Both The Fairy Ring and Wild Boy can be used in the classroom to teach about investigative skills and how history, a.k.a. NON fiction, comes to be written.
But non-fiction can also be a spark for the imagination. Which takes us into the realm of historical fiction. Historical fiction (especially for children) often springs from intriguing true stories that happen to have mysterious gaps that inspire an author’s imagination. One such mystery in the history of the wild boy is his life from his mid-twenties on. I like to think he had adventures.
So I imagined the beginning of the story that follows. It is historical fiction. Not non-fiction. Which is why I didn’t put it my book about the wild boy’s real life.
Still, I had fun with it. So, let us begin….
In Paris during the wild boy’s time, there was an underground community of working deaf people who could neither read nor write. They had their own sign language, one they never learned in school, but taught each other. A deaf paper-hanger named Pierre Desloges wrote about them in a book published in 1779.
“I can successfully direct any illiterate deaf friend of mine to any building in Paris, whether shop or townhouse or first or sixth floor room, provided I have first seen it myself. I would use fewer signs to give him the person’s address that I would write in words,” Desloges wrote. “No event—in Paris, France, or in the four corners of the world—lies outside the scope of our discussion.”
So I wondered…what if the wild boy known as Victor of Aveyron had met one of these people—a street vender, say, or a water carrier or a servant—and that person had taught Victor sign language? What if, in the last half of his life, Victor had adventures that the hearing world never knew about?
Which now becomes fiction:
It’s nearly midnight when the gate at number 4, Feuillantines creaks open. Victor the Wild One closes it gently behind him and trots down the narrow street. At the corner, he turns and lopes ahead. At the shop with a golden lion over the window, he turns again. He hurries down an alley till he comes to an archway, beyond which is a courtyard with a fountain. The house he’s looking for is the tallest, grandest one on the courtyard.
Victor stands under the streetlamp and peers up at the tiny rooms, just under the roof, where the servants live. In one window, a candle winks out. A minute later, Victor’s friend is standing next to him under the streetlight. There, they can both see the movements of each other’s hands.
“That scientist, he hasn’t been back?” Victor’s friend asks in sign language.
“No,” Victor replies in sign language. He laughs, remembering how he brought the man his hat and coat and hustled him out the door.
“And what about your old mother, will she be all right?”
Victor nods. “She knows I’m going. Julie will take care of her till I’m back,” he signs. “Good,” signs Victor’s friend. “Come on, then.”
Victor lopes down the streets, his friend running beside him, till they come to the riverbank. It smells of mud and sewage and wood smoke. Here and there along the bank burn small fires, each encircled by seated figures. As they pass each one, Victor can hear the babble of voices.
At last Victor’s friend stops at a circle, set apart from the rest, where there is no sound but laughter. Around the flames sit men and women, working people in worn pants or patched skirts and aprons, their feet shod in muddy wooden clogs. Their hands stop in midair.
Victor hesitates, but his friend pulls him into the light.
“Here he is, the one I told you about,” Victor’s friend signs. He makes Victor’s sign name: the gesture, hands held on either side of the face like antlers, meaning “wild.”
“Good,” signs an old man. “We’ll need him, where we’re going.”
The old man motions to Victor. “Have a seat.” He hands him a hunk of bread and some cheese. “The boats are ready. We’ll leave as soon as it’s light.”
(To be continued….)