[I ended up neglecting The Adventures of Nono for longer than I had intended, while some other projects came together, but it's time to return to our anarchist children's novel.]
THE ADVENTURES OF NONO
by JEAN GRAVE
[continued from Chapter I]
When Nono awoke, it was broad daylight. But, surprisingly, instead of being in his bed he was lying on a lawn thick, filled with flowers raising their petals over the green grass.
The sun lit up that place, making the floral colors gleam, shimmering off the variegated wings of the countless insects that fluttering in its golden rays, or bustling among the blades of grass. The sky, of a deep blue, was cloudless.
Nono had risen on his elbow, and, eyes wide with astonishment, he looked around him, not remembering ever having visited this place.
The air was sweet and mild; a thousand perfumes escaped from the half-open petals the thousand and one wildflowers that carpeted the ground. In the trees, in the bushes, and in the undergrowth, a multitude of birds gave out the most varied chirpings.
Some, taking their flight, crossed the space in a nimble flight, chasing each other to earth with angry chirruping, competing, in play, over some grain, defending themselves with open beak and wings, standing up on their claws, to grab the disputed seed, mutually evading their prey several times, until a last their, with more nimble movement and a more rapid flight, came to put an end to the dispute by flying away with the object of the litigation, thus reconciling the adversaries in a common disappointment.
The security with which they seemed to play in this hedged plot, the tranquil flight of those who sought their feed, all demonstrated that they must live there in total security, having never been hunted by humans, or by any other harmful beings.
In order to learn better where he was, Nono raised himself up in bed. When he seemed to be wide awake, he got up, sniffing the air with delight; but a but a hunger pang reminded him of the good soup that his mother made to warm him up every morning, and he looked all around him, to see if he could find some traces of his house, even the little pigs that he remembered being charged to look after in his dream.
But there was no trace of habitation or human beings in this charming place. And while trying to find someone, Nono asked himself how he came to be alone in an unknown country.
Was he still dreaming? What had become of his parents? Besides, his ideas were far from being clear. Because he was doubtless still half-awake; but the sorcerers, the enchanters, still vaguely haunted his imagination, and he was not far from believing that some evil genie or wicked fairy had carried him far from home, far from his parents, after undergoing some metamorphosis to them and to himself. And he felt all over his body, to make sure that he had not been changed into a monkey or some equally ugly animal.
But, no, he was just the same as always, and dressed in his usual clothes.
— Let’s see, he said to himself. I slept well last night in my parents’ home. How is it that I have awakened in an unknown country? Are there really fairies who can carry you off like that, without you even knowing it! if it was one of those who carried him off, it would not be slow to show itself, he imagined.
And he looked around him; but no one showed themselves.
Nono was a brave little boy, who was only afraid of the dark, in which case he would sing as loud as he could to give himself courage. He was in a situation which could have worried him. The unexplained absence of his parents would have, under any other circumstance, certainly would have alarmed him. But he was, at that moment, in a state of mind which made him accept that absence as a thing, if not as natural, as more or less plausible. So, far from being frightened by finding no answer to his misgiving, he set out to find some road which would lead him to an inhabited location.
Although young, he already possessed a certain measure of reasoning power. He said to himself that such a pretty place must certainly attract visitors and that he would have no great way to go to find either a habitation, or some ramblers.
A path lay before him, and he followed it on a whim. While walking, he put his hand in his pocket without thinking, and found there a little pocket knife that his uncle had given him to sharpen his pencils at school. That discovery gave him the idea of cutting a stick from one of the copses along the road; the urge was no sooner formulated than he went to work. He soon had a walking stick with which he could search the sand while walking, twirl it in the air, or decapitate the tall grass on the edges of the path.
He walked like this for a while, without any idea where the path he followed would lead. He must have awakened very late in the morning, for the sun was soon high in the sky, and its rays, although screened by the foliage, continued to heat the atmosphere. Thirst began to gnaw at him, and Nono looked around him for some fruit to slake his thirst and stave off his hunger.
But there was nothing but the trees of the forest, until, crossing a clearing, his attention was drawn by a thrilling scene: a little finch, whose chirping announced its distress, stood on a branch, trying to hide. Its body was shaken by a convulsive trembling, its eyes fixed on a kestrel that, after having soared a moment in the air, began to descend in tighter and tighter spirals, to pounce on the poor, distraught creature.
Quick as thought, Nono raised his cane, and as the kestrel was about to reach its prey, with a sharp blow he struck it down, broken, to the earth.
Fear had so paralyzed the finch that it had fallen to the ground, its body troubled by little shivers. Nono picked it up, fluttering, took it gently in his hands and cradled it.
Little by little the young bird recovered from its fright and, by a plaintive cooing, made it clear to its savior that it wanted to reclaim its freedom.
Nono opened his hand, and the bird flapped its wings before taking flight; then, joyous, it rose into the air, trumpeting to its savior, as a farewell, a song of buoyant joy.
This interlude had made our thirsty traveler forget the thirst that drove him; but when he had seen the bird disappear, he felt the itch a little more strongly. So he resumed his walk, continuing to seek with a worried eye some fruit on a tree branch, and especially to see if, across the grass, he could not find some fresh spring where he could satisfy his thirst with a long drink.
But nothing presented itself to his disappointed gaze, except an insect caught by one leg entangled in the twigs of a shrub, spreading its black belly to the sun, and struggling desperately to hang on without managing to regain its balance and get out of its perilous position.
Already visibly fatigued, its efforts became less vigorous and more infrequent. Above, a great tit sharpened its beak on the branch which supported it, preparing to swoop down on its certain prey.
Nono rushed to the shrub, making the tit fly off, and carefully detached the insect, which he found to be a fine garden beetle, with elytrons of a beautiful gilt green, with metallic glints.
The rescuer returned the insect to earth, where, passing its legs in front of its antennae, it seemed to make a gesture of thanks before disappearing into the grass. And Nono resumed his walk.
At the corner of a small path veering to the left of the one he followed, he found his finch perched on one of the trees beside the road. The bird, which seemed to await him, flew off in the direction of the new path.
Nono left the track he has followed made his way down the one followed by the bird. But it began to flap its wings, rose twittering, and stationed itself in a tree farther along, seeming again to await its rescuer.
“Are you afraid of me?” asked Nono, speaking perhaps as much to himself as to the bird.
As if it understood, the bird came to flutter around him; always mistrustful, it lit for an instant on his shoulder, only to take flight again, and go to land farther on.
Nono knew nothing of where he was, so he followed the animal, as indifferent to one road as to another. They arrived in this way at a clearing, at the end of which a heap of reddish rocks was piled, covered with lichens, moss and heather.
On one side of the rock pile, bubbled a little spring of bright, clear water, which descended in little cascades, down a terraced flank, to fall, at the foot of the rocks, into a sort of natural basin formed by the rock that it had hollowed out and from which it escaped in a limpid stream which wound across the clearing to lose itself beneath the trees. A magnificent birch tree, with silver bark, which had taken root in a fissure in the rock, shaded the place with its delicate foliage, hanging down a bit like the hair of a weeping naiad.
Nono ran to the fountain, where he knelt to draw in with his hands the water with which he greedily slaked his thirst, which seemed so delicious to him that he found it the best of all drinks.
“All the same,” thought Nono, “without the finch, I would not have come here. It was to follow that I left the first path.” And he searched for it to thank it, but the bird had disappeared.
Nono bent down again at the spring to drink that fresh water again. Finally satiated, he was going to rise, when he saw a poor bee that struggled in the middle of the basis, and that, despite all its efforts, the current was going to carry away and submerge in its eddies. With his stick, which he still had with him, Nono lifted the bee from the water and gingerly place it on the moss, where the sun could dry it, lingering to see what it would do, despite the stomach pangs which proved his hunger had not subsided.
For a moment, the insect dragged itself clumsily over the moss, its body heavy with moisture, its wings injured by the contact with the water, having trouble staying on its feet. Then, when it had regain its freedom of movement a bit, it began to wave its legs behind its wings in order to dry them. Finally, when it was strong enough on its own, it took wing and launched itself, buzzing, into the air.
But, what a strange thing! It seemed to the astonished child that the buzzing took the form of language! He seemed to understand that the insect said to him: “You were thirsty, and the bird that you saved has led you to this where you could quench your thirst, and where I would have drowned without your help. Follow me, and I will guide you to a place where you can eat your fill.”
Nono knew very well that insects do not talk; but he had read so many story books where the animals are made to talk, recited so many fables at school where not only the animals speak, but also the tiniest insects, even plants and rocks who make speeches that many human beings would have been incapable of making, and of which very few people would have been able to understand the wisdom,—when these discourses were considered to be wise—which was not always the case.
Thus our hungry child was not unduly surprised, not to hear the bee speak—he was not sure that it had made this little speech, convinced instead that it was the fruit of his imagination—but, he liked to think that it could have made it. So he followed the bee completely reassured. Besides, the flight of the insect allowed him to follow without tiring.
So they crossed the woods that began beyond the rocks, and came to a rural valley, filled with wildflowers. All the varieties that, elsewhere, flower at different times, were found there, together, in full bloom.
Poppies spread their bright red petals, and cornflowers of a beautiful, darker blue stood beside them, while the broom married its flowers of a soft golden yellow to the deep violet of the bluebells, and the carmine of the digitalis. Elsewhere, the daisies spread their golden disk, surrounded by white petals, and the pink carnations lent a more subtle note.
Thyme, fennel, mint, perfumed the air with their balsamic scents, while in the grass, and under the bushes, bloomed violets and primroses of all kinds, and the lily of the valley opened its sweet-scented bells; the narcissus, daffodils and hyacinths formed a variegated carpet of the most diverse colors, while the honeysuckle rose up to storm the trees, in the branches of which it clung, displaying its honey-scented flowers.
Nono stood amazed, without asking how it could be that all these flowers were blooming at the same time. At the age of nine, we are not required to have a gardener’s knowledge, and it did not shock him to seem them there, growing before his eyes, than to read it in the work of a popular novelist.
Our little friend had never seen so many flowers together; it was not that he was not tempted to gather a bouquet for his mother, but the fear of seeing some gruff gardener or some equally surly guardian, prevented him from taking them in hand and fleeing shamelessly. And then, it must also be said, hunger above all, spurred him and made him hurry to find a place where he could satisfy it.
But the bee, which had seen Nono stock, came buzzing louder for a moment beside him, and our hungry book resumed his walk unconsciously, guided by the flight of the insect which directed him to the edge of the wood, towards a large tree around which flew a great number of other bees that advanced towards the newcomer.
But as soon as they recognized it, they ceased their warlike buzzing, for a softer voice, seeming to welcome it, and scolded it for having left them to worry during its long absence.
Nono examined them curiously, seeing them rub their antennae against each other, signals that they repeated to the new companions who came constantly from the hive, and when all had communicated what they had learned, they went to buzz around Nono, seeming to regard him curiously, without seeking to do him any harm. But the boy, who knew how painful their stings are, prudently beat a retreat.
The bees continued their flight around him, and sometimes they stopped to rub their antennae against those of a comrade, seeming to exchange some reflection, then, at a given moment, they all flew back towards the tree that housed the hive, while some, returning toward the traveler, flew again then towards the hive, seeming to invite him to follow.
But Nono took care to understand things, and recalled the stories of those who, by being too reckless, had paid with horrible suffering for carelessly approaching too close to the habitation of these touchy insects. What’s more, among this moving flood of insects, all alike, of the same color, he longer recognized the one he had saved from the water. He seemed to be, this time, totally lost and abandoned, and he slumped down, completely discouraged, on a tree trunk lying on the ground, anxiously asking himself what would become of him.
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]