The Story of a Puppet/XXVII
'Where is the Dog-fish?' he asked, turning to his companions.
'He must have gone to have his breakfast,' said one of them, laughing.
'Or he has thrown himself on to his bed to have a little nap,' added another, laughing still louder.
From their absurd answers and silly laughter Pinocchio perceived that his companions had been making a fool of him, in inducing him to believe a tale with no truth in it. Taking it very badly he said to them angrily:
'And now may I ask what fun you could find in deceiving me with the story of the Dog-fish?'
'Oh, it was great fun!' answered the little rascals in chorus.
'And in what did it consist?'
'In making you miss school, and persuading you to come with us. Are you not ashamed of being always so punctual and so diligent with your lessons? Are you not ashamed of studying so hard?'
'And if I study hard what concern is it of yours?'
'It concerns us excessively, because it makes us appear in a bad light to the master.'
'Because boys who study make those who, like us, have no wish to learn seem worse by comparison. And that is too bad. We too have our pride! . . .'
'Then what must I do to please you?'
'You must follow our example and hate school, lessons, and the master—our three greatest enemies.'
'And if I wish to continue my studies?'
'In that case we will have nothing more to do with you, and at the first opportunity we will make you pay for it.'
'Really,' said the puppet, shaking his head, 'you make me inclined to laugh.'
'Eh, Pinocchio!' shouted the biggest of the boys, confronting him. 'None of your superior airs: don't come here to crow over us! . . . for if you are not afraid of us, we are not afraid of you. Remember that you are one against seven of us.'
'Seven, like the seven deadly sins,' said Pinocchio with a shout of laughter.
'Listen to him! He has insulted us all! He called us the seven deadly sins! . . .'
'Pinocchio! beg pardon . . . or it will be the worse for you! . . .'
'Cuckoo!' sang the puppet, putting his forefinger to the end of his nose scoffingly.
'Pinocchio! it will end badly! . . .'
'You will get as many blows as a donkey! . . .'
'You will return home with a broken nose! . . .'
'Ah, you shall have the cuckoo from me!' said the most courageous of the boys. 'Take that to begin with, and keep it for your supper to-night.'
And so saying he gave him a blow on the head with his fist.
But it was give and take; for the puppet, as was to be expected, immediately returned the blow, and the fight in a moment became general and desperate.
Pinocchio, although he was one alone, defended himself like a hero. He used his feet, which were of the hardest wood, to such purpose that he kept his enemies at a respectful distance. Wherever they touched they left a bruise by way of reminder.
The boys, becoming furious at not being able to measure themselves hand to hand with the puppet, had recourse to other weapons. Loosening their satchels they commenced throwing their school-books at him—grammars, dictionaries, spelling-books, geography books, and other scholastic works. But Pinocchio was quick and had sharp eyes, and always managed to duck in time, so that the books passed over his head and all fell into the sea.
Imagine the astonishment of the fish! Thinking that the books were something to eat they all arrived in shoals, but having tasted a page or two, or a frontispiece, they spat it quickly out and made a wry face that seemed to say: 'It isn't food for us; we are accustomed to something much better!'
The battle meantime had become fiercer than ever, when a big crab, who had come out of the water and had climbed slowly up on to the shore, called out in a hoarse voice that sounded like a trumpet with a bad cold:
'Have done with that, you young ruffians, for you are nothing else! These hand-to-hand fights between boys seldom finish well. Some disaster is sure to happen! . . .'
Poor crab! He might as well have preached to the wind. Even that young rascal Pinocchio, turning round, looked at him mockingly and said rudely:
'Hold your tongue, you tiresome crab! You had better suck some liquorice lozenges to cure that cold in your throat. Or better still, go to bed and try to get a reaction!'
Just then the boys, who had no more books of their own to throw, spied at a little distance the satchel that belonged to Pinocchio, and took possession of it in less time than it takes to tell.
Amongst the books there was one bound in strong cardboard with the back and points, of parchment It was a Treatise on Arithmetic. I leave you to imagine if it was big or not!
One of the boys seized this volume, and aiming at Pinocchio's head threw it at him with all the force he could muster. But instead of hitting the puppet it struck one of his companions on the temple, who turning as white as a sheet said only:
'Oh, mother, help . . . I am dying! . . .' and fell his whole length on the sand. Thinking he was dead the terrified boys ran off as hard as their legs could carry them, and in a few minutes they were out of sight.
But Pinocchio remained. Although from grief and fright he was more dead than alive, nevertheless he ran and soaked his handkerchief in the sea and began to bathe the temples of his poor schoolfellow. Crying bitterly in his despair he kept calling him by name and saying to him:
'Eugene! . . . my poor Eugene! . . . open your eyes and look at me! . . . why do you not answer? I did not do it, indeed it was not I that hurt you so! believe me, it was not! Open your eyes, Eugene. . . . If you keep your eyes shut I shall die too. . . . Oh! what shall I do? how shall I ever return home? How can I ever have the courage to go back to my good mamma? What will become of me? . . . Where can I fly to? . . . Oh! how much better it would have been, a thousand times better, if I had only gone to school! . . . Why did I listen to my companions? they have been my ruin. The master said to me, and my mamma repeated it often: "Beware of bad companions!" But I am obstinate . . . a wilful fool . . . I let them talk and then I always take my own way! and I have to suffer for it. . . . And so, ever since I have been in the world, I have never had a happy quarter of an hour. Oh dear! what will become of me, what will become of me, what will become of me? . . .'
And Pinocchio began to cry and sob, and to strike his head with his fists, and to call poor Eugene by his name. Suddenly he heard the sound of approaching footsteps.
He turned and saw two carabineers.
'What are you doing there lying on the ground?' they asked Pinocchio.
'I am helping my schoolfellow.
'Has he been hurt?'
'So it seems.'
'Hurt indeed!' said one of the carabineers, stooping down and examining Eugene closely. 'This boy has been wounded in the temple. Who wounded him?'
'Not I,' stammered the puppet breathlessly.
'If it was not you, who then did it?
'Not I,' repeated Pinocchio.
'And with what was he wounded?'
'With this book.' And the puppet picked up from the ground the Treatise on Arithmetic, bound in cardboard and parchment, and showed it to the carabineer.
'And to whom does this book belong?'
'That is enough: nothing more is wanted. Get up and come with us at once.'
'But I . . .'
'Come along with us! . . .'
'But I am innocent. . . .'
'Come along with us!'
Before they left, the carabineers called some fishermen, who were passing at that moment near the shore in their boat, and said to them:
'We give this boy who has been wounded in the head into your charge. Carry him to your house and nurse him. To-morrow we will come and see him.'
They then turned to Pinocchio, and having placed him between them they said to him in a commanding voice:
'Forward! and walk quickly! or it will be the worse for you.'
Without requiring it to be repeated, the puppet set out along the road leading to the village. But the poor little devil hardly knew where he was. He thought he must be dreaming, and what a dreadful dream! He was beside himself. He saw double: his legs shook: his tongue clung to the roof of his mouth, and he could not utter a word. And yet in the midst of his stupefaction and apathy his heart was pierced by a cruel thorn—the thought that he would have to pass under the windows of the good Fairy's house between the carabineers. He would rather have died.
They had already reached the village when a gust of wind blew Pinocchio's cap off his head and carried it ten yards off.
'Will you permit me,' said the puppet to the carabineers, 'to go and get my cap?' 'Go, then; but be quick about it.' The puppet went and picked up his cap . . . but instead of putting it on his head he took it between his teeth and began to run as hard as he could towards the seashore.
The carabineers, thinking it would be difficult to overtake him, sent after him a large mastiff who had won the first prizes at all the dog-races. Pinocchio ran, but the dog ran faster. The people came to their windows and crowded into the street in their anxiety to see the end of the desperate race. But they could not satisfy their curiosity, for Pinocchio and the dog raised such clouds of dust that in a few minutes nothing could be seen of either of them.