بخش 02

مجموعه: مجموعه بدبیاری ها / کتاب: آبشار یخ زده / فصل 2

بخش 02

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CHAPTER Four That night was a dark day. Of course, all nights are dark days, because night is simply a badly lit version of day, due to the fact that the Earth travels around and around the sun reminding everyone that it is time to get out of bed and start the day with a cup of coffee or a secret message folded up into a paper airplane that can sail out the barred window of a ranger station. But in this case, the phrase “a dark day” means “a sad time in the history of the Baudelaire children, V.F.D., and all kind, brave, and well-read people in the world.” But Violet and Klaus Baudelaire, of course, had no idea of the catastrophe occurring high above them in the Valley of Four Drafts. All they knew was that they were hearing a voice they had hoped never to hear again.

“Go away, cakesniffers!” the voice said. “This is a private cave!”

“Who are you talking to, Carmelita?” asked another voice. This voice was much louder, and sounded like it belonged to a grown man.

“I can see two shadows in the entrance of the cave, Uncle Bruce,” said the first voice, “and to me they look like cakesniffers.”

The back of the cave echoed with giggling, and Violet and Klaus looked at one another in dismay. The familiar voice belonged to Carmelita Spats, the nasty little girl whom the Baudelaires had encountered at Prufrock Preparatory School. Carmelita had taken an instant dislike to the three siblings, calling them unpleasant names and generally making life miserable at the academy. If you have ever been a student, then you know that there is usually one such person at every school and that once you have graduated you hope never to see them again. The two elder Baudelaires had enough troubles in the Mortmain Mountains without running into this unpleasant person, and at the sound of her voice they almost turned around and took their chances once more with the snow gnats swarming outside.

“Two shadows?” asked the second voice. “Identify yourselves, please.”

“We’re mountain travelers,” Violet called from the entrance. “We lost our way and ran into a swarm of snow gnats. Please let us rest here for a moment, while the smell of smoke scares them away, and then we’ll be on our way.”

“Absolutely not!” replied Carmelita, who sounded even nastier than usual. “This is where the Snow Scouts are camping, on their way to celebrate False Spring and crown me queen. We don’t want any cakesniffers spoiling our fun.”

“Now, now, Carmelita,” said the voice of the grown man. “Snow Scouts are supposed to be accommodating, remember? It’s part of the Snow Scout Alphabet Pledge. And it would be very accommodating of us to offer these strangers the shelter of our cave.”

“I don’t want to be accommodating,” Carmelita said. “I’m the False Spring Queen, so I get to do whatever I want.”

“You’re not the False Spring Queen yet, Carmelita,” came the patient voice of a young boy. “Not until we dance around the Springpole. Do come in, travelers, and sit by the fire. We’re happy to accommodate you.”

“That’s the spirit, kid,” said the voice of the grown man. “Come on, Snow Scouts, let’s all say the Snow Scout Alphabet Pledge together.”

Instantly the cave echoed with the sound of many voices speaking in perfect unison, a phrase which here means “reciting a list of very odd words at the very same time.” “Snow Scouts,” recited the Snow Scouts, “are accommodating, basic, calm, darling, emblematic, frisky, grinning, human, innocent, jumping, kept, limited, meek, nap-loving, official, pretty, quarantined, recent, scheduled, tidy, understandable, victorious, wholesome, xylophone, young, and zippered—every morning, every afternoon, every night, and all day long!”

The two Baudelaires looked at one another in confusion. Like many pledges, the Snow Scout Alphabet Pledge had not made much sense, and Violet and Klaus tried to imagine how a scout could be “calm” and “meek” at the same time as being “frisky” and “jumping,” or how all these children could avoid being “young” or “human,” even if they wanted to. They couldn’t figure out why the pledge suggested being all these things “every morning,” “every afternoon,” and “every night,” and then added “all day long,” or why the word “xylophone” appeared in the pledge at all. But they did not have much time to wonder, because when the pledge was over, the Snow Scouts all took a big breath and made a long, airy sound, as if they were imitating the wind outside, and this seemed even more strange.

“That’s my favorite part,” said the voice of the grown man, when the sound faded away. “There’s nothing like ending the Snow Scout Alphabet Pledge with a snowy sound. Now approach, travelers, so we can get a look at you.”

“Let’s keep the coat over our faces,” Klaus whispered to his sister. “Carmelita might recognize us.”

“And the other scouts have probably seen our pictures in The Daily Punctilio,” Violet said, and ducked her head underneath the coat. The Daily Punctilio was a newspaper that had published a story blaming the three Baudelaires for Jacques Snicket’s murder. The story was utter nonsense, of course, but it seemed that everyone in the world had believed it and was searching for the Baudelaires to put them in jail. As the two siblings walked toward the voices of the Snow Scouts, however, they realized that they weren’t the only ones concealing their faces.

The back of the cave was like a large, circular room, with very high ceilings and craggy walls of rock that flickered in the orange light of the flames. Seated in a circle around the fire were fifteen or twenty people, all looking up at the two Baudelaires. Through the fabric of the coat, the children could see that one person was much taller than the others—this was probably Bruce—and was wearing an ugly plaid coat and holding a large cigar. On the opposite side of the circle was someone wearing a thick wool sweater with several large pockets, and the rest of the Snow Scouts were wearing bright white uniforms with enormous zippers down the front and emblems of snowflakes, in all different sizes and shapes, along the long, puffy sleeves. On the back of the uniforms, the Baudelaires could see the words of the Snow Scout Alphabet Pledge printed in large pink letters, and on the top of everyone’s heads were white headbands with tiny plastic snowflakes sticking out of the top in all directions and the word “Brr!” written in icy script. But Violet and Klaus weren’t looking at the plastic flurries of snow on the Snow Scouts’ heads, or the accommodating, basic, calm, darling, emblematic, frisky, grinning, human, innocent, jumping, kept, limited, meek, nap-loving, official, pretty, quarantined, recent, scheduled, tidy, understandable, victorious, wholesome, xylophone, young, and zippered uniforms that most everyone was wearing. They were looking at the dark, round masks that were covering the scouts’ faces. The masks were covered in tiny holes, much like masks worn for fencing, a sport in which people swordfight for fun rather than for honor or in order to rescue a writer who has been taped to the wall. But in the flickering light of the cave, the Baudelaires could not see the holes, and it looked like the faces of Bruce and the Snow Scouts had vanished, leaving a dark and empty hole above their necks.

“You cakesniffers look ridiculous,” said one of the scouts, and the Baudelaires knew at once which masked figure was Carmelita Spats. “Your faces are all covered up.”

“We’re meek,” Violet said, thinking quickly. “In fact, we’re so meek that we hardly ever show our faces.”

“Then you’ll fit in just fine,” said Bruce from behind his mask. “The name’s Bruce, but you can call me Uncle Bruce, although I’m almost certainly not your real uncle. Welcome to the Snow Scouts, travelers, where all of us are meek. In fact, we’re accommodating, basic, calm…”

The other Snow Scouts all joined in the pledge, and the two elder Baudelaires stood through another rendition of the absurd list, while the scout in the sweater stood up and stepped toward them. “We have some spare masks over there,” he murmured quietly, and gestured toward a large pile of equipment, stacked beside a very long wooden pole. “They’ll keep the snow gnats away when you go back outside. Help yourself.”

“Thank you,” Violet replied, as the scouts promised to be kept, limited, and meek. She and her brother quickly grabbed masks and put them on underneath the coat, so that by the time the scouts vowed to be xylophone, young, and zippered, they looked as faceless as everyone else in the cave.

“That was fun, kids,” said Bruce, as the snowy sound faded and the pledge was over. “Now why don’t you two join the Snow Scouts? We’re an organization for young people to have fun and learn new things. Right now we’re on a Snow Scout Hike. We’re going to hike all the way up to Mount Fraught in order to celebrate False Spring.”

“What’s False Spring?” Violet asked, sitting down between her brother and the sweatered scout.

“Anybody who’s not a cakesniffer knows what False Spring is,” Carmelita said in a scornful voice. “It’s when the weather gets unusually warm before getting very cold again. We celebrate it with a fancy dance where we spin around and around the Springpole.” She pointed to the wooden pole, and the Baudelaires noticed that the Snow Scouts all wore bright white mittens, each emblazoned with an S. “When the dance is over, we choose the best Snow Scout and crown her the False Spring Queen. This time, it’s me. In fact, it’s always me.”

“That’s because Uncle Bruce is really your uncle,” said one of the other Snow Scouts.

“No, it’s not,” Carmelita insisted. “It’s because I’m the most accommodating, basic, calm, darling, emblematic, frisky, grinning, human, innocent, jumping, kept, limited, meek, nap-loving, official, pretty, quarantined, recent, scheduled, tidy, understandable, victorious, wholesome, xylophone, young, and zippered.”

“How can anyone be ‘xylophone’?” Klaus couldn’t help asking. “‘Xylophone’ isn’t even an adjective.”

“Uncle Bruce couldn’t think of another word that began with X,” explained the sweatered Snow Scout, in a tone of voice indicating that he thought this wasn’t a very good excuse.

“How about ‘xenial’?” Klaus suggested. “It’s a word that means—”

“You can’t change the words of the Snow Scout Alphabet Pledge,” Bruce interrupted, moving his cigar toward his face as if he were going to try to smoke it through the mask. “The whole point of the Snow Scouts is that you do the same thing over and over. We celebrate False Spring over and over, on Mount Fraught, at the source of the Stricken Stream. My niece Carmelita Spats is False Spring Queen, over and over. And over and over, we stop here in this cave for Snow Scout Story Time.”

“I read that the caves of the Mortmain Mountains contained hibernating animals,” Klaus said. “Are you sure it’s safe to stop here?”

The Snow Scout who was wearing a sweater instead of a uniform turned his head quickly to the Baudelaires, as if he was going to speak, but Bruce answered first. “It’s safe now, kid,” he said. “Years ago, apparently these mountains were crawling with bears. The bears were so intelligent that they were trained as soldiers. But they disappeared and no one knows why.”

“Not bears,” the scout in the sweater said, so quietly that the two Baudelaires had to lean in to hear him. “Lions lived in these caves. And they weren’t soldiers. The lions were detectives—volunteer feline detectives.” He turned so his mask was facing the two siblings, and the children knew he must be staring at them through the holes. “Volunteer Feline Detectives,” he said again, and the Baudelaires almost gasped.

“Did you say—” Violet said, but the sweatered Snow Scout shook his head as if it was not safe to talk. Violet looked at her brother and then at the scout, wishing she could see both of their faces behind their masks. The initials of “Volunteer Feline Detectives,” of course, spelled “V.F.D.,” the name of the organization they were looking for. But were these initials a coincidence, as they had seemed to be so many times? Or was this mysterious scout giving them some sort of signal?

“I don’t know what you kids are muttering about,” Bruce said, “but stop it this instant. It’s not time for conversation. It’s Snow Scout Story Time, when one Snow Scout tells a story to the other Snow Scouts. Then we’ll all eat marshmallows until we feel sick and go to sleep on a heap of blankets, just like we do every year. Why don’t our new scouts tell the first story?”

“I should tell the first story,” whined Carmelita. “After all, I’m the False Spring Queen.”

“But I’m sure the travelers will have a wonderful story to tell,” the sweatered scout said. “I’d love to hear a Very Fascinating Drama.”

Klaus saw his sister raise her hands to her head and smiled. He knew Violet had instinctively begun to tie her hair up in a ribbon to help her think, but it was impossible to do so with a mask on. Both the Baudelaire minds were racing to figure out a way to communicate with this mysterious scout, and the children were so lost in thought that they scarcely heard Carmelita Spats insulting them.

“Stop sitting around, cakesniffers,” Carmelita said. “If you’re going to tell us a story, get started.”

“I’m sorry for the delay,” Violet said, choosing her words as carefully as she could. “We haven’t had a Very Fun Day, so it’s difficult to think of a good story.”

“I didn’t realize this was a sad occasion,” said the sweatered scout.

“Oh, yes,” Klaus said. “We’ve had nothing to eat all day except for some Vinegar-Flavored Doughnuts.”

“And then there were the snow gnats,” Violet said. “They behaved like Violent Frozen Dragonflies.”

“When they form an arrow,” Klaus said, “they’re more like a Voracious Fierce Dragon.”

“Or a Vain Fat Dictator, I imagine,” the scout in the sweater said, and gave the Baudelaires a masked nod as if he had received their message.

“This is the most boring story I have ever heard,” Carmelita Spats said. “Uncle Bruce, tell these two that they’re both cakesniffers.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be very accommodating to say so,” Bruce said, “but I must admit that the story you were telling was a little dull, kids. When Snow Scouts tell stories, they skip everything boring and only tell the interesting parts. That way, the story can be as accommodating, basic, calm, darling, emblematic, frisky, grinning, human, innocent, jumping, kept, limited, meek, nap-loving, official, pretty, quarantined, recent, scheduled, tidy, understandable, victorious, wholesome, xylophone, young, and zippered as possible.”

“I’ll show these cakesniffers how to tell an interesting story,” Carmelita said. “Once upon a time, I woke up and looked in the mirror, and there I saw the prettiest, smartest, most darling girl in the whole wide world. I put on a lovely pink dress to make myself look even prettier, and I skipped off to school where my teacher told me I looked more adorable than anyone she had ever seen in her entire life, and she gave me a lollipop as a special present…”

At this point, I will take a page from someone’s book, a phrase which here means “adopt an idea used by somebody else.” If, for instance, a man told you that the best way to write thank-you notes is to reward yourself with a cookie every time you finished one, you might take a page from his book, and have a plate of cookies nearby after your birthday or some other gift-giving occasion. If a girl told you that the best way to sneak out of the house late at night is to make sure everyone else is sound asleep, you might take a page from her book and mix a sleeping potion into everyone else’s afterdinner coffee before climbing down the ivy that grows outside your bedroom window. And if you have been reading this miserable story, then the next time you find yourself in a similar situation, you might take a page from The Slippery Slope and use a combination of sticky substances and a drag chute to slow down a racing caravan, and then retrieve several articles of heavy clothing in order to protect yourself from the cold, and find a cave full of Snow Scouts gathered around a fire when the snow gnats begin to swarm.

But I will be taking a page from Bruce’s book, when he suggested that a storyteller only tell the interesting parts of the story and skip everything boring. Certainly the two elder Baudelaires wished they could skip this boring part of their own story, as they were very eager to leave the cave and resume their search for their sister. But Violet and Klaus knew that they shouldn’t leave the cave until they could talk to the mysterious boy in the sweater, and that they couldn’t talk to the mysterious boy in the sweater in front of Bruce and the other Snow Scouts, and so they sat by the fire as Carmelita Spats talked on and on about how pretty and smart and darling she was and how everyone she met told her that she was unbelievably adorable. Although the Baudelaires had to sit through these tedious portions of their story, there is no reason for you to do so, and so I will skip ahead, past the tiresome details of Carmelita’s endless story, and the senseless pledge that Bruce made everyone say several more times, and the all-marshmallow meal that the scouts shared with the two siblings. I will skip how irksome it was for Violet and Klaus to turn away from the scouts, quickly lift their masks, and pop marshmallows into their mouths before covering their faces again so they would not be recognized. After their long, tiring journey, the children would have preferred a more substantial supper and a less complicated way of eating it, but the siblings could not skip these parts of their story, so they had to wait for the evening to pass and for all the other Snow Scouts to feel sick and arrange blankets into a large heap beside the Springpole. Even when Bruce led the Snow Scouts in one more alphabet pledge as a way of saying good night, Violet and Klaus dared not get up and talk to the sweatered scout for fear of being overheard, and they had to wait for hours, too curious and anxious to sleep, as the fire died down and the cave echoed with the sounds of Snow Scout snoring. But I will take a page from the book of the Snow Scout leader, and skip ahead to the next interesting thing that happened, which was very, very late at night, when so many interesting parts of stories happen and so many people miss them because they are asleep in their beds, or hiding in the broom closet of a mustard factory, disguised as a dustpan to fool the night watchwoman.

It was very late at night—in fact one might say that it was the darkest part of this dark day—and it was so late that the Baudelaires had almost given up on staying awake, particularly after such an exhausting day, but just as the two siblings were beginning to fall asleep, they each felt a hand touch them on the shoulder, and they quickly sat up and found themselves looking into the masked face of the sweatered scout.

“Come with me, Baudelaires,” the boy said in a very quiet voice. “I know a shortcut to the headquarters,” and this was an interesting part of the story indeed.

CHAPTER Five

When you have many questions on your mind, and you suddenly have an opportunity to ask them, the questions tend to crowd together and trip over one another, much like passengers on a crowded train when it reaches a popular station. With Bruce and the Snow Scouts asleep, the two elder Baudelaires finally had an opportunity to talk with the mysterious scout in the sweater, but everything they wanted to ask seemed hopelessly entangled.

“How—” Violet started, but the question “How did you know we were the Baudelaires?” stumbled against the question “Who are you?” and fell back against the questions “Are you a member of V.F.D.?” and “What does V.F.D. stand for?”

“Do—” Klaus said, but the question “Do you know where our sister is?” tripped over the question “Do you know if one of our parents is alive?” which was already struggling with “How can we get to the headquarters?” and “Will my sisters and I ever find a safe place to live without constantly being threatened by Count Olaf and his troupe as they hatch plan after plan to steal the Baudelaire fortune?” although the middle Baudelaire knew that his last question was unlikely to be answered at all.

“I’m sure you have lots of questions,” the boy whispered, “but we can’t talk here. Bruce is a light sleeper, and he’s caused V.F.D. enough trouble already without learning another of our secrets. I promise all your questions will be answered, but first we’ve got to get to the headquarters. Come with me.”

Without another word, the sweatered scout turned around, and the Baudelaires saw he was wearing a backpack inscribed with an insignia they had seen at Caligari Carnival. At first glance, this insignia merely appeared to be an eye, but the children had discovered that if you looked closely you could see the initials V.F.D. cleverly hidden in the drawing. The scout began to walk, and the two siblings got out of their blankets as quietly as they could and followed him. To their surprise, he did not lead them toward the cave entrance, but to the back of the cave, where the Snow Scouts’ fire had been. Now it was nothing more than a pile of gray ashes, although it was still very warm, and the smell of smoke was still in the air. The sweatered scout reached into his pocket and brought out a flashlight. “I had to wait for the fire to die down before I showed you,” he said, and with a nervous glance at the sleeping scouts, turned the flashlight on and shone it above them. “Look.”

Violet and Klaus looked, and saw that there was a hole in the ceiling, big enough for a person to crawl through. The last wisps of smoke from the fire were floating up into the hole. “A chimney,” Klaus murmured. “I was wondering why the fire didn’t fill the cave with smoke.”

“The official name is Vertical Flame Diversion,” the scout whispered. “It serves as a chimney and as a secret passageway. It runs from this cave to the Valley of Four Drafts. If we climb up there, we can reach headquarters within hours, instead of hiking all the way up the mountain. Years ago, there was a metal pole that ran down the center of the hole, so people could slide down and hide in this cave in case of an emergency. The pole is gone now, but there should be carved toeholds in the sides to climb all the way up.” He shone the flashlight on the cave wall, and sure enough, the Baudelaires could see two rows of small carved holes, perfect for sticking one’s feet and hands into.

“How do you know all this?” Violet asked.

The scout looked at her for a moment, and it seemed to the Baudelaires that he was smiling behind his mask. “I read it,” he said, “in a book called Remarkable Phenomena of the Mortmain Mountains.”

“That sounds familiar,” Klaus said.

“It should,” the scout replied. “I borrowed it from Dr. Montgomery’s library.”

Dr. Montgomery was one of the Baudelaires’ first guardians, and at the mention of his name Violet and Klaus found they had several more questions they wanted to ask.

“When—” Violet started.

“Why—” Klaus started.

“Carm—” Another voice startled the Baudelaires and the scout—the voice of Bruce, waking up halfway at the sound of the conversation. All three children froze for a moment, as Bruce turned over on his blanket, and with a long sigh, went back to sleep.

“We’ll talk when we reach the headquarters,” the scout whispered. “The Vertical Flame Diversion is very echoey, so we’ll have to be absolutely silent as we climb, or the echoing noise will alert Bruce and the Snow Scouts. It’ll be very dark inside, so you’ll have to feel against the wall for the footholds, and the air will be smoky, but if you keep your masks on they’ll filter the air and make it easier to breathe. I’ll go first and lead the way. Are you ready?”

Violet and Klaus turned toward one another. Even though they could not see each other’s faces through the masks, both siblings knew that they were not at all ready. Following a complete stranger into a secret passageway through the center of the mountains, toward a headquarters they could not even be sure existed, did not seem like a very safe thing to do. The last time they had agreed to take a risky journey, their baby sister had been snatched away from them. What would happen this time, when they were all alone with a mysterious masked figure in a dark and smoky hole?

“I know it must be hard to trust me, Baudelaires,” said the sweatered scout, “after so many people have done you wrong.”

“Can you give us a reason to trust you?” Violet said.

The scout looked down for a moment, and then turned his mask to face both Baudelaires. “One of you mentioned the word ‘xenial,’” he said, “when you were talking with Bruce about that silly pledge. ‘Xenial’ is a word which refers to the giving of gifts to a stranger.”

“He’s right,” Klaus murmured to his sister.

“I know that having a good vocabulary doesn’t guarantee that I’m a good person,” the boy said. “But it does mean I’ve read a great deal. And in my experience, well-read people are less likely to be evil.”

Violet and Klaus looked at one another through their masks. Neither of them were entirely convinced by what the masked scout had said. There are, of course, plenty of evil people who have read a great many books, and plenty of very kind people who seem to have found some other method of spending their time. But the Baudelaires knew that there was a kind of truth to the boy’s statement, and they had to admit that they preferred to take their chances with a stranger who knew what the word “xenial” meant, rather than exiting the cave and trying to find the headquarters all by themselves. So the siblings turned back to the scout, nodded their masks, and followed him to the footholds in the wall, making sure they still had all the items from the caravan with them. The footholds were surprisingly easy to use, and in a short time the Baudelaires were following the mysterious scout into the dark and smoky entrance of the passageway.

The Vertical Flame Diversion that connected the Mortmain Mountain headquarters to this particular Volunteer Feline Detectives cave was once one of the most heavily guarded secrets in the world. Anyone who wanted to use it had to correctly answer a series of questions concerning the force of gravity, the habits of carnivorous beasts, and the central themes of Russian novels, so very few people even knew the passageway’s exact whereabouts. Until the two Baudelaires’ journey, the passageway had not been used for many years, ever since one of my comrades removed the pole in order to use it in the construction of a submarine. So it would be accurate to say that the Vertical Flame Diversion was a road less traveled—even less traveled than the path through the Mortmain Mountains on which this book began.

While the elder Baudelaires had a very good reason to be on the road less traveled, as they were in a great hurry to reach the headquarters and rescue their sister from the clutches of Count Olaf, there is no reason whatsoever why you should be on the road less traveled and choose to read the rest of this woeful chapter, which describes their dark and smoky journey. The ashen air from the Snow Scouts’ fire was difficult to breathe, even through the masks, and Violet and Klaus had to struggle not to cough, knowing that the coughing sound would echo down the passageway and wake up Bruce, but there is no reason for you to struggle through my dismal description of this problem. A number of spiders had noticed the footholds were not being used lately, and had moved in and converted them into spider condominiums, but you are under no obligation to read what happens when spiders are suddenly woken up by the sudden appearance of a climbing foot in their new homes. And as the Baudelaires followed the scout farther and farther up, the strong freezing winds from the top of the mountain would rush through the passageway, and all three youngsters would cling to the footholds with their very lives, hoping that the wind would not blow them back down to the cave floor, but although the Baudelaires found it necessary to keep climbing through the rest of the dark day so they could reach the headquarters as quickly as possible, and I find it necessary to finish describing it, so my account of the Baudelaire case is as accurate and as complete as possible, it is not necessary for you to finish reading the rest of this chapter, so you can be as miserable as possible. My description of the Baudelaires’ journey up through the road less traveled begins on the next page, but I beg you not to travel along with them. Instead, you may take a page from Bruce’s book, and skip ahead to Chapter Six, and find my report on Sunny Baudelaire’s tribulations—a word which here means “opportunities to eavesdrop while cooking for a theater troupe”—with Count Olaf, or you may skip ahead to Chapter Seven, when the elder Baudelaires arrive at the site of the V.F.D. headquarters and unmask the stranger who led them there, or you may take the road very frequently traveled and skip away from this book altogether, and find something better to do with your time besides finishing this unhappy tale and becoming a weary, weeping, and well-read person.

The Baudelaires’ journey up the Vertical Flame Diversion was so dark and treacherous that it is not enough to write “The Baudelaires’ journey up the Vertical Flame Diversion was so dark and treacherous that it is not enough to write ‘The Baudelaires’ journey up the Vertical Flame Diversion was so dark and treacherous that it is not enough to write “The Baudelaires’ journey up the Vertical Flame Diversion was so dark and treacherous that it is not enough to write ‘The Baudelaires’ journey up the Vertical Flame Diversion was so dark and treacherous that it is not enough to write “My dear sister, I am taking a great risk in hiding a letter to you inside one of my books, but I am certain that even the most melancholy and well-read people in the world have found my account of the lives of the three Baudelaire children even more wretched than I had promised, and so this book will stay on the shelves of libraries, utterly ignored, waiting for you to open it and find this message. As an additional precaution, I placed a warning that the rest of this chapter contains a description of the Baudelaires’ miserable journey up the Vertical Flame Diversion, so anyone who has the courage to read such a description is probably brave enough to read my letter to you.

I have at last learned the whereabouts of the evidence that will exonerate me, a phrase which here means “prove to the authorities that it is Count Olaf, and not me, who has started so many fires.” Your suggestion, so many years ago at that picnic, that a tea set would be a handy place to hide anything important and small in the event of a dark day, has turned out to be correct. (Incidentally, your other picnic suggestion, that a simple combination of sliced mango, black beans, and chopped celery mixed with black pepper, lime juice, and olive oil would make a delicious chilled salad also turned out to be correct.)

I am on my way now to the Valley of Four Drafts, in order to continue my research on the Baudelaire case. I hope also to retrieve the aforementioned evidence at last. It is too late to restore my happiness, of course, but at least I can clear my name. From the site of V.F.D. headquarters, I will head straight for the Hotel Denouement. I should arrive by—well, it wouldn’t be wise to type the date, but it should be easy for you to remember Beatrice’s birthday. Meet me at the hotel. Try to get us a room without ugly curtains.

With all due respect,

Lemony Snicket

CHAPTER Five

When you have many questions on your mind, and you suddenly have an opportunity to ask them, the questions tend to crowd together and trip over one another, much like passengers on a crowded train when it reaches a popular station. With Bruce and the Snow Scouts asleep, the two elder Baudelaires finally had an opportunity to talk with the mysterious scout in the sweater, but everything they wanted to ask seemed hopelessly entangled.

“How—” Violet started, but the question “How did you know we were the Baudelaires?” stumbled against the question “Who are you?” and fell back against the questions “Are you a member of V.F.D.?” and “What does V.F.D. stand for?”

“Do—” Klaus said, but the question “Do you know where our sister is?” tripped over the question “Do you know if one of our parents is alive?” which was already struggling with “How can we get to the headquarters?” and “Will my sisters and I ever find a safe place to live without constantly being threatened by Count Olaf and his troupe as they hatch plan after plan to steal the Baudelaire fortune?” although the middle Baudelaire knew that his last question was unlikely to be answered at all.

“I’m sure you have lots of questions,” the boy whispered, “but we can’t talk here. Bruce is a light sleeper, and he’s caused V.F.D. enough trouble already without learning another of our secrets. I promise all your questions will be answered, but first we’ve got to get to the headquarters. Come with me.”

Without another word, the sweatered scout turned around, and the Baudelaires saw he was wearing a backpack inscribed with an insignia they had seen at Caligari Carnival. At first glance, this insignia merely appeared to be an eye, but the children had discovered that if you looked closely you could see the initials V.F.D. cleverly hidden in the drawing. The scout began to walk, and the two siblings got out of their blankets as quietly as they could and followed him. To their surprise, he did not lead them toward the cave entrance, but to the back of the cave, where the Snow Scouts’ fire had been. Now it was nothing more than a pile of gray ashes, although it was still very warm, and the smell of smoke was still in the air. The sweatered scout reached into his pocket and brought out a flashlight. “I had to wait for the fire to die down before I showed you,” he said, and with a nervous glance at the sleeping scouts, turned the flashlight on and shone it above them. “Look.”

Violet and Klaus looked, and saw that there was a hole in the ceiling, big enough for a person to crawl through. The last wisps of smoke from the fire were floating up into the hole. “A chimney,” Klaus murmured. “I was wondering why the fire didn’t fill the cave with smoke.”

“The official name is Vertical Flame Diversion,” the scout whispered. “It serves as a chimney and as a secret passageway. It runs from this cave to the Valley of Four Drafts. If we climb up there, we can reach headquarters within hours, instead of hiking all the way up the mountain. Years ago, there was a metal pole that ran down the center of the hole, so people could slide down and hide in this cave in case of an emergency. The pole is gone now, but there should be carved toeholds in the sides to climb all the way up.” He shone the flashlight on the cave wall, and sure enough, the Baudelaires could see two rows of small carved holes, perfect for sticking one’s feet and hands into.

“How do you know all this?” Violet asked.

The scout looked at her for a moment, and it seemed to the Baudelaires that he was smiling behind his mask. “I read it,” he said, “in a book called Remarkable Phenomena of the Mortmain Mountains.”

“That sounds familiar,” Klaus said.

“It should,” the scout replied. “I borrowed it from Dr. Montgomery’s library.”

Dr. Montgomery was one of the Baudelaires’ first guardians, and at the mention of his name Violet and Klaus found they had several more questions they wanted to ask.

“When—” Violet started.

“Why—” Klaus started.

“Carm—” Another voice startled the Baudelaires and the scout—the voice of Bruce, waking up halfway at the sound of the conversation. All three children froze for a moment, as Bruce turned over on his blanket, and with a long sigh, went back to sleep.

“We’ll talk when we reach the headquarters,” the scout whispered. “The Vertical Flame Diversion is very echoey, so we’ll have to be absolutely silent as we climb, or the echoing noise will alert Bruce and the Snow Scouts. It’ll be very dark inside, so you’ll have to feel against the wall for the footholds, and the air will be smoky, but if you keep your masks on they’ll filter the air and make it easier to breathe. I’ll go first and lead the way. Are you ready?”

Violet and Klaus turned toward one another. Even though they could not see each other’s faces through the masks, both siblings knew that they were not at all ready. Following a complete stranger into a secret passageway through the center of the mountains, toward a headquarters they could not even be sure existed, did not seem like a very safe thing to do. The last time they had agreed to take a risky journey, their baby sister had been snatched away from them. What would happen this time, when they were all alone with a mysterious masked figure in a dark and smoky hole?

“I know it must be hard to trust me, Baudelaires,” said the sweatered scout, “after so many people have done you wrong.”

“Can you give us a reason to trust you?” Violet said.

The scout looked down for a moment, and then turned his mask to face both Baudelaires. “One of you mentioned the word ‘xenial,’” he said, “when you were talking with Bruce about that silly pledge. ‘Xenial’ is a word which refers to the giving of gifts to a stranger.”

“He’s right,” Klaus murmured to his sister.

“I know that having a good vocabulary doesn’t guarantee that I’m a good person,” the boy said. “But it does mean I’ve read a great deal. And in my experience, well-read people are less likely to be evil.”

Violet and Klaus looked at one another through their masks. Neither of them were entirely convinced by what the masked scout had said. There are, of course, plenty of evil people who have read a great many books, and plenty of very kind people who seem to have found some other method of spending their time. But the Baudelaires knew that there was a kind of truth to the boy’s statement, and they had to admit that they preferred to take their chances with a stranger who knew what the word “xenial” meant, rather than exiting the cave and trying to find the headquarters all by themselves. So the siblings turned back to the scout, nodded their masks, and followed him to the footholds in the wall, making sure they still had all the items from the caravan with them. The footholds were surprisingly easy to use, and in a short time the Baudelaires were following the mysterious scout into the dark and smoky entrance of the passageway.

The Vertical Flame Diversion that connected the Mortmain Mountain headquarters to this particular Volunteer Feline Detectives cave was once one of the most heavily guarded secrets in the world. Anyone who wanted to use it had to correctly answer a series of questions concerning the force of gravity, the habits of carnivorous beasts, and the central themes of Russian novels, so very few people even knew the passageway’s exact whereabouts. Until the two Baudelaires’ journey, the passageway had not been used for many years, ever since one of my comrades removed the pole in order to use it in the construction of a submarine. So it would be accurate to say that the Vertical Flame Diversion was a road less traveled—even less traveled than the path through the Mortmain Mountains on which this book began.

While the elder Baudelaires had a very good reason to be on the road less traveled, as they were in a great hurry to reach the headquarters and rescue their sister from the clutches of Count Olaf, there is no reason whatsoever why you should be on the road less traveled and choose to read the rest of this woeful chapter, which describes their dark and smoky journey. The ashen air from the Snow Scouts’ fire was difficult to breathe, even through the masks, and Violet and Klaus had to struggle not to cough, knowing that the coughing sound would echo down the passageway and wake up Bruce, but there is no reason for you to struggle through my dismal description of this problem. A number of spiders had noticed the footholds were not being used lately, and had moved in and converted them into spider condominiums, but you are under no obligation to read what happens when spiders are suddenly woken up by the sudden appearance of a climbing foot in their new homes. And as the Baudelaires followed the scout farther and farther up, the strong freezing winds from the top of the mountain would rush through the passageway, and all three youngsters would cling to the footholds with their very lives, hoping that the wind would not blow them back down to the cave floor, but although the Baudelaires found it necessary to keep climbing through the rest of the dark day so they could reach the headquarters as quickly as possible, and I find it necessary to finish describing it, so my account of the Baudelaire case is as accurate and as complete as possible, it is not necessary for you to finish reading the rest of this chapter, so you can be as miserable as possible. My description of the Baudelaires’ journey up through the road less traveled begins on the next page, but I beg you not to travel along with them. Instead, you may take a page from Bruce’s book, and skip ahead to Chapter Six, and find my report on Sunny Baudelaire’s tribulations—a word which here means “opportunities to eavesdrop while cooking for a theater troupe”—with Count Olaf, or you may skip ahead to Chapter Seven, when the elder Baudelaires arrive at the site of the V.F.D. headquarters and unmask the stranger who led them there, or you may take the road very frequently traveled and skip away from this book altogether, and find something better to do with your time besides finishing this unhappy tale and becoming a weary, weeping, and well-read person.

The Baudelaires’ journey up the Vertical Flame Diversion was so dark and treacherous that it is not enough to write “The Baudelaires’ journey up the Vertical Flame Diversion was so dark and treacherous that it is not enough to write ‘The Baudelaires’ journey up the Vertical Flame Diversion was so dark and treacherous that it is not enough to write “The Baudelaires’ journey up the Vertical Flame Diversion was so dark and treacherous that it is not enough to write ‘The Baudelaires’ journey up the Vertical Flame Diversion was so dark and treacherous that it is not enough to write “My dear sister, I am taking a great risk in hiding a letter to you inside one of my books, but I am certain that even the most melancholy and well-read people in the world have found my account of the lives of the three Baudelaire children even more wretched than I had promised, and so this book will stay on the shelves of libraries, utterly ignored, waiting for you to open it and find this message. As an additional precaution, I placed a warning that the rest of this chapter contains a description of the Baudelaires’ miserable journey up the Vertical Flame Diversion, so anyone who has the courage to read such a description is probably brave enough to read my letter to you.

I have at last learned the whereabouts of the evidence that will exonerate me, a phrase which here means “prove to the authorities that it is Count Olaf, and not me, who has started so many fires.” Your suggestion, so many years ago at that picnic, that a tea set would be a handy place to hide anything important and small in the event of a dark day, has turned out to be correct. (Incidentally, your other picnic suggestion, that a simple combination of sliced mango, black beans, and chopped celery mixed with black pepper, lime juice, and olive oil would make a delicious chilled salad also turned out to be correct.)

I am on my way now to the Valley of Four Drafts, in order to continue my research on the Baudelaire case. I hope also to retrieve the aforementioned evidence at last. It is too late to restore my happiness, of course, but at least I can clear my name. From the site of V.F.D. headquarters, I will head straight for the Hotel Denouement. I should arrive by—well, it wouldn’t be wise to type the date, but it should be easy for you to remember Beatrice’s birthday. Meet me at the hotel. Try to get us a room without ugly curtains.

With all due respect,

Lemony Snicket

P.S. If you substitute the chopped celery with hearts of palm, it is equally delicious.

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