Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Jean Grave, The Adventures of Nono — Chapter VIII


 [continued from Chapter VII]


Rising from the table, the children scattered on the lawn, where they organized all sorts of games. Nono, coming back down from his room, came to mingle with them. But a group of young ladies, from five to seven years old, wanted him to commence his lesson on the art of weaving flowers, and he acceded to their desire.
It is in the midst of this group that, an hour later, Hans, Mab and company came to look for him.
“We’re going to school,” they said to him. “Are you coming with us?”
“You’ll see what fun we have,” added Dick, who had joined them.
Nono, who asked nothing better than to see something new, promised his pupils to take up his lessons again on the morrow, and followed the group of students.
They entered a spacious room on the ground floor of the palace, where tables, benches and chairs were arranged; but not those big tables, long as days without bread, that clutter the whole room and that cannot be moved around. They were small, square tables that could be moved and arranged where they were wanted; for the scholars were able to gather themselves in groups.
Nono and his friends went to sit at one of those tables where they settled at their ease. Many of their comrades had already taken their places in different parts of the room.
It was Liberta who presided over the lessons, but she sought to draw questions from the children, rather than stuffing their heads full of ideas that, most of the time, they would not understand.
When everyone was seated, Liberta asked the students what they wanted to study.
Tell us about the history of printing,” cried several voices..
“No, let’s do astronomy,” said some others.
“Oh, no! Explain the formation of the earth to us.”
“Geography is the most fun!”
“We did that yesterday” protested a few other voices.
“Well! Some problems, said a whole group of boys, ten to twelve years old.
“Anything you want,” Liberta said, smiling, “but I have to be able hear you. What shall we begin with?
“Begin with the problems if you want,” said another group, “but let’s continue with geography.”
“Yes, and then we won’t have time for astronomy”, grumbled a few malcontents.
“Nor to speak of the formation of the earth,” added others.
“Nor to tell us a nice story,” added a group of the littlest ones.
Hey! Well, if you want,” said Liberta, “there is a means of fixing everything. If you want, we’ll dedicated the first part of our day to solving some problems, and then we will pass on to geography. And tomorrow, without fail, we will tell some stories, and then we will study the formation of the earth. As for astronomy, tonight, after dinner, it seems to me appropriate to study that under the open sky, while the stars shine.
“Yes! Yes!” shouted most of the students.
But in one corner, the group of young ones who wanted stories protested, not wanting to wait until tomorrow, wanting to leave if no one would satisfy them.
Liberta picked up a book on the table in front of her and gave it to them.
Since you definitely want stories,” she said, “here is something to choose from. You will find the story of Gutenberg and the printing press there. You can sit in a corner, or go out in the garden, as you please, and read everything you want.”
Things thus arranged, they could begin, and silence was reestablished.
They began to study some problems. Liberta began by reading some that one of the children came to solve on the board. Then it was the students’ turn to read them, so their fellow pupils could solve them.
Nono noticed a student who always wanted to speak out of turn, shrugging his shoulders when one of those called on seemed confused, and who always wanted for find better solutions.
“Jacquot,” — that was the name of the student — “Jacquot,” said Liberta, “in your turn, give us a problem.”
Jacquot enunciated a problem where it was a question of hours, seconds, liters, and meters. It was a very complicated problem, that he was proud to have found.
It was so complicated that no one could resolve it, and the author himself, when invited to explain it, was so confused in his operations that he couldn’t untangled himself.
As he was quite vain, the other students teased him, and Liberta told him that he had better take some simpler problems and think them through, rather than take one so complicated and not understand them. Then she showed him where his problem went wrong, and why it was impossible for him to find a solution.
Jacquot, mortified, went back to his place. But he took advantage of a moment when the attention was no longer on him, to escape.
At some point, it was Nono’s turn to read. And he dictated one that he recalled having done at school, where it was a question of a merchant who, having bought so many pieces of cloth, so many meters in length, for such and such a sum, asked what he would have to charge per meter to make a given profit.
Your problem is well posed,” said Solidaria, who had just appeared among the children, “but it is posed according to the selfish rules taught in the schools of a world where we only speculate with an eye to speculating on our fellows.
Here, the problem is posed differently; in your place, I would say: “Given that a man has so many pieces of cloth, that he can, from each piece, make so many garments, how many of his friends can he please, by giving one to each?”
“C’mon, my child,” she added, hugging Nono, “you are perhaps still a little young to grasp the difference well, but when you are old enough to compare them, you will understand.”
That ended the arithmetic lesson, and they turned, as they had agreed, to that of geography.
Liberta explained to the children what a continent was, and a cape, an island, a peninsula, an archipelago. And, by means of an apparatus similar to a magic lantern, she made a representation of what she explained to them pass before their eyes.
So that her lesson was less dry, she punctuated it with stories related to her explanations, and while she spoke, the device scrolled animated scenes of the anecdote narrated scroll across the wall.
The partisans of stories ended up deserting their corner, coming to listen to Liberta’s tales.
Some others, on the contrary, that were bored or felt the need to stretch their legs, got up silently, and headed off to the gardens.
Also Liberta, knowing that he should not abuse the children's attention, even when they are interested, youth feeling the need to stir, move, and make noise, ended the session. And the children, freed, rushed to the garden, where Labor, with some who had preferred the open air, presided over the work of cultivation.
Nono was drawn to a group, near a portable forge, who worked to repair spades, pitchforks and other implements.
He saw the blue and red sparks, resembling fireworks shoot from the incandescent iron, under the blows of the hammer. And wanting to make some sparks fly himself, he began to hammer the iron, as it was explained to him how he must shape it so that his work was useable.
Evening came, but Nono, who was involved in everything, thought it was only still the middle of the day, so short had it seemed to him.
After the astronomy lesson, which took place after dinner, in an observatory set up in a tower of the castle, Amorata gave them some news of their parents, and then everyone went to bed.
But, before that, Nono’s friends led him to the library, where he chose volumes whose titles and illustrations seemed to him to promise marvels.
Climbing up to his room, Nono, who had again, at dinner, stuffed some fruit from the table in his pockets, wanted to put them with those he had taken at noon; but, on opening the drawer of the cabinet where he had put them, he was not a little surprised to see in their place some horrible little goblins who grimaced at him, while those that he carried changed in his hand into equally horrible gnomes clutched at him, trying to drag him.
Nono, frightened, let out a piercing cry.
Solidaria, who was nearby, only had to make a sign to make these terrifying little apparitions disappear.
Nono was trembling all over.
What happened to you is my fault,” said Solidaria, “I should have warned you that in this country, it is not like the world that you come from. There is no need to fear ever lacking anything. This fruit that you put aside, you would never have been able to eat, since you always have, at the table, more than you need. Ce seraient des ordinaires, they would spoil for nothing.
“But here, as it is an inexcusable fault to put aside things which you cannot use yourself, when they can be used by others, to punish the greedy, they change into goblins who, if they had been more numerous, would have dragged you to the land of our enemy Monnaïus before I could have come to your aid.
For this time, you have escaped all but the fear, but don’t start again.”
And, having hugged Nono, she disappeared as she had come, while he, totally abashed, slipped shivering into bed, fearing to see the horrible monsters that had frightened him so much reappear.

[Continued in Chapter IX]
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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