From the Superintendent of the House of Transformation to Comrade Benjamin Carruthers:
The law strictly provides that those committed to this Institution should be vagrant, vicious, incorrigible, criminal or such as may be placed here by parents, guardians or friends, not orphans or dependent and friendless children. This is not an orphanage or a refuge into which heartless and unfaithful parents may send their children. To send such children who simply need care, kindness, and training is a great wrong – a flagrant abuse of the hospitality and benevolence of the Second Landstead. The courts of our landstead should protect the Institution from this growing evil of sending little boys that merely need a home. Let them send proper subjects for transformatory work – the worst and most hopeless boys – and we will try to save them from the ways of evil, and restore them to society clothed in their right mind, with a will and power to earn honest bread.
When he came outside, he found the boys in a ring around Trusty and the Super. Trusty – Bat noticed for the first time – was in formal service position, with his eyes dipped and his left arm behind his back, cupping the inside of his right elbow. The other boys had considered it prudent to lower their eyes – all except Mordecai, who had that look of absolute terror he held around policemen. He'd gone straight down on his knees in the position of abject submission.
The Superintendent patted Mordecai's head absentmindedly, as he might a dog. The Super was smiling as Trusty spoke. As Bat came closer, he could see that there were laughter lines around the Super's eyes.
Trusty must have been finishing the introductions, because as Bat reached the gathering, he said, "—and this here's No. 2450, sir."
If it hadn't been for that last number in the sequence, Bat wouldn't have known his own prison name. He followed the other boys' lead and lowered his eyes, though keeping his gaze high enough that he could still see the Super's expression. Any servant-child grown above knee-high had learned how to do that.
"Welcome, welcome!" cried the Superintendent. "I'm glad to meet you boys. You know, when I started this House, I had fellow masters telling me, 'It will never work. Delinquent servant boys are forever bad.' But time and time again, this Institution has proved them wrong. Every year, we parole boys to good homes, and the majority thus paroled are giving satisfaction to their masters and show appreciation of the training they received in this Institution."
Out of the corner of his eye, Bat looked at the other boys. They had suitably neutral expressions on their faces. The Super wasn't saying anything much different from what they'd heard before, in their old lives, before their arrests.
"It is right that servant boys should have a chance to rise," said the Super, evidently warming to his theme, "and be not forever handicapped in the battle of life. It is of but little benefit to a boy to know that it is necessary for him to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, until he has been taught in a practical way that he can do that. This the House of Transformation seeks to achieve through our vocational training and schoolroom instruction, under the guidance of our Department Heads and Teachers. All the boys here are trained to be useful citizens."
Still nothing particularly dangerous in what the Superintendent was saying. Even masters had to work, though the masters that Bat had known had never trickled a single drop of sweat in their lives. Bat's old boat-master had confined his maritime skills to shouting orders.
"We – the officers and employees of this Institution – are here to help you," assured the Superintendent. "We know what a difficult task lies ahead of you: to die to your old life, to transform yourself, and to be reborn to a new and better life. That is the cycle of rebirth, which we must all undergo, but you boys face a particularly hard path. To cease to do evil and learn to do well, to improve your minds and free yourself from lives of degradation and crime to that of honesty, is a struggle worth fighting. We staff will spend every bit of energy we have in order to help you. We know that to instruct and interest requires patience, perseverance, and aptitude, with strict discipline kindly administered. Our aim is to get and hold your respect, with what little gratitude you may be able to show, coming as you do from the filth of your past environments—"
"Sir, with respect, I believe that No. 2450 needs to use the facilities inside."
Trusty's words, softly spoken, broke into the Superintendent's spate. For a moment, it appeared that the Superintendent would be annoyed; it seemed impossible to imagine this genial man ever losing his temper entirely. Then the Super nodded, saying, "Thank you for bringing that to my attention, No. 1611. You may deal with the matter."
"Sir." Pausing only long enough to pull Mordecai to his feet, Trusty took hold of Bat's arm, gripped it tightly, and propelled him back into Family Cottage Trustworthy.
Not until they were both in the schoolroom, with the door safely closed behind them, did Trusty stop and turn Bat around to face him, without releasing him. "You know," Trusty said in a conversational manner, keeping his voice soft enough that it could not be heard outside, "if you punch the Super in the face on the first day, it ain't going to make a good impression."
"He's talking about evil and filth and degradation!" cried Bat.
Trusty's grip tightened. "Keep your voice down."
Bat obeyed, but he could not diminish his fury as he said, "He don't know what he's talking about. We ain't evil. Worst crime committed by the others is Joe's, and he only hurt a bit of property. Emmanuel stole some pocket money, Frank was truant from work a few times, Slow is feeble-minded, and Mordecai . . . the only crime Mordecai ever committed was to lose his parents! Super ain't got no right to act like we're right bad—"
"Why were you arrested?"
Trusty's voice remained as low as it had been when he interrupted the Superintendent. Bat's thoughts skidded to a halt. After a time, he said stiffly, "Punched my boat-master in the face."
Trusty released Bat. He stood back, looking at Bat, saying nothing.
Bat added hurriedly, "He was always onto me about not working hard enough! And he laid his hands on his young maid, in places where he shouldn't—"
"I don't need to be knowing the rights and wrongs of it." Trusty's voice was leached of all expression. "You were convicted of assaulting a master. Not dependency, not feeble-mindedness, not truancy, not even crime against property. Crime against a master. That's a serious crime; you could've been sent to the Men's Penitentiary, certain. But you're young, maybe it's your first offence, and Super was willing to take you in. But Super's patience don't last forever. You make too much of a nuisance of yourself, he'll send you over to the penitentiary. And then you won't be able to punch him when he says something that annoys you."
The schoolroom was very still. Outside came the faint voice of the Superintendent continuing to talk to the other boys. He had given up his lecturing; now he was quizzing the boys on their past lives. From the sound of it, he was actually listening to their answers. He was prodding Mordecai out of his shyness with encouraging words.
Bat said finally, "He's a fool. They ain't bad boys – not the others."
Trusty didn't break his gaze. "There's different types of fools in this world, boy. There's malicious fools, and then there's well-meant fools. Got to save your fights for the right kind of fool, 'cause you sure ain't going to be able to battle them all on your own."
Bat looked away. The floors were made of wood, beautifully polished, and were as spotless as the campus. From what he had seen so far, the filthiness of the broom manufactory was an anomaly; most of the House of Transformation was as clean as a well-chipped keel.
He said, without looking up, "My master deserved to be hit. You won't never say nothing that will make me think otherwise."
"Not my place to be sitting judgment on you for that." Trusty's voice was even. "Happened before I met you. It's what you do here that matters to me."
He felt a tightness in his chest, hearing Trusty's final words. He had to push thought of it aside, because what he had to say next was so important that he had to get it right. "When I hit Cap'n Allendar, that was the first time I was ever arrested. Wasn't the first time I struck someone. I keep getting into these fights. And with Cap'n Allendar . . . I didn't mean to do it. It just happened."
He looked up. Trusty was standing near one of the windows; the afternoon light turned his grey uniform pale, almost white, like he was a cleric. He was listening to Bat, not saying anything.
With a struggle, Bat added, "What the Super said about dying to your old life, transforming, being reborn . . . I hate being a slave to my temper. Want to be free. Decided that, sitting back in the jail cell in the city. I got to learn how to be free."
Quietly, Trusty said, "Three of those boys out there shouldn't be in this place. As for Emmanuel and Joe . . . maybe, maybe not. But this is the right place for you, boy. They'll school you here to be a right-standing man, one who can keep control over his actions, like any good man should. You just got to keep yourself open to learn and to grow."
Bat said nothing. He'd been sensing that, from the moment he arrived at this place and saw the tidy lawns and fields, the beautifully proportioned buildings, the immaculately kept campus. Whatever filthiness it might be hiding, this House spoke of men's desire to create order and harmony.
What he hadn't realized till right now, standing in this schoolroom, was that the Super was correct. It wasn't enough to take on this battle with himself on his own. He needed help – help from someone he could trust.
And that help was standing right here, in this schoolroom.