A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Wide Window (8 page)

Chapter Thirteen

Mr. Poe looked astonished. Violet looked relieved. Klaus looked assuaged, which is a fancy word for "relieved" that he had learned by reading a magazine article. Sunny looked triumphant. The person who looked like neither a man nor a woman looked disappointed. And Count Olaf-it is such a relief to call him by his true name-at first looked afraid, but in a blink of his one shiny eye, he twisted his face to make it look as astonished as Mr. Poe's. "My leg!" Count Olaf cried, in a voice of false joy. "My leg has grown back! It's amazing! It's wonderful! It's a medical miracle!" "Oh come now," Mr. Poe said, folding his arms. "That won't work. Even a child can see that your peg leg was false." "A child did see it," Violet whispered to Klaus. "Three children, in fact." "Well, maybe the peg leg was false," Count Olaf admitted, and took a step backward. "But I've never seen this tattoo in my life." "Oh come now," Mr. Poe said again. "That won't work, either. You tried to hide the tattoo with the peg leg, but now we can see that you are really Count Olaf." "Well, maybe the tattoo is mine," Count Olaf admitted, and took another step backward. "But I'm not this Count Olaf person. I'm Captain Sham. See, I have a business card here that says so." "Oh come now," Mr. Poe said yet again. "That won't work. Anyone can go to a print shop and have cards made that say anything they like." "Well, maybe I'm not Captain Sham," Count Olaf admitted, "but the children still belong to me. Josephine said that they did." "Oh come now," Mr. Poe said for the fourth and final time. "That won't work. Aunt Josephine left the children to Captain Sham, not to Count Olaf. And you are Count Olaf, not Captain Sham. So it is once again up to me to decide who will care for the Baudelaires. I will send these three youngsters somewhere else, and I will send you to jail. You have performed your evil deeds for the last time, Olaf. You tried to steal the Baudelaire fortune by marrying Violet. You tried to steal the Baudelaire fortune by murdering Uncle Monty." "And this," Count Olaf growled, "was my greatest plan yet." He reached up and tore off his eyepatch-which was fake, of course, like his peg leg-and stared at the Baudelaires with both of his shiny eyes. "I don't like to brag- actually, why should I lie to you fools anymore?-I love to brag, and forcing that stupid old woman to write that note was really something to brag about. What a ninny Josephine was!" "She was not a ninny!" Klaus cried. "She was kind and sweet!" "Sweet?" Count Olaf repeated, with a horrible smile. "Well, at this very moment the Lachrymose Leeches are probably finding her very sweet indeed. She might be the sweetest breakfast they ever ate." Mr. Poe frowned, and coughed into his white handkerchief. "That's enough of your revolting talk, Olaf," he said sternly. "We've caught you now, and there's no way you'll be getting away. The Lake Lachrymose Police Department will be happy to capture a known criminal wanted for fraud, murder, and the endangerment of children." "And arson," Count Olaf piped up. "I said that's enough" Mr. Poe growled. Count Olaf, the Baudelaire orphans, and even the massive creature looked surprised that Mr. Poe had spoken so sternly. "You have preyed upon these children for the last time, and I am making absolutely sure that you are handed over to the proper authorities. Disguising yourself won't work. Telling lies won't work. In fact there's nothing at all you can do about your situation." "Really?" Count Olaf said, and his filthy lips curved up in a smile. "I can think of something that I can do." "And what," said Mr. Poe, "is that?" Count Olaf looked at each one of the Baudelaire orphans, giving each one a smile as if the children were tiny chocolates he was saving to eat for later. Then he smiled at the massive creature, and then, slowly, he smiled at Mr. Poe. "I can run," he said, and ran. Count Olaf ran, with the massive creature lumbering behind him, in the direction of the heavy metal gate. "Get back here!" Mr. Poe shouted. "Get back here in the name of the law! Get back here in the name of justice and righteousness! Get back here in the name of Mulctuary Money Management!" "We can't just shout at them!" Violet shouted. "Come on! We have to chase them!" "I'm not going to allow children to chase after a man like that," Mr. Poe said, and called out again, "Stop, I say! Stop right there!" "We can't let them escape!" Klaus cried. "Come on, Violet! Come on, Sunny!" "No, no, this is no job for children," Mr. Poe said. "Wait here with your sisters, Klaus. I'll retrieve them. They won't get away from Mr. Poe. You, there! Stop!" "But we can't wait here!" Violet cried. "We have to get into a sailboat and look for Aunt Josephine! She may still be alive!" "You Baudelaire children are under my care," Mr. Poe said firmly. "I'm not going to let small children sail around unaccompanied." "But if we hadn't sailed unaccompanied," Klaus pointed out, "we'd be in Count Olaf's clutches by now!" "That's not the point," Mr. Poe said, and began to walk quickly toward Count Olaf and the creature. "The point is-" But the children didn't hear the point over the loud slam! of the tall metal gate. The creature had slammed it shut just as Mr. Poe had reached it. "Stop immediately!" Mr. Poe ordered, calling through the gate. "Come back here, you unpleasant person!" He tried to open the tall gate and found it locked. "It's locked!" he cried to the children. "Where is the key? We must find the key!" The Baudelaires rushed to the gate but stopped as they heard a jingling sound. "I have the key," said Count Olaf's voice, from the other side of the gate. "But don't worry. I'll see you soon, orphans. Very soon. " "Open this gate immediately!" Mr. Poe shouted, but of course nobody opened the gate. He shook it and shook it, but the spiky metal gate never opened. Mr. Poe hurried to a phone booth and called the police, but the children knew that by the time help arrived Count Olaf would be long gone. Utterly exhausted and more than utterly miserable, the Baudelaire orphans sank to the ground, sitting glumly in the very same spot where we found them at the beginning of this story. In the first chapter, you will remember, the Baudelaires were sitting on their suitcases, hoping that their lives were about to get a little bit better, and I wish I could tell you, here at the end of the story, that it was so. I wish I could write that Count Olaf was captured as he tried to flee, or that Aunt Josephine came swimming up to Damocles Dock, having miraculously escaped from the Lachrymose Leeches. But it was not so. As the children sat on the damp ground, Count Olaf was already halfway across the lake and would soon be on board a train, disguised as a rabbi to fool the police, and I'm sorry to tell you that he was already concocting another scheme to steal the Baudelaire fortune. And we can never know exactly what was happening to Aunt Josephine as the children sat on the dock, unable to help her, but I will say that eventually-about the time when the Baudelaire orphans were forced to attend a miserable boarding school-two fishermen found both of Aunt Josephine's life jackets, all in tatters and floating alone in the murky waters of Lake Lachrymose. In most stories, as you know, the villain would be defeated, there would be a happy ending, and everybody would go home knowing the moral of the story. But in the case of the Baudelaires everything was wrong. Count Olaf, the villain, had not succeeded with his evil plan, but he certainly hadn't been defeated, either. You certainly couldn't say that there was a happy ending. And the Baudelaires could not go home knowing the moral of the story, for the simple reason that they could not go home at all. Not only had Aunt Josephine's house fallen into the lake, but the Baudelaires' real home-the house where they had lived with their parents-was just a pile of ashes in a vacant lot, and they couldn't go back there no matter how much they wanted to. But even if they could go home it would be difficult for me to tell you what the moral of the story is. In some stories, it's easy. The moral of "The Three Bears," for instance, is "Never break into someone else's house." The moral of "Snow White" is "Never eat apples." The moral of World War One is "Never assassinate Archduke Ferdinand." But Violet, Klaus, and Sunny sat on the dock and watched the sun come up over Lake Lachrymose and wondered exactly what the moral was of their time with Aunt Josephine. The expression "It dawned on them," which I am about to use, does not have anything to do with the sunlight spreading out over Damocles Dock. "It dawned on them" simply means "They figured something out," and as the Baudelaire orphans sat and watched the dock fill with people as the business of the day began, they figured out something that was very important to them. It dawned on them that unlike Aunt Josephine, who had lived up in that house, sad and alone, the three children had one another for comfort and support over the course of their miserable lives. And while this did not make them feel entirely safe, or entirely happy, it made them feel appreciative. "Thank you, Klaus," Violet said appreciatively, "for figuring out that note. And thank you, Sunny, for stealing the keys to the sailboat. If it weren't for the two of you we would now be in Count Olaf's clutches." "Thank you, Violet," Klaus said appreciatively, "for thinking of the peppermints to gain us some time. And thank you, Sunny, for biting the peg leg just at the right moment. If it weren't for the two of you, we would now be doomed." "Pilums," Sunny said appreciatively, and her siblings understood at once that she was thanking Violet for inventing the signaling device, and thanking Klaus for reading the atlas and guiding them to Curdled Cave. They leaned up against one another appreciatively, and small smiles appeared on their damp and anxious faces. They had each other. I'm not sure that "The Baudelaires had each other" is the moral of this story, but to the three siblings it was enough. To have each other in the midst of their unfortunate lives felt like having a sailboat in the middle of a hurricane, and to the Baudelaire orphans this felt very fortunate indeed.

LEMONY SNICKET was born before you were and is likely to die before you as well. A studied expert in rhetorical analysis, Mr. Snicket has spent the last several eras researching the travails of the Baudelaire orphans. His findings are being published serially by HarperCollins.

To My Kind Editor, I am writing to you from the Paltryville Town Hall, where I have convinced the mayor to allow me inside the eye-shaped office of Dr. Orwell in order to further investigate what happened to the Baudelaire orphans while they were living in the area. Next Friday, a black jeep will be in the northwest corner of the parking lot of the Orion Observatory. Break into it. In the glove compartment, you should find my description of this frightening chapter in the Baudelaires' lives, entitled THE MISERABLE MILL, as well as some information on hypnosis, a surgical mask, and sixty-eight sticks of gum. I have also included the blueprint of the pincher machine, which I believe Mr. Helquist will find useful for his illustrations. Remember, you are my last hope that the tales of the Baudelaire orphans can finally be told to the general public.

With all due respect,

Lemony Snicket

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