بخش 06

مجموعه: مجموعه بدبیاری ها / کتاب: غار غم انگیز / فصل 6

بخش 06

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CHAPTER Twelve

The expression “the tables have turned” is not one the Baudelaire orphans had much occasion to use, as it refers to a situation that has suddenly been reversed, so that those who were previously in a powerless position could suddenly find themselves in a powerful one, and vice versa. For the Baudelaires, the tables had turned at Briny Beach, when they received news of the terrible fire, and Count Olaf suddenly became a powerful and terrifying figure in their lives. As time went on, the siblings waited and waited for the tables to turn back, so that Olaf might be defeated once and for all and they could find themselves free of the sinister and mysterious forces that threatened to engulf them, but the tables of the Baudelaires’ lives seemed stuck, with the children always in a position of misery and sorrow while wickedness seemed to triumph all around them. But as Violet hurriedly opened the tin of wasabi she had been keeping in her pocket, and spooned the green, spicy mixture into Sunny’s wheezing mouth, it seemed like the tables might turn after all. Sunny gasped when the wasabi hit her tongue, and the stalks and caps of the Medusoid Mycelium shivered, and seemed to shrink back from the powerful Japanese condiment. In moments, the fungus began to wither and fade away, and Sunny’s wheezing faded into coughing, and her coughing faded into deep breaths as the youngest Baudelaire rallied, a word which here means “regained her strength, and ability to breathe.” The youngest Baudelaire hung on tight to her siblings’ hands, and her eyes filled with tears, but Violet and Klaus could see that the Medusoid Mycelium would not triumph over their sister.

“It’s working,” Violet said. “Sunny’s breathing is getting stronger.”

“Yes,” Klaus said. “We’ve turned the tables on that ghastly fungus.”

“Water,” Sunny said, and her brother stood up from the kitchen floor and quickly got his sister a glass of water. Weakly, the youngest Baudelaire sat up and drank deeply from the glass, and then hugged both her siblings as tightly as she could.

“Thank you,” she said. “Saved me.”

“You saved yourself,” Violet pointed out. “We had the wasabi this whole time, but we didn’t think of giving it to you until you told us.”

Sunny coughed again, and lay back down on the floor. “Tuckered,” she murmured.

“I’m not surprised you’re exhausted,” Violet said. “You’ve been through quite an ordeal. Shall we carry you to the barracks so you can rest?”

“Rest here,” Sunny said, curling up at the foot of the stove.

“Will you really be comfortable on the kitchen floor?” Klaus asked.

Sunny opened one exhausted eye and smiled at her siblings. “Near you,” she said.

“All right, Sunny,” Violet said, grabbing a dish towel from the kitchen counter, and folding it into a pillow for her sister. “We’ll be in the Main Hall if you need us.”

“What next?” she murmured.

“Shh,” Klaus said, putting another dish towel on top of her. “Don’t worry, Sunny. We’ll figure out what to do next.”

The Baudelaires tiptoed out of the kitchen, carrying the tin of wasabi. “Do you think she’ll be all right?” Violet asked.

“I’m sure she will,” Klaus said. “After a nap she’ll be as good as new. But we should eat some of that wasabi ourselves. When we opened the diving helmet, we were exposed to the Medusoid Mycelium, and we’ll need all of our strength to get away from Olaf.”

Violet nodded, and put a spoonful of wasabi into her mouth, shuddering violently as the condiment hit her tongue. “There’s one last spoonful,” Violet said, handing the tin to her brother. “We’d better make sure that diving helmet stays closed until we get our hands on some horseradish and destroy that fungus for good.”

Klaus nodded in agreement, closed his eyes, and ate the last of the Japanese condiment. “If we ever invent that food code we talked about with Fiona,” he said, “the word ‘wasabi’ should mean ‘powerful.’ No wonder this cured our sister.”

“But now that we’ve cured her,” Violet said, remembering Sunny’s question as she fell asleep, “what next?”

“Olaf is next,” Klaus said firmly. “He said he has everything he needs to defeat V.F.D. forever—except the sugar bowl.”

“You’re right,” Violet said. “We have to turn the tables on him, and find it before he does.”

“But we don’t know where it is,” Klaus said. “Someone must have taken it from the Gorgonian Grotto.”

“I wonder—” Violet said, but she never said what she wondered, because a strange noise interrupted her. The noise was a sort of whir, followed by a sort of beep, followed by all sorts of noises, and they seemed to be coming from deep within the machinery of the Queequeg. Finally, a green light lit up on a panel in the wall, and a flat, white object began to slither out of a tiny slit in the panel.

“It’s paper,” Klaus said.

“It’s more than paper,” Violet said, and walked over to the panel. The sheet of paper curled into her hand as it emerged from the slit, as if the machine were impatient for the eldest Baudelaire to read it. “This is the telegram device. We must be receiving—”

“A Volunteer Factual Dispatch,” Klaus finished.

Violet nodded, and scanned the paper quickly. Sure enough, the words “Volunteer Factual Dispatch” were printed on the top, and as more and more of the paper appeared, the eldest Baudelaire saw that it was addressed “To the Queequeg,” with the date printed below, as well as the name of the person who was sending the telegram, miles and miles away on dry land. It was a name Violet almost dared not say out loud, even though she had felt as if she had been whispering it to herself for days, ever since the icy waters of the Stricken Stream had carried away a young man who meant very much to her.

“It’s from Quigley Quagmire,” she said quietly.

Klaus’s eyes widened in astonishment. “What does he say?” he asked.

Violet smiled as the telegram finished printing, her finger touching the Q in her friend’s name. It was almost as if knowing that Quigley was alive was enough of a message. “‘It is my understanding that you have three additional volunteers on board STOP,’” she read, remembering that “STOP” indicates the end of a sentence in a telegram. “‘We are in desperate need of their services for a most urgent matter STOP. Please deliver them Tuesday to the location indicated in the rhymes below STOP.’” She scanned the paper and frowned thoughtfully. “Then there are two poems,” she said. “One by Lewis Carroll and the other by T. S. Eliot.”

Klaus took his commonplace book out of his pocket, and flipped pages until he found what he was looking for. “Verse Fluctuation Declaration,” he said. “That’s the code we learned in the grotto. Quigley must have changed some of the words in the poems, so no one else would know where we’re supposed to meet him. Let’s see if we can recognize the changes.”

Violet nodded, and read the first poem out loud:

“‘O Oysters, come and walk with us!’

The Walrus did beseech.

‘A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,

Along the movie theater.’”

“That last part sounds wrong,” Violet said.

“There were no movie theaters when Lewis Carroll was alive,” Klaus said. “But what are the real words to the poem?”

“I don’t know,” Violet said. “I’ve always found Lewis Carroll too whimsical for my taste.”

“I like him,” Klaus said, “but I haven’t memorized his poems. Read the other one. Maybe that will help.”

Violet nodded, and read aloud:

“At the pink hour, when the eyes and back

Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits

Like a pony throbbing party…”

The voice of the eldest Baudelaire trailed off, and she looked at her brother in confusion. “That’s all,” she said. “The poem stops there.”

Klaus frowned. “There’s nothing else in the telegram?”

“Only a few letters at the very bottom,” she said. “‘CC: J.S.’ What does that mean?”

“‘CC’ means that Quigley sent a copy of this message to someone else,” Klaus said, “and ‘J.S.’ are the initials of the person.”

“Those mysterious initials again,” Violet said. “It can’t be Jacques Snicket, because he’s dead. But who else could it be?”

“We can’t worry about that now,” Klaus said. “We have to figure out what words have been substituted in these poems.”

“How can we do that?” Violet asked.

“I don’t know,” Klaus said. “Why would Quigley think we would have memorized these poems?”

“He wouldn’t think that,” Violet said. “He knows us. But the telegram was addressed to the Queequeg. He knew that someone on board could decode the poetry.”

“But who?” Klaus asked. “Not Fiona—she’s a mycologist. An optimist like Phil isn’t likely to be familiar with T. S. Eliot. And it’s hard to imagine Captain Widdershins having a serious interest in poetry.”

“Not anymore,” Violet said thoughtfully. “But Fiona’s brother said he and the captain used to study poetry together.”

“That’s true,” Klaus said. “He said they used to read to one another in the Main Hall.” He walked over to the sideboard and opened the cabinet, peering at the books Fiona kept inside. “But there’s no poetry here—just Fiona’s mycological library.”

“Captain Widdershins wouldn’t keep poetry books out front like that,” Violet said. “He would have kept them secret.”

“Just like he kept the secret of what happened to Fiona’s brother,” Klaus said.

“He thought there were secrets too terrible for young people to know,” Violet said, “but now we need to know them.”

Klaus was silent for a moment, and then turned to his sister. “There’s something I never told you,” he said. “Remember when our parents were so angry over the spoiled atlas?”

“We talked about that in the grotto,” Violet said. “The rain spoiled it when we left the library window open.”

“I don’t think that’s the only reason they were mad,” Klaus said. “I took that atlas down from the top shelf—one I could only reach by putting the stepladder on top of the chair. They didn’t think I could reach that shelf.”

“Why would that make them angry?” Violet asked.

Klaus looked down. “That’s where they kept books they didn’t want us to find,” he said. “I was interested in the atlas, but when I removed it from the shelf there was a whole row of other books.”

“What kind of books?” Violet asked.

“I didn’t get a good look at them,” Klaus asked. “There were a few books about war, and I think a few romances. I was too interested in the atlas to investigate any further, but I remember thinking it was strange that our parents had hidden those books. That’s why they were so angry, I think—when they saw the atlas on the window seat, they knew I’d discovered their secret.”

“Did you ever look at them again?” Violet said.

“I didn’t have a chance,” Klaus said. “They moved them to another hiding place, and I never saw them again.”

“Maybe our parents were going to tell us what was in those books when we were older,” Violet said.

“Maybe,” Klaus agreed. “But we’ll never know. We lost them in the fire.”

The elder Baudelaires sat quietly for a moment, looking at the cabinet in the sideboard, and then, without a word, the two siblings stepped onto the wooden table so they could open the highest cabinet. Inside was a small stack of books on such dull topics as child rearing, proper and improper diets, and the water cycle, but when the children pushed these books aside they saw what they had been looking for.

“Elizabeth Bishop,” Violet said, “Charles Simic, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Franz Wright, Daphne Gottlieb—there’s all sorts of poetry here.”

“Why don’t you read T. S. Eliot,” Klaus suggested, handing her a thick, dusty volume, “and I’ll tackle Lewis Carroll. If we read quickly we should be able to find the real poems and decode the message.”

“I found something else,” Violet said, handing her brother a crumpled square of paper. “Look.”

Klaus looked at what his sister had given him. It was a photograph, blurred and faded with age, of four people, grouped together like a family. In the center of the photograph was a large man with a long mustache that was curved at the end like a pair of parentheses—Captain Widdershins, of course, although he looked much younger and a great deal happier than the children had ever seen him. He was laughing, and his arm was around someone the two Baudelaires recognized as the hook-handed man, although he was not hook-handed in the photograph—both of his hands were perfectly intact, one resting on the captain’s shoulder, and the other pointing at whoever was taking the picture—and he was young enough to still be called a teenager, instead of a man. On the other side of the captain was a woman who was laughing as hard as the captain, and in her arms was a young infant with a tiny set of triangular glasses.

“That must be Fiona’s mother,” Klaus said, pointing at the laughing woman.

“Look,” Violet said, pointing to the wall behind the family. “This was taken on board the Queequeg. That’s the edge of the plaque with the captain’s personal philosophy—‘He who hesitates is lost.’”

“The whole family is lost, almost,” Klaus said quietly. “Fiona’s mother is dead. Her brother joined Count Olaf’s troupe. And who knows where her stepfather is?” He put down the photograph, opened his commonplace book, and flipped to the beginning, where he had pasted another photograph taken long ago. This photograph also had four people in it, although one of the people was facing away from the camera, so it was impossible to tell who it was. The second person was Jacques Snicket, who of course was long dead. And the other two people were the Baudelaire parents. Klaus had kept this photograph ever since the children found it at Heimlich Hospital, and had looked at it every day, gazing into his parents’ faces and reading the one sentence, over and over, that had been typed below it. “Because of the evidence discussed on page nine,” the sentence read, “experts now suspect that there may in fact be one survivor of the fire, but the survivor’s whereabouts are unknown.” For quite some time, the Baudelaires had thought this meant one of their parents was alive after all, but now they were almost certain it meant no such thing. Violet and Klaus looked from one photograph to the other, imagining a time when no one in the pictures was lost, and everyone was happy.

Klaus sighed, and looked at his sister. “Maybe we shouldn’t be hesitating here,” Klaus said. “Maybe we should be rescuing our captain, instead of reading books of poetry and looking at old photographs. I don’t want to lose Fiona.”

“Fiona’s safe with her brother,” Violet said, “and I’m sure she’ll join us when she can. We need to decode this message, or we might lose everything. In this case, he or she who doesn’t hesitate is lost.”

“What if we decode the message before Fiona arrives?” Klaus asked. “Do we wait for her to join us?”

“We wouldn’t have to,” Violet said. “The three of us could properly operate this submarine by ourselves. All we’d need to do is repair the porthole, and we could probably steer the Queequeg out of the Carmelita.”

“We can’t abandon her here,” Klaus said. “She wouldn’t abandon us.”

“Are you sure?” Violet asked.

Klaus sighed, and looked at the photograph again. “No,” he said. “Let’s get to work.”

Violet nodded in agreement, and the two Baudelaires shelved the discussion—a phrase which here means “temporarily stopped their conversation”—and unshelved the poetry books in order to get to work on decoding Quigley’s Verse Fluctuation Declarations. It had been some time since the Baudelaires had been able to read in a comfortable place, and the children were pleased to find themselves silently flipping pages, searching for certain words, and even taking a few notes. Reading poetry, even if you are only reading to find a secret message hidden within its words, can often give one a feeling of power, the way you can feel powerful if you are the only one who brought an umbrella on a rainy day, or the only one who knows how to untie knots when you’re taken hostage. With each poem the children felt more and more powerful—or, as they might have said in their food code, more and more wasabi—and by the time the two volunteers were interrupted they felt as if the tables just might be continuing to turn.

“Snack!” announced a cheerful voice below them, and Violet and Klaus were pleased to see their sister emerging from the kitchen carrying a small plate.

“Sunny!” Violet cried. “We thought you were asleep.”

“Rekoop,” the youngest Baudelaire said, which meant something along the lines of, “I had a brief nap, and when I woke up I felt well enough to cook something.”

“I am a bit hungry,” Klaus admitted. “What did you make us?”

“Amuse bouche,” Sunny said, which meant something like, “Tiny water chestnut sandwiches, with a spread of cheese and sesame seeds.”

“They’re quite tasty,” Violet said, and the three children shared the plate of amuse bouche as the elder Baudelaires brought Sunny up to speed, a phrase which here means “told their sister what had happened while she was suffering inside the diving helmet.” They told her about the terrible submarine that had swallowed the Queequeg, and the terrible villain they encountered inside. They described the hideous circumstances in which the Snow Scouts found themselves, and the hideous clothing worn by Esmé Squalor and Carmelita Spats. They told her about the Volunteer Factual Dispatch, and the Verse Fluctuation Declarations they were trying to decode. And, finally, they told her about the hook-handed man being Fiona’s long-lost brother, and the possibility that he might join them aboard the Queequeg.

“Perifido,” Sunny said, which meant “It would be foolish to trust one of Olaf’s henchmen.”

“We don’t trust him,” Klaus said. “Not really. But Fiona trusts him, and we trust Fiona.”

“Volatile,” Sunny said.

“Yes,” Violet admitted, “but we don’t have much choice. We’re in the middle of the ocean—”

“And we need to get to the beach,” Klaus said, and held up the book of Lewis Carroll’s poetry. “I think I’ve solved part of the Verse Fluctuation Declaration. Lewis Carroll has a poem called ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter.’”

“There was something about a walrus in the telegram,” Violet said.

“Yes,” Klaus said. “It took me a while to find the specific stanza, but here it is. Quigley wrote:

“‘O Oysters, come and walk with us!’

The Walrus did beseech.

‘A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,

Along the movie theater.’”

“Yes,” Violet said. “But what does the actual poem say?”

Klaus read,

“‘O Oysters, come and walk with us!’

The Walrus did beseech.

‘A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,

Along the briny beach.’”

Klaus closed the book and looked up at his sisters. “Quigley wants us to meet him tomorrow,” he said, “at Briny Beach.”

“Briny Beach,” Violet repeated quietly. The eldest Baudelaire did not have to remind her siblings, of course, of the last time they were at Briny Beach, learning from Mr. Poe that the tables of their lives had turned. The three siblings sat and thought of that terrible day, which felt as blurred and faded as the photograph of Fiona’s family—or the photograph of their own parents, pasted into Klaus’s commonplace book. Returning to Briny Beach after all this time felt to the Baudelaires like an enormous step backward, as if they would lose their parents and their home again, and Mr. Poe would take them once more to Count Olaf’s house, and all the unfortunate events would crash over them once more, like the waves of the ocean crashing on the tidepools of Briny Beach and the tiny, passive creatures who lived inside them.

“How would we get there?” Klaus asked.

“In the Queequeg,” Violet said. “This submarine should have a location device, and once we know where we are, I think I could set a course for Briny Beach.”

“Distance?” Sunny asked.

“It shouldn’t be far,” Klaus said. “I’d have to check the charts. But what would we do when we got there?”

“I think I have the answer to that,” Violet said, turning to her book of T. S. Eliot poems. “Quigley used lines from a very long poem in this book called The Waste Land.”

“I tried to read that,” Klaus said, “but I found T. S. Eliot too opaque. I scarcely understood a word.”

“Maybe it’s all in code,” Violet said. “Listen to this. Quigley wrote:

“At the pink hour, when the eyes and back

Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits

Like a pony throbbing party…

“But the real poem reads

“At the violet hour, when the eyes and back

Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits

Like a—”

“Blah blah blah ha ha ha!” interrupted a cruel, mocking voice. “Ha blah ha blah ha blah! Tee hee snaggle sniggle tee hee hee! Hubba hubba giggle diddle denouement!”

The Baudelaires looked up from their books to face Count Olaf, who was already stepping through the porthole and onto the wooden table. Behind him was Esmé Squalor, sneering beneath the hood of her octopus outfit, and the children could hear the unpleasant slapping footsteps of the horrid pink shoes of Carmelita Spats, who peeked her heart-decorated face into the submarine and giggled nastily.

“I’m happier than a pig eating bacon!” Count Olaf cried. “I’m tickled pinker than a sunburned Caucasian! I’m in higher spirits than a brand-new graveyard! I’m so happy-go-lucky that lucky and happy people are going to beat me with sticks out of pure, unbridled jealousy! Ha ha jicama! When I stopped by the brig to see how my associate was progressing, and found that you orphans had flown the coop, I was afraid you were escaping, or sabotaging my submarine, or even sending a telegram asking for help! But I should have known you were too dim-witted to do anything useful! Look at yourselves, orphans, snacking and reading poetry, while the powerful and good-looking people of the world cackle in triumph! Cackle cackle cutthroat!”

“In just a few minutes,” Esmé bragged, “we will arrive at the Hotel Denouement, thanks to our bratty rowing crew. Tee hee triumphant! V.F.D.’s last safe place will soon be in ashes—just like your home, Baudelaires!”

“I’m going to do a special tap-dancing ballerina fairy princess veterinarian dance recital,” Carmelita bragged, “on the graves of all those volunteers!” Carmelita leaped through the porthole, her pink tutu fluttering as if it were trying to escape, and joined Olaf on the table to begin a dance of triumph.

“C is for ‘cute,’” Carmelita sang,

A is for ‘adorable’!

R is for ‘ravishing’!

M is for ‘gor—’”

“Now, now, Carmelita,” Count Olaf said, giving the tap-dancing ballerina fairy princess veterinarian a tense smile. “Why don’t you save your dance recital for later? I’ll buy you all the dance costumes in the world. With V.F.D. out of the way, all the fortunes of the world can be mine—the Baudelaire fortune, the Quagmire fortune, the Widdershins fortune, the—”

“Where is Fiona?” Klaus asked, interrupting the villain. “What have you done with her? If you’ve hurt her—”

“Hurt her?” Count Olaf asked, his eyes shining bright beneath his one scraggly eyebrow. “Hurt Triangle Eyes? Why would I hurt a clever girl like that? Tee hee troupe member!”

With one of his tiresome dramatic gestures, Count Olaf pointed behind him, and Esmé clapped the tentacles of her outfit as two people appeared in the porthole. One was the hook-handed man, who looked as wicked as he ever had. And the other was Fiona, who looked slightly different. One difference was the expression on her face, which looked resigned, a word which here means “as if the mycologist had given up entirely on defeating Count Olaf.” But the other difference was printed on the slippery-looking uniform she was wearing, right in the center.

“No,” Klaus said quietly, as he stared at his friend.

“No,” Violet said firmly, and looked at Klaus.

“No!” Sunny said angrily, and bared her teeth as Fiona stepped through the porthole and stood beside Count Olaf on the wooden table. Her boot brushed against the poetry books Violet and Klaus had taken from the sideboard, including books by Lewis Carroll and T. S. Eliot. There are some who say that the poetry of Lewis Carroll is too whimsical, a word which here means “full of comic nonsense,” and other people complain that T. S. Eliot’s poetry is too opaque, which refers to something that is unnecessarily complicated. But while everyone may not agree on the poets represented on the wooden table, every noble reader in the world agrees that the poet represented on Fiona’s uniform was a writer of limited skill, who wrote awkward, tedious poetry on hopelessly sentimental topics.

“Yes,” Fiona said quietly, and the Baudelaire orphans looked up at the portrait of Edgar Guest, smiling on the front of her uniform, and felt the tables turn once more.

CHAPTER Thirteen

The water cycle consists of three phenomena—evaporation, precipitation, and collection—and collection, the third of these phenomena, is the third of the phenomena that make up what is generally known as “the water cycle.” This phenomenon, known as “collection,” is the process of the gathering of water in the oceans, lakes, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, and puddles of the world, so that it will eventually go through the phenomena of evaporation and precipitation, thus beginning the water cycle all over again. It is a tedious thing for a reader to find in a book, of course, and I hope that my descriptions of the water cycle have bored you enough that you have put this book down long ago, and will not read Chapter Thirteen of The Grim Grotto any more than the Baudelaire orphans will ever read Chapter Thirty-Nine of Mushroom Minutiae, no matter how crucial such a chapter might be. But however tedious the water cycle is to readers, it must be very tedious indeed to the drops of water who must participate in the cycle over and over again. Occasionally, when I pause while writing my chronicle of the Baudelaire orphans, and my eyes and back turn upward from my desk to look out at the evening sky—the purple color of which explains the expression “the violet hour”—I imagine myself as a drop of water, especially if it is raining, or if my desk is floating in a reservoir. I think of how ghastly it would feel to be yanked away from my comrades, when we were gathered in a lake or puddle, and forced into the sky through the process of evaporation. I think how terrible it would feel to be chased out of a cloud by the process of precipitation, and tumble to the earth like a sugar bowl. And I think of how heartbroken I would feel to gather once more in a body of water and feel, during the process of collection, that I had reached the last safe place, only to have the tables turn, and evaporate into the sky once more as the tedious cycle started all over again. It is awful to contemplate this sort of life, in which one would always be forced into motion by a variety of mysterious and powerful forces, never staying anywhere for long, never finding a safe place one could call home, never able to turn the tables for very long, just as the Baudelaire orphans found it awful to contemplate their own lives as Fiona betrayed them, as so many of their companions had betrayed them before, just when it seemed they might break out of the tedious cycle of unfortunate events in which they found themselves trapped.

“Tell them, Triangle Eyes,” Count Olaf said with a wicked smile. “Tell the Baudelaires that you’ve joined up with me.”

“It’s true,” Fiona said, but behind her triangular glasses her eyes were downcast, a word which here means “looking sadly at the floor.” “Count Olaf said that if I helped him destroy the last safe place, he’d help me find my stepfather.”

“But Count Olaf and your stepfather are enemies!” Violet cried. “They’re on opposite sides of the schism.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Esmé Squalor said, her suction cups dragging along the floor as she stepped through the broken porthole. “After all, Captain Widdershins abandoned you. Maybe he’s decided volunteers are out—and we’re in.”

“My brother, my stepfather, and I could be together again,” Fiona said quietly. “Don’t you understand, Baudelaires?”

“Of course they don’t understand!” Count Olaf cried. “Ha ha half-wits! Those brats spend their lives reading books instead of chasing after fortunes! Now, let’s remove all the valuables from the Queequeg and we’ll lock the orphans up in the brig!”

“You won’t get away from us this time!” the hook-handed man said, taking the tagliatelle grande from behind his back and whirling the noodle in the air.

“We didn’t get away from you last time,” Klaus said. “You helped us sneak over here, to save Sunny. You said you wanted to come with us when we escaped in the Queequeg and joined V.F.D. at the last safe place.”

“V.F.D.,” the hook-handed man sneered. With one scornful flick of his hook he popped one of the balloons Phil had used to decorate the Main Hall for Violet’s birthday. “All those silly volunteers with their precious libraries and complicated codes—they’re fools, every last one of them. I don’t want to sit around reading idiotic books! He who hesitates is lost!”

“Or she,” Fiona said. “Aye!”

“Yes,” Count Olaf said, “let’s not hesitate a moment longer, Hooky. Let’s tour this submarine and steal anything we want!”

“I want to come, too!” Esmé said. “I need a new fashionable outfit!”

“Of course, boss,” the hook-handed man said, walking toward the door of the Main Hall. “Follow me.”

“No, you follow me!” Count Olaf said, pushing ahead of him. “I’m in charge!”

“But Countie,” Carmelita whined, jumping off the wooden table and twirling around awkwardly. “I want to go first because I’m a tap-dancing ballerina fairy princess veterinarian!”

“Of course you get to go first, precious,” Esmé said. “You get whatever your adorable little heart desires, right Olaf?”

“I guess so,” Olaf muttered.

“And tell Triangle Eyes to stay here and guard the orphans,” Carmelita said. “I don’t want her to take all the good stuff for herself.”

“Guard the orphans, Triangle Eyes,” Count Olaf said. “Although I don’t think you orphans really need to be guarded. After all, there’s nowhere for you to go! Tee hee traction!”

“Giggle giggle gaudy!” Carmelita cried, leading the way out of the Main Hall.

“Ha ha hair trigger!” Esmé screamed, following her.

“Tee hee tonsillectomy!” Count Olaf shrieked, walking behind his girlfriend.

“I also find this amusing!” the hook-handed man yelled, and slammed the door behind him, leaving the Baudelaires alone with Fiona.

“Traitor,” Sunny said.

“Sunny’s right,” Violet said. “Don’t do this, Fiona. There’s still time to change your mind, and stay on the noble side of the schism.”

“We received a Volunteer Factual Dispatch,” Klaus said, holding up the telegram. “V.F.D. is in desperate need of our services for a most urgent matter. We’re meeting the volunteers at Briny Beach. You could come with us, Fiona.”

“Greenhut!” Sunny cried. She meant something like, “You could be of enormous help,” but Fiona didn’t even wait for a translation.

“You wouldn’t abandon your sister,” the mycologist said. “Aye! You risked your lives to save Sunny. How can you ask me to abandon my brother?”

“Your brother is a wicked person,” Violet said.

“People aren’t either wicked or noble,” Fiona said. “They’re like chef’s salads.”

Klaus picked up the photograph from the table and handed it to Fiona. “This doesn’t look like a chef’s salad to me,” he said. “It looks like a family. Is this what your family would have you do, Fiona? Send three children to the brig, while you help a villain in his treacherous schemes?”

Fiona looked at the picture, and blinked back tears behind her triangular glasses. “My family is lost,” she said. “Aye! My mother is dead. Aye! My father moved away. Aye! My stepfather has abandoned me. Aye! My brother may not be as wonderful as you Baudelaires, but he is the only family I have. Aye! I’m staying with him. Aye!”

“Stay with him if you must,” Violet said, “but let us go.”

“Rendezvous,” Sunny said.

“Take us to Briny Beach,” Klaus translated. “We might be on opposite sides of the schism, Fiona, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help one another.”

Fiona sighed, and looked first at the Baudelaires and then at the photograph of her family. “I could turn my back,” she said, “instead of guarding you.”

“And we could take the Queequeg,” Violet said, “and escape.”

Fiona frowned, and put the photograph back down on the table. “If I let you go to Briny Beach,” she said, “what will you do for me?”

“I’ll teach you how to repair submarines,” Violet said, gesturing to the telegram device. “You could restore the Queequeg to its former glory.”

“I don’t need the Queequeg anymore,” Fiona said. “Aye! I’m part of the crew of the Carmelita.”

“I’ll give you my commonplace book,” Klaus said, holding out his dark blue notebook. “It’s full of important secrets.”

“Count Olaf knows more secrets than you’ll ever learn,” Fiona replied.

“Mmph!” The children looked down and saw Sunny, who had slipped away while the others were talking, and was now walking unsteadily back through the door marked

KITCHEN, dragging her diving helmet.

“Don’t touch that, Sunny!” Violet cried. “There’s a very dangerous fungus in there, and we don’t have any more antidote!”

“Mycolo,” Sunny said, and lay the helmet at Fiona’s feet.

“Sunny’s right,” Klaus said, looking at the helmet and shuddering. “Inside that helmet is the bugaboo of the mycological pantheon—the Medusoid Mycelium.”

“I thought you destroyed it,” Fiona said.

“No,” Violet said. “The Medusoid Mycelium grows best in an enclosed space. You said that the poison of a deadly fungus can be the source of some wonderful medicines. This is a very valuable specimen for a mycologist like yourself.”

“That’s true,” Fiona admitted quietly, and looked down at the helmet. The Baudelaires looked down, too, remembering their terrible journey through the grotto. They remembered how cold and dark it was when they left the Queequeg and drifted through the cavern, and the horrifying sight of the Medusoid Mycelium trapping them in the eerie cave until the stalks and caps waned away. They remembered their chilly journey back to the submarine, and the dreadful discoveries of the missing crew and the mushrooms sprouting inside Sunny’s helmet, and the image of the octopus submarine on the sonar screen, and the villain who was waiting for them when they tumbled inside.

“We’re back!” Count Olaf announced, bursting back into the Main Hall with his comrades behind him. Esmé and Carmelita were peeking into a small, shiny box, and the hook-handed man was staggering under the weight of the uniforms and diving helmets he was carrying. “There wasn’t much to steal, I’m afraid—this submarine is not quite up to its former glory. Still, I found a small jewelry box hidden in the barracks, with a few valuable items.”

“I think the ruby ring is very in,” Esmé purred. “It would look wonderful with my flame-imitating dress.”

“That was my mother’s,” Fiona said quietly.

“She would have wanted me to have it,” Esmé said quickly. “We were close friends at school.”

“I want the necklace!” Carmelita demanded. “It goes perfectly with my veterinarian stethoscope! Give it to me, Countie!”

“I wish we had those carnival freaks with us,” the hook-handed man said. “They could help carry some of these uniforms.”

“We’ll see them at the Hotel Denouement,” Count Olaf, “along with the rest of my comrades. Well, let’s get out of here! We have lots to do before we arrive! Triangle Eyes, take the orphans to the brig! Ha ha hula dance!”

Humming a ridiculous tune, the villain performed a few dance steps of triumph, only to stumble over the diving helmet on the floor. Carmelita giggled nastily as Olaf reached down and rubbed his tattooed ankle.

“Ha, ha Countie!” cried Carmelita. “My dance recital was better than yours!”

“Get this hat out of here, Triangle Eyes,” Count Olaf snarled. He bent down, picked up the helmet, and started to hand it to Fiona, but the hook-handed man stopped him.

“I think you’ll want that helmet for yourself, boss,” the henchman said.

“I prefer a smaller, lighter hat,” Count Olaf said, “but I appreciate the gesture.”

“What my brother means,” Fiona explained, “is that inside this helmet is the Medusoid Mycelium.”

The Baudelaires gasped and looked at one another in horror, as Count Olaf peered through the helmet’s tiny window, his eyes wide beneath his eybrow. “The Medusoid Mycelium,” he murmured, and ran his tongue thoughtfully along his teeth. “Could it be?”

“Impossible,” Esmé Squalor said. “That fungus was destroyed long ago.”

“They brought it with them,” the hook-handed man said. “That’s why the baby was so sick.”

“This is marvelous,” Olaf said, his voice as raspy and wheezy as if he were poisoned himself. “As soon as you Baudelaires are in the brig, I’m going to open this helmet and toss it inside! You’ll suffer as I’ve always wanted you to suffer.”

“That’s not what we should do!” Fiona cried. “That’s a very valuable specimen!”

Esmé stepped forward and draped two of her tentacles around Olaf’s neck. “Triangle Eyes is right,” she said. “You don’t want to waste the fungus on the orphans. Besides, you need one of them alive to get the fortune.”

“That’s true,” Olaf agreed, “but the idea of those orphans not being able to breathe is awfully attractive.”

“But think of the fortunes we can steal!” Esmé said. “Think of the people we can boss around! With the Medusoid Mycelium in our grasp, who can stop us now?”

“No one!” Count Olaf cackled in triumph. “Ha Hunan chicken! Ha ha hamantaschen! Ha ha hors d’oeuvres! Ha ha h—”

But the Baudelaire children never learned what ridiculous word Olaf was going to utter, as he interrupted himself to point across the Main Hall at a screen on the wall. The screen looked like a piece of graph paper, lit up in green light, and at the center were both a glowing letter Q, representing the Queequeg, and a glowing eye, representing the terrible octopus submarine that had devoured them. But at the top of the screen was another shape—one they had almost forgotten about. It was a long curved tube, with a small circle at the end of it, slithering slowly down the screen like a snake, or an enormous question mark, or some terrible evil the children could not even imagine.

“What’s that cakesniffing shape?” asked Carmelita Spats. “It looks like a big comma.”

“Shh!” Count Olaf hissed, putting his filthy hand over Carmelita’s mouth. “Silence, everyone!”

“We have to get out of here,” Esmé murmured. “This octopus is no match for that thing.”

“You’re right,” Olaf muttered. “Esmé, go whip our rowers so they’ll go faster! Hooky, store those uniforms! Triangle Eyes, take the orphans to the brig!”

“What about me?” Carmelita asked. “I’m the cutest, so I should get to do something.”

“I guess you’d better come with me,” the count said wearily. “But no tap-dancing! We don’t want to show up on their sonar!”

“Ta ta, cakesniffers!” Carmelita said, waving her pink wand at the three siblings.

“You’re so stylish, darling,” Esmé said. “It’s like I always say: You can’t be too rich or too in!”

The two wicked females jumped through the broken porthole and out of the Queequeg, followed by the hook-handed man, who gave the Baudelaires an awkward wave. But before Count Olaf exited, he paused, standing on the wooden table, and drew his long, sharp sword to point at the children. “Your luck is over at last,” he said, in a terrible voice. “For far too long, you keep defeating my plans and escaping from my clutches—a happy cycle for you orphans and an unprofitable one for me. But now the tables have turned, Baudelaires. You’ve finally run out of places to run. And as soon as we get away from that ”—he pointed at the sonar screen with a flick of his sword, and raised his eyebrow menacingly—“you’ll see that this cycle has finally been broken. You should have given up a long time ago, orphans. I triumphed the moment you lost your family.”

“We didn’t lose our family,” Violet said. “Only our parents.”

“You’ll lose everything, orphans,” Count Olaf replied. “Wait and see.”

Without another word, he leaped out of the porthole and disappeared into his ghastly mechanical octopus, leaving the Baudelaires alone with Fiona.

“Are you going to take us to the brig?” Klaus asked.

“No,” Fiona said. “Aye! I’ll let you escape—if you can. You’d better hurry.”

“I can set a course,” Violet said, “and Klaus can read the tidal charts.”

“Serve cake,” Sunny said.

Fiona smiled, and looked around the Main Hall sadly. “Take good care of the Queequeg,” she said. “I’ll miss it. Aye!”

“I’ll miss you,” Klaus said. “Won’t you come with us, Fiona? Now that Olaf has the Medusoid Mycelium, we’ll need all the help we can get. Don’t you want to finish the submarine’s mission? We never found the sugar bowl. We never found your stepfather. We never even finished that code we were going to invent.”

Fiona nodded sadly, and walked to the wooden table. She picked up Mushroom Minutiae, and then acted contrary to her personal philosophy, a phrase which here means “hesitated for a moment, and faced the middle Baudelaire.” “When you think of me,” she said quietly, “think of a food you love very much.” She leaned forward, kissed Klaus gently on the mouth, and disappeared through the porthole without so much as an “Aye!” The three Baudelaires listened to the mycologist’s footsteps as she joined Count Olaf and his comrades, and left them behind.

“She’s gone,” Klaus said, as if he could hardly believe it himself. He lifted one trembling hand to his face, as if Fiona had given him a slap instead of a kiss. “How could she leave?” he asked. “She betrayed me. She betrayed all of us. How could someone so wonderful do something so terrible?”

“I guess her brother was right,” Violet said, putting her arm around her brother. “People aren’t either wicked or noble.”

“Correctiona,” Sunny said, which meant “Fiona was right, too—we’d better hurry if we want to escape from the Carmelita before Olaf notices we’re not in the brig.”

“I’ll set a course for Briny Beach,” Violet said.

Klaus took one last look at the porthole where Fiona had disappeared, and nodded. “I’ll look at the tidal charts,” he said.

“Amnesi!” Sunny cried. She meant something along the lines of, “You’re forgetting something!” and pointed one small finger at the circle of glass on the floor.

“Sunny’s right,” Klaus said. “We can’t launch the submarine without repairing that porthole, or we’ll drown.”

But Violet was already halfway up the rope ladder that led to the Queequeg’s controls. “You’ll have to repair that yourself, Sunny,” she called down.

“Cook,” Sunny replied. “Cook and teeth.”

“We don’t have time to argue,” Klaus said grimly, pointing at the sonar screen. The question mark was inching closer and closer to the glowing Q.

“Aye,” Sunny said, and hurried to the glass circle on the floor. It was still intact, but the youngest Baudelaire could think of nothing that could reattach the circle to the wall of the submarine.

“I think I’ve found the location device,” Violet called down from the Queequeg’s controls. Quickly she flipped a switch, and waited impatiently as a screen came to life. “It looks like we’re fourteen nautical miles southeast of the Gorgonian Grotto. Does that help?”

“Aye,” Klaus said, running his finger over one of the charts. “We need to travel straight north to Briny Beach. It shouldn’t be far. But how are we going to get out of the Carmelita?”

“I guess we’ll just fire up the engines,” Violet said, “and I’ll try to steer us back through the tunnel.”

“Have you ever steered a submarine before?” Klaus asked nervously.

“Of course not,” Violet said. “We’re in uncharted waters, aye?”

“Aye,” Klaus said, and looked proudly up at his sister. The two Baudelaires could not help grinning for a moment before Violet pulled a large lever, and the familiar, whirring sound of the Queequeg’s engines filled the Main Hall.

“Gangway!” Sunny cried, squeezing past Klaus as she raced toward the kitchen. Violet and Klaus heard their sister fumbling around for a moment, and then the youngest Baudelaire returned, carrying two boxes the siblings recognized from their time in the town of Paltryville. “Gum!” she cried triumphantly, already ripping the wrappers off several pieces and sticking them into her mouth.

“Good idea, Sunny,” Violet called. “The gum can act as an adhesive, and stick the porthole back together.”

“That thing is getting closer,” Klaus said, pointing to the sonar screen. “We’d better get the submarine moving. Sunny can do the repair work while we move through the tunnel.”

“I’ll need your help, Klaus,” Violet said. “Stand at the porthole and let me know which way to turn. Aye?”

“Aye!” Klaus replied.

“Aye!” Sunny cried, her mouth full of gum. The elder Baudelaires remembered that their sibling had been too young for gum when the children were working at the lumbermill, and they could hardly believe she had grown up enough to be stuffing handfuls of the sticky substance into her mouth.

“Which way do I go?” Violet called from the controls.

Klaus peered out of the porthole. “Right!” he called back, and the Queequeg lurched to the right, traveling with difficulty in the little water at the bottom of the tunnel. There was an enormous scraping sound, and the Baudelaires heard a loud splashing from inside one of the pipes. “I mean, left!” Klaus said quickly. “You and I are facing opposite directions! Left!”

“Aye!” Violet cried, and the submarine lurched in the opposite direction. Through the porthole, the Baudelaires could see that they were moving away from the platform where Olaf had first greeted them. Sunny spat a huge wad of gum onto the glass circle, and spread it around with her hands on the circle’s edge.

“Right!” Klaus cried, and Violet turned the Queequeg again, narrowly missing a turn in the passageway. The eldest Baudelaire looked nervously at the sonar screen, where the sinister shape was moving closer and closer to them.

“Left!” Klaus cried. “Left and down!” The submarine lurched and sank, and through the porthole the middle Baudelaire caught a brief glimpse of the rowing room, with Esmé holding the tagliatelle grande threateningly in one fake tentacle. Sunny hurriedly stuffed more gum into her mouth, moving her enormous teeth furiously to soften the candy.

“Left again!” Klaus cried. “And then a very sharp right when I say ‘Now’!”

“Now?” Violet called back.

“No,” Klaus said, and held up one hand as Sunny spit more gum onto the glass circle. “Now!”

The submarine lurched violently to the right, sending several objects tumbling from the wooden table. Sunny ducked to avoid being knocked on the head by the poetry of T. S. Eliot. “Sorry for the bumps,” Violet called, from the top of the rope ladder. “I’m still getting the hang of these controls. What’s next?”

Klaus peered out of the porthole. “Keep going straight,” he said, “and we should exit the octopus.”

“Help!” Sunny cried, spreading the rest of the gum on the edge of the circle. Klaus hurried to her side, and Violet raced down the rope ladder to help, leaving the submarine’s controls alone so the Queequeg would travel in a straight line. Together, the three Baudelaires picked up the glass circle and climbed onto the wooden table so they could put the porthole back together.

“I hope it holds,” Violet said.

“If it doesn’t,” Klaus said, “we’ll know soon enough.”

“On three,” Sunny said, which meant something like, “After I say one and two.” “One! Due!”

“Three!” the Baudelaire orphans said in unison, and pressed the glass circle against the hole Olaf had cut, smoothing the gum over the crack so that it might hold firm, just as the Queequeg tumbled out of the mechanical octopus into the chilly waters of the ocean. The Baudelaires pushed against the porthole together, their arms stretched out against the glass as if they were trying to keep someone from coming in a door. A few rivulets—a word which here means “tiny streams of water”—dripped through the gum, but Sunny hurriedly patted the sticky substance into place to stop the leaks. Her tiny hands smoothed the gum over the edge of the circle, making sure her handiwork was strong enough that the children wouldn’t drown, but when she heard her siblings gasp she looked up from her work, looked through the repaired porthole, and stared in amazement at what she saw.

In the final analysis—a phrase which here means “after much thought, and some debate with my colleagues”—Captain Widdershins was wrong about a great many things. He was wrong about his personal philosophy, because there are plenty of times when one should hesitate. He was wrong about his wife’s death, because as Fiona suspected, Mrs. Widdershins did not die in a manatee accident. He was wrong to call Phil “Cookie” when it is more polite to call someone by their proper name, and he was wrong to abandon the Queequeg, no matter what he heard from the woman who came to fetch him. Captain Widdershins was wrong to trust his stepson for so many years, and wrong to participate in the destruction of Anwhistle Aquatics, and he was wrong to insist, as he did so many years ago, that a story in The Daily Punctilio was completely true, and to show this article to so many volunteers, including the Baudelaire parents, the Snicket siblings, and the woman I happened to love. But Captain Widdershins was right about one thing. He was right to say that there are secrets in this world too terrible for young people to know, for the simple reason that there are secrets in this world too terrible for anyone to know, whether they are as young as Sunny Baudelaire or as old as Gregor Anwhistle—secrets so terrible that they ought to be kept secret, which is probably how the secrets became secrets in the first place, and one of those secrets is the long, strange shape the Baudelaire orphans saw, first on the Queequeg’s sonar, and then as they held the porthole in place and stared out into the waters of the sea. Night had fallen—Monday night—so the view outside was very dark, and the Baudelaires could scarcely see this enormous and sinister shape. They could not even tell, just as I will not tell, if it was some horrifying mechanical device, such as a submarine, or some ghastly creature of the sea. They merely saw an enormous shadow, curling and uncurling in the water, as if Count Olaf’s one eyebrow had grown into an enormous beast that was roaming the sea, a shadow as chilling as the villain’s glare and as dark as villainy itself. The Baudelaire orphans had never seen anything so utterly eerie, and they found themselves sitting still as statues, pressing against the porthole in an utter hush. It was probably this hush that saved them, for the sinister shape curled once more, and began to fade into the blackness of the water.

“Shh,” Violet said, although no one had spoken. It was the gentle, low shushing one might do to comfort a baby, crying in the middle of the night over whatever tragedy keeps babies awake in their cribs, and keeps the other members of the baby’s family standing vigil, a phrase which here means “keeping nearby, to make sure everyone is safe.” It does not really mean anything, this shushing sound, and yet the younger Baudelaires did not ask their sister what she meant, and merely stood vigil with her, as the shape disappeared into the ocean of the night, and the children were safe once more. Without a word, Violet took her hands off the glass, climbed off the table, and resumed her place at the Queequeg’s controls. For the rest of their journey, none of the children spoke, as if the unearthly spell of that terrible secret shape were still lingering over them. All night long and into the morning, Violet worked the levers and switches of the submarine, to make sure it stayed on course, and Klaus marked their path on the charts, to make sure they were heading to the right place, and Sunny served slices of Violet’s birthday cake to her fellow volunteers, but none of the three Baudelaires spoke until a gentle bump! rocked the Queequeg, and the submarine came to a gentle stop. Violet climbed down the rope ladder and ducked underneath a pipe to peer through the periscope, just as Captain Widdershins must have peered at the Baudelaires up in the Mortmain Mountains.

“We’re here,” she said, and the three Baudelaires left the Main Hall and walked down the leaky corridor to the room where they had first climbed aboard the submarine.

“Valve?” Sunny asked.

“We shouldn’t have to activate the valve,” Violet said. “When I looked through the periscope, I saw Briny Beach, so we can simply climb up the ladder—”

“And end up where we were,” Klaus finished, “a long time ago.”

Without any further discussion the Baudelaire children climbed up the ladder, their steps echoing down the narrow passageway, until they reached the hatch. Violet grabbed the handle to open it, and found that her siblings had each grabbed the handle, too, so all three children turned the handle together, and opened the hatch together, and together they climbed out of the passageway, down the outside of the submarine, and lowered themselves onto the sand of Briny Beach. It was morning—the same time of morning as the last time the Baudelaire children had been there, receiving the dreadful news about the fire, and it was just as gray and foggy as that terrible day. Violet even saw a slender, smooth stone on the sand, and picked it up, just as she had done so long ago, skipping rocks into the water without ever imagining she would soon be exploring its terrible depths. The siblings blinked in the morning sun, and felt as if some cycle were about to begin all over again—that once more they would receive terrible news, and that once more they would be taken to a new home, only to have villainy surround them once more, as had happened so many times since their last visit to Briny Beach, just as you might be wondering if the Baudelaires’ miserable story will begin all over again for you, with my warning you that if you are looking for happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. It is not a pleasant feeling, to imagine that the tables will never turn and that a tedious cycle will begin all over again, and it made the Baudelaires feel passive, just as they had in the waters of the Stricken Stream, accepting what was happening without doing anything about it as they looked around at the unchanged shore.

“Gack!” Sunny said, which meant “Look at that mysterious figure emerging from the fog!” and the Baudelaires watched as a familiar shape stopped in front of them, took off a tall top hat, and coughed into a white handkerchief.

“Baudelaires!” Mr. Poe said, when he was done coughing. “Egad! I can’t believe it! I can’t believe you’re here!”

“You?” Klaus asked, gazing at the banker in astonishment. “You’re the one we’re supposed to meet?”

“I guess so,” Mr. Poe said, frowning and taking a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. “I received a message saying that you’d be here at Briny Beach today.”

“Who sent the message?” Klaus asked.

Mr. Poe coughed once more, and then shrugged his shoulders wearily. The children noticed that he looked quite a bit older than the last time they had seen him, and wondered how much older they looked themselves. “The message is signed J.S.,” Mr. Poe said. “I assume that it’s that reporter from The Daily Punctilio—Geraldine Julienne. How in the world did you get here? Where in the world have you been? I must admit, Baudelaires, I had given up all hope of ever finding you again! It was a shame to think that the Baudelaire fortune would just sit in the bank, gathering interest and dust! Well, never mind that now. You’d better come with me—my car’s parked nearby. You have a great deal of explaining to do.”

“No,” Violet said.

“No?” Mr. Poe said in amazement, and coughed violently into his handkerchief. “Of course you do! You’ve been missing for a very long time, children! It was very inconsiderate of you to run away without telling me where you were, particularly when you’ve been accused of murder, arson, kidnapping, and some assorted misdemeanors! We’re going to get right in my car, and I’ll drive you to the police station, and—”

“No,” Violet said again, and reached into the pocket of her uniform. She held up the telegram to her siblings and read:

“At the pink hour, when the eyes and back

Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits

Like a pony throbbing party…

“That’s what’s in the telegram.” She paused, and scanned the horizon of the beach. Something caught her eye, and she gave her siblings a faint smile. “The real poem,” she said, “goes like this:

“At the violet hour, when the eyes and back

Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits

Like a taxi throbbing waiting.”

“Verse Fluctuation Declaration,” Klaus said.

“Code,” Sunny said.

“What are you talking about?” Mr. Poe demanded. “What is going on?”

“The missing words,” Violet said to her siblings, as if the coughing banker had not spoken, “are ‘violet,’ ‘taxi,’ and ‘waiting.’ We’re not supposed to go with Mr. Poe. We’re supposed to get into a taxi.” She pointed across the beach, and the children could see, scarcely visible in the fog, a yellow car parked at a nearby curb. The Baudelaires nodded, and Violet turned to address the banker at last.

“We can’t go with you,” Violet said. “There’s something else we need to do.”

“Don’t be absurd!” Mr. Poe sputtered. “I don’t know where you’ve been, or how you got here, or why you’re wearing a picture of Santa Claus on your shirts, but—”

“It’s Herman Melville,” Klaus said. “Goodbye, Mr. Poe.”

“You are coming with me, young man!” Mr. Poe ordered.

“Sayonara,” Sunny said, and the three Baudelaires walked quickly across the beach, leaving the banker coughing in astonishment.

“Wait!” he ordered, when he put his handkerchief away. “Come back here, Baudelaires! You’re children! You’re youngsters! You’re orphans!”

Mr. Poe’s voice grew fainter and fainter as the children made their way across the sand. “What do you think the word ‘violet’ means?” Klaus murmured to his sister. “The taxi isn’t purple.”

“More code,” Sunny guessed.

“Maybe,” Violet said. “Or maybe Quigley just wanted to write my name.”

“Baudelaires!” Mr. Poe’s voice was almost inaudible, as if the Baudelaires had only dreamed he was there on the beach.

“Do you think he’s in the taxi, waiting for us?” Klaus asked.

“I hope so,” Violet said, and broke into a run. Her siblings hurried behind her as she ran across the sand, her boots showering sand with each step. “Quigley,” she said quietly, almost to herself, and then she said it louder. “Quigley! Quigley!”

At last the Baudelaires reached the taxi, but the windows of the car were tinted, a word which here means “darkened, so the children could not see who was inside.” “Quigley?” Violet asked, and flung open the door, but the children’s friend was not inside the taxi. In the driver’s seat was a woman the Baudelaires had never seen before, dressed in a long, black coat buttoned up all the way to her chin. On her hands were a pair of white cotton gloves, and in her lap were two slim books, probably to keep her company while she waited. The woman looked startled when the door opened, but when she spied the children she nodded politely, and gave them a very slight smile, as if she were not a stranger at all—but also not a friend. The smile she gave them was one you might give to an associate, or another member of an organization to which you belong. “Hello, Baudelaires,” she said, and gave the children a small wave. “Climb aboard.”

The Baudelaires looked at one another cautiously. They knew, of course, that one should never get into the car of a stranger, but they also knew that such rules do not necessarily apply in taxis, when the driver is almost always a stranger. Besides, when the woman had lifted her hand to wave, the children had spied the name of the books she had been reading to pass the time. There were two books of verse: The Walrus and the Carpenter, and Other Poems, by Lewis Carroll, and The Waste Land, by T. S. Eliot. Perhaps if one of the books had been by Edgar Guest, the children might have turned around and run back to Mr. Poe, but it is rare in this world to find someone who appreciates good poetry, and the children allowed themselves to hesitate.

“Who are you?” Violet asked, finally.

The woman blinked, and then gave the children her slight smile once more, as if she had expected the Baudelaires to answer the question themselves. “I’m Kit Snicket,” she said, and the Baudelaire orphans climbed aboard, turning the tables of their lives and breaking their unfortunate cycle for the very first time.

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