From the Superintendent of the House of Transformation to Comrade Benjamin Carruthers:
Some critics of this House have claimed that the farm that our boys run might be even made to sustain the transformatory. We presume that such expression was made without thought of how little capacity 'good boys' of as young as eleven years old, even when surrounded by the best of home influences, have of contributing to their own support. Then, when a mass of boys are brought together primarily because they are not 'good,' of whom some have been committed for criminal offences and all are designated in their commitments as more or less incorrigible to home influences and thereby a menace to society; when many of these are by inheritance, or through ill treatment, physically unsound, mentally twisted, morally tainted, whose previous environment has trained them to hate work and has skilled them in evasions; then you will understand how hopeless a thing it would be to look to such for profitable returns materially in excess of the cost of supervision. . . .
Our farm products for this sun-circuit were as follows: wheat, 709 bushels; potatoes, 678 bushels; turnips, 632 bushels; beets, 20 bushels; carrots, 21 bushels; tomatoes, 250 bushels; sweet potatoes, 186 bushels; onions, 118 bushels; spring onions, 310 bunches; peas, 114 bushels; strawberries, 1,051 quarts; corn, 438 barrels; parsnips, 26 bushels; vegetable oysters, 25 bushels; pumpkins, 4,700; cantaloupes, 3,600; radishes, 56 bunches; lima beans, 1,250 quarts; white beans, 153 bushels; cow peas, 66 bushels; blackeyed peas, 291 bushels; peaches, 66 bushels; string beans, 263 bushels; gooseberries, 45 quarts; cucumbers, 7,400; cabbage, 26,000 heads.
"Everything was all right till Mam died," said Bat. "That's when it all changed."
He paused to struggle with the stem of the pumpkin he was cutting from its vine, while sweat trickled down his back, giving him shivers in the cool autumn wind. Above him, the sun slipped in and out of dark afternoon clouds that threatened storm. Further down the field, the journeymen worked to bring in the harvest before the storm broke.
Trusty, who was straddling a monster of a pumpkin with his thighs as he sawed away at its stem, merely nodded. That was his way during conversations, Bat had found. Trusty rarely spoke till he had something worth saying.
"There were five of us," Bat explained. "I was the youngest. When Mam died, I was the only one still apprentice-aged. My brothers got it into their heads that they should follow the water away from the Bay; they signed up for the schooners that take molasses to and from the Caribe. I ain't seen them once since they left home. Maybe they guessed what was coming and figured they'd best be on their way."
Trusty hefted the pumpkin into his arms with a grunt. Bat did the same. Together they carried their heavy burdens through the pumpkin patch till they reached the motor-truck and hefted the pumpkins in. Not pausing to rest – the black clouds were scurrying from the west now – they hurried back to where the unharvested pumpkins lay. Nearby, the farmer spoke sharply to a journeyman who was idling. Not a man to idle himself, he was working alongside the journeymen, while his wife, free on this afternoon from her usual secretarial duties, brought a constant flow of glasses of lemonade to the thirsty field-workers.
Too far away from the rest of the workers to have been noticed by Mastress Bennington, Bat licked his parched lips as he hunched over another pumpkin, his back aching. He said, "Dad changed after Mam died. All at once, like he was set on becoming a different man. Started drinking. Started fighting. He had all this anger inside him, busting out."
Crouching down with his knife at the ready, Trusty glanced at Bat. "And he brung that anger home."
Bat nodded, busy with his own knife. Not many inmates were trusted with work-knives; it had been a pleasure to Bat when Trusty handed him a knife on his first day of work. "Used to bruise me so bad I couldn't work the boats. Worst-tempered man I ever knew." Bat rested back on his haunches, wiping the sweat off his brow. "Guess I got the same temper. Didn't know it till I got hauled to the police station in handcuffs."
"No slacking," Trusty warned him. Groaning, Bat leaned forward to finish his task. From the sounds of it, the farmer was having an equally difficult time persuading the journeymen to work with speed. His wife had left the field to offer a glass of lemonade to Mordecai, who had finished his morning's work in the poultry yard and was greeting the other boys of Family Cottage Trustworthy, emerging from their work at the broom manufactory.
Trusty – whose job it was to see the boys to and from their work – glanced that way but did not pause, rising with another grunt as he hefted up the largest pumpkin. With his legs now shaking, Bat staggered his way to the motor-truck in Trusty's wake. The boys of Family Cottage Trustworthy, after a moment of confusion, had organized themselves and were returning to the cottage in proper drill fashion. That was typical of the boys of Family Cottage Trustworthy: they were capable of behaving themselves most times, even when they weren't being watched.
Glancing again at the journeymen, Bat guessed that the Teachers of Cottage Obedient and Cottage Mannerly must have a far harder task. Several of the journeymen had openly abandoned their work now, grinning at the farmer's efforts to get them to labor with due speed. Bat empathized with them. All he wanted to do was throw himself onto the ground and sleep for ninety-nine sun-circuits, but every time he paused for even a second, Trusty goaded him on.
Feeling a perverse inclination to upset Trusty, Bat asked, "What about you? What are you here for?"
Trusty hoisted his pumpkin into the motor-truck. Then, not awaiting Bat's efforts, Trusty took the smaller pumpkin from him and hurried it into the motor-truck. It was not till they had returned to the field and were sawing at more pumpkins that Trusty said, "Incorrigible."
"That could mean anything," Bat complained.
"Meant street-fighting in my case. I used to fight the boys on my block, back in the city. When I began showing my fists at home, my daddy and mama washed their hands of me. Handed me over to the court; the court sent me here."
Bat paused, his task forgotten. "How old were you?"
"Nigh on twelve. Look to your work, lad."
Bat counted mentally as he crouched over the pumpkin, the back-ache threatening to travel up his neck and enter his head. What with all the digging the inmates had been doing to help install the new steam heating, he'd had only one month of schooling since he arrived. But there'd been a friendly rivalry between him and Emmanuel to get the higher marks in arithmetic, so he could add up properly now. "That means you're twenty-three. You ain't been a journeyman for two sun-circuits now."
Trusty nodded. He was intent on battling an old, tough, recalcitrant pumpkin with a stem that seemed as thick as a tree trunk. Bat, who always took care to pick the easiest pumpkins, made a trip to the motor-truck and back before adding, "They can't have kept you here all this time."
"And sent back?" Bat guessed.
Bat sat back on his heels, staring. "That many times?"
"Work," Trusty reminded him, and did not speak again until Bat had taken another pumpkin to the motor-truck and had returned. Still sawing away doggedly at the tough old pumpkin, Trusty said, "First two times was for running away. I didn't like the farmers they'd sent me out to, during my paroles. Third time I was released, I'd turned journeyman. Was arrested three months later. Was sent back here 'cause the Super was willing to take me back in."
Bat was beginning to regret that he had started this conversation, but he asked anyway. "What were you arrested for?"
"Vagrancy." The tough stem finally parted. Sweat covering his face, Trusty immediately grabbed hold of the pumpkin. It was a heavy one; it took him several seconds' struggle to pull it into his arms. Belatedly remembering his small pumpkin, Bat hastily finished his labor so that he could follow Trusty to the motor-truck.
"That don't sound like you," Bat commented as he reached the motor-truck.
Trusty didn't reply immediately. He had placed his pumpkin on the bed of the motor-truck and was leaning heavily now against the motor-truck's side. The moment that Bat had deposited his own pumpkin, though, Trusty started back into the field. He asked Bat, "What you planning to do when you leave here?"
"Why, get a job, of course. I ain't going home."
Trusty nodded. "I suppose the Bureau will be your first stop?"
Bat halted dead in his tracks.
It had not occurred to him. It had never occurred to him. He'd been an apprentice when he worked the boats, and apprentices didn't need Certificates of Employment to work, unless both their parents were dead. But journeymen . . .
"Come on, boy." Trusty tugged him forward.
Bat let himself be pulled. "Will the Bureau of Employment give me my certificate, do you think?"
"Might. First offense, and if you can show you've been well-behaved here, they might take a chance on you. Comrade Carruthers, he runs the Bureau, and he likes to take a chance on servants who show initiative. But getting a certificate is one thing; job's another. You got any past work-masters who'd give you references?"
He did. Captain Allendar. He'd last seen his boat-master with his cheek still split open, giving evidence at Bat's trial.
Bat shook his head as he bowed his body over another pumpkin. "None that'd give me a good one. Unless maybe Master Bennington . . . ?" He hesitated, uncertain. It occurred to him that, since he started working for the farmer during the previous season, he'd not worked any harder than he had to. Indeed, he'd probably have been as idle as those grinning journeymen if Trusty hadn't been by his side, urging him on.
Bat looked over at Trusty with new eyes. "That's why you were vagrant? Couldn't find a job?"
Trusty shrugged. "I'd never worked at all, outside this place. My daddy was training me at home to work with him in the boatyard when I got to journeyman age. No good going to him for references; he'd made clear what he thought of me on my last day at home. My prison records didn't impress none of the boatyard-masters or boat-masters. Got arrested for vagrancy when I was seventeen . . . and nineteen . . . and two months before my twenty-first birthday. Each time, Super said he'd take me back. Otherwise, the court would've sent me to the Men's Penitentiary, certain."
Bat's blood was beating hard in his throat now, and not because he was staggering toward the motor-truck with another small pumpkin in his arms. Two small pumpkins – he hadn't noticed when he picked up the second one. "Trusty?"
Trusty grunted. He looked like he was ready to fall down from weariness, but he never paused as he shoved his pumpkin into the motor-truck and hurried back to the patch.
Bat raced to follow him. "Trusty, you been here two sun-circuits 'cause you keep losing merit-grades, just when you're gonna be let go. That's on purpose, ain't it? You don't want to be let go, 'cause you'll just be arrested again."
Trusty stood still, looking out toward the west, past the fields and the farm buildings and the dark clouds scudding toward them. The sky to the west was black with rain now.
He said very softly, "I'm too old to be sent back here if I'm arrested again. Next time's the Men's Penitentiary for me. . . . Things are bad here, but they're right bad at the penitentiary."
Standing at Trusty's back, Bat was suddenly aware, as he had not been for the past few months, that he was working out in the open. In an open field, under the sky, with a breeze making its way across the manicured campus. Nearby, birds sang and wheeled and dived over the creek.
His throat dry, Bat said, "I'm sixteen. I'll be a journeyman next spring."
Trusty nodded. "Then we'd best be hurrying on our way, hadn't we? . . . Storm's 'bout to break. Let's get this load back."
They rushed their way back to the motor-truck. Trusty jumped into the driver's seat as Bat struggled to ignite the gasoline and start the engine. The moment that Bat had successfully turned the crank, Trusty reached over to pull him onto the motor-truck. The motor-truck jerked as it lurched forward. Trusty's arm was warm beside Bat's as they sat side by side, the older inmate turning the wheel to take them back to the barn.