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متن انگلیسی فصل
“You youngsters look very spiffy in those helmets!” Phil said, with a wide, optimistic smile on his face. “I know you must be a little nervous, but I’m sure all of you children will rise to the occasion!”
The Baudelaire orphans sighed, and looked at one another from inside their diving helmets. When someone tells you that you will rise to the occasion, it means they think you’ll be strong or skillful enough for a particular situation, but Violet, Klaus, and Sunny did not know if they could rise to the occasion when they were so afraid of sinking. Although they had dragged their helmets back and forth to the barracks, they hadn’t realized how awkward they were until they had strapped them onto their waterproof uniforms. Violet did not like the fact that she couldn’t reach through the helmet to tie up her hair, in case she needed to invent something on the spur of the moment, a phrase which here means “while traveling through the Gorgonian Grotto.” Klaus found that it was difficult to see, as the small circular window in his helmet interfered with his glasses. And Sunny was not at all happy about curling up inside her helmet, shutting the tiny door, and being carried by her sister as if she were a volleyball instead of a young girl. When they had put their uniforms on just a few hours earlier, the three siblings thought that the waterproof suits had fit them like a glove. But now, as they followed Captain Widdershins out of the Main Hall and down the damp and dripping corridor, the children feared that the uniforms fit more like an anchor, dragging them down to the depths of the sea.
“Don’t worry,” Fiona said, as though she were reading the Baudelaires’ minds. She gave the siblings a small smile from behind her diving helmet. “I assure you that these suits are completely safe—safe, but uncomfortable.”
“As long as we can breathe,” Violet said, “I don’t care how uncomfortable they are.”
“Of course you’ll be able to breathe!” the captain said. “Aye! The oxygen systems in your helmets provide plenty of air for a short journey! Of course, if there’s any opportunity to remove your helmets, you should do so! Aye! That way the system can recharge itself, and you’ll have more air.”
“Where would we find an opportunity to remove our helmets in an underwater cave?” Klaus asked.
“Who knows?” Captain Widdershins said. “Aye! You’ll be in uncharted waters. I wish I could go myself! Aye! But the grotto has become too narrow!”
“Hewenkella,” Sunny said. Her voice was muffled inside the helmet, and it was difficult for even her siblings to know what she was saying.
“I think my sister is curious about how we’ll be able to see our way,” Violet said. “Does the Queequeg have any waterproof flashlights?”
“Flashlights won’t help you,” the captain replied. “Aye! It’s too dark! Aye! But you won’t need to see your way. Aye! If Klaus’s calculations are correct, the tide will just push you along. Aye! You won’t even have to swim! You can just sit there, and you’ll drift right to the sugar bowl!”
“That seems like an awfully passive way to travel,” Fiona said.
“Aye!” her stepfather agreed. “It does! But there is no other solution! And we should not hesitate!” He stopped and pointed to his plaque. “He or she who hesitates is lost!” he reminded them.
“It’s a little hard not to hesitate,” Violet said, “before doing something like this.”
“It’s not too late to draw straws!” the captain said. “Aye! You don’t all have to go together!”
“The three of us prefer not to be separated,” Klaus said. “We’ve had too much trouble that way.”
“I should think you’ve had too much trouble in any case!” the captain said. “Aye!”
“The Baudelaires are right, Stepfather,” Fiona said. “This way makes the most sense. We may need Violet’s mechanical expertise, or Klaus’s knowledge of the tidal charts. And Sunny’s size may come in handy, if the grotto gets even smaller.”
“Ulp,” Sunny said, which meant something like, “I don’t like the idea of drifting by myself in a diving helmet.”
“What about you, Fiona?” the captain asked. “Aye! You could stay here with me!”
“My skills might be needed as well,” Fiona said quietly, and the Baudelaires shuddered, trying not to think about the Medusoid Mycelium and its poisonous spores.
“Aye!” Captain Widdershins admitted, and smoothed his mustache with one gloved finger. “Well, I’m going to tell V.F.D. all about this! Aye! All four of you volunteers will receive citations for bravery!”
The Baudelaires looked at one another as best they could through the small circular windows. A citation for bravery is nothing more than a piece of paper stating that you have been courageous at some time, and such citations have not been known to be very useful when confronted by danger, whether deep underwater, or, as the Baudelaires would eventually learn, high up in the air. Anyone can write up a citation for bravery, and I have even been known to write one for myself from time to time, in order to keep my spirits up in the middle of a treacherous journey. The three siblings were more interested in surviving their voyage through the Gorgonian Grotto than in receiving a written statement complimenting them on their courage, but they knew Captain Widdershins was trying to keep their spirits up as he led them down the corridor and into the room where they had first encountered the captain of the Queequeg.
“To get into the water,” the captain said, “you just climb up that same ladder and give a holler when you’re at the hatch. Then I’ll activate a valve down here, so the submarine won’t flood with water when you open it. Then, as I said, you’ll just let the current carry you. You should end up in the same place as the sugar bowl.”
“And you still won’t tell us why the sugar bowl is important?” Violet couldn’t help asking.
“It’s not the sugar bowl,” Captain Widdershins said, “it’s what’s inside it. Aye! I’ve already said too much! Aye! There are secrets in this world too terrible for young people to know! Just think—if you knew about the sugar bowl and you somehow fell into Count Olaf’s clutches, there’s no telling what he’d do! Aye!”
“But look on the bright side,” Phil pointed out. “Whatever terrible things may be lurking in that cave, you won’t find Count Olaf. There’s no way that octopus submarine could fit!”
“Aye!” the captain agreed. “But we’ll watch for him on the sonar, just in case! We’ll watch you too! Aye! We’ll be right here watching you the entire time! The oxygen systems in your helmets make enough noise that you’ll appear as four tiny dots on our screen! Now, off you go! Good luck!”
“We’ll be wishing you the best!” Phil said.
The adults gave each of the children a pat on the helmet, and without any further hesitation, off went the Baudelaire children with Fiona behind them, following the ladder up to the hatch through which they had come aboard. The four volunteers were quiet as they made their way up, until Violet reached up with one hand—the other hand was clutching Sunny’s helmet—and grabbed the handle that opened the hatch.
“We’re ready!” she called down, although she did not feel ready at all.
“Aye!” replied the voice of the captain. “I’m activating the valve now! Wait five seconds and then open the hatch! Aye! But don’t hesitate! Aye! He who hesitates is lost! Aye! Or she! Aye! Good luck! Aye! Good fortune! Aye! Good journey! Aye! Good-bye!”
There was a distant clanging, presumably the sound of the valve activating, and the four children waited for five seconds, just as you may wish to wait a few seconds yourself, so all thoughts of the Baudelaires’ predicament will vanish from your imagination so that you will not be weeping as you learn several boring facts about the water cycle. The water cycle, to review, consists of three key phenomena—evaporation, precipitation, and collection—which are all equally boring and thus equally less upsetting than what happened to the Baudelaires when Violet opened the hatch and the icy, dark waters of the sea rushed into the passageway. If you were to read what happened to them in the moments that followed, you would find yourself unable to sleep as you wept into your pillow and pictured the children all alone in that grim grotto, drifting slowly to the end of the cavern, and yet if you read about the water cycle you would find yourself unable to stay awake, due to the boring description of the process by which water is distributed around the world, and so as a courtesy to you I will continue this book in a way that is best for all concerned.
The water cycle consists of three phenomena—evaporation, precipitation, and collection—which are the three phenomena that make up what is known as “the water cycle.” Evaporation, the first of these phenomena, is the process of water turning into vapor and eventually forming clouds, such as those found in cloudy skies, or on cloudy days, or even cloudy nights. These clouds are formed by a phenomenon known as “evaporation,” which is the first of three phenomena that make up the water cycle. Evaporation, the first of these three, is simply a term for a process by which water turns into vapor and eventually forms clouds. Clouds can be recognized by their appearance, usually on cloudy days or nights, when they can be seen in cloudy skies. The name for the process by which clouds are formed—by water, which turns into vapor and becomes part of the formation known as “clouds”—is “evaporation,” the first phenomenon in the three phenomena that make up the cycle of water, otherwise known as “the water cycle,” and surely you must be asleep by now and so can be spared the horrifying details of the Baudelaires’ journey.
The instant Violet opened the hatch, the passageway flooded with water, and the children drifted out of the submarine and into the blackness of the Gorgonian Grotto. The Baudelaires knew, of course, that the Queequeg had entered an underwater cave, but still they were unprepared for how very dark and cold it was. Sunlight had not reached the waters of the grotto for quite some time—not since Anwhistle Aquatics was still up and running, a phrase which here means “not destroyed under suspicious circumstances”—and the water felt like a freezing black glove, encircling the children with its chilly fingers. As Klaus had predicted after studying the tidal charts, the currents of the cave carried the youngsters away from the submarine, but in the darkness it was impossible to see how fast or far they were going. Within moments the four volunteers lost sight of the Queequeg, and then of one another. Had the grotto been equipped with some sort of lighting system, as it once had, the children could have seen a number of things. They might have noticed the mosaic on the grotto floor—thousands and thousands of colorful tiles, depicting noble events from the early history of a secret organization, and portraits of famous writers, scientists, artists, musicians, philosophers, and chefs who had inspired the organization’s members. They might have seen an enormous, rusted pumping machine, which was able to drain the entire grotto, or flood it with seawater again, in mere minutes. They might have gazed upward and seen the sharp angles of various Vertical Flame Diversions and other secret passageways that once led all the way up to the marine research center and rhetorical advice service, or even spotted the person who was using one of the passageways now, and probably for the last time, as she made her difficult and dark way toward the Queequeg. But instead, all the children could see through their small circular windows was darkness. The Baudelaires had seen darkness before, of course—darkness in secret passageways and tunnels, darkness in abandoned buildings and empty streets, darkness in the eyes of wicked people, and even darkness in other caves. But never before had the orphans felt so completely in the dark as they did now. They did not know where they were, although once Violet felt, very briefly, her feet brush up against something very smooth, like a tile fitted firmly against the ground. They could not tell where they were going, although after a while Klaus had a suspicion that the current had spun him so he was traveling upside down. And they could not tell when they would arrive, although from time to time Sunny saw, through her diving helmet, a tiny dot of light, much like the tiny dots Captain Widdershins said they would appear as on the sonar screen of his submarine.
The Baudelaires drifted along in cold, dark silence, feeling afraid and confused and strangely lonely, and when their journey finally ended, it was so sudden it felt as if they had fallen into a deep, deep sleep, as deep and dark as the cavern itself, and now were being jolted awake. At first, it sounded as if a bushel of broken glass were raining down on the children, but then the children realized they had drifted to the surface of the water, and in one curling, fluid motion, the tide pushed them onto something that felt like a beach, and the three siblings found themselves crawling on a slope of dark, wet sand.
“Klaus?” Violet called through her helmet. “Are you there? What’s happened?”
“I don’t know,” Klaus replied. He could just barely see his sister crawling alongside him. “We couldn’t have reached the surface of the sea—we were very, very deep. Is Sunny with you?”
“Yes,” Sunny said, from inside her helmet. “Fiona?”
“I’m here,” came the voice of the mycologist. “But where are we? How can we still be below the surface of the sea, without any water around us?”
“I’m not sure,” Klaus said, “but it must be possible. After all, a submarine can be below the sea and stay dry.”
“Are we on another submarine?” Violet asked.
“I dunno,” Sunny said, and frowned in her helmet. “Look!”
The elder Baudelaires looked, although it took them a few moments to realize what Sunny was talking about, as they could not see what direction their sister was pointing. But in a moment they saw two small lights, a short distance from where the volunteers were crawling. Hesitantly, they stood up—except for Sunny, who remained curled up in her helmet—and saw that the lights were coming from a place many lights come from: lamps. A short distance away, standing against the wall, were three floorlamps, each with a letter on its shade. The first lamp had a large V, and the second had an F. The third floorlamp had burnt out, and it was too dim to read the shade, but the children knew, of course, that it must have had a D.
“What is this place?” Fiona asked, but as the children stepped closer they could see what kind of place it was.
As they had suspected, the currents of the Gorgonian Grotto had carried them to a beach, but it was a beach contained in a narrow room. The youngsters stood at the top of the slope of sand and peered at this small, dim room, with smooth tiled walls that looked damp and slippery, and a sand floor covered in an assortment of small objects, some in piles and some half-buried in the sand. The children could see bottles, some still with their corks and caps, and some cans still intact from their journey. There were a few books, their pages bloated as if soaked in water, and a few small cases that looked locked. There was a roller skate, turned upside down, and a deck of cards sitting in two piles, as if someone were about to shuffle them. Here and there were a few pens, sticking out of the sand like porcupine quills, and there were many more objects the children could not identify in the gloom.
“Where are we?” Fiona asked. “Why isn’t this place full of water?”
Klaus looked up, but could not see past a few feet. “This must be a passage of some sort,” Klaus said, “straight up to dry land—an island, maybe, or maybe it curves to the shore.”
“Anwhistle Aquatics,” Violet said thoughtfully. “We must be underneath its ruins.”
“Oxo?” Sunny asked, which meant “Does that mean we can breathe without our helmets?”
“I think so,” Klaus said, and then carefully removed his helmet, an action for which I would have given him a citation for bravery. “Yes,” he said. “We can breathe. Everybody take off their helmets—that way, our oxygen systems will recharge.”
“But what is this place?” Fiona asked again, removing her helmet. “Why would anybody build a room way down here?”
“It looks like it’s been abandoned,” Violet said. “It’s full of junk.”
“Someone must come to change the light-bulbs,” Klaus pointed out. “Besides, all this junk was washed up here by the tide, like us.”
“And like sugar bowl,” Sunny said.
“Of course,” Fiona said, looking down at the objects in the sand. “It must be here someplace.”
“Let’s find it and get out of here,” Violet said. “I don’t like this place.”
“Mission,” Sunny said, which meant “Once we find the sugar bowl, our work here is done.”
“Not quite,” Klaus said. “We’ll still have to return to the Queequeg—against the current, I might add. Looking for the sugar bowl is only half the battle.”
Everyone nodded in agreement, and the four volunteers spread out and began to examine the objects in the sand. Saying that something is half the battle is like saying something is half a sandwich, because it is dangerous to announce that something is half the battle when the much more difficult part might still be waiting in the wings, a phrase which here means “coming up more quickly than you’d like.” You might think learning how to boil water is half the battle, only to learn that making a poached egg is much trickier than you thought. You might think that climbing a mountain is half the battle, only to find out that the mountain goats who live at the top are vicious, and heavily armed. And you might think that rescuing a kidnapped ichnologist is half the battle, only to discover that making a poached egg is much trickier than you thought and that the entire battle would be much more difficult and dangerous than you ever would have imagined. The Baudelaires and their mycologist friend thought that looking for the sugar bowl was half the battle, but I’m sorry to tell you that they were wrong, and it is lucky that you fell asleep earlier, during my description of the water cycle, so you will not learn about the other half of the Baudelaires’ battle, and the ghastly poison they would end up battling not long after their search through the sand.
“I’ve found a box of rubber bands,” Violet said, after a few minutes, “and a doorknob, two mattress springs, half a bottle of vinegar, and a paring knife, but no sugar bowl.”
“I’ve found an earring, a broken clipboard, a book of poetry, half a stapler, and three swizzle sticks,” Klaus said, “but no sugar bowl.”
“Three can soup,” Sunny said, “jar peanut butter, box crackers, pesto, wasabi, lo mein. But nadasuchre.”
“This is harder than I thought,” Klaus said. “What have you found, Fiona?”
Fiona did not answer.
“Fiona?” Klaus asked again, and the Baudelaires turned to look at her. But the mycologist was not looking at the siblings. She was looking past them, and her eyes were wide with fear behind her triangular glasses. “Fiona?” Klaus said, sounding a bit worried. “What have you found?”
Fiona swallowed, and pointed back down at the slope of sand. “Mycelium,” she said finally, in a faint whisper, and the Baudelaires turned to see that she had spoken the truth. Sprouting out of the sand, quickly and silently, were the stalks and caps of the Medusoid Mycelium, the fungus Fiona had described back on the Queequeg. The invisible threads of the mycelium, according to her mycological book, waxed and waned, and had been waning when the volunteers drifted ashore, which meant that the mushrooms had been hiding underground when the children had arrived at this strange room. But now, as time passed, they were waxing, and sprouting up all over the beach and even along the smooth, tiled walls. At first just a handful were visible—each one a dark, gray color, with black splotches on the caps as if they were spattered with ink—and then more and more, like a silent, deadly crowd that had gathered on the beach and was staring blindly at the terrified children. The mushrooms only ventured halfway up the slope of sand, so it seemed that the poisonous fungus was not going to engulf them—not yet, anyway. But as the mycelium continued to wax, the entire beach sprouted in sinister mushrooms, and until it waned the Baudelaires had to huddle on the sand, in the light of the floorlamps, and stare back at the venomous mycological crowd. More and more mushrooms appeared, crowding the strange shore and piling up on top of one another as if they were pushing and shoving to get a good look at the trapped and frightened children. Looking for the sugar bowl may have been half the battle, but now the Baudelaire orphans were trapped, and that half was much, much more troubling.
The word “lousy,” like the word “volunteer,” the word “fire,” the word “department,” and many other words found in dictionaries and other important documents, has a number of different definitions depending on the exact circumstances in which it is used. There is the common definition of the word “lousy,” meaning “bad,” and this definition of “lousy” has described many things in my history of the Baudelaire orphans, from the sinister smells of Lousy Lane, along which the children traveled long ago, to their lousy journey up and down the Mortmain Mountains in search of theV.F.D. headquarters. There is the medical definition of the word “lousy,” meaning “infested with lice,” and this definition of “lousy” has not appeared in my work at all, although as Count Olaf’s hygiene gets worse and worse I may find occasion to use it. And then there is a somewhat obscure definition of the word “lousy,” meaning “abundantly supplied,” the way Count Olaf is lousy with treacherous plans, or the Queequeg is lousy with metal pipes, or the entire world is lousy with unfathomable secrets, and it is this definition that the Baudelaire orphans pondered, as they huddled with Fiona underneath the mysterious floorlamps of the Gorgonian Grotto, and watched more and more mushrooms sprout from the sand. As their surroundings became lousy with the Medusoid Mycelium, the children thought of all the other things in their lives with which they were abundantly supplied. The children’s lives were lousy with mystery, from the mysteries of V.F.D. to the mysteries of their own futures, with each mystery crowding the others like the stalks and caps of the poisonous fungi. Their lives were lousy with danger, from the dangers they had encountered above mountains and underneath buildings, to the dangers they had faced inside the city and out in the hinterlands, from the dangers of villainous people to the dangers of kind people who did not know any better. And their lives were lousy with lousiness, from terrible people to horrible meals, from terrifying locations to horrifying circumstances, and from dreadful inconveniences to inconvenient dreads, so that it seemed that their lives would always be lousy, lousy with lousy days and lousy with lousy nights, even if all of the lousy things with which their lives were lousy became less lousy, and less lousy with lousiness, over the lousy course of each lousy-with-lousiness moment, and with each new lousy mushroom, making the cave lousier and lousier with lousiness, it was almost too much for the Baudelaire orphans to bear.
“Lousy,” Sunny said.
“This is not good news,” Klaus agreed. “Fiona, do you think we’ve been poisoned already?”
“No,” Fiona said firmly. “The spores shouldn’t reach us here. As long as we stay here at the far end of the cavern, and the mushrooms don’t advance any further, we should be safe.”
“It looks like they’ve stopped advancing,” Violet said, pointing at the line of gray mushrooms, and the other volunteers saw that she was right. There were still new mushrooms popping up, but the fungus didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the four children.
“I guess the mycelium has only grown that far,” Fiona said. “We’re very lucky.”
“I don’t feel very lucky,” Klaus said. “I feel trapped. How will we get out of here?”
“There’s only one way,” Violet said. “The only path back to the Queequeg leads through those mushrooms.”
“If we go through the mushrooms,” Fiona said, “we’ll most likely be poisoned. One spore could easily slip through our suits.”
“Antidote?” Sunny asked.
“I might find the recipe for a cure,” Fiona replied, “someplace in my mycological library. But we don’t want to take that chance. We’ll have to exit another way.”
For a moment, all four children looked up, into the blackness of the passage above their heads. Violet frowned, and put one hand on the damp and slippery tiles of the wall. With the other hand she reached into the waterproof pocket of her uniform, and drew out a ribbon to tie up her hair.
“Can we go out that way?” Klaus asked. “Can you invent something to help us climb up that passageway?”
“Tingamebob,” Sunny said, which meant “There’s plenty of materials here in the sand.”
“Materials aren’t the problem,” Violet said, and peered up into the blackness. “We’re far below the surface of the water. It must be miles and miles to the surface. Even the best climbing device would wear out over the journey, and if it did we’d fall all the way down.”
“But someone must use that passageway,” Klaus said. “Otherwise it wouldn’t have been built.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Fiona said. “We can’t go out that way. We need to get to the Queequeg. Otherwise, my stepfather will wonder what’s become of us. Eventually he’d put on his diving helmet and go investigate…”
“And the tide would carry him right into the poisonous fungus,” Klaus finished. “Fiona’s right. Even if we could climb all the way up, it’d be the wrong way to go.”
“But what else can we do?” Violet said, her voice rising. “We can’t spend the rest of our lives in this miserable place!”
Fiona looked at the mushrooms and sighed. “Mushroom Minutiae said that this fungus waxes and wanes. Right now it’s waxing. We’ll have to wait until it wanes again, and then run quickly over the sand and swim back down to the submarine.”
“But how long will it be until it starts waning?” Klaus said.
“I don’t know,” Fiona admitted. “It could be just a few minutes, or a few hours. It could even be a few days.”
“A few days?” Violet said. “In a few days your stepfather will give up on us! In a few days we’ll miss the V.F.D. gathering! We can’t wait a few days!”
“It’s our only choice,” Klaus said, putting a comforting hand on Violet’s shoulder. “We can wait until the mushrooms disappear, or we can find ourselves poisoned.”
“That’s not a choice at all,” Violet replied bitterly.
“It’s a Hobson’s choice,” Klaus said. “Remember?”
The eldest Baudelaire looked down at her brother and gave him a small smile. “Of course I remember,” she said.
“Mamasan,” Sunny said. Her siblings looked down at her, and Violet picked her up in her arms.
“Who’s Hobson?” Fiona asked. “What was his choice?”
Klaus smiled. “Thomas Hobson lived in Britain in the seventeenth century,” he said. “He was in charge of a stable, and according to legend, he always told his customers they had a choice: they could take the horse closest to the door, or no horse at all.”
“That’s not really a choice,” Fiona said.
Violet smiled. “Precisely,” she said. “A Hobson’s choice is something that’s not a choice at all. It’s an expression our mother used to use. She’d say, ‘I’ll give you a Hobson’s choice, Violet—you can clean your room or I will stand in the doorway and sing your least favorite song over and over.’”
Fiona grinned. “What was your least favorite song?” she asked.
“‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat,’” Violet said. “I hate the part about life being but a dream.”
“She’d offer me the Hobson’s choice of doing the dishes or reading the poetry of Edgar Guest,” Klaus said. “He’s my absolute least favorite poet.”
“Bath or pink dress,” Sunny said.
“Did your mother always joke around like that?” Fiona asked. “Mine used to get awfully mad if I didn’t clean my room.”
“Our mother would get mad, too,” Klaus said. “Remember, Violet, when we left the window of the library open, and that night it rained?”
“She really flew off the handle,” Violet said, using a phrase which here means “became extremely angry.” “We spoiled an atlas that she said was irreplaceable.”
“You should have heard her yell,” Klaus said. “Our father came down from his study to see what was the matter.”
“And then he started yelling, too,” Violet said, and the Baudelaires paused and looked at one another uncomfortably. Everyone yells, of course, from time to time, but the Baudelaire children did not like to think about their parents yelling, particularly now that they were no longer around to apologize or explain themselves. It is often difficult to admit that someone you love is not perfect, or to consider aspects of a person that are less than admirable. To the Baudelaires it felt almost as if they had drawn a line after their parents died—a secret line in their memories, separating all the wonderful things about the Baudelaire parents from the things that perhaps were not quite so wonderful. Since the fire, whenever they thought of their parents, the Baudelaires never stepped over this secret line, preferring to ponder the best moments the family had together rather than any of the times when they had fought, or been unfair or selfish. But now, suddenly, in the gloom of the Gorgonian Grotto, the siblings had stumbled across that line and found themselves thinking of that angry afternoon in the library, and in moments other angry afternoons and evenings had occurred to them until their brains were lousy with memories of all stripes, a phrase which here means “both good and bad.” It gave the siblings a queasy feeling to cross this line in their memories, and admit that their parents were sometimes difficult, and it made them feel all the queasier to realize they could not step back, and pretend they had never remembered these less-than-perfect moments, any more than they could step back in time, and once again find themselves safe in the Baudelaire home, before fire and Count Olaf had appeared in their lives.
“My brother used to get angry, too,” Fiona said. “Before he disappeared, he would have awful fights with my stepfather—late at night, when they thought I was asleep.”
“Your stepfather didn’t mention that,” Violet said. “He said your brother was a charming man.”
“Maybe he only remembers the charming parts,” Fiona replied. “Maybe he doesn’t want to remember everything. Maybe he wants to keep those parts secret.”
“Do you think your stepfather knew about this place?” Klaus asked, looking around the eerie room. “He mentioned that we might find a place to take off our diving helmets, remember? It seemed strange at the time.”
“I don’t know,” Fiona said. “Maybe that’s another secret he was keeping.”
“Like the sugar bowl,” Violet said.
“Speaking which,” Sunny said.
“Sunny’s right,” Klaus said. “We should keep looking for the sugar bowl.”
“It must be here someplace,” Fiona agreed, “and besides, we need some way to pass the time until the fungus wanes. Everyone should spread out, and give a shout if you find the sugar bowl.”
The Baudelaires nodded in agreement, and the four volunteers took distant positions on the sand, taking care not to step any closer to the Medusoid Mycelium. For the next few hours, they dug through the sand floor of the grotto and examined what they found by the light of the two floorlamps. Each layer of sand uncovered several items of interest, but no matter how many objects the children encountered, no one gave a shout. Violet found a butter dish, a length of electrical wire, and an odd, square stone with messages carved in three languages, but not what she was looking for, and so the eldest Baudelaire remained silent. Klaus found a box of toothpicks, a small hand puppet, and a ring made of dull metal, but not what he had come to the cave to find, and so the middle Baudelaire merely sighed. And Sunny found two cloth napkins, a broken telephone receiver, and a fancy wineglass filled with holes, but when she finally opened her mouth to speak, the youngest Baudelaire merely said, “Snack!” which meant something like, “Why don’t we stop for a bite to eat?” and quickly opened the crackers and peanut butter she had found.
“Thanks, Sunny,” Fiona said, taking a cracker spread with peanut butter. “I must say, Baudelaires, I’m getting frustrated. My hands ache from all that digging, but there’s no sign of the sugar bowl.”
“I’m beginning to think this is a fool’s errand,” Violet said, using a phrase which here means “errand performed by a fool.” “We journeyed all the way down here to find a crucial item, and instead it seems like we’re finding nothing but junk. It’s a waste of time.”
“Not necessarily,” Klaus said, eating a cracker and looking at the items he had found. “We may not have found the sugar bowl, but I think we did find some crucial information.”
“What do you mean?” Violet said.
“Look at this,” Klaus said, and held up a book he had taken from the sand. “It’s a collection of poetry, and most of it is too damp to read. But look at the title page.”
The middle Baudelaire held open the book so the other volunteers could see. “Versed Furtive Disclosure,” Violet read out loud.
“V.F.D.,” Sunny said.
“Yes,” Klaus said. “‘Furtive’ means ‘secretive,’ and ‘disclosure’ means ‘to reveal something.’ I think V.F.D. may have hidden things here—not just the sugar bowl, but other secrets.”
“That would make sense,” Violet said. “This grotto is a bit like a secret passageway— like the one we found underneath our home, or the one Quigley found underneath his.”
Fiona nodded, and began to search through a pile of items she had taken from the sand. “I found an envelope earlier,” she said, “but I didn’t think to open it. I was too busy concentrating on the sugar bowl.”
“Punctilio,” Sunny said, holding up a torn and tattered sheet of newspaper. The children could see the letters “V.F.D.” circled in a headline.
“I’m too exhausted to dig anymore,” Violet said. “Let’s spend some time reading instead. Klaus, you can examine that poetry book. Fiona, you can see if there’s anything worthwhile in that envelope. And I’ll take a look at the clipping Sunny found.”
“Me?” asked Sunny, whose reading skills were still developing.
“Why don’t you cook us something, Sunny,” Klaus suggested with a smile. “Those crackers just whetted my appetite.”
“Pronto,” the youngest Baudelaire promised, looking at the foodstuffs she had found in the sand, most of which were sealed up tight. The phrase “whet my appetite,” as you probably know, refers to one’s hunger being awakened, and usually it refers to food. The Baudelaires had lost track of time while searching through the sand of the grotto, and the snack Sunny prepared made them realize just how long it had been since they had eaten. But another appetite had been whetted for the Baudelaires as well—a hunger for secrets, and for information that might help them. As Sunny began to prepare a meal for her fellow volunteers, Violet and Klaus looked over the materials they had found, devouring whatever information seemed important, and Fiona did the same thing, leaning up against the tiled wall of the cavern as she examined the contents of the envelope she had found. The volunteers’ hunger for information was almost as fierce as their hunger for food, and after a lengthy period of studying and note taking, whisking and mixing, the four children could not say whether they were more eager to hear about the others’ research or to eat the meal Sunny had prepared.
“What is this?” Violet asked her sister, peering into the fishbowl Sunny was using as a serving dish.
“Pesto lo mein,” Sunny explained.
“What my sister means,” Klaus said, “is that she found a package of soft Chinese noodles, which she tossed with an Italian basil sauce she got out of a jar.”
“That’s quite an international combination,” Fiona said.
“Hobson,” Sunny said, which meant “I didn’t have much choice, given our surroundings,” and then held up another item she had found. “Wasabi?”
“What’s wasabi?” Violet asked.
“It’s a Japanese condiment,” Klaus said. “It’s very spicy, and often served with fish.”
“Why don’t we save the wasabi, Sunny,” Violet said, taking the tin of wasabi and putting it in the pocket of her uniform. “We’ll take it back to the Queequeg and you can use it in a seafood recipe.”
Sunny nodded in agreement, and passed the fishbowl to her siblings. “Utensi,” she said.
“We can use these swizzle sticks as chopsticks,” Klaus said. “We’ll have to take turns, and whoever isn’t eating can tell us what they’ve discovered. Here, Fiona, why don’t you go first?”
“Thanks,” Fiona said, taking the swizzle sticks gratefully. “I’m quite hungry. Did you learn anything from that poetry book?”
“Not as much as I would have liked,” Klaus said. “Most of the pages were soaked from their journey, and so I couldn’t read much. But I believe I’ve learned a new code: Verse Fluctuation Declaration. It’s a way to communicate by substituting words in poems.”
“I don’t understand,” Violet said.
“It’s a bit tricky,” Klaus said, opening his commonplace book, in which he’d copied the information. “The book uses a poem called ‘My Last Duchess,’ by Robert Browning, as an example.”
“I’ve read that,” Fiona said, twirling a few noodles around a swizzle stick to get them into her mouth. “It’s a very creepy story about a man who murders his wife.”
“Right,” Klaus said. “But if a volunteer used the name of the poem in a coded communication, the title might be ‘My Last Wife’ instead of ‘My Last Duchess,’ by the poet ‘Obert Browning’ instead of Robert Browning.’’
“What purpose would that serve?” Violet said.
“The volunteer reading it would notice the mistake,” Klaus said. “The changing of certain words or letters is a kind of fluctuation. If you fixed the fluctuations in the poem, you’d receive the message.”
“Duchess R?” Fiona asked. “What kind of message is that?”
“I’m not sure,” Klaus admitted. “The next page in the book is missing.”
“Do you think the missing page is a code, too?” Violet asked.
Klaus shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “Codes are nothing more than a way of talking so that some people understand and other people don’t. Remember when we talked to Quigley in the cave, with all the other Snow Scouts listening?”
“Yes,” Violet said. “We used words that began with V, F, and D, so that we knew we were all on the same side.”
“Maybe we should have a code ourselves,” Fiona said, “so that we can communicate if we run into trouble.”
“That’s a good idea,” Klaus said. “What should we use as code words?”
“Food,” Sunny suggested.
“Perfect,” Violet said. “We’ll draw up a list of foods and what they mean in our code. We’ll bring them up in conversation, and our enemies will never suspect that we’re actually communicating.”
“And our enemies could be around any corner,” Fiona said, handing the fishbowl of lo mein to Violet and picking up the envelope she had found. “Inside this envelope was a letter. Normally I don’t like to read other people’s mail, but it seems unlikely that this letter will ever reach Gregor Anwhistle.”
“Gregor Anwhistle?” Violet asked. “He’s the man who founded the research center. Who was writing to him?”
“A woman named Kit,” Fiona said. “I think it’s Kit Snicket—Jacques’s sister.”
“Of course,” Klaus said. “Your stepfather said she was a noble woman who helped build the Queequeg.”
“According to her letter,” Fiona said, “Gregor Anwhistle was involved in something called a ‘schism.’ What’s that?”
“It was a big conflict within V.F.D.,” Klaus said. “Quigley told us a little bit about it.”
“Everybody chose sides,” Violet recalled, “and now the organization is in chaos. Which side was Gregor on?”
“I don’t know,” Fiona said, frowning. “Some of this letter is in code, and some of it was in water. I can’t understand all of it, but it sounds like Gregor was involved with something called Volatile Fungus Deportation.”
“‘Volatile’ means ‘unstable,’ or ‘likely to cause trouble,’” Klaus said. “‘Fungus,’ of course, means ‘mushrooms,’ and ‘deportation’ means ‘moving something from one place to another.’ Who was moving unstable mushrooms?”
“V.F.D.,” Fiona replied. “During the schism, Gregor thought the Medusoid Mycelium might be useful.”
“The Medusoid Mycelium?” Violet said, looking nervously at the silent, gray mushrooms that still lined the entrance to the small, tiled room, their black splotches looking particularly eerie in the dim light. “I can’t imagine thinking that such deadly things could be useful.”
“Listen to what Kit wrote about it,” Fiona said. “‘The poisonous fungus you insist on cultivating in the grotto will bring grim consequences for all of us. Our factory at Lousy Lane can provide some dilution of the mycelium’s destructive respiratory capabilities, and you assure me that the mycelium grows best in small, enclosed spaces, but this is of little comfort. One mistake, Gregor, and your entire facility would have to be abandoned. Please, do not become the thing you dread most by adopting the destructive tactic of our most villainous enemies: playing with fire.’”
Klaus was busily copying Kit Snicket’s letter into his commonplace book. “Gregor was growing those mushrooms,” he said, “to use on enemies of V.F.D.”
“He was going to poison people?” Violet asked.
“Villainous people,” Fiona replied, “but Kit Snicket thought that using poisonous mushrooms was equally villainous. They were working on a way to weaken the poison, in a factory on Lousy Lane. But the writer of this letter still thought that Volatile Fungus Deportation was too dangerous, and she warned Gregor that if he wasn’t careful, the mycelium would poison the entire research center.”
“And now the center is gone,” Violet said, “and the mycelium remains. Something went very wrong, right here where we’re sitting.”
“I still don’t understand it,” Klaus said. “Was Gregor a villain?”
“I think he was volatile,” Fiona said, “like the Medusoid Mycelium. And the writer of this letter says that if you cultivate something volatile, then you’re playing with fire.”
Violet shuddered, stopped eating her pesto lo mein, and put down the fishbowl. “Playing with fire,” of course, is an expression that refers to any dangerous or risky activity, such as writing a letter to a volatile person, or journeying through a dark cave filled with a poisonous fungus in order to search for an object that was taken away quite some time before, and the Baudelaires did not like to think about the fire they were playing with, or the fires that had already been played with in this damp and mysterious room. For a moment, nobody spoke, and the Baudelaires gazed at the stalks and caps of the deadly mushrooms, wondering what had gone wrong with Anwhistle Aquatics. They wondered how the schism began. And they wondered about all of the mysterious and villainous things that seemed to surround the three orphans, drawing closer and closer as their woeful lives went on and on, and if such mysteries would ever be solved and if such villains ever defeated.
“Wane,” Sunny said suddenly, and the children saw it was true. The crowd of mushrooms seemed to be just a bit smaller, and here and there they saw a stalk and cap disappear back into the sand, as if the poisonous fungus had decided to implement an alternate strategy, a phrase which here means “would terrorize the Baudelaires in another way.”
“Sunny’s right,” Klaus said with relief. “The Medusoid Mycelium is waning. Soon it’ll be safe enough to return to the Queequeg.”
“It must be a fairly short cycle,” Fiona said, making a note in her commonplace book. “How long do you think we’ve been here?”
“All night, at least,” Violet said, unfolding the sheet of newspaper Sunny had found. “It’s lucky we found all these materials, otherwise we would have been quite bored.”
“My brother always had a deck of cards with him,” Fiona remembered, “in case he was stuck in a boring situation. He invented this card game called Fernald’s Folly, and we used to play it together whenever we had a long wait.”
“Fernald?” Violet asked. “Was that your brother’s name?”
“Yes,” Fiona said. “Why do you ask?”
“I was just curious,” she said, hurriedly tucking the newspaper into the pocket of her uniform. There was just enough room to slip it next to the tin of wasabi.
“Aren’t you going to tell us what was in the newspaper?” Klaus asked. “I saw the headline said V.F.D.”
“I didn’t learn anything,” Violet said. “The article was too blurred to read.”
“Hmmm,” Sunny said, and gave her sister a sly look. The youngest Baudelaire had known Violet since she was born, of course, and found it quite easy to tell when she was lying. Violet looked back at Sunny, and then at Klaus, and shook her head, very, very slightly.
“Why don’t we get ready to go?” the eldest Baudelaire suggested. “By the time we pack up these documents and put on our diving helmets, the fungus will have waned completely.”
“You’re right,” Fiona said. “Here, Sunny, I’ll help you get into your helmet. It’s the least I can do after you cooked such a delicious meal.”
“Shivalrush,” Sunny said, which meant “That’s very kind of you,” and although Fiona had not known Sunny very long, she understood what the youngest Baudelaire had said, more or less, and smiled at all three of the Baudelaire siblings. As the four volunteers suited up—a phrase which here means “prepared their helmets for an underwater journey”—the Baudelaire children felt as if Fiona fit them like a glove—as a friend, or possibly something more. It felt as if Fiona and the Baudelaires were part of the same team, or the same organization, trying to solve the same mysteries and defeat the same villains. It felt that way to the two younger Baudelaires, anyway. Only Violet felt as if their friendship were more volatile, as if Fiona fit her like the wrong glove, or as if their friendship had a tiny flaw—a flaw that might turn into a schism. As Violet put the diving helmet over her head, and made sure that the zipper of the uniform was zipped tight over the portrait of Herman Melville, she heard the slight rustle of the newspaper clipping in her pocket and frowned. She kept frowning as the last of the mushrooms disappeared into the sand, and the four children stepped carefully back into the icy dark water. Because they were traveling against the tide, the volunteers had decided to hold hands, so they would not lose track of one another as they returned to the Queequeg, and as their dark journey began, Violet thought of the dangerous and risky secret concealed in her pocket and realized, as Klaus led the way back to the submarine, with Fiona holding Klaus’s hand, and Violet holding Fiona’s, and Sunny, curled in her helmet, tucked tightly under Violet’s arm, that even while swimming in the icy depths of the ocean, the Baudelaires were playing with fire. The sinister information in the newspaper clipping was like a tiny spore, blossoming in the small, enclosed space of Violet’s pocket—like a spore of the deadly Medusoid Mycelium, which at that very moment was blossoming in the small, enclosed space of a diving helmet worn by one of the Baudelaire orphans.
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