A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Wide Window (2 page)

Chapter Three

There is a way of looking at life called "keeping things in perspective." This simply means "making yourself feel better by comparing the things that are happening to you right now against other things that have happened at a different time, or to different people." For instance, if you were upset about an ugly pimple on the end of your nose, you might try to feel better by keeping your pimple in perspective. You might compare your pimple situation to that of someone who was being eaten by a bear, and when you looked in the mirror at your ugly pimple, you could say to yourself, "Well, at least I'm not being eaten by a bear." You can see at once why keeping things in perspective rarely works very well, because it is hard to concentrate on somebody else being eaten by a bear when you are staring at your own ugly pimple. So it was with the Baudelaire orphans in the days that followed. In the morning, when the children joined Aunt Josephine for a breakfast of orange juice and untoasted bread, Violet thought to herself, "Well, at least we're not being forced to cook for Count Olaf's disgusting theater troupe." In the afternoon, when Aunt Josephine would take them to the library and teach them all about grammar, Klaus thought to himself, "Well, at least Count Olaf isn't about to whisk us away to Peru." And in the evening, when the children joined Aunt Josephine for a dinner of orange juice and untoasted bread, Sunny thought to herself, "Zax!" which meant something along the lines of "Well, at least there isn't a sign of Count Olaf anywhere." But no matter how much the three siblings compared their life with Aunt Josephine to the miserable things that had happened to them before, they couldn't help but be dissatisfied with their circumstances. In her free time, Violet would dismantle the gears and switches from the model train set, hoping to invent something that could prepare hot food without frightening Aunt Josephine, but she couldn't help wishing that Aunt Josephine would simply turn on the stove. Klaus would sit in one of the chairs in the library with his feet on a footstool, reading about grammar until the sun went down, but when he looked out at the gloomy lake he couldn't help wishing that they were still living with Uncle Monty and all of his reptiles. And Sunny would take time out from her schedule and bite the head of Pretty Penny, but she couldn't help wishing that their parents were still alive and that she and her siblings were safe and sound in the Baudelaire home. Aunt Josephine did not like to leave the house very much, because there were so many things outside that frightened her, but one day the children told her what the cabdriver had said about Hurricane Herman approaching, and she agreed to take them into town in order to buy groceries. Aunt Josephine was afraid to drive in automobiles, because the doors might get stuck, leaving her trapped inside, so they walked the long way down the hill. By the time the Baudelaires reached the market their legs were sore from the walk. "Are you sure that you won't let us cook for you?" Violet asked, as Aunt Josephine reached into the barrel of limes. "When we lived with Count Olaf, we learned how to make puttanesca sauce. It was quite easy and perfectly safe." Aunt Josephine shook her head. "It is my responsibility as your caretaker to cook for you, and I am eager to try this recipe for cold lime stew. Count Olaf certainly does sound evil. Imagine forcing children to stand near a stove!" "He was very cruel to us," Klaus agreed, not adding that being forced to cook had been the least of their problems when they lived with Count Olaf. "Sometimes I still have nightmares about the terrible tattoo on his ankle. It always scared me." Aunt Josephine frowned, and patted her bun. "I'm afraid you made a grammatical mistake, Klaus," she said sternly. "When you said, 'It always scared me,' you sounded as if you meant that his ankle always scared you, but you meant his tattoo. So you should have said, 'The tattoo always scared me.' Do you understand?" "Yes, I understand," Klaus said, sighing. "Thank you for pointing that out, Aunt Josephine." "Niku!" Sunny shrieked, which probably meant something like "It wasn't very nice to point out Klaus's grammatical mistake when he was talking about something that upset him." "No, no, Sunny," Aunt Josephine said firmly, looking up from her shopping list. "'Niku' isn't a word. Remember what we said about using correct English. Now, Violet, would you please get some cucumbers? I thought I would make chilled cucumber soup again sometime next week." Violet groaned inwardly, a phrase which here means "said nothing but felt disappointed at the prospect of another chilly dinner," but she smiled at Aunt Josephine and headed down an aisle of the market in search of cucumbers. She looked wistfully at all the delicious food on the shelves that required turning on the stove in order to prepare it. Violet hoped that someday she could cook a nice hot meal for Aunt Josephine and her siblings using the invention she was working on with the model train engine. For a few moments she was so lost in her inventing thoughts that she didn't look where she was going until she walked right into someone. "Excuse m-" Violet started to say, but when she looked up she couldn't finish her sentence. There stood a tall, thin man with a blue sailor hat on his head and a black eye patch covering his left eye. He was smiling eagerly down at her as if she were a brightly wrapped birthday present that he couldn't wait to rip open. His fingers were long and bony, and he was leaning awkwardly to one side, a bit like Aunt Josephine's house dangling over the hill. When Violet looked down, she saw why: There was a thick stump of wood where his left leg should have been, and like most people with peg legs, this man was leaning on his good leg, which caused him to tilt. But even though Violet had never seen anyone with a peg leg before, this was not why she couldn't finish her sentence. The reason why had to do with something she had seen before-the bright, bright shine in the man's one eye, and above it, just one long eyebrow. When someone is in disguise, and the disguise is not very good, one can describe it as a transparent disguise. This does not mean that the person is wearing plastic wrap or glass or anything else transparent. It merely means that people can see through his disguise that is, the disguise doesn't fool them for a minute. Violet wasn't fooled for even a second as she stood staring at the man she'd walked into. She knew at once it was Count Olaf. "Violet, what are you doing in this aisle?" Aunt Josephine said, walking up behind her. "This aisle contains food that needs to be heated, and you know-" When she saw Count Olaf she stopped speaking, and for a second Violet thought that Aunt Josephine had recognized him, too. But then Aunt Josephine smiled, and Violet's hopes were dashed, a word which here means "shattered." "Hello," Count Olaf said, smiling at Aunt Josephine. "I was just apologizing for running into your sister here." Aunt Josephine's face grew bright red, seeming even brighter under her white hair. "Oh, no," she said, as Klaus and Sunny came down the aisle to see what all the fuss was about. "Violet is not my sister, sir. I am her legal guardian." Count Olaf clapped one hand to his face as if Aunt Josephine had just told him she was the tooth fairy. "I cannot believe it," he said. "Madam, you don't look nearly old enough to be anyone's guardian." Aunt Josephine blushed again. "Well, sir, I have lived by the lake my whole life, and some people have told me that it keeps me looking youthful." "I would be happy to have the acquaintance of a local personage," Count Olaf said, tipping his blue sailor hat and using a silly word which here means "person." "I am new to this town, and beginning a new business, so I am eager to make new acquaintances. Allow me to introduce myself." "Klaus and I are happy to introduce you," Violet said, with more bravery than I would have had when faced with meeting Count Olaf again. "Aunt Josephine, this is Count-" "No, no, Violet," Aunt Josephine interrupted. "Watch your grammar. You should have said 'Klaus and I will be happy to introduce you,' because you haven't introduced us yet." "But-" Violet started to say. "Now, Veronica," Count Olaf said, his one eye shining brightly as he looked down at her. "Your guardian is right. And before you make any other mistakes, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Captain Sham, and I have a new business renting sailboats out on Damocles Dock. I am happy to make your acquaintance, Miss-?" "I am Josephine Anwhistle," Aunt Josephine said. "And these are Violet, Klaus, and little Sunny Baudelaire." "Little Sunny," Captain Sham repeated, sounding as if he were eating Sunny rather than greeting her. "It's a pleasure to meet all of you. Perhaps someday I can take you out on the lake for a little boat ride." "Ging!" Sunny shrieked, which probably meant something like "I would rather eat dirt." "We're not going anywhere with you," Klaus said. Aunt Josephine blushed again, and looked sharply at the three children. "The children seem to have forgotten their manners as well as their grammar," she said. "Please apologize to Captain Sham at once." "He's not Captain Sham," Violet said impatiently. "He's Count Olaf." Aunt Josephine gasped, and looked from the anxious faces of the Baudelaires to the calm face of Captain Sham. He had a grin on his face, but his smile had slipped a notch, a phrase which here means "grown less confident as he waited to see if Aunt Josephine realized he was really Count Olaf in disguise." Aunt Josephine looked him over from head to toe, and then frowned. "Mr. Poe told me to be on the watch for Count Olaf," she said finally, "but he did also say that you children tended to see him everywhere." "We see him everywhere," Klaus said tiredly, "because he is everywhere." "Who is this Count Omar person?" Captain Sham asked. "Count Olaf" Aunt Josephine said, "is a terrible man who-" "-is standing right in front of us," Violet finished. "I don't care what he calls himself. He has the same shiny eyes, the same single eyebrow-" "But plenty of people have those characteristics," Aunt Josephine said. "Why, my mother-in-law had not only one eyebrow, but also only one ear." "The tattoo!" Klaus said. "Look for the tattoo! Count Olaf has a tattoo of an eye on his left ankle." Captain Sham sighed, and, with difficulty, lifted his peg leg so everyone could get a clear look at it. It was made of dark wood that was polished to shine as brightly as his eye, and attached to his left knee with a curved metal hinge. "But I don't even have a left ankle," he said, in a whiny voice. "It was all chewed away by the Lachrymose Leeches." Aunt Josephine's eyes welled up, and she placed a hand on Captain Sham's shoulder. "Oh, you poor man," she said, and the children knew at once that they were doomed. "Did you hear what Captain Sham said?" she asked them. Violet tried one more time, knowing it would probably be futile, a word which here means "filled with futility." "He's not Captain Sham," she said. "He's-" "You don't think he would allow the Lachrymose Leeches to chew off his leg," Aunt Josephine said, "just to play a prank on you? Tell us, Captain Sham. Tell us how it happened." "Well, I was sitting on my boat, just a few weeks ago," Captain Sham said. "I was eating some pasta with puttanesca sauce, and I spilled some on my leg. Before I knew it, the leeches were attacking." "That's just how it happened with my husband," Aunt Josephine said, biting her lip. The Baudelaires, all three of them, clenched their fists in frustration. They knew that Captain Sham's story about the puttanesca sauce was as phony as his name, but they couldn't prove it. "Here," Captain Sham said, pulling a small card out of his pocket and handing it to Aunt Josephine. "Take my business card, and next time you're in town perhaps we could enjoy a cup of tea." "That sounds delightful," Aunt Josephine said, reading his card. '"Captain Sham's Sailboats. Every boat has it's own sail.' Oh, Captain, you have made a very serious grammatical error here." "What?" Captain Sham said, raising his eyebrow. "This card says 'it's,' with an apostrophe. I-T-apostrophe-S always means 'it is.' You don't mean to say 'Every boat has it is own sail.' You mean simply I-T-S, 'belonging to it.' It's a very common mistake, Captain Sham, but a dreadful one." Captain Sham's face darkened, and it looked for a minute like he was going to raise his peg leg again and kick Aunt Josephine with all his might. But then he smiled and his face cleared. "Thank you for pointing that out," he said finally. "You're welcome," Aunt Josephine said. "Come, children, it's time to pay for our groceries. I hope to see you soon, Captain Sham." Captain Sham smiled and waved good-bye, but the Baudelaires watched as his smile turned to a sneer as soon as Aunt Josephine had turned her back. He had fooled her, and there was nothing the Baudelaires could do about it. They spent the rest of the afternoon trudging back up the hill carrying their groceries, but the heaviness of cucumbers and limes was nothing compared to the heaviness in the orphans' hearts. All the way up the hill, Aunt Josephine talked about Captain Sham and what a nice man he was and how much she hoped they would see him again, while the children knew he was really Count Olaf and a terrible man and hoped they would never see him for the rest of their lives. There is an expression that, I am sad to say, is appropriate for this part of the story. The expression is "falling for something hook, line, and sinker," and it comes from the world of fishing. The hook, the line, and the sinker are all parts of a fishing rod, and they work together to lure fish out of the ocean to their doom. If somebody is falling for something hook, line, and sinker, they are believing a bunch of lies and may find themselves doomed as a result. Aunt Josephine was falling for Captain Sham's lies hook, line, and sinker, but it was Violet, Klaus, and Sunny who were feeling doomed. As they walked up the hill in silence, the children looked down at Lake Lachrymose and felt the chill of doom fall over their hearts. It made the three siblings feel cold and lost, as if they were not simply looking at the shadowy lake, but had been dropped into the middle of its depths.

Chapter Four

That night, the Baudelaire children sat at the table with Aunt Josephine and ate their dinner with a cold pit in their stomachs. Half of the pit came from the chilled lime stew that Aunt Josephine had prepared. But the other half-if not more than half-came from the knowledge that Count Olaf was in their lives once again. "That Captain Sham is certainly a charming person," Aunt Josephine said, putting a piece of lime rind in her mouth. "He must be very lonely, moving to a new town and losing a leg. Maybe we could have him over for dinner." "We keep trying to tell you, Aunt Josephine," Violet said, pushing the stew around on her plate so it would look like she'd eaten more than she actually had. "He's not Captain Sham. He's Count Olaf in disguise." "I've had enough of this nonsense," Aunt Josephine said. "Mr. Poe told me that Count Olaf had a tattoo on his left ankle and one eyebrow over his eyes. Captain Sham doesn't have a left ankle and only has one eye. I can't believe you would dare to disagree with a man who has eye problems." "I have eye problems," Klaus said, pointing to his glasses, "and you're disagreeing with me." "I will thank you not to be impertinent," Aunt Josephine said, using a word which here means "pointing out that I'm wrong, which annoys me." "It is very annoying. You will have to accept, once and for all, that Captain Sham is not Count Olaf." She reached into her pocket and pulled out the business card. "Look at his card. Does it say Count Olaf? No. It says Captain Sham. The card does have a serious grammatical error on it, but it is nevertheless proof that Captain Sham is who he says he is." Aunt Josephine put the business card down on the dinner table, and the Baudelaires looked at it and sighed. Business cards, of course, are not proof of anything. Anyone can go to a print shop and have cards made that say anything they like. The king of Denmark can order business cards that say he sells golf balls. Your dentist can order business cards that say she is your grandmother. In order to escape from the castle of an enemy of mine, I once had cards printed that said I was an admiral in the French navy. Just because something is typed-whether it is typed on a business card or typed in a newspaper or book-this does not mean that it is true. The three siblings were well aware of this simple fact but could not find the words to convince Aunt Josephine. So they merely looked at Aunt Josephine, sighed, and silently pretended to eat their stew. It was so quiet in the dining room that everyone jumped-Violet, Klaus, Sunny, and even Aunt Josephine-when the telephone rang. "My goodness!" Aunt Josephine said. "What should we do?" "Minka!" Sunny shrieked, which probably meant something like "Answer it, of course!" Aunt Josephine stood up from the table, but didn't move even as the phone rang a second time. "It might be important," she said, "but I don't know if it's worth the risk of electrocution." "If it makes you feel more comfortable," Violet said, wiping her mouth with her napkin, "I will answer the phone." Violet stood up and walked to the phone in time to answer it on the third ring. "Hello?" she asked. "Is this Mrs. Anwhistle?" a wheezy voice asked. "No," Violet replied. "This is Violet Baudelaire. May I help you?" "Put the old woman on the phone, orphan," the voice said, and Violet froze, realizing it was Captain Sham. Quickly, she stole a glance at Aunt Josephine, who was now watching Violet nervously. "I'm sorry," Violet said into the phone. "You must have the wrong number." "Don't play with me, you wretched girl-" Captain Sham started to say, but Violet hung up the phone, her heart pounding, and turned to Aunt Josephine. "Someone was asking for the Hopalong Dancing School," she said, lying quickly. "I told them they had the wrong number." "What a brave girl you are," Aunt Josephine murmured. "Picking up the phone like that." "It's actually very safe," Violet said. "Haven't you ever answered the phone, Aunt Josephine?" Klaus asked. "Ike almost always answered it," Aunt Josephine said, "and he used a special glove for safety. But now that I've seen you answer it, maybe I'll give it a try next time somebody calls." The phone rang, and Aunt Josephine jumped again. "Goodness," she said, "I didn't think it would ring again so soon. What an adventurous evening!" Violet stared at the phone, knowing it was Captain Sham calling back. "Would you like me to answer it again?" she asked. "No, no," Aunt Josephine said, walking toward the small ringing phone as if it were a big barking dog. "I said I'd try it, and I will." She took a deep breath, reached out a nervous hand, and picked up the phone. "Hello?" she said. "Yes, this is she. Oh, hello, Captain Sham. How lovely to hear your voice." Aunt Josephine listened for a moment, and then blushed bright red. "Well, that's very nice of you to say, Captain Sham, but-what? Oh, all right. That's very nice of you to say, Julio. What? What? Oh, what a lovely idea. But please hold on one moment." Aunt Josephine held a hand over the receiver and faced the three children. "Violet, Klaus, Sunny, please go to your room," she said. "Captain Sham-I mean Julio, he asked me to call him by his first name-is planning a surprise for you children, and he wants to discuss it with me." "We don't want a surprise," Klaus said. "Of course you do," Aunt Josephine said. "Now run along so I can discuss it without your eavesdropping." "We're not eavesdropping," Violet said, "but I think it would be better if we stayed here." "Perhaps you are confused about the meaning of the word 'eavesdropping,'" Aunt Josephine said. "It means 'listening in.' If you stay here, you will be eavesdropping. Please go to your room." "We know what eavesdropping means," Klaus said, but he followed his sisters down the hallway to their room. Once inside, they looked at one another in silent frustration. Violet put aside pieces of the toy caboose that she had planned to examine that evening to make room on her bed for the three of them to lie beside one another and frown at the ceiling. "I thought we'd be safe here," Violet said glumly. "I thought that anybody who was frightened of realtors would never be friendly to Count Olaf, no matter how he was disguised." "Do you think that he actually let leeches chew off his leg," Klaus wondered, shuddering, "just to hide his tattoo?" "Choin!" Sunny shrieked, which probably meant "That seems a little drastic, even for Count Olaf." "I agree with Sunny," Violet said. "I think he told that tale about leeches just to make Aunt Josephine feel sorry for him." "And it sure worked," Klaus said, sighing. "After he told her that sob story, she fell for his disguise hook, line, and sinker." "At least she isn't as trusting as Uncle Monty," Violet pointed out. "He let Count Olaf move right into the house." "At least then we could keep an eye on him," Klaus replied. "Ober!" Sunny remarked, which meant something along the lines of "Although we still didn't save Uncle Monty." "What do you think he's up to this time?" Violet asked. "Maybe he plans to take us out in one of his boats and drown us in the lake." "Maybe he wants to push this whole house off the mountain," Klaus said, "and blame it on Hurricane Herman." "Haftu!" Sunny said glumly, which probably meant something like "Maybe he wants to put the Lachrymose Leeches in our beds." "Maybe, maybe, maybe," Violet said. "All these maybes won't get us anywhere." "We could call Mr. Poe and tell him Count Olaf is here," Klaus said. "Maybe he could come and fetch us." "That's the biggest maybe of them all," Violet said. "It's always impossible to convince Mr. Poe of anything, and Aunt Josephine doesn't believe us even though she saw Count Olaf with her own eyes." "She doesn't even think she saw Count Olaf," Klaus agreed sadly. "She thinks she saw Captain Sham. " Sunny nibbled halfheartedly on Pretty Penny's head and muttered "Poch!" which probably meant "You mean Julio. " "Then I don't see what we can do," Klaus said, "except keep our eyes and ears open." "Doma," Sunny agreed. "You're both right," Violet said. "We'll just have to keep a very careful watch." The Baudelaire orphans nodded solemnly, but the cold pit in their stomachs had not gone away. They all felt that keeping watch wasn't really much of a plan for defending themselves from Captain Sham, and as it grew later and later it worried them more and more. Violet tied her hair up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes, as if she were inventing something, but she thought and thought for hours and hours and was unable to invent another plan. Klaus stared at the ceiling with the utmost concentration, as if something very interesting were written on it, but nothing helpful occurred to him as the hour grew later and later. And Sunny bit Pretty Penny's head over and over, but no matter how long she bit it she couldn't think of anything to ease the Baudelaires' worries. I have a friend named Gina-Sue who is socialist, and Gina-Sue has a favorite saying: "You can't lock up the barn after the horses are gone." It means simply that sometimes even the best of plans will occur to you when it is too late. This, I'm sorry to say, is the case with the Baudelaire orphans and their plan to keep a close watch on Captain Sham, for after hours and hours of worrying they heard an enormous crash of shattering glass, and knew at once that keeping watch hadn't been a good enough plan. "What was that noise?" Violet said, getting up off the bed. "It sounded like breaking glass," Klaus said worriedly, walking toward the bedroom door. "Vestu!" Sunny shrieked, but her siblings did not have time to figure out what she meant as they all hurried down the hallway. "Aunt Josephine! Aunt Josephine!" Violet called, but there was no answer. She peered up and down the hallway, but everything was quiet. "Aunt Josephine!" she called again. Violet led the way as the three orphans ran into the dining room, but their guardian wasn't there either. The candles on the table were still lit, casting a flickering glow on the business card and the bowls of cold lime stew. "Aunt Josephine!" Violet called again, and the children ran back out to the hallway and toward the door of the library. As she ran, Violet couldn't help but remember how she and her siblings had called Uncle Monty's name, early one morning, just before discovering the tragedy that had befallen him. "Aunt Josephine!" she called. "Aunt Josephine!" She couldn't help but remember all the times she had woken up in the middle of the night, calling out the names of her parents as she dreamed, as she so often did, of the terrible fire that had claimed their lives. "Aunt Josephine!" she said, reaching the library door. Violet was afraid that she was calling out Aunt Josephine's name when her aunt could no longer hear it. "Look," Klaus said, and pointed to the door. A piece of paper, folded in half, was attached to the wood with a thumbtack. Klaus pried the paper loose and unfolded it. "What is it?" Violet asked, and Sunny craned her little neck to see. "It's a note," Klaus said, and read it out loud:

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