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The good people who are publishing this book have a concern that they have expressed to me. The concern is that readers like yourself will read my history of the Baudelaire orphans and attempt to imitate some of the things they do. So at this point in the story, in order to mollify the publishers—the word “mollify” here means “get them to stop tearing their hair out in worry”—please allow me to give you a piece of advice, even though I don’t know anything about you. The piece of advice is as follows: If you ever need to get to Curdled Cave in a hurry, do not, under any circumstances, steal a boat and attempt to sail across Lake Lachrymose during a hurricane, because it is very dangerous and the chances of your survival are practically zero. You should especially not do this if, like the Baudelaire orphans, you have only a vague idea of how to work a sailboat.
Count Olaf’s comrade, standing at the dock and waving a chubby fist in the air, grew smaller and smaller as the wind carried the sailboat away from Damocles Dock. As Hurricane Herman raged over them, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny examined the sailboat they had just stolen. It was fairly small, with wooden seats and bright orange life jackets for five people. On top of the mast, which is a word meaning “the tall wooden post found in the middle of boats,” was a grimy white sail controlled by a series of ropes, and on the floor was a pair of wooden oars in case there was no wind. In the back, there was a sort of wooden lever with a handle for moving it this way and that, and under one of the seats was a shiny metal bucket for bailing out any water in case of a leak. There was also a long pole with a fishing net at the end of it, a small fishing rod with a sharp hook and a rusty spying glass, which is a sort of telescope used for navigating. The three siblings struggled into their life vests as the stormy waves of Lake Lachrymose took them farther and farther away from the shore.
“I read a book about working a sailboat,” Klaus shouted over the noise of the hurricane. “We have to use the sail to catch the wind. Then it will push us where we want to go.”
“And this lever is called a tiller,” Violet shouted. “I remember it from studying some naval blueprints. The tiller controls the rudder, which is below the water, steering the ship. Sunny, sit in back and work the tiller. Klaus, hold the atlas so we can tell where we’re going, and I’ll try to work the sail. I think if I pull on this rope, I can control the sail.”
Klaus turned the damp pages of the atlas to page 104. “That way,” he called, pointing to the right. “The sun is setting over there, so that must be west.”
Sunny scurried to the back of the sailboat and put her tiny hands on the tiller just as a wave hit the boat and sprayed her with foam. “Karg tem!” she called, which meant something along the lines of “I’m going to move the tiller this way, in order to steer the boat according to Klaus’s recommendation.”
The rain whipped around them, and the wind howled, and a small wave splashed over the side, but to the orphans’ amazement, the sailboat moved in the exact direction they wanted it to go. If you had come across the three Baudelaires at this moment, you would have thought their lives were filled with joy and happiness, because even though they were exhausted, damp, and in very great danger, they began to laugh in their triumph. They were so relieved that something had finally gone right that they laughed as if they were at the circus instead of in the middle of a lake, in the middle of a hurricane, in the middle of trouble.
As the storm wore itself out splashing waves over the sailboat and flashing lightning over their heads, the Baudelaires sailed the tiny boat across the vast and dark lake. Violet pulled ropes this way and that to catch the wind, which kept changing direction as wind tends to do. Klaus kept a close eye on the atlas and made sure they weren’t heading off course to the Wicked Whirlpool or the Rancorous Rocks. And Sunny kept the boat level by turning the tiller whenever Violet signaled. And just when the evening turned to night, and it was too dark to read the atlas, the Baudelaires saw a blinking light of pale purple. The orphans had always thought lavender was a rather sickly color, but for the first time in their lives they were glad to see it. It meant that the sailboat was approaching the Lavender Lighthouse, and soon they’d be at Curdled Cave. The storm finally broke—the word “broke” here means “ended,” rather than “shattered” or “lost all its money”—and the clouds parted to reveal an almost-full moon. The children shivered in their soaking clothes and stared out at the calming waves of the lake, watching the swirls of its inky depths.
“Lake Lachrymose is actually very pretty,” Klaus said thoughtfully. “I never noticed it before.”
“Cind,” Sunny agreed, adjusting the tiller slightly.
“I guess we never noticed it because of Aunt Josephine,” Violet said. “We got used to looking at the lake through her eyes.” She picked up the spying glass and squinted into it, and she was just able to see the shore. “I think I can see the lighthouse over there. There’s a dark hole in the cliff right next to it. It must be the mouth of Curdled Cave.”
Sure enough, as the sailboat drew closer and closer, the children could just make out the Lavender Lighthouse and the mouth of the nearby cave, but when they looked into its depths, they could see no sign of Aunt Josephine, or of anything else for that matter. Rocks began to scrape the bottom of the boat, which meant they were in very shallow water, and Violet jumped out to drag the sailboat onto the craggy shore. Klaus and Sunny stepped out of the boat and took off their life jackets. Then they stood at the mouth of Curdled Cave and paused nervously. In front of the cave there was a sign saying it was for sale, and the orphans could not imagine who would want to buy such a phantasmagorical—the word “phantasmagorical” here means “all the creepy, scary words you can think of put together”—place. The mouth of the cave had jagged rocks all over it like teeth in the mouth of a shark. Just beyond the entrance the youngsters could see strange white rock formations, all melted and twisted together so they looked like moldy milk. The floor of the cave was as pale and dusty as if it were made of chalk. But it was not these sights that made the children pause. It was the sound coming out of the cave. It was a high-pitched, wavering wail, a hopeless and lost sound, as strange and as eerie as Curdled Cave itself.
“What is that sound?” Violet asked nervously.
“Just the wind, probably,” Klaus replied. “I read somewhere that when wind passes through small spaces, like caves, it can make weird noises. It’s nothing to be afraid of.”
The orphans did not move. The sound did not stop.
“I’m afraid of it, anyway,” Violet said.
“Me too,” Klaus said.
“Geni,” Sunny said, and began to crawl into the mouth of the cave. She probably meant something along the lines of “We didn’t sail a stolen sailboat across Lake Lachrymose in the middle of Hurricane Herman just to stand nervously at the mouth of a cave,” and her siblings had to agree with her and follow her inside. The wailing was louder as it echoed off the walls and rock formations, and the Baudelaires could tell it wasn’t the wind. It was Aunt Josephine, sitting in a corner of the cave and sobbing with her head in her hands. She was crying so hard that she hadn’t even noticed the Baudelaires come into the cave.
“Aunt Josephine,” Klaus said hesitantly, “we’re here.”
Aunt Josephine looked up, and the children could see that her face was wet from tears and chalky from the cave. “You figured it out,” she said, wiping her eyes and standing up. “I knew you could figure it out,” she said, and took each of the Baudelaires in her arms. She looked at Violet, and then at Klaus, and then at Sunny, and the orphans looked at her and found themselves with tears in their own eyes as they greeted their guardian. It was as if they had not quite believed that Aunt Josephine’s death was fake until they had seen her alive with their own eyes.
“I knew you were clever children,” Aunt Josephine said. “I knew you would read my message.”
“Klaus really did it,” Violet said.
“But Violet knew how to work the sailboat,” Klaus said. “Without Violet we never would have arrived here.”
“And Sunny stole the keys,” Violet said, “and worked the tiller.”
“Well, I’m glad you all made it here,” Aunt Josephine said. “Let me just catch my breath and I’ll help you bring in your things.”
The children looked at one another. “What things?” Violet asked.
“Why, your luggage of course,” Aunt Josephine replied. “And I hope you brought some food, because the supplies I brought are almost gone.”
“We didn’t bring any food,” Klaus said.
“No food?” Aunt Josephine said. “How in the world are you going to live with me in this cave if you didn’t bring any food?”
“We didn’t come here to live with you,” Violet said.
Aunt Josephine’s hands flew to her head and she rearranged her bun nervously. “Then why are you here?” she asked.
“Stim!” Sunny shrieked, which meant “Because we were worried about you!”
“‘Stim’ is not a sentence, Sunny,” Aunt Josephine said sternly. “Perhaps one of your older siblings could explain in correct English why you’re here.”
“Because Captain Sham almost had us in his clutches!” Violet cried. “Everyone thought you were dead, and you wrote in your will and testament that we should be placed in the care of Captain Sham.”
“But he forced me to do that,” Aunt Josephine whined. “That night, when he called me on the phone, he told me he was really Count Olaf. He said I had to write out a will saying you children would be left in his care. He said if I didn’t write what he said, he would drown me in the lake. I was so frightened that I agreed immediately.”
“Why didn’t you call the police?” Violet asked. “Why didn’t you call Mr. Poe? Why didn’t you call somebody who could have helped?”
“You know why,” Aunt Josephine said crossly. “I’m afraid of using the phone. Why, I was just getting used to answering it. I’m nowhere near ready to use the numbered buttons. But in any case, I didn’t need to call anybody. I threw a footstool through the window and then sneaked out of the house. I left you the note so that you would know I wasn’t really dead, but I hid my message so that Captain Sham wouldn’t know I had escaped from him.”
“Why didn’t you take us with you? Why did you leave us all alone by ourselves? Why didn’t you protect us from Captain Sham?” Klaus asked.
“It is not grammatically correct,” Aunt Josephine said, “to say ‘leave us all alone by ourselves.’ You can say ‘leave us all alone,’ or ‘leave us by ourselves,’ but not both. Do you understand?”
The Baudelaires looked at one another in sadness and anger. They understood. They understood that Aunt Josephine was more concerned with grammatical mistakes than with saving the lives of the three children. They understood that she was so wrapped up in her own fears that she had not given a thought to what might have happened to them. They understood that Aunt Josephine had been a terrible guardian, in leaving the children all by themselves in great danger. They understood and they wished more than ever that their parents, who never would have run away and left them alone, had not been killed in that terrible fire which had begun all the misfortune in the Baudelaire lives.
“Well, enough grammar lessons for today,” Aunt Josephine said. “I’m happy to see you, and you are welcome to share this cave with me. I don’t think Captain Sham will ever find us here.”
“We’re not staying here,” Violet said impatiently. “We’re sailing back to town, and we’re taking you with us.”
“No way, José,” Aunt Josephine said, using an expression which means “No way” and has nothing to do with José, whoever he is. “I’m too frightened of Captain Sham to face him. After all he’s done to you I would think that you would be frightened of him, too.”
“We are frightened of him,” Klaus said, “but if we prove that he’s really Count Olaf he will go to jail. You are the proof. If you tell Mr. Poe what happened, then Count Olaf will be locked away and we will be safe.”
“You can tell him, if you want to,” Aunt Josephine said. “I’m staying here.”
“He won’t believe us unless you come with us and prove that you’re alive,” Violet said.
“No, no, no,” Aunt Josephine said. “I’m too afraid.”
Violet took a deep breath and faced her frightened guardian. “We’re all afraid,” she said firmly. “We were afraid when we met Captain Sham in the grocery store. We were afraid when we thought that you had jumped out the window. We were afraid to give ourselves allergic reactions, and we were afraid to steal a sailboat and we were afraid to make our way across this lake in the middle of a hurricane. But that didn’t stop us.”
Aunt Josephine’s eyes filled up with tears. “I can’t help it that you’re braver than I,” she said. “I’m not sailing across that lake. I’m not making any phone calls. I’m going to stay right here for the rest of my life, and nothing you can say will change my mind.”
Klaus stepped forward and played his trump card, a phrase which means “said something very convincing, which he had saved for the end of the argument.” “Curdled Cave,” he said, “is for sale.”
“So what?” Aunt Josephine said.
“That means,” Klaus said, “that before long certain people will come to look at it. And some of those people”—he paused here dramatically—“will be realtors.”
Aunt Josephine’s mouth hung open, and the orphans watched her pale throat swallow in fear. “Okay,” she said finally, looking around the cave anxiously as if a realtor were already hiding in the shadows. “I’ll go.”
“Oh no,” Aunt Josephine said.
The children paid no attention. The worst of Hurricane Herman was over, and as the Baudelaires sailed across the dark lake there seemed to be very little danger. Violet moved the sail around with ease now that the wind was calm. Klaus looked back at the lavender light of the lighthouse and confidently guided the way back to Damocles Dock. And Sunny moved the tiller as if she had been a tiller-mover all her life. Only Aunt Josephine was scared. She was wearing two life jackets instead of one, and every few seconds she cried “Oh no,” even though nothing frightening was happening.
“Oh no,” Aunt Josephine said, “and I mean it this time.”
“What’s wrong, Aunt Josephine?” Violet said tiredly. The sailboat had reached the approximate middle of the lake. The water was still fairly calm, and the lighthouse still glowed, a pinpoint of pale purple light. There seemed to be no cause for alarm.
“We’re about to enter the territory of the Lachrymose Leeches,” Aunt Josephine said.
“I’m sure we’ll pass through safely,” Klaus said, peering through the spying glass to see if Damocles Dock was visible yet. “You told us that the leeches were harmless and only preyed on small fish.”
“Unless you’ve eaten recently,” Aunt Josephine said.
“But it’s been hours since we’ve eaten,” Violet said soothingly. “The last thing we ate were peppermints at the Anxious Clown. That was in the afternoon, and now it’s the middle of the night.”
Aunt Josephine looked down, and moved away from the side of the boat. “But I ate a banana,” she whispered, “just before you arrived.”
“Oh no,” Violet said. Sunny stopped moving the tiller and looked worriedly into the water.
“I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about,” Klaus said. “Leeches are very small animals. If we were in the water, we might have reason to fear, but I don’t think they’d attack a sailboat. Plus, Hurricane Herman may have frightened them away from their territory. I bet the Lachrymose Leeches won’t even show up.”
Klaus thought he was done speaking for the moment, but in the moment that followed he added one more sentence. The sentence was “Speak of the Devil,” and it is an expression that you use when you are talking about something only to have it occur. For instance, if you were at a picnic and said, “I hope it doesn’t snow,” and at that very minute a blizzard began, you could say, “Speak of the Devil” before gathering up your blanket and potato salad and driving away to a good restaurant. But in the case of the Baudelaire orphans, I’m sure you can guess what happened to prompt Klaus to use this expression.
“Speak of the Devil,” Klaus said, looking into the waters of the lake. Out of the swirling blackness came skinny, rising shapes, barely visible in the moonlight. The shapes were scarcely longer than a finger, and at first it looked as if someone were swimming in the lake and drumming their fingers on the surface of the water. But most people have only ten fingers, and in the few minutes that followed there were hundreds of these tiny shapes, wriggling hungrily from all sides toward the sailboat. The Lachrymose Leeches made a quiet, whispering sound on the water as they swam, as if the Baudelaire orphans were surrounded by people murmuring terrible secrets. The children watched in silence as the swarm approached the boat, each leech knocking lightly against the wood. Their tiny leech-mouths puckered in disappointment as they tried to taste the sailboat. Leeches are blind, but they aren’t stupid, and the Lachrymose Leeches knew that they were not eating a banana.
“You see?” Klaus said nervously, as the tapping of leech-mouths continued. “We’re perfectly safe.”
“Yes,” Violet said. She wasn’t sure they were perfectly safe, not at all, but it seemed best to tell Aunt Josephine they were perfectly safe. “We’re perfectly safe,” she said.
The tapping sound continued, getting a little rougher and louder. Frustration is an interesting emotional state, because it tends to bring out the worst in whoever is frustrated. Frustrated babies tend to throw food and make a mess. Frustrated citizens tend to execute kings and queens and make a democracy. And frustrated moths tend to bang up against lightbulbs and make light fixtures all dusty. But unlike babies, citizens, and moths, leeches are quite unpleasant to begin with. Now that the Lachrymose Leeches were getting frustrated, everyone on board the sailboat was quite anxious to see what would happen when frustration brought out the worst in leeches. For a while, the small creatures tried and tried to eat the wood, but their tiny teeth didn’t really do anything but make an unpleasant knocking sound. But then, all at once, the leeches knocked off, and the Baudelaires watched them wriggle away from the sailboat.
“They’re leaving,” Klaus said hopefully, but they weren’t leaving. When the leeches had reached a considerable distance, they suddenly swiveled their tiny bodies around and came rushing back to the boat. With a loud thwack! the leeches all hit the boat more or less at once, and the sailboat rocked precariously, a word which here means “in a way which almost threw Aunt Josephine and the Baudelaire youngsters to their doom.” The four passengers were rocked to and fro and almost fell into the waters of the lake, where the leeches were wriggling away again to prepare for another attack.
“Yadec!” Sunny shrieked and pointed at the side of the boat. Yadec, of course, is not grammatically correct English, but even Aunt Josephine understood that the youngest Baudelaire meant “Look at the crack in the boat that the leeches have made!” The crack was a tiny one, about as long as a pencil and about as wide as a human hair, and it was curved downward so it looked as if the sailboat were frowning at them. If the leeches kept hitting the side of the boat, the frown would only get wider.
“We have to sail much faster,” Klaus said, “or this boat will be in pieces in no time.”
“But sailing relies on the wind,” Violet pointed out. “We can’t make the wind go faster.”
“I’m frightened!” Aunt Josephine cried. “Please don’t throw me overboard!”
“Nobody’s going to throw you overboard,” Violet said impatiently, although I’m sorry to tell you that Violet was wrong about that. “Take an oar, Aunt Josephine. Klaus, take the other one. If we use the sail, the tiller, and the oars we should move more quickly.”
Thwack! The Lachrymose Leeches hit the side of the boat, widening the crack in the side and rocking the boat again. One of the leeches was thrown over the side in the impact, and twisted this way and that on the floor of the boat, gnashing its tiny teeth as it looked for food. Grimacing, Klaus walked cautiously over to it and tried to kick the leech overboard, but it clung onto his shoe and began gnawing through the leather. With a cry of disgust, Klaus shook his leg, and the leech fell to the floor of the sailboat again, stretching its tiny neck and opening and shutting its mouth. Violet grabbed the long pole with the net at the end of it, scooped up the leech, and tossed it overboard.
Thwack! The crack widened enough that a bit of water began to dribble through, making a small puddle on the sailboat’s floor. “Sunny,” Violet said, “keep an eye on that puddle. When it gets bigger, use the bucket to throw it back in the lake.”
“Mofee!” Sunny shrieked, which meant “I certainly will.” There was the whispering sound as the leeches swam away to ram the boat again. Klaus and Aunt Josephine began rowing as hard as they could, while Violet adjusted the sail and kept the net in her hand for any more leeches who got on board.
Thwack! Thwack! There were two loud noises now, one on the side of the boat and one on the bottom, which cracked immediately. The leeches had divided up into two teams, which is good news for playing kickball but bad news if you are being attacked. Aunt Josephine gave a shriek of terror. Water was now leaking into the sailboat in two spots, and Sunny abandoned the tiller to bail the water back out. Klaus stopped rowing, and held the oar up without a word. It had several small bite marks in it—the work of the Lachrymose Leeches.
“Rowing isn’t going to work,” he reported to Violet solemnly. “If we row any more these oars will be completely eaten.”
Violet watched Sunny crawl around with the bucket full of water. “Rowing won’t help us, anyway,” she said. “This boat is sinking. We need help.”
Klaus looked around at the dark and still waters, empty except for the sailboat and swarms of leeches. “Where can we get help in the middle of a lake?” he asked.
“We’re going to have to signal for help,” Violet said, and reached into her pocket and took out a ribbon. Handing Klaus the fishing net, she used the ribbon to tie her hair up, keeping it out of her eyes. Klaus and Sunny watched her, knowing that she only tied her hair up this way when she was thinking of an invention, and right now they needed an invention quite desperately.
“That’s right,” Aunt Josephine said to Violet, “close your eyes. That’s what I do when I’m afraid, and it always makes me feel better to block out the fear.”
“She’s not blocking out anything,” Klaus said crossly. “She’s concentrating.”
Klaus was right. Violet concentrated as hard as she could, racking her brain for a good way to signal for help. She thought of fire alarms. With flashing lights and loud sirens, fire alarms were an excellent way to signal for assistance. Although the Baudelaire orphans, of course, sadly knew that sometimes the fire engines arrived too late to save people’s lives, a fire alarm was still a good invention, and Violet tried to think of a way she could imitate it using the materials around her. She needed to make a loud sound, to get somebody’s attention. And she needed to make a bright light, so that person would know where they were.
Thwack! Thwack! The two teams of leeches hit the boat again, and there was a splash as more water came pouring into the sailboat. Sunny started to fill the bucket with water, but Violet reached forward and took it from Sunny’s hands. “Bero?” Sunny shrieked, which meant “Are you crazy?” but Violet had no time to answer “No, as a matter of fact I’m not.” So she merely said “No,” and, holding the bucket in one hand, began to climb up the mast. It is difficult enough to climb up the mast of a boat, but it is triple the difficulty if the boat is being rocked by a bunch of hungry leeches, so allow me to advise you that this is another thing that you should under no circumstances try to do. But Violet Baudelaire was a wunderkind, a German word which here means “someone who is able to quickly climb masts on boats being attacked by leeches,” and soon she was on the top of the swaying mast of the boat. She took the bucket and hung it by its handle on the tip of the mast so it swung this way and that, the way a bell might do in a bell tower.
“I don’t mean to interrupt you,” Klaus called, scooping up a furious leech in the net and tossing it as far as he could, “but this boat is really sinking. Please hurry.”
Violet hurried. Hurriedly, she grabbed ahold of a corner of the sail and, taking a deep breath to prepare herself, jumped back down to the floor of the boat. Just as she had hoped, the sail ripped as she hurtled to the ground, slowing her down and leaving her with a large piece of torn cloth. By now the sailboat had quite a lot of water in it, and Violet splashed over to Aunt Josephine, avoiding the many leeches that Klaus was tossing out of the boat as quickly as he could.
“I need your oar,” Violet said, wadding the piece of sail up into a ball, “and your hairnet.”
“You can have the oar,” Aunt Josephine said, handing it over. “But I need my hairnet. It keeps my bun in place.”
“Give her the hairnet!” Klaus cried, hopping up on one of the seats as a leech tried to bite his knee.
“But I’m scared of having hair in my face,” Aunt Josephine whined, just as another pair of thwack! s hit the boat.
“I don’t have time to argue with you!” Violet cried. “I’m trying to save each of our lives! Give me your hairnet right now!”
“The expression,” Aunt Josephine said, “is saving all of our lives, not each of our lives,” but Violet had heard enough. Splashing forward and avoiding a pair of wriggling leeches, the eldest Baudelaire reached forward and grabbed Aunt Josephine’s hairnet off of her head. She wrapped the crumpled part of the sail in the hairnet, and then grabbed the fishing pole and attached the messy ball of cloth to the fishhook. It looked like she was about to go fishing for some kind of fish that liked sailboats and hair accessories for food.
Thwack! Thwack! The sailboat tilted to one side and then to the other. The leeches had almost smashed their way through the side. Violet took the oar and began to rub it up and down the side of the boat as fast and as hard as she could.
“What are you doing?” Klaus asked, catching three leeches in one swoop of his net.
“I’m trying to create friction,” Violet said. “If I rub two pieces of wood enough, I’ll create friction. Friction creates sparks. When I get a spark, I’ll set the cloth and hairnet on fire and use it as a signal.”
“You want to set a fire?” Klaus cried. “But a fire will mean more danger.”
“Not if I wave the fire over my head, using the fishing pole,” Violet said. “I’ll do that, and hit the bucket like a bell, and that should create enough of a signal to fetch us some help.” She rubbed and rubbed the oar against the side of the boat, but no sparks appeared. The sad truth was that the wood was too wet from Hurricane Herman and from Lake Lachrymose to create enough friction to start a fire. It was a good idea, but Violet realized, as she rubbed and rubbed without any result, that it was the wrong idea. Thwack! Thwack! Violet looked around at Aunt Josephine and her terrified siblings and felt hope leak out of her heart as quickly as water was leaking into the boat. “It’s not working,” Violet said miserably, and felt tears fall down her cheeks. She thought of the promise she made to her parents, shortly before they were killed, that she would always take care of her younger siblings. The leeches swarmed around the sinking boat, and Violet feared that she had not lived up to her promise. “It’s not working,” she said again, and dropped the oar in despair. “We need a fire, but I can’t invent one.”
“It’s okay,” Klaus said, even though of course it was not. “We’ll think of something.”
“Tintet,” Sunny said, which meant something along the lines of “Don’t cry. You tried your best,” but Violet cried anyway. It is very easy to say that the important thing is to try your best, but if you are in real trouble the most important thing is not trying your best, but getting to safety. The boat rocked back and forth, and water poured through the cracks, and Violet cried because it looked like they would never get to safety. Her shoulders shaking with sobs, she held the spying glass up to her eye to see if, by any chance, there was a boat nearby, or if the tide had happened to carry the sailboat to shore, but all she could see was the moonlight reflecting on the rippling waters of the lake. And this was a lucky thing. Because as soon as Violet saw the flickering reflection, she remembered the scientific principles of the convergence and refraction of light.
The scientific principles of the convergence and refraction of light are very confusing, and quite frankly I can’t make head or tail of them, even when my friend Dr. Lorenz explains them to me. But they made perfect sense to Violet. Instantly, she thought of a story her father had told her, long ago, when she was just beginning to be interested in science. When her father was a boy, he’d had a dreadful cousin who liked to burn ants, starting a fire by focusing the light of the sun with her magnifying glass. Burning ants, of course, is an abhorrent hobby—the word “abhorrent” here means “what Count Olaf used to do when he was about your age”—but remembering the story made Violet see that she could use the lens of the spying glass to focus the light of the moon and make a fire. Without wasting another moment, she grabbed the spying glass and removed the lens, and then, looking up at the moon, tilted the lens at an angle she hastily computed in her head.
The moonlight passed through the lens and was concentrated into a long, thin band of light, like a glowing thread leading right to the piece of sail, held in a ball by Aunt Josephine’s hairnet. In a moment the thread had become a small flame.
“It’s miraculous!” Klaus cried, as the flame took hold.
“It’s unbelievable!” Aunt Josephine cried.
“Fonti!” Sunny shrieked.
“It’s the scientific principles of the convergence and refraction of light!” Violet cried, wiping her eyes. Stepping carefully to avoid onboard leeches and so as not to put out the fire, she moved to the front of the boat. With one hand, she took the oar and rang the bucket, making a loud sound to get somebody’s attention. With the other hand, she held the fishing rod up high, making a bright light so the person would know where they were. Violet looked up at her homemade signaling device that had finally caught fire, all because of a silly story her father had told her. Her father’s ant-burning cousin sounded like a dreadful person, but if she had suddenly appeared on the sailboat Violet would have given her a big grateful hug.
As it turned out, however, this signal was a mixed blessing, a phrase which means “something half good and half bad.” Somebody saw the signal almost immediately, somebody who was already sailing in the lake, and who headed toward the Baudelaires in an instant. Violet, Klaus, Sunny, and even Aunt Josephine all grinned as they saw another boat sail into view. They were being rescued, and that was the good half. But their smiles began to fade as the boat drew closer and they saw who was sailing it. Aunt Josephine and the orphans saw the wooden peg leg, and the navy-blue sailor cap, and the eye patch, and they knew who was coming to their aid. It was Captain Sham, of course, and he was probably the worst half in the world.
“Welcome aboard,” Captain Sham said, with a wicked grin that showed his filthy teeth. “I’m happy to see you all. I thought you had been killed when the old lady’s house fell off the hill, but luckily my associate told me you had stolen a boat and run away. And you, Josephine—I thought you’d done the sensible thing and jumped out the window.”
“I tried to do the sensible thing,” Aunt Josephine said sourly. “But these children came and got me.”
Captain Sham smiled. He had expertly steered his sailboat so it was alongside the one the Baudelaires had stolen, and Aunt Josephine and the children had stepped over the swarming leeches to come aboard. With a gurgly whoosh! their own sailboat was overwhelmed with water and quickly sank into the depths of the lake. The Lachrymose Leeches swarmed around the sinking sailboat, gnashing their tiny teeth. “Aren’t you going to say thank you, orphans?” Captain Sham asked, pointing to the swirling place in the lake where their sailboat had been. “If it weren’t for me, all of you would be divided up into the stomachs of those leeches.”
“If it weren’t for you,” Violet said fiercely, “we wouldn’t be in Lake Lachrymose to begin with.”
“You can blame that on the old woman,” he said, pointing to Aunt Josephine. “Faking your own death was pretty clever, but not clever enough. The Baudelaire fortune—and, unfortunately, the brats who come with it—now belong to me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Klaus said. “We don’t belong to you and we never will. Once we tell Mr. Poe what happened he will send you to jail.”
“Is that so?” Captain Sham said, turning the sailboat around and sailing toward Damocles Dock. His one visible eye was shining brightly as if he were telling a joke. “Mr. Poe will send me to jail, eh? Why, Mr. Poe is putting finishing touches on your adoption papers this very moment. In a few hours, you orphans will be Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Sham.”
“Neihab!” Sunny shrieked, which meant “I’m Sunny Baudelaire, and I will always be Sunny Baudelaire unless I decide for myself to legally change my name!”
“When we explain that you forced Aunt Josephine to write that note,” Violet said, “Mr. Poe will rip up those adoption papers into a thousand pieces.”
“Mr. Poe won’t believe you,” Captain Sham said, chuckling. “Why should he believe three runaway pipsqueaks who go around stealing boats?”
“Because we’re telling the truth!” Klaus cried.
“Truth, schmuth,” Captain Sham said. If you don’t care about something, one way to demonstrate your feelings is to say the word and then repeat the word with the letters S-C-H-M replacing the real first letters. Somebody who didn’t care about dentists, for instance, could say “Dentists, schmentists.” But only a despicable person like Captain Sham wouldn’t care about the truth. “Truth, schmuth,” he said again. “I think Mr. Poe is more likely to believe the owner of a respectable sailboat rental place, who went out in the middle of a hurricane to rescue three ungrateful boat thieves.”
“We only stole the boat,” Violet said, “to retrieve Aunt Josephine from her hiding place so she could tell everyone about your terrible plan.”
“But nobody will believe the old woman, either,” Captain Sham said impatiently. “Nobody believes a dead woman.”
“Are you blind in both eyes?” Klaus asked. “Aunt Josephine isn’t dead!”
Captain Sham smiled again, and looked out at the lake. Just a few yards away the water was rippling as the Lachrymose Leeches swam toward Captain Sham’s sailboat. After searching every inch of the Baudelaires’ boat and failing to find any food, the leeches had realized they had been tricked and were once again following the scent of banana still lingering on Aunt Josephine. “She’s not dead yet,” Captain Sham said, in a terrible voice, and took a step toward her.
“Oh no,” she said. Her eyes were wide with fear. “Don’t throw me overboard,” she pleaded. “Please!”
“You’re not going to reveal my plan to Mr. Poe,” Captain Sham said, taking another step toward the terrified woman, “because you will be joining your beloved Ike at the bottom of the lake.”
“No she won’t,” Violet said, grabbing a rope. “I will steer us to shore before you can do anything about it.”
“I’ll help,” Klaus said, running to the back and grabbing the tiller.
“Igal!” Sunny shrieked, which meant something along the lines of “And I’ll guard Aunt Josephine.” She crawled in front of the Baudelaires’ guardian and bared her teeth at Captain Sham.
“I promise not to say anything to Mr. Poe!” Aunt Josephine said desperately. “I’ll go someplace and hide away, and never show my face! You can tell him I’m dead! You can have the fortune! You can have the children! Just don’t throw me to the leeches!”
The Baudelaires looked at their guardian in horror. “You’re supposed to be caring for us,” Violet told Aunt Josephine in astonishment, “not putting us up for grabs!”
Captain Sham paused, and seemed to consider Aunt Josephine’s offer. “You have a point,” he said. “I don’t necessarily have to kill you. People just have to think that you’re dead.”
“I’ll change my name!” Aunt Josephine said. “I’ll dye my hair! I’ll wear colored contact lenses! And I’ll go very, very far away! Nobody will ever hear from me!”
“But what about us, Aunt Josephine?” Klaus asked in horror. “What about us?”
“Be quiet, orphan,” Captain Sham snapped. The Lachrymose Leeches reached the sailboat and began tapping on the wooden side. “The adults are talking. Now, old woman, I wish I could believe you. But you hadn’t been a very trustworthy person.”
“Haven’t been,” Aunt Josephine corrected, wiping a tear from her eye.
“What?” Captain Sham asked.
“You made a grammatical error,” Aunt Josephine said. “You said ‘But you hadn’t been a very trustworthy person,’ but you should have said, ‘you haven’t been a very trustworthy person.’”
Captain Sham’s one shiny eye blinked, and his mouth curled up in a terrible smile. “Thank you for pointing that out,” he said, and took one last step toward Aunt Josephine. Sunny growled at him, and he looked down and in one swift gesture moved his peg leg and knocked Sunny to the other end of his boat. “Let me make sure I completely understand the grammatical lesson,” he said to the Baudelaires’ trembling guardian, as if nothing had happened. “You wouldn’t say ‘Josephine Anwhistle had been thrown overboard to the leeches,’ because that would be incorrect. But if you said ‘Josephine Anwhistle has been thrown overboard to the leeches,’ that would be all right with you.”
“Yes,” Aunt Josephine said. “I mean no. I mean—”
But Aunt Josephine never got to say what she meant. Captain Sham faced her and, using both hands, pushed her over the side of the boat. With a little gasp and a big splash she fell into the waters of Lake Lachrymose.
“Aunt Josephine!” Violet cried. “Aunt Josephine!”
Klaus leaned over the side of the boat and stretched his hand out as far as he could. Thanks to her two life jackets, Aunt Josephine was floating on top of the water, waving her hands in the air as the leeches swam toward her. But Captain Sham was already pulling at the ropes of the sail, and Klaus couldn’t reach her. “You fiend!” he shouted at Captain Sham. “You evil fiend!”
“That’s no way to talk to your father,” Captain Sham said calmly.
Violet tried to tug a rope out of Captain Sham’s hand. “Move the sailboat back!” she shouted. “Turn the boat around!”
“Not a chance,” he replied smoothly. “Wave good-bye to the old woman, orphans. You’ll never see her again.”
Klaus leaned over as far as he could. “Don’t worry, Aunt Josephine!” he called, but his voice revealed that he was very worried himself. The boat was already quite a ways from Aunt Josephine, and the orphans could only see the white of her hands as she waved them over the dark water.
“She has a chance,” Violet said quietly to Klaus as they sailed toward the dock. “She has those life jackets, and she’s a strong swimmer.”
“That’s true,” Klaus said, his voice shaky and sad. “She’s lived by the lake her whole life. Maybe she knows of an escape route.”
“Legru,” Sunny said quietly, which meant “All we can do is hope.”
The three orphans huddled together, shivering in cold and fear, as Captain Sham sailed the boat by himself. They didn’t dare do anything but hope. Their feelings for Aunt Josephine were all a tumble in their minds. The Baudelaires had not really enjoyed most of their time with her—not because she cooked horrible cold meals, or chose presents for them that they didn’t like, or always corrected the children’s grammar, but because she was so afraid of everything that she made it impossible to really enjoy anything at all. And the worst of it was, Aunt Josephine’s fear had made her a bad guardian. A guardian is supposed to stay with children and keep them safe, but Aunt Josephine had run away at the first sign of danger. A guardian is supposed to help children in times of trouble, but Aunt Josephine practically had to be dragged out of the Curdled Cave when they needed her. And a guardian is supposed to protect children from danger, but Aunt Josephine had offered the orphans to Captain Sham in exchange for her own safety.
But despite all of Aunt Josephine’s faults, the orphans still cared about her. She had taught them many things, even if most of them were boring. She had provided a home, even if it was cold and unable to withstand hurricanes. And the children knew that Aunt Josephine, like the Baudelaires themselves, had experienced some terrible things in her life. So as their guardian faded from view and the lights of Damocles Dock approached closer and closer, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny did not think “Josephine, schmosephine.” They thought “We hope Aunt Josephine is safe.”
Captain Sham sailed the boat right up to the shore and tied it expertly to the dock. “Come along, little idiots,” he said, and led the Baudelaires to the tall metal gate with the glistening spikes on top, where Mr. Poe was waiting with his handkerchief in his hand and a look of relief on his face. Next to Mr. Poe was the Brobdingnagian creature, who gazed at them with a triumphant expression on his or her face.
“You’re safe!” Mr. Poe said. “Thank goodness! We were so worried about you! When Captain Sham and I reached the Anwhistle home and saw that it had fallen into the sea, we thought you were done for!”
“It is lucky my associate told me that they had stolen a sailboat,” Captain Sham told Mr. Poe. “The boat was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Herman, and by a swarm of leeches. I rescued them just in time.”
“He did not!” Violet shouted. “He threw Aunt Josephine into the lake! We have to go and rescue her!”
“The children are upset and confused,” Captain Sham said, his eye shining. “As their father, I think they need a good night’s sleep.”
“He’s not our father!” Klaus shouted. “He’s Count Olaf, and he’s a murderer! Please, Mr. Poe, alert the police! We have to save Aunt Josephine!”
“Oh, dear,” Mr. Poe said, coughing into his handkerchief. “You certainly are confused, Klaus. Aunt Josephine is dead, remember? She threw herself out the window.”
“No, no,” Violet said. “Her suicide note had a secret message in it. Klaus decoded the note and it said ‘Curdled Cave.’ Actually, it said ‘apostrophe Curdled Cave,’ but the apostrophe was just to get our attention.”
“You’re not making any sense,” Mr. Poe said. “What cave? What apostrophe?”
“Klaus,” Violet said, “show Mr. Poe the note.”
“You can show it to him in the morning,” Captain Sham said, in a falsely soothing tone. “You need a good night’s sleep. My associate will take you to my apartment while I stay here and finish the adoption paperwork with Mr. Poe.”
“But—” Klaus said.
“But nothing,” Captain Sham said. “You’re very distraught, which means ‘upset.’”
“I know what it means,” Klaus said.
“Please listen to us,” Violet begged Mr. Poe. “It’s a matter of life or death. Please just take a look at the note.”
“You can show it to him,” Captain Sham said, his voice rising in anger, “in the morning. Now please follow my associate to my minivan and go straight to bed.”
“Hold on a minute, Captain Sham,” Mr. Poe said. “If it upsets the children so much, I’ll take a look at the note. It will only take a moment.”
“Thank you,” Klaus said in relief, and reached into his pocket for the note. But as soon as he reached inside his face fell in disappointment, and I’m sure you can guess why. If you place a piece of paper in your pocket, and then soak yourself in a hurricane, the piece of paper, no matter how important it is, will turn into a soggy mess. Klaus pulled a damp lump out of his pocket, and the orphans looked at the remains of Aunt Josephine’s note. You could scarcely tell that it had been a piece of paper, let alone read the note or the secret it contained.
“This was the note,” Klaus said, holding it out to Mr. Poe. “You’ll just have to take our word for it that Aunt Josephine was still alive.”
“And she might still be alive!” Violet cried. “Please, Mr. Poe, send someone to rescue her!”
“Oh my, children,” Mr. Poe said. “You’re so sad and worried. But you don’t have to worry anymore. I have always promised to provide for you, and I think Captain Sham will do an excellent job of raising you. He has a steady business and doesn’t seem likely to throw himself out of a window. And it’s obvious he cares for you very much—why, he went out alone, in the middle of a hurricane, to search for you.”
“The only thing he cares about,” Klaus said bitterly, “is our fortune.”
“Why, that’s not true,” Captain Sham said. “I don’t want a penny of your fortune. Except, of course, to pay for the sailboat you stole and wrecked.”
Mr. Poe frowned, and coughed into his handkerchief. “Well, that’s a surprising request,” he said, “but I suppose that can be arranged. Now, children, please go to your new home while I make the final arrangements with Captain Sham. Perhaps we’ll have time for breakfast tomorrow before I head back to the city.”
“Please,” Violet cried. “Please, won’t you listen to us?”
“Please,” Klaus cried. “Please, won’t you believe us?”
Sunny did not say anything. Sunny had not said anything for a long time, and if her siblings hadn’t been so busy trying to reason with Mr. Poe, they would have noticed that she wasn’t even looking up to watch everyone talking. During this whole conversation, Sunny was looking straight ahead, and if you are a baby this means looking at people’s legs. The leg she was looking at was Captain Sham’s. She wasn’t looking at his right leg, which was perfectly normal, but at his peg leg. She was looking at the stump of dark polished wood, attached to his left knee with a curved metal hinge, and concentrating very hard.
It may surprise you to learn that at this moment, Sunny resembled the famous Greek conqueror Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great lived more than two thousand years ago, and his last name was not actually “The Great.” “The Great” was something that he forced people to call him, by bringing a bunch of soldiers into their land and proclaiming himself king. Besides invading other people’s countries and forcing them to do whatever he said, Alexander the Great was famous for something called the Gordian Knot. The Gordian Knot was a fancy knot tied in a piece of rope by a king named Gordius. Gordius said that if Alexander could untie it, he could rule the whole kingdom. But Alexander, who was too busy conquering places to learn how to untie knots, simply drew his sword and cut the Gordian Knot in two. This was cheating, of course, but Alexander had too many soldiers for Gordius to argue, and soon everybody in Gordium had to bow down to You-Know-Who the Great. Ever since then, a difficult problem can be called a Gordian Knot, and if you solve the problem in a simple way—even if the way is rude—you are cutting the Gordian Knot.
The problem the Baudelaire orphans were experiencing could certainly be called a Gordian Knot, because it looked impossible to solve. The problem, of course, was that Captain Sham’s despicable plan was about to succeed, and the way to solve it was to convince Mr. Poe of what was really going on. But with Aunt Josephine thrown in the lake, and her note a ruined lump of wet paper, Violet and Klaus were unable to convince Mr. Poe of anything. Sunny, however, stared at Captain Sham’s peg leg and thought of a simple, if rude, way of solving the problem.
As all the taller people argued and paid no attention to Sunny, the littlest Baudelaire crawled as close as she could to the peg leg, opened her mouth and bit down as hard as she could. Luckily for the Baudelaires, Sunny’s teeth were as sharp as the sword of Alexander the Great, and Captain Sham’s peg leg split right in half with a crack! that made everybody look down.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed, the peg leg was fake, and it split open to reveal Captain Sham’s real leg, pale and sweaty from knee to toes. But it was neither the knee nor the toes that interested everyone. It was the ankle. For there on the pale and sweaty skin of Captain Sham was the solution to their problem. By biting the peg leg, Sunny had cut the Gordian Knot, for as the wooden pieces of fake peg leg fell to the floor of Damocles Dock, everyone could see a tattoo of an eye.
Mr. Poe looked astonished. Violet looked relieved. Klaus looked assuaged, which is a fancy word for “relieved” that he had learned by reading a magazine article. Sunny looked triumphant. The person who looked like neither a man nor a woman looked disappointed. And Count Olaf—it is such a relief to call him by his true name—at first looked afraid, but in a blink of his one shiny eye, he twisted his face to make it look as astonished as Mr. Poe’s.
“My leg!” Count Olaf cried, in a voice of false joy. “My leg has grown back! It’s amazing! It’s wonderful! It’s a medical miracle!”
“Oh come now,” Mr. Poe said, folding his arms. “That won’t work. Even a child can see that your peg leg was false.”
“A child did see it,” Violet whispered to Klaus. “Three children, in fact.”
“Well, maybe the peg leg was false,” Count Olaf admitted, and took a step backward. “But I’ve never seen this tattoo in my life.”
“Oh come now,” Mr. Poe said again. “That won’t work, either. You tried to hide the tattoo with the peg leg, but now we can see that you are really Count Olaf.”
“Well, maybe the tattoo is mine,” Count Olaf admitted, and took another step backward. “But I’m not this Count Olaf person. I’m Captain Sham. See, I have a business card here that says so.”
“Oh come now,” Mr. Poe said yet again. “That won’t work. Anyone can go to a print shop and have cards made that say anything they like.”
“Well, maybe I’m not Captain Sham,” Count Olaf admitted, “but the children still belong to me. Josephine said that they did.”
“Oh come now,” Mr. Poe said for the fourth and final time. “That won’t work. Aunt Josephine left the children to Captain Sham, not to Count Olaf. And you are Count Olaf, not Captain Sham. So it is once again up to me to decide who will care for the Baudelaires. I will send these three youngsters somewhere else, and I will send you to jail. You have performed your evil deeds for the last time, Olaf. You tried to steal the Baudelaire fortune by marrying Violet. You tried to steal the Baudelaire fortune by murdering Uncle Monty.”
“And this,” Count Olaf growled, “was my greatest plan yet.” He reached up and tore off his eyepatch—which was fake, of course, like his peg leg—and stared at the Baudelaires with both of his shiny eyes. “I don’t like to brag—actually, why should I lie to you fools anymore?—I love to brag, and forcing that stupid old woman to write that note was really something to brag about. What a ninny Josephine was!”
“She was not a ninny!” Klaus cried. “She was kind and sweet!”
“Sweet?” Count Olaf repeated, with a horrible smile. “Well, at this very moment the Lachrymose Leeches are probably finding her very sweet indeed. She might be the sweetest breakfast they ever ate.”
Mr. Poe frowned, and coughed into his white handkerchief. “That’s enough of your revolting talk, Olaf,” he said sternly. “We’ve caught you now, and there’s no way you’ll be getting away. The Lake Lachrymose Police Department will be happy to capture a known criminal wanted for fraud, murder, and the endangerment of children.”
“And arson,” Count Olaf piped up.
“I said that’s enough,” Mr. Poe growled. Count Olaf, the Baudelaire orphans, and even the massive creature looked surprised that Mr. Poe had spoken so sternly. “You have preyed upon these children for the last time, and I am making absolutely sure that you are handed over to the proper authorities. Disguising yourself won’t work. Telling lies won’t work. In fact there’s nothing at all you can do about your situation.”
“Really?” Count Olaf said, and his filthy lips curved up in a smile. “I can think of something that I can do.”
“And what,” said Mr. Poe, “is that?”
Count Olaf looked at each one of the Baudelaire orphans, giving each one a smile as if the children were tiny chocolates he was saving to eat for later. Then he smiled at the massive creature, and then, slowly, he smiled at Mr. Poe. “I can run,” he said, and ran. Count Olaf ran, with the massive creature lumbering behind him, in the direction of the heavy metal gate.
“Get back here!” Mr. Poe shouted. “Get back here in the name of the law! Get back here in the name of justice and righteousness! Get back here in the name of Mulctuary Money Management!”
“We can’t just shout at them!” Violet shouted. “Come on! We have to chase them!”
“I’m not going to allow children to chase after a man like that,” Mr. Poe said, and called out again, “Stop, I say! Stop right there!”
“We can’t let them escape!” Klaus cried. “Come on, Violet! Come on, Sunny!”
“No, no, this is no job for children,” Mr. Poe said. “Wait here with your sisters, Klaus. I’ll retrieve them. They won’t get away from Mr. Poe. You, there! Stop!”
“But we can’t wait here!” Violet cried. “We have to get into a sailboat and look for Aunt Josephine! She may still be alive!”
“You Baudelaire children are under my care,” Mr. Poe said firmly. “I’m not going to let small children sail around unaccompanied.”
“But if we hadn’t sailed unaccompanied,” Klaus pointed out, “we’d be in Count Olaf’s clutches by now!”
“That’s not the point,” Mr. Poe said, and began to walk quickly toward Count Olaf and the creature. “The point is—”
But the children didn’t hear the point over the loud slam! of the tall metal gate. The creature had slammed it shut just as Mr. Poe had reached it.
“Stop immediately!” Mr. Poe ordered, calling through the gate. “Come back here, you unpleasant person!” He tried to open the tall gate and found it locked. “It’s locked!” he cried to the children. “Where is the key? We must find the key!”
The Baudelaires rushed to the gate but stopped as they heard a jingling sound. “I have the key,” said Count Olaf’s voice, from the other side of the gate. “But don’t worry. I’ll see you soon, orphans. Very soon.”
“Open this gate immediately!” Mr. Poe shouted, but of course nobody opened the gate. He shook it and shook it, but the spiky metal gate never opened. Mr. Poe hurried to a phone booth and called the police, but the children knew that by the time help arrived Count Olaf would be long gone. Utterly exhausted and more than utterly miserable, the Baudelaire orphans sank to the ground, sitting glumly in the very same spot where we found them at the beginning of this story.
In the first chapter, you will remember, the Baudelaires were sitting on their suitcases, hoping that their lives were about to get a little bit better, and I wish I could tell you, here at the end of the story, that it was so. I wish I could write that Count Olaf was captured as he tried to flee, or that Aunt Josephine came swimming up to Damocles Dock, having miraculously escaped from the Lachrymose Leeches. But it was not so. As the children sat on the damp ground, Count Olaf was already halfway across the lake and would soon be on board a train, disguised as a rabbi to fool the police, and I’m sorry to tell you that he was already concocting another scheme to steal the Baudelaire fortune. And we can never know exactly what was happening to Aunt Josephine as the children sat on the dock, unable to help her, but I will say that eventually—about the time when the Baudelaire orphans were forced to attend a miserable boarding school—two fishermen found both of Aunt Josephine’s life jackets, all in tatters and floating alone in the murky waters of Lake Lachrymose.
In most stories, as you know, the villain would be defeated, there would be a happy ending, and everybody would go home knowing the moral of the story. But in the case of the Baudelaires everything was wrong. Count Olaf, the villain, had not succeeded with his evil plan, but he certainly hadn’t been defeated, either. You certainly couldn’t say that there was a happy ending. And the Baudelaires could not go home knowing the moral of the story, for the simple reason that they could not go home at all. Not only had Aunt Josephine’s house fallen into the lake, but the Baudelaires’ real home—the house where they had lived with their parents—was just a pile of ashes in a vacant lot, and they couldn’t go back there no matter how much they wanted to.
But even if they could go home it would be difficult for me to tell you what the moral of the story is. In some stories, it’s easy. The moral of “The Three Bears,” for instance, is “Never break into someone else’s house.” The moral of “Snow White” is “Never eat apples.” The moral of World War One is “Never assassinate Archduke Ferdinand.” But Violet, Klaus, and Sunny sat on the dock and watched the sun come up over Lake Lachrymose and wondered exactly what the moral was of their time with Aunt Josephine.
The expression “It dawned on them,” which I am about to use, does not have anything to do with the sunlight spreading out over Damocles Dock. “It dawned on them” simply means “They figured something out,” and as the Baudelaire orphans sat and watched the dock fill with people as the business of the day began, they figured out something that was very important to them. It dawned on them that unlike Aunt Josephine, who had lived up in that house, sad and alone, the three children had one another for comfort and support over the course of their miserable lives. And while this did not make them feel entirely safe, or entirely happy, it made them feel appreciative.
“Thank you, Klaus,” Violet said appreciatively, “for figuring out that note. And thank you, Sunny, for stealing the keys to the sailboat. If it weren’t for the two of you we would now be in Count Olaf’s clutches.”
“Thank you, Violet,” Klaus said appreciatively, “for thinking of the peppermints to gain us some time. And thank you, Sunny, for biting the peg leg just at the right moment. If it weren’t for the two of you, we would now be doomed.”
“Pilums,” Sunny said appreciatively, and her siblings understood at once that she was thanking Violet for inventing the signaling device, and thanking Klaus for reading the atlas and guiding them to Curdled Cave.
They leaned up against one another appreciatively, and small smiles appeared on their damp and anxious faces. They had each other. I’m not sure that “The Baudelaires had each other” is the moral of this story, but to the three siblings it was enough. To have each other in the midst of their unfortunate lives felt like having a sailboat in the middle of a hurricane, and to the Baudelaire orphans this felt very fortunate indeed.
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