December 21st, 2007
Title: Mount Fraught Syndrome: Chapter 7
Summary: Jacques explains what he meant by "terrible danger".
Author's Notes: This chapter took forever.
Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six
“Please, don’t panic.” Jacques raised a hand. “We’re safe enough for the moment, but I want to get away from here as soon as possible. We’ll head out towards the foothills, then double back.”
“Biska?” Sunny demanded. Her fingers were clenched tight around her seatbelt, but her voice was strong and clear. Klaus doubted that anyone but him could have told how frightened she was.
“What’s going on?” he translated, hoping his tone matched hers. “Where are you taking us?”
Jacques sighed heavily, turning back to the road. “I’m sorry,” he repeated. “For throwing all of this at you at once – although I must say, you’re coping better than a lot of new volunteers – and because I haven’t been altogether honest with you. Or rather, I’ve let someone else’s dishonesty go unquestioned. Madame Lulu…” He looked out at the distant mountains, apparently wondering how to proceed. “She’s not what she appears to be. She’s not a real fortune teller, for a start.”
“Lori?” Sunny asked Klaus, quietly. She meant Does that mean she doesn’t really know whether we’ll save Violet?, and Klaus could tell from her face that he didn’t need to answer.
“I don’t know where she gets all her information,” Jacques went on, “but it’s not her crystal ball. And she does tell the truth, to anyone who wants to hear it. That’s the problem, in fact.” His eyes in the rear view mirror darkened, narrowed. “Lulu tells anyone anything.”
It took a second for Klaus to grasp the meaning of this. “You – you mean she might tell Olaf? Where we were?”
“Oh, absolutely.” Jacques’ tone was bitter. “She refuses to take sides, you see. No matter what.”
“But he’s… and she… she made us risotto!” Klaus knew how absurd this sounded, but he couldn’t help it. Madame Lulu had taken them in and fed them, and seemed so kind… “She helped us! She said she hoped Violet would be joining us soon… how could someone do that and then hand us over to him?”
“Not every decision’s so easy,” Jacques said, quietly. “The schism didn’t divide us neatly, wicked people on one side and noble on the other. It split apart friends, and families. Lulu was caught in the middle of all that, and she couldn’t cope. She didn’t know the right thing to do, so she decided the best thing was to give everyone what they wanted. And she’s stuck to that ever since, even in situations where the right thing should be obvious. She won’t accept that she can’t stay neutral forever.”
Sunny frowned at Jacques. “Sturmhit?” she asked. How do we know you’re telling the truth?
“I think he is,” Klaus said, slowly, as a memory came back. “I woke up and heard you arguing,” he told Jacques, “outside the caravan. I didn’t remember until now because I was half asleep, but you said something like that, didn’t you? About not being able to stay neutral. And Madame Lulu told you – you’d have to prevent anyone asking questions.”
Jacques raised his eyebrow. “Not bad,” he murmured, apparently to himself, then, louder, “She had a point. If Olaf doesn’t have a reason to suspect you’re alive, he won’t ask about you, and if he doesn’t ask about you, Lulu won’t tell him you’re with me. Things aren’t as bad as they might be, but it would only take one sighting of you for Olaf to get suspicious. And if Fernald says anything…”
“Fernald?” Sunny asked.
“The hook-handed man. He was supposed to kill you, of course, so presumably he won’t want Olaf finding out that he let you go. I’d say you were probably safe on that front, only…” Jacques frowned. “I don’t know why he let you live in the first place. That’s what worries me. Fernald can be – volatile, and if he’s decided that Olaf is…”
He trailed off, lost in his own thoughts. Klaus put a hand to his temple. His head ached with questions, and there was a heavy, dull feeling in his stomach whenever he thought of Madame Lulu and her crystal. How could someone so kind be so dangerous? And how could someone who tried to kill us be kind? Since the fire, it feels like there’s nothing left we can trust…
Sunny touched his arm. Her hand was shaking. Klaus put his arm around her shoulders, and they sat for a long time in silence, sharing their fears.
It occurred to Klaus that there was something else Jacques hadn’t told them. He leaned forward again. “Jacques? Where are we going?”
“Oh, yes.” Jacques looked round again and actually smiled, a little, although it was pale and strained. “We’re going to stay with a friend of mine. And a distant relative of yours, although I don’t think you’ve actually met. I phoned him earlier. He’s incredibly excited about seeing you both. At this very moment he’s baking you a coconut cream cake.” He shook his head, with a soft laugh. “Monty’s always been the enthusiastic type. Oh, and he says you’re to call him Uncle Monty, or just Monty, if you like, but definitely not Doctor Montgomery. That’s far too stuffy.” His expression grew solemn. “He’s a good man. I’d trust him with my life, and more to the point, I trust him with yours.”
Klaus nodded, and swallowed. There seemed to be something caught in his throat. “What kind of a doctor is he?” he asked. Jacques let out a breath and turned back to the wheel.
“He’s a herpetologist. I don’t know if you know what that means…”
“ ‘Ology’ means the study of something, but I don’t know what that is,” Klaus admitted.
“Reptiles,” Jacques explained. “Snakes, mostly. Don’t worry,” he added, as Klaus and Sunny both gasped, “most of them are harmless, and the ones that aren’t are in extremely secure cages. Monty’s very careful with his specimens. And his guests,” he added, with a rather more convincing smile. “I think you’ll get on well.”
“Mica,” Sunny said, which meant I hope so.
“Of course, Monty gets along with most people,” Jacques said, “unless they’re cruel, or tedious, or they make fun of his name. Which I suppose is both a cruel thing to do and a tedious thing to put up with every time one introduces oneself. But I’m sure you two would never do such a thing.”
“Of course not,” Klaus said. “Is that why you call him Monty, because he doesn’t want people to use his first name?”
Jacques gave a strange smile. “Monty is his first name.”
“But I thought – oh! You mean it’s…”
Jacques nodded. “Montgomery Montgomery, yes. Apparently there was a tradition on his mother’s side of the family.”
“Oops,” Sunny said, but she couldn’t help smiling. She pressed a hand over her mouth as Jacques glanced in her direction.
“It’s okay,” he told her. “Everyone reacts like that at first. Even my brother, and his name – ” He broke off abruptly, turning to look out of the window again. Klaus and Sunny exchanged glances, wondering if he knew how much they’d heard outside the tent.
“He was named after an old friend of my mother’s,” Jacques said, sounding as if this were a normal conversation, though his fingers turned white around the steering wheel. “And he was named after a rather literal translation of the name of a man who once saved his father’s life. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if that man’s name had been just a little easier to pronounce.” He paused, gazing out at the shadowy mountains as they grew closer. “Maybe it would have changed some things,” he said, quietly. “And maybe not. Compared to everything else that happened… I don’t suppose being named Lemony would have had that significant an effect.”
Klaus stared at him. “I – I beg your pardon?”
“Lemony. Like the fruit.” Jacques sighed, still gazing out of the window. The landscape was changing, occasional hills and trees breaking the dusty monotony of the plains. “We can turn here,” Jacques said, glancing in the rear view mirror. Then, almost casually, “You heard what I asked Lulu earlier, didn’t you?”
Klaus gulped again. “Yes.”
“So you know that my brother is…” Jacques winced a little, as if in pain, twisting the steering wheel sharply. “Not well.”
“We know.” Klaus wanted to say more, but he couldn’t. Jacques watched the road intently as the car turned round, as though all of his attention was focused on safe driving.
“Kalma,” Sunny said, softly. Klaus translated, “You must be worried for him.”
“I’m petrified.” Jacques exhaled sharply. “I’ve been petrified for the past fifteen years. Ever since – ever since he left.”
Fifteen years… Klaus shivered. A day was bad enough.
“When I lost my temper earlier – when I scared you so badly…” Jacques shuddered, his voice faltering. “I shouldn’t have let myself snap like that, but I just couldn’t stand it. Count Olaf tore my family apart, and to hear that he did it to you as well, and no one realised, no one stopped him…” He shook his head, wordless.
Sunny’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Lenore?”
Klaus hissed “Shh!” but Jacques had already heard. He raised his eyebrow. “What was that, Sunny?”
“Sunny thought – well, Madame Lulu said your brother was – was sick because of someone who died,” Klaus explained. “We didn’t realise – it didn’t occur to us that Count Olaf was involved in…” He had a feeling as he spoke that he should have realised. Something about the connection seemed inevitable.
“I can’t talk about that,” Jacques said, quickly. Klaus bit his lip.
“No, don’t be. You’ve a right to ask.” Jacques’ tone softened, and he relaxed his grip on the wheel a bit. “There are things I think you ought to know, but it’s not my place to tell you, not without speaking to my brother first. Things that are very complicated, and very personal. Do you understand?”
“We do,” Klaus said. That connection still nagged at him, something obvious he wasn’t seeing – an image of thick smoke filled his mind – but he respected that Jacques didn’t want to talk about it. He could understand that.
“Capische,” Sunny said, with a firm nod. “Soror,” she added, quietly, and Klaus put an arm round her again. All I care about right now is Violet.
“You’ll meet him soon enough,” Jacques said, “if all goes well. By the end of the week. We’ll get Lemony out of Heimlich and Violet away from Olaf and then we’ll find a safe place for the lot of you. Somewhere you can rest.” He looked at the mirror, the mountains fading again into the distance. “If all goes well…” he repeated, to himself.
“Isn’t a hospital a safe place?” Klaus asked, but he realised the answer straight away. “Not if Madame Lulu knows about it…” The weight in his stomach grew heavier. “I thought she must be a good person,” he whispered. “I really did.”
“She’s not a bad person,” Jacques said. “There was a time, very long ago, when…” He fell quiet for a long while. “Never mind,” he muttered, changing gear. “What’s important right now is helping our families. The rest of it can wait.” He looked back over his shoulder at the children. “I realise that what I’m about to say will be entirely useless, but – try not to worry too much. We’ll get your sister out of there. Monty and I have been on plenty of rescue missions before, and as for Lemony – you remember I said we’d need an expert in concealment to be able to break in?”
“Your brother’s good at hiding himself?”
Jacques shook his head. “No,” he said, and to Klaus’ extreme surprise, he grinned. “He isn’t good. He’s phenomenal.”
Violet held her breath. The sharp end of the uncoiled mattress spring dug into her damp palm, but she didn’t feel it. One more pin. That was all she needed. Get that last little piece of metal out of the way, and she’d be out of here. She could feel it, she heard the soft grinding noise as it started to slide, and then…
Her hand slipped. The pins all clicked back into place, and Violet moaned in frustration, letting the lockpick fall to the floor. Her left hand throbbed with pain, and when she looked at it she saw fresh blood soaking through the strips of sheet she’d tied round it for a bandage. She’d been clenching her empty fist hard enough to open the cut again.
She sat back, breathing hard and shivering. I won’t panic. I have plenty of time to do this. What would Dad say? Don’t think of it as failure. Think of it as learning the ways that don’t work.
She shook her head. No, he wouldn’t. He’d say “I’m taking you home, Ed. You’re safe now. Count Olaf is gone and you’ll never have to see him again. It’s all over.”
“Daddy…” She whimpered, right hand covering her eyes, her hair falling from its ribbon and over her face in limp strings. “Dad, help me… I can’t… I can’t…”
He didn’t come. There was no point in calling. Her father couldn’t rescue her, because he was gone. And his place had been stolen. Violet felt her lip curl as she stared at the door. “You’re not my father!” she hissed. “You’re not my husband, and you’re not – my – dad!”
And you’re not going to keep me in here. She wrenched her hair back, twisting so hard that a few strands pulled loose. Never mind. She stretched her right hand in front of her, flexing her aching fingers. The room was growing dark. Stretching out the spring had taken longer than she’d expected.
I’m tired. She picked up the lockpick again, wincing as she gripped it. I’m tired and my hand hurts. I need to rest. She knelt forward again and carefully slipped the wire back into the lock. One more try, then I’ll go to bed. I can start again in the morning. It’ll be easier when I’ve had some sleep.
The wire found the first pin. Violet bit her lip.
One more try.
By the time they arrived at the house the stars were all out, and Sunny was too sleepy to lift her head. Klaus tried to keep his eyes open, but he couldn’t stop himself from yawning. “I’m sorry,” he told Uncle Monty, as they sat in his kitchen, eating sandwiches and coconut cake.
Uncle Monty shook his head. “My dear boy, there’s nothing to be sorry for. After everything the two of you have been through, it’s no surprise you’re worn out. Jacques told me all about it.” He grimaced, as if the cake frosting had suddenly turned bitter. “I’ve made up beds for you both in a couple of the spare rooms,” he continued. “Of course, if you don’t like the rooms I’ve put you in you’re free to choose new ones tomorrow. I want you to be comfortable for as long as you’re living here.”
“We have… our own rooms?” Klaus blinked, not sure he’d taken this in. There’d been a time when he’d had a room to himself, way back in the distant past when kindness in adults could be taken for granted.
“Of course you do!” Uncle Monty exclaimed. “You don’t think I’d keep you cooped up in just the one?”
Sunny’s carrot stick fell from her hand. “Heras,” she mumbled, snuggling up to Klaus. He put his arms round her, kissing her on the forehead.
“It’s very kind of you,” he told Uncle Monty. “But – tonight, we’d prefer to be together.”
Uncle Monty looked at them for a long time, then nodded sadly. “Of course you would, poor bambini. I understand.”
The bed was soft, the sheets crisp and clean. Sunny was asleep before Klaus laid her on the pillows, but she wriggled and muttered a little as she touched them, as if perplexed. Klaus climbed in beside her and closed his eyes, listening to the sound of his own breath and hers.
It’s wrong, he thought, no Violet, Violet’s missing… The confusion of the day swirled in his mind as he drifted off, a whirlpool centred round a single thought.
I'll begin, as usual, with YAAAAAAAY!
I guess I did know what was going to happen, and was just over-complexifying it.
I love the explanation of Lemony's name. Also, the incoherently vague way Jacques tells the story behind it, which is so exactly the way all the Volunteers (fail to) shed light on things in the books.
I liked that you checked in with Violet, and her thoughts of her father. "Don’t think of it as failure. Think of it as learning the ways that don’t work." is perfect for them. I hope she escapes on her own, at least partially, before they get there to rescue her.
Jacques is awfully communicative in comparison to how he was towards Quigley. Are you thinking he trusts the Baudelaires more? His driving was making me nervous. Perhaps reckless driving runs in the family.
And he has a History with Olivia! Given her pursuit of Olaf, that must be almost as awkward as Lemony will be when he meets Beatrice's kids. I'm so excited that you're going to write that.
Are you thinking he trusts the Baudelaires more?
I think he feels like he owes them a bit more explanation. Because they're Beatrice's kids, and the Baudelaire and Snicket families have always been close, like Kit said.
And yeah, reckless driving and depression. Typical Snicket family traits. ;)