فصل 09

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فصل 09

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CHAPTER Nine

When Violet opened the enormous door of the Reptile Room, the reptiles were still there in their cages, the books were still on their shelves, and the morning sun was still streaming through the glass walls, but the place simply wasn’t the same. Even though Dr. Lucafont had removed Uncle Monty’s body, the Reptile Room was not as inviting as it used to be, and probably never would be. What happens in a certain place can stain your feelings for that location, just as ink can stain a white sheet. You can wash it, and wash it, and still never forget what has transpired, a word which here means “happened and made everybody sad.”

“I don’t want to go in,” Klaus said. “Uncle Monty died in here.”

“I know we don’t want to be here,” Violet said, “but we have work to do.”

“Work?” Klaus asked. “What work?”

Violet gritted her teeth. “We have work to do,” she said, “that Mr. Poe should be doing, but as usual, he is well intentioned but of no real help.” Klaus and Sunny sighed as she spoke out loud a sentiment all three siblings had never said, but always felt, since Mr. Poe had taken over their affairs. “Mr. Poe doesn’t believe that Stephano and Count Olaf are the same person. And he believes that Uncle Monty’s death was an accident. We have to prove him wrong on both counts.”

“But Stephano doesn’t have the tattoo,” Klaus pointed out. “And Dr. Lucafont found the venom of the Mamba du Mal in Monty’s veins.”

“I know, I know,” Violet said impatiently. “The three of us know the truth, but in order to convince the adults, we have to find evidence and proof of Stephano’s plan.”

“If only we’d found evidence and proof earlier,” Klaus said glumly. “Then maybe we could have saved Uncle Monty’s life.”

“We’ll never know about that,” Violet said quietly. She looked around at the Reptile Room, which Monty had worked on his whole life. “But if we put Stephano behind bars for his murder, we’ll at least be able to prevent him from harming anyone else.”

“Including us,” Klaus pointed out.

“Including us,” Violet agreed. “Now, Klaus, find all of Uncle Monty’s books that might contain information about the Mamba du Mal. Let me know when you find anything.”

“But all that research could take days,” Klaus said, looking at Monty’s considerable library.

“Well, we don’t have days,” Violet said firmly. “We don’t even have hours. At five o’clock, the Prospero leaves Hazy Harbor, and Stephano is going to do everything he can to make sure we’re on that ship. And if we end up alone in Peru with him—”

“All right, all right,” Klaus said. “Let’s get started. Here, you take this book.”

“I’m not taking any book,” Violet said. “While you’re in the library, I’m going up to Stephano’s room to see if I can find any clues.”

“Alone?” Klaus asked. “In his room?”

“It’ll be perfectly safe,” Violet said, although she knew nothing of the kind. “Get cracking with the books, Klaus. Sunny, watch the door and bite anybody who tries to get in.”

“Ackroid!” Sunny said, which probably meant something like “Roger!”

Violet left, and true to her word, Sunny sat near the door with her teeth bared. Klaus walked to the far end of the room where the library was, carefully avoiding the aisle where the poisonous snakes were kept. He didn’t even want to look at the Mamba du Mal or any other deadly reptile. Even though Klaus knew that Uncle Monty’s death was the fault of Stephano and not really of the snake, he could not bear to look at the reptile who had put an end to the happy times he and his sisters had enjoyed. Klaus sighed, and opened a book, and as at so many other times when the middle Baudelaire child did not want to think about his circumstances, he began to read.

It is now necessary for me to use the rather hackneyed phrase “meanwhile, back at the ranch.” The word “hackneyed” here means “used by so, so many writers that by the time Lemony Snicket uses it, it is a tiresome cliché.” “Meanwhile, back at the ranch” is a phrase used to link what is going on in one part of the story to what is going on in another part of the story, and it has nothing to do with cows or with horses or with any people who work in rural areas where ranches are, or even with ranch dressing, which is creamy and put on salads. Here, the phrase “meanwhile, back at the ranch” refers to what Violet was doing while Klaus and Sunny were in the Reptile Room. For as Klaus began his research in Uncle Monty’s library, and Sunny guarded the door with her sharp teeth, Violet was up to something I am sure will be of interest to you.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Violet went to listen at the kitchen door, trying to catch what the adults were saying. As I’m sure you know, the key to good eavesdropping is not getting caught, and Violet moved as quietly as she could, trying not to step on any creaky parts of the floor. When she reached the door of the kitchen, she took her hair ribbon out of her pocket and dropped it on the floor, so if anyone opened the door she could claim that she was kneeling down to pick it up, rather than to eavesdrop. This was a trick she had learned when she was very small, when she would listen at her parents’ bedroom door to hear what they might be planning for her birthday, and like all good tricks, it still worked.

“But Mr. Poe, if Stephano rides with me in my car, and you drive Dr. Montgomery’s jeep,” Dr. Lucafont was saying, “then how will you know the way?”

“I see your point,” Mr. Poe said. “But I don’t think Sunny will be willing to sit on Dr. Montgomery’s lap, if he’s dead. We’ll have to work out another way.”

“I’ve got it,” Stephano said. “I will drive the children in Dr. Lucafont’s car, and Dr. Lucafont can go with you and Dr. Montgomery in Dr. Montgomery’s jeep.”

“I’m afraid that won’t work,” Dr. Lucafont said gravely. “The city laws won’t allow anybody else to drive my car.”

“And we haven’t even discussed the issue of the children’s luggage,” Mr. Poe said.

Violet stood up, having heard enough to know she had enough time to go up to Stephano’s room. Quietly, quietly, Violet walked up the staircase and down the hallway toward Stephano’s door, where he had sat holding the knife that fearsome night. When she reached his door, Violet stopped. It was amazing, she thought, how everything having to do with Count Olaf was frightening. He was such a terrible person that merely the sight of his bedroom door could get her heart pounding. Violet found herself half hoping that Stephano would bound up the stairs and stop her, just so she wouldn’t have to open this door and go into the room where he slept. But then Violet thought of her own safety, and the safety of her two siblings. If one’s safety is threatened, one often finds courage one didn’t know one had, and the eldest Baudelaire found she could be brave enough to open the door. Her shoulder still aching from the car collision, Violet turned the brass handle of the door and walked inside.

The room, as Violet suspected, was a dirty mess. The bed was unmade and had cracker crumbs and bits of hair all over it. Discarded newspapers and mail-order catalogs lay on the floor in untidy piles. On top of the dresser was a small assortment of half-empty wine bottles. The closet door was open, revealing a bunch of rusty wire coathangers that shivered in the drafty room. The curtains over the windows were all bunched up and encrusted with something flaky, and as Violet drew closer she realized with faint horror that Stephano had blown his nose on them.

But although it was disgusting, hardened phlegm was not the sort of evidence Violet was hoping for. The eldest Baudelaire orphan stood in the center of the room and surveyed the sticky disorder of the bedroom. Everything was horrendous, nothing was helpful. Violet rubbed her sore shoulder and remembered when she and her siblings were living with Count Olaf and found themselves locked in his tower room. Although it was frightening to be trapped in his inner sanctum—a phrase which here means “filthy room in which evil plans are devised”—it turned out to be quite useful, because they were able to read up on nuptial law and work their way out of their predicament. But here, in Stephano’s inner sanctum at Uncle Monty’s house, all Violet could find were signs of uncleanliness. Somewhere Stephano must have left a trail of evidence that Violet could find and use to convince Mr. Poe, but where was it? Disheartened—and afraid she had spent too much time in Stephano’s bedroom—Violet went quietly back downstairs.

“No, no, no,” Mr. Poe was saying, when she stopped to listen at the kitchen door again. “Dr. Montgomery can’t drive. He’s dead. There must be a way to do this.”

“I’ve told you over and over,” Stephano said, and Violet could tell that he was growing angry. “The easiest way is for me to take the three children into town, while you follow with Dr. Lucafont and the corpse. What could be simpler?”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Mr. Poe said with a sigh, and Violet hurried into the Reptile Room.

“Klaus, Klaus,” she cried. “Tell me you’ve found something! I went to Stephano’s room but there’s nothing there to help us, and I think Stephano’s going to get us alone in his car.”

Klaus smiled for an answer and began to read out loud from the book he was holding. “‘The Mamba du Mal,’” he read, “‘is one of the deadliest snakes in the hemisphere, noted for its strangulatory grip, used in conjunction with its deadly venom, giving all of its victims a tenebrous hue, which is ghastly to behold.’”

“Strangulatory? Conjunction? Tenebrous? Hue?” Violet repeated. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I didn’t either,” Klaus admitted, “until I looked up some of the words. ‘Strangulatory’ means ‘having to do with strangling.’ ‘In conjunction’ means ‘together.’ ‘Tenebrous’ means ‘dark.’ And ‘hue’ means ‘color.’ So the Mamba du Mal is noted for strangling people while it bites them, leaving their corpses dark with bruises.”

“Stop! Stop!” Violet cried, covering her ears. “I don’t want to hear any more about what happened to Uncle Monty!”

“You don’t understand,” Klaus said gently. “That isn’t what happened to Uncle Monty.”

“But Dr. Lucafont said there was the venom of the Mamba du Mal in Monty’s veins,” she said.

“I’m sure there was,” Klaus said, “but the snake didn’t put it there. If it had, Uncle Monty’s body would have been dark with bruises. But you and I remember that it was as pale as can be.”

Violet started to speak, and then stopped, remembering the pale, pale face of Uncle Monty when they discovered him. “That’s true,” she said. “But then how was he poisoned?”

“Remember how Uncle Monty said he kept the venoms of all his poisonous snakes in test tubes, to study them?” Klaus said. “I think Stephano took the venom and injected it into Uncle Monty.”

“Really?” Violet shuddered. “That’s awful.”

“Okipi!” Sunny shrieked, apparently in agreement.

“When we tell Mr. Poe about this,” Klaus said confidently, “Stephano will be arrested for Uncle Monty’s murder and sent to jail. No longer will he try to whisk us away to Peru, or threaten us with knives, or make us carry his suitcase, or anything like that.”

Violet looked at her brother, her eyes wide with excitement. “Suitcase!” she said. “His suitcase!”

“What are you talking about?” Klaus said quizzically, and Violet was about to explain when there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Violet called, signaling to Sunny not to bite Mr. Poe as he walked in.

“I hope you are feeling a bit calmer,” Mr. Poe said, looking at each of the children in turn, “and no longer entertaining the thought that Stephano is Count Olaf.” When Mr. Poe used the word “entertaining” here he meant “thinking,” rather than “singing or dancing or putting on skits.”

“Even if he’s not Count Olaf,” Klaus said carefully, “we think he may be responsible for Uncle Monty’s death.”

“Nonsense!” Mr. Poe exclaimed, as Violet shook her head at her brother. “Uncle Monty’s death was a terrible accident, and nothing more.”

Klaus held up the book he was reading. “But while you were in the kitchen, we were reading about snakes, and—”

“Reading about snakes?” Mr. Poe said. “I should think you’d want to read about anything but snakes, after what happened to Dr. Montgomery.”

“But I found out something,” Klaus said, “that—”

“It doesn’t matter what you found out about snakes,” Mr. Poe said, taking out a handkerchief. The Baudelaires waited while he coughed into it before returning it to his pocket. “It doesn’t matter,” he said again, “what you found out about snakes. Stephano doesn’t know anything about snakes. He told us that himself.”

“But—” Klaus said, but he stopped when he saw Violet. She shook her head at him again, just slightly. It was a signal, telling him not to say anything more to Mr. Poe. He looked at his sister, and then at Mr. Poe, and shut his mouth.

Mr. Poe coughed slightly into his handkerchief and looked at his wristwatch. “Now that we have settled that matter, there is the issue of riding in the car. I know that the three of you were eager to see the inside of a doctor’s automobile, but we’ve discussed it over and over and there’s simply no way it can work. You three are going to ride with Stephano into town, while I will ride with Dr. Lucafont and your Uncle Monty. Stephano and Dr. Lucafont are unloading all the bags now and we will leave in a few minutes. If you will excuse me, I have to call the Herpetological Society and tell them the bad news.” Mr. Poe coughed once more into his handkerchief and left the room.

“Why didn’t you want me to tell Mr. Poe what I read?” Klaus asked Violet, when he was sure Mr. Poe was out of earshot, a word which here means “close enough to hear him.” Violet didn’t answer. She was looking through the glass wall of the Reptile Room, watching Dr. Lucafont and Stephano walk past the snake-shaped hedges to Uncle Monty’s jeep. Stephano opened the jeep door, and Dr. Lucafont began to carry suitcases out of the backseat in his strangely stiff hands. “Violet, why didn’t you want me to tell Mr. Poe what I read?”

“When the adults come to fetch us,” Violet said, ignoring Klaus’s question, “keep them in the Reptile Room until I get back.”

“But how will I do that?” Klaus asked.

“Create a distraction,” Violet answered impatiently, still looking out the window at the little pile of suitcases Dr. Lucafont was making.

“What distraction?” Klaus asked anxiously. “How?”

“For goodness’ sake, Klaus,” his older sister replied. “You have read hundreds of books. Surely you must have read something about creating a distraction.”

Klaus thought for a second. “In order to win the Trojan War,” he said, “the ancient Greeks hid soldiers inside an enormous wooden horse. That was sort of a distraction. But I don’t have time to build a wooden horse.”

“Then you’ll have to think of something else,” Violet said, and began to walk toward the door, still gazing out the window. Klaus and Sunny looked first at their sister, and then out the window of the Reptile Room in the direction she was looking. It is remarkable that different people will have different thoughts when they look at the same thing. For when the two younger Baudelaires looked at the pile of suitcases, all they thought was that unless they did something quickly, they would end up alone in Uncle Monty’s jeep with Stephano. But from the way Violet was staring as she walked out of the Reptile Room, she was obviously thinking something else. Klaus and Sunny could not imagine what it was, but somehow their sister had reached a different conclusion as she looked at her own brown suitcase, or perhaps the beige one that held Klaus’s things, or the tiny gray one that was Sunny’s, or maybe the large black one, with the shiny silver padlock, that belonged to Stephano.

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