As the wagon that had carried them here from the capital made its way back down the tree-lined lane – its motor startling a buggy's horse as the two vehicles passed each other – Bat turned himself about, assessing his surroundings. They were standing at the curve of the lane, in front of an elegantly proportioned, three-story brick building with shaded porches. The building's two wings flanked a central tower. If he turned back toward the lane, he could see that within the lane's curve lay a field of grass where horses grazed. To the left of the curving lane stood a farmhouse and barn and various work-buildings, while beyond them shone fields ripe with spring vegetables. There was also a poultry yard and a pond. To the right . . . Bat could not see past the wildflower meadow and shrubbery, but he could hear a creek singing as it ran over rocks.
Beside him, Joe gave voice to Bat's thoughts: "This is a prison?"
"It's easy on the eye, ain't it?" Their guide stepped back into view. He was older than the five of them – even older than Slow, who was nineteen. He looked as old as Bat's father, but Bat, who had worked the boats since he was old enough to cull an oyster, automatically subtracted half that number of years, knowing what weather and hard hours will do to a man.
Their guide continued, "Officially, this ain't a prison. It's the House of Transformation for Servant Boys – an institution to transform delinquent servant boys into good, law-abiding citizens."
He sounded as though he were quoting someone. Bat eyed him warily. The young man was wearing an ill-fitting grey uniform with a military-looking stripe on his left shoulder. His cap shadowed close-cropped hair, and his buttoned coat held a black cloth badge, with something written in grey letters across it. Bat couldn't get near enough to see what it was – not that it was likely to be anything he understood.
Their guide talked like a servant . . . but he was acting like a master. First thing he'd done, after he'd helped the boys out of the police wagon where they'd been locked up for hours, was to toss them the keys that the policeman had handed him. The young man had told them they could unlock the handcuffs and anklecuffs that bound them together.
Bat was inclined to like him for that reason alone. It had been weeks since he'd been allowed to do anything that brought him a little closer to freedom.
"Now, then." The young man swung around and pointed to the cluster of buildings near the farmhouse. "Farmhouse, chicken house, laundry-room, boiler house, blacksmith, carpenter shop, tailor shop, shoe shop. You'll get to know them all, in time. Chapel clock-bell in the tower has a high chime, like a bird. Fire bell's over there; it tolls real deep. It gets rung when there's a fire or other bad emergency." Joe narrowed his eyes at this point, staring at the bell and its rope that stood on a metal frame nearby, where the curve of the lane reached its apex. "Bakery, kitchen, and dining hall are in the north wing of the Administration Building." He pointed toward the north end of the building, in the direction of the farmhouse.
They all turned round to stare again at the elegant, towering building where they'd been deposited. It was fashioned in the usual tripartite manner of mansions in the Dozen Landsteads: a central building flanked by two wings, connected by "hyphen" passages. The columns were in the ancient style that had been in fashion when the New World was discovered over twenty centuries ago, then again when the Old World was rediscovered, over five centuries ago. There was a ring of rebirth carved atop the central tower; the tower must be where the chapel was located. The idea of eating and worshipping in such a building was amazing.
The idea of doing so while wearing prison uniforms made Bat's eyes widen.
Their guide continued, "The House of Transformation takes in apprentices and journeymen: boys from ages eleven to their twenty-first birthday. You'll work in the afternoons—"
"What is that?" It was Frank, usually the quietest of them when they were around authorities.
They all turned to look. The buggy that Bat had seen on the lane had stopped near the front of the Administration Building; the driver was helping down a young woman of about thirty. Although not richly dressed, she had a beautiful face and a graceful swing to her hips. Seemingly unconcerned at finding her way blocked by a group of young delinquents, she smiled at their guide, said a soft word to Mordecai – who was gaping up at her – and lifted her skirts in preparation to ascend the stairs to the central tower of the Administration Building.
The command was so sharp that Bat immediately obeyed, only belatedly realizing that the command had been issued by someone who sounded suspiciously like a fellow servant.
"Why?" demanded Joe with a scowl, but he had obeyed the order too, Bat noticed in the edge of his vision. So had Frank and Mordecai.
Slow had not. His real name was Harry, but the boys had dubbed him Slow on their long trip from the city, for obvious reasons. He was staring in awe at the vision that had just passed them. He protested, "But she's pretty."
Their guide said nothing; he simply took Slow by the shoulders and turned him around, so that he was facing in the opposite direction. Bewildered, Slow tried to look over his shoulder, but their guide took firm hold of his head to prevent that.
There was the soft sound of a door closing; then their guide said, "All right. You can look up."
Bat raised his eyes. The young woman was gone, while the buggy was making its way along the lane, in the direction of the farm. Joe folded his arms and demanded, "What the bloody blades was that about?"
Their guide gave him a look, saying simply, "Try that question again, without the swearing."
"Who was she?" The awe had not left Frank's voice.
"And why did we have to drop our eyes?" Bat asked. He was attempting, with all his might, to keep anger out of his voice.
"Because she's a mastress?" suggested Mordecai tentatively.
"Super's rules," said the guide. "That's Mastress Bennington, the farmer's wife. Superintendent wants us to lower our eyes any time she goes up the steps. Says it's rude for servant boys to stare at her then."
"I don't see why," complained Joe, scowling. "She's just a farmer's wife."
Their guide gave Joe another look. "Her maiden name was Duncan."
Everyone took that in; then Bat said, "Oh."
Their guide nodded. "So don't stare at the Super's daughter, or you'll get fifty on the bare back."
Frank dipped his eyes in a sign of obedience. Mordecai said in a small voice, "Sir?"
For the first time, their guide smiled. Looking down at Mordecai, he said, "You don't have to call me 'sir.' Folks call me Trusty."
Bat exchanged looks with Joe. Mordecai said, "She spoke to me. Does that mean I have to get fifty whatevers?"
Immediately, without need for thought, all the boys glared at their guide – even Slow, who could be quick in times of danger. Ignoring this, Trusty said, "No, if staff talks to you, you should reply. And you can ask questions, if it's about your work or something important."
"Who's staff?" asked Frank, his eye on the Administration Building. Bat could guess that he was envisioning dozens of pretty girls inside, all ready to talk to him.
"Officers and employees." Trusty started walking forward in the direction of the Administration Building, and they all followed him. "Officers are the Super, Teachers, Watchmen, and Department Heads. They give you orders, and they can punish you. Employees are the rest of the staff: Mastress Bennington, who works as secretary for her father; the carpenter; the painter . . . Anyone who works here, but who ain't training you. They can't punish you, but you'd best follow their orders—"
"—because they're masters," Joe concluded wearily. "We've known that since our cradle days, right?" He held up his wrist. Like the wrists of every person in the Dozen Landsteads, it was tattooed with a rank-mark. The five boys all had the same rank-mark: a black S, showing they were servants.
Trusty, whose own rank-mark was hidden by the overlong sleeves of his uniform, gave an abrupt nod. "See you remember. They'll remind you, otherwise."
Bat, who'd received a few "reminders" since his arrest, looked again at the grazing field and the farm and the meadow filled with butterflies. It made no sense. This could not possibly be a prison or transformatory or whatever the staff wished to call it. Prisons were for punishment. This . . . this was a holiday in the countryside.
He had no real idea where they were. The police wagon had held no windows. He was somewhere inland, somewhere far enough from the Bay that he couldn't hear the perpetual whoosh of water that he'd heard every day since he was born.
Somewhere far from home.
Joe was eyeing the lane, as though wondering whether he could safely make a break for it now. As far as Bat could tell, there were no guards in sight, nor any of those dangerous creatures that had been spoken about: Teachers and Watchmen and Department Heads. But Trusty was beckoning them, and Joe had evidently decided that obedience was the safer road, because he joined Bat in hurrying forward.
They travelled far enough along the path alongside the Administration Building to see the door-porch on the south end. Under the porch was a second door leading to some sort of basement. Trusty pointed. "That's the broom manufactory. You're most of you apprentices, so you'll start work there. Journeymen mainly work at the farm."
Joe groaned loudly. "I'm not a manufactory worker. I've been training for months to be a waterman. Now I'm supposed to give all that up to learn how to make brooms?"
"Broom-making is a useless trade," Bat argued. "There can't be more than a couple of broom manufactories in the Second Landstead – maybe a dozen in the entire Alliance of the Dozen Landsteads. Why should we learn a useless trade here?"
There were nods from the others. Trusty said nothing for a moment. His gaze travelled past them toward the lane that led to the road that led to the highway that led to the city. Finally he said, "If you'd been sent to the Men's Penitentiary in the capital, what kind of work would you have done there?"
Everyone stiffened. Mordecai reached out and took Slow's hand. Trusty looked them over, long and careful. He said bluntly, "Hard labor. If you'd been lucky, you'd have been sent to hammer rocks in the prison yard. At least that way you'd have seen the sky. More likely you'd be working down in the bowels of the dungeon. They say that, every now and then, an old skeleton from the middle centuries is found there – a prisoner who died at his labors, and no one noticed."
Mordecai was biting the nails on his free hand now. Bat reached over and gave him a quick squeeze of the shoulder. Frank said, "Brooms. I could get to like brooms."
The tension broken, everyone laughed. Trusty gave a brief smile, so fast gone that it nearly wasn't there. He said, "Broom manufactory to start with. If you show aptitude for other work, you'll be transferred. You came here from the capital; you're watermen's sons, I'm guessing?"
They nodded, except for Mordecai, who was staring at the horses. Frank looked around quickly, as though expecting to see a boat-yard. Slow, still following the conversation that had taken place several minutes ago, said, "I like animals."
Bat winced, but Trusty merely said, "You might be able to work in the stables, then. I'll talk to the Super."
"Let's go see this manufactory," urged Joe and hurried forward. After a quick look at Trusty – who didn't seem inclined to stop Joe – Bat followed suit.
All that Trusty said as they went was, "Keep your voices low. Super's bedroom is above the broom manufactory."
Not bothering to respond, Joe and Bat knelt next to one of the basement windows. It had iron bars across it, and the panes were dirty, but there was no problem seeing inside, because several panes of glass were broken. Bat found himself wondering how cold the manufactory got during oyster season. For certainly there couldn't be any stove inside; the entire place would have gone up in flames.
It was the filthiest manufactory he had ever seen, and he'd been inside many a filthy packing house. Broom-twigs were everywhere, on the tables and on the floors. The only light came from the basement half-windows. In the dim, dark manufactory, boys stood at the tables – there were no chairs – and tied brooms together. A master in an officer's uniform watched them from the stone wall at the north end of the room.
Nobody spoke. The boys performed their duty in a monotonous, mechanical fashion, as though they had little cogs inside them, controlling their movements.
"Can't talk at work, I guess," whispered Joe.
Joe looked over his shoulder. Bat did the same. Trusty was standing a few yards away, quizzing Slow about his past experience with animals, while Mordecai listened silently. Frank hovered halfway between that group and Joe and Bat, clearly wanting to join the searching expedition but uncertain whether he should do so.
Joe said softly, "Eleven?"
Bat looked back at him. "What?"
Joe pointed his thumb at Mordecai. "That fellow Trusty said boys here have to be at least eleven. That boy's never eleven. He can't be more than ten."
"Seven," said Bat. He'd been handcuffed to Mordecai on the trip down. They'd spent most of their time talking to each other while the other three boys speculated on what terrible fates awaited them at their new prison.
"Seven," said Joe in disgust. "What's a seven-year-old doing here? You have to be apprentice-aged to be charged with a crime."
"Dependency," Bat explained.
Joe looked blank for a moment, then said, "He's an orphan?"
Bat nodded. "His parents died in that ferry accident last month. No family left to take him in, and his parents' master wouldn't care for him. Court didn't know what to do with him, so they sent him here."
"You talking about Mordecai?" Frank flopped down onto his knees beside them. "Why's he got such a fancy name? And why does he talk like a master?"
"He's a domestic." Then, seeing that Frank didn't understand, Bat elaborated. "Masters pick the names of the newborn sons and daughters of their domestic servants. Like Comrade Carruthers's manservant – I've heard he's called Variel."
"Domestics are born to their jobs?" Clearly fascinated at this bit of knowledge, Frank sat down in the dust, crossing his legs.
"Have to be," inserted Joe. "The masters like their domestics to talk all proper. Domestics grow up speaking that way. That's why you can't get a job as a domestic, unless you've been born that way. It's like being a servant," he added, seeing that Frank still didn't understand. "Masters are born masters, servants are born servants, and domestic servants are born domestic servants."
"It's not quite that way," said Bat, frowning. "Being a domestic isn't a rank, like being a servant is."
Joe shrugged. "Amounts to the same. Domestics have to talk proper, so they learn that from their daddy and mama. I heard my master say that it's hard to find domestics to hire, 'cause there's so few of them. Some of the boys and girls born domestic prefer to work in banks or other places where you're supposed to talk like a master."
Frank sighed. "I guess he's lost all that now. Mordecai, I mean. He'll learn to make brooms, and he'll forget everything he ever knew about serving in a home or a bank."
They all contemplated that for a moment, Bat thinking hard. Then he got up, brushing the dirt from his seat. "Show Frank the manufactory," he suggested to Joe and walked back to the other group.
"The manufactory's right interesting," he said to the other boys. "You should look."
Slow, of course, did not take the hint, but after a look at Trusty for permission, Mordecai tugged Slow forward, leaving Bat alone with Trusty. Trusty cocked his head, waiting.
Bat took a deep breath. "You said we'd be given jobs in accordance with our apt— Our apti—"
"Aptitude," Trusty supplied.
"I'm better working in the outdoors. It's where I've worked all my life. Maybe I could be transferred to the farm, someday soon?"
He hoped he did not sound as pleading as he felt. Trusty considered his question for a long moment, running his eye over Bat as though looking for something there. Bat couldn't imagine what Trusty was seeking. Bat was wearing the same clothes he'd been wearing on the day he was arrested: some patched trousers and a shirt and jacket and cap. They'd taken away the waterman's smock he was wearing, but that was all.
"Maybe," said Trusty slowly. "You're big enough. Could talk to the Super. You might not want to be with the journeymen, though."
"Why?" said Bat, stung. He'd been looking forward for years to the day when he reached his journeymanship. The day when he was old enough to marry without his dad's permission, the day when he could choose a job without his dad's permission, the day when he would work with minimal supervision.
The day when he could leave his dad.
"Your looks," replied Trusty.
"What's wrong with my looks?" His fists were in balls now.
"Nothing's wrong with them. That's the problem." Then, when Bat stared at him bewildered, Trusty sighed. "Some of the journeymen are going to want to sleep with you," he explained.
Bat's mouth dropped open. Sleep with him? He knew well enough what Trusty meant. It was the sort of thing young masters did – liege-masters and their liegemen, playing in bed together in the years before they found women they wanted to marry.
But masters married late; servants married as quick as they could, so that they'd have plenty of kids to care for them when they got too old to work. If any unmarried servant played around in bed with another servant, Bat had never heard of that. Not male servants together, anyhow.
Trusty was still waiting for him to respond. Bat said faintly, "I got any choice in that?"
"Depends." Trusty cocked his head again. "Depends on the journeyman."
He was looking steadily at Bat now, in a way that started Bat's skin flushing hot. Bat remembered the long, slow examination of his body.
He had only a moment to decide. He said quickly, "If I got a choice, I ain't wanting it."
"Oh?" If Trusty was offended, he was hiding it well. "Why's that?"
"I'm here to serve my time and get out, quick as I can. I don't want no ties here to bind me fast." He heard the conviction in his voice. What he'd said was true, after all.
Trusty laughed. He actually laughed. "Good lad," he said, thumping Bat on the back. "I'll see that none of the journeymen bother you at work. You'd best stay housed with the other apprentices, though."
Feeling relieved, Bat followed him to the other boys, who were listening to Joe explain how one match – just one match – could put the whole manufactory in flames, and the boys would all get burned up, 'cause there was only one exit and those barred windows. . . . Apparently not caring for this line of talk, Trusty said sharply, "All right, that's enough. I got to take you now to where you'll be living, when you ain't at work."
All five boys exchanged looks. Bat could guess what the other boys were envisioning. Like them, he'd grown up in the capital, where the Men's Penitentiary loomed, a dark mass shadowing the servants' houses. It had been the main prison of the Second Landstead since the middle centuries, when prisoners were tortured in its dungeon. Then, after the ships of the New World sailed to the Old World, and started colonies and brought back treasures, the prison had gradually turned into a modern penitentiary.
No racks any more. But grim walls and stifling, narrow cells and guards on the turrets, ready to shoot any prisoner who looked likely to cause trouble.
Was that what lay behind the Administration Building?
Mordecai took Slow's hand again. Joe took Frank's. Bat simply balled up his fists again, though he didn't know who he'd fight when he saw the gate to those grim walls. Maybe Trusty, for showing them all the beautiful parts of the prison grounds first, to soften up the new prisoners.
Trusty was beckoning them now, from the left side of the Administration Building. With stoicism, the five boys stepped forward till they could see what lay beyond.
They stepped into a dream.
From the Superintendent of the House of Transformation to the High Master of the Second Landstead:
We have now three hundred happy and contented boys. Many of them came to us sullen and dejected, feeling no doubt that incarceration and punishment were to be their portion, and that they would be confined by bolts, bars, and dismal walls. When they began to realize, however, that the very reverse is the case, that no walls or bars restrain their liberty, and that no unkind word is ever spoken to them or in their hearing, their despondent looks soon pass away, and a more hopeful, cheerful, and intelligent aspect is perceptible. We find about one-third of our boys in every way worthy of trust.
It was a university campus, Bat thought wildly. It had to be. It couldn't possibly be a prison.
He'd seen the campus of the Second Landstead University once – a glimpse off the portside as his master's boat headed up-Bay in search of better waters in which to lay their trotlines for crabs. A green lawn with red-brick buildings trimmed with white classical columns, obscured partly by lines of tall trees shading the paths under which young masters strolled – that was what he had glimpsed briefly before the icy winds cut into his face and his mind, and his master roared at him to be at his work.
Before him now, in a square area bordered on one side by the Administration Building, lay a green lawn with red-brick buildings trimmed with white classical columns, obscured partly by lines of tall trees shading the paths under which young masters strolled. There were only two of them, and they were wearing officers' uniforms with badges on them, but otherwise . . .
"This was never a prison," murmured Joe.
Bat spared a glance at the other boys. They were all slack-jawed, staring at the scene in front of them. Seeking reason in the midst of manifest insanity, Slow suggested, "Prison's farther on?"
It seemed unlikely. The square lawn ended in a low wooden fence, the type that any determined bull-calf could plow its way through, and beyond the fence lay another field. And beyond that lay only forest.
It was a university campus. It had to be. Some sort of place where young masters were trained to be prison guards, maybe. As for themselves, they'd be bundled into another police wagon and taken to the real prison—
"This is the campus," said Trusty.
Their heads swivelled to look at him. Bat had almost forgotten their young guide, who had pushed back his cap to gaze at their surroundings. Noticing their stares, Trusty clarified, "That's what it's called. The transformatory campus. Those are the buildings you'll be living in. They're family cottages."
"Bloody blades!" exploded Joe.
Trusty gave Joe another of his looks. "Swearing'll get you whipped here."
"Please, why are they called family cottages?" pleaded Mordecai.
"'Cause each one's a little house to itself. Super means them to be like family homes. Obedient, Mannerly, Honorable, Cleanly, Industrious, and Trustworthy. That's their names. Recite them back to me."
They attempted to do so. Only Mordecai, with a young boy's ability to memorize quickly, accomplished the task on his first go. Trusty helped them run through the names several times till all the boys had memorized them – all but Slow, who could only remember three names, and who persisted in calling the sixth building "Cottage Trusty."
Wisely, Trusty did not press him. "This House – the House of Transformation – was started a tri-decade back by our Super, with land donated by Comrade Carruthers's late father."
"Comrade Carruthers?" said Slow, his brow furrowed.
"You know him," Frank urged in his soft voice. "He's regent heir. His son will be High Master of the Second Landstead some day."
"Why is he called 'comrade' if he's a master, please?" asked Mordecai.
"He's an Egalitarian," explained Joe. "Thinks that no one's born master or servant – that we're all of us the same and equal."
"He's a master; he can say what he likes." Trusty's tone was short. "You'd best not be talking about such things here. . . . Comrade Carruthers, you'll be seeing him next sun-circuit. He heads the High Master's Committee for Servant Welfare, which inspects servant facilities. Next sun-circuit's the first time the committee will be looking at servant prisons. Most times, though, we don't get guests. Transformatory's too far out in the country."
"We really living here?" Slow had a habit of following conversations a tri-minute behind everyone else.
Trusty nodded as he stepped onto the gravel path in front of the Administration Building, which left the boys facing north. There were three cottages each on the south and north side of the square of lawn. Dirt paths of uniform breadth led straight across the lawn between the facing cottages, with another broad path down the middle of the lawn, starting from the Administration Building. The crisscrossing paths made the campus look like a checkerboard, with the buildings on the rim of the board, like pieces waiting to be played. Most of the family cottages were hidden behind the spring leaves of the two lines of trees along the paths before them, but Bat could easily see the cottage they were headed toward, which was the nearest building to the north of the Administration Building.
"Each family cottage has a Teacher who looks after you during the day and a Night Watchman who looks after you at night," explained Trusty. "But we only got one Watchman right now. It's mostly Teachers taking care of the inmates."
"We're living here all the time?" persisted Slow.
Bat could appreciate Slow's uncertainty. The family cottage they were walking toward might have been the little brother of the Administration Building. It had a door-porch with carved columns. It had a long porch running down the side of the building. There was even a window the shape of a ring of rebirth under its peaked roof.
There was a flower-bed on its lawn.
Other than the flowerbed and a bit of shrubbery by the long porch, the lawn was bare. Trusty pointed to it. "That's your playground."
This time, the sense of unreality was so great that nobody dared speak. A playground. In all his life, Bat had never stepped onto a ground that was set aside especially for play. Master boys had playgrounds. Servant boys, if they had time for play at all, played in the streets or in the waters that lapped the Second Landstead on three sides. Bay, river, streets – those had been Bat's playgrounds when he was young, before he became an apprentice at age eleven and started his training.
"You'll have an hour to play each day, after supper," said Trusty as he began to lead them up the porch steps to the door. "You'll work four-and-a-half hours in the broom manufactory in the afternoon. You get an hour at midday for dinner. In the mornings, you'll be here."
He opened the door. So great was the boys' curiosity that, rather than hold back – as all of them would likely have done at the entrance to any other prison – they pulled off their caps and crowded in after Trusty.
Frank gasped. Joe whirled around on his heel. Bat simply stood still, feeling shock go through every part of his body, as though he'd encountered the Nor'west Blow unprepared.
From the Superintendent of the House of Transformation to Comrade Benjamin Carruthers:
This House has been for a number of years in many of its necessities crippled by a lack of sufficient funds to properly carry on the work; and particularly this is noticeable in the sanitary and heating plants, which are both antiquated and insufficient. In my judgment, the Second Landstead has not given this Institution the encouragement which its work deserves.
The Institution is run on the most economical plan; not a solidus of the money is squandered or wasted; its accounts are audited regularly every month; the salaries paid to staff are meager – in fact, penurious; but I have been confronted constantly with a lack of funds.
They were standing in a schoolroom. Most of the room was filled with three neat lines of desks, with only a pot-bellied stove blocking one of the aisles. They were like desks that Bat had seen in the wordless comics that servants bought: a wooden top held up by elegantly patterned cast-iron legs, with a wooden bench jutting beyond the front of the desk for the student at the next desk.
The room, well lit by tall windows, was sparsely furnished otherwise. There was a desk and chair on the platform at the head of the room for the instructor, and behind that a chalkboard. At the back of the room, a map of the Dozen Landsteads hung on the wall.
The only other objects in the room were potted plants.
"Plants!" exploded Joe, as though he had reached the limits of his capacity to take in any more of this absurdity.
Trusty seemed unconcerned by their reaction. "You'll study for four-and-a-half hours here, each morning."
"We're going to learn to read?" With wide eyes, Slow stared at the desks, as if expecting storybooks to appear on them.
That broke the dreamlike state from all of the boys. They laughed good-naturedly, and Joe reached up to tousle Slow's hair.
"No reading," Trusty clarified. "That's against the high law, teaching servants to read. But you'll be learned arithmetic, bit of geography, bit of history . . . Things you might need in your work. Teacher'll guide your studies in the schoolroom, then take you to dinner, then hand you over to your Department Head for the afternoon's work. —Over here, now."
Though reluctant to abandon the schoolroom, Bat followed Trusty and the others to a short corridor whose main purpose seemed to be to lead to a set of stairs. Trusty paused, though, in front of a door that was open a crack. "That's the hospital room. Family Cottage Mannerly – one of the cottages for journeymen – used to be the hospital, but Super ran out of space for the new boys, so now each cottage has got its own hospital room. —No, don't go in." He caught hold of Joe, who had been about to slip inside. "We got a consumptive boy in there now. You don't want to catch nothing from him."
Sobered by the image of the dying boy, they all followed Trusty up the broad stairs to the top floor. The steps led to a corridor, lit at their end by another of the tall windows. Trusty made his way down the hall, pointing. "That's the door to Teacher's toilet. It's locked; boys don't use that toilet, except with permission. Door beyond that leads to Teacher's sitting room and bedroom. This here's the cell."
He said it so abruptly that it was a moment before they all flinched. They had forgotten, almost, that they were inmates.
This time it was Frank who took Joe's hand. Mordecai cuddled up to Bat's side. Slow wrung his hands as Trusty took out a metal ring from his pocket and carefully sorted through the keys on it. Bat spent the time staring at the door. It looked like the prison doors he'd seen in servant comics. All solid metal, without even a slit in it to push through a meal tray.
Trusty found the proper key, turned it in the lock, and took hold of the door. It opened with a creak.
The cell was very small. Bat, who had measured many a boat with his eye over the years, thought it couldn't be much bigger than a man lying down: maybe three feet by eight feet. It had no window. Most of the space was taken up with a very narrow metal cot – nothing more than a metal shelf on legs. The cot had a thin bed-tick on it and two gossamer-thin blankets. No pillow. The only other object in the room he immediately recognized as one of the infamous night buckets that inmates used in place of a seat in an outhouse: just a pail with a board over it, prone to stink. There didn't seem to be any water in the cell. Nor any source of light or heat.
Slow's wail broke the silence. "You ain't going to put all of us in there, are you?"
Mordecai was shivering now. Bat put his arm around the young boy.
Trusty said phlegmatically, "It's the punishment cell. You only go there if you're punished. One month, bread and water, and you're flogged each day if you're right bad. Don't break no rules around here, and you won't never see the inside of this." He closed the door with a determined slam.
Everyone looked at each other. No one seemed inclined to speak. Mordecai was still shaking. Bat found he couldn't swallow.
Trusty glanced at them and said, "Dormitory's down this way. Come on."
The room he called the dormitory was well lit, with windows open except for their metal bars. A spring breeze made the room smell fresh. It was just as crowded as the punishment cell had been, though. The beds were crammed so close to one another that there was barely room to walk between them. Shoved in next to each bed was a chair. The beds consisted of the same metal shelves as in the cell, with the same thin bed-tick, but broader, and they were covered with pillows and what looked like reassuringly thick feather comforters. Bat, whose previous sleeping places had been an offshore shanty and a bunk in his master's boat, ran an assessing eye over the room. It was a lot cleaner than the boat.
"Fifty beds," declared Joe, who had been counting under his breath.
Trusty nodded. "Supposed to be thirty. Courts keep sending us boys, even though the transformatory's well past the number of boys it's meant to take. Super won't turn away any boy who he thinks needs this place. . . . That's the inmates' toilet." He pointed to a door leading off from the dormitory. "You're lucky; we had night buckets and outhouses through the whole transformatory till a sun-circuit ago. Super is eager to make this House all modern; he's trying to get funds right now to steam-heat the buildings. Till then, it's cold in here at night. Super don't allow stoves in the dormitories, 'cause he's worried about accidents."
Bat eyed the comforters again. They might be just thick enough.
"What's that door?" Frank asked, pointing to a door at the other end of the room. It was slightly ajar, enough to show a stove.
"Teacher's bedroom. It's right next to the dorm so Teacher can check on the boys, any time of night. That's where I sleep."
They all turned to stare at him. Bat began to speak, then thought the better of it. Mordecai looked terrified, as though a playmate he'd just roughhoused had turned into the High Master.
Trusty took no notice of their looks. "Not enough room here for you new boys, so you'll be sleeping down the hall. Come along."
They all trailed behind him. Joe looked furious, the way he always did when he couldn't figure out what was going on. Bat felt his own temper rising, but he kept it in check, mainly by thinking about that punishment cell.
The room they were led to was at the very end of the hall, in an annex all its own, with windows on three sides. In size, it was somewhere between the dormitory and the punishment cell. Six beds were pushed against the windowed walls, with a generous amount of walking space in the middle of the floor. Trusty said, "This used to be the playroom, for when the weather was too bad to go out during playground hour. You'll sleep here."
"There's no lock," announced Frank, examining the door. Joe glared at him, probably because he'd hoped that omission wouldn't be commented on in Trusty's presence.
Trusty nodded. "Room wasn't made as a dormitory. Now, listen, boys." His voice grew sober, and Slow, who had been examining the comforter on one of the beds, looked up. "We'll lock you up if we got to, but that means night buckets for you if we do, 'cause there ain't no toilet here. If you're not locked up, I'll leave the Teacher's toilet open for you to use at night. Which one you want?"
There was a moment when they all exchanged messages with their eyes – they'd become used to communicating that way during the long wait for the police wagon to arrive, when they'd been chained together but had been hit by the policemen if they attempted to talk. Then Joe said, "We won't try to escape at night. Promise." He drew a ring of rebirth on his forehead. They all followed suit. Bat noticed with amusement that Joe had made no promises about the daytime. With the gate to the transformatory grounds wide open during the daytime, and only a low fence around the grounds, it must be easy as a summer's swim to slip out of this place . . .
. . . but Bat was in no rush to do so. Beautiful campus, sitting at school desks each morning, afternoons spent on farm-work that couldn't be harder than pulling up heavy dredges full of oysters in the bitter cold, and so far no guards had beaten him over his head, like his master had been in the habit of doing.
Bat was almost looking forward to his time here.
Trusty looked them all over, slow-like, before he nodded. "All right. Take these."
He fished something out of his pocket and tossed it at them, one toss at a time. They all grabbed for the black cloth badges.
"That's your numbers," said Trusty. "Staff will call you by them; don't forget to answer when you're called. You can all read numbers?"
Bat stared with dismay at the line of numbers. "Only up to nine."
Trusty sighed. "Any of you had proper training in math?"
"I have," said Joe unexpectedly. "My daddy was training me nights to work beside him as a cash-counter at our master's packing house."
"Then you remind the others of their numbers if they forget," Trusty instructed. "The rest of you: just read the numbers one by one. Don't need to know more than that. Make sure you got your numbers all in mind by the time you meet Super this evening, 'cause he ain't going to know you by name."
"We wear these?" suggested Frank, trying one out on his shirt. Like all of them except Mordecai – who was clad in the neat clothing of a young domestic boy – Frank was wearing the same ragged clothing he'd worn before his arrest. Frank and Joe were barefoot; Bat and Slow wore watermen's boots.
"On your uniforms. You'll get those later, after you've all had baths. In the creek," Trusty clarified. "Unless you want to haul up the water to the cottage and bring out the tubs from the basement."
They quickly shook their heads. Slow smiled. "Like swimming."
"You won't like it quite so much when the weather turns cold," Trusty said drily. "Super's planning to build a bathing-house too, but he don't got money for that yet." He reached into his pocket and tossed them more cloth badges, stripe-shaped. These didn't have any numbers – just colors, like the stripe on Trusty's uniform. "Merit-grade badges," he explained. "Shows what rank you are among the servants. Badges have the heliograph code colors. Green is one, green and red is two . . ."
"Ten," said Frank, looking down at his green-blue-green badge with awe.
Joe sighed. "One is highest, right?"
Everyone swerved their heads around to stare at Joe, but Trusty nodded at this counterintuitive suggestion. "You do your jobs well, without complaint, and you'll be raised a merit-grade. You get to merit-grade one, and you're paroled after another month of good behaving."
They looked at each other. The Solomons Island court had given them indeterminate sentences, but they'd assumed that meant they'd have to stay here till they reached full adulthood. To have a chance to leave before then . . .
"What about those badges the young masters on the lawn were wearing?" Bat asked.
"Those are Teachers' badges," Trusty replied, still standing straight in the doorway. He didn't look like the sort of young man who slouched against doorposts. "Shows what family cottage the Teachers watch over. Cottage Obedient is circular, Cottage Mannerly is square, Cottage Honorable is rectangular, Cottage Cleanly is an oval, Cottage Industrious is triangular, Cottage Trustworthy is pentagonal. Recite them back to me, as well as the merit-grade colors."
It took much longer this time, mainly because Slow had never learned his colors or shapes. Trusty fetched colored chalk and a slate from the schoolroom, and they all crowded around a bed, eagerly spurring on Slow until he had at least mastered the Teachers' badges. Colors seemed to come harder to him; after a time, Trusty said, "Don't matter; I'll tell you all what your merit-grade number is when I give you your badge."
Slow, however, was still puzzling out the mysteries of the numbering system. "What comes above one?" he asked.
"Zero," Joe replied promptly and gave a cheeky grin at Trusty. "When do we get our zero badges?"
Trusty – perhaps recalling that zero symbolized transformation in the Dozen Landsteads' alphanumerical system – offered a hint of a smile. "Maybe when you're released outright from parole. I wouldn't know." His incipient smile faded. "Right, then. The three of you stay here." His gaze travelled from Bat to Joe to Frank. "Harry, you're a journeyman, but the Super has decided you'll be staying here for now." Slow nodded, contented. Trusty beckoned with his finger. "Mordecai, come along. You'll be sleeping in Teacher's room."
Bat went rigid.
Joe – though he could not know the nature of Trusty's earlier conversation with Bat – must have had enough street-sense to be alarmed. Joe's way of being alarmed was to be furious. As Mordecai began to step forward, looking uncertain, Joe pushed his way in front of the young boy and stood there, folding his arms and glaring at Trusty.
Within seconds, Bat and Frank had lined themselves up on either side of Joe. Slow was standing behind Mordecai, guarding his back. Bat's heart thundered. They were in prison. Under the control of men who had the power to punish boys. There was no way this was going to end well. The best they could hope for was the possibility that the Superintendent didn't much care for the idea of Trusty bedding young boys, so the Super would save Mordecai from Trusty's rapacity. But even if that happened, it was likely that Bat and Mordecai's other defenders were headed for the punishment cell. Trusty would see to that.
Trusty seemed to be taking his time about turning them over to the Super. His gaze travelled slowly over the five of them. Mordecai, clearly confused but grasping that the other boys didn't want him to leave, peered around Joe, saying, "Could I stay? Please? I'd like to sleep here, with my friends."
Trusty's gaze remained hard upon the other boys. He seemed to be scrutinizing them. And then – with a cold chill of relief, like a refreshing breeze entering the room – understanding entered Bat.
Trusty wasn't trying to take Mordecai away from them to harm him. Trusty was trying to stop them from harming Mordecai.
Joe must have reached the same conclusion, for he unfolded his arms, reached back, and slung his right arm over Mordecai's shoulders. "He'll be fine here. We won't let him be hurt."
Bat and Frank nodded their agreement. Slow said in his most emphatic voice, "He's our pal."
"All right, then," said Trusty at last. "No point in moving him out if you're already a team. But if you got any trouble in the night, Mordecai, you come to me or call for me. I'll leave the door to the Teacher's room open."
"Don't worry about him. We five are going to have good times here, aren't we, lads?" Joe grinned at the others.
Trusty gave a short nod. "You five stay here. I got to get something."
And he departed, leaving Bat to revise in his mind the nature of his previous conversation with Trusty.
From the Superintendent of the House of Transformation to the High Master of the Second Landstead:
Following are some of the urgent needs of the Institution, which are necessary in order to facilitate its management and enable us to do the best work possible:
1st—The construction of improved sanitary arrangements for the Administration Building, and the six family cottages, with proper sewerage for the same.
2nd—The extension of the water main, with fire-plugs at each building, to insure us against loss by fire.
3rd—The installation of a new steam boiler, and extension of the steam-heating apparatus to all of the family cottages, to replace the old and dangerous coal stoves now in use.
4th—The construction of proper bathing facilities, such as are used in modern institutions, capable of bathing fifty boys per hour, to replace the present unsanitary arrangements.
"Say, we can see a road from here!" cried Frank.
They were crammed up next to one another on one of the beds by the windows, standing on tiptoe to see as far as possible. They'd tried to open the sash window so they could stick their heads out – the windows in this room had no bars – but had found that all the windows here were nailed shut.
"So that we can die right quick in a fire," announced Joe with a grin, which had caused Frank to snatch the matchbox from where Joe had hidden it, in his lower drawers. Laughing, Joe had snatched the matches back.
"Which road do you suppose it is?" asked Mordecai, whom Bat was holding up as best he could, so that the younger boy could see at least a bit.
"Some country road." Joe dismissed it that way with a city boy's air. "Is that a spire?"
Bat squinted. Through the trees that lined the road, he could just see the spire of a chapel of rebirth.
"Can't see no town," commented Bat.
"Just houses," Frank agreed. "Do you suppose we're off in some unexplored part of the world? Where they only got missionaries?"
They all envisioned that possibility with quickening interest till Slow said, "There's farms here."
"How d'you know?" asked Joe quickly.
Slow looked surprised. "Heard the cattle and chickens and horses just before we got here. And smelled them."
The rest of them sighed. Living amidst farms seemed so much more prosaic than living in the wilderness.
Evidently feeling the need for a change of topic, Frank laid his arms across the rail of the window, saying, "So what do we think of Trusty?"
"Can't trust him," said Joe quickly. "You can tell it from his name, can't you? He's a snitch."
"He's a mystery, certain," said Bat slowly.
"I like him."
They all looked at Slow. Then Joe laughed. Thumping Slow on the back in a friendly manner, he said, "You like everyone, you big oaf."
Slow grinned. Frank added, "Trusty don't make sense. He talks like a servant, but he's got keys to the cell, and he's sleeping in the Teacher's room. Can't understand—"
"Get your dirty feet off those clean sheets."
The sharp remark caused them all to tumble off the bed, as quickly as they could. With his heart still pounding, Bat felt his anger grow as he saw who had spoken.
Never one to keep his thoughts unvoiced, Joe demanded, "Who are you, anyhow, to give us orders?"
Trusty surveyed them all, standing in a group together, united against him. Even Slow seemed in no hurry to take the young man's part.
Then Trusty said quietly, "I'm No. 1611. I'm an inmate like you. But the Teacher of Family Cottage Trustworthy quit last month, and Super ain't found a replacement for him yet. Till he does, you'll be taught school-lessons in other family cottages by the Teachers there, and the Department Head of the broom manufactory will tell you what work he wants you to do. Other times, I take care of you."
"Does that mean we got to follow orders from you?" Joe had his fists on his hips now.
Trusty looked at him mildly. "Well, now, I been here for coming on eleven years. You been here for one hour. You'd be a right fool to refuse to do as I tell you when I say officers'll give you a whipping if you don't. Wouldn't you?"
After a moment, Bat laughed. The other boys laughed too. Trusty gave a flash of a smile, gone so quickly that Bat wasn't sure he'd seen it, and said, "You don't need to take advice just from me. Got someone else for you to meet."
They all stiffened, but the newcomer who entered at Trusty's beckoning was manifestly an inmate. Tall, thin as a stick, with cap in hand, he waited silently as Trusty said, "This here's No. 2276. He'll be rooming with you till there's a place in one of the journeymen's cottages for him. I'll just leave him to answer any questions you have. I got some tidying up to do downstairs."
"Emmanuel," the boy clarified as Trusty departed. He offered his arm, and they all shook it. They sat down on the beds – the five of them on the bed they'd been standing upon, and Emmanuel on the opposite bed. There was an awkward silence.
"What'd you do?" blurted out Joe finally.
"Larceny," replied the boy in an easy manner. "Heard Super say once that it's the commonest crime for boys sent here, next to incorrigibility, which can mean anything the courts want it to mean. Want to know what larceny means, straight out? I stole a bit of pocket money from my master. There was a fair in town. My master didn't pay us apprentices no wages – just room and board. All that meant is he'd give us a bunk in his boat and let us eat any fish that was too bad to sell. So I picked a few coins from him, and the court sent me here."
"You're a journeyman?" Bat asked, determined that Emmanuel should not become a second mystery.
"Naw, I'm just big and tall." The boy stretched his rangy body and leaned up against the wall, cushioning his head with his hands. "Super likes to put the biggest apprentices in with the journeymen, so they won't bully the small boys."
There was no sign that this particular boy was planning to bully anyone. He had a look of relaxed good nature, as though he took everything in life in an easy manner, even being an inmate. Bat hoped that spoke well of what their new transformatory would be like.
"I'm fifteen," added Emmanuel. "Arrested three years ago, and I'm surely glad I was arrested young."
"How's that?" asked Frank, leaning forward. Outside, the sound of drumming started. Bat looked out the window and was greeted with the sight of soldiers drilling on the yard. Only, no – they weren't soldiers. They were boys, marching in step in long lines, each line with a drummer beating time, and with men in officer uniforms keeping close watch over the boys. Like Emmanuel, the boys wore the same uniforms as Trusty, with the same military-like cap. They were all headed toward the cottages in the campus, each line keeping to its own path.
The other boys in the room were too absorbed in Emmanuel's tale to notice. Emmanuel said, "Trusty tell you how the merit-grades work?" They all nodded. "Well, it takes two, three, four sun-circuits to rise to first rank, mostly. I heard of one fellow who made it in a single sun-circuit, but that's not common. Mostly, the apprentices who come here older are journeymen when they leave."
"Why's that matter?" asked Bat, distracted away from the sight of the drilling boys.
"For a start, the journeymen's cottages are a terror," said Emmanuel frankly. "The boys there, they've mostly done the really bad stuff. Assault, murder . . . They even got a rapist there."
"Arsonists?" Sitting next to Frank, Joe perked up.
Emmanuel failed to notice. "Nah, none of them. Not now. But those journeymen, they can be vicious. Nightly battles, I've heard. There's half a dozen punishment cells in each of the two journeymen's cottages, and officers can't cram enough misbehaving boys in there. So you don't want to end up in those cottages."
"But you're going there?" Slow's voice was soft with sympathy.
Emmanuel shook his head while giving a lazy smile as he showed off his colored badge. "Not me. I'm at second merit-grade now. I'm sure to be paroled home by the end of summer."
Bat glanced out the window again. The marching boys had all disappeared into their cottages. The lawn was empty once more. Faintly he could hear the sound of footsteps in the nearby hallway, but that was all. No talking. "There's more than one reason you wouldn't want to be a journeyman here?" he prodded.
"Surely." Emmanuel folded up his legs. Mordecai had slipped down to the floor and was lying on his stomach, chin propped up, as though Emmanuel were a storyteller. The older apprentice said, "Trusty tell you how parole works?"
They exchanged looks. "Not yet," replied Frank.
"You got good homes to go back to, you get paroled home," said Emmanuel. "You don't got good homes, or you don't want to go home, then Super paroles you to a master's home near here – placing out, they call it. Boys go to farmers, mainly. You do service for your master, maybe work his fields, and the money you earn goes to a bank fund. You make it all the way through your parole without causing trouble, you get that stash of money when you're released outright. And most times, the farmer you're working for will let you stay in service to him."
"Then why does it matter whether you're a journeyman?" Bat asked.
"Why, 'cause it's only apprentices who are placed out. Journeymen, they're on their own in finding masters to hire them, and they're only allowed to work for room and board, not wages. So all those years till they're released, full-out, they ain't earning no money. But they can still be sent back here, if they break parole." Emmanuel stretched again, saying, "I'll be getting home long before I become a journeyman. I don't got to worry about all that."
"Well, that's all right," said Joe, slinging his arm over Frank's shoulders. "Me, I'm eleven, and Frank, he's thirteen. We'll be going home soon."
"Me too," said Slow happily.
The rest of them looked away from him. Slow was never going home – they all knew that, from hearing the policemen talk about him. His parents, despairing at the task of caring for him as he grew older, had handed him over to the Second Landstead's House for Feeble-Minded Boys. But that House only took feeble-minded master boys, so its staff had given Slow to the court, and the court had sent him here. What Slow would do when he reached his full majority at age twenty-one, Bat couldn't imagine. The law required that boys be released from here once they were full-grown men, he'd been told.
He looked out the window again, beyond the campus lawn, beyond the southern line of family cottages, to the road that ran along the boundaries to the House of Transformation. He thought he could see stone markers across the road – a graveyard for the farmers' chapel of rebirth, perhaps? And well beyond that, glinting in the sunshine, he saw something black and bulky puffing along, sending dark smoke up. A train?
Silence alerted him to the fact that something was wrong in their little dormitory. He looked back to see Emmanuel checking them over, his smile gone.
"What's wrong?" asked Bat uneasily.
"You all watermen's sons?"
"Sure we are," said Joe in a fight-battle voice. "All but Mordecai. What of it?"
"Sorry to be bearing bad tidings, but you ain't none of you going home. Not for a long while."
Mordecai picked himself off his stomach to stare at the boys behind him. In a cracked voice, Frank said, "What d'you mean?"
"Super only paroles boys home who got good homes. He don't think watermen's homes are good. Says watermen fight each other all the time."
Bat pulled his knee up against his chin, hugging his leg. Joe said angrily, "Maybe that's true, but I don't see how that gives him the right to keep us from our people."
Emmanuel shrugged. "We're inmates. Till we're released outright from our paroles, we got to do what the Super tells us. You try to go home to your family, or your family visits you, and Super'll treat it as breaking parole. He'll haul you back here to serve more time."
"But I want to see my mama and daddy." Frank – the most even-tempered and courageous of them all, who'd shown neither anger nor fear when he was chained to the other boys – looked as though he was fighting back tears.
Joe hugged him, saying, "You will, honey boy. We'll find a way round the Super's stupid rules."
"But you said you were going home," inserted Mordecai, clearly distressed on the other boys' behalf. "Aren't you a waterman's son?"
"It's different for me," said Emmanuel. Then, as Joe glared at him, he added, "Not 'cause of me. 'Cause of my mama. She was born a mastress."
They all stared. Joe said, "Honest true?"
"Honest true." Emmanuel traced a ring of rebirth on his forehead, sealing his oath. "She gave up her rank to marry my daddy. But she still speaks like a mastress, and she can read and write. Sends me letters every week," he added with pride. "Super reads them to me when he has spare time." He leaned forward and whispered, "I can read the letters myself. Picked it up, from watching my mama read books aloud to me when I was little. But don't tell anyone. Super don't know I know he's cutting bits out of my mama's letters that he don't like."
They all gestured their rings of rebirth, swearing not to tell. Emmanuel leaned back, saying in an ordinary voice, "I'm surely looking forward to going home. I hate the work here, especially the farming; I want to be back to following the water on a boat. I miss my mama's cooking, and my daddy's stories of his days in the navy, and being able to play with my little brothers and sisters, and the smell of the Bay."
They were silent, then, all caught in their thoughts of the homes they'd left behind. Even Bat – who'd consider himself blessed if he never saw his widowed dad again – felt his throat close in as he remembered the swish of the Bay's waves, the sight of skipjacks and schooners sailing against the sky, the muddy squishiness of the marshes. How long would it be before he experienced all that again?
His thoughts were broken by the sound of a voice outside. Looking down from the window, Bat saw that Trusty was standing on the path in front of the cottage, talking to a man. Like the Teachers whom Bat had seen, the man was wearing an officer's uniform, but he was much older than the Teachers – about the age of Bat's granddad when he died. The man leaned on a cane, while his left leg had a certain stiffness about it. He appeared to be listening with interest to what Trusty was saying.
Frank noticed the conversation a moment later. "Say, who's that?"
Emmanuel came over to join them at their window. "That's the Superintendent. See that bad leg? Journeyman attacked him last year. Everyone thought Super would shut down the transformatory and send all of us to the penitentiary, but he acted like nothing had happened."
"Trusty is talking to him," Joe said, wrinkling up his nose in disgust. "You know what that means."
"Oh, Trusty's all right," said Emmanuel in an indifferent manner. "He won't tell tales on you – not unless they're the type of tales you'd want told, if you get what I say. Come on, we better go downstairs. Super will want to meet you. Anyone got to use the toilet first? Super talks long."
"I'll catch up," said Bat, but after the other boys had gone, chattering and clattering their way down the steps, he remained at the window, staring out this time, not at the campus, but at the road back to the capital.
To be away from his dad was a glory, and to be in a place like this was a pleasant surprise, given what he'd been envisioning for his next few years.
But when all was said and done, this was a prison. A place where he'd be given little choice of what he could say or do. It was like living with his dad again, only worse, because his dad sure hadn't locked him in any punishment cell.
Maybe it wouldn't be so bad living here. Better than the alternative, anyway. But he wanted to make his own life in due time, and what he'd just learned, during the last few minutes, had told him that leaving here would be harder than he'd thought.
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.
From the Superintendent of the House of Transformation to the High Master of the Second Landstead:
During this summer a complete steam-fitting plant was installed throughout the Institution. The Administration Building and the six Family Cottages are now heated with steam. In order to protect the lawn and steam pipes a large trench was opened, and a concrete tunnel was constructed, leading from the boiler house to all of the buildings, in which the steam pipes are suspended by hangers. In opening the trench for the tunnel, 23,000 cubic yards of earth had to be excavated. The tunnel is 2,900 feet long, and its greatest depth was 17 feet.
The hauling of gravel, excavating and constructing of the tunnel, was done by the inmates in charge of the officers of the Institution, under my personal supervision.
Owing to vast improvements in progress during the last two sun-circuits, with the labor of the inmates, the schools could not hold regular sessions; therefore the Teachers have not had the opportunity to make very great progress with the school duties, they being required to be in charge of the boys while at work on the outside.
"Well, I've surely been schooled."
Having said this, Bat tossed another shovelful of dirt to the side and paused to wipe his brow free of sweat. The midsummer morning was clear, with not a cloud in the sky to provide them with shade. The trench they were digging remained too shallow at this point to throw shadows.
"Oh my blessed, you're right about that." Frank took up the refrain as his pickaxe chiselled another rock. "When I get my first job out there, and the master asks me what schooling I received here, I'll say, 'Why, sir, I was learned to break rocks.'"
Frank rarely voiced bitterness; that he did so now was a sign of how exhausted the boys were. Bat looked wearily over at the pails of water that Trusty had taken care to place near the boys. The water would last till sunset. He wasn't sure he would.
Bending down to scoop up a bucket of mud, Emmanuel said, "Might as well be in the Men's Penitentiary. Makes no difference to the work we do."
"Two thousand nine hundred feet long," Joe added as he reached down to lift Frank's broken rock into the wheelbarrow. "That's what the Super said the tunnel will be. Two thousand nine hundred feet times seventeen feet is—"
"Stop showing off." Emmanuel took a halfhearted swipe at him, then turned and shouted, "Hoi! Leave him alone!"
Bat turned to look. White-faced as he struggled to push another wheelbarrow full of dirt and mud and rock up the incline to the campus lawn, Mordecai was being blocked by one of the boys who worked in the main dormitory of Family Cottage Trustworthy – the "Big Dorm," as everyone called it now. Several of the other boys, who were assigned to take charge of the wheelbarrow once Mordecai reached the lawn, were laughing at the young boy's efforts to get past the barrier.
"We got to come over there and paste you?" demanded Joe.
Bat looked uneasily at where Trusty stood on the lawn. The young man was deep in conversation with the Superintendent, but it was unlikely he had missed hearing Joe's threat. For now, though, he seemed contented to let the quarrelling boys settle themselves.
The boys in the Big Dorm looked inclined to fight, if only to defend their honor, but at that moment Slow, with impeccable timing, returned from using the toilet in their cottage. He took one look at Mordecai and said, "Aw, that's too heavy for you. Let me help. We better help, right?" He turned toward the boys who had been teasing Mordecai. "Because we're big and he's little."
With the situation voiced in that stark fashion, the boys of the Big Dorm shrugged and moved forward to relieve Mordecai of the wheelbarrow. As they did so, Mordecai began to fall to his knees. Slow caught him and carefully escorted him back to where another packed wheelbarrow awaited him.
The boys of the Big Dorm took a second look at the small group digging the trench for the steam pipes, then evidently decided not to pursue the matter further. It was well known by now that the boys in the Little Dorm – as they'd been dubbed – were close pals who always protected one another. Separated at night from the other boys of Family Cottage Trustworthy, they formed their own little community, like a family within a family.
Bat watched Mordecai with concern as the young boy paused to lean against a boulder, panting. His legs were shaking. Joe, however, had turned his attention back to the work at hand. He said, "We got Comrade Carruthers to thank for this, you know. He gave the money for the steam plant."
Restored to his usual good humor by the pause in labor, Frank said, "At least we won't be cold at night."
"I'd never let you get cold, honey boy." Joe flung this observation over his shoulder as he bent down to scoop up more mud.
Emmanuel gave a snort then, and Bat and Slow exchanged smiles. Everyone in the Little Dorm knew that Joe had taken to sneaking into Frank's bed after lights were out. Even Trusty knew, because he'd caught them sleeping peacefully together one morning. Since it was clear that both boys were where they wanted to be, and since they were both fully clothed in their underwear, Trusty had confined himself to telling them that they'd best not take the matter any further than they had, or they'd be in trouble with the Night Watchman.
He had left them in an agony of curiosity as to what happened "further."
Bat had been amused. One week, not long before he was arrested, a childhood playmate of his had invited him to tea with her mother. The mother had proceeded to explain to him – with drawings, no less – what constituted "further" when it came to boys and girls, with an added explanation that he mustn't go too far with any girl he wasn't marrying. Then she had shooed them out of the room, saying, "Bat, you can go to Sally's bedroom now. I'm sure you two want to play." And they had.
Now, leaning against his shovel, Bat spared a thought of regret for Sally. She was so pretty that she'd likely be married by the time he got out of prison. In the meantime . . . His gaze wandered over to Emmanuel, who had removed his jacket and shirt to work, revealing from his physique that he was well on his way to manhood. Bat figured that, if he turned up at Emmanuel's bedside one night, Emmanuel would likely invite him under the sheets, in his easygoing fashion. They could go a lot further than Joe and Frank had. Bat knew by now that such arrangements were common in the House of Transformation, though always risky in family cottages not placed under Trusty's benevolent rule. The Superintendent, a widower who had no doubt served his liege-master in bed during his youth, had taken it into his head that the inmates' bed-play was "filthy."
Bat forced his weary limbs back to work. He liked Emmanuel, as he liked all the boys in the Little Dorm, but he had no interest in establishing the sorts of ties that might bind him here when the time came for him to leave. He'd declared that to Trusty on the first day, and he hadn't changed his mind since then. This place was a prison, not a home; he'd wait till he was out of here before joining himself with anyone else in love.
He'd missed part of the conversation; Emmanuel was saying, ". . . Most of the farms around here belong to him. The farmers are his tenants. No wonder he wants to place us out with the farmers. We're free labor to him, even when we're paroled."
Bat cast another quick glance in the direction of Trusty. Trusty had moved his conversation with the Superintendent a few yards from the trench, no doubt to prevent the Super from overhearing this conversation.
"Is the House of Transformation's farmer the Super's tenant?" asked Frank.
Emmanuel shrugged as he knelt down in the mud with his bucket. "Might as well be. He's married to Super's daughter. —Hoi, watch out." This was to Mordecai, who was in danger of staggering in front of Frank's pickaxe, having returned from delivering his latest load.
Bat caught hold of Mordecai as Joe said, "I heard that the farmer and his wife can't have children, even though they've been trying for years."
The other boys exchanged looks, but nobody voiced any doubts. Joe was always up to date on the campus gossip.
"But she's pretty!" cried Slow, who had not quite mastered yet the rules for how children were produced.
"She surely is," said Joe appreciatively as he paused to take out his matches, first glancing around to ensure that none of the boys from the Big Dorm were watching. Super and Trusty remained absorbed in their conversation. Slow went over to help Mordecai push the wheelbarrow up the incline.
A question had been forming in Bat's mind for several weeks. Now, with Mordecai gone, Bat blurted out the question: "Joe, did you have anything to do with that ferry fire that killed Mordecai's parents?"
Frank looked shocked. From the expression on Emmanuel's face, Bat surmised that this possibility had occurred to him too.
Joe simply gave Bat a sour look. "There were folks on that ferry. Not just men and women – kids too. I'm not a murderer."
"His master's boat was empty," Frank said in quick support.
"So why'd you set it on fire?" asked Emmanuel with mild curiosity. "'Cause you hated your master?"
"That fire?" Joe gave a wicked smile. "That fire was fun." He pulled out his box of cigarettes.
Emmanuel snorted again as he paused to drink another full dipper of water from one of the pails. Bat paused too. As Slow and Mordecai returned, Frank tossed dippers to them while Joe tamped down the end of his cigarette. Cigarettes were the most precious contraband on campus; inmates who were forcibly returned from parole would sneak back boxes of cigarettes and sell them for favors. Emmanuel, who received gifts of fruit from his mother through the mail, regularly exchanged the fruit for cigarettes that he gave to Joe. Emmanuel figured – probably correctly, Bat thought as he watched Joe lovingly strike a match – that this was the safest way to channel Joe's worship of fire.
"Can I try one?" asked Frank, staring at the cigarette.
"You ain't getting hooked on one of those coffin nails, boy," said Emmanuel as he placed Frank into a headlock. Joe laughed as Frank twisted free and thrust Emmanuel against the shallow wall of the trench. Newly returned, Slow pulled Mordecai to safety as the struggling boys thrust dirt all over the place. Bat dived to save the pails of water.
"All right, that's enough." It was Trusty's voice. The result of his arrival was striking. Frank immediately released Emmanuel. Bat rose to his feet, brushing dirt out of his hair and grabbing for his shovel. And Joe slipped the matchbox back into his drawers as he swept the lit cigarette behind his back.
"You're all here to work, not fight," Trusty told them. "Drink your water and get back to digging. Give me that." He held out his palm.
With a sigh, Joe handed him the cigarette. Trusty ground it underfoot as he said, "Matches too."
For a moment, it looked as though Joe would turn stubborn. Trusty tilted his head to one side. "You planning to eat supper tonight?"
The threat of the missed meal did its trick. With a deep heave of breath such as a martyred slave might emit, Joe took out the matches and handed them to Trusty. Slow had been looking exceedingly nervous during this conversation, but there was really no reason. Trusty never beat the boys in his care. At most, he'd tell the Super that a misbehaving boy deserved to be lowered by a merit-grade, but that rarely happened. Trusty anticipated and caught problems early on, before they had time to worsen, perhaps because he was an inmate himself.
Trusty treated the matches with the same contempt as the cigarette, dowsing them in a pail that held a bare inch of water. Emmanuel raised his eyebrows. The Watchman, they all knew, would confiscate matches and cigarettes from boys, and then he'd sell the contraband to journeymen who were being released from prison with a few coins in their pocket. Trusty could not fail to know that he was destroying a healthy profit for himself.
"Back to work," Trusty instructed; then he beckoned to Bat. Bat set down his shovel and came forward, ignoring the looks that the other boys gave him – the looks that the other boys always gave him when Trusty took him aside for a lecture. Without any word ever spoken between them, Trusty had established himself as Bat's private mentor, giving him a quiet word on the side whenever Bat began to stray from the straight path.
Bat wondered what he had done this time. He'd been trying for weeks to behave properly, though it wasn't easy, especially on week's end, when the cleric from the local chapel would stand in the transformatory chapel, thundering down his denunciations of the boys' evil ways. Afterwards, on the campus lawn, there would be drill inspection by the Superintendent, which was even harder to take, for the Super invariably had an "encouraging" word for each well-behaved family cottage about how far the boys had come from their days of ill repute. Bat sometimes suspected that the journeymen kept their family cottages in everlasting turmoil simply in order to avoid these speeches.
He and Trusty passed the boys in the Big Dorm and came out of the trench. The sun blazed like flames from a house-fire. Trusty, who was wearing a straw hat like those worn by all the inmates who did outside work, took it off to fan himself, one of the few times he had ever hinted that he suffered as badly as his fellow inmates.
Trusty looked tired. Bat had heard him get up during the middle of the night when he was fetched by the Watchman to fix some plumbing problem that had developed with the Super's toilet. He often did chores like that around the campus; Bat had overheard the Superintendent refer to him as "my man-of-all-work."
Now Trusty said, "Your transfer has come through. You start tomorrow morning."
He couldn't help hopping on his toes with joy. "At the campus farm? What about the other boys?"
"Harry is being transferred to the stables. The rest of the Little Dorm stays in the broom manufactory."
His spirits abruptly fell. He looked back at the boys. Emmanuel, Slow, Frank, and Joe were all laughing over a joke, but Mordecai, who was trying to turn the wheelbarrow around, looked as though he was about to pass out.
"Say, can't he be left off this work?" As he spoke, Bat pointed at the younger boy. "He's not made for this. He's a domestic, and he's too young to be hauling rocks anyhow. Even working the fields would be better for him than this."
Trusty took his time in answering. Finally he said, "You prepared to let him take the farm job in your place?"
The words fell like chunks of hot lead, searing through his insides. He looked back at the trench. Two thousand nine hundred feet, Joe had said. The tunnel would take months to dig. Months of shovelling in the blazing sun.
Slow noticed Mordecai's struggles and came over to help him turn the wheelbarrow. Frank, on the point of slurping water down, handed Mordecai his dipper. Joe said something to Emmanuel; Bat heard Mordecai's name in the query. Emmanuel gave a weary shrug. Mordecai's suffering was beyond his control to change.
Bat looked back at Trusty. In as steady a voice as he could manage, he said, "If that's what it takes."
Trusty nodded. "Back to work."
Feeling sick, Bat returned to the work party as Trusty walked over to the Super. Somehow, the shovel seemed twice as heavy as before when Bat picked it up. Joe looked at him curiously. "You all right? What did Trusty want?"
"Nothing important." He dug his shovel down to have an excuse to hide his face.
Joe shook his head. "You're headed for trouble, boy. You know he just wants in your drawers."
Bat stayed silent, uncertain how to answer this with any honesty. It was Emmanuel who said, "If Trusty wanted to force any of us into his bed, who d'you think would stop him? He's Super's favorite boy."
"Hasn't hurt us yet," agreed Frank. "He's had plenty of chance to."
"Why d'you think he's here, if Super likes him?" asked Slow.
Joe had the answer to that, of course. "I heard he keeps losing merit-grades. He'll be right ready to be released, then he'll do something dumb, and he'll lose a grade."
"Don't sound like him," reflected Emmanuel. "He's smart as a whip, and he knows lots more than he lets on. He caught me writing a letter to my mama the other day. All he did was correct my spelling."
"Cleverest journeyman in this place," Frank agreed. "But Super don't care about smart – he wants boys who are well-behaved. So why does he keep Trusty around? Boys who keep misbehaving, Super usually sends them to the penitentiary."
Joe snorted. "Send away the boy who'll fix your toilet at midnight without argument? And then Trusty goes back and guards an entire cottage of boys? Trusty's too handy. Super'll never get rid of him."
"Free labor," Emmanuel agreed, bringing the conversation back to its beginning. "That's all we are to Super. We fix his toilet, we dig his tunnel, we work for his tenants. He's got a mighty good bilk going here."
Bat said nothing. A few months ago he would have agreed with Emmanuel . . . but since then he'd met Trusty, and Trusty, he was sure, would never work so close to a man who kept inmates just to bilk them. There must be something more to the Super, or Trusty wouldn't have stopped Bat from punching him on the first day.
As though beckoned back by Bat's thoughts, Trusty appeared in the trench. "Transfers," he said succinctly. "Starting tomorrow, both mornings and afternoons till school opens again. Harry, you work in the stables. Mordecai, Mastress Bennington needs help with her poultry yard. Bat, you're working the fields."
Bat's mouth fell open. With a crow of delight, Joe punched his arm. "What a slick trick, boy! No more tunnel-digging for you or building brooms!"
Emmanuel was vigorously shaking Slow's arm in congratulations, while Frank was hugging Mordecai. Joe went over to join them, while Bat turned to stare at Trusty.
Trusty leaned over and whispered in Bat's ear, "Nine." As he spoke, he slipped something into Bat's hand. When Bat looked down, he saw the green-blue-blue merit-grade badge that represented the number nine.