As retold for Aaron
Fire Eater sneezes and forgives Pinocchio, who then saves his friend, Harlequin, from death.
It's said that Fire Eater was
far from being as fearsome as he looked. I don't know about this, because the Marionettes were certainly terrified of their Director. Harlequin and Pucinella were so afraid that when Fire Eater demanded they bring Pinocchio to him, they obeyed straightaway, without any attempt to take up for Pinocchio or to help him flee.
Still, some would say the proof that Fire Eater was not as bad as he looked, is that when he saw Pinocchio being brought in to him, struggling with fear, heard him pleading that he didn't want to die, and saw that he had even begun to cry, the director felt pity for the poor Marionette, who was also feeling very sorry for himself.
Fire Eater, seeing Pinocchio's tears, began to waver and to weaken.
Fire Eater sneezed a very loud sneeze.
Harlequin, who had looked as sad as a weeping willow, smiled. Leaning toward Pinocchio, he whispered, "Good news, brother! Fire Eater's sneeze means he feels sorry for you. You're saved!"
When most people are sad, they weep. Fire Eater, on the other hand, didn't weep when he was sorrowful; he sneezed. Imagine that! Imagine when you are sad not being able to weep. Instead you start to sneeze uncontrollably, just like pepper was being thrown in your face!
"Oh, please, st-st-stop your weeping," Fire Eater cried out to Pinocchio. "I get such a terrible funny feeling when I see t-t-E--tchee!--E--tchee--tears!" Fire Eater, stammering, was almost unable to even speak because of his sneezing.
"God bless you!" said Pinocchio, who had heard this was the polite thing to say when anyone sneezed--but he saw no reason to quit weeping if as long as he wept Fire Eater would be unable to use him for firewood. Wet wood, you see, doesn't burn very easily. The best wood for burning is dry.
"Thank you. Tell me, Pinocchio, are your father and mother still living?" Fire Eater wiped his big nose.
"My father's name is Geppetto. He was alive and well when I left him this morning. But my mother I have never known," Pinocchio answered.
"Your poor father, he would suffer terribly if I used you for firewood, wouldn't he?" said Fire Eater. "Poor old man!" Fire Eater must have felt great pity for Geppetto because he sneezed loudly three more times.
"God bless you!" Pinocchio said.
"Thanks," Fire Eater answered, "but now that I think about it, I'm really feeling very sorry for myself. After all, I planned this wonderful dinner and it will be spoiled now as I don't have any more wood for the fire and the lamb is only half cooked."
"That's awful," agreed Pinocchio.
"Yes, it is," said Fire Eater. "As I can't use you for firewood, I'll have to use some other Marionette, won't I? Hey there! Officers!" he then called out, and at his call appeared two wooden marionettes, who were long and thin as a yard of rope, with queer hats on their heads and swords in their hands. Fire Eater commanded them in a hoarse voice, "Take Harlequin, tie him up and throw him on the fire!"
When Harlequin heard this, his wooden legs doubled up under him and he collapsed upon the floor with fear.
Since weeping had helped Pinocchio, the little puppet thought maybe it would help Harlequin as well. He placed himself at Fire Eater's feet, and sobbing, pleaded in a faint voice, "Have pity, I beg of you, kind sir!"
"There are no sirs here!" Fire Eater roared in reply. "I am the Master, the Director of this theater! I am not just a Sir!"
"Have pity, your Excellency?" Pinocchio said.
To be called, your Excellency--well, don't you know this made Fire Eater sit up straight and tall in his chair, his ears massaged nice and fuzzy with pride. As people of Excellence are certainly wise and reflective, Fire Eater stroked his beard in a reflective manner and considered what he should do with his wisdom. "Why all these tears when I have spared you? What more do you want from me?" Fire Eater asked Pinocchio.
"I beg mercy for poor Harlequin," Pinocchio answered.
Fire Eater puffed out his chest. "Why all these demands for mercy when I have my supper to think about? What about me? No, I'm hungry and must eat! Harlequin must burn in your place. Be satisfied that you've been spared!"
Pinocchio rose and took off his hat. Wiping his tears from his cheeks, he announced, "I appreciate your display of mercy toward me, but I can't accept it if there is none to be had for Harlequin. Bind me and throw me in the flames," he declared, turning to the strange officers. "It's not fair that Harlequin should burn in my place."
What brave words! They pierced everyone there right through the heart, so that all the other Marionettes began to cry. Even the Officers wept. Now no one could be burned!
Fire Eater, who had become hard and cold as ice, began to soften. Then he again began to sneeze. After a terribly long sneezing fit, he said, "What a brave boy you are, Pinocchio. Come to my arms and give me a kiss."
Little Pinocchio ran to Fire Eater and gave him a kiss on the tip of his nose.
"Am I pardoned?" asked Harlequin.
"Yes, I give up. Pardon is yours, Harlequin. Tonight I shall eat my lamb half-cooked. But beware the next time, Marionettes!"
At the wonderful news that pardon had been granted Harlequin, the Company of Marionettes ran to the stage, turned on all the lights, and sang and danced till dawn.
I should warn you, however, that it is dangerous to eat any meat that isn't fully cooked. If I had been the director, Fire Eater, I would have chosen to eat a salad.
Click on Pinocchio to go to Chapter Twelve
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