بخش 06

مجموعه: مجموعه بدبیاری ها / کتاب: آبشار یخ زده / فصل 6

بخش 06

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CHAPTER Thirteen

Count Olaf gasped, and raised his one eyebrow very high as he gazed at the two Baudelaires and their companion, his eyes shinier than they had ever seen them. “Where is it?” he said, in a terrible, wheezing whisper. “Give it to me!”

Violet shook her head, grateful that her face was still hidden behind a mask. “Not until you give us Sunny Baudelaire,” she said.

“Never!” the villain replied. “Without that big-toothed brat, I’ll never capture the Baudelaire fortune. You give me the sugar bowl this instant, or I’ll throw all of you off this mountain!”

“If you throw us off the mountain,” Klaus said, “you’ll never know where the sugar bowl is.” He did not add, of course, that the Baudelaires had no idea where the sugar bowl was, or why in the world it was so important.

Esmé Squalor took a sinister step toward her boyfriend, her flame-imitating dress crackling against the cold ground. “We must have that sugar bowl,” she snarled. “Let the baby go. We’ll cook up another scheme to steal the fortune.”

“But stealing the fortune is the greater good,” Count Olaf said. “We can’t let the baby go.”

“Getting the sugar bowl is the greater good,” Esmé said, with a frown.

“Stealing the fortune,” Olaf insisted.

“Getting the sugar bowl,” Esmé replied.

“Fortune!”

“Sugar bowl!”

“Fortune!”

“Sugar bowl!”

“That’s enough!” ordered the man with a beard but no hair. “Our recruitment scheme is about to be put into action. We can’t have you arguing all day long.”

“We wouldn’t have argued all day long,” Count Olaf said timidly. “After a few hours—”

“We said that’s enough!” ordered the woman with hair but no beard. “Bring the baby over here!”

“Bring the baby at once!” Count Olaf ordered the two white-faced women. “She’s napping in her casserole dish.”

The two white-faced women sighed, but hurried over to the casserole dish and lifted it together, as if they were cooks removing something from the oven instead of villainous employees bringing over a prisoner, while the two sinister visitors reached down the necks of their shirts and retrieved something that was hanging around their necks. Violet and Klaus were surprised to see two shiny silver whistles, like the one Count Olaf had used as part of his disguise at Prufrock Preparatory School, when he was pretending to be a coach.

“Watch this, volunteers,” said the sinister man in his hoarse voice, and the two mysterious villains blew their whistles. Instantly, the children heard an enormous rustling sound over their heads, as if the Mortmain Mountain winds were as frightened as the youngsters, and it suddenly grew very dim, as if the morning sun had also put on a mask. But when they looked up, Violet, Klaus, and Quigley saw that the reason for the noisy sky and the fading light was perhaps more strange than frightened winds and a masked sun.

The sky above Mount Fraught was swarming with eagles. There were hundreds and hundreds of them, flying in silent circles high above the two sinister villains. They must have been nesting nearby to have arrived so quickly, and they must have been very thoroughly trained to be so eerily silent. Some of them looked very old, old enough to have been in the skies when the Baudelaire parents were children themselves. Some of them looked quite young, as if they had only recently emerged from the egg and were already obeying the shrill sound of a whistle. But all of them looked exhausted, as if they would rather be anywhere else but the summit of the Mortmain Mountains, doing absolutely anything rather than following the orders of such wretched people.

“Look at these creatures!” cried the woman with hair but no beard. “When the schism occurred, you may have won the carrier crows, volunteers, and you may have won the trained reptiles.”

“Not anymore,” Count Olaf said. “All of the reptiles except one—”

“Don’t interrupt,” the sinister woman interrupted. “You may have the carrier crows, but we have the two most powerful mammals in the world to do our bidding—the lions and eagles!”

“Eagles aren’t mammals,” Klaus cried out in frustration. “They’re birds!”

“They’re slaves,” said the man with a beard but no hair, and the two villains reached into the pockets of their suits and drew out two long, wicked-looking whips. Violet and Klaus could see at once that they were similar to the whip Olaf had used when bossing around the lions at Caligari Carnival. With matching, sinister sneers, the two mysterious villains cracked their whips in the air, and four eagles swooped down from the sky, landing on the strange thick pads that the villains had on their shoulders.

“These beasts will do anything we tell them to do,” the woman said. “And today they’re going to help us with our greatest triumph.” She uncurled the whip and gestured to the ground around her, and the children noticed for the first time an enormous net on the ground, spread out over almost the entire peak and just stopping at their fork-assisted climbing shoes. “On my signal, these eagles will lift this net from the ground and carry it into the sky, capturing a group of young people who think they’re here to celebrate False Spring.”

“The Snow Scouts,” Violet said in astonishment.

“We’ll capture every one of those uniformed brats,” the villainous man bragged, “and each one of them will be offered the exciting opportunity to join us.”

“They’ll never join you,” Klaus said.

“Of course they will,” said the sinister woman, in her deep, deep voice. “They’ll either be recruited, or they’ll be our prisoners. But one thing is for certain—we’ll burn down every single one of their parents’ homes.”

The two Baudelaires shuddered, and even Count Olaf looked a bit uneasy. “Of course,” he said quickly, “the main reason we’re doing all this is to get our hands on all those fortunes.”

“Of course,” Esmé said with a nervous snicker. “We’ll have the Spats fortune, the Kornbluth fortune, the Winnipeg fortune, and many others. I’ll be able to afford the penthouse apartment of every single building that isn’t on fire!”

“Once you tell us where the sugar bowl is,” said the man with a beard but no hair, “you can leave, volunteers, and take your baby friend with you. But wouldn’t you rather join us?”

“No, thank you,” Quigley said. “We’re not interested.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re interested or not,” said the woman with hair but no beard. “Look around you. You’re hopelessly outnumbered. Wherever we go, we find new comrades who are eager to assist us in our work.”

“We have comrades, too,” Violet said bravely. “As soon as we rescue Sunny, we’re going to meet up with the other volunteers at the last safe place, and tell them about your terrible scheme!”

“It’s too late for that, volunteers,” said Count Olaf in triumph. “Here come my new recruits!”

With a horrible laugh, the villain pointed in the direction of the rocky path, and the elder Baudelaires could see, past the covered casserole dish still held by the white-faced women, the arrival of the uniformed Snow Scouts, walking in two neat lines, more like eggs in a carton than young people on a hike. Apparently, the scouts had realized that the snow gnats were absent from this part of the Mortmain Mountains and had removed their masks, so Violet and Klaus could instantly spot Carmelita Spats, standing at the front of one of the lines with a tiara on her head—“tiara” is a word which here means “small crown given to a nasty little girl for no good reason”—and a large smirk on her face. Beside her, at the head of the other line, stood Bruce, holding the Springpole in one hand and a big cigar in the other. There was something about his face that Violet and Klaus found familiar, but they were too concerned about the villainous recruitment plan to give it much thought.

“What are all you cakesniffers doing here?” demanded Carmelita, in an obnoxious voice the two siblings found equally familiar. “I’m the False Spring Queen, and I order you to go away!”

“Now, now, Carmelita,” Bruce said. “I’m sure these people are here to help celebrate your special day. Let’s try to be accommodating. In fact, we should try to be accommodating, basic, calm, darling—”

The scouts had begun to say the ridiculous pledge along with Bruce, but the two Baudelaires knew they could not wait for the entire alphabetical list to be recited. “Bruce,” Violet interrupted quickly, “these people are not here to help you celebrate False Spring. They’re here to kidnap all of the Snow Scouts.”

“What?” Bruce asked with a smile, as if the eldest Baudelaire might have been joking.

“It’s a trap,” Klaus said. “Please, turn around and lead the scouts away from here.”

“Pay no attention to these three masked idiots,” Count Olaf said quickly. “The mountain air has gone to their heads. Just take a few steps closer and we’ll all join in a special celebration.”

“We’re happy to accommodate,” Bruce said. “After all, we’re accommodating, basic—”

“No!” Violet cried. “Don’t you see the net on the ground? Don’t you see the eagles in the sky?”

“The net is decoration,” Esmé said, with a smile as false as the Spring, “and the eagles are wildlife.”

“Please listen to us!” Klaus said. “You’re in terrible danger!”

Carmelita glared at the two Baudelaires, and adjusted her tiara. “Why should I listen to cakesniffing strangers like you?” she asked. “You’re so stupid that you’ve still got your masks on, even though there aren’t any snow gnats around here.”

Violet and Klaus looked at one another through their masks. Carmelita’s response had been quite rude, but the two siblings had to admit she had a point. The Baudelaires were unlikely to convince anyone that they were telling the truth while their faces were unnecessarily covered. They did not want to sacrifice their disguises and reveal their true identities to Count Olaf and his troupe, but they couldn’t risk the kidnapping of all the Snow Scouts, even to save their sister. The two Baudelaires nodded at one another, and then turned to see that Quigley was nodding, too, and the three children reached up and took off their masks for the greater good.

Count Olaf’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “You’re dead!” he said to the eldest Baudelaire, saying something that he knew full well was ridiculous. “You perished in the caravan, along with Klaus!”

Esmé stared at Klaus, looking just as astonished as her boyfriend. “You’re dead, too!” she cried. “You fell off a mountain!”

“And you’re one of those twins!” Olaf said to Quigley. “You died a long time ago!”

“I’m not a twin,” Quigley said, “and I’m not dead.”

“And,” Count Olaf said with a sneer, “you’re not a volunteer. None of you are members of V.F.D. You’re just a bunch of orphan brats.”

“In that case,” said the woman with hair but no beard, in her deep, deep voice, “there’s no reason to worry about that stupid baby any longer.”

“That’s true,” Olaf said, and turned to the white-faced women. “Throw the baby off the mountain!” he ordered.

Violet and Klaus cried out in horror, but the two white-faced women merely looked at the covered casserole dish they were holding, and then at one another. Then, slowly, they looked at Count Olaf, but neither of them moved an inch.

“Didn’t you hear me?” Olaf asked. “Throw that baby off this mountain!”

“No,” said one of the white-faced women, and the two Baudelaires turned to them in relief.

“No?” asked Esmé Squalor in an astonished voice. “What do you mean, no?”

“We mean no,” said the white-faced woman, and her companion nodded. Together they put the covered casserole dish down on the ground in front of them. Violet and Klaus were surprised to see that the dish did not move, and assumed that their sister must have been too scared to come out.

“We don’t want to participate in your schemes anymore,” said the other white-faced woman, and sighed. “For a while, it was fun to fight fire with fire, but we’ve seen enough flames and smoke to last our whole lives.”

“We don’t think that it was a coincidence that our home burned to the ground,” said the first woman. “We lost a sibling in that fire, Olaf.”

Count Olaf pointed at the two women with a long, bony finger. “Obey my orders this instant!” he screamed, but his two former accomplices merely shook their heads, turned away from the villain, and began to walk away. Everyone on the square peak watched in silence as the two white-faced women walked past Count Olaf, past Esmé Squalor, past the two sinister villains with eagles on their shoulders, past the two Baudelaires and Quigley Quagmire, past the hook-handed man and the former employees of the carnival, and finally past Bruce and Carmelita Spats and the rest of the Snow Scouts, until they reached the rocky path and began to walk away from Mount Fraught altogether.

Count Olaf opened his mouth and let out a terrible roar, and jumped up and down on the net. “You can’t walk away from me, you pasty-faced women!” he cried. “I’ll find you and destroy you myself! In fact, I can do anything myself! I’m an individual practitioner, and I don’t need anybody’s help to throw this baby off the mountain!” With a nasty chuckle, he picked up the covered casserole dish, staggering slightly, and walked to the edge of the half-frozen waterfall.

“No!” Violet cried.

“Sunny!” Klaus screamed.

“Say good-bye to your baby sister, Baudelaires!” Count Olaf said, with a triumphant smile that showed all of his filthy teeth.

“I’m not a baby!” cried a familiar voice from under the villain’s long, black automobile, and the two elder Baudelaires watched with pride and relief as Sunny emerged from behind the tire Violet had punctured, and ran to hug her siblings. Klaus had to take his glasses off to wipe the tears from his eyes as he was finally reunited with the young girl who was his sister. “I’m not a baby!” Sunny said again, turning to Olaf in triumph.

“How could this be?” Count Olaf said, but when he removed the cover from the casserole dish, he saw how this could be, because the object inside, which was about the same size and weight as the youngest Baudelaire, wasn’t a baby either.

“Babganoush!” Sunny cried, which meant something along the lines of, “I concocted an escape plan with the eggplant that turned out to be even handier than I thought,” but there was no need for anyone to translate, as the large vegetable slid out of the casserole dish and landed with a plop! at Olaf’s feet.

“Nothing is going right for me today!” cried the villain. “I’m beginning to think that washing my face was a complete waste of time!”

“Don’t upset yourself, boss,” said Colette, contorting herself in concern. “I’m sure that Sunny will cook us something delicious with the eggplant.”

“That’s true,” the hook-handed man said. “She’s becoming quite a cook. The False Spring Rolls were quite tasty, and the lox was delicious.”

“It could have used a little dill, in my opinion,” Hugo said, but the three reunited Baudelaires turned away from this ridiculous conversation to face the Snow Scouts.

“Now do you believe us?” Violet asked Bruce. “Can’t you see that this man is a terrible villain who is trying to do you harm?”

“Don’t you remember us?” Klaus asked Carmelita Spats. “Count Olaf had a terrible scheme at Prufrock Prep, and he has a terrible scheme now!”

“Of course I remember you,” Carmelita said. “You’re those cakesniffing orphans who caused Vice Principal Nero all that trouble. And now you’re trying to ruin my very special day! Give me that Springpole, Uncle Bruce!”

“Now, now, Carmelita,” Bruce said, but Carmelita had already grabbed the long pole from Bruce’s hands and was marching across the net toward the source of the Stricken Stream. The man with a beard but no hair and the woman with hair but no beard clasped their wicked whips and raised their shiny whistles to their sinister mouths, but the Baudelaires could see they were waiting to spring their trap until the rest of the scouts stepped forward, so they would be inside the net when the eagles lifted it from the ground.

“I crown myself False Spring Queen!” Carmelita announced, when she reached the very edge of Mount Fraught. With a nasty laugh of triumph, she elbowed the Baudelaires aside and drove the Springpole into the half-frozen top of the waterfall. There was a slow, loud shattering sound, and the Baudelaires looked down the slope and saw that an enormous crack was slowly making its way down the center of the waterfall, toward the pool and the two tributaries of the Stricken Stream. The Baudelaires gasped in horror. Although it was only the ice that was cracking, it looked as if the mountain were beginning to split in half, and that soon an enormous schism would divide the entire world.

“What are you looking at?” Carmelita asked scornfully. “Everybody’s supposed to be doing a dance in my honor.”

“That’s right,” Count Olaf said, “why doesn’t everybody step forward and do a dance in honor of this darling little girl?”

“Sounds good to me,” Kevin said, leading his fellow employees onto the net. “After all, I have two equally strong feet.”

“And we should try to be accommodating,” the hook-handed man said. “Isn’t that what you said, Uncle Bruce?”

“Absolutely,” Bruce agreed, with a puff on his cigar. He looked a bit relieved that all the arguing had ceased, and that the scouts finally had an opportunity to do the same thing they did every year. “Come on, Snow Scouts, let’s recite the Snow Scout Alphabet Pledge as we dance around the Springpole.”

The scouts cheered and followed Bruce onto the net. “Snow Scouts,” the Snow Scouts said, “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!”

There is nothing wrong, of course, with having a pledge, and putting into words what you might feel is important in your life as a reminder to yourself as you make your way in the world. If you feel, for instance, that well-read people are less likely to be evil, and a world full of people sitting quietly with good books in their hands is preferable to a world filled with schisms and sirens and other noisy and troublesome things, then every time you enter a library you might say to yourself, “The world is quiet here,” as a sort of pledge proclaiming reading to be the greater good. If you feel that well-read people ought to be lit on fire and their fortunes stolen, you might adopt the saying “Fight fire with fire!” as your pledge, whenever you ordered one of your comrades around. But whatever words you might choose to describe your own life, there are two basic guidelines for composing a good pledge. One guideline is that the pledge make good sense, so that if your pledge contains the word “xylophone,” for example, you mean that a percussion instrument played with mallets is very important to you, and not that you simply couldn’t think of a good word that begins with the letter X. The other guideline is that the pledge be relatively short, so if a group of villains is luring you into a trap with a net and a group of exhausted trained eagles, you’ll have more time to escape.

The Snow Scout Alphabet Pledge, sadly, did not follow either of these guidelines. As the Snow Scouts promised to be “xylophone,” the man with a beard but no hair cracked his whip in the air, and the eagles sitting on both villains’ shoulders began to flap their wings and, digging their claws into the thick pads, lifted the two sinister people high in the air, and when the pledge neared its end, and the Snow Scouts were all taking a big breath to make the snowy sound, the woman with hair but no beard blew her whistle, making a loud shriek the Baudelaires remembered from running laps as part of Olaf’s scheme at Prufrock Prep. The three siblings stood with Quigley and watched as the rest of the eagles quickly dove to the ground, picked up the net, and, their wings trembling with the effort, lifted everyone who was standing on it into the air, the way you might remove all the dinner dishes from the table by lifting all the corners of the tablecloth. If you were to try such an unusual method of clearing the table, you would likely be sent to your room or chased out of the restaurant, and the results on Mount Fraught were equally disastrous. In moments, all of the Snow Scouts and Olaf’s henchfolk were in an aerial heap, struggling together inside the net that the eagles were holding. The only person who escaped recruitment—besides the Baudelaires and Quigley Quagmire, of course—was Carmelita Spats, standing next to Count Olaf and his girlfriend.

“What’s going on?” Bruce asked Count Olaf from inside the net. “What have you done?”

“I’ve triumphed,” Count Olaf said, “again. A long time ago, I tricked you out of a reptile collection that I needed for my own use.” The Baudelaires looked at one another in astonishment, suddenly realizing when they had met Bruce before. “And now, I’ve tricked you out of a collection of children!”

“What’s going to happen to us?” asked one of the Snow Scouts fearfully.

“I don’t care,” said another Snow Scout, who seemed to be afflicted with Stockholm Syndrome already. “Every year we hike up to Mount Fraught and do the same thing. At least this year is a little different!”

“Why are you recruiting me, too?” asked the hook-handed man, and the Baudelaires could see one of his hooks frantically sticking out of the net. “I already work for you.”

“Don’t worry, hooky,” Esmé replied mockingly. “It’s all for the greater good!”

“Mush!” cried the man with a beard but no hair, cracking his whip in the air. Squawking in fear, the eagles began to drag the net across the sky, away from Mount Fraught.

“You get the sugar bowl from those bratty orphans, Olaf,” ordered the woman with hair but no beard, “and we’ll all meet up at the last safe place!”

“With these eagles at our disposal,” the sinister man said in his hoarse voice, “we can finally catch up to that self-sustaining hot air mobile home and destroy those volunteers!”

The Baudelaires gasped, and shared an astonished look with Quigley. The villain was surely talking about the device that Hector had built at the Village of Fowl Devotees, in which Duncan and Isadora had escaped.

“We’ll fight fire with fire!” the woman with hair but no beard cried in triumph, and the eagles carried her away. Count Olaf muttered something to himself and then turned and began creeping toward the Baudelaires. “I only need one of you to learn where the sugar bowl is,” he said, his eyes shining brightly, “and to get my hands on the fortune. But which one should it be?”

“That’s a difficult decision,” Esmé said. “On one hand, it’s been enjoyable having an infant servant. But it would be a lot of fun to smash Klaus’s glasses and watch him bump into things.”

“But Violet has the longest hair,” Carmelita volunteered, as the Baudelaires backed toward the cracked waterfall with Quigley right behind them. “You could yank on it all the time, and tie it to things when you were bored.”

“Those are both excellent ideas,” Count Olaf said. “I’d forgotten what an adorable little girl you are. Why don’t you join us?”

“Join you?” Carmelita asked.

“Look at my stylish dress,” Esmé said to Carmelita. “If you joined us, I’d buy you all sorts of in outfits.”

Carmelita looked thoughtful, gazing first at the children, and then at the two villains standing next to her and smiling. The three Baudelaires shared a look of horrified disappointment with Quigley. The siblings remembered how monstrous Carmelita had been at school, but it had never occurred to them that she would be interested in joining up with even more monstrous people.

“Don’t believe them, Carmelita,” Quigley said, and took his purple notebook out of his pocket. “They’ll burn your parents’ house down. I have the evidence right here, in my commonplace book.”

“What are you going to believe, Carmelita?” Count Olaf asked. “A silly book, or something an adult tells you?”

“Look at us, you adorable little girl,” Esmé said, her yellow, orange, and red dress crackling on the ground. “Do we look like the sort of people who like to burn down houses?”

“Carmelita!” Violet cried. “Don’t listen to them!”

“Carmelita!” Klaus cried. “Don’t join them!”

“Carmelita!” Sunny cried, which meant something like, “You’re making a monstrous decision!”

“Carmelita,” Count Olaf said, in a sickeningly sweet voice. “Why don’t you choose one orphan to live, and push the others off the cliff, and then we’ll all go to a nice hotel together.”

“You’ll be like the daughter we never had,” Esmé said, stroking her tiara.

“Or something,” added Olaf, who looked like he would prefer having another employee rather than a daughter.

Carmelita glanced once more at the Baudelaires, and then smiled up at the two villains. “Do you really think I’m adorable?” she asked.

“I think you’re adorable, beautiful, cute, dainty, eye-pleasing, flawless, gorgeous, harmonious, impeccable, jaw-droppingly adorable, keen, luscious, magnificent, nifty, obviously adorable, photogenic, quite adorable, ravishing, splendid, thin, undeformed, very adorable, well-proportioned, xylophone, yummy, and zestfully adorable,” Esmé pledged, “every morning, every afternoon, every night, and all day long!”

“Don’t listen to her!” Quigley pleaded. “A person can’t be ‘xylophone’!”

“I don’t care!” Carmelita said. “I’m going to push these cakesniffers off the mountain, and start an exciting and fashionable new life!”

The Baudelaires took another step back, and Quigley followed, giving the children a panicked look. Above them they could hear the squawking of the eagles as they took the villains’ new recruits farther and farther away. Behind them they could feel the four drafts of the valley below, where the headquarters had been destroyed by people the children’s parents had devoted their lives to stopping. Violet reached in her pocket for her ribbon, trying to imagine what she could invent that could get them away from such villainous people, and journeying toward their fellow volunteers at the last safe place. Her fingers brushed against the bread knife, and she wondered if she should remove the weapon from her pocket and use it to threaten the villains with violence, or whether this, too, would make her as villainous as the man who was staring at her now.

“Poor Baudelaires,” Count Olaf said mockingly. “You might as well give up. You’re hopelessly outnumbered.”

“We’re not outnumbered at all,” Klaus said. “There are four of us, and only three of you.”

“I count triple because I’m the False Spring Queen,” Carmelita said, “so you are outnumbered, cakesniffers.”

This, of course, was more utter nonsense from the mouth of this cruel girl, but even if it weren’t nonsense, it does not always matter if one is outnumbered or not. When Violet and Klaus were hiking toward the Valley of Four Drafts, for instance, they were outnumbered by the swarm of snow gnats, but they managed to find Quigley Quagmire, climb up the Vertical Flame Diversion to the headquarters, and find the message hidden in the refrigerator. Sunny had been outnumbered by all of the villains on top of Mount Fraught, and had still managed to survive the experience, discover the location of the last safe place, and concoct a few recipes that were as easy as they were delicious. And the members of V.F.D. have always been outnumbered, because the number of greedy and wicked people always seems to be increasing, while more and more libraries go up in smoke, but the volunteers have managed to endure, a word which here means “meet in secret, communicate in code, and gather crucial evidence to foil the schemes of their enemies.” It does not always matter whether there are more people on your side of the schism than there are on the opposite side, and as the Baudelaires stood with Quigley and took one more step back, they knew what was more important.

“Rosebud!” Sunny cried, which meant “In some situations, the location of a certain object can be much more important than being outnumbered,” and it was true. As the villains gasped in astonishment, Violet sat down in the toboggan, grabbing the leather straps. Quigley sat down behind her and put his arms around her waist, and Klaus sat down next, and put his arms around Quigley’s, and there was just enough room in back for a young girl, so Sunny sat behind her brother and hung on tight as Violet pushed off from the peak of Mount Fraught and sent the four children hurtling down the slope. It did not matter that they were outnumbered. It only mattered that they could escape from a monstrous end by racing down the last of the slippery slope, just as it only matters for you to escape from a monstrous end by putting down the last of The Slippery Slope, and reading a book in which villains do not roar at children who are trying to escape.

“We’ll be right behind you, Baudelaires!” Count Olaf roared, as the toboggan raced toward the Valley of Four Drafts, bumping and splashing against the cracked and melting ice.

“He won’t be right behind us,” Violet said. “My shoes punctured his tire, remember?”

Quigley nodded. “And he’ll have to take that path,” he said. “A car can’t go down a waterfall.”

“We’ll have a head start,” Violet said. “Maybe we can reach the last safe place before he does.”

“Overhear!” Sunny cried. “Hotel Denouement!”

“Good work, Sunny!” Violet said proudly, pulling on the leather straps to steer the toboggan away from the large crack. “I knew you’d be a good spy.”

“Hotel Denouement,” Quigley said. “I think I have that in one of my maps. I’ll check my commonplace book when we get to the bottom.”

“Bruce!” Sunny cried.

“That’s another thing to write down in our commonplace books,” Klaus agreed. “That man Bruce was at Dr. Montgomery’s house at the end of our stay. He said he was packing up Monty’s reptile collection for the herpetological society.”

“Do you think he’s really a member of V.F.D.?” Violet asked.

“We can’t be sure,” Quigley said. “We’ve managed to investigate so many mysteries, and yet there’s still so much we don’t know.” He sighed thoughtfully, and gazed down at the ruins of headquarters rushing toward them. “My siblings—”

But the Baudelaires never got to hear any more about Quigley’s siblings, because at that moment the toboggan, despite Violet’s efforts with the leather straps, slipped against a melted section of the waterfall, and the large sled began to spin. The children screamed, and Violet grabbed the straps as hard as she could, only to have them break in her hands. “The steering mechanism is broken!” she yelled. “Dragging Esmé Squalor up the slope must have weakened the straps!”

“Uh-oh!” Sunny cried, which meant something along the lines of, “That doesn’t sound like good news.”

“At this velocity,” Violet said, using a scientific word for speed, “the toboggan won’t stop when we reach the frozen pool. If we don’t slow down, we’ll fall right into the pit we dug.”

Klaus was getting dizzy from all the spinning, and closed his eyes behind his glasses. “What can we do?” he asked.

“Drag your shoes against the ice!” Violet cried. “The forks should slow us down!”

Quickly, the two elder Baudelaires stretched out their legs and dragged the forks of their shoes against the last of the ice on the slope. Quigley followed suit, but Sunny, who of course was not wearing fork-assisted climbing shoes, could do nothing but listen to the scraping and splashing of the forks against the thawing ice of the stream as the toboggan slowed ever so slightly.

“It’s not enough!” Klaus cried. As the toboggan continued to spin, he caught brief glimpses of the pit they had dug, covered with a thin layer of weakened wood, getting closer and closer as the four children hurtled toward the bottom of the waterfall.

“Bicuspid?” Sunny asked, which meant something like “Should I drag my teeth against the ice, too?”

“It’s worth a try,” Klaus said, but as soon as the youngest Baudelaire leaned down and dragged her teeth along the thawing waterfall, the Baudelaires could see at once that it was not really worth a try at all, as the toboggan kept spinning and racing toward the bottom.

“That’s not enough, either,” Violet said, and focused her inventing mind as hard as she could, remembering how she had stopped the caravan, when she and her brother were hurtling away from Count Olaf’s automobile. There was nothing large enough to use as a drag chute, and the eldest Baudelaire found herself wishing that Esmé Squalor were on board with them, so she could stop the toboggan with her enormous, flame-imitating dress. She knew there was no blackstrap molasses, wild clover honey, corn syrup, aged balsamic vinegar, apple butter, strawberry jam, caramel sauce, maple syrup, butterscotch topping, maraschino liqueur, virgin and extra-virgin olive oil, lemon curd, dried apricots, mango chutney, crema di noci, tamarind paste, hot mustard, marshmallows, creamed corn, peanut butter, grape preserves, salt water taffy, condensed milk, pumpkin pie filling, or glue on board, or any other sticky substance, for that matter. But then she remembered the small table she had used to drag on the ground, behind the caravan, and she reached into her pocket and knew what she could do.

“Hang on!” Violet cried, but she did not hang on herself. Dropping the broken straps of the toboggan, she grabbed the long bread knife and took it out of her pocket at last. It had only been several days, but it felt like a very long time since she had taken the knife from the caravan, and it seemed that every few minutes she had felt its jagged blade in her pocket as she tried to defeat the villains high above her, without becoming a villain herself. But now, at last, there was something she could do with the knife that might save them all, without hurting anyone. Gritting her teeth, Violet leaned out of the spinning toboggan and thrust the knife as hard as she could into the ice of the slippery slope.

The tip of the blade hit the crack caused by Carmelita’s Springpole, and then the entire knife sank into the slope just as the toboggan reached the bottom. There was a sound the likes of which the Baudelaires had never heard, like a combination of an enormous window shattering and the deep, booming sound of someone firing a cannon. The knife had widened the crack, and in one tremendous crash, the last of the ice fell to pieces and all of the forks, sunlight, teeth, and tobogganing finally took their toll on the waterfall. In one enormous whoosh!, the waters of the Stricken Stream came rushing down the slope, and in a moment the Baudelaires were no longer on a frozen pool at the bottom of a strange curve of ice, but simply at the bottom of a rushing waterfall, with gallons and gallons of water pouring down on them. The orphans had just enough time to take a deep breath before the toboggan was forced underwater. The three siblings hung on tight, but the eldest Baudelaire felt a pair of hands slip from her waist, and when the wooden toboggan bobbed to the surface again, she called out the name of her lost friend.

“Quigley!” she screamed.

“Violet!” The Baudelaires heard the triplet’s voice as the toboggan began to float down one of the tributaries. Klaus pointed, and through the rush of the waterfall the children could see a glimpse of their friend. He had managed to grab onto a piece of wood from the ruins of headquarters, something that looked a bit like a banister, such as one might need to walk up a narrow staircase leading to an astronomical observatory. The rush of the water was dragging the wood, and Quigley, down the opposite tributary of the Stricken Stream.

“Quigley!” Violet screamed again.

“Violet!” Quigley shouted, over the roar of the water. The siblings could see he had removed his commonplace book from his pocket and was desperately waving it at them. “Wait for me! Wait for me at—”

But the Baudelaires heard no more. The Stricken Stream, in its sudden thaw from the arrival of False Spring, whisked the banister and the toboggan away from one another, down the two separate tributaries. The siblings had one last glimpse of the notebook’s dark purple cover before Quigley rushed around one twist in the stream, and the Baudelaires rushed around another, and the triplet was gone from their sight.

“Quigley!” Violet called, one more time, and tears sprung in her eyes.

“He’s alive,” Klaus said, and held Violet’s shoulder to help her balance on the bobbing toboggan. She could not tell if the middle Baudelaire was crying, too, or if his face was just wet from the waterfall. “He’s alive, and that’s the important thing.”

“Intrepid,” Sunny said, which meant something like, “Quigley Quagmire was brave and resourceful enough to survive the fire that destroyed his home, and I’m sure he’ll survive this, too.”

Violet could not bear that her friend was rushing away from her, so soon after first making his acquaintance. “But we’re supposed to wait for him,” she said, “and we don’t know where.”

“Maybe he’s going to try to reach his siblings before the eagles do,” Klaus said, “but we don’t know where they are.”

“Hotel Denouement?” Sunny guessed. “V.F.D.?”

“Klaus,” Violet said, “you saw some of Quigley’s research. Do you know if these two tributaries ever meet up again?”

Klaus shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “Quigley’s the cartographer.”

“Godot,” Sunny said, which meant “We don’t know where to go, and we don’t know how to get there.”

“We know some things,” Klaus said. “We know that someone sent a message to J.S.”

“Jacques,” Sunny said.

Klaus nodded. “And we know that the message said to meet on Thursday at the last safe place.”

“Matahari,” Sunny said, and Klaus smiled, and pulled Sunny toward him so she wouldn’t fall off the floating toboggan. She was no longer a baby, but the youngest Baudelaire was still young enough to sit on her brother’s lap.

“Yes,” Klaus agreed. “Thanks to you, we know that the last safe place is the Hotel Denouement.”

“But we don’t know where that is,” Violet said. “We don’t know where to find these volunteers, or if indeed there are any more surviving members of V.F.D. We can’t even be certain what V.F.D. stands for, or if our parents are truly dead. Quigley was right. We’ve managed to investigate so many mysteries, and yet there’s still so much we don’t know.”

Her siblings nodded sadly, and if I had been there at that moment, instead of arriving far too late to see the Baudelaires, I would have nodded, too. Even for an author like myself, who has dedicated his entire life to investigating the mysteries that surround the Baudelaire case, there is still much I have been unable to discover. I do not know, for instance, what happened to the two white-faced women who decided to quit Olaf’s troupe and walk away, all by themselves, down the Mortmain Mountains. There are some who say that they still paint their faces white, and can be seen singing sad songs in some of the gloomiest music halls in the city. There are some who say that they live together in the hinterlands, attempting to grow rhubarb in the dry and barren ground. And there are those who say that they did not survive the trip down from Mount Fraught, and that their bones can be found in one of the many caves in the odd, square peaks. But although I have sat through song after dreary song, and tasted some of the worst rhubarb in my life, and brought bone after bone to a skeleton expert until she told me that I was making her so miserable that I should never return, I have not been able to discover what truly happened to the two women. I do not know where the remains of the caravan are, as I have told you, and as I reach the end of the rhyming dictionary, and read the short list of words that rhyhme with “zucchini,” I am beginning to think I should stop my search for the destroyed vehicle and give up that particular part of my research. And I have not tracked down the refrigerator in which the Baudelaires found the Verbal Fridge Dialogue, despite stories that it is also in one of the Mortmain Mountain caves, or performing in some of the gloomiest music halls in the city.

But even though there is much I do not know, there are a few mysteries that I have solved for certain, and one thing I am sure about is where the Baudelaire orphans went next, as the ashen waters of the Stricken Stream hurried their toboggan out of the Mortmain Mountains, just as the sugar bowl was hurried along, after the volunteer tossed it into the stream to save it from the fire. But although I know exactly where the Baudelaires went, and can even trace their path on a map drawn by one of the most promising young cartographers of our time, I am not the writer who can describe it best. The writer who can most accurately and elegantly describe the path of the three orphans was an associate of mine who, like the man who wrote “The Road Less Traveled,” is now dead. Before he died, however, he was widely regarded as a very good poet, although some people think his writings about religion were a little too mean-spirited. His name was Algernon Charles Swinburne, and the last quatrain of the eleventh stanza of his poem “The Garden of Proserpine” perfectly describes what the children found as this chapter in their story drew to an end, and the next one began. The first half of the quatrain reads,

That no life lives forever;

That dead men rise up never;

and indeed, the grown men in the Baudelaires’ lives who were dead, such as Jacques Snicket, or the children’s father, were never going to rise up. And the second half of the quatrain reads,

That even the weariest river

Winds somewhere safe to sea.

This part is a bit trickier, because some poems are a bit like secret codes, in that you must study them carefully in order to discover their meaning. A poet such as Quigley Quagmire’s sister, Isadora, of course, would know at once what those two lines mean, but it took me quite some time before I decoded them. Eventually, however, it became clear that “the weariest river” refers to the Stricken Stream, which indeed seemed weary from carrying away all of the ashes from the destruction of V.F.D. headquarters, and that “winds somewhere safe to sea” refers to the last safe place where all the volunteers, including Quigley Quagmire, could gather. As Sunny said, she and her siblings did not know where to go, and they didn’t know how to get there, but the Baudelaire orphans were winding there anyway, and that is one thing I know for certain.

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