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As we have discussed previously, a book’s first sentence can often tell you what sort of story the book contains. This book, you will remember, began with the sentence “The Baudelaire orphans looked out the grimy window of the train and gazed at the gloomy blackness of the Finite Forest, wondering if their lives would ever get any better,” and the story has certainly been as wretched and hopeless as the first sentence promised it would be. I only bring this up now so you can understand the feeling of dread that Violet and Sunny Baudelaire experienced as they opened a book in the library of the Lucky Smells Lumbermill. The two Baudelaire sisters already had a feeling of dread, of course. Part of the dread came from how cruelly unfairly Sir had behaved. Another part of the dread came from how Charles, kind as he was, seemed unable to help them. Yet another part of the dread came from the fact that Klaus had been hypnotized once more. And of course, the lion’s share of the dread—the phrase “lion’s share” here means “the biggest part” and has nothing to do with lions or sharing—came from the fact that Count Olaf—or, as he insisted on calling himself, Shirley—was back in the Baudelaires’ lives and causing so much misery.
But there was an extra helping of dread that Violet and Sunny felt when they began Advanced Ocular Science, by Dr. Georgina Orwell. The first sentence was “This tome will endeavor to scrutinize, in quasi-inclusive breadth, the epistemology of ophthalmologically contrived appraisals of ocular systems and the subsequent and requisite exertions imperative for expugnation of injurious states,” and as Violet read it out loud to her sister, both children felt the dread that comes when you begin a very boring and difficult book.
“Oh dear,” Violet said, wondering what in the world “tome” meant. “This is a very difficult book.”
“Garj!” Sunny said, wondering what in the world “endeavor” meant.
“If only we had a dictionary,” Violet said glumly. “Then we might be able to figure out what this sentence means.”
“Yash!” Sunny pointed out, which meant something like “And if only Klaus weren’t hypnotized, then he could tell us what this sentence means.”
Violet and Sunny sighed, and thought of their poor hypnotized brother. Klaus seemed so different from the brother they knew that it was almost as if Count Olaf had already succeeded with his dastardly scheme, and destroyed one of the Baudelaire orphans. Klaus usually looked interested in the world around him, and now he had a blank expression on his face. His eyes were usually all squinty from reading, and now they were wide as if he had been watching TV instead. He was usually alert, and full of interesting things to say, and now he was forgetful, and almost completely silent.
“Who knows if Klaus could define these words for us?” Violet asked. “He said it felt like part of his brain had been wiped clean. Maybe he doesn’t know all those words when he’s hypnotized. I don’t think I’ve heard him define anything since the accident with Phil, when he explained the word ‘inordinate.’ You might as well get some rest, Sunny. I’ll wake you up if I read anything useful.”
Sunny crawled up on the table and lay down next to Advanced Ocular Science, which was almost as big as she was. Violet gazed at her sister for a moment, and then turned her attention to the book. Violet liked to read, of course, but at heart she was an inventor, not a researcher. She simply did not have Klaus’s amazing reading skills. Violet stared at Dr. Orwell’s first sentence again, and just saw a mess of difficult words. She knew that if Klaus were in the library, and not hypnotized, he would see a way to help them out of their situation. Violet began to imagine how her brother would go about reading Advanced Ocular Science, and tried to copy his methods.
First she turned back the pages of the book, back before even the first page, to the table of contents, which as I’m sure you know is a list of the titles and page numbers of each chapter in a book. Violet had paid scarcely any attention to it when she first opened the book, but she realized that Klaus would probably examine the table of contents first, so he could see which chapters of the book might be most helpful. Quickly she scanned the table of contents:
Nearsightedness and Farsightedness
Glasses, Monocles, and Contact Lenses
Hypnosis and Mind Control
Which Eye Color Is the Best One?
Immediately, of course, Violet saw that chapter twelve would be the most helpful, and was glad she’d thought of looking at the table of contents instead of reading 927 pages until she found something helpful. Grateful that she could skip that daunting first paragraph—the word “daunting” here means “full of incredibly difficult words”—she flipped through Advanced Ocular Science until she reached “Hypnosis and Mind Control.”
The phrase “stylistic consistency” is used to describe books that are similar from start to finish. For instance, the book you are reading right now has stylistic consistency, because it began in a miserable way and will continue that way until the last page. I’m sorry to say that Violet realized, as she began chapter twelve, that Dr. Orwell’s book had stylistic consistency as well. The first sentence of “Hypnosis and Mind Control” was “Hypnosis is an efficacious yet precarious methodology and should not be assayed by neophytes,” and it was every bit as difficult and boring as the first sentence of the whole book. Violet reread the sentence, and then reread it again, and her heart began to sink. How in the world did Klaus do it? When the three children lived in the Baudelaire home, there was a huge dictionary in their parents’ library, and Klaus would often use it to help him with difficult books. But how did Klaus read difficult books when there was no dictionary to be found? It was a puzzle, and Violet knew it was a puzzle she had to solve quickly.
She turned her attention back to the book, and reread the sentence one more time, but this time she simply skipped the words she did not know. As often happens when one reads in this way, Violet’s brain made a little humming noise as she encountered each word—or each part of a word—she did not know. So inside her head, the opening sentence of chapter twelve read as follows: “‘Hypnosis is an hmmm yet hmmm method hmmm and should not be hmmmed by hmmms’” and although she could not tell exactly what it meant, she could guess. “It could mean,” she guessed to herself, “that hypnosis is a difficult method and should not be learned by amateurs,” and the interesting thing is that she was not too far off. The night grew later and later, and Violet continued to read the chapter in this way, and she was surprised to learn that she could guess her way through pages and pages of Dr. Orwell’s book. This is not the best way to read, of course, because you can make horribly wrong guesses, but it will do in an emergency.
For several hours, the Lucky Smells library was completely quiet except for the turning of pages, as Violet read the book searching for anything helpful. Every so often she glanced at her sister, and for the first time in her life Violet wished that Sunny were older than she was. When you are trying to figure out a difficult problem—such as the problem of trying to get your brother unhypnotized so as not to be placed into the hands of a greedy man disguised as a receptionist—it is often helpful to discuss the problem with other people in order to come up with a quick and useful solution. Violet remembered that, when the Baudelaires were living with Aunt Josephine, it had been extremely helpful to talk to Klaus about a note that turned out to have a secret hidden within it. But with Sunny it was different. The youngest Baudelaire was charming, and well toothed, and quite intelligent for a baby. But she was still a baby, and as Violet hmmed through chapter twelve, she worried that she would fail to find a solution with only a baby as a discussion partner. Nevertheless, when she found a sentence that appeared to be useful, she gave Sunny a waking nudge and read the sentence out loud.
“Listen to this, Sunny,” she said, when her sister opened her eyes. “‘Once a subject has been hypnotized, a simple hmmm word will make him or her perform whatever hmmm acts any hmmm wants hmmmed.’”
“Hmmm?” Sunny asked.
“Those are the words I don’t know,” Violet explained. “It’s difficult to read this way, but I can guess what Dr. Orwell means. I think she means that once you’ve hypnotized someone, all you need to do is say a certain word and they will obey you. Remember what Klaus told us he learned from the Encyclopedia Hypnotica? There was that Egyptian king who did chicken imitations, and the merchant who played the violin, and that writer, and all the hypnotists did was say a certain word. But they were all different words. I wonder which word applies to Klaus.”
“Heece,” Sunny said, which probably meant something like “Beats me. I’m only a baby.”
Violet gave her a gentle smile and tried to imagine what Klaus would have said if he had been there, unhypnotized, in the library with his sisters. “I’ll search for more information,” she decided.
“Brewol,” Sunny said, which meant “And I’ll go back to sleep.”
Both Baudelaires were true to their word, and for a time the library was silent again. Violet hmmmed through the book and grew more and more exhausted and worried. There were only a few hours left until the working day began, and she was scared that her efforts would be as ineffectual—the word “ineffectual” here means “unable to get Klaus unhypnotized”—as if she had low self-esteem. But just as she was about to fall asleep beside her sister, she found a passage in the book that seemed so useful she read it out loud immediately, waking Sunny up in the process.
“‘In order to hmmm the hypnotic hold on the hmmm,’” Violet said, “‘the same method hmmm is used: a hmmm word, uttered out loud, will hmmm the hmmm immediately.’ I think Dr. Orwell is talking about getting people unhypnotized, and it has to do with another word being uttered out loud. If we figure that one out, we can unhypnotize Klaus, and we won’t fall into Shirley’s clutches.”
“Skel,” Sunny said, rubbing her eyes. She probably meant something like “But I wonder what that word could be.”
“I don’t know,” Violet said, “but we’d better figure it out before it’s too late.”
“Hmmm,” Sunny said, making a humming noise because she was thinking, rather than because she was reading a word she did not know.
“Hmmm,” Violet said, which meant she was thinking, too. But then there was another hmmm that made the two Baudelaire sisters look at one another in worry. This was not the hmmm of a brain that did not know what a word meant, or the hmmm of a person thinking. This hmmm was much longer and louder, and it was a hmmm that made the Baudelaire sisters stop their thinking and hurry out of the library, clutching Dr. Orwell’s book in their trembling hands. It was the hmmm of the lumbermill’s saw. Somebody had turned on the mill’s deadliest machine in the early, early hours of morning.
Violet and Sunny hurried across the courtyard, which was quite dark in the first few rays of the sun. Hurriedly they opened the doors of the mill and looked inside. Foreman Flacutono was standing near the entrance, with his back to the two girls, pointing a finger and giving an order. The rusty sawing machine was whirring away, making that dreadful humming sound, and there was a log on the ground, all ready to be pushed into the saw. The log seemed to be covered in layers and layers of string—the string that had been inside the string machine, before Klaus had smashed it.
The two sisters took a better look, stepping farther into the mill, and saw that the string was wrapped around something else, tying a large bundle to the log. And when they took an even better look, peeking from behind Foreman Flacutono, they saw that the bundle was Charles. He was tied to the log with so much string that he looked a bit like a cocoon, except that a cocoon had never looked this frightened. Layers of string were covering his mouth, so he could not make a sound, but his eyes were uncovered and he was staring in terror at the saw as it drew closer and closer.
“Yes, you little twerp,” Foreman Flacutono was saying. “You’ve been fortunate so far, avoiding my boss’s clutches, but no more. One more accident and you’ll be ours, and this will be the worst accident the lumbermill has ever seen. Just imagine Sir’s displeasure when he learns that his partner has been sliced into human boards. Now, you lucky man, go and push the log into the saw!”
Violet and Sunny took a few more steps forward, near enough that they could reach out and touch Foreman Flacutono—not that they wanted to do such a disgusting thing, of course—and saw their brother. Klaus was standing at the controls of the sawing machine in his bare feet, staring at the foreman with his wide, blank eyes.
“Yes, sir,” he said, and Charles’s eyes grew wide with panic.
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