فصل 04

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فصل 04

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CHAPTER Four

One of the most difficult things to think about in life is one’s regrets. Something will happen to you, and you will do the wrong thing, and for years afterward you will wish you had done something different. For instance, sometimes when I am walking along the seashore, or visiting the grave of a friend, I will remember a day, a long time ago, when I didn’t bring a flashlight with me to a place where I should have brought a flashlight, and the results were disastrous. Why didn’t I bring a flashlight? I think to myself, even though it is too late to do anything about it. I should have brought a flashlight.

For years after this moment in the lives of the Baudelaire orphans, Klaus thought of the time when he and his siblings realized that Stephano was actually Count Olaf, and was filled with regret that he didn’t call out to the driver of the taxicab who was beginning to drive back down the driveway. Stop! Klaus would think to himself, even though it was too late to do anything about it. Stop! Take this man away! Of course, it is perfectly understandable that Klaus and his sisters were too surprised to act so quickly, but Klaus would lie awake in bed, years later, thinking that maybe, just maybe, if he had acted in time, he could have saved Uncle Monty’s life.

But he didn’t. As the Baudelaire orphans stared at Count Olaf, the taxi drove back down the driveway and the children were alone with their nemesis, a word which here means “the worst enemy you could imagine.” Olaf smiled at them the way Uncle Monty’s Mongolian Meansnake would smile when a white mouse was placed in its cage each day for dinner. “Perhaps one of you might carry my suitcase into my room,” he suggested in his wheezy voice. “The ride along that smelly road was dull and unpleasant and I am very tired.”

“If anyone ever deserved to travel along Lousy Lane,” Violet said, glaring at him, “it is you, Count Olaf. We will certainly not help you with your luggage, because we will not let you in this house.”

Olaf frowned at the orphans, and then looked this way and that as if he expected to see someone hiding behind the snake-shaped hedges. “Who is Count Olaf?” he asked quizzically. “My name is Stephano. I am here to assist Montgomery Montgomery with his upcoming expedition to Peru. I assume you three are midgets who work as servants in the Montgomery home.”

“We are not midgets,” Klaus said sternly. “We are children. And you are not Stephano. You are Count Olaf. You may have grown a beard and shaved your eyebrow, but you are still the same despicable person and we will not let you in this house.”

“Futa!” Sunny shrieked, which probably meant something like “I agree!”

Count Olaf looked at each of the Baudelaire orphans, his eyes shining brightly as if he were telling a joke. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, “but if I did, and I were this Count Olaf you speak of, I would think that you were being very rude. And if I thought you were rude, I might get angry. And if I got angry, who knows what I would do?”

The children watched as Count Olaf raised his scrawny arms in a sort of shrug. It probably isn’t necessary to remind you just how violent he could be, but it certainly wasn’t necessary at all to remind the Baudelaires. Klaus could still feel the bruise on his face from the time Count Olaf had struck him, when they were living in his house. Sunny still ached from being stuffed into a birdcage and dangled from the tower where he made his evil plans. And while Violet had not been the victim of any physical violence from this terrible man, she had almost been forced to marry him, and that was enough to make her pick up his suitcase and drag it slowly toward the door to the house.

“Higher,” Olaf said. “Lift it higher. I don’t want it dragged along the ground like that.”

Klaus and Sunny hurried to help Violet with the suitcase, but even with the three of them carrying it the weight made them stagger. It was misery enough that Count Olaf had reappeared in their lives, just when they were feeling so comfortable and safe with Uncle Monty. But to actually be helping this awful person enter their home was almost more than they could bear. Olaf followed closely behind them and the three children could smell his stale breath as they brought the suitcase indoors and set it on the carpet beneath the painting of the entwined snakes.

“Thank you, orphans,” Olaf said, shutting the front door behind him. “Now, Dr. Montgomery said my room would be waiting upstairs. I suppose I can carry my luggage from here. Now run along. We’ll have lots of time to get to know one another later.”

“We already know you, Count Olaf,” Violet said. “You obviously haven’t changed a bit.”

“You haven’t changed, either,” Olaf said. “It is clear to me, Violet, that you are as stubborn as ever. And Klaus, you are still wearing those idiotic glasses from reading too many books. And I see that little Sunny here still has nine toes instead of ten.”

“Fut!” Sunny shrieked, which probably meant something like “I do not!”

“What are you talking about?” Klaus said impatiently. “She has ten toes, just like everybody else.”

“Really?” Olaf said. “That’s odd. I remember that she lost one of her toes in an accident.” His eyes shone even brighter, as if he were telling a joke, and he reached into the pocket of his shabby coat and brought out a long knife, such as one might use for slicing bread. “I seem to recall there was a man who was so confused by being called repeatedly by the wrong name that he accidentally dropped a knife on her little foot and severed one of her toes.”

Violet and Klaus looked at Count Olaf, and then at the bare foot of their little sister. “You wouldn’t dare,” Klaus said.

“Let’s not discuss what I would or would not dare to do,” Olaf said. “Let us discuss, rather, what I am to be called for as long as we are together in this house.”

“We’ll call you Stephano, if you insist on threatening us,” Violet said, “but we won’t be together in this house for long.”

Stephano opened his mouth to say something, but Violet was not interested in continuing the conversation. She turned on her heel and marched primly through the enormous door of the Reptile Room, followed by her siblings. If you or I had been there, we would have thought that the Baudelaire orphans weren’t scared at all, speaking so bravely like that to Stephano and then simply walking away, but once the children reached the far end of the room, their true emotions showed clearly on their faces. The Baudelaires were terrified. Violet put her hands over her face and leaned against one of the reptile cages. Klaus sank into a chair, trembling so hard that his feet rattled against the marble floor. And Sunny curled up into a little ball on the floor, so tiny you might have missed her if you walked into the room. For several moments, none of the children spoke, just listened to the muffled sounds of Stephano walking up the stairs and their own heartbeats pounding in their ears.

“How did he find us?” Klaus asked. His voice was a hoarse whisper, as if he had a sore throat. “How did he get to be Uncle Monty’s assistant? What is he doing here?”

“He vowed that he’d get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune,” Violet said, taking her hands away from her face and picking up Sunny, who was shivering. “That was the last thing he said to me before he escaped. He said he’d get our fortune if it was the last thing he ever did.” Violet shuddered, and did not add that he’d also said that once he got their fortune, he’d do away with all three of the Baudelaire siblings. She did not need to add it. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny all knew that if he figured out a way to seize their fortune, he would slit the throats of the Baudelaire orphans as easily as you or I might eat a small butter cookie.

“What can we do?” Klaus asked. “Uncle Monty won’t be back for hours.”

“Maybe we can call Mr. Poe,” Violet said. “It’s the middle of business hours, but maybe he could leave the bank for an emergency.”

“He wouldn’t believe us,” Klaus said. “Remember when we tried to tell him about Count Olaf when we lived there? He took such a long time to realize the truth, it was almost too late. I think we should run away. If we leave right now, we could probably get to town in time to catch a train far away from here.”

Violet pictured the three of them, all alone, walking along Lousy Lane beneath the sour apple trees, with the bitter smell of horseradish encircling them. “Where would we go?” she asked.

“Anywhere,” Klaus said. “Anywhere but here. We could go far away where Count Olaf wouldn’t find us, and change our names so no one would know who we were.”

“We haven’t any money,” Violet pointed out. “How could we live by ourselves?”

“We could get jobs,” Klaus replied. “I could work in a library, maybe, and you could work in some sort of mechanical factory. Sunny probably couldn’t get a job at her age, but in a few years she could.”

The three orphans were quiet. They tried to picture leaving Uncle Monty and living by themselves, trying to find jobs and take care of each other. It was a very lonely prospect. The Baudelaire children sat in sad silence awhile, and they were each thinking the same thing: They wished that their parents had never been killed in the fire, and that their lives had never been turned topsy-turvy the way they had. If only the Baudelaire parents were still alive, the youngsters wouldn’t even have heard of Count Olaf, let alone have him settling into their home and undoubtedly making evil plans.

“We can’t leave,” Violet said finally. “Count Olaf found us once, and I’m sure he’d find us again, no matter how far we went. Plus, who knows where Count Olaf’s assistants are? Perhaps they’ve surrounded the house right now, keeping watch in case we’re on to him.”

Klaus shivered. He hadn’t been thinking of Olaf’s assistants. Besides scheming to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune, Olaf was the leader of a terrible theater troupe, and his fellow actors were always ready to help him with his plans. They were a gruesome crew, each more terrifying than the next. There was a bald man with a long nose, who always wore a black robe. There were two women who always had ghostly white powder on their faces. There was a person so large and blank-looking that you couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. And there was a skinny man with two hooks where his hands should have been. Violet was right. Any of these people could be lurking outside Uncle Monty’s house, waiting to catch them if they tried to escape.

“I think we should just wait for Uncle Monty to come back, and tell him what has happened,” Violet said. “He’ll believe us. If we tell him about the tattoo, he’ll at least ask Stephano for an explanation.” Violet’s tone of voice when she said “Stephano” indicated her utter scorn for Olaf’s disguise.

“Are you sure?” Klaus said. “After all, Uncle Monty is the one who hired Stephano.” Klaus’s tone of voice when he said “Stephano” indicated that he shared his sister’s feelings. “For all we know, Uncle Monty and Stephano have planned something together.”

“Minda!” Sunny shrieked, which probably meant something like “Don’t be ridiculous, Klaus!”

Violet shook her head. “Sunny’s right. I can’t believe that Uncle Monty would be in cahoots with Olaf. He’s been so kind and generous to us, and besides, if they were working together, Olaf wouldn’t insist on using a different name.”

“That’s true,” Klaus said thoughtfully. “So we wait for Uncle Monty.”

“We wait,” Violet agreed.

“Tojoo,” Sunny said solemnly, and the siblings looked at one another glumly. Waiting is one of life’s hardships. It is hard enough to wait for chocolate cream pie while burnt roast beef is still on your plate. It is plenty difficult to wait for Halloween when the tedious month of September is still ahead of you. But to wait for one’s adopted uncle to come home while a greedy and violent man is upstairs was one of the worst waits the Baudelaires had ever experienced. To get their mind off it, they tried to continue with their work, but the children were too anxious to get anything done. Violet tried to fix a hinged door on one of the traps, but all she could concentrate on was the knot of worry in her stomach. Klaus tried to read about protecting oneself from thorny Peruvian plants, but thoughts of Stephano kept clouding his brain. And Sunny tried to bite rope, but she had a cold chill of fear running through her teeth and she soon gave up. She didn’t even feel like playing with the Incredibly Deadly Viper. So the Baudelaires spent the rest of the afternoon sitting silently in the Reptile Room, looking out the window for Uncle Monty’s jeep and listening to the occasional noise from upstairs. They didn’t even want to think about what Stephano might be unpacking.

Finally, as the snake-shaped hedges began to cast long, skinny shadows in the setting sun, the three children heard an approaching engine, and the jeep pulled up. A large canoe was strapped to the roof of the jeep, and the backseat was piled with Monty’s purchases. Uncle Monty got out, struggling under the weight of several shopping bags, and saw the children through the glass walls of the Reptile Room. He smiled at them. They smiled back, and in that instant when they smiled was created another moment of regret for them. Had they not paused to smile at Monty but instead gone dashing out to the car, they might have had a brief moment alone with him. But by the time they reached the entry hall, he was already talking to Stephano.

“I didn’t know what kind of toothbrush you preferred,” Uncle Monty was saying apologetically, “so I got you one with extra-firm bristles because that’s the kind I like. Peruvian food tends to be sticky, so you need to have at least one extra toothbrush whenever you go there.”

“Extra-firm bristles are fine with me,” Stephano said, speaking to Uncle Monty but looking at the orphans with his shiny, shiny eyes. “Shall I carry in the canoe?”

“Yes, but my goodness, you can’t carry it all by yourself,” Uncle Monty said. “Klaus, please help Stephano, will you?”

“Uncle Monty,” Violet said, “we have something very important to tell you.”

“I’m all ears,” Uncle Monty said, “but first let me show you the wasp repellent I picked up. I’m so glad Klaus read up on the insect situation in Peru, because the other repellents I have would have been no use at all.” Uncle Monty rooted through one of the bags on his arm as the children waited impatiently for him to finish. “This one contains a chemical called—”

“Uncle Monty,” Klaus said, “what we have to tell you really can’t wait.”

“Klaus,” Uncle Monty said, his eyebrows rising in surprise, “it’s not polite to interrupt when your uncle is talking. Now, please help Stephano with the canoe, and we’ll talk about anything you want in a few moments.”

Klaus sighed, but followed Stephano out the open door. Violet watched them walking toward the jeep as Uncle Monty put down the shopping bags and faced her. “I can’t remember what I was saying about the repellent,” he said, a little crossly. “I hate losing my train of thought.”

“What we have to tell you,” Violet began, but she stopped when something caught her eye. Monty was facing away from the door, so he couldn’t see what Stephano was doing, but Violet saw Stephano stop at the snake-shaped hedges, reach into his coat pocket, and take out the long knife. Its blade caught the light of the setting sun and it glowed brightly, like a lighthouse. As you probably know, lighthouses serve as warning signals, telling ships where the shore is so they don’t run into it. The shining knife was a warning, too.

Klaus looked at the knife, and then at Stephano, and then at Violet. Violet looked at Klaus, and then at Stephano, and then at Monty. Sunny looked at everyone. Only Monty didn’t notice what was going on, so intent was he on remembering whatever he was babbling about wasp repellent. “What we have to tell you,” Violet began again, but she couldn’t continue. Stephano didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to. Violet knew that if she breathed one word about his true identity, Stephano would hurt her brother, right there at the snake-shaped hedges. Without saying a word, the nemesis of the Baudelaire orphans had sent a very clear warning.

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