During that wild chase, Pinocchio lived through a terrible moment when he almost gave himself up as lost. This was when Alidoro (that was the Mastiff's name), in a frenzy of running, came so near that he was on the very point of reaching him.
The Marionette heard, close behind him, the labored breathing of the beast who was fast on his trail, and now and again even felt his hot breath blow over him.
Luckily, by this time, he was very near the shore, and the sea was in sight; in fact, only a few short steps away.
As soon as he set foot on the beach, Pinocchio gave a leap and fell into the water. Alidoro tried to stop, but as he was running very fast, he couldn't, and he, too, landed far out in the sea. Strange though it may seem, the Dog could not swim. He beat the water with his paws to hold himself up, but the harder he tried, the deeper he sank. As he stuck his head out once more, the poor fellow's eyes were bulging and he barked out wildly, "I drown! I drown!"
"Drown!" answered Pinocchio from afar, happy at his escape.
"Help, Pinocchio, dear little Pinocchio! Save me from death!"
At those cries of suffering, the Marionette, who after all had a very kind heart, was moved to compassion. He turned toward the poor animal and said to him:
"But if I help you, will you promise not to bother me again by running after me?"
"I promise! I promise! Only hurry, for if you wait another second, I'll be dead and gone!"
Pinocchio hesitated still another minute. Then, remembering how his father had often told him that a kind deed is never lost, he swam to Alidoro and, catching hold of his tail, dragged him to the shore.
The poor Dog was so weak he could not stand. He had swallowed so much salt water that he was swollen like a balloon. However, Pinocchio, not wishing to trust him too much, threw himself once again into the sea. As he swam away, he called out:
"Good-by, Alidoro, good luck and remember me to the family!"
"Good-by, little Pinocchio," answered the Dog. "A thousand thanks for having saved me from death. You did me a good turn, and, in this world, what is given is always returned. If the chance comes, I shall be there."
Pinocchio went on swimming close to shore. At last he thought he had reached a safe place. Glancing up and down the beach, he saw the opening of a cave out of which rose a spiral of smoke.
"In that cave," he said to himself, "there must be a fire. So much the better. I'll dry my clothes and warm myself, and then—well—"
His mind made up, Pinocchio swam to the rocks, but as he started to climb, he felt something under him lifting him up higher and higher. He tried to escape, but he was too late. To his great surprise, he found himself in a huge net, amid a crowd of fish of all kinds and sizes, who were fighting and struggling desperately to free themselves.
At the same time, he saw a Fisherman come out of the cave, a Fisherman so ugly that Pinocchio thought he was a sea monster. In place of hair, his head was covered by a thick bush of green grass. Green was the skin of his body, green were his eyes, green was the long, long beard that reached down to his feet. He looked like a giant lizard with legs and arms.
When the Fisherman pulled the net out of the sea, he cried out joyfully:
"Blessed Providence! Once more I'll have a fine meal of fish!"
"Thank Heaven, I'm not a fish!" said Pinocchio to himself, trying with these words to find a little courage.
The Fisherman took the net and the fish to the cave, a dark, gloomy, smoky place. In the middle of it, a pan full of oil sizzled over a smoky fire, sending out a repelling odor of tallow that took away one's breath.
"Now, let's see what kind of fish we have caught today," said the Green Fisherman. He put a hand as big as a spade into the net and pulled out a handful of mullets.
"Fine mullets, these!" he said, after looking at them and smelling them with pleasure. After that, he threw them into a large, empty tub.
Many times he repeated this performance. As he pulled each fish out of the net, his mouth watered with the thought of the good dinner coming, and he said:
"Fine fish, these bass!"
"Very tasty, these whitefish!"
"Delicious flounders, these!"
"What splendid crabs!"
"And these dear little anchovies, with their heads still on!"
As you can well imagine, the bass, the flounders, the whitefish, and even the little anchovies all went together into the tub to keep the mullets company. The last to come out of the net was Pinocchio.
As soon as the Fisherman pulled him out, his green eyes opened wide with surprise, and he cried out in fear:
"What kind of fish is this? I don't remember ever eating anything like it."
He looked at him closely and after turning him over and over, he said at last:
"I understand. He must be a crab!"
Pinocchio, mortified at being taken for a crab, said resentfully:
"What nonsense! A crab indeed! I am no such thing. Beware how you deal with me! I am a Marionette, I want you to know."
"A Marionette?" asked the Fisherman. "I must admit that a Marionette fish is, for me, an entirely new kind of fish. So much the better. I'll eat you with greater relish."
"Eat me? But can't you understand that I'm not a fish? Can't you hear that I speak and think as you do?"
"It's true," answered the Fisherman; "but since I see that you are a fish, well able to talk and think as I do, I'll treat you with all due respect."
"And that is—"
"That, as a sign of my particular esteem, I'll leave to you the choice of the manner in which you are to be cooked. Do you wish to be fried in a pan, or do you prefer to be cooked with tomato sauce?"
"To tell you the truth," answered Pinocchio, "if I must choose, I should much rather go free so I may return home!"
"Are you fooling? Do you think that I want to lose the opportunity to taste such a rare fish? A Marionette fish does not come very often to these seas. Leave it to me. I'll fry you in the pan with the others. I know you'll like it. It's always a comfort to find oneself in good company."
The unlucky Marionette, hearing this, began to cry and wail and beg. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he said:
"How much better it would have been for me to go to school! I did listen to my playmates and now I am paying for it! Oh! Oh! Oh!"
And as he struggled and squirmed like an eel to escape from him, the Green Fisherman took a stout cord and tied him hand and foot, and threw him into the bottom of the tub with the others.
Then he pulled a wooden bowl full of flour out of a cupboard and started to roll the fish into it, one by one. When they were white with it, he threw them into the pan. The first to dance in the hot oil were the mullets, the bass followed, then the whitefish, the flounders, and the anchovies. Pinocchio's turn came last. Seeing himself so near to death (and such a horrible death!) he began to tremble so with fright that he had no voice left with which to beg for his life.
The poor boy beseeched only with his eyes. But the Green Fisherman, not even noticing that it was he, turned him over and over in the flour until he looked like a Marionette made of chalk.
Then he took him by the head and . . .