فصل 02

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فصل 02

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CHAPTER Two

“Doesn’t Sunny like coconut?” Uncle Monty asked. He, Mr. Poe, and the Baudelaire orphans were all sitting around a bright green table, each with a slice of Uncle Monty’s cake. Both the kitchen and the cake were still warm from baking. The cake was a magnificent thing, rich and creamy with the perfect amount of coconut. Violet, Klaus, and Uncle Monty were almost finished with their pieces, but Mr. Poe and Sunny had taken only one small bite each.

“To tell you the truth,” Violet said, “Sunny doesn’t really like anything soft to eat. She prefers very hard food.”

“How unusual for a baby,” Uncle Monty said, “but not at all unusual for many snakes. The Barbary Chewer, for example, is a snake that must have something in its mouth at all times, otherwise it begins to eat its own mouth. Very difficult to keep in captivity. Would Sunny perhaps like a raw carrot? That’s plenty hard.”

“A raw carrot would be perfect, Dr. Montgomery,” Klaus replied.

The children’s new legal guardian got up and walked toward the refrigerator, but then turned around and wagged a finger at Klaus. “None of that ‘Dr. Montgomery’ stuff,” he said. “That’s way too stuffy for me. Call me Uncle Monty! Why, my fellow herpetologists don’t even call me Dr. Montgomery.”

“What are herpetologists?” Violet asked.

“What do they call you?” Klaus asked.

“Children, children,” Mr. Poe said sternly. “Not so many questions.”

Uncle Monty smiled at the orphans. “That’s quite all right,” he said. “Questions show an inquisitive mind. The word ‘inquisitive’ means—”

“We know what it means,” Klaus said. “‘Full of questions.’”

“Well, if you know what that means,” Uncle Monty said, handing a large carrot to Sunny, “then you should know what herpetology is.”

“It’s the study of something,” Klaus said. “Whenever a word has ology, it’s the study of something.”

“Snakes!” Uncle Monty cried. “Snakes, snakes, snakes! That’s what I study! I love Snakes, all kinds, and I circle the globe looking for different kinds to study here in my laboratory! Isn’t that interesting?”

“That is interesting,” Violet said, “very interesting. But isn’t it dangerous?”

“Not if you know the facts,” Uncle Monty said. “Mr. Poe, would you like a raw carrot as well? You’ve scarcely touched your cake.”

Mr. Poe turned red, and coughed into his handkerchief for quite some time before replying, “No, thank you, Dr. Montgomery.”

Uncle Monty winked at the children. “If you like, you may call me Uncle Monty as well, Mr. Poe.”

“Thank you, Uncle Monty,” Mr. Poe said stiffly. “Now, I have a question, if you don’t mind. You mentioned that you circle the globe. Is there someone who will come and take care of the children while you are out collecting specimens?”

“We’re old enough to stay by ourselves,” Violet said quickly, but inside she was not so sure. Uncle Monty’s line of work did sound interesting, but she wasn’t sure if she was ready to stay alone with her siblings, in a house full of snakes.

“I wouldn’t hear of it,” Uncle Monty said. “You three must come with me. In ten days we leave for Peru, and I want you children right there in the jungle with me.”

“Really?” Klaus said. Behind his glasses, his eyes were shining with excitement. “You’d really take us to Peru with you?”

“I will be glad to have your help,” Uncle Monty said, reaching over to take a bite of Sunny’s piece of cake. “Gustav, my top assistant, left an unexpected letter of resignation for me just yesterday. There’s a man named Stephano whom I have hired to take his place, but he won’t arrive for a week or so, so I am way behind on preparations for the expedition. Somebody has to make sure all the snake traps are working, so I don’t hurt any of our specimens. Somebody has to read up on the terrain of Peru so we can navigate through the jungle without any trouble. And somebody has to slice an enormous length of rope into small, workable pieces.”

“I’m interested in mechanics,” Violet said, licking her fork, “so I would be happy to learn about snake traps.”

“I find guidebooks fascinating,” Klaus said, wiping his mouth with a napkin, “so I would love to read up on Peruvian terrain.”

“Eojip!” Sunny shrieked, taking a bite of carrot. She probably meant something along the lines of “I would be thrilled to bite an enormous length of rope into small, workable pieces!”

“Wonderful!” Uncle Monty cried. “I’m glad you have such enthusiasm. It will make it easier to do without Gustav. It was very strange, his leaving like that. I was unlucky to lose him.” Uncle Monty’s face clouded over, a phrase which here means “took on a slightly gloomy look as Uncle Monty thought about his bad luck,” although if Uncle Monty had known what bad luck was soon to come, he wouldn’t have wasted a moment thinking about Gustav. I wish—and I’m sure you wish as well—that we could go back in time and warn him, but we can’t, and that is that. Uncle Monty seemed to think that was that as well, as he shook his head and smiled, clearing his brain of troubling thoughts. “Well, we’d better get started. No time like the present, I always say. Why don’t you show Mr. Poe to his car, and then I’ll show you to the Reptile Room.”

The three Baudelaire children, who had been so anxious when they had walked through the snake-shaped hedges the first time, raced confidently through them now as they escorted Mr. Poe to his automobile.

“Now, children,” Mr. Poe said, coughing into his handkerchief, “I will be back here in about a week with your luggage and to make sure everything is all right. I know that Dr. Montgomery might seem a bit intimidating to you, but I’m sure in time you will get used to—”

“He doesn’t seem intimidating at all,” Klaus interrupted. “He seems very easy to get along with.”

“I can’t wait to see the Reptile Room,” Violet said excitedly.

“Meeka!” Sunny said, which probably meant “Good-bye, Mr. Poe. Thank you for driving us.”

“Well, good-bye,” Mr. Poe said. “Remember, it is just a short drive here from the city, so please contact me or anyone else at Mulctuary Money Management if you have any trouble. See you soon.” He gave the orphans an awkward little wave with his handkerchief, got into his small car, and drove back down the steep gravel driveway onto Lousy Lane. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny waved back, hoping that Mr. Poe would remember to roll up the car windows so the stench of horseradish would not be too unbearable.

“Bambini!” Uncle Monty cried out from the front door. “Come along, bambini!”

The Baudelaire orphans raced back through the hedges to where their new guardian was waiting for them. “Violet, Uncle Monty,” Violet said. “My name is Violet, my brother’s is Klaus, and Sunny is our baby sister. None of us is named Bambini.”

“‘Bambini’ is the Italian word for ‘children,’” Uncle Monty explained. “I had a sudden urge to speak a little Italian. I’m so excited to have you three here with me, you’re lucky I’m not speaking gibberish.”

“Have you never had any children of your own?” Violet asked.

“I’m afraid not,” Uncle Monty said. “I always meant to find a wife and start a family, but it just kept slipping my mind. Shall I show you the Reptile Room?”

“Yes, please,” Klaus said.

Uncle Monty led them past the painting of snakes in the entryway into a large room with a grand staircase and very, very high ceilings. “Your rooms will be up there,” Uncle Monty said, gesturing up the stairs. “You can each choose whatever room you like and move the furniture around to suit your taste. I understand that Mr. Poe has to bring your luggage later in that puny car of his, so please make a list of anything you might need and we’ll go into town tomorrow and buy it so you don’t have to spend the next few days in the same underwear.”

“Do we really each get our own room?” Violet asked.

“Of course,” Uncle Monty said. “You don’t think I’d coop you all up in one room when I have this enormous house, do you? What sort of person would do that?”

“Count Olaf did,” Klaus said.

“Oh, that’s right, Mr. Poe told me,” Uncle Monty said, grimacing as if he had just tasted something terrible. “Count Olaf sounds like an awful person. I hope he is torn apart by wild animals someday. Wouldn’t that be satisfying? Oh, well, here we are: the Reptile Room.”

Uncle Monty had reached a very tall wooden door with a large doorknob right in the middle of it. It was so high up that he had to stand on his tiptoes to open it. When it swung open on its creaky hinges, the Baudelaire orphans all gasped in astonishment and delight at the room they saw.

The Reptile Room was made entirely out of glass, with bright, clear glass walls and a high glass ceiling that rose up to a point like the inside of a cathedral. Outside the walls was a bright green field of grasses and shrubs which was of course perfectly visible through the transparent walls, so standing in the Reptile Room was like being inside and outside at the same time. But as remarkable as the room itself was, what was inside the Reptile Room was much more exciting. Reptiles, of course, were lined up in locked metal cages that sat on wooden tables in four neat rows all the way down the room. There were all sorts of snakes, naturally, but there were also lizards, toads, and assorted other animals that the children had never seen before, not even in pictures, or at the zoo. There was a very fat toad with two wings coming out of its back, and a two-headed lizard that had bright yellow stripes on its belly. There was a snake that had three mouths, one on top of the other, and another that seemed to have no mouth at all. There was a lizard that looked like an owl, with wide eyes that gazed at them from the log on which it was perched in its cage, and a toad that looked just like a church, complete with stained-glass eyes. And there was a cage with a white cloth on top of it, so you couldn’t see what was inside at all. The children walked down the aisles of cages, peering into each one in amazed silence. Some of the creatures looked friendly, and some of them looked scary, but all of them looked fascinating, and the Baudelaires took a long, careful look at each one, with Klaus holding Sunny up so she could see.

The orphans were so interested in the cages that they didn’t even notice what was at the far end of the Reptile Room until they had walked the length of each aisle, but once they reached the far end they gasped in astonishment and delight once more. For here, at the end of the rows and rows of cages, were rows and rows of bookshelves, each one stuffed with books of different sizes and shapes, with a cluster of tables, chairs, and reading lamps in one corner. I’m sure you remember that the Baudelaire children’s parents had an enormous collection of books, which the orphans remembered fondly and missed dreadfully, and since the terrible fire, the children were always delighted to meet someone who loved books as much as they did. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny examined the books as carefully as they had the reptile cages, and realized immediately that most of the books were about snakes and other reptiles. It seemed as if every book written on reptiles, from An Introduction to Large Lizards to The Care and Feeding of the Androgynous Cobra, were lined up on the shelves, and all three children, Klaus especially, looked forward to reading up on the creatures in the Reptile Room.

“This is an amazing place,” Violet said finally, breaking the long silence.

“Thank you,” Uncle Monty said. “It’s taken me a lifetime to put together.”

“And are we really allowed to come inside here?” Klaus asked.

“Allowed?” Uncle Monty repeated. “Of course not! You are implored to come inside here, my boy. Starting first thing tomorrow morning, all of us must be here every day in preparation for the expedition to Peru. I will clear off one of those tables for you, Violet, to work on the traps. Klaus, I expect you to read all of the books about Peru that I have, and make careful notes. And Sunny can sit on the floor and bite rope. We will work all day until suppertime, and after supper we will go to the movies. Are there any objections?”

Violet, Klaus, and Sunny looked at one another and grinned. Any objections? The Baudelaire orphans had just been living with Count Olaf, who had made them chop wood and clean up after his drunken guests, while plotting to steal their fortune. Uncle Monty had just described a delightful way to spend one’s time, and the children smiled at him eagerly. Of course there would be no objections. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny gazed at the Reptile Room and envisioned an end to their troubles as they lived their lives under Uncle Monty’s care. They were wrong, of course, about their misery being over, but for the moment the three siblings were hopeful, excited, and happy.

“No, no, no,” Sunny cried out, in apparent answer to Uncle Monty’s question.

“Good, good, good,” Uncle Monty said, smiling. “Now, let’s go figure out whose room is whose.”

“Uncle Monty?” Klaus asked shyly. “I just have one question.”

“What is that?” Uncle Monty said.

“What’s in that cage with the cloth on top of it?”

Uncle Monty looked at the cage, and then at the children. His face lit up with a smile of pure joy. “That, my dears, is a new snake which I brought over from my last journey. Gustav and myself are the only people to have seen it. Next month I will present it to the Herpetological Society as a new discovery, but in the meantime I will allow you to look at it. Gather ’round.”

The Baudelaire orphans followed Uncle Monty to the cloth-covered cage, and with a flourish—the word “flourish” here means “a sweeping gesture, often used to show off”—he swooped the cloth off the cage. Inside was a large black snake, as dark as a coal mine and as thick as a sewer pipe, looking right at the orphans with shiny green eyes. With the cloth off its cage, the snake began to uncoil itself and slither around its home.

“Because I discovered it,” Uncle Monty said, “I got to name it.”

“What is it called?” Violet asked.

“The Incredibly Deadly Viper,” Uncle Monty replied, and at that moment something happened which I’m sure will interest you. With one flick of its tail, the snake unlatched the door of its cage and slithered out onto the table, and before Uncle Monty or any of the Baudelaire orphans could say anything, it opened its mouth and bit Sunny right on the chin.

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