Jean Grave, The Adventures of Nono — Chapter V

[continued from Chapter IV]

The castle that the children headed towards stood on a broad, well-sanded esplanade, cut through large lawns, some of which were planted with trees.
Under these trees those not at work harvesting fruit, or milking cows, had set some large, square tables, which, this evening, in honor of the new arrival, on been arrange end to end, but were ordinary set up apart from one another, covered with fine tablecloths, bearing plates and dishes embellished with simple designs in raw tones.
Chairs indicated the place of each guest.
The newcomers lined up their fruit in bowls of the same earthenware as the plates. There was a sample of almostall the fruits, not only apples, peaches, grapes, apricots, dates, oranges, bananas, but a host of others that Nono had never seen. Pastries of all shapes, thanks to the ingenuity of Labor, arranged in pretty bowls, alternated with the fruit. Flowers, in vases of various slender forms, added the brilliance of more vivid colors to the more subdued hues of the fruit.
Other children decanted the creamy milk in pretty stoneware jugs, with elegant shapes, in warm, harmonious tones. This flattered the eye, and a discrete perfume tickled the nostrils, making mouths water among even the least gluttonous.
When all the little ones had seen that the harvest was arranged on the tables, each seated themselves according to their tastes and preferences, sitting beside the comrade who, for the moment, attracted them the most.
Nono was among those of his new friends that we would say were the closest. Across from him were Gretchen, Fritz, Lola, Wynnie, Beppo, Pat, and Stella. It seemed that every name in the world was represented there.
And not far from him, Nono could see some little black faces, and yellow faces with slanted eyes.
All laughed, chattered, as little Mab had said, without worrying about what corner of the earth they came from.
The bowls were passed around the table, each choosing from them according to their like; some taking from all, while others stuffed themselves with the sort that was, for the moment, the object of their preference. But the distribution was managed very cordially, the most voracious knowing that there would always be enough to fully satisfy it.
“Hey! I will serve you,” said Mab, picking up a cup. “What do you prefer: peaches, or grapes?”
“No,” said Hans, “here are the bananas that I picked for you.”
And each put their preferred fruit on Nono’s plate.
“I want to taste them all,” said Nono. And he began to peel a banana, Hans having shown him that he must remove the peel.
But from the first bite, he had to stop.
“Don’t you like it?” asked Hans, a bit disappointed; for he expected some exclamations of pleasure.
“Yes,” said Nono, “it is not bad; however, I think it prefer the grape; and he bit into the bunch that Mab had put on his plate. Mais but after eating a few, he had to admit defeat. Setting the cluster on his plate, he pushed it away slowly, regarding with say eyes the bowls of fruit, as diverse and as appetizing as they had seemed to him, before seating himself at the table, not being able to eat his fill, and that now his bulging stomach refused to take in.
“Well! What’s wrong?” said Mab and Hans, his neighbors on the right and left, seeing him stop eating and push away his plate.
“I am not hungry!” he said, in a tone that could not have been sadder if he had announced the loss of half of his family.
“You are not hungry!” said Mab, “for such beautiful fruit!”
Nono shook his head.
“Are you sick?” asked Hans.
“Are you sad?” added Mab.
Biquette and Sacha had rise and now, standing around Nono, they also asked what was wrong.
Ashamed and embarrassed, Nono eventually let slip that, already stuffed with the bees’ honey, and with the raspberries and strawberries given by the beetles, his appetite had led him to stuff himself still more with cherries while he picked them. His distended stomach refused to swallow anything.
“Drink a little milk,” said Sacha. “That will settle your stomach. Then you can eat that fine peach.”
Nono tried toswallow a few drops, but the milk would not go down either.
Casting a last covetous look at the succulent fruit that excited his regrets, the young gourmand had to be content to watch his friends eat, while they, reassured, they went back to gobbling the fruit of their preferences, promising himself to be wiser in the future, and to moderate his appetite.
He had to tell them about his adventures with the bees and beetles, the mention he made of his meal in the woodshaving aroused their curiosity.
When everyone was full, they began to clear the tables, taking the table cloths back to the linen room, the dishes to the kitchen, where machines invented by Labor washed and dried plates and bowls, so that they only had to be arrange in the sideboards that adorned the kitchen, situated in a building not far from the castle, hidden by a curtain of trees, shrubs and flowers; the tables and chairs were put away in some nearby sheds.
When all was in order, the childrenspread throughout the garden, discussing the games they would play. Most of the girls wanted to play mom or schoolmistress, vague memories of their games before arriving in Autonomy, the young men at leap-frog, at tag; and after discussing it well, they ended by organizing themselves in groups according to their preferences.
But, little by little, some of them broke away from the groups of which they were a part, attracted by others nearby, which seemed to suit them better; some boys let themselves be attracted by the pleasures of playing with dolls; some girls, among the most impish, hitched up their petticoats, and played fearlessly at leapfrog
Gradually the groups were mixed, others came to play at blind man’s bluff, at hide and seek, at pigeon-vole, and various other games.
Nono, who had started by playing tag with Hans, Mab, Biquette and Sacha, found himself in the end in a game of blind man’s bluff, with around twenty other boys and girls, and already counted among them a half-dozen friends of both sexes, named Gretchen, May, Pat, Beppo, Coralie, a pretty little mulatto fromGuadeloupe, and Doudou, a solid black Congolese.
Mab and Hans were part of a group occupied with resolving some riddles that each posed in his turn. Biquette and Sacha jumped rope.
Those who were tired from playing, came and sat on the lawn, where, étendus sur les marches, they watched their fellows play.
The sun had set a moment before, darkness fell slowly, but the evening was mild, the stars lit up one by one in the heavens, as little by little the roars of the players were extinguished.
Solidaria appeared on the top of the front steps:
“My children,” she said, we have a surprise today. A troupe of gymnasiarchs has just offered to show us a performance of their exercises this evening. It is a question of preparing everything to receive them well. Where do you want the show to take place? In the theater or outside?
“Outside, outside,” said the children, who had rushed up, and who felt the charm of that evening.
“Well, then, to work. Here is Labor who will help you.”
And the children clapped their hands with enthusiasm and jumped for joy.
[Continued in Chapter VI]
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2691 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.