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متن انگلیسی فصل
The French expression “cul-de-sac” describes what the Baudelaire orphans found when they reached the end of the dark hallway, and like all French expressions, it is most easily understood when you translate each French word into English. The word “de,” for instance, is a very common French word, so even if I didn’t know a word of French, I would be certain that “de” means “of.” The word “sac” is less common, but I am fairly certain that it means something like “mysterious circumstances.” And the word “cul” is such a rare French word that I am forced to guess at its translation, and my guess is that in this case it would mean “At the end of the dark hallway, the Baudelaire children found an assortment,” so that the expression “cul-de-sac” here means “At the end of the dark hallway, the Baudelaire children found an assortment of mysterious circumstances.”
If the badelaires had been able to choose a French expression that would be waiting for them at the end of the hallway, they might have chosen one that meant “By the time the three children rounded the last dark corner of the corridor, the police had captured Gunther and rescued the Quagmire triplets,” or at least “The Baudelaires were delighted to see that the hallway led straight to Veblen Hall, where the In Auction was taking place.” But the end of the hallway proved to be as mysterious and worrisome as the rest of it. The entire length of the hallway was very dark, and it had so many twists and turns that the three children frequently found themselves bumping into the walls. The ceiling of the hallway was very low—Gunther must have had to crouch when he used it for his treacherous plans—and over their heads the three children could hear a variety of noises that told them where the hallway was probably taking them. After the first few curves, they heard the muted voice of the doorman, and his footsteps as he walked overhead, and the Baudelaires realized that they must be underneath the lobby of the Squalors’ apartment building. After a few more curves, they heard two men discussing ocean decorations, and they realized they must be walking beneath Dark Avenue. And after a few more curves, they heard the rickety rattle of an old trolley that was passing over their heads, and the children knew that the hallway was leading them underneath one of the city’s trolley stations. On and on the hallway curved, and the Baudelaires heard a variety of city sounds—the clopping of horses’ hooves, the grinding of factory equipment, the tolling of church bells and the clatter of people dropping things—but when they finally reached the corridor’s end, there was no sound over their heads at all. The Baudelaires stood still and tried to imagine a place in the city where it was absolutely silent.
“Where do you think we are?” Violet asked, straining her ears to listen even more closely. “It’s as silent as a tomb up there.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about,” Klaus answered, poking the wall with his fire tong. “I can’t find which way the hallway curves. I think we might be at a dead end.”
“A dead end!” Violet said, and poked the opposite wall with her tong. “It can’t be a dead end. Nobody builds a hallway that goes nowhere.”
“Pratjic,” Sunny said, which meant “Gunther must have ended up somewhere if he took this passageway.”
“I’m poking every inch of these walls,” Klaus said grimly, “and there’s no door or stairway or curve or anything. It’s a dead end, all right. There’s no other word for it. Actually, there’s a French expression for ‘dead end,’ but I can’t remember what is.”
“I guess we have to retrace our steps,” Violet said miserably. “I guess we have to turn around, and make our way back down the corridor, and climb up to the net, and have Sunny teeth her way to the penthouse and find some more materials to make an ersatz rope, and climb all the way up to the top floor, and slide down the banisters to the lobby, and sneak past the doorman and run to Veblen Hall.”
“Pyetian,” Sunny said, which meant something like “We’ll never make it there in time to expose Gunther and save the Quagmires.”
“I know,” Violet sighed. “But I don’t know what else we can do. It looks like we’re shorthanded, even with these tongs.”
“If we had some shovels,” Klaus said, “we could try to dig our way out of the hallway, but we can’t use the tongs as shovels.”
“Tenti,” Sunny said, which meant “If we had some dynamite, we could blast our way out of the hallway, but we can’t use the tongs as dynamite.”
“But we might be able to use them as noisemakers,” Violet said suddenly. “Let’s bang on the ceiling with our tongs, and see if we can attract the attention of someone who is passing by.”
“It doesn’t sound like anyone is passing by,” Klaus said, “but it’s worth a try. Here, Sunny, I’ll pick you up so your tong can reach the ceiling, too.”
Klaus picked his sister up, and the three children began to bang on the ceiling, planning to make a racket that would last for several minutes. But as soon as the their tongs first hit the ceiling, the Baudelaires were showered with black dust. It rained down on them like a dry, filthy storm, and the children had to cut short their banging to cough and rub their eyes and spit out the dust that had fallen into their mouths.
“Ugh!” Violet spat. “This tastes terrible.”
“It tastes like burned toast,” Klaus said.
“Peflob!” Sunny shrieked.
At that, Violet stopped coughing, and licked the tip of her finger in thought. “It’s ashes,” she said. “Maybe we’re below a fireplace.”
“I don’t think so,” Klaus said. “Look up.”
The Baudelaires looked up, and saw that the black dust had uncovered a very small stripe of light, barely as wide as a pencil. The children gazed up into it, and could see the morning sun gazing right back at them.
“Tisdu?” Sunny said, which meant “Where in the city can you find ashes outdoors?”
“Maybe we’re below a barbeque pit,” Klaus said.
“Well, we’ll find out soon enough,” Violet replied, and began to sweep more dust away from the ceiling. As it fell on the children in a thick, dark cloud, the skinny stripe of light became four skinny stripes, like a drawing of a square on the ceiling. By the light of the square, the Baudelaires could see a pair of hinges. “Look,” Violet said, “it’s a trapdoor. We couldn’t see it in the darkness of the hallway, but there it is.”
Klaus pressed his tong against the trapdoor to try to open it, but it didn’t budge. “It’s locked, of course,” he said. “I bet Gunther locked it behind him when he took the Quagmires away.”
Violet looked up at the trapdoor, and the other children could see, by the light of the sun streaming in, that she was tying her hair up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes. “A lock isn’t going to stop us,” she said. “Not when we’ve come all this way. I think the time is finally ripe for these tongs—not as welding torches, and not as noisemakers.” She smiled, and turned her attention to her siblings. “We can use them as crowbars,” she said excitedly.
“Herdiset?” Sunny asked.
“A crowbar is a sort of portable lever,” Violet said, “and these tongs will work perfectly. We’ll stick the bent end into the part where the light is shining through, and then push the rest of the tong sharply down. It should bring the trapdoor down with it. Understand?”
“I think so,” Klaus said. “Let’s try.”
The Baudelaires tried. Carefully, they stuck the part of the tongs that had been heated in the oven into one side of the square of light. And then, grunting with the effort, they pushed the straight end of the tongs down as sharply as they could, and I’m happy to report that the crowbars worked perfectly. With a tremendous crackling sound and another cloud of ashes, the trapdoor bent on its hinges and opened toward the children, who had to duck as it swung over their heads. Sunlight streamed into the hallway, and the Baudelaires saw that they had finally come to the end of their long, dark journey.
“It worked!” Violet cried. “It really worked!”
“The time was ripe for your inventing skills!” Klaus cried. “The solution was right on the tip of our tongs!”
“Up!” Sunny shrieked, and the children agreed. By standing on tiptoe, the Baudelaires could grab ahold of the hinges and pull themselves out of the hallway, leaving behind their crowbars, and in a moment the three children were squinting in the sunlight.
One of my most prized possessions is a small wooden box with a special lock on it that is more than five hundred years old and works according to a secret code that my grandfather taught me. My grandfather learned it from his grandfather, and his grandfather learned it from his grandfather, and I would teach it to my grandchild if I thought that I would ever have a family of my own instead of living out the remainder of my days all alone in this world. The small wooden box is one of my most prized possessions, because when the lock is opened according to the code, a small silver key may be found inside, and this key fits the lock on one of my other most prized possessions, which is a slightly larger wooden box given to me by a woman whom my grandfather always refused to speak about. Inside this slightly larger wooden box is a roll of parchment, a word which here means “some very old paper printed with a map of the city at the time when the Baudelaire orphans lived in it.” The map has every single detail of the city written down in dark blue ink, with measurements of buildings and sketches of costumes and charts of changes in the weather all added in the margins by the map’s twelve previous owners, all of whom are now dead. I have spent more hours than I can ever count going over every inch of this map as carefully as possible, so that everything that can be learned from it can be copied into my files and then into books such as this one, in the hopes that the general public will finally learn every detail of the treacherous conspiracy I have spent my life trying to escape. The map contains thousands of fascinating things that have been discovered by all sorts of explorers, criminal investigators, and circus performers over the years, but the most fascinating thing that the map contains was discovered just at this moment by the three Baudelaire children. Sometimes, in the dead of night when I cannot sleep, I rise from my bed and work the code on the small wooden box to retrieve the silver key that opens the slightly larger wooden box so I can sit at my desk and look once again, by candlelight, at the two dotted lines indicating the underground hallway that begins at the bottom of the elevator shaft at 667 Dark Avenue and ends at the trapdoor that the Baudelaires managed to open with their ersatz crowbars. I stare and stare at the part of the city where the orphans climbed out of that ghastly corridor, but no matter how much I stare I can scarcely believe my own eyes, any more than the youngsters could believe theirs.
The siblings had been in darkness for so long that their eyes took a long time to get used to properly lit surroundings, and they stood for a moment, rubbing their eyes and trying to see exactly where the trapdoor had led them. But in the sudden brightness of the morning sun, the only thing the children could see was the chubby shadow of a man standing near them.
“Excuse me,” Violet called, while her eyes were still adjusting. “We need to get to Veblen Hall. It’s an emergency. Could you tell me where it is?”
“Ju-just two blo-blocks that way,” the shadow stuttered, and the children gradually realized that it was a slightly overweight mailman, pointing down the street and looking at the children fearfully. “Please don’t hurt me,” the mailman added, stepping away from the youngsters.
“We’re not going to hurt you,” Klaus said, wiping ashes off his glasses.
“Ghosts always say that,” the mailman said, “but then they hurt you anyway.”
“But we’re not ghosts,” Violet said.
“Don’t tell me you’re not ghosts,” the mailman replied. “I saw you rise out of the ashes myself, as if you had come from the center of the earth. People have always said it’s haunted here on the empty lot where the Baudelaire mansion burned down, and now I know it’s true.”
The mailman ran away before the Baudelaires could reply, but the three children were too amazed by his words to speak to him anyway. They blinked and blinked in the morning sun, and finally their eyes adjusted enough to see that the mailman was right. It was true. It was not true that the three children were ghosts, of course. They were not spooky creatures who had risen from the center of the earth, but three orphans who had hoisted themselves out of the hallway. But the mailman had spoken the truth when he had told them where they were. The Baudelaire orphans looked around them, and huddled together as if they were still in a dark hallway instead of outdoors in broad daylight, standing amid the ashy ruins of their destroyed home.
Several years before the Baudelaires were born, Veblen Hall won the prestigious Door Prize, an award given each year to the city’s best-constructed opening, and if you ever find yourself standing in front of Veblen Hall, as the Baudelaire orphans did that morning, you will immediately see why the committee awarded the shiny pink trophy to the door’s polished wooden planks, its exquisite brass hinges and its gorgeous, shiny doorknob, fashioned out of the world’s second-finest crystal. But the three siblings were in no state to appreciate architectural detail. Violet led the way up the stairs to Veblen Hall and grabbed the doorknob without a thought to the ashy smear she would leave on its polished surface. If I had been with the Baudelaires, I never would have opened the award-winning door. I would have considered myself lucky to have gotten out of the net suspended in the middle of the elevator shaft, and to have escaped Gunther’s evil plan, and I would have fled to some remote corner of the world and hid from Gunther and his associates for the rest of my life rather than risk another encounter with this treacherous villain—an encounter, I’m sorry to say, that will only bring more misery into the three orphans’ lives. But these three children were far more courageous than I shall ever be, and they paused just for a moment to gather all of this courage up and use it.
“Beyond this doorknob,” Violet said, “is our last chance at revealing Gunther’s true identity and his terrible plans.”
“Just past those brass hinges,” Klaus said, “is our final opportunity to save the Quagmires from being smuggled out of the country.”
“Sorusu,” Sunny said, which meant “Behind those wooden planks lies the answer to the mystery of V.F.D., and why the secret hallway led us to the place where the Baudelaire mansion burned to the ground, killing our parents, and beginning the series of unfortunate events that haunt us wherever we go.”
The Baudelaires looked at one another and stood up as straight as they could, as if their backbones were as strong as their courage, and Violet opened the door of Veblen Hall; and instantly the orphans found themselves in the middle of a hubbub, a word which here means “a huge crowd of people in an enormous, fancy room.” Veblen Hall had a very high ceiling, a very shiny floor, and one massive window that had won first runner-up for the Window Prize the previous year. Hanging from the ceiling were three huge banners, one with the word “In” written on it, one with the word “Auction” written on it, and one last one, twice as big as the others, with a huge portrait of Gunther. Standing on the floor were at least two hundred people, and the Baudelaires could tell that it was a very in crowd. Almost everyone was wearing pinstripe suits, sipping tall frosty glasses of parsley soda, and eating salmon puffs offered by some costumed waiters from Café Salmonella, which had apparently been hired to cater the auction. The Baudelaires were in regular clothes rather than pinstripes, and they were covered in dirt from the tiny, filthy room at the bottom of the elevator shaft, and in ashes from the Baudelaire lot where the hallway had led them. The in crowd would have frowned upon such attire had they noticed the children, but everyone was too busy gazing at the far end of the room to turn around and see who had walked through the award-winning door.
For at the far end of Veblen Hall, underneath the biggest banner and in front of the massive window, Gunther was standing up on a small stage and speaking into a microphone. On one side of him was a small glass vase with blue flowers painted on it, and on the other was Esmé, who was sitting in a fancy chair and gazing at Gunther as if he were the cat’s pajamas, a phrase which here means “a charming and handsome gentleman instead of a cruel and dishonest villain.”
“Lot #46, please,” Gunther was saying into the microphone. With all of their exploration of dark passageways, the Baudelaires had almost forgotten that Gunther was pretending that he wasn’t fluent in English. “Please, gentlemen and ladies, see the vase with blue flowers. Vases in. Glass in. Flowers in, please, especially the flowers that are blue. Who bid?”
“One hundred,” called out a voice from the crowd.
“One hundred fifty,” another voice said.
“Two hundred,” another said.
“Two hundred fifty,” returned the person who had bid first.
“Two hundred fifty-three,” another said.
“We’re just in time,” Klaus whispered to Violet. “V.F.D. is Lot #50. Do we wait to speak up until then, or do we confront Gunther right now?”
“I don’t know,” Violet whispered back. “We were so focused on getting to Veblen Hall in time that we forgot to think up a plan of action.”
“Is two hundred fifty-three last bidding of people, please?” Gunther asked, into the microphone. “O.K. Here is vase, please. Give money, please, to Mrs. Squalor.” A pinstriped woman walked to the edge of the stage and handed a stack of bills to Esmé, who smiled greedily and handed her the vase in exchange. Watching Esmé count the pile of bills and then calmly place them in her pinstripe purse, while somewhere backstage the Quagmires were trapped inside whatever V.F.D. was, made the Baudelaires feel sick to their stomachs.
“Evomer,” Sunny said, which meant “I can’t stand it any longer. Let’s tell everyone in this room what is really going on.”
“Excuse me,” said somebody, and the three children looked up to see a stern-looking man peering down at them from behind some very large sunglasses. He was holding a salmon puff in one hand and pointing at the Baudelaires with the other. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave Veblen Hall at once,” he said. “This is the In Auction. It’s no place for grimy little children like yourselves.”
“But we’re supposed to be here,” Violet said, thinking quickly. “We’re meeting our guardians.”
“Don’t make me laugh,” the man said, although it looked like he had never laughed in his life. “What sort of people would be caring for such dirty little kids?”
“Jerome and Esmé Squalor,” Klaus said. “We’ve been living in their penthouse.”
“We’ll see about this,” the man said. “Jerry, get over here!”
At the sound of the man’s raised voice, a few people turned around and looked at the children, but almost everyone kept listening to Gunther as he began to auction off Lot #47, which he explained was a pair of ballet slippers, please, made of chocolate. Jerome detached himself from a small circle of people and walked over to the stern man to see what the matter was. When he caught sight of the orphans, he looked as if you could have knocked him over with a feather, a phrase which here means he seemed happy but extremely surprised to see them.
“I’m very happy to see you,” he said, “but extremely surprised. Esmé told me you weren’t feeling very well.”
“So you know these children, Jerome?” the man in sunglasses said.
“Of course I know them,” Jerome replied. “They’re the Baudelaires. I was just telling you about them.”
“Oh yes,” the man said, losing interest. “Well, if they’re orphans, then I guess it’s O.K. for them to be here. But Jerry, you’ve got to buy them some new clothes!”
The man walked away before Jerome could reply. “I don’t like to be called Jerry,” he admitted to the children, “but I don’t like to argue with him, either. Well, Baudelaires, are you feeling better?”
The children stood for a moment and looked up at their guardian. They noticed that he had a half-eaten salmon puff in his hand, even though he had told the siblings that he didn’t like salmon. Jerome had probably not wanted to argue with the waiters in the salmon costumes, either. The Baudelaires looked at him, and then looked at one another. They did not feel better at all. They knew that Jerome would not want to argue with them if they told him once more about Gunther’s true identity. He would not want to argue with Esmé if they told him about her part in the treacherous scheme. And he would not want to argue with Gunther if they told him that the Quagmires were trapped inside one of the items at the In Auction. The Baudelaires did not feel better at all as they realized that the only person who could help them was someone who could be knocked over with a feather.
“Menrov?” Sunny said.
“Menrov?” Jerome repeated, smiling down at the littlest Baudelaire. “What does ‘Menrov?’ mean?”
“I’ll tell you what it means,” Klaus said, thinking quickly. Perhaps there was a way to have Jerome help them, without making him argue with anyone. “It means ‘Would you do us a favor, Jerome?’”
Violet and Sunny looked at their brother curiously. “Menrov?” didn’t mean “Would you do us a favor, Jerome?” and Klaus most certainly knew it. “Menrov?” meant something more like “Should we try to tell Jerome about Gunther and Esmé and the Quagmire triplets?” but the sisters kept quiet, knowing that Klaus must have a good reason to lie to his guardian.
“Of course I’ll do you a favor,” Jerome said. “What is it?”
“My sisters and I would really like to own one of the lots at this auction,” Klaus said. “We were wondering if you might buy it for us, as a gift.”
“I suppose so,” Jerome said. “I didn’t know you three were interested in in items.”
“Oh, yes,” Violet said, understanding at once what Klaus was up to. “We’re very anxious to own Lot #50—V.F.D.”
“V.F.D.?” Jerome asked. “What does that stand for?”
“It’s a surprise,” Klaus said quickly. “Would you bid for it?”
“If it’s very important to you,” Jerome said, “I suppose I will, but I don’t want you to get spoiled. You certainly arrived in time. It looks like Gunther is just finishing the bidding on those ballet shoes, so we’re coming right up to Lot #50. Let’s go watch the auction from where I was standing. There’s an excellent view of the stage, and there’s a friend of yours standing with me.”
“A friend of ours?” Violet asked.
“You’ll see,” Jerome said, and they did see. When they followed Jerome across the enormous room to watch the auction underneath the “In” banner, they found Mr. Poe, holding a glass of parsley soda and coughing into his white handkerchief.
“You could knock me over with a feather,” Mr. Poe said, when he was done coughing. “What are you Baudelaires doing here?”
“What are you doing here?” Klaus asked. “You told us you would be on a helicopter ride to a mountain peak.”
Mr. Poe paused to cough into his white handkerchief again. “The reports about the mountain peak turned out to be false,” Mr. Poe said, when the coughing fit had passed. “I now know for certain that the Quagmire twins are being forced to work at a glue factory nearby. I’m heading over there later, but I wanted to stop by the In Auction. Now that I’m Vice President in Charge of Orphan Affairs, I’m making more money, and my wife wanted to see if I could buy a bit of ocean decoration.”
“But—” Violet started to say, but Mr. Poe shushed her.
“Shush,” he said. “Gunther is beginning Lot #48, and that’s what I want to bid on.”
“Please, Lot #48,” Gunther announced. His shiny eyes regarded the crowd from behind his monocle, but he did not appear to spot the Baudelaires. “Is large statue of fish, painted red, please. Very big, very in. Big enough to sleep inside this fish, if you are in the mood, please. Who bid?”
“I bid, Gunther,” Mr. Poe called out. “One hundred.”
“Two hundred,” called out another voice from the crowd.
Klaus leaned in close to Mr. Poe to talk to him without Jerome hearing. “Mr. Poe, there’s something you should know about Gunther,” he said, thinking that if he could convince Mr. Poe, then the Baudelaires wouldn’t have to continue their charade, a word which here means “pretending to want V.F.D. so Jerome would bid on it and save the Quagmires without knowing it.” “He’s really—”
“An in auctioneer, I know,” Mr. Poe finished for him, and bid again. “Two hundred six.”
“Three hundred,” replied the other voice.
“No, no,” Violet said. “He’s not really an auctioneer at all. He’s Count Olaf in disguise.”
“Three hundred twelve,” Mr. Poe called out, and then frowned down at the children. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he said to them. “Count Olaf is a criminal. Gunther is just a foreigner. I can’t remember the word for a fear of foreigners, but I am surprised that you children have such a fear.”
“Four hundred,” called out the other voice.
“The word is ‘xenophobia,’” Klaus said, “but it doesn’t apply here, because Gunther’s not really a foreigner. He’s not even really Gunther!”
Mr. Poe took out his handkerchief again, and the Baudelaires waited as he coughed into it before replying. “You’re not making any sense,” he said finally. “Can we please discuss this after I buy this ocean decoration? I bid four hundred nine!”
“Five hundred,” called out the other voice.
“I give up,” Mr. Poe said, and coughed into his handkerchief. “Five hundred is too much to pay for a big herring statue.”
“Five hundred is highest bid, please,” Gunther said, and smiled at someone in the crowd. “Please will the winner give money to Mrs. Squalor, please.”
“Why, look, children,” Jerome said. “The doorman bought that big red fish.”
“The doorman?” Mr. Poe said, as the doorman handed Esmé a sack of coins and, with difficulty, lifted the enormous red fish statue off the stage, his hands still hidden in his long, long sleeves. “I’m surprised that a doorman can afford to buy anything at the In Auction.”
“He told me once he was an actor, too,” Jerome said. “He’s an interesting fellow. Care to meet him?”
“That’s very nice of you,” Mr. Poe said, and coughed into his handkerchief. “I’m certainly meeting all sorts of interesting people since my promotion.”
The doorman was struggling past the children with his scarlet herring when Jerome tapped him on the shoulder. “Come meet Mr. Poe,” he said.
“I don’t have time to meet anyone,” the doorman replied. “I have to get this in the boss’s truck and—” The doorman stopped midsentence when he caught sight of the Baudelaire children. “You’re not supposed to be here!” he said. “You’re not supposed to have left the penthouse.”
“Oh, but they’re feeling better now,” Jerome said, but the doorman wasn’t listening. He had turned around—swatting several pinstripe members of the crowd with his fish statue as he did so—and was calling up to the people on the stage. “Hey, boss!” he said, and both Esmé and Gunther turned to look as he pointed at the three Baudelaires. “The orphans are here!”
Esmé gasped, and she was so affected by the element of surprise that she almost dropped her sack of coins, but Gunther merely turned his head and looked directly at the children. His eyes shone very, very brightly, even the one behind his monocle, and the Baudelaires were horrified to recognize his expression. Gunther was smiling as if he had just told a joke, and it was an expression he wore when his treacherous mind was working its hardest.
“Orphans in,” he said, still insisting on pretending that he could not speak English properly. “O.K. for orphans to be here, please.” Esmé looked curiously at Gunther, but then shrugged, and gestured to the doorman with a long-nailed hand that everything was O.K. The doorman shrugged back at her, and then gave the Baudelaires a strange smile and walked out of the award-winning door. “We will skip Lot #49, please,” Gunther continued. “We will bid on Lot #50, please, and then, please, auction is over.”
“But what about all the other items?” someone called.
“Skip ’em,” Esmé said dismissively. “I’ve made enough money today.”
“I never thought I’d hear Esmé say that,” Jerome murmured.
“Lot #50, please,” Gunther announced, and pushed an enormous cardboard box onto the stage. It was as big as the fish statue—just the right size for storing two small children. The box had “V.F.D.” printed on it in big black letters, and the Baudelaires saw that some tiny airholes had been poked in the top. The three siblings could picture their friends, trapped inside the box and terrified that they were about to be smuggled out of the city. “V.F.D. please,” Gunther said. “Who bid?”
“I bid twenty,” Jerome said, and winked at the children.
“What in the world is ‘V.F.D.’?” Mr. Poe asked.
Violet knew that she had no time to try to explain everything to Mr. Poe. “It’s a surprise,” she said. “Stick around and find out.”
“Fifty,” said another voice, and the Baudelaires turned to see that this second bid had come from the man in sunglasses who had asked them to leave.
“That doesn’t look like one of Gunther’s assistants,” Klaus whispered to his sisters.
“You never know,” Violet replied. “They’re hard to spot.”
“Fifty-five,” Jerome called out. Esmé frowned at him, and then gave the Baudelaires a very mean glare.
“One hundred,” the man in sunglasses said.
“Goodness, children,” Jerome said. “This is getting very expensive. Are you sure you want this V.F.D.?”
“You’re buying this for the children?” Mr. Poe said. “Please, Mr. Squalor, don’t spoil these youngsters.”
“He’s not spoiling us!” Violet said, afraid that Gunther would stop the bidding. “Please, Jerome, please buy Lot #50 for us. We’ll explain everything later.”
Jerome sighed. “Very well,” he said. “I guess it’s only natural that you’d want some in things, after spending time with Esmé. I bid one hundred eight.”
“Two hundred,” the man in sunglasses said. The Baudelaires craned their necks to try and get a better look at him, but the man in sunglasses didn’t look any more familiar.
“Two hundred four,” Jerome said, and then looked down at the children. “I won’t bid any higher, children. This is getting much too expensive, and bidding is too much like arguing for me to enjoy it.”
“Three hundred,” the man in sunglasses said, and the Baudelaire children looked at one another in horror. What could they do? Their friends were about to slip out of their grasp.
“Please, Jerome,” Violet said. “I beg of you, please buy this for us.”
Jerome shook his head. “Someday you’ll understand,” he said. “It’s not worth it to spend money on silly in things.”
Klaus turned to Mr. Poe. “Mr. Poe,” he said, “would you be willing to loan us some money from the bank?”
“To buy a cardboard box?” Mr. Poe said. “I should say not. Ocean decorations are one thing, but I don’t want you children wasting money on a box of something, no matter what it is.”
“Final bid is three hundred, please,” Gunther said, turning and giving Esmé a monocled wink. “Please, sir, if—”
Gunther stopped at the sound of a new bidder for Lot #50. Esmé’s eyes widened, and she grinned at the thought of putting such an enormous sum in her pinstripe purse. The in crowd looked around, trying to figure out where this new voice was coming from, but nobody suspected such a long and valuable word would originate in the mouth of a tiny baby who was no bigger than a salami.
“Thousand!” Sunny shrieked again, and her siblings held their breath. They knew, of course, that their sister had no such sum of money, but they hoped that Gunther could not see where this bid was coming from, and would be too greedy to find out. The ersatz auctioneer looked at Esmé, and then again out into the crowd.
“Where in the world did Sunny get that kind of money?” Jerome asked Mr. Poe.
“Well, when the children were in boarding school,” Mr. Poe answered, “Sunny worked as a receptionist, but I had no idea that her salary was that high.”
“Thousand!” Sunny insisted, and finally Gunther gave in.
“The highest bid is now one thousand,” he said, and then remembered to pretend that he wasn’t fluent in English. “Please,” he added.
“Good grief!” the man in sunglasses said. “I’m not going to pay more than one thousand for V.F.D. It’s not worth it.”
“It is to us,” Violet said fiercely, and the three children walked toward the stage. Every eye in the crowd fell on the siblings as they left an ashy trail behind them on their way to the cardboard box. Jerome looked confused. Mr. Poe looked befuddled, a word which here means “as confused as Jerome.” Esmé looked vicious. The man in sunglasses looked like he had lost an auction. And Gunther kept smiling, as if a joke he had told was only getting funnier and funnier. Violet and Klaus climbed up on the stage and then hoisted Sunny up alongside them, and the three orphans looked fiercely at the terrible man who had imprisoned their friends.
“Give your thousand, please, to Mrs. Squalor,” Gunther said, grinning down at the children. “And then auction is over.”
“The only thing that is over,” Klaus said, “is your horrible plan.”
“Silko!” Sunny agreed, and then, using her teeth even though they were still sore from climbing up the elevator shaft, the youngest Baudelaire bit into the cardboard box and began ripping it apart, hoping that she wasn’t hurting Duncan and Isadora Quagmire as she did so.
“Wait a minute, kids!” Esmé snarled, getting out of her fancy chair and stomping over to the box. “You can’t open the box until you give me the money. That’s illegal!”
“What is illegal,” Klaus said, “is auctioning off children. And soon this whole room will see that you have broken the law!”
“What’s this?” Mr. Poe asked, striding toward the stage. Jerome followed him, looking from the orphans to his wife in confusion.
“The Quagmire triplets are in this box,” Violet explained, helping her sister tear it open. “Gunther and Esmé are trying to smuggle them out of the country.”
“What?” Jerome cried. “Esmé is this true?”
Esmé did not reply, but in a moment everyone would see if it was true or not. The children had torn away a large section of the cardboard, and they could see a layer of white paper inside, as if Gunther had wrapped up the Quagmires the way you might have the butcher wrap up a pair of chicken breasts.
“Hang on, Duncan!” Violet called, into the paper. “Just a few more seconds, Isadora! We’re getting you out of there!”
Mr. Poe frowned, and coughed into his white handkerchief. “Now look here, Baudelaires,” he said sternly, when his coughing spell was over, “I have reliable information that the Quagmires are in a glue factory, not inside a cardboard box.”
“We’ll see about that,” Klaus said, and Sunny gave the box another big bite. With a loud shredding sound it split right down the middle, and the contents of the box spilled out all over the stage. It is necessary to use the expression “a red herring” to describe what was inside the cardboard box. A red herring, of course, is a type of fish, but it is also an expression that means “a distracting and misleading clue.” Gunther had used the initials V.F.D. on the box to mislead the Baudelaires into thinking that their friends were trapped inside, and I’m sorry to tell you that the Baudelaires did not realize it was a red herring until they looked around the stage and saw what the box contained.
“These are doilies,” Violet cried. “This box is full of doilies!” And it was true. Scattered around the stage, spilling out of the remains of the cardboard box, were hundreds and hundreds of small, round napkins with a strip of lace around them—the sort of napkins that you might use to decorate a plate of cookies at a fancy tea party.
“Of course,” the man in sunglasses said. He approached the stage and removed his sunglasses, and the Baudelaires could see that he wasn’t one of Gunther’s associates after all. He was just a bidder, in a pinstripe suit. “I was going to give them to my brother for a birthday present. They’re Very Fancy Doilies. What else could V.F.D. stand for?”
“Yes,” Gunther said, smiling at the children. “What else could it stand for, please?”
“I don’t know,” Violet said, “but the Quagmires didn’t find out a secret about fancy napkins. Where have you put them, Olaf?”
“What is Olaf, please?” Gunther asked.
“Now, Violet,” Jerome said. “We agreed that we wouldn’t argue about Gunther anymore. Please excuse these children, Gunther. I think they must be ill.”
“We’re not ill!” Klaus cried. “We’ve been tricked! This box of doilies was a red herring!”
“But the red herring was Lot #48,” someone in the crowd said.
“Children, I’m very disturbed by your behavior,” Mr. Poe said. “You look like you haven’t washed in a week. You’re spending your money on ridiculous items. You run around accusing everybody of being Count Olaf in disguise. And now you’ve made a big mess of doilies on the floor. Someone is likely to trip and fall on all these slippery napkins. I would have thought that the Squalors would be raising you better than this.”
“Well, we’re not going to raise them anymore,” Esmé said. “Not after they’ve made such a spectacle of themselves. Mr. Poe, I want these terrible children placed out of my care. It’s not worth it to have orphans, even if they’re in.”
“Esmé!” Jerome cried. “They lost their parents! Where else can they go?”
“Don’t argue with me,” Esmé snapped, “and I’ll tell you where they can go. They can—”
“With me, please,” Gunther said, and placed one of his scraggly hands on Violet’s shoulder. Violet remembered when this treacherous villain had plotted to marry her, and shuddered underneath his greedy fingers. “I am loving of the children. I would be happy, please, to raise three children of my own.” He put his other scraggly hand on Klaus’s shoulder, and then stepped forward as if he was going to put one of his boots on Sunny’s shoulder so all three Baudelaires would be locked in a sinister embrace. But Gunther’s foot did not land on Sunny’s shoulder. It landed on a doily, and in a second Mr. Poe’s prediction that someone would trip and fall came true. With a papery thump! Gunther was suddenly on the ground, his arms flailing wildly in the doilies and his legs flailing madly on the floor of the stage. “Please!” he shouted as he hit the ground, but his wiggling limbs only made him slip more, and the doilies began to spread out across the stage and fall to the floor of Veblen Hall. The Baudelaires watched the fancy napkins flutter around them, making flimsy, whispering sounds as they fell, but then they heard two weighty sounds, one after the other, as if Gunther’s fall had made something heavier fall to the floor, and when they turned their heads to follow the sound, they saw Gunther’s boots lying on the floor, one at Jerome’s feet and one at Mr. Poe’s.
“Please!” Gunther shouted again, as he struggled to stand up, but when he finally got to his feet, everyone else in the room was looking at them.
“Look!” the man who had been wearing sunglasses said. “The auctioneer wasn’t wearing any socks! That’s not very polite!”
“And look!” someone else said. “He has a doily stuck between two of his toes! That’s not very comfortable!”
“And look!” Jerome said. “He has a tattoo of an eye on his ankle! He’s not Gunther!”
“He’s not an auctioneer!” Mr. Poe cried. “He’s not even a foreigner! He’s Count Olaf!”
“He’s more than Count Olaf,” Esmé said, walking slowly toward the terrible villain. “He’s a genius! He’s a wonderful acting teacher! And he’s the handsomest, innest man in town!”
“Don’t be absurd!” Jerome said. “Ruthless kidnapping villains aren’t in!”
“You’re right,” said Count Olaf, and what a relief it is to call him by his proper name. Olaf tossed away his monocle and put his arm around Esmé. “We’re not in. We’re out—out of the city! Come on, Esmé!”
With a shriek of laughter, Olaf took Esmé’s hand and leaped from the stage, elbowing aside the in crowd as he began running toward the exit.
“They’re escaping!” Violet cried, and jumped off the stage to chase after them. Klaus and Sunny followed her as fast as their legs could carry them, but Olaf and Esmé had longer legs, which in this case was just as unfair an advantage as the element of surprise. By the time the Baudelaires had run to the banner with Gunther’s face on it, Olaf and Esmé had reached the banner with “Auction” printed on it, and by the time the children reached that banner, the two villains had run past the “In” banner and through the award-winning door of Veblen Hall.
“Egad!” Mr. Poe cried. “We can’t let that dreadful man escape for the sixth time! After him, everyone! That man is wanted for a wide variety of violent and financial crimes!”
The in crowd sprang into action, and began chasing after Olaf and Esmé, and you may choose to believe, as this story nears its conclusion, that with so many people chasing after this wretched villain, it would be impossible for him to escape. You may wish to close this book without finishing it, and imagine that Olaf and Esmé were captured, and that the Quagmire triplets were rescued, and that the true meaning of V.F.D. was discovered and that the mystery of the secret hallway to the ruined Baudelaire mansion was solved and that everyone held a delightful picnic to celebrate all this good fortune and that there were enough ice cream sandwiches to go around. I certainly wouldn’t blame you for imagining these things, because I imagine them all the time. Late at night, when not even the map of the city can comfort me, I close my eyes and imagine all those happy comforting things surrounding the Baudelaire children, instead of all those doilies that surrounded them and brought yet another scoop of misfortune into their lives. Because when Count Olaf and Esmé Squalor flung open the door of Veblen Hall, they let in an afternoon breeze that made all the very fancy doilies flutter over the Baudelaires’ heads and then settle back down on the floor behind them, and in one slippery moment the entire in crowd was falling all over one another in a papery, pinstripe blur. Mr. Poe fell on Jerome. Jerome fell on the man who had been wearing sunglasses, and his sunglasses fell on the woman who had bid highest on Lot #47. That woman dropped her chocolate ballet slippers, and those slippers fell on Count Olaf’s boots, and those boots fell on three more doilies that made four more people slip and fall on one another and soon the entire crowd was in a hopeless tangle.
But the Baudelaires did not even glance back to see the latest grief that the doilies had caused. They kept their eyes on the pair of loathsome people who were running down the steps of Veblen Hall toward a big black pickup truck. Behind the wheel of the pickup truck was the doorman, who had finally done the sensible thing and rolled up his oversized sleeves, but that must have been a difficult task, for as the children gazed into the truck they caught a glimpse of two hooks where the doorman’s hands should have been.
“The hook-handed man!” Klaus cried. “He was right under our noses the entire time!”
Count Olaf turned to sneer at the children just as he reached the pickup truck. “He might have been right under your noses,” he snarled, “but soon he will be at your throats. I’ll be back, Baudelaires! Soon the Quagmire sapphires will be mine, but I haven’t forgotten about your fortune!”
“Gonope?” Sunny shrieked, and Violet was quick to translate.
“Where are Duncan and Isadora?” she said. “Where have you taken them?”
Olaf and Esmé looked at one another, and burst into laughter as they slipped into the black truck. Esmé jerked a long-nailed thumb toward the flatbed, which is the word for the back part of a pickup where things are stored. “We used two red herrings to fool you,” she said, as the truck’s engine roared into life. The children could see, in the back of the truck, the big red herring that had been Lot #48 in the In Auction.
“The Quagmires!” Klaus cried. “Olaf has them trapped inside that statue!” The orphans raced down the steps of the hall, and once again, you may find it more pleasant to put down this book, and close your eyes, and imagine a better ending to this tale than the one that I must write. You may imagine, for instance, that as the Baudelaires reached the truck, they heard the sound of the engine stalling, instead of the tooting of the horn as the hook-handed man drove his bosses away. You may imagine that the children heard the sounds of the Quagmires escaping from the statue of the herring, instead of the word “Toodle-oo!” coming from Esmé’s villainous mouth. And you may imagine the sound of police sirens as Count Olaf was caught at last, instead of the weeping of the Baudelaire orphans as the black truck rounded the corner and disappeared from view.
But your imaginings would be ersatz, as all imaginings are. They are as untrue as the ersatz auctioneer who found the Baudelaires at the Squalors’ penthouse, and the ersatz elevator outside their front door and the ersatz guardian who pushed them down the deep pit of the elevator shaft. Esmé hid her evil plan behind her reputation as the city’s sixth most important financial advisor, and Count Olaf hid his identity behind a monocle and some black boots, and the dark passageway hid its secrets behind a pair of sliding elevator doors, but as much as it pains me to tell you that the Baudelaire orphans stood on the steps of Veblen Hall, weeping with anguish and frustration as Count Olaf rode away with the Quagmire triplets, I cannot hide the unfortunate truths of the Baudelaires’ lives behind an ersatz happy ending.
The Baudelaire orphans stood on the steps of Veblen Hall, weeping with anguish and frustration as Count Olaf rode away with the Quagmire triplets, and the sight of Mr. Poe emerging from the award-winning door, with a doily in his hair and a look of panic in his eye, only made them weep harder.
“I’ll call the police,” Mr. Poe said, “and they’ll capture Count Olaf in no time at all,” but the Baudelaires knew that this statement was as ersatz as Gunther’s improper English. They knew that Olaf was far too clever to be captured by the police, and I’m sorry to say that by the time two detectives found the big black pickup truck, abandoned outside St. Carl’s Cathedral with the motor still running, Olaf had already transferred the Quagmires from the red herring to a shiny black instrument case, which he told the bus driver was a tuba he was bringing to his aunt. The three siblings watched Mr. Poe scurry back into Veblen Hall to ask members of the in crowd where he could find a phone booth, and they knew that the banker was not going to be of any help.
“I think Mr. Poe will be a great deal of help,” Jerome said, as he walked out of Veblen Hall and sat down on the steps to try to comfort the children. “He’s going to call the police, and give them a description of Olaf.”
“But Olaf is always in disguise,” Violet said miserably, wiping her eyes. “You never know what he’ll look like until you see him.”
“Well, I’m going to make sure you never see him again,” Jerome promised. “Esmé may have left—and I’m not going to argue with her—but I’m still your guardian, and I’m going to take you far, far away from here, so far away that you’ll forget all about Count Olaf and the Quagmires and everything else.”
“Forget about Olaf?” Klaus asked. “How can we forget about him? We’ll never forget his treachery, no matter where we live.”
“And we’ll never forget the Quagmires, either,” Violet said. “I don’t want to forget about them. We have to figure out where he’s taking our friends, and how to rescue them.”
“Tercul!” Sunny said, which meant something along the lines of “And we don’t want to forget about everything else, either—like the underground hallway that led to our ruined mansion, and the real meaning of V.F.D.!”
“My sister is right,” Klaus said. “We have to track down Olaf and learn all the secrets he’s keeping from us.”
“We’re not going to track down Olaf,” Jerome said, shuddering at the thought. “We’ll be lucky if he doesn’t track us down. As your guardian, I cannot allow you to try to find such a dangerous man. Wouldn’t you rather live safely with me?”
“Yes,” Violet admitted, “but our friends are in grave danger. We must go and rescue them.”
“Well, I don’t want to argue,” Jerome said. “If you’ve made up your mind, then you’ve made up your mind. I’ll tell Mr. Poe to find you another guardian.”
“You mean you won’t help us?” Klaus asked.
Jerome sighed, and kissed each Baudelaire on the forehead. “You children are very dear to me,” he said, “but I don’t have your courage. Your mother always said I wasn’t brave enough, and I guess she was right. Good luck, Baudelaires. I think you will need it.”
The children watched in amazement as Jerome walked away, not even looking back at the three orphans he was leaving behind. They found their eyes brimming with tears once more as they watched him disappear from sight. They would never see the Squalor penthouse again, or spend another night in their bedrooms, or spend even a moment in their oversized pinstripe suits. Though he was not as dastardly as Esmé or Count Olaf or the hook-handed man, Jerome was still an ersatz guardian, because a real guardian is supposed to provide a home, with a place to sleep and something to wear, and all Jerome had given them in the end was “Good luck.” Jerome reached the end of the block and turned left, and the Baudelaires were once again alone in the world.
Violet sighed, and stared down the street in the direction Olaf had escaped. “I hope my inventing skills don’t fail me,” she said, “because we’re going to need more than good luck to rescue the Quagmire triplets.”
Klaus sighed, and stared down the street in the direction of the ashy remains of their first home. “I hope my research skills don’t fail me,” he said, “because we’re going to need more than good luck to solve the mystery of the hallway and the Baudelaire mansion.”
Sunny sighed, and watched as a lone doily blew down the stairs. “Bite,” she said, and she meant that she hoped her teeth wouldn’t fail her, because they’d need more than good luck to discover what V.F.D. really stood for.
The Baudelaires looked at one another with faint smiles. They were smiling because they didn’t think Violet’s inventing skills would fail, any more than Klaus’s research skills would fail or Sunny’s teeth would fail. But the children also knew that they wouldn’t fail each other, as Jerome had failed them and as Mr. Poe was failing them now, as he dialed the wrong number and was talking to a Vietnamese restaurant instead of the police. No matter how many misfortunes had befallen them and no matter how many ersatz things they would encounter in the future, the Baudelaire orphans knew they could rely on each other for the rest of their lives, and this, at least, felt like the one thing in the world that was true.
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