THE ADVENTURES OF NONO
by JEAN GRAVE
[continued from Chapter III]
IN THE COUNTRY OF AUTONOMY
The sun continued its course. If he did not want to let himself by caught by nightfall in his solitude, it was necessary that our wanderer not let himself be beaten down by sadness. He must, on the contrary, summon all his energy and get on his way again.
So, shaking his head, as a sign of his resolution and to chase away unwelcome ideas, he got up to resume his journey, but not before tying up two of the baskets of fruit, which still remained, in his handkerchief and attaching it to his wrist.
But he found that, without any noise having revealed her arrival or her presence, a tall, beautiful woman stood in front of him. Her face and her expression were as sweet as that of the mother of the bees, but he sensed, under the charm of her smile, a strong will and a powerful energy.
Nono stopped in awe, looking curiously at the lady.
“You are brave, my child, and that is what I like to see in little boys. But I don’t want to leave you in uncertainty any longer. It is I who, having noticed you long ago, and having heard you wish for a storybook, wanted to give you the treat of living one yourself.
I started by carrying you from your parents’ home, without you being aware of it. But don’t worry about them. They know where I have taken you, and will be kept current about what you do, and what you see. As to what will happen, and what you will see, that will depend on you. I will acquaint you with the situation. Whether it will bring good or ill for you will depend on how you act. So it is you who, in the end, will make your adventures, and decorate them by the way you behave.
“Madame fairy, I promise to be very good, said Nono, intimidated by this long speech, from which he only understood that he must be well-behaved and obedient.
“Well-behaved! Obedient! That is indeed what is asked of the inhabitants of the world you come from. He you will be asked, first of all, to be yourself, to be frank and honest, to always say what you think, to act in conformity with your thought, and to never do your mates anything you wouldn’t want them to do to you, to be towards them as you would like them to be towards you. Anything else will go without saying.
“Perhaps I speak in language that is a bit incomprehensible at your age. But when, though ignorance and not a wicked heart, you make mistakes, I will be there to help you out.
“Have no fear, then and come. I will take you to some comrades of your own age, who will teach you, better than me, to be what you must be.”
And Nono saw beside him a beautiful chariot drawn by six beautiful storks.
At a signal from the lady, speechless with admiration, he took his place beside her in the chariot, and the storks, taking flight, rose up into the air. The young voyager saw the details gradually disappear as the countryside seemed to scroll past below him, the woods becoming smaller and smaller, until the green of their foliage looked like the carpet of a meadow.
After having soared for some time, the storks began to descend back to earth. First, Nono saw some hills and rivers take shape below him, then he distinguish the trees, and then a building which at first seemed to him the size of a toy, in the middle of an immense garden that he recognized by its lawns, and its baskets of flowers in various colors. In the garden strolled a crowd of people who seemed to be amusing themselves.
The storks headed toward this garden, coming to drop off the travelers at the foot of the front steps of the building Nono had glimpsed, which was a magnificent palace.
When the chariot arrived, the people whom Nono had seen in the garden, and were little boys and girls, the oldest of which was not more than twelve years old, rushed up, and when Nono’s companion got out, hastened towards her with cheers of joy:
“It is Solidaria, our friend Solidaria!” they shouted. “We looked for you without being able to make out where you had gone. You left us without warning.”
“There, there,” said the lady, “who was struggling to satisfy this whole crowd, which was clinging to her with the hope of catching a hug, a kiss, or a kind word; “if you throw yourselves at me this way, you will knock me down.
“There is a surprise that I kept from you: Look, I went to find you a new playmate. I count on you to inform him about our way of life, and to make it pleasant enough for him that he enjoys it here.
“But, one last recommendation,” she added, turning towards Nono. “Do not stray to far from your comrades. Our enemy, Monnaïus, king of Argyrocratie, sends his emissaries prowling the woods around our little domain; his janissaries seize, to lead them off as slave, the unwary who put themselves out of reach of rescue.”
Then, having given one last smile of encouragement to the children, she disappeared in a cloud, which hid her from their eyes.
The children had scattered, but some remained to examine the new arrival.
“What is you name?” asked a little girl with a cunning air about her, a young person who appeared at least eight years old.
“Nono,” said our hero, intimidated to see all theses eyes trained on him.
“My name is Mab, replied the imp, “and if you want to be friends, I like your face. I will show you how we play. You see, we have fun here. No masters to punish you, or to bother you all the time, trying to make you calm down. And then, I will introduce you to my friends Hans and Biquette. They are my best friend, but there are others, and you will meet them all.
“Hans, don’t you want to be friends with the newcomer?” asked the little girl.
“Yes, certainly, very much,” said the boy, who might have been about ten, as long as he is a good guy. How old are you?” He asked Nono.
“Where are you from?” asked another little girl, a blond, seven years of age.
“Oh, that Sacha, how nosy she is!” said Mab.
“So ask her what it is to her,” said another.
“Here, we do not care where you come from. If you are a good comrade, that is enough.
“Let’s go and play instead.”
And taking Nono by the hand:
“We will visit the garden, if you like!”
“Yes, I would like that very much.”
You forget that it is time to pick food for our supper,” said another young lady. It was the Biquette that Mab had spoken of, who was nine years old.
“Oh, yes, I had forgotten. But you will have the time to see it tomorrow. Let’s go find our baskets.”
And the band went to a lawn where there stood a tall, vigorous-looking man. His muscular arms were bare, and the energetic features of his face, framed by a silky, black beard, exuded strength and energy. But very gentle eyes improved an expression that could have been too severe.
Surrounded by the children, he passed out little baskets and little shears appropriate for their strength. They all held out their hands, shouting: Me! me, Labor!
“So my sister Liberta will have nobody to help her today? said Labor, smiling and pointing to a you woman in a long, flowing, sea-green robe, her loose hair spilling over her shoulders.
“I went this morning,” said several boys and girls.
“Oh! I want to go!” said Biquette.
“Me too, me too,” said several others, and grabbing the little buckets that the young woman held out, they followed her to a building at the end of the lawn.
Nono watched silently, staying close to Mab and Hans, who remained close to Labor.
“Take a basket,” said Hans, nudging Nono with an elbow, “Labor! A basket for the newcomer.”
“Ah! You are the one Solidaria has taken under her protection,” said Labor. Come here, young man. I see that you have already made some friends. Do you think you will like it here?”
“Yes, I think so,” said Nono, taking the basket and shears that Labor held out to him.
“I am sure you will. Go with your friends, who are waiting. They will tell you what you need to do.”
The distribution of the baskets completed, the youngsters were divided into groups, spreading through the groves that adjoined the lawn, from which they were separated by walls supporting trellises of golden fruit, and all kinds of fruit trees.
“C’mon,” said Sacha, the others have gone with Liberta, to milk the cows. I like milk, but it’s no fun to be behind the cows. I am always afraid will give me a kick. It is more fun to climb the trees.
“Oh!” replied Hans, “Me, I like to work in the stables. There is no danger of the cows doing you any harm. They are good creatures, and very calm, but I was there this morning, and I don’t like to do the same thing twice in a row.
Some other children joined the group with Nono, Hans and Sacha.
“What are you going to pick?” asked one of them.
“I don’t know. What do you like? Hans asked Nono. You see, there are grapes, peaches, pears, plums, bananas, pineapples, gooseberries, and strawberries. The only trouble is choosing.”
And with a gesture, he showed Nono the vast orchard, where were gathered not only the fruits of all latitudes, but at the same time the ripened fruit of all seasons, where trees of the same species showed all degrees of maturity, from the flower in bud to succulent ripe fruit ready to be picked.
They were at that moment at the foot of a fine cherry tree, bearing lovely “geans,” black and plump.
“Oh, Cherries! It is a long time since I have eaten them,” said Nono, tempted by the fruit that hung above his head.
“Well, climb. I’m going to get a stepladder.”
And leaning against the tree, he laced his hands together, indicating to Nono to put his foot there, and then to climb on his shoulders.
But, alas! he was still not tall enough to reach the lowest branches, and, raised in the city, he had never learned to climb a tree.
“Hold on, and watch,” said one of the children, a big boy, stocky and red-headed, who had stayed with the group. “This is how you do it.”
“And, hugging the tree, he climbed like a monkey, and was soon installed between two branches, from which he was not slow to make an avalanche of fruit rain down into the apron of a comrade, a young person, six years old, who was called Pépé, because of the doll that she always carried.
Nono looked enviously at the boy in the tee.
“Wait,” said Hans, “I’ll be back in a minute.” And he rushed to a sort of shed from which he wasted no time in bringing a light ladder, which he rested against the cherry tree.
“Now you can join Sandy.
“But do you only like cherries? Have you tasted bananas, or pineapples?”
“No, I have never seen them,” said Nono, already installed in the tree, his mouth full of cherries.”
“Well, I will pick some for your dinner.”
Mab had attached herself to some superb bunches of gooseberries, which grew in thick bushes near the cherry tree.
“Heh!” said Sandy, “It’s fun to pick your own dinner.”
“Yes, it is very nice,” said Nono, gobbling up a handful of cherries that he had just picked, his hand more often taking the road to his mouth than to his basket. But as the branches bent under the weight of the fruit, he could amply satisfy his gluttony and still, despite that, fill his own basket, and Sandy’s as well. Sandy had long since descended, being reminded that nobody had spoken of going to gather some leaves. They were needed to decorate the fruits on the table. He left his basket with Nono to go to the vines, where he chose the best-looking leaves.
As Nono linger, grazing here and there at some red currants, Mab, who had already finished her harvesting, took him by the hand, and led him toward the place where Nono had seen Labor, and where each of the children brought back his haul, which they deposited on the law, and then arranged them in a pyramid in the baskets.
Indeed, nobody had thought to provide leaves, so Sandy was cheered by everyone when he arrived with an ample supply.
When the baskets were full, and well-adorned, the children headed for the castle that Nono had just glimpsed as the chariot descended.
Toto, with Mab, Biquette and Sacha, who had obviously taken him under their protection, walked with them.
Nono was astonished that they were left to themselves. Solidaria, Liberta, Labor, except for the brief appearances when he had only caught a glimpse of them, had disappeared without more than showing they existed.
“What is amazing,” responded Hans, “is that it is like this every day. We only see them when we need them. Then, there is no need to seek them. We see them beside us, as if they sensed that we needed their help.
“And when you are not good, how are you punished? Who punishes you?”
“Nobody,” said Mab. Why would you want to be anything but good, when there is nobody on your back, preventing you from having fun, or forcing you to do what does not please you?”
“Yes, but who takes care of the garden and the trees, and of the cows who give the milk we drink?
“We do! It’s very nice, you see, to dig, water, and sow, especially since, if it is necessary, Labor is there to help us with his troupe of little sprites, who have only to put their hands to the hardest work to get it done effortlessly.
“But you will have plenty of time to see that, since you’re going to stay with us. Here we are.”
[to be continued in Chapter V]
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]