THE ADVENTURES OF NONO
by JEAN GRAVE
[continued from Chapter X]-->
THE AFTERMATH OF A FIRST MISTAKE
On returning to Autonomie, took little part in the conversation. He pondered what he had just seen.
A gamin of Paris, a child of workers for whom the greatest journey they could permit themselves was a walk in the woods of Clamart or Meudon, — it was an event when they could go as far as those of Verrières — he knew the sea only from the enthusiastic descriptions that he had found in books. Indeed, of mountains he only know the Chaumont and Montmartre heights; but in the same books, having read the descriptions, in grandiose scenes, of ascensions, he had always, since, dreamed of such voyages. So the suggestions of the fat gentleman had just stirred up his desires.
Then, without wishing to moralize, morality being too relative, changing with latitudes, climates, manners and education — something that my little readers will learn later, when, leaving the school or college where they have been taught a pile of falsities, they feel the need to rebuild their education themselves, to unclog their brains of the nonsense that they have been taught; — I repeat, without wishing to moralize, we must recognize that when we have done something that we should not have done, we are quite unsatisfied with ourselves. And that makes us sharp and very grumpy, because, instead of frankly admitted our faults, we prefer to vent our bad temper. That is what happened to Nono.
Tormented by his desires, by the reproaches of his conscience—which is not a voice put inside us by a god that we have never seen, as the priest claim, but rather an operation of our judgment which indicates to us that we have done something that is not just,—Nono remained taciturn until they arrived in Autonomie, only responding in monosyllables to the enthusiasm of his friends.
He was thus in a very charged state, when while setting the table, he bumped into one of the members of a group less chummy with his own. The stack of plates he held slipped from his hands and broke on the ground.
Although it was his fault, Nono, who had walked carelessly, the other having tried to step aside, it was too good an opportunity to vent his bad mood for Nono not to take advantage of it:
“Pay attention, animal!” he said and, furious, he threw a punch at him.
The poor child was so taken aback that he did not know what to reply, hardly expecting this outburst. Crying, he took refuge close to his usual comrades.
“Ho! The villain,” said Mab, who was there with Hans, and who had witness the whole scene. “It was you who bumped into him. You were in the wrong, and you hit him.”
“Well! Why did he get in my way?” said Nono, made even more furious, because he felt that the criticism was deserved.”
Especially as, while throwing the punch, he had glimpsed Solidaria distancing herself from him, her eyes full of rebuke.
Labor who, in the midst of the other children, had for them a look as friendly and pleasant as was his wont, took on, on the contrary, when his eyes turned towards Nono, a hard, sour, and scowling expression, which paralyzed him.
“Well, Scowly,” said Biquette, stepping in, “Will you go quickly and apologize to Riri, tell him that it was a rambunctious moment, and that it won’t happen again?
“Nnnno!” said Nono, again obstinate, “No. It was his fault.”
“Come on! But Riri can’t come to ask forgiveness for the punch that he received?” said Hans, intervening in his turn, and seeking to turn the thing into a joke, in order to cheer up Nono, whom he saw settling more and more into his obstinacy.
“Heh,” said Nono, bitterly, “I did not ask him for that. Let him remain what he is. Who asked him for anything?”
At that response, the faces of the children who surrounded Nono took on a severe expression.
They looked at him, completely astonished, understanding nothing in his attitude.
But as he deserved a lesson, they pretended to move away from him, and no longer speak to him.
However, before moving off, Mab made one last effort:
“So, it's decided! You do not want to apologize to Riri?”
Nono shook his head vigorously in denial.
“You are awful. I don’t like you anymore.” And she went off with the others.
Nono found himself alone, isolated at his table.
He tried to make the best of a bad situation, and attempted to taste an excellent wine grape which was in front of him, but his breathless chest refused to let pass the few bits he had bitten off. In the end, unable to hold on, some big sobs issued from his tightened throat, while a flood of bitter tears spring from his eyes. He leaned on the table, and wept freeley.
His crisis began to subside, when he felt two arms encircle his neck, when someone hugged him tightly.
And Mab, who had climbed on the back of his chair, said in his ear:
“You see what it is to be wicked.”
“You make yourself miserable,” added Biquette who had jumped in his lap.
“Come on! Come find Riri; and let this be finished,” said Hans dragging him by the hand.
And half willingly, half by force, they dragged him to the table where Riri stood. The apologies made, the two children embraced, promising to be good friend in the future, and not to indulge in reckless, angry actions.
Nono took a fine top from him pocket which, turning, gave the illusion of a puppet, makings all sorts of leaps and somersaults. Riri, not wanting to be outdone in generosity, gave him a little box, the work of Labor, fitting in a pocket and containing an accordion which, between one’s fingers, became a great and beautiful instrument, on which one could make all kinds of tunes, not with the nasal sound of ordinary accordions, but as if a complete orchestra had been locked up in it; and without knowing the music. It was enough to desire the tune and press on the touches in order for it to be played immediately.
The reconciliation made, gaiety reappeared among everyone who had been saddened by the dispute, and the meal went on more gaily it had begun. Labor had never seemed so affable.
Solidaria seemed to smile at him, when Nono looked at her.
As everyone was tired, Amorata soon rose from the table, and gave them news of their families. And then they went to bed.
But, although his reconciliation with Riri had relieved him a bit, Nono was still dissatisfied at not having told the truth. He slept badly and had a nightmare.
Sometimes he was quarreling with his friends and they chased him in shame from Autonomie. Then, it was the death’s head moth which, in the guise of the fat man, came to rest on his chest, showing him a lot of beautiful things that slipped his fingers when he wanted to grasp them, and became so heavy, so very heavy, that Nono, suffocating, lost his breath, feeling himself flattened, with the sensation of no longer being anything but a sheet of paper.
And then, he was dragged into a garden full of that plant, snapdragon, commonly known as the wolf's mouth, whose flower has, indeed, some resemblance to the muzzle of a beast.
These flowers were twice as large as him, and from time to time, they would open as if they were going to swallow him. In the end, little goblins came out of them, who all had the face of the fat man. Taking his hand, they danced in a circle around Nono, seeking to lead him.
But he struggled, calling to his aid Solidaria, who rushed to deliver him, and the snapdragons disappeared, changing into nasturtiums, into monkshoods, whose flowers resemble helmets.
The goblins put on these helmets, made shields of the round leaves of the nasturtiums, and making themselves mounts of delphiniums which looked like a dolphin, they rushed at Nono, seeming to want to run him through with the long lances that they carried, assailing him from all sides, and with blows that multiplied so that Solidaria could no longer defend him.
[to be continued in Chapter XII]
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]