فصل 05

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فصل 05

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CHAPTER Five

That night felt like the longest and most terrible the Baudelaire orphans had ever had, and they’d had plenty. There was one night, shortly after Sunny was born, that all three children had a horrible flu, and tossed and turned in the grasp of a terrible fever, while their father tried to soothe them all at once, placing cold washcloths on their sweaty brows. The night after their parents had been killed, the three children had stayed at Mr. Poe’s house, and had stayed up all night, too miserable and confused to even try to sleep. And of course, they had spent many a long and terrible night while living with Count Olaf.

But this particular night seemed worse. From the moment of Monty’s arrival until bedtime, Stephano kept the children under his constant surveillance, a phrase which here means “kept watching them so they couldn’t possibly talk to Uncle Monty alone and reveal that he was really Count Olaf,” and Uncle Monty was too preoccupied to think that anything unusual was going on. When they brought in the rest of Uncle Monty’s purchases, Stephano carried bags with only one hand, keeping the other one in his coat pocket where the long knife was hidden, but Uncle Monty was too excited about all the new supplies to ask about it. When they went into the kitchen to prepare dinner, Stephano smiled menacingly at the children as he sliced mushrooms, but Uncle Monty was too busy making sure the stroganoff sauce didn’t boil to even notice that Stephano was using his own threatening knife for the chopping. Over dinner, Stephano told funny stories and praised Monty’s scientific work, and Uncle Monty was so flattered he didn’t even think to guess that Stephano was holding a knife under the table, rubbing the blade gently against Violet’s knee for the entire meal. And when Uncle Monty announced that he would spend the evening showing his new assistant around the Reptile Room, he was too eager to realize that the Baudelaires simply went up to bed without a word.

For the first time, having individual bedrooms seemed like a hardship rather than a luxury, for without one another’s company the orphans felt even more lonely and helpless. Violet stared at the paper tacked to her wall and tried to imagine what Stephano was planning. Klaus sat in his large cushioned chair and turned on his brass reading lamp but was too worried to even open a book. Sunny stared at her hard objects but didn’t bite a single one of them.

All three children thought of walking down the hall to Uncle Monty’s room and waking him up to tell him what was wrong. But to get to his bedroom, they would have to walk past the room in which Stephano was staying, and all night long Stephano kept watch in a chair placed in front of his open door. When the orphans opened their doors to peer down the dark hallway, they saw Stephano’s pale, shaved head, which seemed to be floating above his body in the darkness. And they could see his knife, which Stephano was moving slowly like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. Back and forth it went, back and forth, glinting in the dim light, and the sight was so fearsome they didn’t dare try walking down the hallway.

Finally, the light in the house turned the pale blue-gray of early dawn, and the Baudelaire children walked blearily down the stairs to breakfast, tired and achy from their sleepless night. They sat around the table where they had eaten cake on their first morning at the house, and picked listlessly at their food. For the first time since their arrival at Uncle Monty’s, they were not eager to enter the Reptile Room and begin the day’s work.

“I suppose we have to go in now,” Violet said finally, putting aside her scarcely nibbled toast. “I’m sure Uncle Monty has already started working, and is expecting us.”

“And I’m sure that Stephano is there, too,” Klaus said, staring glumly into his cereal bowl. “We’ll never get a chance to tell Uncle Monty what we know about him.”

“Yinga,” Sunny said sadly, dropping her untouched raw carrot to the floor.

“If only Uncle Monty knew what we know,” Violet said, “and Stephano knew that he knew what we know. But Uncle Monty doesn’t know what we know, and Stephano knows that he doesn’t know what we know.”

“I know,” Klaus said.

“I know you know,” Violet said, “but what we don’t know is what Count Olaf—I mean Stephano—is really up to. He’s after our fortune, certainly, but how can he get it if we’re under Uncle Monty’s care?”

“Maybe he’s just going to wait until you’re of age, and then steal the fortune,” Klaus said.

“Four years is a long time to wait,” Violet said. The three orphans were quiet, as each remembered where they had been four years ago. Violet had been ten, and had worn her hair very short. She remembered that sometime around her tenth birthday she had invented a new kind of pencil sharpener. Klaus had been about eight, and he remembered how interested he had been in comets, reading all the astronomy books his parents had in their library. Sunny, of course, had not been born four years ago, and she sat and tried to remember what that was like. Very dark, she thought, with nothing to bite. For all three youngsters, four years did seem like a very long time.

“Come on, come on, you are moving very slowly this morning,” Uncle Monty said, bursting into the room. His face seemed even brighter than usual, and he was holding a small bunch of folded papers in one hand. “Stephano has only worked here one day, and he’s already in the Reptile Room. In fact, he was up before I was—I ran into him on my way down the stairs. He’s an eager beaver. But you three—you’re moving like the Hungarian Sloth Snake, whose top speed is half an inch per hour! We have lots to do today, and I’d like to catch the six o’clock showing of Zombies in the Snow tonight, so let’s try to hurry, hurry, hurry.”

Violet looked at Uncle Monty, and realized that this might be their only opportunity to talk to him alone, without Stephano around, but he seemed so wound up they weren’t sure if he would listen to them. “Speaking of Stephano,” she said timidly, “we’d like to talk to you about him.”

Uncle Monty’s eyes widened, and he looked around him as if there were spies in the room before leaning in to whisper to the children. “I’d like to talk to you, too,” he said. “I have my suspicions about Stephano, and I’d like to discuss them with you.”

The Baudelaire orphans looked at one another in relief. “You do?” Klaus said.

“Of course,” Uncle Monty said. “Last night I began to get very suspicious about this new assistant of mine. There’s something a little spooky about him, and I—” Uncle Monty looked around again, and began speaking even softer, so the children had to hold their breaths to hear him. “And I think we should discuss it outside. Shall we?”

The children nodded in agreement, and rose from the table. Leaving their dirty breakfast dishes behind, which is not a good thing to do in general but perfectly acceptable in the face of an emergency, they walked with Uncle Monty to the front entryway, past the painting of two snakes entwined together, out the front door, and onto the lawn, as if they wanted to talk to the snake-shaped hedges instead of to one another.

“I don’t mean to be vainglorious,” Uncle Monty began, using a word which here means “braggy,” “but I really am one of the most widely respected herpetologists in the world.”

Klaus blinked. It was an unexpected beginning for the conversation. “Of course you are,” he said, “but—”

“And because of this, I’m sad to say,” Uncle Monty continued, as if he had not heard, “many people are jealous of me.”

“I’m sure that’s true,” Violet said, puzzled.

“And when people are jealous,” Uncle Monty said, shaking his head, “they will do anything. They will do crazy things. When I was getting my herpetology degree, my roommate was so envious of a new toad I had discovered that he stole and ate my only specimen. I had to X-ray his stomach, and use the X-rays rather than the toad in my presentation. And something tells me we may have a similar situation here.”

What was Uncle Monty talking about?

“I’m afraid I don’t quite follow you,” Klaus said, which is the polite way of saying “What are you talking about, Uncle Monty?”

“Last night, after you went to bed, Stephano asked me a few too many questions about all the snakes and about my upcoming expedition. And do you know why?”

“I think so,” Violet began, but Uncle Monty interrupted her.

“It is because this man who is calling himself Stephano,” he said, “is really a member of the Herpetological Society, and he is here to try and find the Incredibly Deadly Viper so he can preempt my presentation. Do you three know what the word ‘preempt’ means?”

“No,” Violet said, “but—”

“It means that I think this Stephano is going to steal my snake,” Uncle Monty said, “and present it to the Herpetological Society. Because it is a new species, there’s no way I can prove I discovered it. Before we know it, the Incredibly Deadly Viper will be called the Stephano Snake, or something dreadful like that. And if he’s planning that, just think what he will do to our Peruvian expedition. Each toad we catch, each venom sample we put into a test tube, each snake interview we record—every scrap of work we do—will fall into the hands of this Herpetological Society spy.”

“He’s not a Herpetological Society spy,” Klaus said impatiently, “he’s Count Olaf!”

“I know just what you mean!” Uncle Monty said excitedly. “This sort of behavior is indeed as dastardly as that terrible man’s. That is why I’m doing this.” He raised one hand and waved the folded papers in the air. “As you know,” he said, “tomorrow we are leaving for Peru. These are our tickets for the five o’clock voyage on the Prospero, a fine ship that will take us across the sea to South America. There’s a ticket for me, one for Violet, one for Klaus, one for Stephano, but not one for Sunny because we’re going to hide her in a suitcase to save money.”

“Deepo!”

“I’m kidding about that. But I’m not kidding about this.” Uncle Monty, his face flushed with excitement, took one of the folded papers and began ripping it into tiny pieces. “This is Stephano’s ticket. He’s not going to Peru with us after all. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to tell him that he needs to stay here and look after my specimens instead. That way we can run a successful expedition in peace.”

“But Uncle Monty—” Klaus said.

“How many times must I remind you it’s not polite to interrupt?” Uncle Monty interrupted, shaking his head. “In any case, I know what you’re worried about. You’re worried what will happen if he stays here alone with the Incredibly Deadly Viper. But don’t worry. The Viper will join us on the expedition, traveling in one of our snake carrying cases. I don’t know why you’re looking so glum, Sunny. I thought you’d be happy to have the Viper’s company. So don’t look so worried, bambini. As you can see, your Uncle Monty has the situation in hand.”

When somebody is a little bit wrong—say, when a waiter puts nonfat milk in your espresso macchiato, instead of lowfat milk—it is often quite easy to explain to them how and why they are wrong. But if somebody is surpassingly wrong—say, when a waiter bites your nose instead of taking your order—you can often be so surprised that you are unable to say anything at all. Paralyzed by how wrong the waiter is, your mouth would hang slightly open and your eyes would blink over and over, but you would be unable to say a word. This is what the Baudelaire children did. Uncle Monty was so wrong about Stephano, in thinking he was a herpetological spy rather than Count Olaf, that the three siblings could scarcely think of a way to tell him so.

“Come now, my dears,” Uncle Monty said. “We’ve wasted enough of the morning on talk. We have to—ow!” He interrupted himself with a cry of surprise and pain, and fell to the ground.

“Uncle Monty!” Klaus cried. The Baudelaire children saw that a large, shiny object was on top of him, and realized a moment later what the object was: it was the heavy brass reading lamp, the one standing next to the large cushioned chair in Klaus’s room.

“Ow!” Uncle Monty said again, pulling the lamp off him. “That really hurt. My shoulder may be sprained. It’s a good thing it didn’t land on my head, or it really could have done some damage.”

“But where did it come from?” Violet asked.

“It must have fallen from the window,” Uncle Monty said, pointing up to where Klaus’s room was. “Whose room is that? Klaus, I believe it is yours. You must be more careful. You can’t dangle heavy objects out the window like that. Look what almost happened.”

“But that lamp wasn’t anywhere near my window,” Klaus said. “I keep it in the alcove, so I can read in that large chair.”

“Really, Klaus,” Uncle Monty said, standing up and handing him the lamp. “Do you honestly expect me to believe that the lamp danced over to the window and leaped onto my shoulder? Please put this back in your room, in a safe place, and we’ll say no more about it.”

“But—” Klaus said, but his older sister interrupted him.

“I’ll help you, Klaus,” Violet said. “We’ll find a place for it where it’s safe.”

“Well, don’t be too long,” Uncle Monty said, rubbing his shoulder. “We’ll see you in the Reptile Room. Come, Sunny.”

Walking through the entry hall, the four parted ways at the stairs, with Uncle Monty and Sunny going to the enormous door of the Reptile Room, and Violet and Klaus carrying the heavy brass lamp up to Klaus’s room.

“You know very well,” Klaus hissed to his sister, “that I was not careless with this lamp.”

“Of course I know that,” Violet whispered. “But there’s no use trying to explain that to Uncle Monty. He thinks Stephano is a herpetological spy. You know as well as I do that Stephano was responsible for this.”

“How clever of you to figure that out,” said a voice at the top of the stairs, and Violet and Klaus were so surprised they almost dropped the lamp. It was Stephano, or, if you prefer, it was Count Olaf. It was the bad guy. “But then, you’ve always been clever children,” he continued. “A little too clever for my taste, but you won’t be around for long, so I’m not troubled by it.”

“You’re not very clever yourself,” Klaus said fiercely. “This heavy brass lamp almost hit us, but if anything happens to my sisters or me, you’ll never get your hands on the Baudelaire fortune.”

“Dear me, dear me,” Stephano said, his grimy teeth showing as he smiled. “If I wanted to harm you, orphan, your blood would already be pouring down these stairs like a waterfall. No, I’m not going to harm a hair on any Baudelaire head—not here in this house. You needn’t be afraid of me, little ones, until we find ourselves in a location where crimes are more difficult to trace.”

“And where would that be?” Violet asked. “We plan to stay right here until we grow up.”

“Really?” Stephano said, in that sneaky, sneaky voice. “Why, I had the impression we were leaving the country tomorrow.”

“Uncle Monty tore up your ticket,” Klaus replied triumphantly. “He was suspicious of you, so he changed his plans and now you’re not going with us.”

Stephano’s smile turned into a scowl, and his stained teeth seemed to grow bigger. His eyes grew so shiny that it hurt Violet and Klaus to look at them. “I wouldn’t rely on that,” he said, in a terrible, terrible voice. “Even the best plans can change if there’s an accident.” He pointed one spiky finger at the brass reading lamp. “And accidents happen all the time.”

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