فصل 08

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فصل 08

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CHAPTER Eight

While the jeep sputtered ahead of them, the Baudelaire orphans trudged back toward Uncle Monty’s house, the scent of horseradish in their nostrils and a feeling of frustration in their hearts. It is very unnerving to be proven wrong, particularly when you are really right and the person who is really wrong is the one who is proving you wrong and proving himself, wrongly, right. Right?

“I don’t know how he got rid of his tattoo,” Klaus said stubbornly to Mr. Poe, who was coughing into his handkerchief, “but that’s definitely Count Olaf.”

“Klaus,” Mr. Poe said, when he had stopped coughing, “this is getting very tiresome, going over this again and again. We have just seen Stephano’s unblemished ankle. ‘Unblemished’ means—”

“We know what ‘unblemished’ means,” Klaus said, watching Stephano get out of Uncle Monty’s jeep and walk quickly into the house. “‘Without tattoos.’ But it is Count Olaf. Why can’t you see it?”

“All I can see,” Mr. Poe said, “is what’s in front of me. I see a man with no eyebrows, a beard, and no tattoo, and that’s not Count Olaf. Anyway, even if by some chance this Stephano wishes you harm, you have nothing to fear. It is quite shocking that Dr. Montgomery has died, but we’re not simply going to hand over you and your fortune to his assistant. Why, this man can’t even remember my name!”

Klaus looked at his siblings and sighed. It would be easier, they realized, to argue with the snake-shaped hedge than with Mr. Poe when he had made up his mind. Violet was about to try reasoning with him one more time when a horn honked behind them. The Baudelaires and Mr. Poe got out of the way of the approaching automobile, a small gray car with a very skinny driver. The car stopped in front of the house and the skinny person got out, a tall man in a white coat.

“May we help you?” Mr. Poe called, as he and the children approached.

“I am Dr. Lucafont,” the tall man said, pointing to himself with a big, solid hand. “I received a call that there’s been a terrible accident involving a snake.”

“You’re here already?” Mr. Poe asked. “But Stephano has scarcely had time to call, let alone for you to drive here.”

“I believe that speed is of the essence in an emergency, don’t you?” Dr. Lucafont said. “If an autopsy is to be performed, it should be done immediately.”

“Of course, of course,” Mr. Poe said quickly. “I was just surprised.”

“Where is the body?” Dr. Lucafont asked, walking toward the door.

“Stephano can tell you,” Mr. Poe said, opening the door of the house. Stephano was waiting in the entryway, holding a coffeepot.

“I’m going to make some coffee,” he said. “Who wants some?”

“I’ll have a cup,” Dr. Lucafont said. “Nothing like a hearty cup of coffee before starting the day’s work.”

Mr. Poe frowned. “Shouldn’t you take a look at Dr. Montgomery first?”

“Yes, Dr. Lucafont,” Stephano said. “Time is of the essence in an emergency, don’t you think?”

“Yes, yes, I suppose you’re right,” Dr. Lucafont said.

“Poor Dr. Montgomery is in the Reptile Room,” Stephano said, gesturing to where the Baudelaires’ guardian still lay. “Please do a thorough examination, and then you may have some coffee.”

“You’re the boss,” Dr. Lucafont said, opening the door of the Reptile Room with an oddly stiff hand. Stephano led Mr. Poe into the kitchen, and the Baudelaires glumly followed. When one feels useless and unable to help, one can use the expression “feeling like a fifth wheel,” because if something has four wheels, such as a wagon or a car, there is no real need for a fifth. As Stephano brewed coffee for the adults, the three children sat down at the kitchen table where they had first had coconut cake with Uncle Monty just a short time ago, and Violet, Klaus, and Sunny felt like fifth, sixth, and seventh wheels on a car that was going the wrong direction—toward Hazy Harbor, and the departing Prospero.

“When I spoke to Dr. Lucafont on the phone,” Stephano said, “I told him about the accident with your car. When he is done with his medical examination, he will drive you into town to get a mechanic and I will stay here with the orphans.”

“No,” Klaus said firmly. “We are not staying alone with him for an instant.”

Mr. Poe smiled as Stephano poured him a cup of coffee, and looked sternly at Klaus. “Klaus, I realize you are very upset, but it is inexcusable for you to keep treating Stephano so rudely. Please apologize to him at once.”

“No!” Klaus cried.

“That’s quite all right, Mr. Yoe,” Stephano said soothingly. “The children are upset over Dr. Montgomery’s murder, so I don’t expect them to be on their best behavior.”

“Murder?” Violet said. She turned to Stephano and tried to look as if she were merely politely curious, instead of enraged. “Why did you say murder, Stephano?”

Stephano’s face darkened, and his hands clenched at his sides. It looked like there was nothing he wanted to do more than scratch out Violet’s eyes. “I misspoke,” he said finally.

“Of course he did,” Mr. Poe said, sipping from his cup. “But the children can come with Dr. Lucafont and me if they feel more comfortable that way.”

“I’m not sure they will fit,” Stephano said, his eyes shining. “It’s a very small car. But if the orphans would rather, they could come with me in the jeep and we could follow you and Dr. Lucafont to the mechanic.”

The three orphans looked at one another and thought hard. Their situation seemed like a game, although this game had desperately high stakes. The object of the game was not to end up alone with Stephano, for when they did, he would whisk them away on the Prospero. What would happen then, when they were alone in Peru with such a greedy and despicable person, they did not want to think about. What they had to think about was stopping it from happening. It seemed incredible that their very lives hinged on a carpooling conversation, but in life it is often the tiny details that end up being the most important.

“Why don’t we ride with Dr. Lucafont,” Violet said carefully, “and Mr. Poe can ride with Stephano?”

“Whatever for?” Mr. Poe asked.

“I’ve always wanted to see the inside of a doctor’s automobile,” Violet said, knowing that this was a fairly lame invention.

“Oh yes, me too,” Klaus said. “Please, can’t we ride with Dr. Lucafont?”

“I’m afraid not,” Dr. Lucafont said from the doorway, surprising everyone. “Not all three of you children, anyway. I have placed Dr. Montgomery’s body in my car, which only leaves room for two more passengers.”

“Have you completed your examination already?” Mr. Poe asked.

“The preliminary one, yes,” Dr. Lucafont said. “I will have to take the body for some further tests, but my autopsy shows that the doctor died of snakebite. Is there any coffee left for me?”

“Of course,” Stephano answered, and poured him a cup.

“How can you be sure?” Violet asked the doctor.

“What do you mean?” Dr. Lucafont said quizzically. “I can be sure there’s coffee left because I see it right here.”

“What I think Violet means,” Mr. Poe said, “is how can you be sure that Dr. Montgomery died of snakebite?”

“In his veins, I found the venom of the Mamba du Mal, one of the world’s most poisonous snakes.”

“Does this mean that there’s a poisonous snake loose in this house?” Mr. Poe asked.

“No, no,” Dr. Lucafont said. “The Mamba du Mal is safe in its cage. It must have gotten out, bitten Dr. Montgomery, and locked itself up again.”

“What?” Violet asked. “That’s a ridiculous theory. A snake cannot operate a lock by itself.”

“Perhaps other snakes helped it,” Dr. Lucafont said calmly, sipping his coffee. “Is there anything here to eat? I had to rush over here without my breakfast.”

“Your story does seem a little odd,” Mr. Poe said. He looked questioningly at Dr. Lucafont, who was opening a cupboard and peering inside.

“Terrible accidents, I have found, are often odd,” he replied.

“It can’t have been an accident,” Violet said. “Uncle Monty is—” She stopped. “Uncle Monty was one of the world’s most respected herpetologists. He never would have kept a poisonous snake in a cage it could open itself.”

“If it wasn’t an accident,” Dr. Lucafont said, “then someone would have had to do this on purpose. Obviously, you three children didn’t kill him, and the only other person in the house was Stephano.”

“And I,” Stephano added quickly, “hardly know anything about snakes. I’ve only been working here for two days and scarcely had time to learn anything.”

“It certainly appears to be an accident,” Mr. Poe said. “I’m sorry, children. Dr. Montgomery seemed like an appropriate guardian for you.”

“He was more than that,” Violet said quietly. “He was much, much more than an appropriate guardian.”

“That’s Uncle Monty’s food!” Klaus cried out suddenly, his face contorted in anger. He pointed at Dr. Lucafont, who had taken a can out of the cupboard. “Stop eating his food!”

“I was only going to have a few peaches,” Dr. Lucafont said. With one of his oddly solid hands, he held up a can of peaches Uncle Monty had bought only yesterday.

“Please,” Mr. Poe said gently to Dr. Lucafont. “The children are very upset. I’m sure you can understand that. Violet, Klaus, Sunny, why don’t you excuse yourselves for a little while? We have much to discuss, and you are obviously too overwrought to participate. Now, Dr. Lucafont, let’s try and figure this out. You have room for three passengers, including Dr. Montgomery’s body. And you, Stephano, have room for three passengers as well.”

“So it’s very simple,” Stephano said. “You and the corpse will go in Dr. Lucafont’s car, and I will drive behind you with the children.”

“No,” Klaus said firmly.

“Baudelaires,” Mr. Poe said, just as firmly, “will you three please excuse yourselves?”

“Afoop!” Sunny shrieked, which probably meant “No.”

“Of course we will,” Violet said, giving Klaus and Sunny a significant look, and taking her siblings’ hands, she half-led them, half-dragged them out of the kitchen. Klaus and Sunny looked up at their older sister, and saw that something about her had changed. Her face looked more determined than grief-stricken, and she walked quickly, as if she were late for something.

You will remember, of course, that even years later, Klaus would lie awake in bed, filled with regret that he didn’t call out to the driver of the taxicab who had brought Stephano into their lives once more. But in this respect Violet was luckier than her brother. For unlike Klaus, who was so surprised when he first recognized Stephano that the moment to act passed him by, Violet realized, as she heard the adults drone on and on, that the time to act was now. I cannot say that Violet, years later, slept easily when she looked back on her life—there were too many miserable times for any of the Baudelaires to be peaceful sleepers—but she was always a bit proud of herself that she realized she and her siblings should in fact excuse themselves from the kitchen and move to a more helpful location.

“What are we doing?” Klaus asked. “Where are we going?” Sunny, too, looked questioningly at her sister, but Violet merely shook her head in answer, and walked faster, toward the door of the Reptile Room.

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