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The Bad Beginning

Lemony Snicket

  The Bad Beginning

  Lemony Snicket

  After the sudden death of their parents, the three Baudelaire children must depend on each other and their wits when it turns out that the distant relative who is appointed their guardian is determined to use any means necessary to get their fortune.

  Lemony Snicket

  The Bad Beginning

  The first book in the A Series of Unfortunate Events series, 1999

  To Beatrice-

  darling, dearest, dead.

  Chapter One

  If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle. This is because not very many happy things happened in the lives of the three Baudelaire youngsters. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire were intelligent children, and they were charming, and resourceful, and had pleasant facial features, but they were extremely unlucky, and most everything that happened to them was rife with misfortune, misery, and despair. I'm sorry to tell you this, but that is how the story goes.

  Their misfortune began one day at Briny Beach. The three Baudelaire children lived with their parents in an enormous mansion at the heart of a dirty and busy city, and occasionally their parents gave them permission to take a rickety trolley-the word ``rickety,'' you probably know, here means ``unsteady'' or ``likely to collapse''-alone to the seashore, where they would spend the day as a sort of vacation as long as they were home for dinner. This particular morning it was gray and cloudy, which didn't bother the Baudelaire youngsters one bit. When it was hot and sunny, Briny Beach was crowded with tourists and it was impossible to find a good place to lay one's blanket. On gray and cloudy days, the Baudelaires had the beach to themselves to do what they liked.

  Violet Baudelaire, the eldest, liked to skip rocks. Like most fourteen-year-olds, she was right-handed, so the rocks skipped farther across the murky water when Violet used her right hand than when she used her left. As she skipped rocks, she was looking out at the horizon and thinking about an invention she wanted to build. Anyone who knew Violet well could tell she was thinking hard, because her long hair was tied up in a ribbon to keep it out of her eyes. Violet had a real knack for inventing and building strange devices, so her brain was often filled with images of pulleys, levers, and gears, and she never wanted to be distracted by something as trivial as her hair. This morning she was thinking about how to construct a device that could retrieve a rock after you had skipped it into the ocean.

  Klaus Baudelaire, the middle child, and the only boy, liked to examine creatures in tide-pools. Klaus was a little older than twelve and wore glasses, which made him look intelligent. He was intelligent. The Baudelaire parents had an enormous library in their mansion, a room filled with thousands of books on nearly every subject. Being only twelve, Klaus of course had not read all of the books in the Baudelaire library, but he had read a great many of them and had retained a lot of the information from his readings. He knew how to tell an alligator from a crocodile. He knew who killed Julius Caesar. And he knew much about the tiny, slimy animals found at Briny Beach, which he was examining now.

  Sunny Baudelaire, the youngest, liked to bite things. She was an infant, and very small for her age, scarcely larger than a boot. What she lacked in size, however, she made up for with the size and sharpness of her four teeth. Sunny was at an age where one mostly speaks in a series of unintelligible shrieks. Except when she used the few actual words in her vocabulary, like ``bottle,'' ``mommy,'' and ``bite,'' most people had trouble understanding what it was that Sunny was saying. For instance, this morning she was saying ``Gack!'' over and over, which probably meant, ``Look at that mysterious figure emerging from the fog!''

  Sure enough, in the distance along the misty shore of Briny Beach there could be seen a tall figure striding toward the Baudelaire children. Sunny had already been staring and shrieking at the figure for some time when Klaus looked up from the spiny crab he was examining, and saw it too. He reached over and touched Violet's arm, bringing her out of her inventing thoughts.

  ``Look at that,'' Klaus said, and pointed toward the figure. It was drawing closer, and the children could see a few details. It was about the size of an adult, except its head was tall, and rather square.

  ``What do you think it is?'' Violet asked.

  ``I don't know,'' Klaus said, squinting at it, ``but it seems to be moving right toward us.''

  ``We're alone on the beach,'' Violet said, a little nervously. ``There's nobody else it could be moving toward.'' She felt the slender, smooth stone in her left hand, which she had been about to try to skip as far as she could. She had a sudden thought to throw it at the figure, because it seemed so frightening.

  ``It only seems scary,'' Klaus said, as if reading his sister's thoughts, ``because of all the mist.''

  This was true. As the figure reached them, the children saw with relief that it was not anybody frightening at all, but somebody they knew: Mr. Poe. Mr. Poe was a friend of Mr. and Mrs. Baudelaire's whom the children had met many times at dinner parties. One of the things Violet, Klaus, and Sunny really liked about their parents was that they didn't send their children away when they had company over, but allowed them to join the adults at the dinner table and participate in the conversation as long as they helped clear the table. The children remembered Mr. Poe because he always had a cold and was constantly excusing himself from the table to have a fit of coughing in the next room.

  Mr. Poe took off his top hat, which had made his head look large and square in the fog, and stood for a moment, coughing loudly into a white handkerchief. Violet and Klaus moved forward to shake his hand and say how do you do.

  ``How do you do?'' said Violet.

  ``How do you do?'' said Klaus.

  ``Odo yow!'' said Sunny.

  ``Fine, thank you,'' said Mr. Poe, but he looked very sad. For a few seconds nobody said anything, and the children wondered what Mr. Poe was doing there at Briny Beach, when he should have been at the bank in the city, where he worked. He was not dressed for the beach.

  ``It's a nice day,'' Violet said finally, making conversation. Sunny made a noise that sounded like an angry bird, and Klaus picked her up and held her.

  ``Yes, it is a nice day,'' Mr. Poe said absently, staring out at the empty beach. ``I'm afraid I have some very bad news for you children.''

  The three Baudelaire siblings looked at him. Violet, with some embarrassment, felt the stone in her left hand and was glad she had not thrown it at Mr. Poe.

  ``Your parents,'' Mr. Poe said, ``have perished in a terrible fire.''

  The children didn't say anything.

  ``They perished,'' Mr. Poe said, ``in a fire that destroyed the entire house. I'm very, very sorry to tell you this, my dears.''

  Violet took her eyes off Mr. Poe and stared out at the ocean. Mr. Poe had never called the Baudelaire children ``my dears'' before. She understood the words he was saying but thought he must be joking, playing a terrible joke on her and her brother and sister.

  `` ``Perished,'' '' Mr. Poe said, ``means ``killed.'' ''

  ``We know what the word ``perished'' means,'' Klaus said, crossly. He did know what the word ``perished'' meant, but he was still having trouble understanding exactly what it was that Mr. Poe had said. It seemed to him that Mr. Poe must somehow have misspoken.

  ``The fire department arrived, of course,'' Mr. Poe said, ``but they were too late. The entire house was engulfed in fire. It burned to the ground.''

  Klaus pictured all the books in the library, going up in flames. Now he'd never read all of them.

  Mr. Poe coughed several times into his handkerchief before continuing. ``I was sent to
retrieve you here, and to take you to my home, where you'll stay for some time while we figure things out. I am the executor of your parents' estate. That means I will be handling their enormous fortune and figuring out where you children will go. When Violet comes of age, the fortune will be yours, but the bank will take charge of it until you are old enough.''

  Although he said he was the executor, Violet felt like Mr. Poe was the executioner. He had simply walked down the beach to them and changed their lives forever.

  ``Come with me,'' Mr. Poe said, and held out his hand. In order to take it, Violet had to drop the stone she was holding. Klaus took Violet's other hand, and Sunny took Klaus's other hand, and in that manner the three Baudelaire children-the Baudelaire orphans, now-were led away from the beach and from their previous lives.

  Chapter Two

  It is useless for me to describe to you how terrible Violet, Klaus, and even Sunny felt in the time that followed. If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven't, you cannot possibly imagine it. For the Baudelaire children, it was of course especially terrible because they had lost both their parents at the same time, and for several days they felt so miserable they could scarcely get out of bed. Klaus found he had little interest in books. The gears in Violet's inventive brain seemed to stop. And even Sunny, who of course was too young to really understand what was going on, bit things with less enthusiasm.

  Of course, it didn't make things any easier that they had lost their home as well, and all their possessions. As I'm sure you know, to be in one's own room, in one's own bed, can often make a bleak situation a little better, but the beds of the Baudelaire orphans had been reduced to charred rubble. Mr. Poe had taken them to the remains of the Baudelaire mansion to see if anything had been unharmed, and it was terrible: Violet's microscope had fused together in the heat of the fire, Klaus's favorite pen had turned to ash, and all of Sunny's teething rings had melted. Here and there, the children could see traces of the enormous home they had loved: fragments of their grand piano, an elegant bottle in which Mr. Baudelaire kept brandy, the scorched cushion of the windowseat where their mother liked to sit and read.

  Their home destroyed, the Baudelaires had to recuperate from their terrible loss in the Poe household, which was not at all agreeable. Mr. Poe was scarcely at home, because he was very busy attending to the Baudelaire affairs, and when he was home he was often coughing so much he could barely have a conversation. Mrs. Poe purchased clothing for the orphans that was in grotesque colors, and itched. And the two Poe children-Edgar and Albert-were loud and obnoxious boys with whom the Baudelaires had to share a tiny room that smelled of some sort of ghastly flower.

  But even given the surroundings, the children had mixed feelings when, over a dull dinner of boiled chicken, boiled potatoes and blanched-the word ``blanched'' here means ``boiled''-string beans, Mr. Poe announced that they were to leave his household the next morning.

  ``Good,'' said Albert, who had a piece of potato stuck between his teeth. ``Now we can get our room back. I'm tired of sharing it. Violet and Klaus are always moping around, and are never any fun.''

  ``And the baby bites,'' Edgar said, tossing a chicken bone to the floor as if he were an animal in a zoo and not the son of a well-respected member of the banking community.

  ``Where will we go?'' Violet asked nervously.

  Mr. Poe opened his mouth to say something, but erupted into a brief fit of coughing. ``I have made arrangements,'' he said finally, ``for you to be raised by a distant relative of yours who lives on the other side of town. His name is Count Olaf.''

  Violet, Klaus, and Sunny looked at one another, unsure of what to think. On one hand, they didn't want to live with the Poes any longer. On the other hand, they had never heard of Count Olaf and didn't know what he would be like.

  ``Your parents' will,'' Mr. Poe said, ``instructs that you be raised in the most convenient way possible. Here in the city, you'll be used to your surroundings, and this Count Olaf is the only relative who lives within the urban limits.''

  Klaus thought this over for a minute as he swallowed a chewy bit of bean. ``But our parents never mentioned Count Olaf to us. Just how is he related to us, exactly?''

  Mr. Poe sighed and looked down at Sunny, who was biting a fork and listening closely. ``He is either a third cousin four times removed, or a fourth cousin three times removed. He is not your closest relative on the family tree, but he is the closest geographically. That's why-''

  ``If he lives in the city,'' Violet said, ``why didn't our parents ever invite him over?''

  ``Possibly because he was very busy,'' Mr. Poe said. ``He's an actor by trade, and often travels around the world with various theater companies.''

  ``I thought he was a count,'' Klaus said.

  ``He is both a count and an actor,'' Mr. Poe said. ``Now, I don't mean to cut short our dinner, but you children have to pack up your things, and I have to return to the bank to do some more work. Like your new legal guardian, I am very busy myself.''

  The three Baudelaire children had many more questions for Mr. Poe, but he had already stood up from the table, and with a slight wave of his hand departed from the room. They heard him coughing into his handkerchief and then the front door creaked shut as he left the house.

  ``Well,'' Mrs. Poe said, ``you three had better start packing. Edgar, Albert, please help me clear the table.''

  The Baudelaire orphans went to the bedroom and glumly packed their few belongings. Klaus looked distastefully at each ugly shirt Mrs. Poe had bought for him as he folded them and put them into a small suitcase. Violet looked around the cramped, smelly room in which they had been living. And Sunny crawled around solemnly biting each of Edgar and Albert's shoes, leaving small teeth marks in each one so she would not be forgotten. From time to time, the Baudelaire children looked at one another, but with their future such a mystery they could think of nothing to say. At bedtime, they tossed and turned all night, scarcely getting any sleep between the loud snoring of Edgar and Albert and their own worried thoughts. Finally, Mr. Poe knocked on the door and stuck his head into the bedroom.

  ``Rise and shine, Baudelaires,'' he said. ``It's time for you to go to Count Olaf's.''

  Violet looked around the crowded bedroom, and even though she didn't like it, she felt very nervous about leaving. ``Do we have to go right this minute?'' she asked.

  Mr. Poe opened his mouth to speak, but had to cough a few times before he began. ``Yes you do. I'm dropping you off on my way to the bank, so we need to leave as soon as possible. Please get out of bed and get dressed,'' he said briskly. The word ``briskly'' here means ``quickly, so as to get the Baudelaire children to leave the house.''

  The Baudelaire children left the house. Mr. Poe's automobile rumbled along the cobble-stone streets of the city toward the neighborhood where Count Olaf lived. They passed horse-drawn carriages and motorcycles along Doldrum Drive. They passed the Fickle Fountain, an elaborately carved monument that occasionally spat out water in which young children played. They passed an enormous pile of dirt where the Royal Gardens once stood. Before too long, Mr. Poe drove his car down a narrow alley lined with houses made of pale brick and stopped halfway down the block.

  ``Here we are,'' Mr. Poe said, in a voice undoubtedly meant to be cheerful. ``Your new home.''

  The Baudelaire children looked out and saw the prettiest house on the block. The bricks had been cleaned very well, and through the wide and open windows one could see an assortment of well-groomed plants. Standing in the doorway, with her hand on the shiny brass doorknob, was an older woman, smartly dressed, who was smiling at the children. In one hand she carried a flowerpot.

  ``Hello there!'' she called out. ``You must be the children Count Olaf is adopting.''

  Violet opened the door of the automobile and got out to shake the woman's hand. It felt firm and warm, and for the first time in a long while Violet felt as if her life and the lives of her siblings might tur
n out well after all. ``Yes,'' she said. ``Yes, we are. I am Violet Baudelaire, and this is my brother Klaus and my sister Sunny. And this is Mr. Poe, who has been arranging things for us since the death of our parents.''

  ``Yes, I heard about the accident,'' the woman said, as everyone said how do you do. ``I am Justice Strauss.''

  ``That's an unusual first name,'' Klaus remarked.

  ``It is my title,'' she explained, ``not my first name. I serve as a judge on the High Court.''

  ``How fascinating,'' Violet said. ``And are you married to Count Olaf?''

  ``Goodness me no,'' Justice Strauss said. ``I don't actually know him that well. He is my next-door neighbor.''

  The children looked from the well-scrubbed house of Justice Strauss to the dilapidated one next door. The bricks were stained with soot and grime. There were only two small windows, which were closed with the shades drawn even though it was a nice day. Rising above the windows was a tall and dirty tower that tilted slightly to the left. The front door needed to be repainted, and carved in the middle of it was an image of an eye. The entire building sagged to the side, like a crooked tooth.

  ``Oh!'' said Sunny, and everyone knew what she meant. She meant, ``What a terrible place! I don't want to live there at all!''

  ``Well, it was nice to meet you,'' Violet said to Justice Strauss.

  ``Yes,'' said Justice Strauss, gesturing to her flowerpot. ``Perhaps one day you could come over and help me with my gardening.''

  ``That would be very pleasant,'' Violet said, very sadly. It would, of course, be very pleasant to help Justice Strauss with her gardening, but Violet could not help thinking that it would be more pleasant to live in Justice Strauss's house, instead of Count Olaf's. What kind of a man, Violet wondered, would carve an image of an eye into his front door?