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jocular remarks—“Is that a nose or a flagpole?” for example—he lost his patience and, turning around, said threateningly, “Careful, boys; I haven't come here to be harassed or made fun of. I'll respect you and I want you to respect me.”

“Good for you!” jeered the boys, bursting with laughter.

Just then, the teacher, who'd been writing on the blackboard, spun around and said sharply, “What's going on here?”

“Sorry, sir,” said the boy who'd made the flagpole remark. “Just trying to inject a moment of levity to make our new classmate feel more comfortable. We were just kidding with him—all in fun, of course—and he misconstrued our innocent jokes for insults. But we won't do it again.” Then the boy lowered his head, as if in shame.

“Very well,” said the teacher. “But don't let it happen again. I won't tolerate that kind of behavior. Does everyone understand that?”

“Yes, sir,” all the children chanted in unison.

But none of this caused the boys to desist from their shenanigans. As soon as the teacher's back was turned, the boy across from Pinocchio put out his hand and pulled the puppet's nose. This time Pinocchio retaliated. In one deft motion, he extended his leg under the desk and kicked the boy hard on the shin.

“Oh, what hard feet!” cried the boy, rubbing the spot where the puppet had kicked him.

“And what elbows! They're even harder than the feet!” shouted another one, who'd thrown a spitball and received a blow in the ribs in reprisal.

With that kick and that blow Pinocchio won everybody's respect. Everyone admired him and wanted to be his friend.

As the days passed into weeks, even the teacher praised him, for he had an acquisitive mind and a retentive memory. He was always the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave when school was over.

If Pinocchio had any fault, it was that, because he was now near the top of the school's social hierarchy, he had too many friends. Among these were the members of a notorious clique of rowdy troublemakers who cared not a bit for study or for success. In Pinocchio's mind their naughty behavior was deplorable, but at the same time it added to their allure. The teacher, noticing that Pinocchio tended to gravitate toward these boys, one day warned him, “Be careful, Pinocchio! Good boys who associate with ruffians will sooner or later lose their love for study. Some day they'll be led astray.”

“That's just a generality,” answered the puppet, shaking his head. “There's no danger of that happening to me because I'm too wise and my moral caliber is too high. I'd never allow their

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