A Series of Unfortunate Events 11 - The Grim Grotto



A Series of Unfortunate Events

Book the Eleventh

The Grim Grotto

Lemony Snicket





     After a great deal of time examining oceans, investigating rainstorms, and staring very hard at several drinking fountains, the scientists of the world developed a theory regarding how water is distributed around our planet, which they have named “the water cycle.” The water cycle consists of three key phenomena – evaporation, precipitation, and collection – and all of them are equally boring.

     Of course, it is boring to read about boring things, but it is better to read something that makes you yawn with boredom than something that will make you weep uncontrollably, pound your fists against the floor, and leave tearstains all over your pillowcase, sheets, and boomerang collection. Like the water cycle, the tale of the Baudelaire children consists of three key phenomena, but rather than read their sorry tale it would be best if you read something about the water cycle instead.

     Violet, the eldest phenomenon, was nearly fifteen years old and very nearly the best inventor the world had ever seen. As far as I can tell she was certainly the best inventor who had ever found herself trapped in the gray waters of the Stricken Stream, clinging desperately to a toboggan as she was carried away from the Valley of Four Drafts, and if I were you I would prefer to focus on the boring phenomenon of evaporation, which refers to the process of water turning into vapor and eventually forming clouds, rather than think about the turmoil that awaited her at the bottom of the Mortmain Mountains.

     Klaus was the second eldest of the Baudelaire siblings, but it would be better for your health if you concentrated on the boring phenomenon of precipitation, which refers to vapor turning back into water and falling as rain, rather than spending even one moment thinking about the phenomenon of Klaus's excellent skills as a researcher, and the amount of trouble and woe these skills would bring him once he and his siblings met up with Count Olaf, the notorious villain who had been after the children ever since their parents had perished in a terrible fire.

     And even Sunny Baudelaire, who had recently passed out of babyhood, is a phenomenon all to herself, not only for her very sharp teeth, which had helped the Baudelaires in a number of unpleasant circumstances, but also for her newfound skills as a cook, which had fed the Baudelaires in a number of unpleasant circumstances. Although the phenomenon of collection, which describes the gathering of fallen rain into one place so it can evaporate once more and begin the entire tedious process all over again, is probably the most boring phenomenon in the water cycle, it would be far better for you to get up and go right to your nearest library and spend several boring days reading every single boring fact you can find about collection, because the phenomenon of what happens to Sunny Baudelaire over the course of these pages is the most dreadful phenomenon I can think of, and I can think of a great many. The water cycle may be a series of boring phenomena, but the story of the Baudelaires is something else entirely, and this is an excellent opportunity to read something boring instead of learning what became of the Baudelaires as the rushing waters of the Stricken Stream carried them away from the mountains.

     “What will become of us?” Violet asked, raising her voice to be heard over the rushing water. “I don't think I can invent anything that can stop this toboggan.”

     “I don't think you should try,” Klaus called back to his sister. “The arrival of False Spring has thawed out the stream, but the waters are still very cold. If one of us fell into the stream, I'm not sure how long we could survive.”

     “Quigley,” Sunny whimpered. The youngest Baudelaire often talked in a way that could be difficult to understand, but lately her speech had been developing almost as quickly as her cooking skills, and her siblings knew that Sunny was referring to Quigley Quagmire, with whom the Baudelaires had recently become friends. Quigley had helped Violet and Klaus reach the top of Mount Fraught in order to find the V.F.D. headquarters and rescue Sunny from Count Olaf's clutches, but another tributary of the Stricken Stream had carried him off in the opposite direction, and the cartographer – a word which here means “someone who is very good with maps, and of whom Violet Baudelaire was particularly fond” – didn't even have a toboggan to keep him out of the chilly water.

     “I'm sure Quigley has gotten out of the water,” Violet said quickly, although of course she was sure of no such thing. “I only wish we knew where he was going. He told us to meet him somewhere, but the waterfall interrupted him.”

     The toboggan bobbed in the water as Klaus reached into his pocket and drew out a dark blue notebook. The notebook had been a gift from Quigley, and Klaus was using it as a commonplace book, a phrase which here means “notebook in which he wrote any interesting or useful information.” “We decoded that message telling us about an important V.F.D. gathering on Thursday,” he said, “and thanks to Sunny, we know that the meeting is at the Hotel Denouement. Maybe that's where Quigley wants to meet us – at the last safe place.”

     “But we don't know where it is,” Violet pointed out. “How can we meet someone in an unknown location?”

     The three Baudelaires sighed, and for a few moments the siblings sat quietly on the toboggan and listened to the gurgling of the stream. There are some people who like to watch a stream for hours, staring at the glittering water and thinking about the mysteries of the world. But the waters of the Stricken Stream were too dirty to glitter, and every mystery the children tried to solve seemed to reveal even more mysteries, and even those mysteries contained mysteries, so when they pondered these mysteries they felt more overwhelmed than thoughtful. They knew that V.F.D. was a secret organization, but they couldn't seem to find out much about what the organization did, or why it should concern the Baudelaires. They knew that Count Olaf was very eager to get his filthy hands on a certain sugar bowl, but they had no idea why the sugar bowl was so important, or where in the world it was. They knew that there were people in the world who could help them, but so many of these people – guardians, friends, bankers – had proven to be of no help at all, or had vanished from their lives just when the Baudelaires needed them most. And they knew there were people in the world who would not help them – villainous people, and their number seemed to be growing as their treachery and wickedness trickled all over the earth, like a dreadful water cycle of woe and despair. But right now the biggest mystery seemed to be what to do next, and as the Baudelaires huddled together on the floating toboggan they could not think of a thing.

     “If we stay on the toboggan,” Violet said finally, “where do you think we'll go?”

     “Down the mountains,” Klaus said. “Water runs downhill. The Stricken Stream probably leads out of the Mortmain Mountains into the hinterlands, and then eventually it'll lead to some larger body of water – a lake, or an ocean. From there the water will evaporate into clouds, fall as rain and snow, and so on.”

     “Tedium,” Sunny said.

     “The water cycle is quite dull,” Klaus agreed, “but it might be the easiest way to get us away from Count Olaf.”

     “That's true,” Violet said. “Olaf said he'd be right behind us.”

     “Esmelita,” Sunny said, which meant something like, “Along with Esmé Squalor and Carmelita Spats,” and the Baudelaires frowned as they thought of Olaf's girlfriend, who participated in Olaf's schemes because she believed that treachery and deception were very stylish, or “ in ,” and the former classmate of the Baudelaires' who had recently joined Olaf for selfish reasons of her own.

     “So we're just going to sit on this toboggan,” Violet asked, “and see where it takes us?”

     “It's not much of a plan,” Klaus admitted, “but I can't think of a better one.”

     “Passive,” Sunny said, and her siblings nodded glumly. “Passive” is an unusual word to hear from a baby, and in fact it is an unusual word to hear from a Baudelaire or anyone else who leads an interesting life. It merely means “accepting what is happening without doing anything about it,” and certainly everyone has passive moments from time to time. Perhaps you have experienced a passive moment at the shoe store, when you sat in a chair as the shoe salesperson forced your feet into a series of ugly and uncomfortable shoes, when all the while you wanted a bright red pair with strange buckles that nobody on earth was going to buy for you. The Baudelaires had experienced a passive moment at Briny Beach , where they had learned the terrible news about their parents, and had been numbly led by Mr. Poe toward their new unfortunate lives. I recently experienced a passive moment myself, sitting in a chair as a shoe salesperson forced my feet into a series of ugly and uncomfortable positions, when all the while I wanted a bright red pair of shoes with strange buckles that nobody on earth was going to buy for me. But a passive moment in the middle of a rushing stream, when villainous people are hot on your trail, is a difficult moment to accept, which is why the Baudelaires fidgeted on the toboggan as the Stricken Stream carried them further and further downhill, just as I fidgeted as I tried to plan my escape from that sinister shoe emporium. Violet fidgeted and thought of Quigley, hoping he had managed to escape from the cold water and get himself to safety. Klaus fidgeted and thought of V.F.D., hoping that he could still learn more about the organization even though their headquarters had been destroyed. And Sunny fidgeted and thought of the fish in the Stricken Stream, who would occasionally stick their heads out of the ashen water and cough. She was wondering if the ashes, which were left in the water by a recent fire in the mountains and made it difficult for the fish to breathe, would mean the fish wouldn't taste very good, even if you used a recipe with plenty of butter and lemon.

     The Baudelaires were so busy fidgeting and thinking that when the toboggan rounded one of the odd, square sides of the mountain peaks, it was a moment before they noticed the view spread below them. Only when a few scraps of newspaper blew in front of their faces did the Baudelaires look down and gasp at what they saw.

     “What is it?” Violet said.

     “I don't know,” Klaus said. “It's hard to tell from so high up.”

     “Subjavik,” Sunny said, and she spoke the truth. From this side of the Mortmain Mountains , the Baudelaires had expected to see the hinterlands, a vast expanse of flat landscape where they had spent quite some time. Instead, it looked like the world had turned into a dark, dark sea. As far as the eye could see there were swirls of gray and black, moving like strange eels in shadowy water. Every so often one of the swirls would release a small, fragile object that would float up toward the Baudelaires like a feather. Some of these objects were scraps of newspaper. Others appeared to be tiny bits of cloth. And some of them were so dark that they were utterly unrecognizable, a phrase Sunny preferred to express as “subjavik.”

     Klaus squinted down through his glasses and then turned to his sisters with a look of despair. “I know what it is,” he said quietly. “It's the ruins of a fire.”

     The Baudelaires looked down again and saw that Klaus was right. From such a height, it had taken the children a moment to realize that a great fire had raged through the hinterlands, leaving only ashen scraps behind.

     “Of course,” Violet said. “It's strange we didn't recognize it before. But who would set fire to the hinterlands?”

     “We did,” Klaus said.

      “Caligari,” Sunny said, reminding Violet of a terrible carnival in which the Baudelaires had spent some time in disguise. Sadly, as part of their disguise it had been necessary to assist Count Olaf in burning down the carnival, and now they could see the fruits of their labors, a phrase which here means “the results of the terrible thing they did, even though they did not mean to do it at all.”

     “The fire isn't our fault,” Violet said. “Not entirely. We had to help Olaf , otherwise he would have discovered our disguises.”

     “He discovered our disguises anyway,” Klaus pointed out.

     “Noblaym,” Sunny said, which meant something like, “But it's still not our fault.”

     “Sunny's right,” Violet said. “We didn't think up the plot – Olaf did.”

     “We didn't stop him, either,” Klaus pointed out. “And plenty of people think we're entirely responsible. These scraps of newspaper are probably from The Daily Punctilio , which has blamed us for all sorts of terrible crimes.”

     “You're right,” Violet said with a sigh, although I have since discovered that Klaus was wrong, and that the scraps of paper blowing past the Baudelaires were from another publication that would have been of enormous help had they stopped to collect the pieces. “Maybe we should be passive for a while. Being active hasn't helped us much.”

     “In any case,” Klaus said, “we should stay on the toboggan. Fire can't hurt us if we're floating on a stream.”

     “It doesn't seem like we have a choice,” Violet said. “Look.”

     The Baudelaires looked, and saw that the toboggan was approaching a sort of intersection, where another tributary of the Stricken Stream was meeting up with theirs. The stream was now much wider, and the water even rougher, so the Baudelaires had to hang on tight in order not to be thrown into the deepening waters.

     “We must be approaching a larger body of water,” Klaus said. “We're further along in the water cycle than I thought.”

     “Do you think that's the tributary that carried away Quigley?” Violet said, craning her neck to look for her missing friend.

     “Selphawa!” Sunny cried, which meant “We can't think about Quigley now – we have to think about ourselves,” and the youngest Baudelaire was right. With a great whoosh! the stream turned another square corner, and within moments the waters of the stream were churning so violently that it felt as if the Baudelaires were riding a wild horse rather than a broken toboggan.

     “Can you steer the toboggan toward the shore?” Klaus yelled over the sound of the stream.

     “No!” Violet cried. “The steering mechanism broke when we rode down the waterfall, and the stream is too wide to paddle there!” Violet found a ribbon in her pocket and paused to tie up her hair in order to think better. She gazed down at the toboggan and tried to think of various mechanical blueprints she had read in her childhood, when her parents were alive and supportive of her interests in mechanical engineering. “The runners of the toboggan,” she said, and then repeated it in a shout to be heard over the water. “The runners! They help the toboggan maneuver on the snow, but maybe they can help us steer on the water!”

     “Where are the runners?” Klaus asked, looking around.

     “On the bottom of the toboggan!” Violet cried.

      “Imposiyakto?” Sunny asked, which meant something like, “How can we get to the bottom of the toboggan?”

     “I don't know,” Violet said, and frantically checked her pockets for any inventing materials. She had been carrying a long bread knife, but now it was gone – probably carried away by the stream, along with Quigley, when she had used it last. She looked straight ahead, at the frothy rush of water threatening to engulf them. She gazed at the distant shores of the stream, which grew more and more distant as the stream continued to widen. And she looked at her siblings, who were waiting for her inventing skills to save them. Her siblings looked back, and all three Baudelaires looked at one another for a moment, blinking dark water out of their eyes, as they tried to think of something to do.

     Just at that moment, however, one more eye arrived, also blinking dark water as it rose out of the stream, right in front of the Baudelaires. At first it seemed to be the eye of some terrible sea creature, found only in books of mythology and in the swimming pools of certain resorts. But as the toboggan took them closer, the children could see that the eye was made of metal, perched on top of a long metal pole that curved at the top so the eye could get a better look at them. It is very unusual to see a metal eye rising up out of the rushing waters of a stream, and yet this eye was something the Baudelaires had seen many times, since their first encounter with an eye tattoo on Count Olaf's left ankle. The eye was an insignia, and when you looked at it in a certain way it also looked like three mysterious letters.

     “V.F.D.!” Sunny cried, as the toboggan drew even closer.

     “What is it?” Klaus asked.

     “It's a periscope!” Violet said. “Submarines use them to look at things above the water!”

     “Does that mean,” Klaus cried, “that there's a submarine beneath us?”

     Violet did not have to answer, because the eye rose further out of the water, and the orphans could see that the pole was attached to a large, flat piece of metal, most of which was under the water. The toboggan drew closer until the periscope was in reach, and then stopped, the way a raft will stop when it hits a large rock.

     “Look!” Violet cried as the stream rushed around them. She pointed to a hatch just at the bottom of the periscope. “Let's knock – maybe they can hear us!”

     “But we have no idea who's inside,” Klaus said.

     “Taykashans!” Sunny shrieked, which meant “It's our only chance to travel safely through these waters,” and she leaned down to the hatch and scraped at it with her teeth. Her siblings joined her, preferring to use their fists to pound on the metal hatch.

     “Hello!” Violet cried.

     “Hello!” Klaus yelled.

     “Shalom!” Sunny shrieked.

     Over the sound of the rushing stream, the Baudelaires heard a very dim sound coming from behind the hatch. The sound was a human voice, very deep and echoey as if it were coming from the bottom of a well. “Friend or foe?” it said.

     The Baudelaires looked at one another. They knew, as I'm sure you know, that “friend or foe” is a traditional greeting directed at visitors who approach an important place, such as a royal palace or a fiercely guarded shoe store, and must identify themselves as either a friend or a foe of the people inside. But the siblings did not know if they were friends or foes for the simple reason that they had no idea who was talking.

     “What should we say?” Violet asked, lowering her voice. “The eye might mean that it's Count Olaf's submarine, in which case we're foes.”

     “The eye might mean that it's V.F.D.'s submarine,” Klaus said, “in which case we're friends.”

     “Obvio!” Sunny said, which meant “There's only one answer that will get us into the submarine,” and she called down to the hatch, “Friend!”

    There was a pause, and the echoey voice spoke again. “Password, please,” it said.

     The Baudelaires looked at one another again. A password, of course, is a certain word or phrase that one utters in order to receive information or enter a secret place, and the siblings of course had no idea what they should say in order to enter a submarine. For a moment none of the children said anything, merely tried to think, although they wished it were quieter so they could think without the distractions of the sounds of the rushing of water and the coughing of fish. They wished that instead of being stranded on a toboggan in the middle of the Stricken Stream, they were in some quiet room, such as the Baudelaire library, where they could sit in silence and read up on what the password might be. But as the three siblings thought of one library, one sibling remembered another: the ruined V.F.D. library, up in the Valley of Four Drafts where the headquarters had once stood. Violet thought of an iron archway, one of the few remnants of the library, and the motto that was etched into it. The eldest Baudelaire looked at her siblings and then leaned down to the hatch and repeated the mysterious words she had seen, and that she hoped would bring her and her siblings to safety.

     “The world is quiet here,” she said. There was a pause, and with a loud, metallic creak, the hatch opened, and the siblings peered into a dark hole, which had a ladder running along the side so they could climb down. They shivered, and not just from the icy chill of the mountain winds and the rushing dark waters of the Stricken Stream. They shivered because they did not know where they were going, or who they might meet if they climbed down into the hole. Instead of entering, the Baudelaires wanted to call something else down the hatch – the same words that had been called up to them. “Friend or foe?” they wanted to say. “Friend or foe?” Would it be safer to enter the submarine, or safer to risk their lives outside, in the rushing waters of the Stricken Stream? “Enter, Baudelaires,” the voice said, and whether it belonged to friend or foe, the Baudelaires decided to climb inside.

     “Aye?” Sunny whispered to her siblings.

     “'Aye,'” Klaus explained quietly, “is another word for ‘yes.'”

     “Aye!” the voice said again. “Keep your eyes open! Look out below! Look out above! Look out for spies! Look out for one another! Look out! Aye! Be very careful! Be very aware! Be very much! Take a break! No – keep going! Stay awake! Calm down! Cheer up! Keep climbing! Keep your shirt on! Aye!”

     As desperate as their situation was, the Baudelaires almost found themselves giggling. The voice was shouting out so many instructions, and so few of them made sense, that it would have been impossible for the children to follow them, and the voice was quite cheerful and a bit scattered, as if whoever was talking did not really care if their instructions were followed and had probably forgotten them already. “Hold on to the railing!” the voice continued, as the Baudelaires spotted a light at the end of the passageway. “Aye! No – hold on to yourselves! No – hold on to your hats! No – hold on to your hands! No – hold on! Wait a minute! Wait a second! Stop waiting! Stop war! Stop injustice! Stop bothering me! Aye!”

     Sunny had been the first to enter the passageway, and so she was the first to reach the bottom and lower herself carefully into a small, dim room with a very low ceiling. Standing in the center of the room was an enormous man dressed in a shiny suit made of some sort of slippery-looking material with equally slippery-looking boots on his feet. On the front of the suit was a portrait of a man with a beard, although the man himself had no beard, merely a very long mustache curled up at both ends like a pair of parentheses. “One of you is a baby!” he cried, as Klaus and Violet lowered themselves next to their sister. “Aye! No – both of you are babies! No – there's three of you! No – none of you are babies! Well, one of you sort of is a baby! Welcome! Aye! Hello! Good afternoon! Howdy! Shake my hand! Aye!”

     The Baudelaires hurriedly shook the man's hand, which was covered in a glove made of the same slippery material. “My name is Violet B –” Violet started to say.

     “Baudelaire!” the man interrupted. “I know! I'm not stupid! Aye! And you're Klaus and Sunny! You're the Baudelaires! The three Baudelaire children! Aye! The ones The Daily Punctilio blames for every crime they can think of but you're really innocent but nevertheless in a big heap of trouble! Of course! Nice to meet you! In person! So to speak! Let's go! Follow me! Aye!”

     The man whirled around and stomped out of the room, leaving the bewildered Baudelaires little else to do but follow him down a corridor. The corridor was covered in metal pipes that ran along the walls, floor, and ceiling, so that the Baudelaires sometimes had to duck, or step very high, in order to make their way. Occasionally drops of water would drip from one of the pipes and land on their heads, but they were already so damp from the Stricken Stream that they scarcely noticed. Besides, they were far too busy trying to follow what the man was saying to think of anything else.

     “Let's see! I'll put you to work right away! Aye! No – first I'll give you a tour! No – I'll give you lunch! No – I'll introduce you to my crew! No – I'll let you rest! No – I'd better get you into uniforms! Aye! It's important that everyone aboard wear a waterproof uniform in case the submarine collapses and we find ourselves underwater! Of course, in that case we'll need diving helmets! Except sunny because she can't wear one! I guess she'll drown! No – she can curl up inside a diving helmet! Aye! The helmets have a tiny door on the neck just for such a purpose! Aye! I've seen it done! I've seen so many things in my time!”

     “Excuse me,” Violet said, “but could you tell us who you are?”

     The man whirled around to face the children and held his hands up over his head. “What?” he roared. “You don't know who I am? I've never been so insulted in my life! No – I have. Many times, in fact. Aye! I remember when Count Olaf turned to me and said, in that horrible voice of his – No, never mind. I'll tell you. I'm Captain Widdershins. That's spelled W-I-D-D-E-R-S-H-I-N-S. Backward it's S-N-I-H-S-R – well, never mind. Nobody spells it backward! Except people who have no respect for the alphabet! And they're not here! Are they?”

     “No,” Klaus said. “We have a great deal of respect for the alphabet.”

     “I should say so!” the captain cried. “Klaus Baudelaire disrespect the alphabet? Why, it's unthinkable! Aye! It's illegal! It's impossible! It's not true! How dare you say so! No – you didn't say so! I apologize! One thousand pardons! Aye!”

     "Is this your submarine, Captain Widdershins? Violet asked.

     “What?” the captain roared. “You don't know whose submarine it is? A renowned inventor like yourself and you haven't the faintest sense of basic submarine history? Of course this is my submarine! It's been my submarine for years! Aye! Have you never heard of Captain Widdershins and the Queequeg ? Have you never heard of the Submarine Q and Its Crew of Two? That's a little nickname I made up myself! With a little help! Aye! I would think Josephine would have told you about the Queequeg ! After all, I patrolled Lake Lachrymose for years! Poor Josephine! There's not a day I don't think of her! Aye! Except some days when it slips my mind!”

     “Nottooti?” Sunny asked.

     “I was told it would take me some time to understand everything you said,” the captain said, looking down at Sunny. “I'm not sure I'll find the time to learn another foreign language! Aye! Perhaps I could enroll in some night classes!”

     “What my sister means,” Violet said quickly, “is that she's curious how you know so much about us.”

     “How does anyone know anything about anything?” the captain replied. “I read it, of course! Aye! I've read every Volunteer Factual Dispatch I've received! Although lately I haven't received any! Aye! That's why I'm glad you happened along! Aye! I thought I might faint when I peered through the periscope and saw your damp little faces staring back at me! Aye! I was sure it was you, but I didn't hesitate to ask you the password! Aye! I never hesitate! Aye! That's my personal philosophy!”

     The captain stopped in the middle of the hallway, and pointed to a brass rectangle that was attached to a wall. It was a plaque, a word which here means “metal rectangle with words carved on it, usually to indicate that something important has happened on the spot where the rectangle is attached.” This plaque had a large V.F.D. eye carved into the top, watching over the words THE CAPTAIN'S PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY carved in enormous letters, but the Baudelaires had to lean in close to see what was printed beneath it.

     “'He who hesitates is lost'!” the captain cried, pointing at each word with a thick, gloved finger.

     “'Or she,'” Violet added, pointing to a pair of words that someone had added in scratchy handwriting.

     “My stepdaughter added that,” Captain Widdershins said. “And she's right! ‘Or she'! One day I was walking down this very hallway and I realized that anyone can be lost if they hesitate! A giant octopus could be chasing you, and if you decided to pause for a moment and tie your shoes, what would happen? All would be lost, that's what would happen! Aye! That's why it's my personal philosophy! I never hesitate! Never! Aye! Well, sometimes I do! But I try not to! Because He or she who hesitates is lost! Let's go!”

     Without hesitating a moment longer at the plaque, Captain Widdershins whirled around and led the children further down the corridor, which echoed with the odd sound of his waterproof boots each time he took a step. The children were a bit dizzy from the captain's chatter, and they were thinking about his personal philosophy and whether or not it ought to be their personal philosophies as well. Having a personal philosophy is like having a pet marmoset, because it may be very attractive when you acquire it, but there may be situations when it will not come in handy at all. “He or she who hesitates is lost” sounded like a reasonable philosophy at first glance, but the Baudelaires could think of situations in which hesitating might be the best thing to do. Violet was glad she'd hesitated when she and her siblings were living with Aunt Josephine, otherwise she might never have realized the importance of the peppermints she found in her pocket. Klaus was glad he'd hesitated at Heimlich Hospital , otherwise he might never have thought of a way to disguise Sunny and himself as medical professionals so they could rescue Violet from having unnecessary surgery. And Sunny was glad she'd hesitated outside Count Olaf's tent on Mount Fraught, otherwise she might never have overheard the name of the last safe place, which the Baudelaires still hoped to reach. But despite all these incidents in which hesitation had been very helpful, the children did not wish to adopt “He or she who does not hesitate is lost” as their personal philosophy, because a giant octopus might come along at any moment, particularly when the Baudelaires were on board a submarine, and the siblings would be very foolish to hesitate if the octopus were coming after them. Perhaps, the Baudelaires thought, the wisest personal philosophy concerning hesitation would be “Sometimes he or she should hesitate and sometimes he or she should not hesitate,” but this seemed far too long and vague to be much use on a plaque.

     “Maybe if I hadn't hesitated,” the captain continued, “the Queequeg would have been repaired by now! Aye! The Submarine Q and Its Crew of Two is not in the best of shape, I'm afraid! Aye! We've been attacked by villains and leeches, by sharks and realtors, by pirates and girlfriends, by torpedoes and angry salmon! Aye!” He stopped at a thick metal door, turned to the Baudelaires, and signed. “Everything from the radar mechanisms to my alarm clock is malfunctioning! Aye! That's why I'm glad you're here, Violet Baudelaire! We're desperate for someone with mechanical smarts!”

     “I'll see what I can do,” Violet said.

     “Well, take a look!” Captain Widdershins cried, and swung open the door. The Baudelaires followed him into an enormous, cavernous room that echoed when the captain spoke. There were pipes on the ceiling, pipes on the floor, and pipes sticking out of the walls at all angles. Between the pipes was a bewildering array of panels with knobs, gears, and tiny screens, as well as tiny signs saying things like, DANGER!, WARNING!, and HE OR SHE WHO HESITATES IS LOST! Here and there were a few green lights, and at the far end was an enormous wooden table piled with books, maps, and dirty dishes, which stood beneath an enormous porthole, a word which here means “round window through which the Baudelaires could see the filthy waters of the Stricken Stream.”

     “This is the belly of the beast!” the captain said. “Aye! It's the center of all operations aboard the Queequeg ! This is where we control the submarine, eat our meals, research our missions, and play board games when we're tired of working!” He strode over to one panel and ducked his head beneath it. “Fiona!” he called. “Come out of there!”

     There was a faint rattling sound, and then the children saw something race out from under the panel and halfway across the floor. In the dim green light it took a moment to see it was a girl a bit older than Violet, who was lying faceup on a small wheeled platform. She was wearing a suit just like Captain Widdershin's, with the same portrait of the bearded man on the front, and had a flashlight in one hand and a pair of pliers in the other. Smiling, she handed the pliers to her stepfather, who helped her up from the platform as she put on a pair of eyeglasses with triangular frames.

     “Baudelaires,” the captain said, “this is Fiona, my stepdaughter. Fiona, this is Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire.”

     “Charmed,” she said, extending a gloved hand first to Violet, then to Klaus, and finally to Sunny, who gave Fiona a big toothy smile. “I'm sorry I wasn't upstairs to meet you. I've been trying to repair this telegram device, but electrical repair work is not my specialty.”

     “Aye!” the captain said. “For quite some time we've stopped receiving telegrams, but Fiona can't seem to make heads or tails of the device! Violet, get to work!”

     “You'll have to forgive the way my stepfather speaks,” Fiona said, putting an arm around him. “It can take some getting used to.”

     “We don't have time to get used to anything!” Captain Widdershins cried. “This is no time to be passive! He who hesitates is lost!”

     “Or she,” Fiona corrected quietly. “Come on, Violet, I'll get you a uniform. If you're wondering whose portrait is one the front, it's Herman Melville.”

     “He's one of my favorite authors,” Klaus said. “I really enjoy the way he dramatizes the plight of overlooked people, such as poor sailors or exploited youngsters, through his strange, often experimental philosophical prose.”

     “I should have known you liked him,” Fiona replied. “When Josephine's house fell into the lake, my stepfather and I managed to save some of her library before it became too soaked. I read some of your decoding notes, Klaus. You're a very perceptive researcher.”

     “It's very kind of you to say so,” Klaus said.

     “Aye!” the captain cried. “A perceptive researcher is just what we need!” He stomped over to the table and lifted a pile of papers. “A certain taxi driver managed to smuggle these charts to me,” he said, “but I can't make head or tail of them! They're confusing! They're confounding! They're conversational! No – that's not what I mean!”

     “I think you mean convoluted,” Klaus said, peering at the charts. “'Conversational' means ‘having to do with conversations,' but ‘convoluted' means ‘complicated.' What kind of charts are they?”

     “Tidal charts!” the captain cried. “We have to figure out the exact course of the predominant tides at the point where the Stricken Stream meets the sea! Klaus, I want you to find a uniform and then get to work immediately! Aye!”

     “Aye!” Klaus said, trying to get into the spirit of the Queequeg .

     “Aye!” the captain answered in a happy roar.

     “I?” Sunny asked.

     “Aye!” the captain said. “I haven't forgotten about you, Sunny! I'd never forget Sunny! Never in a million years! Not that I will live that long! Particularly because I don't exercise very much! But I don't like exercising, so it's worth it! Why, I remember when they wouldn't let me go mountain climbing because I hadn't trained properly, and –”

     “Perhaps you should tell Sunny what you have in mind for her to do,” Fiona said gently.

     “Of course!” the captain roared. “Naturally! Our other crewman has been in charge of cooking, but all he does is make these terrible damp casseroles! I'm tired of them! I'm hoping your cooking skills might improve our meal situation!”

     “Sous,” Sunny said modestly, which meant something like, “I haven't been cooking for very long,” and her siblings were quick to translate.

     “Well, we're in a hurry!” the captain replied, walking over to a far door marked KITCHEN. “We can't wait for Sunny to become an expert chef before getting to work! He or she who hesitates is lost!” He opened the door and called inside. “Cookie! Get out here and meet the Baudelaires!”

     The children heard some quiet, uneven footsteps, as if the cook had something wrong with one leg, and then a man limped through the door, wearing the same uniform as the captain and a wide smile on his face.

     “Baudelaires!” he said. “I always believed I would see you again someday!”

     The three siblings looked at the man and then at one another in stupefaction, a word which here means “amazement at seeing a man for the first time since their stay at Lucky Smells Lumbermill, when his kindness toward them had been one of the few positive aspects of that otherwise miserable chapter in their lives.” “Phil!” Violet cried. “What on earth are you doing here?”

     “He's the second of our crew of two!” the captain cried. “Aye! The original second in the crew of two was Fiona's mother, but she died in a manatee accident quite a few years ago.”

     “I'm not so sure it was an accident,” Fiona said.

     “Then we had Jacques!” the captain continued. “Aye, and then what's-his-name, Jacques's brother, and then a dreadful woman who turned out to be a spy, and finally we have Phil! Although I like to call him Cookie! I don't know why!”

     “I was tired of working in the lumber industry,” Phil said. “I was sure I could find a better job, and look at me now – cook on a dilapidated submarine. Life keeps on getting better and better.”

     “You always were an optimist,” Klaus said.

     “We don't need an optimist!” Captain Widdershins said. “We need a cook! Get to work, Baudelaires! All of you! Aye! We have no time to waste! He who hesitates is lost!”

     “Or she,” Fiona reminded her stepfather. “And do we really have to start right this minute? I'm sure the Baudelaires are exhausted from their journey. We could spend a nice quiet evening playing board games –”

     “Board games?” the captain said in astonishment. “Amusements? Entertainments? We don't have time for such things! Aye! Today's Saturday, which means we only have five days left! Thursday is the V.F.D. gathering, and I don't want anyone at the Hotel Denouement to say that the Queequeg hasn't performed its mission!”

     “Mission ?” Sunny asked.

     “Aye!” Captain Widdershins said. “We mustn't hesitate! We must act! We must hurry! We must move! We must search! We must investigate! We must hunt! We must pursue! We must stop occasionally for a brief snack! We must find that sugar bowl before Count Olaf does! Aye ! ”

     The expression “Shiver me timbers!” comes from the society of pirates, who enjoy using interesting expressions almost as much as jumping aboard other people's ships and stealing their valuables. It is an expression of extreme amazement, used in circumstances when one feels as if one's very bones, or timbers, are shivering. I have not used the expression since one rainy night when it was necessary to pose as a pirate experiencing amazement, but when Captain Widdershins told the Baudelaire orphans where the Queequeg was going and what it was searching for, there was a perfect opportunity to utter these words.

     “Shiver me timbers!” Sunny cried.

     “Your timbers!” the captain cried back. “Are the Baudelaires practicing piracy? Aye! My heavens! If your parents knew that you were stealing the treasures of others –”

     “We're not pirates, Captain Widdershins,” Violet said hastily. "Sunny is just using an expression she learned from an old movie. She just means that we're surprised.'

     “Surprised?” The captain paced up and down in front of them, his waterproof suit crinkling with every step. “Do you think the Queequeg made its difficult way up the Stricken Stream just for my own personal amusement? Aye? Do you think I would risk such terrible danger simply because I had no other plans for the afternoon? Aye? Do you think it was a crazy coincidence that you ran into our periscope? Aye? Do you think this uniform makes me look fat? Aye? Do you think members of V.F.D. would just sit and twiddle their thumbs while fount Olaf's treachery covers the land like crust covers the filling of a pie? Aye?”

     “You were looking for us?” Klaus asked in amazement. He was tempted to cry “Shiver me timbers!” like his sister, but he did not want to alarm Captain Widdershins any further.

     “For you!” the captain cried. “Aye! For the sugar bowl! Aye! For justice! Aye! And liberty! Aye! For an opportunity to make the world quiet! Aye! And safe! Aye! And we may only have until Thursday! Aye! We're in terrible danger! Aye! So get to work!”

     “Bamboozle!” Sunny cried.

     “My sister is confused,” Violet said, “and so are we, Captain Widdershins. If we could just stop for a moment, and hear your story from the beginning –”

     “Stop for a moment?” the captain repeated in astonishment. “I've just explained our desperate circumstances, and you're asking me to hesitate? My dear girl, remember my personal philosophy! Aye! 'He or she who hesitates is lost'! Now let's get moving!”

     The children looked at one another in frustration. They did not want to get moving. It felt to the Baudelaire orphans that they had been moving almost constantly since that terrible day at the beach when their lives had been turned upside down. They had moved into Count Olaf's home, and then into the homes of various guardians. They had moved away from a village intent on burning them at the stake, and they had moved into a hospital that had burst into flames around them. They had moved to the hinterlands in the trunk of Count Olaf's car, and they had moved away from the hinterlands in disguise. They had moved up the Mortmain Mountains hoping to find one of their parents, and they had moved down the Mortmain Mountains thinking they would never see their parents again, and now, in a tiny submarine in the Stricken Stream, they wanted to stop moving, just for a little while, and receive some answers to questions they had been asking themselves since all this moving began.

     “Stepfather,” Fiona said gently, “why don't you start up the Queegueg's engines, and I'll show the Baudelaires where our spare uniforms are?”

     “I'm the captain!” the captain announced. “Ave! I'll give the orders around here!” Then he shrugged, and squinted up toward the ceiling. The Baudelaires noticed for the first time a ladder of rope running up the side of wall. It led up to a small shelf, where the children could see a large wheel, probably for steering, and a few rusty levers and switches that were Byzantine in their design, a phrase which here means “so complicated that perhaps even Violet Baudelaire would have trouble working them.” “I order myself to go up the ladder,” the captain continued a bit sheepishly, “and start the engines of the Queequeg .'” With one last “Aye!” the captain began hoisting himself toward the ceiling, and the Baudelaires were left alone with Fiona and Phil.

     “You must be overwhelmed, Baudelaire '-• Phil said. ”I remember my first day aboard the Queequeg – it made Lucky Smells Lumbermill seem calm and quiet!"

     “Phil, why don't you get the Baudelaires some soda, while I find them some uniforms?” Fiona said.

     “Soda?” Phil said, with a nervous glance at the captain, who was already halfway up the ladder. “We're supposed to save the soda for a special occasion.”

     “It is a special occasion,” Fiona said. “We're welcoming three more volunteers on board. What kind of soda do you prefer, Baudelaires?”

     “Anything but parsley,” Violet said, referring to a beverage enjoyed by Esmé Squalor.

     “I'll bring you some lemon-lime,” Phil said. “Sailors should always make sure there's plenty of citrus in their system. I'm so glad to see you, children. You know, I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you. I was so horrified after what happened in Paltryville that I couldn't stay at Lucky Smells and since then my life has been one big adventure!”

     “I'm sorry that your leg never healed,” Klaus said, referring to Phil's limp. “I didn't realize the accident with the stamping machine was so serious,”

     “That's not why I'm limping,” Phil said. “I was bitten by a shark last week. It was very painful, but I'm quite lucky. Most people never get an opportunity to get so close to such a deadly animal!”

     The Baudelaires watched him as he limped back through the kitchen door, whistling a bouncy tune. “Was Phil always optimistic when you knew him?” Fiona asked.

     “Always,” Violet said, and her siblings nodded in agreement. “We've never known anyone who could remain so cheerful, no matter what terrible things occurred,”

     “To tell you the truth, I sometimes find it a bit tiresome,” Fiona said, adjusting her triangular glasses, “Shall we find you some uniforms?”

     The Baudelaires nodded, and followed Fiona out of the Main Hall and back into the narrow corridor. “I know you have a lot of questions,” she said, “so Ill try to tell you everything I know. My stepfather believes that he or she who hesitates is lost, but I have a more cautious personal philosophy.”

     “We'd be very grateful if you might tell us a few things,” Klaus said. “First, how do you know who we are? Why were you looking for us? How did you know how to find us?”

     “That's a lot of firsts,” Fiona said with a smile. “I think you Baudelaires are forgetting that your exploits haven't exactly been a secret. Nearly every day there's been a story about you in one of the most popular newspapers.”

     “The Daily Punctilio?” Violet asked.' “I hope you haven't been believing the dreadful lies they've been printing about us.”

     “Of course not,” Fiona said. “But even the most ridiculous of stories can contain a grain of truth. The Daily Punctilio said that you'd murdered a man in the Village of Fowl Devotees, and set fires at Heimlich Hospital and Caligari Carnival. We knew, of course, that you hadn't committed these crimes, but we could tell that you had been there. My stepfather and I figured that you'd found the secret stain on Madame Lulu's map, and were headed for the V.F.D. headquarters.”

     Klaus gasped. “You know about Madame Lulu,” he said, “and the coded stain?”

     “My stepfather taught that code to Madame Lulu,” Fiona explained, “a long time ago, when they were both young. Well, we heard about the destruction of the headquarters, so we assumed that you'd be heading back down the mountain. So I set a course for the Queequeg to journey up the Stricken Stream.”

     “You traveled all the way up here,” Klaus said, “just to find us?”

     Fiona looked down. “Well, no,” she said. “You weren't the only thing at V.F.D. headquarters. One of our Volunteer Factual Dispatches told us that the sugar bowl was there as well”

     “Dephinpat?” Sunny asked.

     “What are Volunteer Factual Dispatches exactly?” Violet translated.

     “They're a way of sharing information,” Fiona said. “It's difficult for volunteers to meet up with one another, so when they unlock a mystery they can write it in a telegram. That way, important information gets circulated, and before long our commonplace books will be full of information we can use to defeat our enemies. A commonplace book is a –”

     “We know what a commonplace book is,” Klaus said, and removed his dark blue notebook from his pocket. “I've been keeping one myself.”

     Fiona smiled, and drummed her gloved fingers on the cover of Klaus's book. “I should have. known,” she said. “If your sisters want to start books themselves, we should have a few spares. Everything's in our supply room.”

     “So are we going up to the ruins of the headquarters,” Violet asked, “to get the sugar bowl? We didn't see it there.”

     “We think someone threw it out the window,” Fiona answered, “when the fire began. If they threw the sugar bowl from the kitchen, it would have landed in the Stricken Stream and been carried by the water cycle all the way down the mountains. We were seeing if it could be found at the bottom of the stream when we happened upon you three.”

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