فصل 04

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فصل 04

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As I’m sure you know, whenever there is a mirror around, it is almost impossible not to take a look at yourself. Even though we all know what we look like, we all like just to look at our reflections, if only to see how we’re doing. As the Baudelaire orphans waited outside the office to meet their new guardian, they looked in a mirror hanging in the hallway and they saw at once that they were not doing so well. The children looked tired and they looked hungry. Violet’s hair was covered in small pieces of bark. Klaus’s glasses were hanging askew, a phrase which here means “tilted to one side from leaning over logs the entire morning.” And there were small pieces of wood stuck in Sunny’s four teeth from using them as debarkers. Behind them, reflected in the mirror, was a painting of the seashore, which was hanging on the opposite wall, which made them feel even worse, because the seashore always made them remember that terrible, terrible day when the three siblings went to the beach and soon received the news from Mr. Poe that their parents had died. The children stared at their own reflections, and stared at the painting of the seashore behind them, and it was almost unbearable to think about everything that had happened to them since that day.

“If someone had told me,” Violet said, “that day at the beach, that before long I’d find myself living at the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, I would have said they were crazy.”

“If someone had told me,” Klaus said, “that day at the beach, that before long I’d find myself pursued by a greedy, evil man named Count Olaf, I would have said they were insane.”

“Wora,” Sunny said, which meant something like “If someone had told me, that day at the beach, that before long I’d find myself using my four teeth to scrape the bark off trees, I would have said they were psychoneurotically disturbed.”

The dismayed orphans looked at their reflections, and their dismayed reflections looked back at them. For several moments, the Baudelaires stood and pondered the mysterious way their lives were going, and they were thinking so hard about it that they jumped a little when somebody spoke.

“You must be Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire,” the somebody said, and the children turned to see a very tall man with very short hair. He was wearing a bright blue vest and holding a peach. He smiled and walked toward them, but then frowned as he drew closer. “Why, you’re covered in pieces of bark,” he said. “I hope you haven’t been hanging around the lumbermill. That can be very dangerous for small children.”

Violet looked at the peach, and wondered if she dared ask for a bite. “We’ve been working there all morning,” she said.

The man frowned. “Working there?”

Klaus looked at the peach, and had to stop himself from grabbing it right out of the man’s hand. “Yes,” he said. “We received your instructions and went right to work. Today was a new log day.”

The man scratched his head. “Instructions?” he asked. “What in the world are you talking about?”

Sunny looked at the peach, and it was all she could do not to leap up and sink her teeth right into it. “Molub!” she shrieked, which must have meant something like “We’re talking about the typed note that told us to go to work at the lumbermill!”

“Well, I don’t understand how three people as young as yourselves were put to work in the lumbermill, but please accept my humblest apologies, and let me tell you that it will not happen again. Why, you’re children, for goodness’ sake! You will be treated as members of the family!”

The orphans looked at one another. Could it be that their horrible experiences in Paltryville were just a mistake? “You mean we don’t have to debark any more logs?” Violet asked.

“Of course not,” the man said. “I can’t believe you were even allowed inside. Why, there are some nasty machines in there. I’m going to speak to your new guardian about it immediately.”

“You’re not our new guardian?” Klaus asked.

“Oh no,” the man said. “Forgive me for not introducing myself. My name is Charles, and it’s very nice to have the three of you here at Lucky Smells Lumbermill.”

“It’s very nice to be here,” Violet lied politely.

“I find that difficult to believe,” Charles said, “seeing as you’ve been forced to work in the mill, but let’s put that behind us and have a fresh start. Would you care for a peach?”

“They’ve had their lunch!” came a booming voice, and the orphans whirled around and stared at the man they saw. He was quite short, shorter than Klaus, and dressed in a suit made of a very shiny dark-green material that made him look more like a reptile than a person. But what made them stare most was his face—or, rather, the cloud of smoke that was covering his face. The man was smoking a cigar, and the smoke from the cigar covered his entire head. The cloud of smoke made the Baudelaire children very curious as to what his face really looked like, and you may be curious as well, but you will have to take that curiosity to your grave, for I will tell you now, before we go any further, that the Baudelaires never saw this man’s face, and neither did I, and neither will you.

“Oh, hello, sir,” Charles said. “I was just meeting the Baudelaire children. Did you know they had arrived?”

“Of course I knew they arrived,” the smoke-faced man said. “I’m not an idiot.”

“No, of course not,” Charles said. “But were you aware that they were put to work in the lumbermill? On a new log day, no less! I was just explaining to them what a terrible mistake that was.”

“It wasn’t a mistake,” the man said. “I don’t make mistakes, Charles. I’m not an idiot.” He turned so the cloud of smoke faced the children. “Hello, Baudelaire orphans. I thought we should lay eyes on one another.”

“Batex!” Sunny shrieked, which probably meant “But we’re not laying eyes on one another!”

“I have no time to talk about that,” the man said. “I see you’ve met Charles. He’s my partner. We split everything fifty-fifty, which is a good deal. Don’t you think so?”

“I guess so,” Klaus said. “I don’t know very much about the lumber business.”

“Oh, yes,” Charles said. “Of course I think it’s a good deal.”

“Well,” the man said, “I want to give you three a good deal as well. Now, I heard about what happened to your parents, which is really too bad. And I heard all about this Count Olaf fellow, who sounds like quite a jerk, and those odd-looking people who work for him. So when Mr. Poe gave me a call, I worked out a deal. The deal is this: I will try to make sure that Count Olaf and his associates never go anywhere near you, and you will work in my lumbermill until you come of age and get all that money. Is that a fair deal?”

The Baudelaire orphans did not answer this question, because it seemed to them the answer was obvious. A fair deal, as everyone knows, is when both people give something of more or less equal value. If you were bored with playing with your chemistry set, and you gave it to your brother in exchange for his dollhouse, that would be a fair deal. If someone offered to smuggle me out of the country in her sailboat, in exchange for free tickets to an ice show, that would be a fair deal. But working for years in a lumbermill in exchange for the owner’s trying to keep Count Olaf away is an enormously unfair deal, and the three youngsters knew it.

“Oh, sir,” Charles said, smiling nervously at the Baudelaires. “You can’t be serious. A lumbermill is no place for small children to work.”

“Of course it is,” the man said. He reached a hand up into his cloud to scratch an itch somewhere on his face. “It will teach them responsibility. It will teach them the value of work. And it will teach them how to make flat wooden boards out of trees.”

“Well, you probably know best,” Charles said, shrugging.

“But we could read about all of those things,” Klaus said, “and learn about them that way.”

“That’s true, sir,” Charles said. “They could study in the library. They seem very well behaved, and I’m sure they would cause no trouble.”

“Your library!” the man said sharply. “What nonsense! Don’t listen to Charles, you children. My partner has insisted that we create a library for the employees at the mill, and so I let him. But it is no substitute for hard work.”

“Please, sir,” Violet pleaded. “At least let our little sister stay in the dormitory. She’s only a baby.”

“I have offered you a very good deal,” the man said. “As long as you stay within the gates of the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, this Count Olaf will not come near you. In addition, I’m giving you a place to sleep, a nice hot dinner, and a stick of gum for lunch. And all you have to do in return is a few years’ work. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Well, it was nice to meet you. Unless you have any questions, I’ll be going now. My pizza is getting cold, and if there’s one thing I hate it’s a cold lunch.”

“I have a question,” Violet said, although the truth of the matter is she had many questions. Most of them began with the phrase “How can you.” “How can you force small children to work in a lumbermill?” was one of them. “How can you treat us so horridly, after all we’ve been through?” was another. And then there was “How can you pay your employees in coupons instead of money?” and “How can you feed us only gum for lunch?” and “How can you stand to have a cloud of smoke covering your face?” But none of these seemed like questions that were proper to ask, at least not out loud. So Violet looked her new guardian right in his cloud and asked, “What is your name?”

“Never mind what my name is,” the man said. “No one can pronounce it anyway. Just call me Sir.”

“I’ll show the children to the door, Sir,” Charles said quickly, and with a wave of his hand, the owner of the Lucky Smells Lumbermill was gone. Charles waited nervously for a moment, to make sure Sir was far enough away. Then he leaned in to the children and handed them the peach. “Never mind what he said about your already having your lunch,” he said. “Have this peach.”

“Oh, thank you,” Klaus cried, and hurriedly divided the peach among himself and his siblings, giving the biggest piece to Sunny because she hadn’t even had her gum. The Baudelaire children wolfed down the peach, and under normal circumstances it would not have been polite to eat something so quickly and so noisily, particularly in front of someone they did not know very well. But these circumstances were not at all normal, so even a manners expert would excuse them for their gobbling.

“You know,” Charles said, “because you seem like such nice children, and because you’ve worked so very hard today, I’m going to do something for you. Can you guess what it is?”

“Talk to Sir,” Violet said, wiping peach juice off her chin, “and convince him that we shouldn’t work in the lumbermill?”

“Well, no,” Charles admitted. “That wouldn’t do any good. He won’t listen to me.”

“But you’re his partner,” Klaus pointed out.

“That doesn’t matter,” Charles replied. “When Sir has made up his mind, he has made up his mind. I know he sometimes is a little bit mean, but you’ll have to excuse him. He had a very terrible childhood. Do you understand?”

Violet looked at the painting of the seashore, and thought once again of that dreadful day at the beach. “Yes,” she sighed. “I understand. I think I’m having a very terrible childhood myself.”

“Well, I know what will make you feel better,” Charles said, “at least a little bit. Let me show you the library before you go back to work. Then you can visit it whenever you want. Come on, it’s right down the hall.”

Charles led the Baudelaires down the hall-way, and even though they would soon be back at work, even though they had been offered one of the least fair deals ever offered to children, the three siblings felt a little bit better. Whether it was Uncle Monty’s library of reptile books, or Aunt Josephine’s library of grammar books, or Justice Strauss’s library of law books, or, best of all, their parents’ library of all kinds of books—all burned up now, alas—libraries always made them feel a little bit better. Just knowing that they could read made the Baudelaire orphans feel as if their wretched lives could be a little brighter. At the end of a hallway was a little door, and Charles stopped at the door, smiled at the children, and opened the door.

The library was a large room, and it was filled with elegant wooden bookshelves and comfortable-looking sofas on which to sit and read. On one wall was a row of windows, which let in more than enough light for reading, and on the other wall was a row of landscape paintings, perfect for resting one’s eyes. The Baudelaire children stepped inside the room and took a good look around. But they did not feel any better, not at all.

“Where are the books?” Klaus asked. “All these elegant bookshelves are empty.”

“That’s the only thing wrong with this library,” Charles admitted. “Sir wouldn’t give me any money to buy books.”

“You mean there are no books at all?” Violet asked.

“Just three,” Charles said, and walked to the farthest bookshelf. There, on the bottom shelf, were three books sitting all by themselves. “Without money, of course, it was difficult to acquire any books, but I did have three books donated. Sir donated his book, The History of Lucky Smells Lumbermill. The mayor of Paltryville donated this book, The Paltryville Constitution. And here’s Advanced Ocular Science, donated by Dr. Orwell, a doctor who lives in town.”

Charles held up the three books to show the Baudelaires what each one looked like, and the children stared in dismay and fear. The History of Lucky Smells Lumbermill had a painting of Sir on the cover, with a cloud of smoke covering his face. The Paltryville Constitution had a photograph of the Paltryville post office, with the old shoe dangling from the flagpole in front. But it was the cover of Advanced Ocular Science that made the Baudelaire children stare.

You have heard, many times I’m sure, that you should not judge a book by its cover. But just as it is difficult to believe that a man who is not a doctor wearing a surgical mask and a white wig will turn out to be a charming person, it was difficult for the children to believe that Advanced Ocular Science was going to cause them anything but trouble. The word “ocular,” you might not know, means “related to the eye,” but even if you didn’t know this you could figure it out from the cover. For printed on the cover was an image that the children recognized. They recognized it from their own nightmares, and from personal experience. It was an image of an eye, and the Baudelaire orphans recognized it as the mark of Count Olaf.

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