surely as I will when the coastal shelf floods. You can’t build a boat, because the islanders have scavenged everything from the storm. And you can’t live on the island, because the colonists have abandoned you. Even though we’re shipwrecked, we’re still in the same boat.”

“We don’t need your help, Olaf,” Klaus said. “If it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t be here in the first place.”

“Don’t be so sure of that,” Count Olaf said, and his mouth curled into a smile. “Everything eventually washes up on these shores, to be judged by that idiot in the robe. Do you think you’re the first Baudelaires to find yourselves here?”

“What you mean?” Sunny demanded.

“Let me out,” Olaf said, with a muffled chuckle, “and I’ll tell you.”

The Baudelaires looked at one another doubtfully. “You’re trying to trick us,” Violet said.

“Of course I’m trying to trick you!” Olaf cried. “That’s the way of the world, Baudelaires. Everybody runs around with their secrets and their schemes, trying to outwit everyone else. Ishmael outwitted me, and put me in this cage. But I know how to outwit him and all his islander friends. If you let me out, I can be king of Olaf-Land, and you three can be my new henchfolk.”

“We don’t want to be your henchfolk,” Klaus said. “We just want to be safe.”

“Nowhere in the world is safe,” Count Olaf said.

“Not with you around,” Violet agreed.

“I’m no worse than anyone else,” Count Olaf said. “Ishmael is just as treacherous as I am.”

“Fustianed,” Sunny said.

“It’s true!” Olaf insisted, although he probably did not understand what Sunny had said. “Look at me! I’m stuffed into a cage for no good reason! Does that sound familiar, you stupid baby?”

“My sister is not a baby,” Violet said firmly, “and Ishmael is not treacherous. He may be misguided, but he’s only trying to make the island a safe place.”

“Is that so?” Olaf said, and the cage shook as he chuckled. “Why don’t you reach into that pool, and see what Ishmael dropped into the puddle?”

The Baudelaires looked at one another. They had almost forgotten about the object that had rolled out of the facilitator’s sleeve. The three children stared down into the water, but it was the Incredibly Deadly Viper who wriggled into the murky depths of the puddle and came back with a small object in its mouth, which it deposited into Sunny’s waiting hand.

“Takk,” Sunny said, thanking the snake by scratching it on the head.

“What is it?” Violet said, leaning in to look at what the viper had retrieved.

“It’s an apple core,” Klaus said, and his sisters saw that it was so. Sunny was holding the core of an apple, which had been so thoroughly nibbled that scarcely anything remained.

“You see?” Olaf asked. “While the other islanders have to do all the work, Ishmael sneaks off to the arboretum on his perfectly healthy feet and eats all the apples for himself! Your beloved facilitator not only has clay on his feet, he has feet of clay!”

The bird cage shook with laughter, and the Baudelaire orphans looked first at the apple core and then at one another. “Feet of clay” is an expression which refers to a person who appears to be honest and true, but who turns out to have a hidden weakness or a treacherous secret. If someone turns out to have feet of clay, your opinion of them may topple, just as a statue will topple if its base turns out to be badly constructed. The Baudelaires had thought Ishmael was wrong to abandon them on the coastal shelf, of course, but they believed he had done it to keep the other islanders out of harm’s way, just as Mrs. Caliban had not wanted Friday to upset herself by learning to read, and although they did not agree with much of the facilitator’s philosophy, they at least respected the fact that he was trying to do the same thing the Baudelaires had been trying to do since that terrible day on the beach when they had first become orphans: to find or build a safe place to call home. But now, looking at the apple core, they realized what Count Olaf said was true. Ishmael had feet of clay. He was lying about his injuries, and he was selfish about the apples in the arboretum, and he was treacherous in pressuring everyone else on the island to do all the work. Gazing at the treacherous teeth marks the facilitator had left behind, they remembered his claim that he predicted the weather by magic, and the strange look in his eye when he insisted that the island had no library, and the Baudelaires wondered what other secrets the bearded facilitator was hiding. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny sank to a mound of damp sand, as if they had feet of clay themselves, and leaned against the cube of books, wondering how they could have traveled so far from the world only to find the same dishonesty and treachery they always had.

“What is your plan?” Violet asked Count Olaf, after a long silence.

“Let me out of this cage,” Olaf said, “and I’ll tell you.”

“Tell us first,” Klaus said, “and perhaps we’ll let you out.”

“Let me out first,” Olaf insisted.

“Tell us first,” Sunny insisted, just as firmly.

“I can argue with you all day,” the villain growled. “Let me out, I tell you, or I’ll take my plan to my grave!”

“We can think of a plan without you,” Violet said, hoping she sounded more confident than she felt. “We’ve managed to escape plenty of difficult situations without your help.”

“I have the only weapon that can threaten Ishmael and his supporters,” Count Olaf said.

“The harpoon gun?” Klaus said. “Omeros took that away.”

“Not the harpoon gun, you scholarly moron,” Count Olaf said contemptuously, a word which here means “while trying to scratch his nose within the confines of the bird cage.” “I’m talking about the Medusoid Mycelium!”

“Fungus!” Sunny cried. Her siblings gasped, and even the Incredibly Deadly Viper looked astonished in its reptilian way as the villain told them what you may have already guessed.

“I’m not really pregnant,” he confessed with a caged grin. “The diving helmet containing the spores of the Medusoid Mycelium is hidden in this dress I’m wearing. If you let me out, I can threaten the entire colony with these deadly mushrooms. All those robed fools will be my slaves!”

“What if they refuse?” Violet asked.

“Then I’ll smash the helmet open,” Olaf crowed, “and this whole island will be destroyed.”

“But we’ll be destroyed, too,” Klaus said. “The spores will infect us, the same as everyone else.”

“Yomhashoah,” Sunny said, which meant “Never again.” The youngest Baudelaire had already been infected by the Medusoid Mycelium not long ago, and the children did not like to think about what would have happened if they hadn’t found some wasabi to dilute the poison.

“We’ll escape on the outrigger, you fool,” Olaf said. “The island imbeciles have been building it all year. It’s perfect for leaving this place behind and heading back to where the action is.”

“Maybe they’ll just let us leave,” Violet said. “Friday said that anyone who wishes to leave the colony can climb aboard the outrigger on Decision Day.”

“That little girl hasn’t been here long,” sneered Count Olaf, “so she still believes Ishmael lets people do whatever they want. Don’t be as dumb as she is, orphans.”

Klaus wished desperately that his commonplace book was open in his lap, so he could take notes, instead of on the far side of the island, with all of the other forbidden items. “How do you know so much about this place, Olaf?” he demanded. “You’ve only been here a few days, just like us!”

“Just like you,” the villain repeated mockingly, and the cage shook with laughter again. “Do you think your pathetic history is the only story in the world? Do you think this island has just sat here in the sea, waiting for you to wash up on its shores? Do you think that I just sat in my home in the city, waiting for you miserable orphans to stumble into my path?”

“Boswell,” Sunny said. She meant something along the lines of, “Your life doesn’t interest me,” and the Incredibly Deadly Viper seemed to hiss in agreement.

“I could tell you stories, Baudelaires,” Count Olaf said in a muffled wheeze. “I could tell you secrets about people and places that you’d never dream of. I could tell you about arguments and schisms that started before you were born. I could even tell you things about yourselves that you could never imagine. Just open the door of my cage, orphans, and I’ll tell you things you could never discover on your own.”

The Baudelaires looked at one another and shuddered. Even in broad daylight, trapped in a cage, Count Olaf was still frightening. It was as if there was something villainous that could threaten them even if it were locked up tight, far away from the rest of the world. The three siblings had always been curious children. Violet had been eager to unlock the mysteries of the mechanical world with her inventing mind since the first pair of pliers had been placed in her crib. Klaus had been keen to read everything he got his hands on since the alphabet was first printed on the wall of his bedroom by a visitor to the Baudelaire home. And Sunny was always exploring the universe through her mouth, first by biting anything that interested her, and later by tasting food carefully in order to improve her cooking skills. Curiosity was one of the Baudelaires’ most important customs, and one might think that they would be very curious indeed to hear more about the mysteries the villain had mentioned. But there was something very, very sinister about Count Olaf’s words. Listening to him talk felt like standing on the edge of a deep well, or walking on a high cliff in the dead of night, or listening to a strange rustling sound outside your bedroom window, knowing that at any moment something dangerous and enormous could happen. It made the Baudelaires think of that terrible question mark on the radar screen of the Queequeg—a secret so gigantic and important that it could not fit in their hearts or minds, something that had been hidden their entire lives and might destroy their entire lives once it was revealed. It was not a secret the Baudelaire orphans wanted to hear, from Count Olaf or from anyone else, and although it felt like a secret that could not be avoided, the children wanted to avoid it anyway, and without another word to the man in the cage the three siblings stood up and walked around the cube of books until they were at the far end, where Olaf and his bird cage could not be seen. Then, in silence, the three siblings sat back down, leaned against the strange raft, and stared out at the flat horizon of the sea, trying not to think about what Olaf had said. Occasionally they took sips of coconut cordial from the seashells that hung from their waists, hoping that the strong, strange drink would distract them from the strong, strange thoughts in their heads. All afternoon, until the sun set on the rippling horizon of the sea, the Baudelaire orphans sat and sipped, and wondered if they dared learn what lay at the heart of their sad lives, when every secret, every mystery, and every unfortunate event had been peeled away.

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