Even though a boy may be very unhappy, he very seldom loses sleep over his worries. The Marionette, being no exception to this rule, slept on peacefully for a few hours till well along toward midnight, when he was awakened by strange whisperings and stealthy sounds coming from the yard. He stuck his nose out of the doghouse and saw four slender, hairy animals. They were Weasels, small animals very fond of both eggs and chickens. One of them left her companions and, going to the door of the doghouse, said in a sweet voice:
"Good evening, Melampo."
"My name is not Melampo," answered Pinocchio.
"Who are you, then?"
"I am Pinocchio."
"What are you doing here?"
"I'm the watchdog."
"But where is Melampo? Where is the old dog who used to live in this house?"
"He died this morning."
"Died? Poor beast! He was so good! Still, judging by your face, I think you, too, are a good-natured dog."
"I beg your pardon, I am not a dog!"
"What are you, then?"
"I am a Marionette."
"Are you taking the place of the watchdog?"
"I'm sorry to say that I am. I'm being punished."
"Well, I shall make the same terms with you that we had with the dead Melampo. I am sure you will be glad to hear them."
"And what are the terms?"
"This is our plan: We'll come once in a while, as in the past, to pay a visit to this henhouse, and we'll take away eight chickens. Of these, seven are for us, and one for you, provided, of course, that you will make believe you are sleeping and will not bark for the Farmer."
"Did Melampo really do that?" asked Pinocchio.
"Indeed he did, and because of that we were the best of friends. Sleep away peacefully, and remember that before we go we shall leave you a nice fat chicken all ready for your breakfast in the morning. Is that understood?"
"Even too well," answered Pinocchio. And shaking his head in a threatening manner, he seemed to say, "We'll talk this over in a few minutes, my friends."
As soon as the four Weasels had talked things over, they went straight to the chicken coop which stood close to the doghouse. Digging busily with teeth and claws, they opened the little door and slipped in. But they were no sooner in than they heard the door close with a sharp bang.
The one who had done the trick was Pinocchio, who, not satisfied with that, dragged a heavy stone in front of it. That done, he started to bark. And he barked as if he were a real watchdog: "Bow, wow, wow! Bow, wow!"
The Farmer heard the loud barks and jumped out of bed. Taking his gun, he leaped to the window and shouted: "What's the matter?"
"The thieves are here," answered Pinocchio.
"Where are they?"
"In the chicken coop."
"I'll come down in a second."
And, in fact, he was down in the yard in a twinkling and running toward the chicken coop.
He opened the door, pulled out the Weasels one by one, and, after tying them in a bag, said to them in a happy voice: "You're in my hands at last! I could punish you now, but I'll wait! In the morning you may come with me to the inn and there you'll make a fine dinner for some hungry mortal. It is really too great an honor for you, one you do not deserve; but, as you see, I am really a very kind and generous man and I am going to do this for you!"
Then he went up to Pinocchio and began to pet and caress him.
"How did you ever find them out so quickly? And to think that Melampo, my faithful Melampo, never saw them in all these years!"
The Marionette could have told, then and there, all he knew about the shameful contract between the dog and the Weasels, but thinking of the dead dog, he said to himself: "Melampo is dead. What is the use of accusing him? The dead are gone and they cannot defend themselves. The best thing to do is to leave them in peace!"
"Were you awake or asleep when they came?" continued the Farmer.
"I was asleep," answered Pinocchio, "but they awakened me with their whisperings. One of them even came to the door of the doghouse and said to me, 'If you promise not to bark, we will make you a present of one of the chickens for your breakfast.' Did you hear that? They had the audacity to make such a proposition as that to me! For you must know that, though I am a very wicked Marionette full of faults, still I never have been, nor ever shall be, bribed."
"Fine boy!" cried the Farmer, slapping him on the shoulder in a friendly way. "You ought to be proud of yourself. And to show you what I think of you, you are free from this instant!"
And he slipped the dog collar from his neck.