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pity on a poor boy who's being chased by two kill—”

He didn't finish, for two powerful hands grasped him by the neck and the same two horrible voices growled threateningly, “Now we have you!”

The puppet, sensing that death was near, trembled so hard that the joints of his legs rattled and the gold coins tinkled in his mouth.

“Well,” the bandits asked, “will you open your mouth now or not?”

With the clanking coins restricting the mobility of his tongue, Pinocchio said nothing.

“Ah! You don't answer? Very well, this time we'll make you open it.”

Taking out two long, sharp knives, they struck two heavy blows on the puppet's back.

Luckily for him, Pinocchio was made of very hard wood and the knives broke into a thousand pieces. In shocked disbelief the muggers stared down at the remnants of the shattered knives. Then they looked at each other in dismay.

“I think,” said one of them to the other, “that there's nothing left to do now but hang him.”

“Hang him,” repeated the other.

Through closed lips the terrified puppet screamed, “Don't hang me!” But with the gold coins stuck under his tongue, the words came out as a muffled “oh-ay-ee.”

“What's that you say?” asked the bandits. “We can't understand you. You must learn to enunciate!”

They tied Pinocchio's hands behind his shoulders and slipped a noose around his neck. Throwing a rope over the gnarled top branch of a tall oak tree, they pulled till the poor puppet hung far up in space.

Satisfied with their work, they sat on the grass waiting for Pinocchio to give his last gasp. But after three hours the puppet's eyes were still open and his mouth was still shut. And his legs kicked harder than ever.

Tired of waiting, the killers stood up and called to him mockingly, “We'll be back tomorrow morning. During the night, please be so kind as to drop dead—with your mouth wide open.” With these words they turned and left.

A few minutes went by and then a cold, stormy wind began to blow. As it shrieked and moaned, the poor little puppet was blown violently back and forth. The rocking made him sick, and the noose, becoming tighter and tighter, choked him. A thick film of tears covered his eyes.

Death was creeping nearer and nearer, and the puppet still hoped for some good soul to come to his rescue, but no one appeared. As he was about to die, he thought of his poor old father, and, hardly conscious of what he was saying, murmured to himself: “Oh, Father, if you were only here!”

These were his last words. He closed his eyes, opened his mouth, stretched out his legs, and hung there, lifeless.

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