بخش 03

مجموعه: مجموعه بدبیاری ها / کتاب: دهکده شوم / فصل 3

بخش 03

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The next morning began with a colorful and lengthy sunrise, which Sunny saw from her hiding place at the bottom of Nevermore Tree. It continued with the sounds of awakening crows, which Klaus heard from the library in the barn, and followed with the sight of the birds making their familiar circle in the sky, which Violet saw just as she was leaving the inventing studio. By the time Klaus joined his sister outside the barn, and Sunny crawled across the flat landscape to reach them, the birds had stopped circling and were flying together uptown, and the morning was so pretty and peaceful that as I describe it I can almost forget that it was a very, very sad morning for me, a morning that I wish I could strike forever from the Snicket calendar. But I can’t erase this day, any more than I can write a happy ending to this book, for the simple reason that the story does not go that way. No matter how lovely the morning was, or how confident the Baudelaires felt about what they had discovered over the course of the night, there isn’t a happy ending on the horizon of this story, any more than there was an elephant on the horizon of V.F.D.

“Good morning,” Violet said to Klaus, and yawned.

“Good morning,” Klaus replied. He was holding two books in his arms, but nevertheless he managed to wave at Sunny, who was still crawling toward them. “How did everything go with Hector in the inventing studio?”

“Well, Hector fell asleep a few hours ago,” Violet said, “but I discovered a few small flaws in the self-sustaining hot air mobile home. The engine conductivity was low, due to some problems with the electromagnetic generator Hector built. This meant that the inflation rate of the balloons was often uneven, so I reconfigured some key conduits. Also, the water circulation system was run on ill-fitting pipes, which meant that the self-sustaining aspect of the food center probably wouldn’t last as long as it should, so I rerouted some of the aquacycling.”

“Ning!” Sunny called, as she reached her siblings.

“Good morning, Sunny,” Klaus said. “Violet was just telling me that she noticed a few things wrong with Hector’s invention, but she thinks she fixed them.”

“Well, I’d like to test the whole device out before we go up in it, if there’s time,” Violet said, picking up Sunny and holding her, “but I think everything should work pretty well. It’s a fantastic invention. A small group of people could really spend the rest of their lives safely in the air. Did you discover anything in the library?”

“Well, first I discovered that books about V.F.D. rules are actually quite fascinating,” Klaus said. “Rule #19, for instance, clearly states that the only pens that are acceptable within the city limits are ones made from the feathers of crows. And yet Rule #39 clearly states that it is illegal to make anything out of crow feathers. How can the townspeople obey both rules at once?”

“Maybe they don’t have any pens at all,” Violet said, “but that’s not important. Did you discover anything helpful in the rule books?”

“Yes,” Klaus said, and opened one of the books he was carrying. “Listen to this: Rule #2,493 clearly states that any person who is going to be burned at the stake has the opportunity to make a speech right before the fire is lit. We can go to the uptown jail this morning and make sure Jacques gets that opportunity. In his speech, he can tell people who he really is, and why he has that tattoo.”

“But he tried to do that yesterday at the meeting,” Violet said. “Nobody believed him. Nobody even listened to him.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Klaus said, opening the second book, “until I read this.”

“Towhee?” Sunny asked, which meant something like “Is there a rule that clearly states that people must listen to speeches?”

“No,” Klaus replied. “This isn’t a rule book. This is a book about psychology, the study of the mind. It was removed from the library because there’s a chapter about the Cherokee tribe of North America. They make all sorts of things out of feathers, which breaks Rule #39.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Violet said.

“I agree,” Klaus said, “but I’m glad this book was here, instead of in town, because it gave me an idea. There’s a chapter here about mob psychology.”

“Wazay?” Sunny asked.

“A mob is a crowd of people,” Klaus explained, “usually an angry one.”

“Like the townspeople and the Council of Elders yesterday,” Violet said, “in Town Hall. They were incredibly angry.”

“Exactly,” Klaus said. “Now listen to this.” The middle Baudelaire opened the second book and began to read out loud. “‘The subliminal emotional tenor of a mob’s unruliness lies in solitary opinions, expressed emphatically at various points in the stereo field.’”

“Tenor? Stereo?” Violet asked. “It sounds like you’re talking about opera.”

“The book uses a lot of complicated words,” Klaus said, “but luckily there was a dictionary in Hector’s library. It had been removed from V.F.D. because it defined the phrase ‘mechanical device.’ All that sentence means is that if a few people, scattered throughout the crowd, begin to shout their opinions, soon the whole mob will agree with them. It happened in the council meeting yesterday—a few people said angry things, and soon the whole room was angry.”

“Vue,” Sunny said, which meant “Yes, I remember.”

“When we get to the jail,” Klaus said, “we’ll make sure that Jacques is allowed to give his speech. Then, as he explains himself, we’ll scatter ourselves throughout the crowd and shout things like, ‘I believe him!’ and ‘Hear, hear!’ Mob psychology should make everyone demand Jacques’s freedom.”

“Do you really think that will work?” Violet asked.

“Well, I’d prefer to test it first,” Klaus said, “just like you’d prefer to test the self-sustaining hot air mobile home. But we don’t have time. Now, Sunny, what did you discover from spending the night under a tree?”

Sunny held up one of her small hands to show them another scrap of paper. “Couplet!” she cried out triumphantly, and her siblings gathered around to read it.

The first thing you read contains the clue: An initial way to speak to you.

“Good work, Sunny,” Violet said. “This is definitely another poem by Isadora Quagmire.”

“And it seems to lead us back to the first poem,” Klaus said. “It says ‘The first thing you read contains the clue.’”

“But what does ‘An initial way to speak to you’ mean?” Violet asked. “Initials, like V.F.D.?”

“Maybe,” Klaus replied, “but the word ‘initial’ can also mean ‘first.’ I think Isadora means that this is the first way she can speak to us—through these poems.”

“But we already know that,” Violet said. “The Quagmires wouldn’t have to tell us. Let’s look at all the poems together. Maybe it will give us a complete picture.”

Violet took the other two poems out of her pocket, and the three children looked at them together.

For sapphires we are held in here. Only you can end our fear.

Until dawn comes we cannot speak. No words can come from this sad beak.

The first thing you read contains the clue: An initial way to speak to you.

“The part about the beak is still the most confusing,” Klaus said.

“Leucophrys!” Sunny said, which meant “I think I can explain that—the crows are delivering the couplets.”

“How can that be possible?” Violet asked.

“Loidya!” Sunny answered. She meant something like “I’m absolutely sure that nobody approached the tree all night, and at dawn the note dropped down from the branches of the tree.”

“I’ve heard of carrier pigeons,” Klaus said. “Those are birds that carry messages for a living. But I’ve never heard of carrier crows.”

“Maybe they don’t know that they’re carrier crows,” Violet said. “The Quagmires could be attaching the scraps of paper to the crows in some way—putting them in their beaks, or in their feathers—and then the poems come loose when they sleep in Nevermore Tree. The triplets must be somewhere in town. But where?”

“Ko!” Sunny cried, pointing to the poems.

“Sunny’s right,” Klaus said excitedly. “It says ‘Until dawn comes we cannot speak.’ That means they’re attaching the poems in the morning, when the crows roost uptown.”

“Well, that’s one more reason to get uptown,” Violet replied. “We can save Jacques before he’s burned at the stake, and search for the Quagmires. Without you, Sunny, we wouldn’t know where to look for the Quagmires.”

“Hasserin,” Sunny said, which meant “And without you, Klaus, we wouldn’t know how to save Jacques.”

“And without you, Violet,” Klaus said, “we’d have no chance of escaping from this town.”

“And if we keep standing here,” Violet said, “we won’t save anybody. Let’s go wake up Hector, and get moving. The Council of Elders said they’d burn Jacques at the stake right after breakfast.”

“Yikes!” Sunny said, which meant “That doesn’t give us much time,” so the Baudelaires didn’t take much time walking into the barn and through Hector’s library, which was so massive that the two Baudelaire sisters could not believe Klaus had managed to find helpful information among the shelves and shelves of books. There were bookshelves so tall you had to stand on a ladder to reach their highest shelves, and ones so short that you had to crawl on the floor to read their titles. There were books that looked too heavy to move, and books that looked too light to stay in one place, and there were books that looked so dull that the sisters could not imagine anyone reading them—but these were the books that were still stacked in huge heaps, spread out on the tables after Klaus’s all-night reading session. Violet and Sunny wanted to pause for a moment and take it all in, but they knew that they didn’t have much time.

Behind the last bookshelf of the library was Hector’s inventing studio, where Klaus and Sunny got their first glimpse of the self-sustaining hot air mobile home, which was a marvelous contraption. Twelve enormous baskets, each about the size of a small room, were stacked up in the corner, connected by all sorts of different tubes, pipes, and wires, and circled around the baskets were a series of large metal tanks, wooden grates, glass jugs, paper bags, plastic containers, and rolls of twine, along with a number of large mechanical devices with buttons, switches, and gears, and a big pile of deflated balloons. The self-sustaining hot air mobile home was so immense and complicated that it reminded the two younger Baudelaires of what they thought of when they pictured Violet’s inventive brain, and every piece of it looked so interesting that Klaus and Sunny could scarcely decide what to look at first. But the Baudelaires knew that they didn’t have much time, so rather than explain the invention to her siblings, Violet walked quickly over to one of the baskets, which Klaus and Sunny were surprised to see contained a bed, which in turn contained a sleeping Hector.

“Good morning,” the handyman said, when Violet gently shook him awake.

“It is a good morning,” she replied. “We’ve discovered some marvelous things. We’ll explain everything on our way uptown.”

“Uptown?” Hector said, stepping out of the basket. “But the crows are roosting uptown. We do the downtown chores in the morning, remember?”

“We’re not doing any chores this morning,” Klaus said firmly. “That’s one of the things we need to explain.”

Hector yawned, stretched and rubbed his eyes, and then smiled at the three children. “Well, fire away,” he said, using a phrase which here means “begin telling me about your plans.”

The siblings led Hector back through his inventing studio and secret library and waited while he locked up the barn. Then, as they took their first few steps across the flat landscape toward the uptown district, the Baudelaire orphans fired away. Violet told Hector about the improvements she had made on his invention, and Klaus told him about what he had learned in Hector’s library, and Sunny told him—with some translation help from her siblings—about her discovery of how Isadora’s poems were being delivered. By the time the Baudelaires were unrolling the last scrap of paper and showing Hector the third couplet, they had already reached the crow-covered outskirts of V.F.D.’s uptown district.

“So the Quagmires are somewhere in the uptown district,” Hector said. “But where?”

“I don’t know,” Violet admitted, “but we’d better try to save Jacques first. Which way is the uptown jail?” Violet asked Hector.

“It’s across from Fowl Fountain,” the handyman replied, “but it looks like we won’t need directions. Look what’s ahead of us.”

The children looked, and could see some of the townspeople holding flaming torches and walking about a block ahead of them. “It must be after breakfast,” Klaus said. “Let’s hurry.”

The Baudelaires walked as quickly as they could between the muttering crows roosting on the ground, with Hector trailing skittishly behind them, and soon they rounded a corner and reached Fowl Fountain—or at least what they could see of it. The fountain was swarming with crows who were fluttering their wings in the water in order to give themselves a morning bath, and the Baudelaires could scarcely see one metal feather of the hideous landmark. Across the courtyard was a building with bars on the windows and crows on the bars, and the torch-carrying citizens were standing in a half circle around the door of the building. More of V.F.D.’s citizens were arriving from every direction, and the three children could see a few crow-hatted members of the Council of Elders, standing together and listening to something Mrs. Morrow was saying.

“It seems we arrived in the nick of time,” Violet said. “We’d better scatter ourselves throughout the crowd. Sunny, you move to the far left. I’ll take the far right.”

“Roger!” Sunny said, and began crawling her way through the half circle of people.

“I think I’ll just stay here,” Hector said quietly, looking down at the ground, but the children had no time to argue with him. Klaus began to walk straight down the middle of the crowd.

“Wait!” Klaus called, moving with difficulty through the people. “Rule #2,493 clearly states that any person who is going to be burned at the stake has the opportunity to make a speech right before the fire is lit!”

“Yes!” Violet cried, from the right-hand side of the crowd. “Let Jacques be heard!”

Officer Luciana stepped right in front of Violet, who almost bumped her head on the Chief’s shiny helmet. Beneath the visor of the helmet Violet could see Luciana’s lipsticked mouth rise in a very small smile. “It’s too late for that,” she said, and a few townspeople around her murmured in agreement. With a clunk! of one boot, she stepped aside and let Violet see what had happened. From the left-hand side of the crowd, Sunny crawled over the shoes of the person standing closest to the jail, and Klaus peered over Mr. Lesko’s shoulder to get a good look at what everyone was staring at.

Jacques was lying on the ground with his eyes closed, and two members of the Council of Elders were pulling a white sheet over him, as if they were tucking him in for a nap. But as dearly as I wish I could write that it was so, he was not sleeping. The Baudelaires had reached the uptown jail before the citizens of V.F.D. could burn him at the stake, but they still had not arrived in the nick of time.


There are not very many people in the world who enjoy delivering bad news, but I’m sorry to say that Mrs. Morrow was one of them. When she caught sight of the Baudelaire orphans gathered around Jacques, she rushed across the courtyard to tell them the details.

“Wait until The Daily Punctilio hears about this!” she said enthusiastically, and pointed at Jacques with a sleeve of her pink robe. “Before he could be burned at the stake, Count Omar was murdered mysteriously in his jail cell.”

“Count Olaf,” corrected Violet automatically.

“So you’re finally admitting that you know who he is!” she cried triumphantly.

“We don’t know who he is!” Klaus insisted, picking up his baby sister, who was quietly beginning to cry. “We only know that he is an innocent man!”

Officer Luciana clunked forward, and the crowd of townspeople and Elders parted to let her walk right up to the children. “I don’t think this is a matter for children to discuss,” she said, and raised her white-gloved hands in the air to get the crowd’s attention.

“Citizens of V.F.D.,” she said grandly, “I locked Count Olaf in the uptown jail last night, and when I arrived here in the morning he had been killed. I have the only key to the jail, so his death is quite a mystery.”

“A mystery!” Mrs. Morrow said excitedly, as the townspeople murmured behind her. “What a thrill, to be hearing about a mystery!”

“Shoart!” Sunny said tearfully. She meant something like “A dead man is not a thrill!” but only her siblings were listening to her.

“You will all be happy to know that the famous Detective Dupin has agreed to investigate this murder,” Officer Luciana continued. “He is inside the uptown jail right now, examining the scene of the crime.”

“The famous Detective Dupin!” Mr. Lesko said. “Just imagine!”

“I’ve never heard of him,” said a nearby Elder.

“Me neither,” Mr. Lesko admitted, “but I’m sure he’s very famous.”

“What happened?” Violet asked, trying not to look at the white sheet on the ground. “How was Jacques killed? Why wasn’t anybody guarding him? How could someone have gotten into his cell if you locked it?”

Luciana turned around and faced Violet, who could see her own astonished reflection in the policewoman’s shiny helmet. “As I said before,” Luciana said again, “I don’t think this is a matter for children to discuss. Perhaps that man in overalls should take you children to a playground instead of a murder scene.”

“Or downtown, to do the morning chores,” another Elder said, his crow hat nodding. “Hector, take the orphans away.”

“Not so fast,” called a voice from the doorway of the uptown jail. It was a voice, I’m sorry to say, that the Baudelaire orphans recognized in an instant. The voice was wheezy, and scratchy, and it had a sinister smile to it, as if the person talking were telling a joke. But it was not a voice that made the children want to laugh at a punch line. It was a voice the children recognized from all of the places they had traveled since their parents had died, and a voice the children knew from all their most displeasing nightmares. It was the voice of Count Olaf.

The children’s hearts sank, and they turned to see Olaf standing in the doorway of the jail, wearing another one of his absurd disguises. He was wearing a turquoise blazer that was so brightly colored that it made Baudelaires squint, and a pair of silver pants decorated with tiny mirrors that glinted in the morning sun. A pair of enormous sunglasses covered the entire upper half of his face, hiding his one eyebrow and his shiny, shiny eyes. On his feet were a pair of bright green plastic shoes with yellow plastic lightning bolts sticking out of them, covering his ankle and hiding his tattoo. But most unpleasant of all was the fact that Olaf was wearing no shirt, only a thick gold chain with a detective’s badge in the center of it. The Baudelaires could see his pale and hairy chest peeking out at them, and it added an extra layer of unpleasantness to their fear.

“It’s just not cool,” Count Olaf said, snapping his fingers to emphasize the word “cool,” “to dismiss suspects from the scene of the crime until Detective Dupin gives the O.K.”

“But surely the orphans aren’t suspects,” one of the Elders said. “They’re only children, after all.”

“It’s just not cool,” Count Olaf said, snapping his fingers again, “to disagree with Detective Dupin.”

“I agree,” Officer Luciana said, and gave Olaf a big lipstick smile as he stepped through the doorway. “Now let’s get down to business, Dupin. Do you have any important information?”

“We have some important information,” Klaus said boldly. “This man is not Detective Dupin.” There were a few gasps from the crowd. “He’s Count Olaf.”

“You mean Count Omar,” Mrs. Morrow said.

“We mean Olaf,” Violet said, and then turned so that she was looking Count Olaf right in the sunglasses. “Those sunglasses may be hiding your eyebrow, and those shoes may be hiding your tattoo, but you can’t hide your identity. You’re Count Olaf, and you’ve kidnapped the Quagmire triplets and murdered Jacques.”

“Who in the world is Jacques?” asked an Elder. “I’m confused.”

“It’s not cool,” Olaf said with a snap, “to be confused, so let me see if I can help you.” He pointed at himself with a flourish. “I am the famous Detective Dupin. I am wearing these plastic shoes and sunglasses because they’re cool. Count Olaf is the name of the man who was murdered last night, and these three children…”—here Olaf paused to make sure everyone was listening—“are responsible for the crime.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Olaf,” Klaus said disgustedly.

Olaf smiled nastily at all three Baudelaires. “You are making a mistake when you call me Count Olaf,” he said, “and if you continue to call me that, you will see exactly how big a mistake you are making.” Detective Dupin turned and looked up to address the crowd. “Of course, the biggest mistake these children have made is thinking they can get away with murder.”

There was a murmur of agreement from the crowd. “I never trusted those kids,” Mrs. Morrow said. “They didn’t do a very good job when they trimmed my hedges.”

“Show them the evidence,” Officer Luciana said, and Detective Dupin snapped his fingers.

“It’s not cool,” he said, “to accuse people of murder without any evidence, but luckily I found some.” He reached into the pocket of his blazer and brought out a long pink ribbon decorated with plastic daisies. “I found this right outside Count Olaf’s jail cell,” he said. “It’s a ribbon—the exact kind of ribbon that Violet Baudelaire uses to tie up her hair.”

The townspeople gasped, and Violet turned to see that the citizens of V.F.D. were looking at her with suspicion and fear, which are not pleasant ways to be looked at. “That’s not my ribbon!” Violet cried, taking her own hair ribbon out of her pocket. “My hair ribbon is right here!”

“How can we tell?” an Elder asked with a frown. “All hair ribbons look alike.”

“They don’t look alike!” Klaus said. “The one found at the murder scene is fancy and pink. My sister prefers plain ribbons, and she hates the color pink!”

“And inside the cell,” Detective Dupin continued, as if Klaus had not spoken, “I found this.” He held up a small circle made of glass. “This is one of the lenses in Klaus’s glasses.”

“But my glasses aren’t missing any lenses!” Klaus cried, as everyone turned to look at him in suspicion and fear. He took his glasses off and showed them to the crowd. “You can see for yourself.”

“Just because you have replaced your ribbon and your lenses,” Officer Luciana said, “doesn’t mean you’re not murderers.”

“Actually, they’re not murderers,” Detective Dupin said. “They’re accomplices.” He leaned forward so he was right in the Baudelaires’ faces, and the children could smell his sour breath as he continued talking. “You orphans are not smart enough to know what the word ‘accomplice’ means, but it means ‘helper of murderers.’”

“We know what the word ‘accomplice’ means,” Klaus said. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about the four toothmarks on Count Olaf’s body,” Detective Dupin said, with a snap of his fingers. “There’s only one person uncool enough to bite people to death, and that’s Sunny Baudelaire.”

“It’s true that her teeth are sharp,” another member of the Council said. “I noticed that when she served my hot fudge sundae.”

“Our sister didn’t bite anyone to death,” Violet said indignantly, a word which here means “in defense of an innocent baby.” “Detective Dupin is lying!”

“It’s not cool to accuse me of lying,” Dupin replied. “Instead of accusing other people of things, why don’t you three children tell us where you were last night?”

“We were at Hector’s house,” Klaus said. “He’ll tell you himself.” The middle Baudelaire stood up on tiptoe and called out over the crowd. “Hector! Tell everyone that we were with you!”

The citizens looked this way and that, the crow hats of the Elders bobbing as they listened for a word from Hector. But no word came. The three children waited for a moment in the tense silence, thinking that surely Hector would overcome his skittishness in order to save them. But the handyman was quiet. The only sounds the children could hear was the splashing of Fowl Fountain and the muttering of the roosting crows.

“Hector sometimes gets skittish in front of crowds,” Violet explained, “but it’s true. I spent the night working in his studio, and Klaus was reading in the secret library, and—”

“Enough nonsense!” Officer Luciana said. “Do you really expect us to believe that our fine handyman is building mechanical devices and has a secret library? Next I suppose you’ll say that he’s building things out of feathers!”

“It’s bad enough that you killed Count Olaf,” an Elder said, “but now you’re trying to frame Hector for other crimes! I say that V.F.D. no longer serve as guardian for such terrible orphans!”

“Hear, hear!” cried several voices scattered in the crowd, just as the children had planned to do themselves.

“I will send a message to Mr. Poe right away,” the Elder continued, “and the banker will come and remove them in a few days.”

“A few days is too long to wait!” Mrs. Morrow said, and several citizens cheered in agreement. “These children need to be taken care of as quickly as possible.”

“I say that we burn them at the stake!” cried Mr. Lesko, who stepped forward to wag his finger at the children. “Rule #201 clearly says no murdering!”

“But we didn’t murder anyone!” Violet cried. “A ribbon, a lens, and some bite marks aren’t enough evidence to accuse someone of murder!”

“It’s enough evidence for me!” an Elder cried. “We already have the torches—let’s burn them right now!”

“Hold on a moment,” another Elder said. “We can’t simply burn people at the stake whenever we want!” The Baudelaires looked at one another, relieved that one citizen seemed immune to mob psychology. “I have a very important appointment in ten minutes,” the Elder continued. “So it’s too late to do it now. How about tonight, after dinner?”

“That’s no good,” said another member of the Council. “I’m having a dinner party then. How about tomorrow afternoon?”

“Yes,” someone said from the crowd. “Right after lunch! That’s a perfect time!”

“Hear, hear!” Mr. Lesko cried.

“Hear, hear!” Mrs. Morrow cried.

“Glaji!” Sunny cried.

“Hector, help us!” Violet called. “Please tell these people that we’re not murderers!”

“I told you before,” Detective Dupin said, smiling beneath his sunglasses. “Only Sunny is a murderer. You two are accomplices, and I will put you all in jail where you belong.” Dupin grabbed Violet’s and Klaus’s wrists with one scraggly hand, and leaned down to scoop up Sunny with the other. “See you tomorrow afternoon for the burning at the stake!” he called out to the rest of the crowd, and dragged the struggling Baudelaires through the door of the uptown jail. The children stumbled into a dim, grim hallway, listening to the faint sounds of the mob cheering as the door slammed behind them.

“I’m putting you in the Deluxe Cell,” Dupin said. “It’s the dirtiest one.” He marched them down a dark hallway with many twists and turns, and the Baudelaires could see rows and rows of cells with their heavy doors hanging open. The only light in the jail came from tiny barred windows placed in each cell, but the children saw that every cell was empty and each one looked dirtier than the rest.

“You’ll be the one in jail before long, Olaf,” Klaus said, hoping he sounded much more certain than he felt. “You’ll never get away with this.”

“My name is Detective Dupin,” said Detective Dupin, “and my only concern is bringing you three criminals to justice.”

“But if you burn us at the stake,” Violet said quickly, “you’ll never get your hands on the Baudelaire fortune.”

Dupin rounded the last corner of the hallway, and pushed the Baudelaires into a small damp cell with only a small wooden bench as furniture. By the light of the barred window, the siblings could see that the cell was quite filthy, as Dupin had promised. The detective reached out to pull the door closed, but with his sunglasses on it was too dark to see the door handle, so he had to throw off all pretense—a phrase which here means “take off part of his disguise for a moment”—and remove his sunglasses. As much as the children hated Dupin’s ridiculous disguise, it was worse to see their enemy’s one eyebrow, and the shiny, shiny eyes that had been haunting them for so long.

“Don’t worry,” he said in his wheezy voice. “You won’t be burned at the stake—not all of you, at least. Tomorrow afternoon, one of you will make a miraculous escape—if you consider being smuggled out of V.F.D. by one of my assistants to be an escape. The other two will burn at the stake as planned. You bratty orphans are too stupid to realize it, but a genius like me knows that it may take a village to raise a child, but it only takes one child to inherit a fortune.” The villain laughed a loud and rude laugh, and began to shut the door of the cell. “But I don’t want to be cruel,” he said, smiling to indicate that he really wanted to be as cruel as possible. “I’ll let you three decide who gets the honor of spending the rest of their puny life with me, and who gets to burn at the stake. I’ll be back at lunchtime for your decision.”

The Baudelaire orphans listened to the wheezy giggle of their enemy as he slammed the cell door and walked back down the hallway in his plastic shoes, and felt a sinking feeling in their stomachs, where the huevos rancheros Hector had made for them last night were still being digested. When something is being digested, of course, it is getting smaller and smaller as the body uses up all of the nutrients inside the food, but it didn’t feel that way to the three children. The youngsters did not feel as if the small potatoes they had eaten for dinner were getting smaller. The Baudelaire orphans huddled together in the dim light and listened to the laughter echo against the walls of the uptown jail, and wondered just how large the potatoes of their lives would grow.


Entertaining a notion, like entertaining a baby cousin or entertaining a pack of hyenas, is a dangerous thing to refuse to do. If you refuse to entertain a baby cousin, the baby cousin may get bored and entertain itself by wandering off and falling down a well. If you refuse to entertain a pack of hyenas, they may become restless and entertain themselves by devouring you. But if you refuse to entertain a notion—which is just a fancy way of saying that you refuse to think about a certain idea—you have to be much braver than someone who is merely facing some bloodthirsty animals, or some parents who are upset to find their little darling at the bottom of a well, because nobody knows what an idea will do when it goes off to entertain itself, particularly if the idea comes from a sinister villain.

“I don’t care what that horrible man says,” Violet said to her siblings as Detective Dupin’s plastic footsteps faded away. “We’re not going to choose which one of us will escape and who will be left to burn at the stake. I absolutely refuse to entertain the notion.”

“But what are we going to do?” Klaus asked. “Try to contact Mr. Poe?”

“Mr. Poe won’t help us,” Violet replied. “He’ll think we’re ruining the reputation of his bank. We’re going to escape.”

“Frulk!” Sunny said.

“I know it’s a jail cell,” Violet said, “but there must be some way to get out.” She pulled her ribbon out of her pocket and tied up her hair, her fingers shaking as she did so. The eldest Baudelaire had spoken confidently, but she did not feel as confident as she sounded. A cell is built for the specific purpose of keeping people inside, and she was not sure she could make an invention that could get the Baudelaires out of the uptown jail. But once her hair was out of her eyes, her inventing brain began to work at full force, and Violet took a good look around the cell for ideas. First she looked at the door of the cell, examining every inch of it.

“Do you think you could make another lock-pick?” Klaus asked hopefully. “You made an excellent one when we lived with Uncle Monty.”

“Not this time,” Violet replied. “The door locks from the outside, so a lockpick would be of no use.” She closed her eyes for a moment in thought, and then looked up at the tiny barred window. Her siblings followed her gaze, a phrase which here means “also looked at the window and tried to think of something helpful.”

“Boiklio?” Sunny asked, which meant “Do you think you could make some more welding torches, to melt the bars? You made some excellent ones when we lived with the Squalors.”

“Not this time,” Violet said. “If I stood on the bench and Klaus stood on my shoulders and you stood on Klaus’s shoulders, we could probably reach the window, but even if we melted the bars, the window isn’t big enough to crawl through, even for Sunny.”

“Sunny could call out the window,” Klaus said, “and try to attract the attention of someone to come and save us.”

“Thanks to mob psychology, every citizen of V.F.D. thinks that we’re criminals,” Violet pointed out. “No one is going to come rescue an accused murderer and her accomplices.” She closed her eyes and thought again, and then knelt down to get a closer look at the wooden bench.

“Rats,” she said.

Klaus jumped slightly. “Where?” he said.

“I don’t mean there are rats in the cell,” she said, hoping that she was speaking the truth. “I just mean ‘Rats!’ I was hoping that the bench would be made of wooden boards held together with screws or nails. Screws and nails are always handy for inventions. But it’s just a solid, carved piece of wood, which isn’t handy at all.” Violet sat down on the solid, carved piece of wood and sighed. “I don’t know what I can do,” she admitted.

Klaus and Sunny looked at one another nervously. “I’m sure you’ll think of something,” Klaus said.

“Maybe you’ll think of something,” Violet replied, looking at her brother. “There must be something you’ve read that could help us.”

It was Klaus’s turn to close his eyes in thought. “If you tilted the bench,” he said, after a pause, “it would become a ramp. The ancient Egyptians used ramps to build the pyramids.”

“But we’re not trying to build a pyramid!” Violet cried in exasperation. “We’re trying to escape from jail!”

“I’m just trying to be helpful!” Klaus cried. “If it weren’t for you and your silly hair ribbons, we wouldn’t have been arrested in the first place!”

“And if it weren’t for your ridiculous glasses,” Violet snapped in reply, “we wouldn’t be here in this jail!”

“Stop!” Sunny shrieked.

Violet and Klaus glared angrily at one another for a moment, and then sighed. Violet moved over on the bench to make room for her siblings.

“Come and sit down,” she said gloomily. “I’m sorry I yelled at you, Klaus. Of course it’s not your fault that we’re here.”

“It’s not yours, either,” Klaus said. “I’m just frustrated. Only a few hours ago we thought we’d be able to find the Quagmires and save Jacques.”

“But we were too late to save Jacques,” Violet said, shuddering. “I don’t know who he was, or how he got his tattoo, but I know he wasn’t Count Olaf.”

“Maybe he used to work with Count Olaf,” Klaus said. “He said the tattoo was from his job. Do you think Jacques was in Olaf’s theater troupe?”

“I don’t think so,” Violet said. “None of Olaf’s associates have that same tattoo. If only Jacques were alive, he could solve the mystery.”

“Pereg,” Sunny said, which meant “And if only the Quagmires were here, they could solve the other mystery—the meaning of the real V.F.D.”

“What we need,” Klaus said, “is deus ex machina.”

“Who’s that?” Violet said.

“It’s not a who,” Klaus said, “it’s a what. ‘Deus ex machina’ is a Latin term that means ‘the god from the machine.’ It means the arrival of something helpful when you least expect it. We need to rescue two triplets from the clutches of a villain, and solve the sinister mystery surrounding us, but we’re trapped in the filthiest cell of the uptown jail, and tomorrow afternoon we’re supposed to be burned at the stake. It would be a wonderful time for something helpful to arrive unexpectedly.”

At that moment there was a knock on the door, and the sound of the lock unlatching. The heavy door of the Deluxe Cell creaked open, and there stood Officer Luciana, scowling at them from beneath the visor of her helmet and holding a loaf of bread in one hand and a pitcher of water in the other. “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t be doing this,” she said, “but Rule #141 clearly states that all prisoners receive bread and water, so here you go.” The Chief of Police thrust the loaf and the pitcher into Violet’s hands and slammed the door shut, locking it behind her. Violet stared at the loaf of bread, which looked spongy and unappetizing, and at the water pitcher, which was decorated with a painting of seven crows flying in a circle. “Well, at least we have some nourishment,” she said. “Our brains need food and water to work properly.”

She handed the pitcher to Sunny and the loaf to Klaus, who looked at the bread for a long, long time. Then, he turned to his sisters, who could see that his eyes were filling up with tears.

“I just remembered,” he said, in a quiet, sad voice. “It’s my birthday. I’m thirteen today.”

Violet put her hand on her brother’s shoulder. “Oh, Klaus,” she said. “It is your birthday. We forgot all about it.”

“I forgot all about it myself, until this very moment,” Klaus said, looking back at the loaf of bread. “Something about this bread made me remember my twelfth birthday, when our parents made that bread pudding.”

Violet put the pitcher of water down on the floor, and sat beside Klaus. “I remember,” she said, smiling. “That was the worst dessert we ever tasted.”

“Vom,” Sunny agreed.

“It was a new recipe that they were trying out,” Klaus said. “They wanted it to be special for my birthday, but it was burned and sour and soggy. And they promised that the next year, for my thirteenth birthday, I’d have the best birthday meal in the world.” He looked at his siblings, and had to take his glasses off to wipe away his tears. “I don’t mean to sound spoiled,” he said, “but I was hoping for a better birthday meal than bread and water in the Deluxe Cell of the uptown jail in the Village of Fowl Devotees.”

“Chift,” Sunny said, biting Klaus’s hand gently.

Violet hugged him, and felt her own eyes fill up with tears as well. “Sunny’s right, Klaus. You don’t sound spoiled.”

The Baudelaires sat together for a moment and cried quietly, entertaining the notion of how dreadful their lives had become in such a short time. Klaus’s twelfth birthday did not seem like such a long time ago, and yet their memories of the lousy bread pudding seemed as faint and blurry as their first sight of V.F.D. on the horizon. It was a curious feeling, that something could be so close and so distant at the same time, and the children wept for their mother and their father and all of the happy things in their life that had been taken away from them since that terrible day at the beach.

Finally, the children cried themselves out, and Violet wiped her eyes and struggled to give her brother a smile. “Klaus,” she said, “Sunny and I are prepared to offer you the birthday gift of your choice. Anything at all that you want in the Deluxe Cell, you can have.”

“Thanks a lot,” Klaus said, smiling as he looked around the filthy room. “What I’d really like is deus ex machina.”

“Me, too,” Violet agreed, and took the pitcher of water from her sister to drink from it. Before she even took a sip, however, she looked up, and stared at the far end of the cell. Putting down the pitcher, she quickly walked to the wall and rubbed some dirt away to see what the wall was made of. Then looked at her siblings and began to smile. “Happy birthday, Klaus,” she said. “Officer Luciana brought us deus ex machina.”

“She didn’t bring us a god in a machine,” Klaus said. “She brought water in a pitcher.”

“Brioche!” Sunny said, which meant “And bread!”

“They’re the closest thing to a god in a machine that we’re going to get,” Violet said. “Now get up, both of you. We need the bench—it’ll be handy after all. It’s going to work as a ramp, just as Klaus said.”

Violet placed the loaf of bread up against the wall, directly under the barred window, and then tilted the bench toward the same spot. “We’re going to pour the pitcher of water so it runs down the bench, and hits the wall,” she said. “Then it’ll run down the wall to the bread, which will act like a sponge and soak up the water. Then we’ll squeeze the bread so the water goes into the pitcher, and start over.”

“But what will that do?” Klaus asked.

“The walls of this cell are made of bricks,” Violet said, “with mortar between the bricks to keep them together. Mortar is a type of clay that hardens like glue, so a mortar-dissolver would loosen the bricks and allow us to escape. I think we can dissolve the mortar by pouring water on it.”

“But how?” Klaus asked. “The walls are so solid, and water is so gentle.”

“Water is one of the most powerful forces on earth,” Violet replied. “Ocean waves can wear away at cliffs made of stone.”

“Donax!” Sunny said, which meant something like, “But that takes years and years, and if we don’t escape, we’ll be burned at the stake tomorrow afternoon.”

“Then we’d better stop entertaining the notion, and start pouring the water,” Violet said. “We’ll have to keep it up all night if we want to dissolve the mortar. I’ll stand at this end, propping up the bench. Klaus, you stand next to me and pour the water. Sunny, you stand near the bread, and bring it back to me when it’s soaked up all the water. Ready?”

Klaus took the pitcher in his hands and held it up to the end of the bench. Sunny crawled over to the loaf of bread, which was only a little bit shorter than she was. “Ready!” the two younger Baudelaires said in unison, and together the three children began to operate Violet’s mortar-dissolver. The water ran down the bench and hit the wall, and then ran down the wall and was soaked up in the spongy bread. Sunny quickly brought the bread to Klaus, who squeezed it into the pitcher, and the entire process began again. At first, it seemed as if the Baudelaires were barking up the wrong tree, because the water seemed to have no more effect against the wall of the Deluxe Cell than a silk scarf would have against a charging rhinoceros, but it soon became clear that water—unlike a silk scarf—is indeed one of the most powerful forces on earth. By the time the Baudelaires heard the flapping of the V.F.D. crows as they flew in a circle before heading downtown for their afternoon roost, the mortar between the bricks was slightly mushy to the touch, and by the time the last few rays of the sun were shining through the tiny barred window, quite a bit of the mortar had actually begun to wear away.

“Grespo,” Sunny said, which meant something like, “Quite a bit of the mortar has actually begun to wear away.”

“That’s good news,” Klaus said. “If your invention saves our lives, Violet, it will be the best birthday present you’ve ever given me, including that book of Finnish poetry you bought me when I turned eight.”

Violet yawned. “Speaking of poetry, why don’t we talk about Isadora Quagmire’s couplets? We still haven’t figured out where the triplets are hidden, and besides, if we keep talking it’ll be easier to stay awake.”

“Good idea,” Klaus said, and recited the poems from memory:

“For sapphires we are held in here. Only you can end our fear.

Until dawn comes we cannot speak. No words can come from this sad beak.

The first thing you read contains the clue: An initial way to speak to you.”

The Baudelaires listened to the poems and began to entertain every notion they could think of that might help them figure out what the couplets meant. Violet held the bench in place, but her mind was on why the first poem began “For sapphires we are held in here,” when the Baudelaires already knew about the Quagmire fortune. Klaus poured the water out of the pitcher and let it run down to the wall, but his mind was on the part of the poem that said “The first thing you read contains the clue,” and what exactly Isadora meant by “the clue.” Sunny monitored the loaf of bread as it soaked up the water again and again, but her mind was on the last line of the last poem they had received, and what “An initial way to speak to you” could mean. The three Baudelaires operated Violet’s invention until morning, discussing Isadora’s couplets the entire time, and although the children made quite a lot of progress dissolving the mortar in the cell wall, they made no progress figuring out Isadora’s poems.

“Water might be one of the most powerful forces on earth,” Violet said, as the children heard the first sounds of the V.F.D. crows arriving for their uptown roost, “but poetry might be the most confusing. We’ve talked and talked, and we still don’t know where the Quagmires are hiding.”

“We need another dose of deus ex machina,” Klaus said. “If something helpful doesn’t arrive soon, we won’t be able to rescue our friends, even if we do escape from this cell.”

“Psst!” came an unexpected voice from the window, startling the children so much that they almost dropped everything and wrecked the mortar-dissolver. The Baudelaires looked up and saw the faint shape of somebody’s face behind the bars of the window. “Psst! Baudelaires!” the voice whispered.

“Who is it?” Violet whispered back. “We can’t see you.”

“It’s Hector,” Hector whispered. “I’m supposed to be downtown doing the morning chores, but I sneaked over here instead.”

“Can you get us out of here?” Klaus whispered.

For a few seconds, the children heard nothing but the sounds of the V.F.D. crows muttering and splashing in Fowl Fountain. Then Hector sighed. “No,” he admitted. “Officer Luciana has the only key, and this jail is made of solid brick. I don’t think there’s a way I can get you out.”

“Dala?” Sunny asked.

“My sister means, did you tell the Council of Elders that we were with you the night Jacques was murdered, so we couldn’t have committed the crime?”

There was another pause. “No,” Hector said. “You know that the Council makes me too skittish to talk. I wanted to speak up for you when Detective Dupin was accusing you, but one look at those crow hats and I couldn’t open my mouth. But I thought of one thing I can do to help.”

Klaus put down the pitcher of water and felt the mortar on the far wall. Violet’s invention seemed to be working quite well, but there was still no guarantee that it would get them out of there before the mob of citizens arrived in the afternoon. “What’s that?” he asked Hector.

“I’m going to get the self-sustaining hot air mobile home ready to go,” he said. “I’ll wait at the barn all afternoon, and if you somehow manage to escape, you can float away with me.”

“O.K.,” Violet said, although she had been hoping for something a little more helpful from a fully grown adult. “We’re trying to break out of this cell right now, so maybe we’ll make it.”

“Well, if you’re breaking out now, I’d better go,” Hector said. “I don’t want to get in trouble. I just want to say that if you don’t make it and you are burned at the stake, it was very nice making your acquaintance. Oh—I almost forgot.”

Hector’s fingers reached through the bars and dropped a rolled scrap of paper down to the waiting Baudelaires. “It’s another couplet,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to me, but maybe you’ll find it helpful. Good-bye, children. I do hope I see you later.”

“Good-bye, Hector,” Violet said glumly. “I hope so too.”

“’Bye,” Sunny muttered.

Hector waited for a second, expecting Klaus to say good-bye, but then walked off without another word, his footsteps fading into the sounds of the muttering, splashing crows. Violet and Sunny turned to look at their brother, surprised that he had not said good-bye, although Hector’s visit had been such a disappointment that they could understand if Klaus was too annoyed to be polite. But when they looked at the middle Baudelaire, he did not look annoyed. Klaus was looking at the latest couplet from Isadora, and in the growing light of the Deluxe Cell his sisters could see a wide grin on his face. Grinning is something you do when you are entertained in some way, such as reading a good book or watching someone you don’t care for spill orange soda all over himself. But there weren’t any books in the uptown jail, and the Baudelaires had been careful not to spill a drop of the water as they operated the mortar-dissolver, so the Baudelaire sisters knew that their brother was grinning for another reason. He was grinning because he was entertaining a notion, and as Klaus showed them the poem he was holding, Violet and Sunny had a very good idea of what notion it was.

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