Authors: Lemony Snicket
"Hello, I'm Larry, your waiter," said Larry, the Baudelaire orphans' waiter. He was a short, skinny man in a goofy clown costume with a name tag pinned to his chest that read LARRY. "Welcome to the Anxious Clown restaurant- where everybody has a good time, whether they like it or not. I can see we have a whole family lunching together today, so allow me to recommend the Extra Fun Special Family Appetizer. It's a bunch of things fried up together and served with a sauce." "What a wonderful idea," Captain Sham said, smiling in a way that showed all of his yellow teeth. "An Extra Fun Special Family Appetizer for an extra fun special familymine'' "I'll just have water, thank you," Violet said. "Same with me," Klaus said. "And a glass of ice cubes for my baby sister, please." "I'll have a cup of coffee with nondairy creamer," Mr. Poe said. "Oh, no, Mr. Poe," Captain Sham said. "Let's share a nice big bottle of red wine." "No, thank you, Captain Sham," Mr. Poe said. "I don't like to drink during banking hours." "But this is a celebratory lunch," Captain Sham exclaimed. "We should drink a toast to my three new children. It's not every day that a man becomes a father." "Please, Captain," Mr. Poe said. "It is heartening to see that you are glad to raise the Baudelaires, but you must understand that the children are rather upset about their Aunt Josephine." There is a lizard called the chameleon that, as you probably know, can change color instantly to blend into its surroundings. Besides being slimy and cold-blooded, Captain Sham resembled the chameleon in that he was chameleonic, a word means "able to blend in with any situation." Since Mr. Poe and the Baudelaires had arrived at the Anxious Clown, Captain Sham had been unable to conceal his excitement at having the children almost in his clutches. But now that Mr. Poe had pointed out that the occasion actually called for sadness, Captain Sham instantly began to speak in a mournful voice. "I am upset, too," he said, brushing a tear away from beneath his eyepatch. "Josephine was one of my oldest and dearest friends." "You met her yesterday"' Klaus said, "in the grocery store." "It does only seem like yesterday," Captain Sham said, "but it was really years ago. She and I met in cooking school. We were oven partners in the Advanced Baking Course." "You weren't even partners" Violet said, disgusted at Captain Sham's lies. "Aunt Josephine was desperately afraid of turning on the oven. She never would have attended cooking school." "We soon became friends," Captain Sham said, going on with his story as if no one had interrupted, "and one day she said to me, 'if I ever adopt some orphans and then meet an untimely death, promise me you will raise them for me.' I told her I would, but of course I never thought I would have to keep my promise." "That's a very sad story," Larry said, and everyone turned to see that their waiter was still standing over them. "I didn't realize this was a sad occasion. In that case, allow me to recommend the Cheer-Up Cheeseburgers. The pickles, mustard, and ketchup make a little smiley face on top of the burger, which is guaranteed to get you smiling, too." "That sounds like a good idea," Captain Sham said. "Bring us all Cheer-Up Cheeseburgers, Larry." "They'll be here in a jiffy," the waiter promised, and at last he was gone. "Yes, yes," Mr. Poe said, "but after we've finished our cheeseburgers, Captain Sham, there are some important papers for you to sign. I have them in my briefcase, and after lunch we'll look them over." "And then the children will be mine?" Captain Sham asked. "Well, you will be caring for them, yes," Mr. Poe said. "Of course, the Baudelaire fortune will still be under my supervision, until Violet comes of age." "What fortune?" Captain Sham asked, his eyebrow curling. "I don't know anything about a fortune." "Duna!" Sunny shrieked, which meant something along the lines of "Of course you do!" "The Baudelaire parents," Mr. Poe explained, "left an enormous fortune behind, and the children inherit it when Violet comes of age." "Well, I have no interest in a fortune," Captain Sham said. "I have my sailboats. I wouldn't touch a penny of it." "Well, that's good," Mr. Poe said, "because you can't touch a penny of it." "We'll see," Captain Sham said. "What?" Mr. Poe asked. "Here are your Cheer-Up Cheeseburgers!" Larry sang out, appearing at their table with a tray full of greasy-looking food. "Enjoy your meal." Like most restaurants filled with neon lights and balloons, the Anxious Clown served terrible food. But the three orphans had not eaten all day, and had not eaten anything warm for a long time, so even though they were sad and anxious they found themselves with quite an appetite. After a few minutes without conversation, Mr. Poe began to tell a very dull story about something that had happened at the bank. Mr. Poe was so busy talking, Klaus and Sunny were so busy pretending to be interested, and Captain Sham was so busy wolfing down his meal, that nobody noticed what Violet was up to. When Violet had put on her coat to go out into the wind and cold, she had felt the lump of something in her pocket. The lump was the bag of peppermints that Mr. Poe had given the Baudelaires the day they had arrived at Lake Lachrymose, and it had given her an idea. As Mr. Poe droned on and on, she carefully, carefully, took the bag of peppermints out of her coat pocket and opened it. To her dismay, they were the kind of peppermints that are each wrapped up in a little bit of cellophane. Placing her hands underneath the table, she unwrapped three peppermints, using the utmost-the word "utmost," when it is used here, means "most"- care not to make any of those crinkling noises that come from unwrapping candy and are so annoying in movie theaters. At last, she had three bare peppermints sitting on the napkin in her lap. Without drawing attention to herself, she put one on Klaus's lap and one on Sunny's. When her younger siblings felt something appear in their laps and looked down and saw the peppermints, they at first thought the eldest Baudelaire orphan had lost her mind. But after a moment, they understood. If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. But Violet, Klaus, and Sunny all knew that this was an emergency. They needed time alone to figure out Captain Sham's plan, and how to stop it, and although causing allergic reactions is a rather drastic way of getting time by yourself, it was the only thing they could think of. So while neither of the adults at the table were watching, all three children put the peppermints into their mouths and waited. The Baudelaire allergies are famous for being quick-acting, so the orphans did not have long to wait. In a few minutes, Violet began to break out in red, itchy hives, Klaus's tongue started to swell up, and Sunny, who of course had never eaten a peppermint, broke out in hives and had her tongue swell up. Mr. Poe finally finished telling his story and then noticed the orphans' condition. "Why, children," he said, "you look terrible! Violet, you have red patches on your skin. Klaus, your tongue is hanging out of your mouth. Sunny, both things are happening to you." "There must be something in this food that we're allergic to," Violet said. "My goodness," Mr. Poe said, watching a hive on Violet's arm grow to the size of a hard-boiled egg. "Just take deep breaths," Captain Sham said, scarcely looking up from his cheeseburger. "I feel terrible," Violet said, and Sunny began to wail. "I think we should go home and lie down, Mr. Poe." "Just lean back in your seat," Captain Sham said sharply. "There's no reason to leave when we're in the middle of lunch." "Why, Captain Sham," Mr. Poe said, "the children are quite ill. Violet is right. Come now, I'll pay the bill and we'll take the children home." "No, no," Violet said quickly. "We'll get a taxi. You two stay here and take care of all the details." Captain Sham gave Violet a sharp look. "I wouldn't dream of leaving you all alone," he said in a dark voice. "Well, there is a lot of paperwork to go over," Mr. Poe said. He glanced at his meal, and the Baudelaires could see he was not too eager to leave the restaurant and care for sick children. "We wouldn't be leaving them alone for long." "Our allergies are fairly mild," Violet said truthfully, scratching at one of her hives. She stood up and led her swollen-tongued siblings toward the front door. "We'll just lie down for an hour or two while you have a relaxing lunch. When you have signed all the papers, Captain Sham, you can just come and retrieve us." Captain Sham's one visible eye grew as shiny as Violet had ever seen it. "I'll do that," he replied. "I'll come and retrieve you very, very soon." "Good-bye, children," Mr. Poe said. "I hope you feel better soon. You know, Captain Sham, there is someone at my bank who has terrible allergies. Why, I remember one time ..." "Leaving so soon?" Larry asked the three children as they buttoned up their coats. Outside, the wind was blowing harder, and it had started to drizzle as Hurricane Herman got closer and closer to Lake Lachrymose. But even so, the three children were eager to leave the Anxious Clown, and not just because the garish restaurant-the word "garish" here means "filled with balloons, neon lights, and obnoxious waiters"-was filled with balloons, neon lights, and obnoxious waiters. The Baudelaires knew that they had invented just a little bit of time for themselves, and they had to use every second of it.
When someone's tongue swells up due to an allergic reaction, it is often difficult to understand what they are saying. "Bluh bluh bluh bluh bluh," Klaus said, as the three children got out of the taxi and headed toward the peeling white door of Aunt Josephine's house. "I don't understand what you're saying," Violet said, scratching at a hive on her neck that was the exact shape of the state of Minnesota. "Bluh bluh bluh bluh bluh, " Klaus repeated, or perhaps he was saying something else; I haven't the faintest idea. "Never mind, never mind," Violet said, opening the door and ushering her siblings inside. "Now you have the time that you need to figure out whatever it is that you're figuring out." "Bluh bluh bluh," Klaus bluhed. "I still can't understand you," Violet said. She took Sunny's coat off, and then her own, and dropped them both on the floor. Normally, of course, one should hang up one's coat on a hook or in a closet, but itchy hives are very irritating and tend to make one abandon such matters. "I'm going to assume, Klaus, that you said something in agreement. Now, unless you need us to help you, I'm going to give Sunny and myself a baking soda bath to help our hives." "Bluh!" Sunny shrieked. She meant to shriek "Gans!" which meant something along the lines of "Good, because my hives are driving me crazy!" "Bluh," Klaus said, nodding vigorously, and he began hurrying down the hallway. Klaus had not taken off his coat, but it wasn't because of his own irritating allergic condition. It was because he was going someplace cold. When Klaus opened the door of the library, he was surprised at how much had changed. The wind from the approaching hurricane had blown away the last of the window, and the rain had soaked some of Aunt Josephine's comfortable chairs, leaving dark, spreading stains. A few books had fallen from their shelves and blown over to the window, where water had swollen them. There are few sights sadder than a ruined book, but Klaus had no time to be sad. He knew Captain Sham would come and retrieve the Baudelaires as soon as he could, so he had to get right to work. First he took Aunt Josephine's note out of his pocket and placed it on the table, weighing it down with books so it wouldn't blow away in the wind. Then he crossed quickly to the shelves and began to scan the spines of the books, looking for titles. He chose three: Basic Rules of Grammar and Punctuation, Handbook for Advanced Apostrophe Use, and The Correct Spelling of Every English Word That Ever, Ever Existed. Each of the books was as thick as a watermelon, and Klaus staggered under the weight of carrying all three. With a loud thump he dropped them on the table. "Bluh bluh bluh, bluh bluh bluh bluh," he mumbled to himself, and found a pen and got to work. A library is normally a very good place to work in the afternoon, but not if its window has been smashed and there is a hurricane approaching. The wind blew colder and colder, and it rained harder and harder, and the room became more and more unpleasant. But Klaus took no notice of this. He opened all of the books and took copious-the word "copious" here means "lots of-notes, stopping every so often to draw a circle around some part of what Aunt Josephine had written. It began to thunder outside, and with each roll of thunder the entire house shook, but Klaus kept flipping pages and writing things down. Then, as lightning began to flash outside, he stopped, and stared at the note for a long time, frowning intently. Finally, he wrote two words at the bottom of Aunt Josephine's note, concentrating so hard as he did so that when Violet and Sunny entered the library and called out his name he nearly jumped out of his chair. "Bluh surprised bluh!" he shrieked, his heart pounding and his tongue a bit less swollen. "I'm sorry," Violet said. "I didn't mean to surprise you." "Bluh bluh take a baking soda bluh?" he asked. "No," Violet replied. "We couldn't take a baking soda bath. Aunt Josephine doesn't have any baking soda, because she never turns on the oven to bake. We just took a regular bath. But that doesn't matter, Klaus. What have you been doing, in this freezing room? Why have you drawn circles all over Aunt Josephine's note?" "Bluhdying grammar," he replied, gesturing to the books. "Bluh?" Sunny shrieked, which probably meant "gluh?" which meant something along the lines of "Why are you wasting valuable time studying grammar?" "Bluhcause," Klaus explained impatiently, "I think bluh Josephine left us a message in bluh note." "She was miserable, and she threw herself out the window," Violet said, shivering in the wind. "What other message could there be?" "There are too many grammatical mistakes in the bluh," Klaus said. "Aunt Josephine loved grammar, and she'd never make that many mistakes unless she had a bluh reason. So that's what I've been doing bluh-counting up the grammatical mistakes." "Bluh," Sunny said, which meant something along the lines of "Please continue, Klaus." Klaus wiped a few raindrops off his glasses and looked down at his notes. "Well, we already know that bluh first sentence uses the wrong 'its.' I think that was to get our attention. But look at the second bluhtence. 'My heart is as cold as Ike and I find life inbearable.'" "But the correct word is unbearable," Violet said. "You told us that already." "Bluh I think there's more," Klaus said. '"My heart is as cold as Ike' doesn't sound right to me. Remember, Aunt Josephine told us bluh liked to think of her husband someplace very hot." "That's true," Violet said, remembering. "She said it right here in this very room. She said Ike liked the sunshine and so she imagined him someplace sunny." "So I think Aunt Bluhsephine meant 'cold as ice"' Klaus said. "Okay, so we have ice and unbearable. So far this doesn't mean anything to me," Violet said. "Me neither," Klaus said. "But look at bluh next part. 'I know your children may not understand the sad life of a dowadger.' We don't have any children." "That's true," Violet said. "I'm not planning to have children until I am considerably older." "So why would Aunt Josephine say 'your children'? I think she meant 'you children.' And I looked up 'dowadger' in The Correct Spelling of Every English Word That Ever, Ever Existed.'" "Why?" Violet asked. "You already know it's a fancy word for widow." "It is a bluhncy word for widow," Klaus replied, "but it's spelled D-O-W-A-G-E-R. Aunt Josephine added an extra D." "Cold as ice" Violet said, counting on her fingers, "unbearable, you children, and an extra D in dowager. That's not much of a message, Klaus." "Let me finish," Klaus said. "I discovered even more grammbluhtical mistakes. When she wrote, 'or what would have leaded me to this desperate akt,' she meant 'what would have led me,' and the word 'act,' of course, is spelled with a C." "Coik!" Sunny shrieked, which meant "Thinking about all this is making me dizzy!" "Me too, Sunny," Violet said, lifting her sister up so she could sit on the table. "But let him finish." "There are just bluh more," Klaus said, holding up two fingers. "One, she calls Captain Sham 'a kind and honorable men,' when she should have said 'a kind and honorable man. ' And in the last sentence, Aunt Josephine wrote 'Please think of me kindly even though I'd done this terrible thing,' but according to the Handbook for Advanced Apostrophe Use, she should have written 'even though I've done this terrible thing.'" "But so what?" Violet asked. "What do all these mistakes mean?" Klaus smiled, and showed his sisters the two words he had written on the bottom of the note. "Curdled Cave," he read out loud. "Curdled veek?' Sunny asked, which meant "Curdled what?" "Curdled Cave," Klaus repeated. "If you take all the letters involved in the grammatical mistakes, that's what it spells. Look: C for ice instead of Ike. U for unbearable instead of inbearable. The extra R in your children instead of you children, and the extra D in dowager. L-E-D for led instead of leaded. C for act instead of akt. A for man instead of men. And V-E for I've instead of I'd. That spells CURDLED CAVE. Don't you see? Aunt Josephine knew she was making grammatical errors, and she knew we'd spot them. She was leaving us a message, and the message is Curdled-" A great gust of wind interrupted Klaus as it came through the shattered window and shook the library as if it were maracas, a word which describes rattling percussion instruments used in Latin American music. Everything rattled wildly around the library as the wind flew through it. Chairs and footstools flipped over and fell to the floor with their legs in the air. The bookshelves rattled so hard that some of the heaviest books in Aunt Josephine's collection spun off into puddles of rainwater on the floor. And the Baudelaire orphans were jerked violently to the ground as a streak of lightning flashed across the darkening sky. "Let's get out of here!" Violet shouted over the noise of the thunder, and grabbed her siblings by the hand. The wind was blowing so hard that the Baudelaires felt as if they were climbing an enormous hill instead of walking to the door of the library. The orphans were quite out of breath by the time they shut the library door behind them and stood shivering in the hallway. "Poor Aunt Josephine," Violet said. "Her library is wrecked." "But I need to go back in there," Klaus said, holding up the note. "We just found out what Aunt Josephine means by Curdled Cave, and we need a library to find out more." "Not that library," Violet pointed out. "All that library had were books on grammar. We need her books on Lake Lachrymose." "Why?" Klaus asked. "Because I'll bet you anything that's where Curdled Cave is," Violet said, "in Lake Lachrymose. Remember she said she knew every island in its waters and every cave on its shore? I bet Curdled Cave is one of those caves." "But why would her secret message be about some cave?" Klaus asked. "You've been so busy figuring out the message," Violet said, "that you don't understand what it means. Aunt Josephine isn't dead. She just wants people to think she's dead. But she wanted to tell us that she was hiding. We have to find her books on Lake Lachrymose and find out where Curdled Cave is." "But first we have to know where the books are," Klaus said. "She told us she hid them away, remember?" Sunny shrieked something in agreement, but her siblings couldn't hear her over a burst of thunder. "Let's see," Violet said. "Where would you hide something if you didn't want to look at it?" The Baudelaire orphans were quiet as they thought of places they had hidden things they did not want to look at, back when they had lived with their parents in the Baudelaire home. Violet thought of an automatic harmonica she had invented that had made such horrible noises that she had hidden it so she didn't have to think of her failure. Klaus thought of a book on the Franco-Prussian War that was so difficult that he had hidden it so as not to be reminded that he wasn't old enough to read it. And Sunny thought of a piece of stone that was too hard for even her sharpest tooth, and how she had hidden it so her jaw would no longer ache from her many attempts at conquering it. And all three Baudelaire orphans thought of the hiding place they had chosen. "Underneath the bed," Violet said. "Underneath the bed," Klaus agreed. "Seeka yit," Sunny agreed, and without another word the three children ran down the hallway to Aunt Josephine's room. Normally it is not polite to go into somebody's room without knocking, but you can make an exception if the person is dead, or pretending to be dead, and the Baudelaires went right inside. Aunt Josephine's room was similar to the orphans', with a navy-blue bedspread on the bed and a pile of tin cans in the corner. There was a small window looking out onto the rain-soaked hill, and a pile of new grammar books by the side of the bed that Aunt Josephine had not started reading, and, I'm sad to say, would never read. But the only part of the room that interested the children was underneath the bed, and the three of them knelt down to look there. Aunt Josephine, apparently, had plenty of things she did not want to look at anymore. Underneath the bed there were pots and pans, which she didn't want to look at because they reminded her of the stove. There were ugly socks somebody had given her as a gift that were too ugly for human eyes. And the Baudelaires were sad to see a framed photograph of a kind-looking man with a handful of crackers in one hand and his lips pursed as if he were whistling. It was Ike, and the Baudelaires knew that she had placed his photograph there because she was too sad to look at it. But behind one of the biggest pots was a stack of books, and the orphans immediately reached for it. "The Tides of Lake Lachrymose, " Violet said, reading the title of the top book. "That won't help." "The Bottom of Lake Lachrymose, " Klaus said, reading the next one. "That's not useful." "Lachrymose Trout, " Violet read. "The History of the Damocles Dock Region," Klaus read. "Ivan Lachrymose-Lake Explorer, " Violet read. "How Water Is Made, " Klaus read. "A Lachrymose Atlas, " Violet said. "Atlas? That's perfect!" Klaus cried. "An atlas is a book of maps!" There was a flash of lightning outside the window, and it began to rain harder, making a sound on the roof like somebody was dropping marbles on it. Without another word the Baudelaires opened the atlas and began flipping pages. They saw map after map of the lake, but they couldn't find Curdled Cave. "This book is four hundred seventy-eight pages long," Klaus exclaimed, looking at the last page of the atlas. "It'll take forever to find Curdled Cave." "We don't have forever," Violet said. "Captain Sham is probably on his way here now. Use the index in the back. Look under 'Curdled.'" Klaus flipped to the index, which I'm sure you know is an alphabetical list of each thing a book contains and what page it's on. Klaus ran his finger down the list of the C words, muttering out loud to himself. "Carp Cove, Chartreuse Island, Cloudy Cliffs, Condiment Bay, Curdled Cave-here it is! Curdled Cave, page one hundred four." Quickly Klaus flipped to the correct page and looked at the detailed map. "Curdled Cave, Curdled Cave, where is it?" "There it is!" Violet pointed a finger at the tiny spot on the map marked Curdled Cave. "Directly across from Damocles Dock and just west of the Lavender Lighthouse. Let's go." "Go?" Klaus said. "How will we get across the lake?" "The Fickle Ferry will take us," Violet said, pointing at a dotted line on the map. "Look, the ferry goes right to the Lavender Lighthouse, and we can walk from there." "We're going to walk to Damocles Dock, in all this rain?" Klaus asked. "We don't have any choice," Violet answered. "We have to prove that Aunt Josephine is still alive, or else Captain Sham gets us." "I just hope she is still-" Klaus started to say, but