A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Miserable Mill

BOOK: A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Miserable Mill
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BOOK the Fourth

THE MISERABLE MILL

by LEMONY SNICKET

To Beatrice My love flew like a butterfly Until death swooped down like a bat As the poet Emma Montana McElroy said: "That's the end of that."

Chapter One

Sometime during your life-in fact, very soon-you may find yourself reading a book, and you may notice that a book's first sentence can often tell you what sort of story your book contains. For instance, a book that began with the sentence "Once upon a time there was a family of cunning little chipmunks who lived in a hollow tree" would probably contain a story full of talking animals who get into all sorts of mischief. A book that began with the sentence "Emily sat down and looked at the stack of blueberry pancakes her mother had prepared for her, but she was too nervous about Camp Timbertops to eat a bite" would probably contain a story full of giggly girls who have a grand old time. And a book that began with the sentence "Gary smelled the leather of his brand-new catcher's mitt and waited impatiently for his best friend Larry to come around the corner" would probably contain a story full of sweaty boys who win some sort of trophy. And if you liked mischief, a grand old time, or trophies, you would know which book to read, and you could throw the rest of them away. But this book begins with the sentence "The Baudelaire orphans looked out the grimy window of the train and gazed at the gloomy blackness of the Finite Forest, wondering if their lives would ever get any better," and you should be able to tell that the story that follows will be very different from the story of Gary or Emily or the family of cunning little chipmunks. And this is for the simple reason that the lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are very different from most people's lives, with the main difference being the amount of unhappiness, horror, and despair. The three children have no time to get into all sorts of mischief, because misery follows them wherever they go. They have not had a grand old time since their parents died in a terrible fire. And the only trophy they would win would be some sort of First Prize for Wretchedness. It is atrociously unfair, of course, that the Baudelaires have so many troubles, but that is the way the story goes. So now that I've told you that the first sentence will be "The Baudelaire orphans looked out the grimy window of the train and gazed at the gloomy blackness of the Finite Forest, wondering if their lives would ever get any better," if you wish to avoid an unpleasant story you had best put this book down. The Baudelaire orphans looked out the grimy window of the train and gazed at the gloomy blackness of the Finite Forest, wondering if their lives would ever get any better. An announcement over a crackly loudspeaker had just told them that in a few minutes they would arrive in the town of Paltryville, where their new caretaker lived, and they couldn't help wondering who in the world would want to live in such dark and eerie countryside. Violet, who was fourteen and the eldest Baudelaire, looked out at the trees of the forest, which were very tall and had practically no branches, so they looked almost like metal pipes instead of trees. Violet was an inventor, and was always designing machines and devices in her head, with her hair tied up in a ribbon to help her think, and as she gazed out at the trees she began work on a mechanism that would allow you to climb to the top of any tree, even if it were completely bare. Klaus, who was twelve, looked down at the forest floor, which was covered in brown, patchy moss. Klaus liked to read more than anything else, and he tried to remember what he had read about Paltryville mosses and whether any of them were edible. And Sunny, who was just an infant, looked out at the smoky gray sky that hung over the forest like a damp sweater. Sunny had four sharp teeth, and biting things with them was what interested her most, and she was eager to see what there was available to bite in the area. But even as Violet began planning her invention, and Klaus thought of his moss research, and Sunny opened and closed her mouth as a prebiting exercise, the Finite Forest looked so uninspiring that they couldn't help wondering if their new home would really be a pleasant one. "What a lovely forest!" Mr. Poe remarked, and coughed into a white handkerchief. Mr. Poe was a banker who had been in charge of managing the Baudelaire affairs since the fire, and I must tell you that he was not doing a very good job' His two main duties were finding the orphans a good home and protecting the enormous fortune that the children's parents had left behind, and so far each home had been a catastrophe, a word which here means "an utter disaster involving tragedy, deception, and Count Olaf." Count Olaf was a terrible man who wanted the Baudelaire fortune for himself, and tried every disgusting scheme he could think of to steal it. Time after time he had come very close to succeeding, and time after time the Baudelaire orphans had revealed his plan, and time after time he had escaped-and all Mr. Poe had ever done was cough. Now he was accompanying the children to Paltryville, and it pains me to tell you that once again Count Olaf would appear with yet another disgusting scheme, and that Mr. Poe would once again fail to do anything even remotely helpful. "What a lovely forest!" Mr. Poe said again, when he was done coughing. "I think you children will have a good home here. I hope you do, anyway, because I've just received a promotion at Mulctuary Money Management. I'm now the Vice President in Charge of Coins, and from now on I will be busier than ever. If anything goes wrong with you here, I will have to send you to boarding school until I have time to find you another home, so please be on your best behavior." "Of course, Mr. Poe," Violet said, not adding that she and her siblings had always been on their best behavior but that it hadn't done them any good. "What is our new caretaker's name?" Klaus asked. "You haven't told us." Mr. Poe took a piece of paper out of his pocket and squinted at it. "His name is Mr. Wuz- Mr. Qui- I can't pronounce it. It's very long and complicated." "Can I see?" Klaus asked. "Maybe I can figure out how to pronounce it." "No, no," Mr. Poe said, putting the paper away. "If it's too complicated for an adult, it's much too complicated for a child." "Ghand!" Sunny shrieked. Like many infants, Sunny spoke mostly in sounds that were often difficult to translate. This time she probably meant something like "But Klaus reads many complicated books!" "He'll tell you what to call him," Mr. Poe continued, as if Sunny had not spoken. "You'll find him at the main office of the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, which I'm told is a short walk from the train station." "Aren't you coming with us?" Violet asked. "No," Mr. Poe said, and coughed again into his handkerchief. "The train only stops at Paltry-ville once a day, so if I got off the train I would have to stay overnight and I'd miss another day at the bank. I'm just dropping you off here and heading right back into the city." The Baudelaire orphans looked worriedly out the window. They weren't very happy about just being dropped off in a strange place, as if they were a pizza being delivered instead of three children all alone in the world. "What if Count Olaf shows up?" Klaus asked quietly. "He swore he'd find us again." "I have given Mr. Bek- Mr. Duy- I have given your new caretaker a complete description of Count Olaf," said Mr. Poe. "So if by some stretch of the imagination he shows up in Paltryville, Mr. Sho- Mr. Gek- will notify the authorities." "But Count Olaf is always in disguise," Violet pointed out. "It's often difficult to recognize him. Just about the only way you can tell it's him is if you see that tattoo of an eye that he has on his ankle." "I included the tattoo in my description," Mr. Poe said impatiently. "But what about Count Olaf's assistants?" Klaus asked. "He usually brings at least one of them with him, to help out with his treachery." "I described all of them to Mr.- I have described all of them to the owner of the mill," Mr. Poe said, holding a finger up as he counted off Olaf's horrible associates. "The hook-handed man. The bald man with the long nose. Two women with white powder all over their faces. And that rather chubby one who looks like neither a man nor a woman. Your new guardian is aware of them all, and if there's any problem, remember you can always contact me or any of my associates at Mulctuary Money Management." "Casca," Sunny said glumly. She probably meant something like "That's not very reassuring," but nobody heard her over the sound of the train whistle as they arrived at Paltryville Station. "Here we are," Mr. Poe said, and before the children knew it they were standing in the station, watching the train pull away into the dark trees of the Finite Forest. The clattering noise of the train engine got softer and softer as the train raced out of sight, and soon the three siblings were all alone indeed. "Well," Violet said, picking up the small bag that contained the children's few clothes, "let's find the Lucky Smells Lumbermill. Then we can meet our new caretaker." "Or at least learn his name," Klaus said glumly, and took Sunny's hand. If you are ever planning a vacation, you may find it useful to acquire a guidebook, which is a book listing interesting and pleasant places to visit and giving helpful hints about what to do when you arrive. Paltryville is not listed in any guidebook, and as the Baudelaire orphans trudged down Paltryville's one street, they instantly saw why. There were a few small shops on either side of the street, but none of them had any windows. There was a post office, but instead of a flag flying from the flagpole, there was only an old shoe dangling from the top of it, and across from the post office was a high wooden wall that ran all the way to the end of the street. In the middle of the wall was a tall gate, also made of wood, with the words "Lucky Smells Lumbermill" written on it in letters that looked rough and slimy. Alongside the sidewalk, where a row of trees might have been, were towering stacks of old newspapers instead. In short, everything that might make a town interesting or pleasant had been made boring or unpleasant, and if Paltryville had been listed in a guidebook the only helpful hint about what to do when you got there would be: "Leave." But the three youngsters couldn't leave, of course, and with a sigh Violet led her younger siblings to the wooden gate. She was about to knock when Klaus touched her on the shoulder and said, "Look." "I know," she said. Violet thought he was talking about the letters spelling out "Lucky Smells Lumbermill." Now that they were standing at the gate, the children could see why the letters looked rough and slimy: they were made out of wads and wads of chewed-up gum, just stuck on the gate in the shapes of letters. Other than a sign I saw once that said "Beware" in letters made of dead monkeys, the "Lucky Smells Lumbermill" sign was the most disgusting sign on earth, and Violet thought her brother was pointing that out. But when she turned to agree with him, she saw he wasn't looking at the sign, but down to the far end of the street. "Look," Klaus said again, but Violet had already seen what he was looking at. The two of them stood there without speaking a word, staring hard at the building at the end of Paltryville's one street. Sunny had been examining some of the teeth marks in the gum, but when her siblings fell silent she looked up and saw it, too. For a few seconds the Baudelaire orphans just looked. "It must be a coincidence," Violet said, after a long pause. "Of course," Klaus said nervously, "a coincidence." "Varni," Sunny agreed, but she didn't believe it. None of the orphans did. Now that the children had reached the mill, they could see another building, at the far end of the street. Like the other buildings in town, it had no windows, just a round door in the center. But it was the way the building was shaped, and how it was painted, that made the Baudelaires stare. The building was a sort of oval shape, with curved, skinny sticks sticking out of the top of it. Most of the oval was painted a brownish color, with a big circle of white inside the oval, and a smaller circle of green inside the white circle, and some little black steps led to a little round door that was painted black, so it looked like an even smaller circle inside the green one. The building had been made to look like an eye. The three children looked at one another, and then at the building, and then at each other again, shaking their heads. Try as they might, they just couldn't believe it was a coincidence that the town in which they were to live had a building that looked just like the tattoo of Count Olaf.

Chapter Two

It is much, much worse to receive bad news through the written word than by somebody simply telling you, and I'm sure you understand why. When somebody simply tells you bad news, you hear it once, and that's the end of it. But when bad news is written down, whether in a letter or a newspaper or on your arm in felt tip pen, each time you read it, you feel as if you are receiving the news again and again. For instance, I once loved a woman, who for various reasons could not marry me. If she had simply told me in person, I would have been very sad, of course, but eventually it might have passed. However, she chose instead to write a two-hundred-page book, explaining every single detail of the bad news at great length, and instead my sadness has been of impossible depth. When the book was first brought to me, by a flock of carrier pigeons, I stayed up all night reading it, and I read it still, over and over, and it is as if my darling Beatrice is bringing me bad news every day and every night of my life. The Baudelaire orphans knocked again and again on the wooden gate, taking care not to hit the chewed-up gum letters with their knuckles, but nobody answered, and at last they tried the gate themselves and found that it was unlocked. Behind the gate was a large courtyard with a dirt floor, and on the dirt floor was an envelope with the word "Baudelaires" typed on the front. Klaus picked up the envelope and opened it, and inside was a note that read as follows:

Memorandum

To: The Baudelaire Orphans

From: Lucky Smells Lumbermill Subject: Your Arrival Enclosed you will find a map of the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, including the dormitory where the three of you will he staying, free of charge. Please report to work the following morning along with the other employees. The owner of Lucky Smells Lumbermill expects you to be both assiduous and diligent.

"What do those words mean, 'assiduous' and 'diligent'?" Violet asked, peering over Klaus's shoulder. "'Assiduous' and 'diligent' both mean the same thing," said Klaus, who knew lots of impressive words from all the books he had read. "'Hardworking.'" "But Mr. Poe didn't say anything about working in the the lumbermill," Violet said. "I thought we were just going to live here." Klaus frowned at the hand-drawn map that was attached to the note with another wad of gum, "This map looks pretty easy to read," he said. "The dormitory is straight ahead, between the storage shed and the lumbermill itself." Violet looked straight ahead and saw a gray windowless building on the other side of the courtyard. "I don't want to live," she said, "between the storage shed and the lumbermill itself." "It doesn't sound like much fun," Klaus admitted, "but you never know. The mill might have complicated machines, and you would find it interesting to study them." "That's true," Violet said. "You never know. It might have some hard wood, and Sunny would find it interesting to bite it." "Snevi!" Sunny shrieked. "And there might be some interesting lumbermill manuals for me to read," Klaus said. "You never know." "That's right," Violet said. "You never know. This might be a wonderful place to live." The three siblings looked at one another, and felt a little better. It is true, of course, that you never know. A new experience can be extremely pleasurable, or extremely irritating, or somewhere in between, and you never know until you try it out. And as the children began walking toward the gray, windowless building, they felt ready to try out their new home at the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, because you never know. But - and my heart aches as I tell you this - I always know. I know because I have been to the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, and learned of all the atrocious things that befell these poor orphans during the brief time they lived there. I know because I have talked to some of the people who were there at the time, and heard with my own ears the troublesome story of the children's stay in Paltryville. And I know because I have written down all the details in order to convey to you, the reader, just how miserable their experience was. I know, and this knowledge sits in my heart, heavy as a paperweight. I wish I could have been at the lumbermill when the Baudelaires were there, because they didn't know. I wish I could tell them what I know, as they walked across the courtyard, raising small clouds of dust with every step. They didn't know, but I know and I wish they knew, if you know what I mean. When the Baudelaires reached the door of the gray building, Klaus took another look at the map, nodded his head, and knocked. After a long pause, the door creaked open and revealed a confusedlooking man whose clothes were covered in sawdust. He stared at them for quite some time before speaking. "No one has knocked on this door," he said finally, "for fourteen years." Sometimes, when somebody says something so strange that you don't know what to say in return, it is best to just politely say "How do you do?" "How do you do?" Violet said politely. "I am Violet Baudelaire, and these are my siblings, Klaus and Sunny." The confused-looking man looked even more confused, and put his hands on his hips, brushing some of the sawdust off his shirt. "Are you sure you're in the right place?" he asked. "I think so," Klaus said. "This is the dormitory at the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, isn't it?" "Yes," the man said, "but we're not allowed to have visitors." "We're not visitors," Violet replied. "We're going to live here." The man scratched his head, and the Baude-laires watched as sawdust fell out of his messy gray hair. "You're going to live here, at the Lucky Smells Lumbermill?" "Cigarn!" Sunny shrieked, which meant "Look at this note!" Klaus gave the note to the man, who was careful not to touch the gum as he read it over. Then he looked down at the orphans with his tired, sawdust-sprinkled eyes. "You're going to work here, too? Children, working in a lumber-mill is a very difficult job. Trees have to be stripped of their bark and sawed into narrow strips to make boards. The boards have to be tied together into stacks and loaded onto trucks. I must tell you that the majority of people who work in the lumber business are grown-ups. But if the owner says you're working here, I guess you're working here. You'd better come inside." The man opened the door further, and the Baudelaires stepped inside the dormitory. "My name's Phil, by the way," Phil said. "You can join us for dinner in a few minutes, but in the meantime I'll give you a tour of the dormitory." Phil led the youngsters into a large, dimly lit room filled with bunk beds, standing in rows and rows on a cement floor. Sitting or lying down on the bunks were an assortment of people, men and women, all of whom looked tired and all of whom were covered in sawdust. They were sitting together in groups of four or five, playing cards, chatting quietly, or simply staring into space, and a few of them looked up with mild interest as the three siblings walked into the room. The whole place had a damp smell, a smell rooms get when the windows have not been opened for quite some time. Of course, in this case the windows had never been opened, because there weren't any windows, although the children could see that somebody had taken a ballpoint pen and drawn a few windows on the gray cement walls. The window drawings somehow made the room even more pathetic, a word which here means "depressing and containing no windows," and the Baudelaire orphans felt a lump in their throats just looking at it. "This here is the room where we sleep," Phil said. "There's a bunk over there in the far corner that you three can have. You can store your bag underneath the bed. Through that door is the bathroom and down that hallway over there is the kitchen. That's pretty much the grand tour. Everyone, this is Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. They're going to work here." "But they're children, " one of the women said. "I know," Phil said. "But the owner says they're going to work here, so they're going to work here." "By the way," Klaus said, "what is the owner's name? Nobody has told us." "I don't know," Phil said, stroking his dusty chin. "He hasn't visited the dormitory for six years or so. Does anybody remember the owner's name?" "I think it's Mister something," one of the men said. "You mean you never talk to him?" Violet asked. "We never even see him," Phil said. "The owner lives in a house across from the storage shed, and only comes to the lumbermill for special occasions. We see the foreman all the time, but never the owner." "Teruca?" Sunny asked, which probably meant "What's a foreman?" "A foreman," Klaus explained, "is somebody who supervises workers. Is he nice, Phil?" "He's awful!" one of the other men said, and some of the others took up the cry. "He's terrible!" "He's disgusting!" "He's revoltingl" "He's the worst foreman the world has ever seen!" "He is pretty bad," Phil said to the Baude-laires. "The guy we used to have, Foreman Firstein, was O.K. But last week he stopped showing up. It was very odd. The man who replaced him, Foreman Flacutono, is very mean. You'll stay on his good side if you know what's good for you." "He doesn't have a good side," a woman said. "Now, now," Phil said. "Everything and everybody has a good side. Come on, let's have our supper." The Baudelaire orphans smiled at Phil, and followed the other employees of the Lucky Smells Lumbermill into the kitchen, but they still had lumps in their throats as big as the lumps in the beef casserole that they ate for supper. The children could tell, from Phil's statement about everything and everybody having a good side, that he was an optimist. "Optimist" is a word which here refers to a person, such as Phil, who thinks hopeful and pleasant thoughts about nearly everything. For instance, if an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, "Well, this isn't too bad. I don't have my left arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me whether I am right-handed or left-handed," but most of us would say something more along the lines of "Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!" The Baudelaire orphans ate their damp casserole, and they tried to be optimists like Phil, but try as they might, none of their thoughts turned out pleasant or hopeful. They thought of the bunk bed they would share, in the smelly room with windows drawn on the walls. They thought of doing hard work in the lumbermill, getting sawdust all over them and being bossed around by Foreman Flacutono. They thought of the eye-shaped building outside the wooden gate. And most of all, they thought of their parents, their poor parents whom they missed so much and whom they would never see again. They thought all through supper, and they thought while changing into their pajamas, and they thought as Violet tossed and turned in the top bunk and Klaus and Sunny tossed and turned below her. They thought, as they did in the courtyard, that you never know, and that their new home could still be a wonderful one. But they could guess. And as the Lucky Smells employees snored around them, the children thought about all their unhappy circumstances, and began guessing. They tossed and turned, and guessed and guessed, and by the time they fell asleep there wasn't a single optimist in the Baudelaire bunk.

BOOK: A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Miserable Mill
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