From the Superintendent of the House of Transformation to the High Master of the Second Landstead:
The most of those who are committed to us have but very little education, if I may except such as they have learned in the streets and alleys or by association with the lowest orders of beings. Their language is slang, and their inclinations in too many instances are bestial with little or no knowledge of the sacred cycle of time, and less, if any, of morality; they seem content with their condition, and have little ambition to improve it either morally, physically, or intellectually.
The beat of six drummers drifted through the window, one off-rhythm. Frowning, Bat glanced through the window of the waiters' serving area. The chapel bell having rung for dinner, six lines of boys were marching from the six family cottages, each led by a boy with a drum slung over his chest, tapping the particular rhythm of his cottage. Family Cottage Trustworthy's rhythm was off. It hadn't been off during the past few months, when Mordecai was their cottage's drummer. But now, as the Dozen Landsteads entered into the cold months of the oyster season, Mordecai had been transferred to the dining room to serve as a waiter. There was talk that he would be assigned duties as a domestic servant to Farmer Bennington and his wife; waiting at tables was preparation for that.
Bat sighed as he slipped on his white gloves. He had requested to be transferred to kitchen and dining-room duties at the same time as Mordecai, though it meant leaving the open skies and Trusty's daily advice. Oddly, he found he missed even more Trusty's quiet company. Bat wasn't sure why he'd asked for a transfer, except that waiting tables was widely considered to be one of the highest-ranked duties on campus, assigned only to well-behaved boys. Instinctively, he felt that Trusty would want him to climb as high as he could on this campus's ladder of service.
He winced as the gloves travelled over his skin. With the tunnel finished, schoolroom classes had finally resumed, though a rumor danced among the inmates that schooling was just temporary, until the inmates were needed to help with the building of a new granary on the farm. In the meantime, the Little Dorm took classes with Family Cottage Honorable, while the Big Dorm crowded the schoolroom of Family Cottage Cleanly. Clearly relieved to be assigned the smaller class, the Teacher of Family Cottage Honorable dealt justly with the boys.
But "justly," for a master, meant punishments if you did your work wrong. Bat's hands were still stinging from six strikes of the Teacher's cane, after he failed to remember the exact year, more than two millennia ago, when the Dozen Landsteads' founding fathers had made landfall in the New World.
Now Bat realized that he had let himself drift away into daydreams, as he so often did in the schoolroom. Mordecai discreetly nudged him, and Bat quickly turned to take a tray from the Cook, who was supervising the distribution of food. Bat had spent the afternoon chopping vegetables in the kitchen; unlike harvesting vegetables, which required a certain amount of thought, chopping vegetables gave him all too much time to dwell in his mind on his past failures. He'd had to be reminded twice by the Cook – the second time with a swat on his seat – to keep his mind on his work.
Now – with an anxious glance at Mordecai, who always had difficulty keeping hold of the heavy trays – Bat walked into the masters' dining room.
It was adjacent to the servants' dining room, so that the Teachers, who had charge over the boys as they ate, could slip into the servants' dining room at their assigned times. Already, all the Teachers had finished their early meal, leaving the remainder of the staff to enjoy their dinner. Bat was surprised to see Farmer Bennington sitting at the table reserved for the Supervisor; Farmer Bennington usually ate at the farmhouse with his wife. Then Bat sighted the other end of the table and understood. Mastress Bennington, dutifully seeking to promote the House of Transformatory, often invited local neighbors to be her guests at the masters' dining room. Today she was hosting a portly man whom Bat recognized as the local veterinarian, as well as his nervous wife, who kept looking around, as though expecting an inmate to pounce upon her.
As the senior boy – he and Mordecai were both at merit-grade nine, but Bat had received his a week earlier than Mordecai's – Bat usually served everyone at the Super's table, but with a nudge, he sent Mordecai over to serve Mastress Bennington and her guests.
At the head of the table, the Superintendent was saying, ". . . barely enough money to keep this campus running. I just can't seem to make our landstead's treasury officials understand that, if they want me to transform boys into good, law-abiding citizens, they cannot be skinflints when dispensing funds to us."
"Perhaps you could appeal directly to the High Master," suggested Farmer Bennington as Bat leaned forward to place the farmer's dinner plate in front of him, taking care not to spill anything upon the damask tablecloth.
"As to that, his regent heir has been most generous with donations," replied the Superintendent, screeching back his chair at the very moment that Bat was serving him. Bat narrowly missed having his foot pinned against the floor; as it was, the chair leg scratched the side of his foot, leaving a bloody scrape. Waiters' feet were bare, upon the orders of the Superintendent, so that the waiters would make no noise as they served food.
Bat bit his lip to avoid shouting from the pain. The Superintendent was saying, "It's shameful how little money this Institution has to feed its boys. Positively shameful." He dug into the sirloin steak that Bat had just served him.
Bat watched him eat as he waited for Mordecai to finish his waiting at the other end of the table. Bat's stomach grumbled; he would not be fed until dinnertime was over, and then only with food considered proper for inmates.
He could not even feel the pleasure of anger. The Superintendent was the hardest-working master on campus. He could be seen before dawn each day, standing in his dressing gown on the south porch of the Administration Building, smoking a cigar while he "thought out the problems of the day," as he had told Trusty one time, within Bat's hearing. Then he would go back inside for a brief nap before rising when the boys did, shortly after dawn. From that point forward, he would be seen in all parts of the campus, checking how work was going, offering encouragement or reproof to individual boys, and only occasionally ducking back into the Administration Building in order to dictate a letter or document to his daughter. By the time that the inmates collapsed wearily into bed, the only masters still awake on campus would be the Teachers, the Watchman, and the Superintendent.
Yes, Super deserved a nice cut of meat, decided Bat, eyeing the juice dripping onto the plate. The only trouble was, so did the boys.
A soft protest from Mordecai caught his ear. Turning with alarm – it was a strict rule that waiters never speak, from the moment they came on duty – Bat saw that Mordecai was caught in a dilemma. The veterinarian was trying to press a handful of candy into Mordecai's hand, while Mordecai – who well knew that candy was forbidden to inmates – was trying to figure out how to refuse the gift politely and silently.
Bat looked quickly over at the Super. The Superintendent had noticed the interaction, but with a twinkle of the eye and an indulgent nod, he gave his seal of approval to the gift. With clear relief, Mordecai took the candy with a pretty speech of thanks. He slipped the candy into his pocket as he did so. There would be a feast in the Little Dorm tonight, Bat thought with rising spirits. All the boys in the Little Dorm shared their occasional treasures with one another, with the exception of Joe's ever-present matches and cigarettes.
Mastress Bennington was giving Mordecai a honey cake now, which smelled as though it had come fresh from the farm oven. Covered as it was in sticky frosting, the cake could not be pocketed, so Mordecai ate half of it on the spot, to Mastress Bennington's delight.
The rest he dropped into Bat's hand as they started back to the serving area, Bat still limping from the scrape on his foot. Bat waited until they had reached the serving area before he gobbled it down, which earned him a glare from the Cook until he held up the crumbs as evidence that he had not eaten any of the food he was meant to serve. Cook gave a snort and then turned his attention to the other waiters. Cook's moods alternated between fiery and mild; he was an easy Department Head to work for, once you figured out his pattern and made sure you were standing near him only during his moments of mildness.
As Bat waited for the dessert to be brought out – the masters' meal was spartan, with only two courses – he let his mind drift toward the thought of his own temper. So far during his time at the House of Transformatory, he had succeeded in keeping his temper well tied, like a dangerous dog. But he knew that only fear of the punishment cell prevented him from letting loose his temper – that, and his desire to earn Trusty's respect. Bat needed to learn a way to keep hold of his temper without fear of the cell and without the aid of Trusty, for neither would be present when he was released from this place.
He had tried at first to imitate Trusty, who was steady and dedicated and phlegmatic at all times, acting with perfect submission to any master he met. But Bat's imitation had felt all wrong, as though he were wearing someone else's skin.
When Bat confessed his dilemma, Trusty had simply said, "You'll find your own way." But Bat hadn't, in all the weeks he'd been trying.
Bat sighed, thinking of his father, who had managed for many years to channel his own temper into loving passion for his wife. Bat knew better than to try that method; there was too much danger you would lose the person you loved, as his father had. No, love was not the answer to his troubles. He wished he knew what the answer was.
He looked out the window again, just in time to see Trusty confiscate another cigarette from Joe, who had unwisely tried to dally outside in order to have a smoke. Bat smiled, undisturbed. Joe had an endless supply of cigarettes and matches; though the other boys had banned him from smoking in the Little Dorm, he always seemed to find opportunities during the day to sneak a smoke, lingering on the first, beautiful moment of striking a match. Emmanuel's plan to channel Joe's love of fire into the safe occupation of smoking had worked wonderfully.
It was at that moment that Bat was hit by the idea, as though he had been hit over the head by his old boat-master.
Mordecai was at the serving table, joining the other waiters to the masters' dining room in loading his tray with desserts. Bat cursed himself as he hurried forward. He'd been daydreaming again; he'd missed his cue. And now he knew that he daren't do so in the future.
As he reached Mordecai's side, he whispered, "I want you to learn me to speak proper!"
Mordecai stared at him wide-eyed.
Bat turned his head to be sure that no one else in the room was close enough to hear; then he whispered in Mordecai's ear, "If I knowed how to speak proper, I could be a domestic some day. Domestic servants are ever in demand. You could show all of us in the Little Dorm how to speak proper. That way, we'd get jobs after we leave here, certain. And I—"
"No. 2450!" It was Cook; his voice was sharp. "Enough lagging! Get to work!"
"Yes, sir." Hurriedly, he loaded his tray. Mordecai had already rushed off.
The Super was still reciting his troubles when Bat reached him. ". . . already accomplished a great deal. We've separated the boys from the experienced criminal men in the penitentiary, in order to protect them from being corrupted. And here on campus, I've separated the apprentices from the journeymen, for the same reason. But there's so much more we need to do, and I cannot do it without a full complement of Teachers. I've had no luck replacing the previous Teacher of Family Cottage Trustworthy; we're too far out in the country, with no place to house Teachers except on campus, and the salary we can offer is pitifully low. I want to hire a second Visiting Agent as well, to place out the journeymen on parole, as we do the apprentices. It's a matter of dismay how many journeymen end up breaking parole, simply because they cannot find jobs, despite their best efforts. No. 1611, for example."
"Trusty?" With a tilt of the head, Farmer Bennington considered the problem while digging into the apple fritter that Bat had just served him. "He's a good man on the field – a hard worker."
"He's an excellent man-of-all-work," agreed the Super. "I don't know what this campus would do without him. I don't understand why he keeps being sent back here for vagrancy. Comrade Carruthers tells me I ought to get the outside servant community more interested in the boys here, so that they'll help the boys after the boys are paroled and released. Well, I've tried, time and again. They seem to distrust me, for some reason. . . ."
Bat had been lingering at the table while Mordecai listened to Mastress Bennington as she complimented him on his service. Now Bat started back to the serving area as the younger boy did. Mordecai caught sight of him as he reached the doorway. The young domestic shook his head vigorously.
"Why not?" hissed Bat.
Mordecai looked nervously around, but the serving area was momentarily empty. Cook had retreated to his kitchen, the other waiters for the masters' dining room were still busy serving dessert, and the waiters for the servants' dining room had left to serve the inmates.
With distress clear in his voice, Mordecai said, "I can't! It's against the high law to teach servants to read. It must be against the high law to teach them to speak like masters."
"But you speak like a master," Bat pointed out. "So did your parents. So do all the domestics. If you were learned to speak proper when you were a baby, it can't be wrong for you to learn me."
Mordecai shook his head vigorously.
"Why not?" demanded Bat, frustrated by his inability to voice the thought that had hit him suddenly.
Channelling. Bat's father had channelled his passion into lovemaking. Joe had channelled his love of fire into smoking. If Bat could somehow channel his own temper into a higher goal, such as becoming a domestic . . .
"Why not?" he demanded again.
Too late, he perceived that Mordecai's head-shaking wasn't a refusal but a warning. Bat half-turned in the doorway, but he was too late; the Super's fist hit him on the side of his head.
"Do I need to send you back down to merit-grade ten to keep you quiet during work hours?" demanded the Superintendent.
Bat didn't make the mistake of replying. After a moment spent pressing his hand against his aching head and thinking about that blasted punishment cell, he remembered what Trusty would do in this situation: he slid into service position, with head bowed, left hand hooking the right elbow. Mordecai, better trained than he, was already in position.
There was a long pause as the Super decided whether encouragement or "kindly discipline" was needed in this situation; Bat knew that was the thought process going through Super's head at this moment. Then the Superintendent said gently, "I think you should serve in the boys' dining room until you are better able to keep your mind on your work."
The demotion stung, but at least he had not lost a merit-grade, and Bat suspected that Trusty would have made the same judgment call. Cursing himself for giving way to his impulses, Bat bobbed his head in acknowledgment of the order. Then he hurried over to where the waiters of the servants' dining room had returned; they were openly eavesdropping on the conversation. One of the waiters was Emmanuel, who had been moved out of the broom manufactory to make room for a newly arrived apprentice, and who was temporarily serving in the dining room until his permanent assignment was made. Trying to ignore his throbbing head, Bat offered him the serving tray. Grinning, Emmanuel exchanged the tray with the pitcher he had just picked up. They went toward separate doors: Bat toward the inmates, Emmanuel toward the masters. With any luck, Emmanuel – who was just a touch away from promotion to the first merit-grade – would receive good notice from the Super for his waiting and win his parole.
Bat could still hear the chatter from the masters' dining room as he reached the door to the servants' dining room. The second the door closed behind him, silence fell like a pall over a dead body.
The room itself was "easy on the eye," as Trusty would put it. Though the inmates' dining room was starkly decorated, with only a clock on one wall, the ceiling was held up by the same classical columns that adorned the rest of the campus. Windows on three sides kept the room well lit, while electric candles hung from the ceiling for dark days. The tables were not quite as elegant as the masters', being covered with oil-cloth, but they were serviceable, and the benches were no worse than the ones that Bat had experienced on boats.
It was the atmosphere that was deadly. In utter silence, the boys scraped at their food with their spoons – they were allowed no other silverware – as fast as they could, as though the food would be taken from them if they failed to eat it in time. Already, some of the boys were holding their plates over their heads for seconds. The Super allowed them that much, thank goodness.
Balancing one of the water pitchers, Bat limped up and down the aisles, refilling glasses with water. The dining tables were crammed close to one another, but with a generous aisle down the middle of the room to allow waiters to pass each other. The boys at the tables were less fortunate. Slow, who was placed at the end of one of the benches, was practically falling off the bench; too many boys were seated at each bench.
At the front of the room, next to the door leading to the outside, stood the Teachers. Bat knew them all by badge-shape now, though he had only spoken to the Teacher of Family Cottage Honorable, and then only in response to questions in the classroom. The inmates in different cottages, exchanging valuable information whenever they could, agreed that the Teachers were decent enough masters, who rarely lashed out at random, though they were a bit too inclined to mistake the cause of trouble in their schoolroom, punishing the innocent rather than the guilty. All of the Teachers were bachelors or were widowers like the Super, for as the Superintendent had indicated, there was no housing for them at the surrounding farms. The Teachers must live on campus, and at the moment, they were required to take on the duties, not only of Teachers, but also of Night Watchmen. They accepted their heavy duties with grace.
Trusty also stood at the front of the room, apart from the Teachers. He had dark circles under his eyes. Bat knew why; Trusty had stayed awake late each night that week, preparing the boys in the Little Dorm and Big Dorm for their end-of-term examinations, which would help to determine whether any of the inmates were raised another merit-grade. Trusty had tutored all the boys in his cottage, and once he realized that Joe knew the ternary numbering system which was used by masters, he'd had Joe teach him so that he could teach the other boys, in case any of them took jobs where such higher mathematics were needed. There was very little that Trusty didn't know, and what he didn't know, he set out to learn. Bat sometimes suspected that Trusty knew more history than the Teachers, for he could describe, not only the slow rise of the masters of the Dozen Landsteads over the centuries, but the slower rise of their servants.
Bat shook his head as he headed toward the table where Slow and Frank and Joe were seated. Between Trusty's tutoring and Emmanuel giving the Little Dorm illicit lessons in reading, Bat had received a finer education at nights in the dormitory than he received in the schoolroom here. It was an education that any servant would envy.
Yet despite that, Bat had flunked his exams. He still was not keeping his mind sufficiently centered upon his work. And the time had passed when he should lean heavily upon Trusty. Trusty – the man-of-all-work, who spent his days in the fields and his nights tutoring boys and doing odd jobs for the Super – was already much overburdened with duties. It was time that Bat took the lessons that Trusty had given him and learned how to be a "right-standing man."
Frank was scraping the bottom of his soup bowl, looking glum. It was potato soup again; the boys received little else after the final harvest of the year, and the only other food they received at dinnertime was bread and coffee.
Their supper was two slices of bread and a cup of tea; their breakfast was the same. Then they would go off to work long hours in field or 'factory. Bat sometimes wondered whether he would die here from starvation.
Super wanted to buy cattle, so that the boys could have meat. But the landstead treasury had cut back this year on the amount of money that it sent to the House of Transformation.
Bat headed back to the waiting area. He found that Mordecai had opened the door a crack. The younger boy's gaze was upon the table where Slow and Frank and Joe sat, hollow-cheeked with hunger.
Bat met his eyes, saying nothing. After a minute, Mordecai slowly nodded.
It was settled. The boys of the Little Dorm would learn to be domestics.