"Im 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 thats where Quigley wants to meet usat the last safe place."
"But we dont 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 couldnt 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 peopleguardians, friends, bankershad 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 themvillainous 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 well 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 itll lead to some larger body of watera 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."
"Thats true," Violet said. "Olaf said hed 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 Olafs girlfriend, who participated in Olafs 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 were just going to sit on this toboggan," Violet asked, "and see where it takes us?"
"Its not much of a plan," Klaus admitted, "but I cant 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 wouldnt taste very good, even if you used a recipe with plenty of butter and lemon.
From The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket. Text copyright © 2004 by Lemony Snicket. Illustrations copyright © 2004 by Brett Helquest. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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