“Dear, oh, dear! When I come to think of it,” said the Marionette to himself, as he once more set out on his journey, “we boys are really very unlucky. Everybody scolds us, everybody gives us advice, everybody warns us. If we were to allow it, everyone would try to be father and mother to us; everyone, even the Talking Cricket. Take me, for example. Just because I would not listen to that bothersome Cricket, who knows how many misfortunes may be awaiting me! Assassins indeed! At least I have never believed in them, nor ever will. To speak sensibly, I think assassins have been invented by fathers and mothers to frighten children who want to run away at night. And then, even if I were to meet them on the road, what matter? I’ll just run up to them, and say, ‘Well, signori, what do you want? Remember that you can’t fool with me! Run along and mind your business.’ At such a speech, I can almost see those poor fellows running like the wind. But in case they don’t run away, I can always run myself. . .”
Pinocchio was not given time to argue any longer, for he thought he heard a slight rustle among the leaves behind him.
He turned to look and behold, there in the darkness stood two big black shadows, wrapped from head to foot in black sacks. The two figures leaped toward him as softly as if they were ghosts.
“Here they come!” Pinocchio said to himself, and, not knowing where to hide the gold pieces, he stuck all four of them under his tongue.
He tried to run away, but hardly had he taken a step, when he felt his arms grasped and heard two horrible, deep voices say to him: “Your money or your life!”
On account of the gold pieces in his mouth, Pinocchio could not say a word, so he tried with head and hands and body to show, as best he could, that he was only a poor Marionette without a penny in his pocket.
“Come, come, less nonsense, and out with your money!” cried the two thieves in threatening voices.
Once more, Pinocchio’s head and hands said, “I haven’t a penny.”
“Out with that money or you’re a dead man,” said the taller of the two Assassins.
“Dead man,” repeated the other.
“And after having killed you, we will kill your father also.”
“Your father also!”
“No, no, no, not my Father!” cried Pinocchio, wild with terror; but as he screamed, the gold pieces tinkled together in his mouth.
“Ah, you rascal! So that’s the game! You have the money hidden under your tongue. Out with it!”
But Pinocchio was as stubborn as ever.
“Are you deaf? Wait, young man, we’ll get it from you in a twinkling!”
One of them grabbed the Marionette by the nose and the other by the chin, and they pulled him unmercifully from side to side in order to make him open his mouth.
All was of no use. The Marionette’s lips might have been nailed together. They would not open.
In desperation the smaller of the two Assassins pulled out a long knife from his pocket, and tried to pry Pinocchio’s mouth open with it.
Quick as a flash, the Marionette sank his teeth deep into the Assassin’s hand, bit it off and spat it out. Fancy his surprise when he saw that it was not a hand, but a cat’s paw.
Encouraged by this first victory, he freed himself from the claws of his assailers and, leaping over the bushes along the road, ran swiftly across the fields. His pursuers were after him at once, like two dogs chasing a hare.
After running seven miles or so, Pinocchio was well-nigh exhausted. Seeing himself lost, he climbed up a giant pine tree and sat there to see what he could see. The Assassins tried to climb also, but they slipped and fell.
Far from giving up the chase, this only spurred them on. They gathered a bundle of wood, piled it up at the foot of the pine, and set fire to it. In a twinkling the tree began to sputter and burn like a candle blown by the wind. Pinocchio saw the flames climb higher and higher. Not wishing to end his days as a roasted Marionette, he jumped quickly to the ground and off he went, the Assassins close to him, as before.
Dawn was breaking when, without any warning whatsoever, Pinocchio found his path barred by a deep pool full of water the color of muddy coffee.
What was there to do? With a “One, two, three!” he jumped clear across it. The Assassins jumped also, but not having measured their distance well–splash!!!–they fell right into the middle of the pool. Pinocchio who heard the splash and felt it, too, cried out, laughing, but never stopping in his race:
“A pleasant bath to you, signori!”
He thought they must surely be drowned and turned his head to see. But there were the two somber figures still following him, though their black sacks were drenched and dripping with water.