He had been sleeping heavily for about two hours when, towards midnight, he was aroused by a whispering of strange voices that seemed to come from the courtyard. Putting the point of his nose out of the kennel, he saw four little beasts with dark fur, that looked like cats, standing consulting together. But they were not cats; they were polecats—carnivorous little animals, especially greedy for eggs and young chickens. One of the polecats, leaving his companions, came to the opening of the kennel and said in a low voice:
"Good evening, Melampo."
"My name is not Melampo," answered the puppet.
"Oh! then who are you?"
"I am Pinocchio."
"And what are you doing here?"
"I am acting as watch-dog."
"Then where is Melampo? Where is the old dog who lived in this kennel?"
"He died this morning."
"Is he dead? Poor beast! He was so good. But, judging you by your face, I should say that you were also a good dog."
"I beg your pardon, I am not a dog."
"Not a dog? Then what are you?"
"I am a puppet."
"And you are acting as watch-dog?"
"That is only too true—as a punishment."
"Well, then, I will offer you the same conditions that we made with the deceased Melampo, and I am sure you will be satisfied with them."
"What are these conditions?"
"One night in every week you are to permit us to visit this poultry-yard as we have hitherto done, and to carry off eight chickens. Of these chickens seven are to be eaten by us, and one we will give to you, on the express understanding, however, that you pretend to be asleep, and that it never enters your head to bark and to waken the peasant."
"Did Melampo act in this manner?" asked Pinocchio.
"Certainly, and we were always on the best terms with him. Sleep quietly, and rest assured that before we go we will leave by the kennel a beautiful chicken ready plucked for your breakfast tomorrow. Have we understood each other clearly?"
"Only too clearly!" answered Pinocchio, and he shook his head threateningly, as much as to say: "You shall hear of this shortly!"
The four polecats, thinking themselves safe, repaired to the poultry-yard, which was close to the kennel, and, having opened the wooden gate with their teeth and claws, they slipped in one by one. But they had only just passed through when they heard the gate shut behind them with great violence.
It was Pinocchio who had shut it, and for greater security he put a large stone against it to keep it closed.
He then began to bark, and he barked exactly like a watch-dog: "Bow-wow, bow-wow."
Hearing the barking, the peasant jumped out of bed and, taking his gun, he came to the window and asked:
"What is the matter?"
"There are robbers!" answered Pinocchio.
"Where are they?"
"In the poultry-yard."
"I will come down directly."
In fact, in less time than it takes to say "Amen!" the peasant came down. He rushed into the poultry-yard, caught the polecats, and, having put them into a sack, he said to them in a tone of great satisfaction:
"At last you have fallen into my hands! I might punish you, but I am not so cruel. I will content myself instead by carrying you in the morning to the innkeeper of the neighboring village, who will skin and cook you as hares with a sweet and sour sauce. It is an honor that you don't deserve, but generous people like me don't consider such trifles!"
He then approached Pinocchio and began to caress him, and amongst other things he asked him:
"How did you manage to discover the four thieves? To think that Melampo, my faithful Melampo, never found out anything!"
The puppet might then have told him the whole story; he might have informed him of the disgraceful conditions that had been made between the dog and the polecats; but he remembered that the dog was dead and he thought to himself:
"What is the good of accusing the dead? The dead are dead, and the best thing to be done is to leave them in peace!"
"When the thieves got into the yard, were you asleep or awake?" the peasant went on to ask him.
"I was asleep," answered Pinocchio, "but the polecats woke me with their chatter and one of them came to the kennel and said to me: 'If you promise not to bark, and not to wake the master, we will make you a present of a fine chicken ready plucked!' To think that they should have had the audacity to make such a proposal to me! For, although I am a puppet, possessing perhaps nearly all the faults in the world, there is one that I certainly will never be guilty of, that of making terms with, and sharing the gains of, dishonest people!"
"Well said, my boy!" cried the peasant, slapping him on the shoulder. "Such sentiments do you honor; and as a proof of my gratitude I will at once set you at liberty, and you may return home."
And he removed the dog-collar.
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