Going like the wind, Pinocchio took but a very short time to reach the shore. He glanced all about him, but there was no sign of a Shark. The sea was as smooth as glass.
“Hey there, boys! Where’s that Shark?” he asked, turning to his playmates.
“He may have gone for his breakfast,” said one of them, laughing.
“Or, perhaps, he went to bed for a little nap,” said another, laughing also.
From the answers and the laughter which followed them, Pinocchio understood that the boys had played a trick on him.
“What now?” he said angrily to them. “What’s the joke?”
“Oh, the joke’s on you!” cried his tormentors, laughing more heartily than ever, and dancing gayly around the Marionette.
“And that is–?”
“That we have made you stay out of school to come with us. Aren’t you ashamed of being such a goody-goody, and of studying so hard? You never have a bit of enjoyment.”
“And what is it to you, if I do study?”
“What does the teacher think of us, you mean?”
“Don’t you see? If you study and we don’t, we pay for it. After all, it’s only fair to look out for ourselves.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Hate school and books and teachers, as we all do. They are your worst enemies, you know, and they like to make you as unhappy as they can.”
“And if I go on studying, what will you do to me?”
“You’ll pay for it!”
“Really, you amuse me,” answered the Marionette, nodding his head.
“Hey, Pinocchio,” cried the tallest of them all, “that will do. We are tired of hearing you bragging about yourself, you little turkey cock! You may not be afraid of us, but remember we are not afraid of you, either! You are alone, you know, and we are seven.”
“Like the seven sins,” said Pinocchio, still laughing.
“Did you hear that? He has insulted us all. He has called us sins.”
“Pinocchio, apologize for that, or look out!”
“Cuck–oo!” said the Marionette, mocking them with his thumb to his nose.
“You’ll be sorry!”
“We’ll whip you soundly!”
“You’ll go home with a broken nose!”
“Very well, then! Take that, and keep it for your supper,” called out the boldest of his tormentors.
And with the words, he gave Pinocchio a terrible blow on the head.
Pinocchio answered with another blow, and that was the signal for the beginning of the fray. In a few moments, the fight raged hot and heavy on both sides.
Pinocchio, although alone, defended himself bravely. With those two wooden feet of his, he worked so fast that his opponents kept at a respectful distance. Wherever they landed, they left their painful mark and the boys could only run away and howl.
Enraged at not being able to fight the Marionette at close quarters, they started to throw all kinds of books at him. Readers, geographies, histories, grammars flew in all directions. But Pinocchio was keen of eye and swift of movement, and the books only passed over his head, landed in the sea, and disappeared.
The fish, thinking they might be good to eat, came to the top of the water in great numbers. Some took a nibble, some took a bite, but no sooner had they tasted a page or two, than they spat them out with a wry face, as if to say:
“What a horrid taste! Our own food is so much better!”
Meanwhile, the battle waxed more and more furious. At the noise, a large Crab crawled slowly out of the water and, with a voice that sounded like a trombone suffering from a cold, he cried out:
“Stop fighting, you rascals! These battles between boys rarely end well. Trouble is sure to come to you!”
Poor Crab! He might as well have spoken to the wind. Instead of listening to his good advice, Pinocchio turned to him and said as roughly as he knew how:
“Keep quiet, ugly Gab! It would be better for you to chew a few cough drops to get rid of that cold you have. Go to bed and sleep! You will feel better in the morning.”
In the meantime, the boys, having used all their books, looked around for new ammunition. Seeing Pinocchio’s bundle lying idle near-by, they somehow managed to get hold of it.
One of the books was a very large volume, an arithmetic text, heavily bound in leather. It was Pinocchio’s pride. Among all his books, he liked that one the best.
Thinking it would make a fine missile, one of the boys took hold of it and threw it with all his strength at Pinocchio’s head. But instead of hitting the Marionette, the book struck one of the other boys, who, as pale as a ghost, cried out faintly: “Oh, Mother, help! I’m dying!” and fell senseless to the ground.
At the sight of that pale little corpse, the boys were so frightened that they turned tail and ran. In a few moments, all had disappeared.
All except Pinocchio. Although scared to death by the horror of what had been done, he ran to the sea and soaked his handkerchief in the cool water and with it bathed the head of his poor little schoolmate. Sobbing bitterly, he called to him, saying:
“Eugene! My poor Eugene! Open your eyes and look at me! Why don’t you answer? I was not the one who hit you, you know. Believe me, I didn’t do it. Open your eyes, Eugene? If you keep them shut, I’ll die, too. Oh, dear me, how shall I ever go home now? How shall I ever look at my little mother again? What will happen to me? Where shall I go? Where shall I hide? Oh, how much better it would have been, a thousand times better, if only I had gone to school! Why did I listen to those boys? They always were a bad influence! And to think that the teacher had told me–and my mother, too!–’Beware of bad company!’ That’s what she said. But I’m stubborn and proud. I listen, but always I do as I wish. And then I pay. I’ve never had a moment’s peace since I’ve been born! Oh, dear! What will become of me? What will become of me?”
Pinocchio went on crying and moaning and beating his head. Again and again he called to his little friend, when suddenly he heard heavy steps approaching.
He looked up and saw two tall Carabineers near him.
“What are you doing stretched out on the ground?” they asked Pinocchio.
“I’m helping this schoolfellow of mine.”
“Has he fainted?”
“I should say so,” said one of the Carabineers, bending to look at Eugene. “This boy has been wounded on the temple. Who has hurt him?”
“Not I,” stammered the Marionette, who had hardly a breath left in his whole body.
“If it wasn’t you, who was it, then?”
“Not I,” repeated Pinocchio.
“And with what was he wounded?”
“With this book,” and the Marionette picked up the arithmetic text to show it to the officer.
“And whose book is this?”
“Not another word! Get up as quickly as you can and come along with us.”
“Come with us!”
“But I am innocent.”
“Come with us!”
Before starting out, the officers called out to several fishermen passing by in a boat and said to them:
“Take care of this little fellow who has been hurt. Take him home and bind his wounds. Tomorrow we’ll come after him.”
They then took hold of Pinocchio and, putting him between them, said to him in a rough voice: “March! And go quickly, or it will be the worse for you!”
They did not have to repeat their words. The Marionette walked swiftly along the road to the village. But the poor fellow hardly knew what he was about. He thought he had a nightmare. He felt ill. His eyes saw everything double, his legs trembled, his tongue was dry, and, try as he might, he could not utter a single word. Yet, in spite of this numbness of feeling, he suffered keenly at the thought of passing under the windows of his good little Fairy’s house. What would she say on seeing him between two Carabineers?
They had just reached the village, when a sudden gust of wind blew off Pinocchio’s cap and made it go sailing far down the street.
“Would you allow me,” the Marionette asked the Carabineers, “to run after my cap?”
“Very well, go; but hurry.”
The Marionette went, picked up his cap–but instead of putting it on his head, he stuck it between his teeth and then raced toward the sea.
He went like a bullet out of a gun.
The Carabineers, judging that it would be very difficult to catch him, sent a large Mastiff after him, one that had won first prize in all the dog races. Pinocchio ran fast and the Dog ran faster. At so much noise, the people hung out of the windows or gathered in the street, anxious to see the end of the contest. But they were disappointed, for the Dog and Pinocchio raised so much dust on the road that, after a few moments, it was impossible to see them.