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The phrase “in the dark,” as I’m sure you know, can refer not only to one’s shadowy surroundings, but also to the shadowy secrets of which one might be unaware. Every day, the sun goes down over all these secrets, and so everyone is in the dark in one way or another. If you are sunbathing in a park, for instance, but you do not know that a locked cabinet is buried fifty feet beneath your blanket, then you are in the dark even though you are not actually in the dark, whereas if you are on a midnight hike, knowing full well that several ballerinas are following close behind you, then you are not in the dark even if you are in fact in the dark. Of course, it is quite possible to be in the dark in the dark, as well as to be not in the dark not in the dark, but there are so many secrets in the world that it is likely that you are always in the dark about one thing or another, whether you are in the dark in the dark or in the dark not in the dark, although the sun can go down so quickly that you may be in the dark about being in the dark in the dark, only to look around and find yourself no longer in the dark about being in the dark in the dark, but in the dark in the dark nonetheless, not only because of the dark, but because of the ballerinas in the dark, who are not in the dark about the dark, but also not in the dark about the locked cabinet, and you may be in the dark about the ballerinas digging up the locked cabinet in the dark, even though you are no longer in the dark about being in the dark, and so you are in fact in the dark about being in the dark, even though you are not in the dark about being in the dark, and so you may fall into the hole that the ballerinas have dug, which is dark, in the dark, and in the park.
The Baudelaire orphans, of course, had been in the dark many times before they made their way in the dark over the brae to the far side of the island, where the arboretum guarded its many, many secrets. There was the darkness of Count Olaf’s gloomy house, and the darkness of the movie theater where Uncle Monty had taken them to see a wonderful film called Zombies in the Snow. There were the dark clouds of Hurricane Herman as it roared across Lake Lachrymose, and the darkness of the Finite Forest as a train had taken the children to work at Lucky Smells Lumbermill. There were the dark nights the children spent at Prufrock Preparatory School, participating in Special Orphan Running Exercises, and the dark climbs up the elevator shaft of 667 Dark Avenue. There was the dark jail cell in which the children spent some time while living in the Village of Fowl Devotees, and the dark trunk of Count Olaf’s car, which had carried them from Heimlich Hospital to the hinterlands, where the dark tents of the Caligari Carnival awaited them. There was the dark pit they had built high in the Mortmain Mountains, and the dark hatch they had climbed through in order to board the Queequeg, and the dark lobby of the Hotel Denouement, where they thought their dark days might be over. There were the dark eyes of Count Olaf and his associates, and the dark notebooks of the Quagmire triplets, and all of the dark passageways the children had discovered, that led to the Baudelaire mansion, and out of the Library of Records, and up to the V.F.D. Headquarters, and to the dark, dark depths of the sea, and all the dark passageways they hadn’t discovered, where other people traveled on equally desperate errands. But most of all, the Baudelaire orphans had been in the dark about their own sad history. They did not understand how Count Olaf had entered their lives, or how he had managed to remain there, hatching scheme after scheme without anyone stopping him. They did not understand V.F.D., even when they had joined the organization themselves, or how the organization, with all of its codes, errands, and volunteers, had failed to defeat the wicked people who seemed to triumph again and again, leaving each safe place in ruins. And they did not understand how they could lose their parents and their home in a fire, and how this enormous injustice, this bad beginning to their sad history, was followed only by another injustice, and another, and another. The Baudelaire orphans did not understand how injustice and treachery could prosper, even this far from their home, on an island in the middle of a vast sea, and that happiness and innocence—the happiness and innocence of that day on Briny Beach, before Mr. Poe brought them the dreadful news—could always be so far out of reach. The Baudelaires were in the dark about the mystery of their own lives, which is why it was such a profound shock to think at last that these mysteries might be solved. The Baudelaire orphans blinked in the rising sun, and gazed at the expanse of the arboretum, and wondered if they might not be in the dark any longer.
“Library” is another word that can mean two different things, which means even in a library you cannot be safe from the confusion and mystery of the world. The most common use of the word “library,” of course, refers to a collection of books or documents, such as the libraries the Baudelaires had encountered during their travels and troubles, from the legal library of Justice Strauss to the Hotel Denouement, which was itself an enormous library—with, it turned out, another library hidden nearby. But the word “library” can also refer to a mass of knowledge or a source of learning, just as Klaus Baudelaire is something of a library with the mass of knowledge stored in his brain, or Kit Snicket, who was a source of learning for the Baudelaires as she told them about V.F.D. and its noble errands. So when I write that the Baudelaire orphans had found themselves in the largest library they had ever seen, it is that definition of the word I am using, because the arboretum was an enormous mass of knowledge, and a source of learning, even without a single scrap of paper in sight. The items that had washed up on the shores of the island over the years could answer any question the Baudelaires had, and thousands more questions they’d never thought of. Stretched out as far as the eye could see were piles of objects, heaps of items, towers of evidence, bales of materials, clusters of details, stacks of substances, hordes of pieces, arrays of articles, constellations of details, galaxies of stuff, and universes of things—an accumulation, an aggregation, a compilation, a concentration, a crowd, a herd, a flock, and a register of seemingly everything on Earth. There was everything the alphabet could hold—automobiles and alarm clocks, bandages and beads, cables and chimneys, discs and dominos, earmuffs and emery boards, fiddles and fabric, garrotes and glassware, hangers and husks, icons and instruments, jewelry and jogging shoes, kites and kernels, levers and lawn chairs, machines and magnets, noisemakers and needles, orthodontics and ottomans, pull toys and pillars, quarters and quivers, race cars and rucksacks, saws and skulls, teaspoons and ties, urns and ukuleles, valentines and vines, wigs and wires, xeranthemums and xylorimbas, yachts and yokes, zithers and zabras, a word which here means “small boats usually used off the coasts of Spain and Portugal”—as well as everything that could hold the alphabet, from a cardboard box perfect for storing twenty-six wooden blocks, to a chalkboard perfect for writing twenty-six letters. There were any number of things, from a single motorcycle to countless chopsticks, and things with every number on them, from license plates to calculators. There were objects from every climate, from snowshoes to ceiling fans; and for every occasion, from menorahs to soccer balls; and there were things you could use on certain occasions in certain climates, such as a waterproof fondue set. There were inserts and outhouses, overpasses and underclothes, upholstery and down comforters, hotplates and cold creams and cradles and coffins, hopelessly destroyed, somewhat damaged, in slight disrepair, and brand-new. There were objects the Baudelaires recognized, including a triangular picture frame and a brass lamp in the shape of a fish, and there were objects the Baudelaires had never seen before, including the skeleton of an elephant and a glittering green mask one might wear as part of a dragonfly costume, and there were objects the Baudelaires did not know if they had seen before, such as a wooden rocking horse and a piece of rubber that looked like a fan belt. There were items that seemed to be part of the Baudelaires’ story, such as a plastic replica of a clown and a broken telegraph pole, and there were items that seemed part of some other story, such as a carving of a black bird and a gem that shone like an Indian moon, and all the items, and all their stories, were scattered across the landscape in such a way that the Baudelaire orphans thought that the arboretum had either been organized according to principles so mysterious they could not be discovered, or it had not been organized at all. In short, the Baudelaire orphans had found themselves in the largest library they had ever seen, but they did not know where to begin their research. The children stood in awed silence and surveyed the endless landscape of objects and stories, and then looked up at the largest object of all, which towered over the arboretum and covered it in shade. It was the apple tree, with a trunk as enormous as a mansion and branches as long as a city street, which sheltered the library from the frequent storms and offered its bitter apples to anyone who dared to pick one.
“Words fail me,” Sunny said in a hushed whisper.
“Me, too,” Klaus agreed. “I can’t believe what we’re seeing. The islanders told us that everything eventually washes up on these shores, but I never imagined the arboretum would hold so many things.”
Violet picked up an item that lay at her feet—a pink ribbon decorated with plastic daisies—and began to wind it around her hair. To those who hadn’t been around Violet long, nothing would have seemed unusual, but those who knew her well knew that when she tied her hair up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes, it meant that the gears and levers of her inventing brain were whirring at top speed. “Think of what I could build here,” she said. “I could build splints for Kit’s feet, a boat to take us off the island, a filtration system so we could drink fresh water….” Her voice trailed off, and she stared up at the branches of the tree. “I could invent anything and everything.”
Klaus picked up the object at his feet—a cape made of scarlet silk—and held it in his hands. “There must be countless secrets in a place like this,” he said. “Even without a book, I could investigate anything and everything.”
Sunny looked around her. “Service à la Russe,” she said, which meant something like, “Even with the simplest of ingredients, I could prepare an extremely elaborate meal.”
“I don’t know where to begin,” Violet said, running a hand along a pile of broken white wood that looked like it had once been part of a gazebo.
“We begin with weapons,” Klaus said grimly. “That’s why we’re here. Erewhon and Finn are waiting for us to help them mutiny against Ishmael.”
The oldest Baudelaire shook her head. “It doesn’t seem right,” she said. “We can’t use a place like this to start a schism.”
“Maybe a schism is necessary,” Klaus said. “There are millions of items here that could help the colony, but thanks to Ishmael, they’ve all been abandoned here.”
“No one forced anyone to abandon anything,” Violet said.
“Peer pressure,” Sunny pointed out.
“We can try a little peer pressure of our own,” Violet said firmly. “We’ve defeated worse people than Ishmael with far fewer materials.”
“But do we really want to defeat Ishmael?” Klaus asked. “He’s made the island a safe place, even if it is a little boring, and he kept Count Olaf away, even if he is a little cruel. He has feet of clay, but I’m not sure he’s the root of the problem.”
“What is the root of the problem?” Violet asked.
“Ink,” Sunny said, but when her siblings turned to give her a quizzical look, they saw that the youngest Baudelaire was not answering their question, but pointing at the Incredibly Deadly Viper, who was slithering hurriedly away from the children with its eyes darting this way and that and its tongue extended to sniff the air.
“It appears to know where it’s going,” Violet said.
“Maybe it’s been here before,” Klaus said.
“Taylit,” Sunny said, which meant “Let’s follow the reptile and see where it heads.” Without waiting to see whether her siblings agreed, she hurried after the snake, and Violet and Klaus hurried after her. The viper’s path was as curved and twisted as the snake itself, and the Baudelaires found themselves scrambling over all sorts of discarded items, from a cardboard box, soaked through from the storm, that was full of something white and lacy, to a painted backdrop of a sunset, such as might be used in the performance of an opera. The children could tell that the path had been traveled before, as the ground was covered in footprints. The snake was slithering so quickly that the Baudelaires could not keep up, but they could follow the footprints, which were dusted around the edges in white powder. It was dried clay, of course, and in moments the children reached the end of the path, following in Ishmael’s footsteps, and they arrived at the base of the apple tree just in time to see the tail of the snake disappear into a gap in the tree’s roots. If you’ve ever stood at the base of an old tree, then you know the roots are often close to the surface of the earth, and the curved angles of the roots can create a hollow space in the tree’s trunk. It was into this hollow space that the Incredibly Deadly Viper disappeared, and after the tiniest of pauses, it was into this space that the Baudelaire orphans followed, wondering what secrets they would find at the root of the tree that sheltered such a mysterious place. First Violet, and then Klaus, and then Sunny stepped down through the gap into the secret space. It was dark underneath the roots of the tree, and for a moment the Baudelaires tried to adjust to the gloom and figure out what this place was, but then the middle Baudelaire remembered the flashlight, and turned it on so he and his siblings would no longer be in the dark in the dark.
The Baudelaire orphans were standing in a space much bigger than they would have imagined, and much better furnished. Along one wall was a large stone bench lined with simple, clean tools, including several sharp-looking razor-blades, a glass pot of paste, and several wooden brushes with narrow, fine tips. Next to the wall was an enormous bookcase, which was stuffed with books of all shapes and sizes, as well as assorted documents that were stacked, rolled, and stapled with extreme care. The shelves of the bookcase stretched away from the children past the beam of the flashlight and disappeared into the darkness, so there was no way of knowing how long the bookcase was, or the number of books and documents it contained. Opposite the bookcase stretched an elaborate kitchen, with a huge potbellied stove, several porcelain sinks, and a tall, humming refrigerator, as well as a square wooden table covered in appliances ranging from a blender to a fondue set. Over the table hung a rack from which dangled all manner of kitchen utensils and pots, as well as sprigs of dried herbs, a variety of whole dried fish, and even a few cured meats, such as salami and prosciutto, an Italian ham that the Baudelaire orphans had once enjoyed at a Sicilian picnic the family had attended. Nailed to the wall was an impressive spice rack filled with jars of herbs and bottles of condiments, and a cupboard with glass doors through which the children could see piles of plates, bowls, and mugs. Finally, in the center of this enormous space were two large, comfortable reading chairs, one with a gigantic book on the seat, much taller than an atlas and much thicker than even an unabridged dictionary, and the other just waiting for someone to sit down. Lastly, there was a curious device made of brass that looked like a large tube with a pair of binoculars at the bottom, which rose up into the thick canopy of roots that formed the ceiling. As the Incredibly Deadly Viper hissed proudly, the way a dog might wag its tail after performing a difficult trick, the three children stared around the room, each concentrating on their area of expertise, a phrase which here means “the part of the room in which each Baudelaire would most like to spend time.”
Violet walked over to the brass device and peered into the eyes of the binoculars. “I can see the ocean,” she said in surprise. “This is an enormous periscope, much bigger than the one in the Queequeg. It must run all the way up the trunk of the tree and jut out over the highest branch.”
“But why would you want to look at the ocean from here?” Klaus asked.
“From this height,” Violet explained, “you could see any storm clouds that might be heading this way. This is how Ishmael predicts the weather—not by magic, but with scientific equipment.”
“And these tools are used to repair books,” Klaus said. “Of course books wash up on the island—everything does, eventually. But the pages and bindings of the books are often damaged by the storm that brought them, so Ishmael repairs them and shelves them here.” He picked up a dark blue notebook from the bench and held it up. “It’s my commonplace book,” he said. “He must have been making sure none of the pages were wet.”
Sunny picked up a familiar object from the wooden table—her whisk—and held it to her nose. “Fritters,” she said. “With cinnamon.”
“Ishmael walks to the arboretum to watch for storms, read books, and cook spiced food,” Violet said. “Why would he pretend to be an injured facilitator who predicts the weather through magic, claims that the island has no library, and prefers bland meals?”
Klaus walked to the two reading chairs and lifted the heavy, thick book. “Maybe this will tell us,” he said, and shone the flashlight so his sisters could see the long, somewhat wordy title printed on the front cover.
“What does it mean?” Violet asked. “That title could mean anything.”
Klaus noticed a thin piece of black cloth stuck in the book to mark someone’s place, and opened the book to that page. The bookmark was Violet’s hair ribbon, which the eldest Baudelaire quickly grabbed, as the pink ribbon with plastic daisies was not to her taste. “I think it’s a history of the island,” Klaus said, “written like a diary. Look, here’s what the most recent entry says: ‘Yet another figure from the shadowy past has washed ashore—Kit Snicket (see page667). Convinced the others to abandon her, and the Baudelaires, who have already rocked the boat far too much, I fear. Also managed to have Count Olaf locked in a cage. Note to self: Why won’t anyone call me Ish?’”
“Ishmael said he’d never heard of Kit Snicket,” Violet said, “but here he writes that she’s a figure from the shadowy past.”
“Six six seven,” Sunny said, and Klaus nodded. Handing the flashlight to his older sister, he quickly turned the pages of the book, flipping back in history until he reached the page Ishmael had mentioned.
“‘Inky has learned to lasso sheep,’” Klaus read, “‘and last night’s storm washed up a postcard from Kit Snicket, addressed to Olivia Caliban. Kit, of course, is the sister of…’”
The middle Baudelaire’s voice trailed off, and his sisters stared at him curiously. “What’s wrong, Klaus?” Violet asked. “That entry doesn’t seem particularly mysterious.”
“It’s not the entry,” Klaus said, so quietly that Violet and Sunny could scarcely hear him. “It’s the handwriting.”
“Familia?” Sunny asked, and all three Baudelaires stepped as close as they could to one another. In silence, the children gathered around the beam of the flashlight, as if it were a warm campfire on a freezing night, and gazed down at the pages of the oddly titled book. Even the Incredibly Deadly Viper crawled up to perch on Sunny’s shoulders, as if it were as curious as the Baudelaire orphans to know who had written those words so long ago.
“Yes, Baudelaires,” said a voice from the far end of the room. “That’s your mother’s handwriting.”
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