بخش 04

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بخش 04

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CHAPTER Eight

It is one of the peculiar truths of life that people often say things that they know full well are ridiculous. If someone asks you how you are, for example, you might automatically say “Fine, thank you,” when in fact you have just failed an examination or been trampled by an ox. A friend might tell you, “I’ve looked everywhere in the world for my keys,” when you know that they have actually only looked in a few places in the immediate area. Once I said to a woman I loved very much, “I’m sure that this trouble will end soon, and you and I will spend the rest of our lives together in happiness and bliss,” when I actually suspected that things were about to get much worse. And so it was with the two elder Baudelaires, when they stood face-to-face with Quigley Quagmire and found themselves to be saying things they knew were absurd.

“You’re dead,” Violet said, and took off her mask to make sure she was seeing things clearly. But there was no mistaking Quigley, even though the Baudelaires had never seen him before. He looked so much like Duncan and Isadora that he could only be the third Quagmire triplet.

“You perished in a fire along with your parents,” Klaus said, but as he took off his mask he knew this wasn’t so. Quigley was even giving the two Baudelaires a small smile that looked exactly like his siblings’.

“No,” Quigley said. “I survived, and I’ve been looking for my siblings ever since.”

“But how did you survive?” Violet asked. “Duncan and Isadora said that the house burned to the ground.”

“It did,” Quigley said sadly. He looked out at the frozen waterfall and sighed deeply. “I suppose I should start at the beginning. I was in my family’s library, studying a map of the Finite Forest, when I heard a shattering of glass, and people shouting. My mother ran into the room and said there was a fire. We tried to go out the front door but the main hall was filled with smoke, so she took me back into the library and lifted a corner of the rug. There was a secret door underneath. She told me to wait down below while she fetched my siblings, and she left me there in the dark. I remember hearing the house falling to pieces above me, and the sound of frantic footsteps, and my siblings screaming.” Quigley put his mask down on the ground and looked at the two Baudelaires. “But she never came back,” he said. “Nobody came back, and when I tried to open the door, something had fallen on top of it and it wouldn’t budge.”

“How did you get out?” Klaus asked.

“I walked,” Quigley said. “When it became clear that no one was going to rescue me, I felt around in the dark and realized I was in a sort of passageway. There was nowhere else to go, so I started walking. I’ve never been so frightened in my life, walking alone in some dark passageway my parents had kept secret. I couldn’t imagine where it would lead.”

The two Baudelaires looked at one another. They were thinking about the secret passageway they had discovered underneath their home, which they had discovered when they were under the care of Esmé Squalor and her husband. “And where did it lead?” Violet said.

“To the house of a herpetologist,” Quigley said. “At the end of the passageway was a secret door that opened into an enormous room, made entirely of glass. The room was filled with empty cages, but it was clear that the room had once housed an enormous collection of reptiles.”

“We’ve been there!” Klaus cried in amazement. “That’s Uncle Monty’s house! He was our guardian until Count Olaf arrived, disguised as—”

“As a lab assistant,” Quigley finished. “I know. His suitcase was still there.”

“There was a secret passageway under our house, too,” Violet said, “but we didn’t discover it until we lived with Esmé Squalor.”

“There are secrets everywhere,” Quigley said. “I think everyone’s parents have secrets. You just have to know where to look for them.”

“But why would our parents, and yours, have tunnels underneath their homes leading to a fancy apartment building and a herpetologist’s home?” Klaus said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Quigley sighed, and put his backpack on the ashen ground, next to his mask. “There’s a lot that doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I was hoping to find the answers here, but now I don’t know if I’ll ever find them.” He took out his purple notebook and opened it to the first page. “All I can tell you is what I have here in this commonplace book.”

Klaus gave Quigley a small smile, and reached into his pockets to retrieve all of the papers he had stored there. “You tell us what you know,” he said, “and we’ll tell you what we know. Perhaps together we can answer our own questions.”

Quigley nodded in agreement, and the three children sat in a circle on what was once the kitchen floor. Quigley opened his backpack and took out a bag of salted almonds, which he passed around. “You must be hungry from the climb up the Vertical Flame Diversion,” he said. “I know I am. Let’s see, where was I?”

“In the Reptile Room,” Violet said, “at the end of the passageway.”

“Well, nothing happened for a while,” Quigley said. “On the doorstep of the house was a copy of The Daily Punctilio, which had an article about the fire. That’s how I learned that my parents were dead. I spent days and days there, all by myself. I was so sad, and so scared, and I didn’t know what else to do. I suppose I was waiting for the herpetologist to show up for work, and see if he was a friend of my parents and might be of some assistance. The kitchen was filled with food, so I had enough to eat, and every night I slept at the bottom of the stairs, so I could hear if anyone came in.”

The Baudelaires nodded sympathetically, and Violet put a comforting hand on Quigley’s shoulder. “We were the same way,” Violet said, “right when we heard the news about our parents. I scarcely remember what we did and what we said.”

“But didn’t anyone come looking for you?” Klaus asked.

“The Daily Punctilio said that I died in the fire, too,” Quigley said. “The article said that my sister and brother were sent off to Prufrock Preparatory School, and that my parents’ estate was under the care of the city’s sixth most important financial advisor.”

“Esmé Squalor,” Violet and Klaus said simultaneously, a word which here means “in a disgusted voice, and at the exact same time.”

“Right,” Quigley said, “but I wasn’t interested in that part of the story. I was determined to go to the school and find my siblings again. I found an atlas in Dr. Montgomery’s library, and studied it until I found Prufrock Preparatory School. It wasn’t too far, so I started to gather whatever supplies I could find around his house.”

“Didn’t you think of calling the authorities?” Klaus asked.

“I guess I wasn’t thinking very clearly,” Quigley admitted. “All I could think of was finding my siblings.”

“Of course,” Violet said. “So what happened then?”

“I was interrupted,” Quigley said. “Someone walked in just as I was putting the atlas in a totebag I found. It was Jacques Snicket, although I didn’t know who he was, of course. But he knew who I was, and was overjoyed that I was alive after all.”

“How did you know you could trust him?” Klaus asked.

“Well, he knew about the secret passageway,” Quigley said. “In fact, he knew quite a bit about my family, even though he hadn’t seen my parents in years. And…”

“And?” Violet said.

Quigley gave her a small smile. “And he was very well-read,” he said. “In fact, he was at Dr. Montgomery’s house to do a bit more reading. He said there was an important file that was hidden someplace on the premises, and he had to stay for a few days to try and complete his investigation.”

“So he didn’t take you to the school?” Violet asked.

“He said it wasn’t safe for me to be seen,” Quigley said. “He explained that he was part of a secret organization, and that my parents had been a part of it, too.”

“V.F.D.,” Klaus said, and Quigley nodded in agreement.

“Duncan and Isadora tried to tell us about V.F.D.,” Violet said, “but they never got the chance. We don’t even know what it stands for.”

“It seems to stand for many things,” Quigley said, flipping pages in his notebook. “Nearly everything the organization uses, from the Volunteer Feline Detectives to the Vernacularly Fastened Door, has the same initials.”

“But what is the organization?” Violet asked. “What is V.F.D.?”

“Jacques wouldn’t tell me,” Quigley said, “but I think the letters stand for Volunteer Fire Department.”

“Volunteer Fire Department,” Violet repeated, and looked at her brother. “What does that mean?”

“In some communities,” Klaus said, “there’s no official fire department, and so they rely on volunteers to extinguish fires.”

“I know that,” Violet said, “but what does that have to do with our parents, or Count Olaf, or anything that has happened to us? I always thought that knowing what the letters stood for would solve the mystery, but I’m as mystified as I ever was.”

“Do you think our parents were secretly fighting fires?” Klaus asked.

“But why would they keep it a secret?” Violet asked. “And why would they have a secret passageway underneath the house?”

“Jacques said that the passageways were built by members of the organization,” Quigley said. “In the case of an emergency, they could escape to a safe place.”

“But the tunnel we found connects our house to the home of Esmé Squalor,” Klaus said. “That’s not a safe place.”

“Something happened,” Quigley said. “Something that changed everything.” He flipped through a few pages of his commonplace book until he found what he was looking for. “Jacques Snicket called it a ‘schism,’” he said, “but I don’t know what that word means.”

“A schism,” Klaus said, “is a division of a previously united group of people into two or more oppositional parties. It’s like a big argument, with everybody choosing sides.”

“That makes sense,” Quigley said. “The way Jacques talked, it sounded like the entire organization was in chaos. Volunteers who were once working together are now enemies. Places that were once safe are now dangerous. Both sides are using the same codes, and the same disguises. Even the V.F.D. insignia used to represent the noble ideals everyone shared, but now it’s all gone up in smoke.”

“But how did the schism start?” Violet asked. “What was everyone fighting over?”

“I don’t know,” Quigley said. “Jacques didn’t have much time to explain things to me.”

“What was he doing?” Klaus asked.

“He was looking for you,” Quigley replied. “He showed me a picture of all three of you, waiting at the dock on some lake, and asked me if I’d seen you anywhere. He knew that you’d been placed in Count Olaf’s care, and all the terrible things that had happened there. He knew that you had gone to live with Dr. Montgomery. He even knew about some of the inventions you made, Violet, and the research you did, Klaus, and some of Sunny’s tooth-related exploits. He wanted to find you before it was too late.”

“Too late for what?” Violet said.

“I don’t know,” Quigley said with a sigh. “Jacques spent a long time at Dr. Montgomery’s house, but he was too busy conducting his investigation to explain everything to me. He would stay up all night reading and copying information into his notebook, and then sleep all day, or disappear for hours at a time. And then one day, he said he had to go interview someone in the town of Paltryville, but he never came back. I waited weeks and weeks for him to return. I read books in Dr. Montgomery’s library, and started a commonplace book of my own. At first it was difficult to find any information on V.F.D., but I took notes on anything I could find. I must have read hundreds of books, but Jacques never returned. Finally, one morning, two things happened that made me decide not to wait any longer. The first was an article in The Daily Punctilio saying that my siblings had been kidnapped from the school. I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t wait for Jacques Snicket or for anyone else.”

The Baudelaires nodded in solemn agreement. “What was the second thing?” Violet asked.

Quigley was silent for a moment, and he reached down to the ground and scooped up a handful of ashes, letting them fall from his gloved hands. “I smelled smoke,” he said, “and when I opened the door of the Reptile Room, I saw that someone had thrown a torch through the glass of the ceiling, starting a fire in the library. Within minutes, the entire house was in flames.”

“Oh,” Violet said quietly. “Oh” is a word which usually means something along the lines of, “I heard you, and I’m not particularly interested,” but in this case, of course, the eldest Baudelaire meant something entirely different, and it is something that is difficult to define. She meant “I am sad to hear that Uncle Monty’s house burned down,” but that is not all. By “Oh,” Violet was also trying to describe her sadness about all of the fires that had brought Quigley and Klaus and herself here to the Mortmain Mountains, to huddle in a circle and try to solve the mystery that surrounded them. When Violet said “Oh,” she was not only thinking of the fire in the Reptile Room, but the fires that had destroyed the Baudelaire home, and the Quagmire home, and Heimlich Hospital, and Caligari Carnival, and the V.F.D. headquarters, where the smell of smoke still lingered around where the children were sitting. Thinking of all those fires made Violet feel as if the entire world were going up in flames, and that she and her siblings and all the other decent people in the world might never find a place that was truly safe.

“Another fire,” Klaus murmured, and Violet knew he was thinking the same thing. “Where could you go, Quigley?”

“The only place I could think of was Paltryville,” Quigley said. “The last time I saw Jacques, he’d said he was going there. I thought if I went there I might find him again, and see if he could help me rescue Duncan and Isadora. Dr. Montgomery’s atlas showed me how to get there, but I had to go on foot, because I was afraid that anyone who might offer me a ride would be an enemy. It was a long time before I finally arrived, but as soon as I stepped into town I saw a large building that matched the tattoo on Jacques Snicket’s ankle. I thought it might be a safe place to go.”

“Dr. Orwell’s office!” Klaus cried. “That’s not a safe place to go!”

“Klaus was hypnotized there,” Violet explained, “and Count Olaf was disguised as—”

“As a receptionist,” Quigley finished. “I know. His fake nameplate was still on the desk. The office was deserted, but I could tell that Jacques had been there, because there were some notes in his handwriting that he’d left on the desk. With those notes, and the information I’d read in Dr. Montgomery’s library, I learned about the V.F.D. headquarters. So instead of waiting for Jacques again, I set out to find the organization. I thought they were my best hope of rescuing my siblings.”

“So you set off to the Mortmain Mountains by yourself?” Violet asked.

“Not quite by myself,” Quigley said. “I had this backpack that Jacques left behind, with the Verdant Flammable Devices and a few other items, and I had my commonplace book. And eventually, I ran into the Snow Scouts, and realized that hiding among them would be the quickest way to reach Mount Fraught.” He turned a page in his commonplace book and examined his notes. “Remarkable Phenomena of the Mortmain Mountains, which I read in Dr. Montgomery’s library, had a hidden chapter that told me all about the Vertical Flame Diversion and the Vernacularly Fastened Door.”

Klaus looked over Quigley’s shoulder to read his notes. “I should have read that book when I had the chance,” he said, shaking his head. “If we had known about V.F.D. when we were living with Uncle Monty, we might have avoided all the trouble that followed.”

“When we were living with Uncle Monty,” Violet reminded him, “we were too busy trying to escape Count Olaf’s clutches to do any additional research.”

“I’ve had plenty of time to do research,” Quigley said, “but I still haven’t found all the answers I’m looking for. I still haven’t found Duncan and Isadora, and I still don’t know where Jacques Snicket is.”

“He’s dead,” Klaus said, very quietly. “Count Olaf murdered him.”

“I thought you might say that,” Quigley said. “I knew something was very wrong when he didn’t return. But what about my siblings? Do you know what happened to them?”

“They’re safe, Quigley,” Violet said. “We think they’re safe. We rescued them from Olaf’s clutches, and they escaped with a man named Hector.”

“Escaped?” Quigley repeated. “Where did they go?”

“We don’t know,” Klaus admitted. “Hector built a self-sustaining hot air mobile home. It was like a flying house, kept in the air by a bunch of balloons, and Hector said it could stay up in the sky forever.”

“We tried to climb aboard,” Violet said, “but Count Olaf managed to stop us.”

“So you don’t know where they are?” Quigley asked.

“I’m afraid not,” Violet said, and patted his hand. “But Duncan and Isadora are intrepid people, Quigley. They survived for quite some time in Olaf’s clutches, taking notes on his schemes and trying to pass on the information to us.”

“Violet’s right,” Klaus said. “I’m sure that wherever they are, they’re continuing their research. Eventually, they’ll find out you’re alive, and they’ll come looking for you, just like you went looking for them.”

The two Baudelaires looked at one another and shivered. They had been talking about Quigley’s family, of course, but they felt as if they were talking about their own. “I’m sure that if your parents are alive, they’re looking for you, too,” Quigley said, as if he’d read their minds. “And Sunny, too. Do you know where she is?”

“Someplace nearby,” Violet said. “She’s with Count Olaf, and Olaf wanted to find the headquarters, too.”

“Maybe Olaf has already been here,” Quigley said, looking around at the wreckage. “Maybe he’s the one who burned this place down.”

“I don’t think so,” Klaus said. “He wouldn’t have had time to burn this whole place down. We were right on his trail. Plus, I don’t think this place burned down all at once.”

“Why not?” Quigley said.

“It’s too big,” Klaus replied. “If the whole headquarters were burning, the sky would be covered in smoke.”

“That’s true,” Violet said. “That much smoke would arouse too much suspicion.”

“Where there’s smoke,” Quigley said, “there’s fire.”

Violet and Klaus turned to their friend to agree, but Quigley was not looking at the two Baudelaires. He was looking past them, toward the frozen pool and the two frozen tributaries, where the enormous windows of the V.F.D. kitchen had once stood, and where I once chopped broccoli while the woman I loved mixed up a spicy peanut sauce to go with it, and he was pointing up toward the sky, where my associates and I used to watch the volunteer eagles who could spot smoke from a very great distance.

That afternoon, there were no eagles in the skies over the Mortmain Mountains, but as Violet and Klaus stood up and looked in the direction Quigley was pointing, there was something in the sky that caught their attention. Because when Quigley Quagmire said, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” he was not referring to Klaus’s theory about the destruction of V.F.D. headquarters. He was talking about the sight of green smoke, wafting up into the sky from the peak of Mount Fraught, at the top of the slippery slope.

CHAPTER Nine

The two elder Baudelaires stood for a moment with Quigley, gazing up at the small plume, a word which here means “mysterious cloud of green smoke.” After the long, strange story he had told them about surviving the fire and what he had learned about V.F.D., they could scarcely believe that they were confronting another mystery.

“It’s a Verdant Flammable Device,” Quigley said. “There’s someone at the top of the waterfall, sending a signal.”

“Yes,” Violet said, “but who?”

“Maybe it’s a volunteer, who escaped from the fire,” Klaus said. “They’re signaling to see if there are any other volunteers nearby.”

“Or it could be a trap,” Quigley said. “They could be luring volunteers up to the peak in order to ambush them. Remember, the codes of V.F.D. are used by both sides of the schism.”

“It hardly seems like a code,” Violet said. “We know that someone is communicating, but we don’t have the faintest idea who they are, or what they’re saying.”

“This is what it must be like,” Klaus said thoughtfully, “when Sunny talks to people who don’t know her very well.”

At the mention of Sunny’s name, the Baudelaires were reminded of how much they missed her. “Whether it’s a volunteer or a trap,” Violet said, “it might be our only chance to find our sister.”

“Or my sister and brother,” Quigley said.

“Let’s signal back,” Klaus said. “Do you still have those Verdant Flammable Devices, Quigley?”

“Of course,” Quigley said, taking the box of green tubes out of his backpack, “but Bruce saw my matches and confiscated them, because children shouldn’t play with matches.”

“Confiscated them?” Klaus said. “Do you think he’s an enemy of V.F.D.?”

“If everyone who said that children shouldn’t play with matches was an enemy of V.F.D.,” Violet said with a smile, “then we wouldn’t have a chance of survival.”

“But how are we going to light these without matches?” Quigley asked.

Violet reached into her pocket. It was a bit tricky to tie her hair up in a ribbon, as all four drafts in the Valley of Four Drafts were blowing hard, but at last her hair was out of her eyes, and the gears and levers of her inventing mind began to move as she gazed up at the mysterious signal.

But of course this signal was neither a volunteer nor a trap. It was a baby, with unusually large teeth and a way of talking that some people found confusing. When Sunny Baudelaire had said “lox,” for example, the members of Count Olaf’s troupe had assumed she was simply babbling, rather than explaining how she was going to cook the salmon that the hook-handed man had caught. “Lox” is a word which refers to smoked salmon, and it is a delicious way to enjoy freshly caught fish, particularly if one has the appropriate accoutrements, a phrase which here means “bagels, cream cheese, sliced cucumber, black pepper, and capers, which can be eaten along with the lox for an enjoyable meal.” Lox also has an additional benefit of producing quite a bit of smoke as it is prepared, and this is the reason Sunny chose this method of preparing salmon, as opposed to gravlax, which is salmon marinated for several days in a mixture of spices, or sashimi, which is salmon cut into pleasing shapes and simply served raw. Remembering what Count Olaf had said about being able to see everything and everyone from the peak where he had brought her, the youngest Baudelaire realized that the phrase “where there’s smoke there’s fire” might be able to help her. As Violet and Klaus heard Quigley’s extraordinary tale at the bottom of the frozen waterfall, Sunny hurried to prepare lox and send a signal to her siblings, who she hoped were nearby. First, she nudged the Verdant Flammable Device—which she, like everyone at the peak, believed was a cigarette—into a small patch of weeds, in order to increase the smoke. Then she dragged over the covered casserole dish that she had been using as a makeshift bed, and placed the salmon inside it. In no time at all, the fish caught by the hook-handed man were absorbing the heat and smoke from the simmering green tube, and a large plume of green smoke was floating up into the sky above Mount Fraught. Sunny gazed up at the signal she made and couldn’t help smiling. The last time she had been separated from her siblings, she had simply waited in the birdcage for them to come and rescue her, but she had grown since then, and was able to take an active part in defeating Count Olaf and his troupe, while still having time to prepare a seafood dish.

“Something smells delicious,” said one of the white-faced women, walking by the casserole dish. “I must admit, I had some doubts that an infant should be in charge of the cooking, but your salmon recipe seems like it will be very tasty indeed.”

“There’s a word for the way she’s preparing the fish,” the hook-handed man said, “but I can’t remember what it is.”

“Lox,” Sunny said, but no one heard her over the sound of Count Olaf storming out of his tent, followed by Esmé and the two sinister visitors. Olaf was clutching the Snicket file and glaring down at Sunny with his shiny, shiny eyes.

“Put that smoke out at once!” he ordered. “I thought you were a terrified orphan prisoner, but I’m beginning to think you’re a spy!”

“What do you mean, Olaf?” asked the other white-faced woman. “She’s using Esmé’s cigarette to cook us some fish.”

“Someone might see the smoke,” Esmé snarled, as if she had not been smoking herself just moments ago. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

The man with a beard but no hair picked up a handful of snow and threw it onto the weeds, extinguishing the Verdant Flammable Device. “Who are you signaling to, baby?” he asked, in his strange, hoarse voice. “If you’re a spy, we’re going to toss you off this mountain.”

“Goo goo,” Sunny said, which meant something along the lines of “I’m going to pretend I’m a helpless baby, instead of answering your question.”

“You see?” the white-faced woman said, looking nervously at the man with a beard but no hair. “She’s just a helpless baby.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” said the woman with hair but no beard. “Besides, there’s no reason to toss a baby off a mountain unless you absolutely have to.”

“Babies can come in handy,” Count Olaf agreed. “In fact, I’ve been thinking about recruiting more young people into my troupe. They’re less likely to complain about doing my bidding.”

“But we never complain,” the hook-handed man said. “I try to be as accommodating as possible.”

“Enough chitchat,” said the man with a beard but no hair. “We have a lot of scheming to do, Olaf. I have some information that might help you with your recruiting idea, and according to the Snicket file, there’s one more safe place for the volunteers to gather.”

“The last safe place,” said the sinister woman. “We have to find it and burn it down.”

“And once we do,” Count Olaf said, “the last evidence of our plans will be completely destroyed. We’ll never have to worry about the authorities again.”

“Where is this last safe place?” asked Kevin.

Olaf opened his mouth to answer, but the woman with hair but no beard stopped him with a quick gesture and a suspicious glance down at Sunny. “Not in front of the toothy orphan,” she said, in her deep, deep voice. “If she learned what we were up to, she’d never sleep again, and you need your infant servant full of energy. Send her away, and we’ll make our plans.”

“Of course,” Olaf said, smiling nervously at the sinister visitors. “Orphan, go to my car and remove all of the potato chip crumbs from the interior by blowing as hard as you can.”

“Futil,” Sunny said, which meant something like, “That is an absolutely impossible chore,” but she walked unsteadily toward the car while Olaf’s troupe laughed and gathered around the flat rock to hear the new scheme. Passing the extinguished fire and the covered casserole dish where she would sleep that night, Sunny sighed sadly, thinking that her signal plan must have failed. But when she reached Olaf’s car and gazed down at the frozen waterfall, she saw something that lightened her spirits, a phrase which here means “an identical plume of green smoke, coming from the very bottom of the slope.” The youngest Baudelaire looked down at the smoke and smiled. “Sibling,” she said to herself. Sunny, of course, could not be certain that it was Violet and Klaus who were signaling to her, but she could hope it was so, and hope was enough to cheer her up as she opened the door of the car and began blowing at the crumbs Olaf and his troupe had scattered all over the upholstery.

But at the bottom of the frozen waterfall, the two elder Baudelaires did not feel nearly as hopeful as they stood with Quigley and watched the green smoke disappear from the highest peak.

“Someone put out the Verdant Flammable Device,” Quigley said, holding the green tube to one side so he wouldn’t smell the smoke. “What do you think that means?”

“I don’t know,” Violet said, and sighed. “This isn’t working.”

“Of course it’s working,” Klaus said. “It’s working perfectly. You noticed that the afternoon sun was reflecting off the frozen waterfall, and it gave you the idea to use the scientific principles of the convergence and refraction of light—just like you did on Lake Lachrymose, when we were battling the leeches. So you used Colette’s hand mirror to catch the sun’s rays and reflect them onto the end of the Verdant Flammable Device, so we could light it and send a signal.”

“Klaus is right,” Quigley said. “It couldn’t have worked better.”

“Thank you,” Violet said, “but that’s not what I mean. I mean this code isn’t working. We still don’t know who’s up on the peak, or why they were signaling us, and now the signal has stopped, but we still don’t know what it means.”

“Maybe we should extinguish our Verdant Flammable Device, too,” Klaus said.

“Maybe,” Violet agreed, “or maybe we should go up to the top of the waterfall and see for ourselves who is there.”

Quigley frowned, and took out his commonplace book. “The only way up to the highest peak,” he said, “is the path that the Snow Scouts are taking. We’d have to go back through the Vernacularly Fastened Door, back down the Vertical Flame Diversion, back into the Volunteer Feline Detective cave, rejoin the scouts and hike for a long time.”

“That’s not the only way up to the peak,” Violet said with a smile.

“Yes, it is,” Quigley insisted. “Look at the map.”

“Look at the waterfall,” Violet replied, and all three children looked up at the shiny slope.

“Do you mean,” Klaus said, “that you think you can invent something which can get us up a frozen waterfall?”

But Violet was already tying her hair out of her eyes again, and looking around at the ruins of the V.F.D. headquarters. “I’ll need that ukulele that you took from the caravan,” she said to Klaus, “and that half-melted candelabra over there by the dining room table.”

Klaus took the ukulele from his coat pocket and handed it to his sister, and then walked over to the table to retrieve the strange, melted object. “Unless you need any further assistance,” he said, “I think I might go examine the wreckage of the library and see if any documents have survived. We might as well learn as much from this headquarters as we can.”

“Good idea,” Quigley said, and reached into his backpack. He brought out a notebook much like his own, except it had a dark blue cover. “I have a spare notebook,” he said. “You might be interested in starting a commonplace book of your own.”

“That’s very kind of you,” Klaus said. “I’ll write down anything I find. Do you want to join the search?”

“I think I’ll stay here,” Quigley said, looking at Violet. “I’ve heard quite a bit about Violet Baudelaire’s marvelous inventions, and I’d like to see her at work.”

Klaus nodded, and walked off to the iron archway marking the entrance of the ruined library, while Violet blushed and leaned down to pick up one of the forks that had survived the fire.

It is one of the great sadnesses of the Baudelaire case that Violet never got to meet a man named C. M. Kornbluth, an associate of mine who spent most of his life living and working in the Valley of Four Drafts as a mechanical instructor at the V.F.D. headquarters. Mr. Kornbluth was a quiet and secretive man, so secretive that no one ever knew who he was, where he came from, or even what the C or the M stood for, and he spent much of his time holed up in his dormitory room writing strange stories, or gazing sadly out the windows of the kitchen. The one thing that put Mr. Kornbluth in a good mood would be a particularly promising mechanical student. If a young man showed an interest in deep sea radar, Mr. Kornbluth would take off his glasses and smile. If a young woman brought him a staple gun she had built, Mr. Kornbluth would clap his hands in excitement. And if a pair of twins asked him how to properly reroute some copper wiring, he would take a paper bag out of his pocket and offer some pistachio nuts to anyone who happened to be around. So, when I think of Violet Baudelaire standing in the wreckage of the V.F.D. headquarters, carefully taking the strings off the ukulele and bending some of the forks in half, I can imagine Mr. Kornbluth, even though he and his pistachios are long gone, turning from the window, smiling at the Baudelaire inventor, and saying, “Beatrice, come over here! Look at what this girl is making!”

“What are you making?” Quigley asked.

“Something that will get us up that waterfall,” Violet replied. “I only wish that Sunny were here. Her teeth would be perfect to slice these ukulele strings into halves.”

“I might have something that could help,” Quigley said, looking through his backpack. “When I was in Dr. Orwell’s office, I found these fake fingernails. They’re a horrible shade of pink, but they’re quite sharp.”

Violet took a fingernail from Quigley and looked at it carefully. “I think Count Olaf was wearing these,” she said, “as part of his receptionist disguise. It’s so strange that you have been following in our footsteps all this time, and yet we never even knew you were alive.”

“I knew you were alive,” Quigley said. “Jacques Snicket told me all about you, Klaus, Sunny, and even your parents. He knew them quite well before you were born.”

“I thought so,” Violet said, cutting the ukulele strings. “In the photograph we found, my parents are standing with Jacques Snicket and another man.”

“He’s probably Jacques’s brother,” Quigley said. “Jacques told me that he was working closely with his two siblings on an important file.”

“The Snicket file,” Violet said. “We were hoping to find it here.”

Quigley looked up at the frozen waterfall. “Maybe whoever signaled us will know where it is,” he said.

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Violet said. “Please take off your shoes.”

“My shoes?” Quigley asked.

“The waterfall will be very slippery,” Violet explained, “so I’m using the ukulele strings to tie these bent forks to the toe area, to make fork-assisted climbing shoes. We’ll hold two more forks in our hands. Tines of the forks are almost as sharp as Sunny’s teeth, so the fork-assisted climbing shoes will easily dig into the ice with each step, and enable us to keep our balance.”

“But what’s the candelabra for?” Quigley asked, unlacing his shoes.

“I’m going to use it as an ice tester,” Violet said. “A moving body of water, such as a waterfall, is rarely completely frozen. There are probably places on that slope where there is only a thin layer of ice, particularly with False Spring on its way. If we stuck our forks through the ice and hit water, we’d lose our grip and fall. So I’ll tap on the ice with the candelabra before each step, to find the solid places we should climb.”

“It sounds like a difficult journey,” Quigley said.

“No more difficult than climbing up the Vertical Flame Diversion,” Violet said, tying a fork onto Quigley’s shoe. “I’m using the Sumac knot, so it should hold tight. Now, all we need is Klaus’s shoes, and—”

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but I think this might be important,” Klaus said, and Violet turned to see that her brother had returned. He was holding the dark blue notebook in one hand and a small, burnt piece of paper in the other. “I found this scrap of paper in a pile of ashes,” he said. “It’s from some kind of code book.”

“What does it say?” Violet asked.

“‘In the e flagration resulting in the destruction of a sanc,’” Klaus read, “‘ teers should avail themselves of Verbal Fri Dialogue, which is concealed accordingly.’”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Quigley said. “Do you think it’s in code?”

“Sort of,” Klaus said. “Parts of the sentence are burned away, so you have to figure the sentence out as if it’s encoded. ‘Flagration’ is probably the last part of the word ‘conflagration,’ a fancy word for fire, and ‘sanc’ is probably the beginning of the word ‘sanctuary,’ which means a safe place. So the sentence probably began something like, ‘In the event of a conflagration resulting in the destruction of a sanctuary.’”

Violet stood up and looked over his shoulder. “‘Teers,’” she said, “is probably ‘volunteers,’ but I don’t know what ‘avail themselves’ means.”

“It means ‘to make use of,’” Klaus said, “like you’re availing yourself of the ukulele and those forks. Don’t you see? This says that in case a safe place burns down, they’ll leave some sort of message—‘Verbal Fri Dialogue.’”

“But what could ‘Verbal Fri Dialogue’ be?” Quigley asked. “Friends? Frisky?”

“Frilly?” Violet guessed. “Frightening?”

“But it says that it’s concealed accordingly,” Klaus pointed out. “That means that the dialogue is hidden in a logical way. If it were Verbal Waterfall Dialogue, it would be hidden in the waterfall. So none of those words can be right. Where would someone leave a message where fire couldn’t destroy it?”

“But fire destroys everything,” Violet said. “Look at the headquarters. Nothing is left standing except the library entrance, and…”

“…and the refrigerator,” Klaus finished. “Or, we might say, the fridge.”

“Verbal Fridge Dialogue!” Quigley said.

“The volunteers left a message,” said Klaus, who was already halfway to the refrigerator, “in the only place they knew wouldn’t be affected by the fire.”

“And the one place their enemies wouldn’t think of looking,” Quigley said. “After all, there’s never anything terribly important in the refrigerator.”

What Quigley said, of course, is not entirely true. Like an envelope, a hollow figurine, and a coffin, a refrigerator can hold all sorts of things, and they may turn out to be very important depending on what kind of day you are having. A refrigerator may hold an icepack, for example, which would be important if you had been wounded. A refrigerator may hold a bottle of water, which would be important if you were dying of thirst. And a refrigerator may hold a basket of strawberries, which would be important if a maniac said to you, “If you don’t give me a basket of strawberries right now, I’m going to poke you with this large stick.” But when the two elder Baudelaires and Quigley Quagmire opened the refrigerator, they found nothing that would help someone who was wounded, dying of thirst, or being threatened by a strawberry-crazed, stick-carrying maniac, or anything that looked important at all. The fridge was mostly empty, with just a few of the usual things people keep in their refrigerators and rarely use, including a jar of mustard, a container of olives, three jars of different kinds of jam, a bottle of lemon juice, and one lonely pickle in a small glass jug.

“There’s nothing here,” Violet said.

“Look in the crisper,” Quigley said, pointing to a drawer in the refrigerator traditionally used for storing fruits and vegetables. Klaus opened the drawer and pulled out a few strands of a green plant with tiny, skinny leaves.

“It smells like dill,” Klaus said, “and it’s quite crisp, as if it were picked yesterday.”

“Very Fresh Dill,” Quigley said.

“Another mystery,” Violet said, and tears filled her eyes. “We have nothing but mysteries. We don’t know where Sunny is. We don’t know where Count Olaf is. We don’t know who’s signaling to us at the top of the waterfall, or what they’re trying to say, and now there’s a mysterious message in a mysterious code in a mysterious refrigerator, and a bunch of mysterious herbs in the crisper. I’m tired of mysteries. I want someone to help us.”

“We can help each other,” Klaus said. “We have your inventions, and Quigley’s maps, and my research.”

“And we’re all very well-read,” Quigley said. “That should be enough to solve any mystery.”

Violet sighed, and kicked at something that lay on the ashen ground. It was the small shell of a pistachio nut, blackened from the fire that destroyed the headquarters. “It’s like we’re members of V.F.D. already,” she said. “We’re sending signals, and breaking codes, and finding secrets in the ruins of a fire.”

“Do you think our parents would be proud of us,” Klaus asked, “for following in their footsteps?”

“I don’t know,” Violet said. “After all, they kept V.F.D. a secret.”

“Maybe they were going to tell us later,” Klaus said.

“Or maybe they hoped we would never find out,” Violet said.

“I keep wondering the same thing,” Quigley said. “If I could travel back in time to the moment my mother showed me the secret passageway under the library, I would ask her why she was keeping these secrets.”

“That’s one more mystery,” Violet said sadly, and looked up at the slippery slope. It was getting later and later in the afternoon, and the frozen waterfall looked less and less shiny in the fading sunlight, as if time were running out to climb to the top and see who had been signaling to them. “We should each investigate the mystery we’re most likely to solve,” she said. “I’ll climb up the waterfall, and solve the mystery of the Verdant Flammable Device by learning who’s up there, and what they want. You should stay down here, Klaus, and solve the mystery of the Verbal Fridge Dialogue, by learning the code and discovering what the message is.”

“And I’ll help you both,” Quigley said, taking out his purple notebook. “I’ll leave my commonplace book with Klaus, in case it’s any help with the codes. And I’ll climb up the waterfall with you, Violet, in case you need my help.”

“Are you sure?” Violet asked. “You’ve already taken us this far, Quigley. You don’t have to risk your life any further.”

“We’ll understand,” Klaus said, “if you want to leave and search for your siblings.”

“Don’t be absurd,” Quigley said. “We’re all part of this mystery, whatever it is. Of course I’m going to help you.”

The two Baudelaires looked at one another and smiled. It is so rare in this world to meet a trustworthy person who truly wants to help you, and finding such a person can make you feel warm and safe, even if you are in the middle of a windy valley high up in the mountains. For a moment, as their friend smiled back at them, it seemed as if all the mysteries had been solved already, even with Sunny still separated from them, and Count Olaf still at large, and the abandoned V.F.D. headquarters still in ashes around them. Just knowing that they had found a person like Quigley Quagmire made Violet and Klaus feel as if every code made sense, and every signal was clear.

Violet stepped forward, her fork-assisted climbing shoes making small, determined noises on the ground, and took Quigley’s hand. “Thank you,” she said, “for volunteering.”

CHAPTER Ten

Violet and Quigley walked carefully across the frozen pool until they reached the bottom of the waterfall. “Good luck!” Klaus called, from the archway of the ruined library. He was polishing his glasses, as he often did before embarking on serious research.

“Good luck to you!” Violet replied, shouting over the rush of the mountain winds, and as she looked back at her brother, she remembered when the two siblings were trying to stop the caravan as it hurtled down the mountain. Klaus had wanted to say something to her, in case the drag chute and the mixture of sticky substances hadn’t worked. Violet had the same feeling now, as she prepared to climb the frozen waterfall and leave her brother behind at the ashy remains of the V.F.D. headquarters. “Klaus—” she said.

Klaus put his glasses on and gave his sister his bravest smile. “Whatever you’re thinking of saying,” he said, “say it when you return.”

Violet nodded, and tapped the candelabra against a spot on the ice. She heard a deep thunk!, as if she were tapping something very solid. “We’ll start here,” she said to Quigley. “Brace yourself.”

The expression “brace yourself,” as I’m sure you know, does not mean to take some metal wiring and rivets and other orthodontic materials and apply them to your own teeth in order to straighten them. The expression simply means “get ready for something that will probably be difficult,” and it was indeed very difficult to climb a frozen waterfall in the middle of a windswept valley with nothing but a candelabra and a few well-placed forks to aid the two children in their climb. It took a few moments for Violet and Quigley to work her invention properly, and push the forks into the ice just far enough to hold them there, but not so far that they would be permanently stuck, and once both of them were in position, Violet had to reach up as far as she could and tap the candelabra on the ice above them to find the next solid place to climb. For the first few steps, it seemed like ascending the icy slope in this manner would be impossible, but as time went on, and the two volunteers grew more and more skillful with the fork-tipped climbing shoes and the candelabra ice-tester, it became clear that once again Violet’s inventing skills would carry the day, a phrase which here means “enable Violet Baudelaire and Quigley Quagmire to climb up a frozen waterfall after bracing themselves for the difficult journey.”

“Your invention is working,” Quigley called up to Violet. “These fork-assisted climbing shoes are marvelous.”

“They do seem to be working,” Violet agreed, “but let’s not celebrate just yet. We have a long way to go.”

“My sister wrote a couplet about that very thing,” Quigley said, and recited Isadora’s poem:

“Celebrate when you’re half-done,

And the finish won’t be half as fun.”

Violet smiled, and reached up to test the ice above her. “Isadora is a good poet,” Violet said, “and her poems have come in handy more than once. When we were at the Village of Fowl Devotees, she led us to her location by hiding a secret message in a series of couplets.”

“I wonder if that’s a code she learned from V.F.D.,” Quigley said, “or if she made it up herself.”

“I don’t know,” Violet said thoughtfully. “She and Duncan were the first to tell us about V.F.D., but it never occurred to me that they might already be members. When I think about it, however, the code she used was similar to one that our Aunt Josephine used. They both hid a secret location within a note, and waited for us to discover the hidden message. Maybe they were all volunteers.” She removed her left fork-assisted climbing shoe from the ice, and kicked it back in a few inches up to further her climb. “Maybe all our guardians have been members of V.F.D., on one side or the other of the schism.”

“It’s hard to believe,” Quigley said, “that we’ve always been surrounded by people carrying out secret errands, and never known it.”

“It’s hard to believe that we’re climbing a frozen waterfall in the Mortmain Mountains,” Violet replied, “and yet, here we are. There, Quigley, do you see the ledge where my left fork is? It’s solid enough for both of us to sit for a moment and catch our breath.”

“Good,” Quigley said. “I have a small bag of carrots in my backpack we can eat to regain our energy.” The triplet climbed up to where Violet was sitting, on a small ledge scarcely the size of a sofa, and slid so he was sitting next to her. The two climbers could see that they had traveled farther than they’d thought. Far below them were the blackened ruins of the headquarters, and Klaus was only a small speck near a tiny iron archway. Quigley handed Violet a carrot, and she bit down on it thoughtfully.

“Sunny loves raw carrots,” Violet said. “I hope that she’s eating well, wherever she is.”

“I hope my siblings are eating well, too,” Quigley said. “My father always used to say that a good meal can cheer one up considerably.”

“My father always said the same thing,” Violet said, looking at Quigley curiously. “Do you think that was a code, too?”

Quigley shrugged and sighed. Small bits of ice from the waterfall fell from the ends of forks and blew away in the wind. “It’s like we never really knew our parents,” he said.

“We knew them,” Violet said. “They just had a few secrets, that’s all. Everyone should keep a few secrets.”

“I suppose so,” Quigley said, “but they might have mentioned that they were in a secret organization with a headquarters hidden in the Mortmain Mountains.”

“Maybe they didn’t want us to find out about such a dangerous place,” Violet said, peering off the ledge, “although if you have to hide a headquarters, it’s a beautiful place to do it. Aside from the remains of the fire, this is a very lovely view.”

“Very lovely indeed,” Quigley said, but he was not looking at the view beneath him. He was looking beside him, where Violet Baudelaire was sitting.

Many things have been taken from the three Baudelaires. Their parents were taken, of course, and their home was taken from them, by a terrible fire. Their various guardians were taken from them, because they were murdered by Count Olaf or were simply miserable guardians who soon lost interest in three young children with nowhere to go. The Baudelaires’ dignity was taken from them, on the occasions when the siblings were forced to wear absurd disguises, and recently they had been taken from one another, with the kidnapped Sunny doing chores at the top of the frozen waterfall while Violet and Klaus learned the secrets of V.F.D. at the bottom. But one thing that was taken from the Baudelaires that is not often discussed is their privacy, a word which here means “time by oneself, without anyone watching or interfering.” Unless you are a hermit or half of a pair of Siamese twins, you probably enjoy taking the occasional break from members of your family to enjoy some privacy, perhaps with a friend or companion, in your room or in a railway car you have managed to sneak aboard. But since that dreadful day at Briny Beach, when Mr. Poe arrived to tell the Baudelaires that their parents had perished, the three children had scarcely had any privacy at all. From the small, dark bedroom where they slept at Count Olaf’s house, to the crowded caravan at Caligari Carnival, and all of the other woeful places in between, the Baudelaires’ situation was always so desperate and cramped that they were rarely able to spare a moment for a bit of private time.

So, as Violet and Quigley rest for a few minutes more on a ledge halfway up the frozen waterfall, I will take this opportunity to give them a bit of privacy, by not writing down anything more of what happened between these two friends on that chilly afternoon. Certainly there are aspects of my own personal life that I will never write down, however precious they are to me, and I will offer the eldest Baudelaire the same courtesy. I will tell you that the two young people resumed their climb, and that the afternoon slowly turned to evening and that both Violet and Quigley had small secret smiles on their faces as the candelabra ice-tester and the fork-assisted climbing shoes helped them both get closer and closer to the mountains’ highest peak, but there has been so little privacy in the life of Violet Baudelaire that I will allow her to keep a few important moments to herself, rather than sharing them with my distressed and weeping readers.

“We’re almost there,” Violet said. “It’s difficult to see with the sun going down, but I believe we’re just about at the top of the peak.”

“I can’t believe we’ve been climbing all afternoon,” Quigley said.

“Not all afternoon,” she reminded him with a shy smile. “I guess this waterfall is about as high as 667 Dark Avenue. It took a very long time to go up and down that elevator shaft, trying to rescue your siblings. I hope this is a more successful journey.”

“Me, too,” Quigley said. “What do you think we will find at the top?”

“Set!” came the reply.

“I couldn’t hear you over the wind,” Quigley said. “What did you say?”

“I didn’t say anything,” Violet said. She squinted above her, trying to see in the last of the sunset, and scarcely daring to hope that she had heard correctly.

Out of all the words in the English language, the word “set” has the most definitions, and if you open a good dictionary and read the word’s long, long entry, you will begin to think that “set” is scarcely a word at all, only a sound that means something different depending on who is saying it. If a group of jazz musicians says “set,” for instance, they are probably referring to the songs they are planning to play at a club that evening, assuming it doesn’t burn down. If the owner of a restaurant uses the word “set,” they might mean a group of matching wineglasses, or a bunch of waitresses who look exactly alike. A librarian will say “set” to refer to a collection of books that are all by the same author or about the same subject, and an Egyptologist will use the word “set” to refer to the ancient god of evil, although he does not come up very often in conversation. But when Violet heard the word “set” from the top of Mount Fraught, she did not think there was a group of jazz musicians, a restaurant owner, a librarian, or an Egyptologist talking about jazz tunes, wineglasses, waitresses, thematically linked books, or a black, immoral aardvark who is the sworn enemy of the god Osiris. She reached her fork as high as she could so she could climb closer, and saw the rays of the sunset reflect off a large tooth, and Violet knew that this time, the definition of “set” was “I knew you would find me!” and the speaker was Sunny Baudelaire.

“Set!” Sunny said again.

“Sunny!” Violet cried.

“Sssh!” Sunny said.

“What is going on?” Quigley asked, several forksteps behind Violet.

“It’s Sunny,” Violet said, and hoisted herself onto the peak to see her baby sister, standing next to Count Olaf’s car and grinning from ear to ear. Without another word, the two Baudelaire sisters hugged fiercely, Violet taking care not to poke Sunny with one of the forks she was holding. By the time Quigley reached the top of the peak and pulled himself up to lean against one of the car’s tires, the two Baudelaires were smiling at each other with tears in their eyes.

“I knew we’d see you again, Sunny,” Violet said. “I just knew it.”

“Klaus?” Sunny asked.

“He’s safe and nearby,” Violet said. “He knew we could find you, too.”

“Set,” Sunny agreed, but then she noticed Quigley and her eyes grew wide. “Quagmire?” she asked in amazement.

“Yes,” Violet said. “This is Quigley Quagmire, Sunny. He survived the fire after all.” Sunny walked unsteadily over to Quigley and shook his hand. “He led us to the headquarters, Sunny, with a map he drew himself.”

“Arigato,” Sunny said, which meant something like, “I appreciate your help, Quigley.”

“Was it you who signaled us?” Quigley asked.

“Yep,” Sunny said. “Lox.”

“Count Olaf’s been making you do the cooking?” Violet asked in amazement.

“Vaccurum,” Sunny said.

“Olaf even made her clean crumbs out of the car,” Violet translated to Quigley, “by blowing as hard as she could.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Quigley said.

“Cinderella,” Sunny said. She meant something along the lines of, “I’ve had to do all of the chores, while being humiliated at every turn,” but Violet had no time to translate over the sound of Count Olaf’s scratchy voice.

“Where are you, Babylaire?” he asked, adding an absurd nickname to his list of insults. “I’ve thought of more tasks for you to perform.”

The three children looked at one another in panic. “Hide,” Sunny whispered, and there was no need for translation. Violet and Quigley looked around the desolate landscape of the peak for a place to hide, but there was only one place to go.

“Under the car,” Violet said, and she and Quigley wriggled underneath the long, black automobile, which was as dirty and smelly as its owner. As an inventor, the eldest Baudelaire had stared closely at automotive machinery plenty of times, but she had never seen such an extreme state of disrepair, a phrase which here means “an underside of an automobile in such bad shape that it was dripping oil on her and her companion.” But Violet and Quigley didn’t have a moment to waste thinking of their discomfort. They had no sooner moved their fork-assisted climbing shoes out of view when Count Olaf and his companions arrived. From underneath the car, the two volunteers could see only the villain’s tattoo on the filthy ankle above his left shoe, and a pair of very stylish pumps, decorated with glitter and tiny paintings of eyes, that could only belong to Esmé Squalor.

“All we’ve had to eat all day is that smoked salmon, and it’s almost dinnertime,” Count Olaf said. “You’d better get cooking, orphan.”

“Tomorrow is False Spring,” Esmé said, “and it would be very in to have a False Spring dinner.”

“Did you hear that, toothy?” Olaf asked. “My girlfriend wants a stylish dinner. Get to work.”

“Olaf, we need you,” said a very deep voice, and Violet and Quigley saw two pairs of sinister black shoes appear behind the villain and his girlfriend, whose shoes twitched nervously at the sight of them. All of a sudden, it seemed much colder underneath the car, and Violet had to push her legs against the tires, so they would not shiver against the mechanics of the underside and be heard.

“Yes, Olaf,” agreed the hoarse voice of the man with a beard but no hair, although Violet and Quigley could not see him. “Our recruitment plan will happen first thing in the morning, so we need you to help spread the net out on the ground.”

“Can’t you ask one of our employees?” asked Esmé. “There’s the hook-handed man, the two white-faced women, and the three freaks we picked up at the carnival. That’s eight people, if you include yourselves, to spread out the net. Why should we do it?”

The four black shoes stepped toward Esme’s stylish pumps and Olaf’s tattoo. “You’ll do it,” said the woman with hair but no beard, “because I say so.”

There was a long, ominous pause, and then Count Olaf gave a little high-pitched laugh. “That’s a good point,” he said. “Come on, Esmé. We’ve bossed around the baby, so there’s nothing else to do around here anyway.”

“That’s true,” Esmé agreed. “In fact, I was thinking about taking up smoking again, because I’m bored. Do you have any more of those green cigarettes?”

“I’m afraid not,” replied the man with a beard but no hair, leading the villains away from the car. “That’s the only one I found.”

“That’s too bad,” Esmé said. “I don’t like the taste or the smell, and they’re very bad for you, but cigarettes are very in and I’d like to smoke another one.”

“Maybe there’s another one in the ruins of headquarters,” said the woman with hair but no beard. “It’s hard to find everything in all those ashes. We searched for days and couldn’t find the sugar bowl.”

“Not in front of the baby,” Olaf said quickly, and the four pairs of shoes walked away. Violet and Quigley stayed underneath the car until Sunny said “Coastkleer,” which meant something like, “It’s safe to come out now.”

“Those were terrible people,” Quigley said with a shudder, brushing oil and grime off his coat. “They made me feel cold all over.”

“They certainly had an aura of menace,” Violet agreed in a whisper. “The feet with the tattoo were Count Olaf, and those glittery shoes were Esmé Squalor, but who were the other two, Sunny?”

“Unno Narsonist,” Sunny murmured. She meant something along the lines of “I don’t know, but they burned down V.F.D. headquarters,” and Violet was quick to explain this to Quigley.

“Klaus has found an important message that survived the fire,” Violet said. “By the time we take you down the waterfall, I’m sure he’ll have decoded the message. Come on.”

“Nogo,” Sunny said, which meant “I don’t think I ought to accompany you.”

“Why on earth not?” Violet asked.

“Unasanc,” Sunny said.

“Sunny says that the villains have mentioned one more safe place for volunteers to gather,” Violet explained to Quigley.

“Do you know where it is?” Quigley asked.

Sunny shook her head. “Olafile,” she said.

“But if Count Olaf has the Snicket file,” Violet said, “how are you going to find out where this safe place is?”

“Matahari,” she said, which meant something like, “If I stay, I can spy on them and find out.”

“Absolutely not,” Violet said, after she had translated. “It’s not safe for you to stay here, Sunny. It’s bad enough that Olaf has made you do the cooking.”

“Lox,” Sunny pointed out.

“But what are you going to make for a False Spring dinner?” Violet asked.

Sunny gave her sister a smile, and walked over to the trunk of the car. Violet and Quigley heard her rummaging around among the remaining groceries, but stayed put so Olaf or any of his associates wouldn’t spot them. When Sunny returned, she had a triumphant smile on her face, and the frozen hunk of spinach, the large bag of mushrooms, the can of water chestnuts, and the enormous eggplant in her arms. “False spring rolls!” she said, which meant something like, “An assortment of vegetables wrapped in spinach leaves, prepared in honor of False Spring.”

“I’m surprised you can even carry that eggplant, let alone prepare it,” Violet said. “It must weigh as much as you do.”

“Suppertunity,” Sunny said. She meant something like, “Serving the troupe dinner will be a perfect chance to listen to their conversation,” and Violet reluctantly translated.

“It sounds dangerous,” Quigley said.

“Of course it’s dangerous,” Violet said. “If she’s caught spying, who knows what they’ll do?”

“Ga ga goo goo,” Sunny said, which meant “I won’t be caught, because they think I’m only a helpless baby.”

“I think your sister is right,” Quigley said. “It wouldn’t be safe to carry her down the waterfall, anyway. We need our hands and feet for the climb. Let Sunny investigate the mystery she’s most likely to solve, while we work on an escape plan.”

Violet shook her head. “I don’t want to leave my sister behind,” she said. “The Baudelaires should never be separated.”

“Separate Klaus,” Sunny pointed out.

“If there’s another place where volunteers are gathering,” Quigley said, “we need to know where it is. Sunny can find out for us, but only if she stays here.”

“I’m not going to leave my baby sister on top of a mountain,” Violet said.

Sunny dropped her vegetables on the ground and walked over to her sister and smiled. “I’m not a baby,” Sunny said, and hugged her. It was the longest sentence the youngest Baudelaire had ever said, and as Violet looked down at her sister, she saw how true it was. Sunny was not really a baby, not anymore. She was a young girl with unusually sharp teeth, some impressive cooking skills, and an opportunity to spy on a group of villains and discover a piece of crucial information. Sometime, during the unfortunate events that had befallen the three orphans, Sunny had grown out of her babyhood, and although it made Violet a bit sad to think about it, it made her proud, too, and she gave her sister a smile.

“I guess you’re right,” Violet said. “You’re not a baby. But be careful, Sunny. You’re a young girl, but it’s still quite dangerous for a young girl to spy on villains. And remember, we’re right at the bottom of the slope, Sunny. If you need us, just signal again.”

Sunny opened her mouth to reply, but before she could utter a sound, the three children heard a long, lazy hissing noise from underneath Olaf’s car, as if one of Dr. Montgomery’s snakes were hiding there. The car shifted lightly, and Violet pointed to one of Olaf’s tires, which had gone flat. “I must have punctured it,” Violet said, “with my fork-assisted climbing shoes.”

“I suppose that’s not a nice thing to do,” Quigley said, “but I can’t say I’m sorry.”

“How’s dinner coming along, toothface?” called Count Olaf’s cruel voice over the sound of the wind.

“I guess we’d better leave before we’re discovered,” Violet said, giving her sister one more hug and a kiss on the top of her head. “We’ll see you soon, Sunny.”

“Good-bye, Sunny,” Quigley said. “I’m so glad we finally met in person. And thank you very much for helping us find the last safe place.”

Sunny Baudelaire looked up at Quigley, and then at her older sister, and gave them both a big, happy smile that showed all of her impressive teeth. After spending so much time in the company of villains, she was happy to be with some people who respected her skills, appreciated her work, and understood her way of speaking. Even with Klaus still at the bottom of the waterfall, Sunny felt as if she had already been happily reunited with her family, and that her time in the Mortmain Mountains would have a happy ending. She was wrong about that, of course, but for now the youngest Baudelaire smiled up at these two people who cared about her, one she had just met and one she had known her entire life, and felt as if she were growing taller at that very moment.

“Happy,” said the young girl, and everyone who heard her knew what she was talking about.

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