November 24th, 2007
Title: Mount Fraught Syndrome: Chapter 6
Summary: Klaus tells their story. Jacques and Madame Lulu have good news and bad news.
Author's Notes: Finally, an update! And it's not terrifying and icky. It does, however, end on one of those cliffhangers where you probably already know what's going to happen next.
Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter FourChapter Five
Klaus had to find Violet. He knew she was in the hospital, but every carriage of this train looked the same to him and there was no map to tell him which one it was. Sunny couldn’t help, she was locked in her cage and if he didn’t get to Violet in time she’d be fattened up and eaten. Violet would be able to break the bars. But there was so much smoke in here he couldn’t see.
He rushed into another compartment. A portrait of his mother hung on the wall, tears streaming down her painted cheeks. Mom! he shouted, over the noise of the engine. I need to find the hospital! Violet’s in trouble!
She shook her head mournfully. I can’t go there any more, darling. I’m dead already, they wouldn’t take me. And I love your father. What’s past is past.
But I need your help! Klaus cried. I don’t understand!
She reached into her coat. Take this. She pulled out her dictionary, the one she’d promised to give to Klaus when he was older, and threw it to him. It slipped through his fingers and fell into the smoke at his feet. He dived after it, plunging into misty white clouds that went on for much further than they should have, hands grasping only air. Two voices were arguing somewhere nearby, a man and a woman. He raised a hand to his face, to adjust his glasses, and found they weren’t there.
And then he realised he wasn’t on a train at all, he was lying on a bed, or a couch, and Sunny was curled beside him. He tried to lift his head, but he was still too groggy and exhausted to move.
The voices were still there, and as he realised that he recognised them. “It is not, please, a matter of liking or not,” Madame Lulu snapped. “My job is to answer questions. If anyone is asking me a question I am answering it. This is problem with all you Snicket family. You are thinking it is all so easy to be choosing sides.”
“Don’t you bring my family into this,” Jacques warned. “Don’t you dare. You can’t claim neutrality forever. You must know what would happen if…”
“If anyone is asking question, I am answering it,” Madame Lulu repeated loudly, “and if anyone is not asking question, I am not answering. I think you should be making sure there is no asking of questions.”
“You’re not seriously suggesting that…” The voices moved away. Klaus strained to hear what they said next, but the effort was too much and he gave up and let his mind drift away again. He was floating, Sunny in his arms. They were going to the castle in the air, but the sky was full of black birds, squawking, with shining beaks and dark red eyes…
When Jacques woke him again a few hours later, he didn’t remember the voices at all.
“I brought you these,” Jacques said, helping Klaus sit up and pressing something thin and cold into his hand. Klaus examined the object with his fingers, and realised with a surge of relief that it was a new pair of glasses. “I hope they fit you properly,” Jacques continued, as Klaus hurriedly slipped them on. “I had to guess the right measurements. I didn’t like to move you.”
“They’re fine. Thank you!” Klaus looked up and saw Sunny, sitting at a round table in the middle of the room. She smiled at him. Something that looked like rice from the bowl in front of her was stuck to her cheeks. The woman sitting next to her, presumably Madame Lulu, didn’t smile exactly, but she gave a little wave. She wore a turban, and a long, shimmering dress, and round her neck hung a necklace bearing the symbol of an eye. Klaus felt a cold shiver when he saw it, even though he thought Jacques had told the truth about the eye’s other meaning.
“I have made food for children also,” Madame Lulu said. “We were not sure what you would be wanting, so there is risotto, which is being easy to make and soft for baby.”
“Aldent,” Sunny said, which meant It didn’t seem polite to point out that I prefer hard food, but I’m so hungry it doesn’t matter anyway.
“It looks delicious,” Klaus said, feeling his stomach growl at the sight. He took the new glasses off for a second to rub his eyes, which still felt tired. “You knew my prescription?” he asked, looking up at Jacques, a little unnerved again to see that the man only had one eyebrow. The eyes beneath the eyebrow, though, were nothing like Count Olaf’s. They looked kind, and weary, and when Klaus asked his question, very solemn.
“We know a lot of things about you, Klaus,” he said, pouring Klaus a glass of water from a jug on the table. “The one thing we don’t know is how on earth the two of you ended up here.”
Klaus swallowed nearly all of the water in one gulp, only realising then how horribly thirsty he was. Jacques took the glass from him and filled it up again. “It’s sort of a long story…”
“Perhaps you should be waiting until you have eaten,” Madame Lulu suggested, handing Klaus a bowl of risotto and coming to sit beside him, on what he now saw was a small and rather battered sofa.
“Thank you.” Klaus took a mouthful of rice. It was delicious, although even Mrs Poe’s over boiled potatoes would have tasted wonderful to him just then. “But I’d prefer to tell it now. I don’t want to put this off any longer.” He bit his lip. “When we first arrived at Olaf’s house…”
Once he’d started it was difficult to stop. The words poured out of him, only pausing when he ate or drank some more or Sunny pointed out something he’d forgotten. Madame Lulu’s dark eyes widened as the story went on, and when Klaus reached the part about Sunny in the birdcage she gasped and raised a hand to her mouth. Jacques didn’t make a sound, but he turned pale and pressed his lips together very tightly, staring down at the table.
“…and he just drove away,” Klaus finished at last. “And you know what happened then. We heard music, and we followed it here.”
Nobody spoke. The silence grew deep, and uncomfortable. Klaus felt as though all his words were still hanging in the air around him, echoing back and forth, and sounding more and more outlandish with each repetition, like something from a bad melodramatic novel. Nothing like that could happen in real life, to real people, surely? But it could. It did. He looked over at Sunny. Her face was white and pinched, an expression he’d seen too many times.
“Didn’t you tell anyone how he treated you?” Jacques’ tone was unreadable. Klaus felt dizzy, hollow. Is he suspicious now? But it’s the truth, it is…
“We tried.” His throat was parched again, and the water was gone. “We told Mr Poe, but…” He’d left this part out, he wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t the worst thing, nowhere near, but his face was hot and his hands shook. “He said we’d have to get used to things being different. He said Olaf was acting in loco parentis.”
Jacques turned toward him. “In loco parentis?” he repeated, voice lowered, in flat disbelief. Klaus shrank into the cushion, nails digging into his palms, barely aware of Madame Lulu’s hesitant movement at the other side of him. No, please, we need you, please listen, don’t…
His voice spoke automatically. “It means ‘acting in the role of a parent’-”
“I know what it means!” Jacques’ hand smacked into the table, clattering bowls and glasses. Sunny burst into tears. Klaus sprang from the sofa, ran to his sister and held her as Jacques paced the little room, hands waving through the air. “It means ‘I’m a bureaucratic imbecile who’s not fit to be responsible for a goldfish,’ that’s what it means! It means that blinkered ignoramus couldn’t take his damned handkerchief away from his face long enough to see he was leaving you alone with a drunken brute who –”
“Jacques!” Madame Lulu was on her feet as well, pointing a long, painted fingernail at Klaus and Sunny. “You will not be scaring children again, please!”
Jacques stopped pacing and lowered his hands, slowly, as if he’d just woken up. Sunny whimpered, her sobs fading, and burrowed into Klaus’ arms. He rocked her, making gentle shushing sounds that would be useless to comfort her if she could feel his racing heartbeat. Or even if she saw his face, as Jacques did now, turning to him and looking stricken. “Oh, no…” He ran a hand through his hair, shaking his head. “Sunny, Klaus, I’m sorry. I’m an idiot, I’m sorry. I’m not shouting at you. I’m just – I am so sick of him being able to get away with these things. Every time. He tramples on innocent people’s lives and he’s just arrogant enough to –” He flung his arms up again in disgust, abandoning the sentence. “Anyway, I shouldn’t have blown up like that. There’s no excuse. After what you two have been through…”
Klaus gaped at him. Words, for once, deserted him. He wanted to tell Jacques that he wasn’t frightened, not any more, that wasn’t why his legs trembled and his head span. He could call it relief, but it was more than that. Amazement, maybe. Simple shock at seeing feelings he’d forced aside displayed in front of him, hearing words he’d barely let himself think shouted across the caravan. You know. I didn’t think anyone knew.
Sunny, as usual, summed it up in one word. “Avidicent,” she said, and Klaus translated. “You believe us.”
“Of course we are believing you,” Madame Lulu said. “Remember, please, we are hearing parts of story already from my crystal and what my Jacques is investigating. We are telling you this when you come here.”
“I – I thought –” He couldn’t finish. He was crying again, he realised, properly this time, not trying to restrain it. Jacques put a hand on his shoulder.
“You thought you were alone,” he said, softly. Klaus nodded. Jacques bent down, looking him in the eyes. “And you thought you were helpless. I know, because –” He paused, and took a shuddering breath. Klaus realised with a start that Jacques’ eyes were filled with tears, as well. “Because that’s what Olaf wanted you to think. But the truth is, you three children are resourceful, intelligent, and extremely brave people, and you have more friends in this world than you know.”
The three of us… Klaus saw his sister’s face again, pale beneath the stage lights. “Violet…” he whispered. “Violet’s still…”
“I know, and we’re going to get her back.” Jacques stood upright again, but his hand still gripped Klaus’ shoulder, strong and firm. “Believe it or not,” he added, taking a handkerchief from his pocket and passing it to Klaus, “based on what you just told me, I have some good news.”
Sunny frowned. “Bene?”
“She says she can’t think of anything good about that story,” Klaus explained, wiping his eyes. He had to agree with her. Jacques and Madame Lulu clearly wanted to help, which seemed a miracle in itself, but he couldn’t imagine how they could.
“Perhaps baby is not thinking of them,” Madame Lulu said, sitting back down on the couch and patting the cushion beside her. Klaus sat next to her, Sunny cradled in his lap. “But I am thinking there are at least two good things. Is this right?” she asked Jacques, as he sat down beside Klaus.
He nodded. “That’s what I thought. You tell them.”
“First thing is being good news and bad news,” Lulu explained, counting on her fingers. “Bad news is because marriage is legal in front of judge, this is making Count Olaf legal owner of Baudelaire fortune…”
“Bosh!” Sunny interrupted, sounding indignant.
“We don’t care about that,” Klaus translated.
“Be letting me finish, please,” Madame Lulu said, frowning. “Children should not interrupt. As I am saying, Olaf is owner now of Baudelaire money by being husband of Violet. But because he is husband, he is no longer having rights of parent. Violet is like married adult woman, free to go and come as she pleases. Count Olaf is having no custody.”
“But he’s not going to let her go, is he?” Klaus said. Madame Lulu’s eyes darkened.
“No,” she said, quietly. “He will be making sure she is staying put.”
“But,” Jacques added, “that brings us to the second piece of good news. Which is that Arthur Poe is an idiot,” he said, with a grim smile. Klaus frowned at him, baffled. “Olaf won’t be able to get his hands on the money right away,” Jacques explained. “There’ll be a pile of red tape to get through – that means rules and regulations that are mostly pointless. If I know Poe, it’ll take him at least a week. And until he has the money, Olaf won’t risk harming Violet. At least…” He trailed off, uncomfortably.
“He’ll keep her alive,” Klaus finished. There was a big difference, of course, between keeping a person alive and not hurting them, so big that his stomach twisted at the thought of it. Still, for the first time since discovering Olaf’s plan, he felt truly hopeful. They had time. They had a chance.
Jacques nodded. “That’s right. And that gives us time to think of a plan. I’m afraid it won’t be as simple as breaking in and rescuing her, not without someone who’s a lot better at concealment than I am, and that’s…” He looked pained for a second. “It’s going to be difficult. We’ll have to consult with the others as soon as possible,” he added, addressing Lulu.
“You are leaving still so quickly?” Her voice fell in disappointment. “You know you and children are welcome to stay extra day, my Jacques. Time for resting, not rushing off to mountains.”
“There is no time for resting.” Jacques sighed. “There never is. I told you I couldn’t stay long when I arrived here.”
“Excuse me,” Klaus said, before Lulu could answer. “Why are we going to the mountains? Who are we consulting?”
“Of course, you are not knowing.” Madame Lulu smiled at Klaus for the first time. “In mountains, please, is headquarters of VFD. It is safe place for all volunteers to be meeting and working together. Beautiful place. There is waterfall right beside. And there is library also of course, and swimming pool, and many kitchens, and workshops for making of inventions, and all other things you will be seeing when Jacques is taking you there.”
Workshops for inventing, Klaus thought. She said it as if she knows Violet’s going to see them. Had she looked in her crystal ball again? He’d never been sure how a ball of glass could tell the future, but if it was possible…
“Lugo?” Sunny asked, and Klaus translated, “Are you coming with us?”
“I cannot leave carnival,” Madame Lulu said quickly. “Running business is hard work, and many people are wanting to hear fortunes.”
“Yes, they are.” Jacques stood up. “Would you excuse me, please? I need to make a phone call.”
“He is good man, Jacques Snicket,” Madame Lulu said, quietly, as Jacques left the caravan. “Always he is busy being detective. Not stopping, please, even for visiting of friends.” She watched as he passed the window, then shook her head, turning back to Klaus and Sunny. “He is good at job, this is what I am saying. If anyone is helping your sister it is being him.”
“Snicket…” Klaus knew he’d heard the name before, but he couldn’t think where. The memory wouldn’t come into focus, as if his mind had lost its glasses too. “That sounds familiar.”
“He is friend of your parents. Perhaps they are mentioning.” Madame Lulu stood up, brushing wrinkles from her shimmering skirt. “More important question now, please, is are children wanting any more risotto? I am making plenty.”
“We really can’t thank you enough,” Klaus told Lulu, later, as they waited for Jacques to bring his car around. “If we hadn’t found this place, I don’t know what would have happened.”
“It is not any trouble, please,” Madame Lulu said, waving a hand. Jacques pulled up beside them. “I am always being ready to help, please, when people are coming to me with problem.”
“You certainly are.” Jacques stepped out of the car, and opened the door for Klaus and Sunny. “There’s a baby seat in there for you, Sunny. I always bring it with me, even though this is only the third time I’ve needed it. Still, you never know.”
“Diolch,” Sunny said, meaning Thanks.
“I am hoping your sister is joining you soon, please,” Madame Lulu said, bending down to kiss first Sunny and then Klaus on the cheek. “Goodbye, and good luck with your rescuing.”
They said goodbye and got into the car. Klaus helped Sunny into her seat, realising, amazed, that less than a day ago they’d been in the back of a long black car just like this one, thinking they were driving to their deaths. It didn’t seem possible that their luck could have changed so fast, yet here it was happening.
Madame Lulu waved to them both as they drove away, and Klaus and Sunny waved back, until the carnival had vanished in the distance.
“Eta?” Sunny asked, settling back into her seat.
“I don’t know.” Klaus leaned forward. “Sunny wants to know how long it’ll take to reach the headquarters.”
Jacques didn’t answer. He stared straight ahead, seeming not to hear anything. Klaus felt a small flutter of nerves in his stomach. “Mr Snicket? Jacques?”
“We’re not going to reach it,” Jacques muttered, still not turning round. At least that was what it sounded like to Klaus, but surely he couldn’t have…
“What?” The fluttering felt more like a hurricane. “What do you…?”
“We’re not going to the mountain headquarters,” Jacques said, turning to look at him. His face was pale and set again, and Klaus felt his arms go weak. “I’m so sorry to have to do this, but it can’t be helped. I’ve already put you in terrible danger.”
I enjoy these so much. Your Jacques is hilarious. I laughed all the way through this. I felt like you got deeper into Klaus's head than you have in the previous chapters, which I liked. Maybe I'm being dense, but I don't already know what's going to happen next, so I look forward to the next one!
Is headquarters not being burned down in this version? Or does Lulu just not know it yet?
It hasn't been burned down yet. The man with beard and woman with hair said they'd been up there for about a month, and the Baudelaires appear to spend several months being shuffled around between various guardians, so at this point the headquarters should still be intact.
You're not being dense. The last line is a little misleading, because - well, not to spoil it too much, it's not really Jacques' fault that they're in danger...