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course, you're asking yourself, Why the disparity? You see, nature is in a constant state of flux—and we can't even begin to fathom its deep mysteries. But we do know this much: For anything that grows from the ground, including gold, the actual results depend on three variables. The first is temperature. Low temperature can inhibit growth—but it's warm today, so that won't be a problem. The second is the amount of sunlight, which fluctuates from day to day.” He looked up and declared, “Ah, not a cloud in the sky.” Then he continued, “And the third—the one whose role is perhaps most instrumental of all—is the actual number of growth nutrients in the soil. Now, this number is not static, but changes from day to day. It depends on such factors as the rate of decay of fallen leaves and the activity of earthworms and various other terrestrial and subterranean creatures. Do you understand?” Without waiting for the puppet to respond, he went on, “In the Field of Wonders, we do know that the number of nutrients is extremely high, but, like anywhere else, it's indeterminate. But rest assured that one way or another, you'll end up with a few thousand coins—a bountiful supply, guaranteed to make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams!”

“Wonderful!” cried Pinocchio, dancing about with joy. “And as soon as I have them, I'll give some of them to you—to show my appreciation.”

“A gift for us?” cried the fox, pretending to be insulted. “Absolutely not!”

“Absolutely not!” repeated the cat.

“We don't work for ourselves,” explained the fox. “As champions of the poor, we're here only to help others.”

“To help others,” repeated the cat.

“And we do that only out of a love of giving—never for the credit. That's why we make all of our charitable donations anonymously. And that's why we're always on the lookout for gullible people—so that we can teach them how to avoid being bilked out of their hard-earned money. Call us cynics if you like, but there are a lot of selfish, dishonest people in this world who would like nothing better than to cheat you out of your money.”

“Really? Gee, I've never heard of anyone as kind and generous as the two of you!”

“Not at all,” answered the fox with pretended modesty.

When Pinocchio didn't respond right away, he added, “We're merely two tiny cogs in the great big wheel of human kindness.”

“What fine people!” thought Pinocchio to himself. And forgetting his father, the new coat, the schoolbook, and all his good resolutions, he said to the fox and cat, “I'll go with you. Let's hurry.”

Chapter 9 “The Red Lobster Inn”

The cat, fox, and puppet walked and walked. As they traveled, the

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