فصل 10

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فصل 10

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  • زمان مطالعه 9 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

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CHAPTER Ten

When you were very small, perhaps someone read to you the insipid story—the word “insipid” here means “not worth reading to someone”—of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. A very dull boy, you may remember, cried “Wolf!” when there was no wolf, and the gullible villagers ran to rescue him only to find the whole thing was a joke. Then he cried “Wolf!” when it wasn’t a joke, and the villagers didn’t come running, and the boy was eaten and the story, thank goodness, was over.

The story’s moral, of course, ought to be “Never live somewhere where wolves are running around loose,” but whoever read you the story probably told you that the moral was not to lie. This is an absurd moral, for you and I both know that sometimes not only is it good to lie, it is necessary to lie. For example, it was perfectly appropriate, after Violet left the Reptile Room, for Sunny to crawl over to the cage that held the Incredibly Deadly Viper, unlatch the cage, and begin screaming as loudly as she could even though nothing was really wrong.

There is another story concerning wolves that somebody has probably read to you, which is just as absurd. I am talking about Little Red Riding Hood, an extremely unpleasant little girl who, like the Boy Who Cried Wolf, insisted on intruding on the territory of dangerous animals. You will recall that the wolf, after being treated very rudely by Little Red Riding Hood, ate the little girl’s grandmother and put on her clothing as a disguise. It is this aspect of the story that is the most ridiculous, because one would think that even a girl as dim-witted as Little Red Riding Hood could tell in an instant the difference between her grandmother and a wolf dressed in a nightgown and fuzzy slippers. If you know somebody very well, like your grandmother or your baby sister, you will know when they are real and when they are fake. This is why, as Sunny began to scream, Violet and Klaus could tell immediately that her scream was absolutely fake.

“That scream is absolutely fake,” Klaus said to himself, from the other end of the Reptile Room.

“That scream is absolutely fake,” Violet said to herself, from the stairs as she went up to her room.

“My Lord! Something is terribly wrong!” Mr. Poe said to himself, from the kitchen where he was talking on the phone. “Good-bye,” he said into the receiver, hung up, and ran out of the kitchen to see what the matter was.

“What’s the matter?” Mr. Poe asked Stephano and Dr. Lucafont, who had finished unloading the suitcases and were entering the house. “I heard some screams coming from the Reptile Room.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Stephano said.

“You know how children are,” Dr. Lucafont said.

“We can’t have another tragedy on our hands,” Mr. Poe said, and rushed to the enormous door of the Reptile Room. “Children! Children!”

“In here!” Klaus cried. “Come quickly!” His voice was rough and low, and anyone who didn’t know Klaus would think he was very frightened. If you did know Klaus, however, you would know that when he was very frightened his voice became tense and squeaky, as it did when he discovered Uncle Monty’s body. His voice became rough and low when he was trying not to laugh. It is a very good thing that Klaus managed not to laugh as Mr. Poe, Stephano, and Dr. Lucafont came into the Reptile Room. It would have spoiled everything.

Sunny was lying down on the marble floor, her tiny arms and legs waving wildly as if she were trying to swim. Her facial expression was what made Klaus want to chuckle. Sunny’s mouth was wide open, showing her four sharp teeth, and her eyes were blinking rapidly. She was trying to appear to be very frightened, and if you didn’t know Sunny it would have seemed genuine. But Klaus did know Sunny, and knew that when she was very frightened, her face grew all puckered and silent, as it did when Stephano had threatened to cut off one of her toes. To anyone but Klaus, Sunny looked as if she were very frightened, particularly because of who she was with. For wrapped around Sunny’s small body was a snake, as dark as a coal mine and as thick as a sewer pipe. It was looking at Sunny with shiny green eyes, and its mouth was open as if it were about to bite her.

“The Incredibly Deadly Viper!” Klaus cried. “It’s going to bite her!” Klaus screamed, and Sunny opened her mouth and eyes even wider to seem even more scared. Dr. Lucafont’s mouth opened too, and Klaus saw him start to say something, but he was unable to find words. Stephano, who of course could not have cared less about Sunny’s well-being, at least looked surprised, but it was Mr. Poe who absolutely panicked.

There are two basic types of panicking: standing still and not saying a word, and leaping all over the place babbling anything that comes into your head. Mr. Poe was the leaping-and-babbling kind. Klaus and Sunny had never seen the banker move so quickly or talk in such a high-pitched voice. “Goodness!” he cried. “Golly! Good God! Blessed Allah! Zeus and Hera! Mary and Joseph! Nathaniel Hawthorne! Don’t touch her! Grab her! Move closer! Run away! Don’t move! Kill the snake! Leave it alone! Give it some food! Don’t let it bite her! Lure the snake away! Here, snakey! Here, snakey snakey!”

The Incredibly Deadly Viper listened patiently to Mr. Poe’s speech, never taking its eyes off of Sunny, and when Mr. Poe paused to cough into his handkerchief, it leaned over and bit Sunny on the chin, right where it had bitten her when the two friends had first met. Klaus tried not to grin, but Dr. Lucafont gasped, Stephano stared, and Mr. Poe began leaping and babbling again.

“It’s bitten her!” he cried. “It bit her! It bited her! Calm down! Get moving! Call an ambulance! Call the police! Call a scientist! Call my wife! This is terrible! This is awful! This is ghastly! This is phantasmagorical! This is—”

“This is nothing to worry about,” Stephano interrupted smoothly.

“What do you mean, nothing to worry about?” Mr. Poe asked incredulously. “Sunny was just bitten by—what’s the name of the snake, Klaus?”

“The Incredibly Deadly Viper,” Klaus answered promptly.

“The Incredibly Deadly Viper!” Mr. Poe repeated, pointing to the snake as it held on to Sunny’s chin with its teeth. Sunny gave another fake shriek of fear. “How can you say it’s nothing to worry about?”

“Because the Incredibly Deadly Viper is completely harmless,” Stephano said. “Calm yourself, Poe. The snake’s name is a misnomer that Dr. Montgomery created for his own amusement.”

“Are you sure?” Mr. Poe asked. His voice got a little lower, and he moved a bit more slowly as he began to calm down.

“Of course I’m sure,” Stephano said, and Klaus recognized a look on his face he remembered from living at Count Olaf’s. It was a look of sheer vanity, a word which here means “Count Olaf thinking he’s the most incredible person who ever lived.” When the Baudelaire orphans had been under Olaf’s care, he had often acted this way, always happy to show off his skills, whether he was onstage with his atrocious theater company or up in his tower room making nasty plans. Stephano smiled, and continued to speak to Mr. Poe, eager to show off. “The snake is perfectly harmless—friendly, even. I read up on the Incredibly Deadly Viper, and many other snakes, in the library section of the Reptile Room as well as Dr. Montgomery’s private papers.”

Dr. Lucafont cleared his throat. “Uh, boss—” he said.

“Don’t interrupt me, Dr. Lucafont,” Stephano said. “I studied books on all the major species. I looked carefully at sketches and charts. I took careful notes and looked them over each night before I went to sleep. If I may say so, I consider myself to be quite the expert on snakes.”

“Aha!” Sunny cried, disentangling herself from the Incredibly Deadly Viper.

“Sunny! You’re unharmed!” Mr. Poe cried.

“Aha!” Sunny cried again, pointing at Stephano. The Incredibly Deadly Viper blinked its green eyes triumphantly.

Mr. Poe looked at Klaus, puzzled. “What does your sister mean by ‘Aha’?” he asked.

Klaus sighed. He felt, sometimes, as if he had spent half his life explaining things to Mr. Poe. “By ‘Aha,’” he said, “she means ‘One minute’ Stephano claims he knows nothing about snakes, the next he claims he is an expert! By ‘Aha’ she means ‘Stephano has been lying to us.’ By ‘Aha’ she means ‘we’ve finally exposed his dishonesty to you!’ By ‘Aha’ she means ‘Aha!’”

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