(Serious) Author's Note: Thanks to (guest) and another (guest) for reviewing, along with koryandrs.
Anyway, back to today's chapter. I think this one could be one of the most important in the series so far, as some of the characters introduced here will stay with us through the remainder of the series.
I hope that you all enjoy the chapter, even if it has taken a little longer to be written than many of its predecessors. I've had a very busy month, for which I can only apologise.
Violet was anxious.
She was standing next to Arlo on the driveway as Lemony Snicket rung the doorbell of the Quagmire Mansion.
"Nice house," Lemony said, admiring the architecture, and Violet couldn't help but agree. She hoped that a person who had spent so long taking care of their property would be kind and understanding of their situation. It was only then, standing on Peter Quagmire's driveway, that she realised how little she knew of Jacques Snicket's former colleague.
Soon she was able to hear footsteps in the hallway of the house, followed by the sound of a key clicking in the metal lock, and finally the wooden door swung open smoothly, just enough for a small boy of around Violet's age with short black hair to stick his head through the gap created, peering out at the three volunteers. "Hello?" he asked them nervously.
"Hello," replied Lemony, smiling at the boy. "Is Peter Quagmire at home?"
The boy didn't say a word for a moment, as if confused by something that Violet could not fathom, and then nodded politely. "I'll go and fetch him for you," the boy said finally, and then he was gone, the door swinging shut behind him. The three volunteers only had to wait outside for a few moments before the boy had returned, now at the side of a man in his forties with similarly dark hair and a look of disbelief at the man who stood at his front door showing in his wide-set eyes.
"Lemony?" he said, almost laughing.
"Peter," Lemony said, mirroring the old volunteer's smile, and offering a hand to shake.
"It's been far too long, my friend," Peter smiled, grasping Lemony's hand and shaking it firmly. "You'd better come in. I take it you are here with purpose?"
"Unfortunately so," Lemony said grimly, unsure how to break the news of Jacques untimely death - along with the threat to the safety of him and his family - to his old friend. As he entered the large entrance hall of the Quagmire Mansion, with its high ceilings and polished wooden floors, he gestured to Violet and Arlo, where were waiting on the doorstep tentatively. "Allow me to introduce my colleagues, Arlo Thursday and Violet Baudelaire." he said grandly, unsure of how much to give away in the presence of Peter's child. The boy, who Violet now thought must almost certainly be thirteen or fourteen, hung close to his parent but gave Violet a timid smile when she saw him watching her, as though he wanted to greet her but wasn't entirely sure how to. Looking down, Peter Quagmire noticed his son's behaviour and tried to nudge him forward towards the guests, and the boy did so reluctantly.
"This is my son, Duncan," Peter explained, and Duncan looked up once more, smiling weakly at both young volunteers.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," Duncan said politely, looking at both Violet and Arlo in turn, causing Violet to mirror his smile while Arlo remained more indifferent to the boy, a phrase which can be used here to describe how he barely seemed to acknowledge the boy's greeting.
"Why don't you two run along with young Duncan?" Lemony suggested to his apprentices, pretending not to notice as Arlo glared at him. "We adults need to talk."
"Ah, of course!" Peter said, attempting to sound cheerful but the concern was all too apparent in his voice. "Follow me right this way..."
Peter opened a thick wooden door into what Violet believed to be the kitchen and gestured for Lemony to follow him inside before pushing the door closed, where it sellers with a satisfying click! leaving the three children alone.
"Well, I suppose you'd better come with me," the boy called Duncan said, and now that Violet could see him better she could see that he was a boy of roughly her height, with short dark brown hair and wide-set eyes. He was dressed in a thick black sweater that made his pale skin stand out against its surroundings. "Before you arrived, my siblings and I were upstairs in the library. I'll take you to meet them," Duncan continued, leading Violet and Arlo up a flight of grand wooden stairs that reminded the eldest Baudelaire of her own home, of which little more than a pile of ashes remained. As they walked, Duncan began to seem more outgoing, asking questions of the newcomers.
"Who was that man that you arrived with?" he asked Violet as they reached the top of the stairs and turned right onto a long corridor.
"That man was Lemony Snicket," Violet explained. "He's an associate of ours."
"Then how does he know my father?"
"I believe they were friends a long time ago," Violet answered vaguely. She did not know how much information about V.F.D. she should reveal to this fourteen-year-old boy. If the Quagmire family were much like her own - and her experiences so far had led her to believe so - then Duncan Quagmire might not even know of V.F.D.'s existence.
"Are you related to him, then?" Duncan asked once more, reminding Violet of a time when she knew nothing of Lemony or the organisation which now dictates her life, just four long months before.
"No, we're not related to him," Violet explained. "Arlo and I are his colleagues."
"Colleagues?" Duncan said, raising an eyebrow over one of his wide brown eyes. "Surely you're not old enough to work? You look barely a year older than me..."
"I'm almost fifteen," Violet began, but Arlo interrupted her.
"We are apprentices, training to work as Lemony does, although so far our roles have been far more administrational that we would have hoped," Arlo told Duncan, which was a half-truth. "Currently, we serve to make Lemony's job easier, rather than get involved in his work himself." Lemony's eldest apprentice was being careful to make sure that he wasn't giving away anything about the nature of his organisation, even though he knew a lot more than he was admitting to, although Violet's reaction seemed to suggest something else.
"I'm not sure I believe you," Duncan told Arlo testily, but his expression softened towards Violet as he gazed in her direction after stopping at the end of the hallway. "But anyway, we're here. This is the library." And with that, Duncan Quagmire opened another sturdy wooden door and stepped inside.
The Quagmire library was an extensive one, and Violet was instantly reminded of the library in the Baudelaire home. She had never spent as much time in the library as her brother, but she had loved it nonetheless and for a moment the only emotion forthcoming to her as she stepped into the room was grief. But like all things, the moment passed, and Violet began to look around the room in wonder. The room was large; possibly ten metres in length. On three walls, there were bookshelves reaching from the floor to the ceiling, and the fourth wall was covered in large windows adorned with rich red curtains, through which the golden sunlight of the early afternoon was shining, now that the rain had passed. Within the room there was a large wooden table tat covered much of the central floorspace, at which stood a boy who appeared identical to Duncan in all ways but that he was wearing a navy blue sweater, who was poring over some charts strewn across the table. At the far end of the room was a group of chairs surrounding a coffee table that formed a comfortable reading area. In one of the chairs was a young girl who seemed (excluding her gender, of course) almost identical to her brothers. She had a large, black-covered book straddled across her knees and was scribbling furiously in a dark green notebook, that Violet recognised to be identical (excluding colour) to her commonplace book, which made her doubt her presumptions about the family. As Violet and Arlo followed Duncan into the room, both young people looked up at the visitors.
"Siblings," Duncan Quagmire announced rather formally. "These young people are Violet Baudelaire and Arlo Thursday."
Both Quagmire siblings looked up from their work to welcome the newcomers. The boy, who looked almost identical to Duncan, gave a warm smile that made Violet feel welcomed in the Quagmire home, and while his sister gave a welcoming smile, it clashed with a frown that appeared almost unfathomable.
"Baudelaire?" The girl asked, placing her notebook down on the coffee table next to a mug of hot chocolate and walking towards the two volunteers. Violet noticed that she was wearing a blouse the same colour as her notebook. "Are you of any relation to the Baudelaire family who lost their lives when their mansion was razed to the ground this summer?"
For a moment, Violet froze. It had not occured to her that such a notable point in her own life might have been noticed by others. After such a hurried disappearance from the city that day - the day her father suffered a terrible injury caused by a harpoon - why wouldn't anyone think that the Baudelaires had perished that day? They had vanished without a trace. But this wasn't what was bothering Violet. What was bothering her was that she realised just how close her family and herself had come to becoming fatalities that summer. His father had knocked on death's door - an expression used to describe someone nearing death - after the altercation with Count Olaf on the day that the Baudelaire Mansion had burned down. Violet had survived a helicopter crash, and had survived travelling through the Hinterlands with nothing but her younger brother for company. Klaus had survived being captured and interrogated by the Firestarters and one of their most dangerous agents, a man with a beard but no hair. And Violet's mother and baby sister were still in the clutches of the notorious Count Olaf, and could be facing death at any moment. But before she could worry about her family, she had a job to do.
"I'm afraid you might be mistaken," Violet told Duncan's sister cautiously. "Nobody died in the fire, and I should know. That was my home."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," said the other boy, who looked so like Duncan, and Violet thought that he genuinely meant it, despite him only knowing her for a couple of minutes. "And besides," he said. "You heard that from a newspaper article in The Daily Punctilio. Isadora, If you've learnt anything from listening to Duncan over the years, then you should know that The Daily Punctilio only ever tells half of the story. They said that the fire was arson." His sister - Isadora - nodded once to acknowledge her mistake, and her brother turned back towards Violet and Arlo. "Duncan is very interested in journalism, you see," the boy told the two young volunteers. "He hopes to become a reporter when he is older. That's why he spends so long reading the papers. And he's spent long enough to know not to trust The Daily Punctilio."
"Anyway, I suppose I should get on with the introductions," Duncan said quickly, cuttin off his brother, trying to make up for skipping past one of the most important parts of any conversation. "Violet, Arlo, please meet my siblings, Isadora and Quigley." Both smiled politely, and Quigley - who seemed to be Duncan's identical twin or something (or so Violet thought) - came forward to shake both of the newcomers' hands. "Siblings," Duncan added. "I have already told you who Violet and Arlo are, but not what they are doing here. To to tell the truth, I don't really know myself."
"I'll tell you what," Violet suggested, looking at Arlo for reassurance, but nothing was forthcoming. "Why don't we all take a seat, and I'll explain as much as I can." Isadora led the five children over towards the chairs in the corner of the room, where they sat down in the plush chairs around the coffee table.
"I suppose I'd better start from the start," Violet said, glancing at Arlo for confirmation, who now gave an almost indiscernible nod. He was being unusually quiet that evening at the Quagmire Mansion. Smiling, Violet began her tale. "We are here because of a man called Lemony Snicket," she explained.
"Who's he?" Quigley asked.
Violet thought on her feet, a phrase which here means "came up with a lie while under pressure." This wasn't a problem, as Violet could invent an excuse just as easily as she could invent a grappling hook from the burning wreckage of a helicopter and they guy ropes of Arlo Thursday's tent. "He's a writer," Violet answered, which was a half-truth. She could remember Klaus being rather excited by his narratives of his time working with V.F.D.
"What does he write?" Isadora asked her.
"It's strange," Violet explained nervously. "He writes about true stories, but as though he's writing a children's book. It's rather unique, really."
"It sounds fascinating," Duncan said, and Violet nodded.
"My younger brother certainly thought so," she continued, smiling. "Klaus is an avid reader, and he loves them."
"What literary genres does he read?" Isadora asked eagerly, leaning forward in her chair.
"Oh, anything and everything," Violet shrugged. "I'm not always paying attention to his literary tastes, but I'm sure that they're rather varied."
"Does her read poetry?" Isadora asked again, but Duncan soon spoke over her.
"My sister is only asking," Duncan explained, "because she has an interest in poetry herself. In fact, she writes in her spare time," he said, causing Isadora to blush, and for Arlo to raise an inquisitive eyebrow, although it was difficult to spot beneath his wild hair.
"You should read some of your work to them," Quigley suggested, and Isadora blushed once more.
"Oh, go on," Violet pleaded. "If my brother was here, I'm sure he'd love to hear some poetry."
"I'm sorry to interject," Arlo said, using a fancy word for "interrupt", "but weren't we discussing Lemony Snicket?"
"Indeed," Violet said disappointedly, but continued her tale. "We're here to assist Lemony, as we are apprenticed to him, but as mere apprentices we know little of his actual work. All we know of his association with your father is that they are old, old friends."
"I wonder why father has never mentioned a Lemony Snicket to us before," mused Quigley.
"He did once mention a Jacques Snicket to us," Duncan said thoughtfully, leaning back in his chair, his arms crossed across his chest. "Is Lemony related to Jacques?"
"They are brothers," Violet replied, deliberately avoiding to mention that Jacques had died a few weeks before at the hands of Count Olaf, as that would require a whole other explanation, and Violet had neither the time nor the inclination - where "inclination" here means "energy" - to explain the whole story to the Quagmire siblings. "I believe that Jacques was good friends with your father, too."
The Quagmires nodded simultaneously, and then reverted the conversation to talking about the man in conversation with their father downstairs. "You say that you know little about Lemony's job," Isadora said inquisitively. "Is there anything you're not telling us?" she asked.
"No," Violet said bluntly, refusing to say anything else on the matter. It was not the truth, but it would do. She did not want to say more. Even though she knew that the Quagmires were three friendly - albeit a little curious - children, she felt as if she was being interrogated.
Despite how Violet was feeling, it seemed that the Quagmire siblings' appetite was not set satisfied as they continued to ask about their guests, as though they had never had guests before and wanted to know much about such a strange type of person that wanted to visit others before it disappeared to wherever it had come from. This of course, is complete nonsense, as the Quagmire household had had plenty of visitors over the years, but it did not feel like that to Violet on that November afternoon. "Well, maybe lemony may be a mystery," Quigley said conclusively. "But we can still find out about you two. We've heard from you already, Violet, but your colleague has barely spoken a word."
it was true, and Arlo sighed as he leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his knees. "You don't want to know about my past," he said bluntly.
"On the contrary, we do," Duncan explained. "Unlike Violet, your accent suggests that you're not from round here. Tell me, Arlo, where are you from?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Arlo laughed.
"Go on, then. Tell us."
"I've grown up in the Verdant Valley," Arlo replied calmly, and Violet was surprised at first that Arlo had answered honestly, but soon understood her friend's motives once she saw the Quagmire siblings' reactions. Duncan and Isadora looked at each other forlornly, shrugging, and then both turned to look at Quigley, whose brow was furrowed in thought.
"Give me a moment to think," he told his siblings, sensing them watching him.
"Quigley is an aspiring amateur cartographer," Duncan told the two volunteers. "He's probably trying to remember something he had learnt from one of his charts."
"What's a cartographer?" Violet asked, wishing that Klaus was with her. Having read so many books, Klaus' vocabulary was better than that of most adults, despite his tender age. Luckily for Violet, Arlo's vocabulary was also strong, although she knew that this was more due to how long he spent with Lemony than anything else.
"A cartographer," Arlo told Violet, "is someone who studies and draws maps and charts."
Quigley smiled at the volunteers, and although Violet mirrored it, Arlo was less accommodating. "I remember spotting the Verdant Valley on one of my charts not long ago," he said. "There was something unique about them, but I can't remember what. Let me have a look," he said, standing up from his chair to walk over to the large wooden table in the centre of the room. Once there, he cleared his books from it and pulled open a drawer beneath it, pulling out a large roll of paper than he unrolled across the polished wooden surface of the table. It almost covered the whole surface of the table, and it had grown so used to being rolled up that Quigley had to weigh it down with heavy books in each of the four corners. Then, as everyone gathered around the table, Violet could see what he had uncovered.
It was a map of the country, documenting the landscape in incredible detail, over twenty feet in length and at least ten wide. Violet stared in amazement as the landscape took shape in front of her, from the Finite Forest in the west to Lake Lachrymose in the east, and from the Mortmain Mountains in the north to the city that had been her home in the south. But Quigley was looking at none of these places; his wide brown eyes were staring at the blank white scar that seemed to split the map in half; the eventless landscape of the Hinterlands. Well, almost eventless, at least. One shape was discernible - the word "discernible" here means "able to be identified" - within the Hinterlands. It was labelled V.V., and Violet could see that it was the Verdant Valley.
"The Verdant Valley is a strange place," explained Quigley, as the map had apparently jogged his memory. "So perfect, so fertile, so safe, yet so far from civilisation, surrounded by the desolate Hinterlands in all directions." Quigley looked up to stare at Arlo. "I find it hard to see how you would manage to grow up in the Verdant Valley," he told Arlo. "The land may be good, but there wouldn't be a man-made structure within fifty miles." It was as though Quigley was suspecting Arlo of being a liar, which Violet thought would set off the short fuse of her friend's temper, but Arlo Thursday merely nodded slowly, smiling secretly to himself.
And then Violet understood.
Quigley Quagmire had said that there was no structure within fifty miles of the Verdant Valley, which meant that he didn't know of the existence of the V.F.D. base in the valley, run by Arlo's father, Daniel Thursday. So, judging by that, she could presume that despite what small snippets of information the Quagmire siblings may know, they knew nothing of the existence of V.F.D. Looking around the library, Violet was reminded once more of how similar the Quagmire Mansion was to her old home, and it made her think if she knew similar snippets of information even if she didn't know that she knew them, if you know what I mean. The Quagmires were in a position that the eldest Baudelaire could still remember clearly, even though her old life seemed much further away than it actually was.
It seemed to Violet that the Quagmires were happy yet oblivious to the series of unfortunates events that were about to befall upon them.
(Serious) Author's Note: If you enjoyed this chapter, please review! As ever, constructive criticism is welcomed :)
I'd also like to say that I'm hoping to get a few more chapters posted this week, so that this story can be completed by early November :)
P.S. Has anyone else ready Lemony Snicket's latest literary offering, When Did You See Her Last? If so, I've got a couple of uncertainties concerning presumptions and theories that I'm being led towards, and I'm interest to see what everyone else has made of certain points. PM me if interested in just having a chat about all things Snicket, or just to put my mind at rest concerning various ideas that have been floating around my mind since finishing Daniel Handler's latest offering last night. I have to say, some books never fail to make me think.