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.
From the Superintendent of the House of Transformation to Comrade Benjamin Carruthers:
Some critics of this House have claimed that the farm that our boys run might be even made to sustain the transformatory. We presume that such expression was made without thought of how little capacity 'good boys' of as young as eleven years old, even when surrounded by the best of home influences, have of contributing to their own support. Then, when a mass of boys are brought together primarily because they are not 'good,' of whom some have been committed for criminal offences and all are designated in their commitments as more or less incorrigible to home influences and thereby a menace to society; when many of these are by inheritance, or through ill treatment, physically unsound, mentally twisted, morally tainted, whose previous environment has trained them to hate work and has skilled them in evasions; then you will understand how hopeless a thing it would be to look to such for profitable returns materially in excess of the cost of supervision. . . .
Our farm products for this sun-circuit were as follows: wheat, 709 bushels; potatoes, 678 bushels; turnips, 632 bushels; beets, 20 bushels; carrots, 21 bushels; tomatoes, 250 bushels; sweet potatoes, 186 bushels; onions, 118 bushels; spring onions, 310 bunches; peas, 114 bushels; strawberries, 1,051 quarts; corn, 438 barrels; parsnips, 26 bushels; vegetable oysters, 25 bushels; pumpkins, 4,700; cantaloupes, 3,600; radishes, 56 bunches; lima beans, 1,250 quarts; white beans, 153 bushels; cow peas, 66 bushels; blackeyed peas, 291 bushels; peaches, 66 bushels; string beans, 263 bushels; gooseberries, 45 quarts; cucumbers, 7,400; cabbage, 26,000 heads.
"Everything was all right till Mam died," said Bat. "That's when it all changed."
He paused to struggle with the stem of the pumpkin he was cutting from its vine, while sweat trickled down his back, giving him shivers in the cool autumn wind. Above him, the sun slipped in and out of dark afternoon clouds that threatened storm. Further down the field, the journeymen worked to bring in the harvest before the storm broke.
Trusty, who was straddling a monster of a pumpkin with his thighs as he sawed away at its stem, merely nodded. That was his way during conversations, Bat had found. Trusty rarely spoke till he had something worth saying.
"There were five of us," Bat explained. "I was the youngest. When Mam died, I was the only one still apprentice-aged. My brothers got it into their heads that they should follow the water away from the Bay; they signed up for the schooners that take molasses to and from the Caribe. I ain't seen them once since they left home. Maybe they guessed what was coming and figured they'd best be on their way."
Trusty hefted the pumpkin into his arms with a grunt. Bat did the same. Together they carried their heavy burdens through the pumpkin patch till they reached the motor-truck and hefted the pumpkins in. Not pausing to rest – the black clouds were scurrying from the west now – they hurried back to where the unharvested pumpkins lay. Nearby, the farmer spoke sharply to a journeyman who was idling. Not a man to idle himself, he was working alongside the journeymen, while his wife, free on this afternoon from her usual secretarial duties, brought a constant flow of glasses of lemonade to the thirsty field-workers.
Too far away from the rest of the workers to have been noticed by Mastress Bennington, Bat licked his parched lips as he hunched over another pumpkin, his back aching. He said, "Dad changed after Mam died. All at once, like he was set on becoming a different man. Started drinking. Started fighting. He had all this anger inside him, busting out."
Crouching down with his knife at the ready, Trusty glanced at Bat. "And he brung that anger home."
Bat nodded, busy with his own knife. Not many inmates were trusted with work-knives; it had been a pleasure to Bat when Trusty handed him a knife on his first day of work. "Used to bruise me so bad I couldn't work the boats. Worst-tempered man I ever knew." Bat rested back on his haunches, wiping the sweat off his brow. "Guess I got the same temper. Didn't know it till I got hauled to the police station in handcuffs."
"No slacking," Trusty warned him. Groaning, Bat leaned forward to finish his task. From the sounds of it, the farmer was having an equally difficult time persuading the journeymen to work with speed. His wife had left the field to offer a glass of lemonade to Mordecai, who had finished his morning's work in the poultry yard and was greeting the other boys of Family Cottage Trustworthy, emerging from their work at the broom manufactory.
Trusty – whose job it was to see the boys to and from their work – glanced that way but did not pause, rising with another grunt as he hefted up the largest pumpkin. With his legs now shaking, Bat staggered his way to the motor-truck in Trusty's wake. The boys of Family Cottage Trustworthy, after a moment of confusion, had organized themselves and were returning to the cottage in proper drill fashion. That was typical of the boys of Family Cottage Trustworthy: they were capable of behaving themselves most times, even when they weren't being watched.
Glancing again at the journeymen, Bat guessed that the Teachers of Cottage Obedient and Cottage Mannerly must have a far harder task. Several of the journeymen had openly abandoned their work now, grinning at the farmer's efforts to get them to labor with due speed. Bat empathized with them. All he wanted to do was throw himself onto the ground and sleep for ninety-nine sun-circuits, but every time he paused for even a second, Trusty goaded him on.
Feeling a perverse inclination to upset Trusty, Bat asked, "What about you? What are you here for?"
Trusty hoisted his pumpkin into the motor-truck. Then, not awaiting Bat's efforts, Trusty took the smaller pumpkin from him and hurried it into the motor-truck. It was not till they had returned to the field and were sawing at more pumpkins that Trusty said, "Incorrigible."
"That could mean anything," Bat complained.
"Meant street-fighting in my case. I used to fight the boys on my block, back in the city. When I began showing my fists at home, my daddy and mama washed their hands of me. Handed me over to the court; the court sent me here."
Bat paused, his task forgotten. "How old were you?"
"Nigh on twelve. Look to your work, lad."
Bat counted mentally as he crouched over the pumpkin, the back-ache threatening to travel up his neck and enter his head. What with all the digging the inmates had been doing to help install the new steam heating, he'd had only one month of schooling since he arrived. But there'd been a friendly rivalry between him and Emmanuel to get the higher marks in arithmetic, so he could add up properly now. "That means you're twenty-three. You ain't been a journeyman for two sun-circuits now."
Trusty nodded. He was intent on battling an old, tough, recalcitrant pumpkin with a stem that seemed as thick as a tree trunk. Bat, who always took care to pick the easiest pumpkins, made a trip to the motor-truck and back before adding, "They can't have kept you here all this time."
"And sent back?" Bat guessed.
Bat sat back on his heels, staring. "That many times?"
"Work," Trusty reminded him, and did not speak again until Bat had taken another pumpkin to the motor-truck and had returned. Still sawing away doggedly at the tough old pumpkin, Trusty said, "First two times was for running away. I didn't like the farmers they'd sent me out to, during my paroles. Third time I was released, I'd turned journeyman. Was arrested three months later. Was sent back here 'cause the Super was willing to take me back in."
Bat was beginning to regret that he had started this conversation, but he asked anyway. "What were you arrested for?"
"Vagrancy." The tough stem finally parted. Sweat covering his face, Trusty immediately grabbed hold of the pumpkin. It was a heavy one; it took him several seconds' struggle to pull it into his arms. Belatedly remembering his small pumpkin, Bat hastily finished his labor so that he could follow Trusty to the motor-truck.
"That don't sound like you," Bat commented as he reached the motor-truck.
Trusty didn't reply immediately. He had placed his pumpkin on the bed of the motor-truck and was leaning heavily now against the motor-truck's side. The moment that Bat had deposited his own pumpkin, though, Trusty started back into the field. He asked Bat, "What you planning to do when you leave here?"
"Why, get a job, of course. I ain't going home."
Trusty nodded. "I suppose the Bureau will be your first stop?"
Bat halted dead in his tracks.
It had not occurred to him. It had never occurred to him. He'd been an apprentice when he worked the boats, and apprentices didn't need Certificates of Employment to work, unless both their parents were dead. But journeymen . . .
"Come on, boy." Trusty tugged him forward.
Bat let himself be pulled. "Will the Bureau of Employment give me my certificate, do you think?"
"Might. First offense, and if you can show you've been well-behaved here, they might take a chance on you. Comrade Carruthers, he runs the Bureau, and he likes to take a chance on servants who show initiative. But getting a certificate is one thing; job's another. You got any past work-masters who'd give you references?"
He did. Captain Allendar. He'd last seen his boat-master with his cheek still split open, giving evidence at Bat's trial.
Bat shook his head as he bowed his body over another pumpkin. "None that'd give me a good one. Unless maybe Master Bennington . . . ?" He hesitated, uncertain. It occurred to him that, since he started working for the farmer during the previous season, he'd not worked any harder than he had to. Indeed, he'd probably have been as idle as those grinning journeymen if Trusty hadn't been by his side, urging him on.
Bat looked over at Trusty with new eyes. "That's why you were vagrant? Couldn't find a job?"
Trusty shrugged. "I'd never worked at all, outside this place. My daddy was training me at home to work with him in the boatyard when I got to journeyman age. No good going to him for references; he'd made clear what he thought of me on my last day at home. My prison records didn't impress none of the boatyard-masters or boat-masters. Got arrested for vagrancy when I was seventeen . . . and nineteen . . . and two months before my twenty-first birthday. Each time, Super said he'd take me back. Otherwise, the court would've sent me to the Men's Penitentiary, certain."
Bat's blood was beating hard in his throat now, and not because he was staggering toward the motor-truck with another small pumpkin in his arms. Two small pumpkins – he hadn't noticed when he picked up the second one. "Trusty?"
Trusty grunted. He looked like he was ready to fall down from weariness, but he never paused as he shoved his pumpkin into the motor-truck and hurried back to the patch.
Bat raced to follow him. "Trusty, you been here two sun-circuits 'cause you keep losing merit-grades, just when you're gonna be let go. That's on purpose, ain't it? You don't want to be let go, 'cause you'll just be arrested again."
Trusty stood still, looking out toward the west, past the fields and the farm buildings and the dark clouds scudding toward them. The sky to the west was black with rain now.
He said very softly, "I'm too old to be sent back here if I'm arrested again. Next time's the Men's Penitentiary for me. . . . Things are bad here, but they're right bad at the penitentiary."
Standing at Trusty's back, Bat was suddenly aware, as he had not been for the past few months, that he was working out in the open. In an open field, under the sky, with a breeze making its way across the manicured campus. Nearby, birds sang and wheeled and dived over the creek.
His throat dry, Bat said, "I'm sixteen. I'll be a journeyman next spring."
Trusty nodded. "Then we'd best be hurrying on our way, hadn't we? . . . Storm's 'bout to break. Let's get this load back."
They rushed their way back to the motor-truck. Trusty jumped into the driver's seat as Bat struggled to ignite the gasoline and start the engine. The moment that Bat had successfully turned the crank, Trusty reached over to pull him onto the motor-truck. The motor-truck jerked as it lurched forward. Trusty's arm was warm beside Bat's as they sat side by side, the older inmate turning the wheel to take them back to the barn.
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.
From the Superintendent of the House of Transformation to Comrade Benjamin Carruthers:
Through the efforts of our Visiting Agent, suitable homes with good citizens – mostly farmers – have been found for those of our inmates who have given evidence of a desire to improve their condition and pursue an honest and industrious life. There are always numerous applications on file for apprentices from this Institution. We are pleased to report that a large majority of those paroled to service are giving general satisfaction to their employers, and manifest their appreciation of the training received under the restraining influence of this Institution. Should they violate the conditions of their parole, and get into bad habits or company, they are again apprehended and returned to this Institution.
From the Superintendent of the House of Transformation to Servant Lucy:
I am sorry to report that I cannot provide you with the information you have requested, namely the current address of your son Emmanuel. We have found that it is bad for boys who have been placed out to work in local farms to come in contact with their people. These people visit them, give them gifts which they do not need, correspond with them, and in general get the boys dissatisfied with their surroundings, no matter how good they may be, with the result, in every case, that the boys run away, causing much trouble and expense to recapture them.
The road lay south of the transformatory. Bat made his way down the lane and under the gate-sign across the lane that said "House of Transformation." There were no guards to stop him – just a gate that had already been opened to allow through the horse-truck from the nearby farm that delivered fresh milk daily. The Superintendent wanted the transformatory to buy milk cows once it had the funding, but in the meantime, a portion of the House's tiny funds went to buy milk. Some of that milk even made its way to the boys' dining room.
The road was empty; the faintest light could only just be seen on the eastern horizon. Bat began to walk down the road, very aware of the cottage he had left behind.
Joe had insisted on coming with him, at least as far as the porch. "I want to sit alone on the porch and watch the sun rise," he had told Bat. "These days, there's always someone with me. No offense, pal, but I feel like I have a ball-and-chain around my ankle."
Bat could understand that, so he'd carried Joe down the stairs; then, at the younger boy's request, he'd gone back and fetched Joe's crutches from where they were usually kept, next to Joe's bed. The rest of the boys were asleep. If Trusty heard Bat taking Joe downstairs, he didn't emerge from his room to object. It was close enough to rising time for the boys, and Joe could do his work in the broom manufactory well enough with an hour's less sleep. When Bat left Joe on the porch, the boy was lighting up a cigarette.
Bat turned off the road, walking toward death.
"I can't find my shoe!"
Joe had been frantic that day, Bat remembered. They all knew the penalty for a lost shoe. With funds short for leather, a fifth of the apprentices had no shoes to wear at all and had to be confined to the cottages during bad weather.
"Why'd you take your shoe off in this weather?" That was Emmanuel, forever in a bad mood since he'd been returned to the transformatory after he attempted to escape home from the farm where he'd been placed out. He'd be at the House of Transformation till he'd regained the merit-grades he'd lost.
"It's freezing," agreed Mordecai, shivering as he stood in the snow. It was their play-hour; all six of the boys from the Little Dorm were together during the daytime, a rare occurrence these days.
"My foot was swelling up from standing all those hours, making those bloody brooms. Oh, the shoe must be here somewhere!"
"Take my shoes." Frank promptly divested himself of his shoes, ignoring the fact that he was standing knee-deep in the playground snow. "I'm bigger than you; they'll fit over your swollen foot."
"But then you'll be in trouble!" Joe tried to push the shoes back.
"Look, we'll all be in trouble if we don't get inside," Bat argued. "Chapel bell's rung for the end of play. —Oh, sweet blood, here's the Super."
The cemetery was very small. Bat had heard the Super boast about that fact. Bat made his way along the ragged rows, his feet squishing down in the ground made wet by the melting snow. All the gravestones were the same shape: circular, to signify rebirth. The inscriptions on the oldest gravestones had worn away.
"I am very disappointed with you boys," said the Super. "Taking your shoes off in weather like this! I know that you like to frolic in the snow, but really—"
"Sir, it wasn't like that!" protested Joe, shivering as he stood on his one, shoed foot, like a heron. Frank was shifting from foot to barefoot foot; his face had gone grey from the cold.
"Not another word from you. Where is No. 1611? Still in the hospital room? Well, take them upstairs, Master Modder."
The Watchman moved swiftly. Bat ran after them, three shoes in his arms, but he was too late.
The inscriptions on the gravestones had a bleak sameness about them as well. "Servant William / From Point Patience / Died in peace / Aged 17 years." "Servant Ashbury / From Dare Wharf / Died in peace / Aged 15 years." "Servant Anthony / From Little Cove Point / Died in peace / Aged 11 years."
Bat made his way down the rows, searching.
"Where's the Watchman? It's his job to look after them."
"I already told him." It was Joe's voice from the other side of the door, scornful. "Do you think he cares? Told us we deserve to be sick."
"What about Super?"
"We'll get hurt bad if we wake him." That was Slow. After three trips to the whipping post, Slow had finally grasped that even the most trivial and nonsensical of the Super's rules must be obeyed.
"We could fetch Trusty—"
"No!" It was Bat, sharp. "It's bad enough he has to be lying in the same sickroom as a consumptive. Trusty is barely breathing with that bad bronchitis he's got. We mustn't pull him out of bed."
"Don't you have the key?"
"Not me. Cook told me to wait here till the Watchman arrived."
"That could be when the cycle of time ends!"
"I'll tell Mastress Bennington," said Mordecai breathlessly. "She'll bring help, I know she will." And he was off, before any of them could make a half-hearted offer to go in his place.
"It won't do any good!" Joe shouted after him.
Frank simply moaned. He hadn't spoken for days.
Bat glanced at the light on the horizon. He was due to start work in the dining room soon, laying oil-cloths on the tables. He might lose a merit-grade if he was late. But the other boys had been talking all week about whether they should slip off the campus and come here. If he came here as the Little Dorm's representative, perhaps he could confine the trouble to himself. The Little Dorm already had a bad enough reputation with the Super.
"—ashamed of you boys for being out of your beds in the middle of the night. Just because No. 1611 is sick and Master Modder is stretched in his duties is no reason for you to take advantage of their absence to be waking my daughter and her husband from their sleep—"
"Say, can you just get the deciding over with, whether Frank and me are going to live or die?" That was Joe, understandably irritated by the delay.
"That is quite enough from you," the Superintendent responded with asperity.
"But they're sick," pleaded Slow. While Mordecai was gone, the boys had agreed that Slow should speak on behalf of them; he was clearly not the sort of boy to make up tales.
Unable to resist contributing, though, Emmanuel added, "Their feet are right bad. And they're shivering cold. They only have two thin blankets and one shoe between them—"
"And whose fault is that, may I ask?" Again, the Super's tone was sharp, but he had gestured to the Watchman, who obediently stepped forward and opened the door with his key. Bat let out the breath he had not known he was holding.
The door opened to the narrow punishment cell. Frank lay on the bed under the two blankets, eyes slitted open, moaning constantly. His feet were sticking out from the blankets; they were an ugly color. Joe had prudently backed up so that he was standing in the tiny space at the back of the cell; he was on one, shoed foot – his shoe was too small to fit Frank's feet, they knew – while his other foot was up against the wall, hidden in the shadows.
"Mm." The Superintendent prodded Frank's feet. "They do appear to need doctoring. I'll have the physician examine them when he comes for his usual visit, after week's break."
Slow emitted a wail. Joe shouted, "He won't last that long, you bloody fool!"
The Super glowered at him. "Don't you use that tone of voice with me, young servant."
"Look," said Emmanuel, trying to appeal to the Super's common sense, "if our doctor can't come sooner, couldn't you call for a doctor from the capital?"
"And pay his train fare here? You boys obviously have no sense how tight this transformatory's budget is."
Bat knew it was futile, but he made his own try. "If you let them go back to their own beds in our dorm—"
"On no account. They've served only one week of their punishment." The Super jerked the thin blankets over Frank's feet and turned to where Bat stood, holding the tray. "Is that their supper? Let them have their bread and water. . . . Good. Now, I want you two boys to eat your supper, stay warm, and I promise you that the physician will come see you, first thing in the morning after week's break. Till then, I trust that you will meditate upon the consequences of your dangerous behavior. Lock them up again, Master Modder."
There was silence after they left. Even Joe could not seem to think of any curses powerful enough for this occasion. Then Slow said, "Do you think he remembers they got no heat?"
Frank burst into tears.
It was the last gravestone in the last row. It was shaped just like the others; only the inscription looked crisp, fresh-carved.
"Servant Frank / From Solomons Island / Died in peace / Aged 13 years."
Perhaps he had indeed died in peace, sleeping under the anesthesia. But Joe's last sight of the older boy had been of Frank screaming from pain and fear as he was taken into the operating room to have his gangrened feet amputated.
Bat drew a ring of rebirth on his forehead, knelt down, and took the apple from his pocket. The Masters' Festival had been held the previous day; the boys had each been allowed an apple left over from the autumn harvest. Bat placed his on the grave. His throat tight, he said, "I know you're in a better place, Frank. I know you are. You just wait there for the rest of us. We'll come for you, in the end. And when we do, it'll be like old times in the Little Dorm."
The campus remained silent when he arrived back. The lamps in the kitchen and dining room were lit in the north wing of the Administration Building; otherwise, all the lights were out. The Superintendent had apparently already smoked his pre-dawn cigar and gone back inside to bed, for there was no sign of him on the porch, though the stub of his cigar continued to glow on the dirt path.
Bat moved automatically forward to stomp it out; the transformatory never held any fire drills, but Bat had been well trained by his boat-master as to the consequences of fire on a boat on the Bay. As he reached the cigar, he thought of what lay ahead. His own future seemed bleak, and as for Joe, who had survived the amputation of his right foot, there lay decades ahead in the broom manufactory that he and Frank had hated so much. The Super had already indicated that Joe would always have a home at the House of Transformation. Joe had managed to keep from spitting in his face.
". . . regret most deeply the unusual loss of one of our inmates. We pride ourselves on the transformatory's low mortality rate. I admit fully to my own poor judgment in not immediately summoning a doctor from the city, once the boy's condition was drawn to my attention. Next time I will not allow financial considerations to enter into such decisions. The boy's premature passage into rebirth is truly a tragedy."
The Superintendent's words. The Little Dorm hadn't heard him speak at the coroner's inquest; Emmanuel had stolen a newspaper from the Watchman and had read the news account to the other boys, the night after Joe arrived back from the hospital.
"But I strongly object to the suggestion made in Your Honor's court that I should not have punished the boys in the first place. I found the two of them frolicking in the snow, without any shoes on at all! No doubt, if I had not intervened, they would have given themselves pneumonia and died overnight. I rescued them from the snow and placed them in a locked room in an attempt to save their lives."
"There's malicious fools," muttered Bat as he ground out the cigar with his heel, "and there's well-meant fools. And then there's murdering fools. I know which one you are, Super." Feeling fury fierce in his chest like the return of a familiar friend, he picked up the now-dead cigar and tossed it into the shrubbery, to save the overworked grounds-boys from having to clean it up.
The shrubbery was placed against the Administration Building's basement. Standing with his back to the rest of the campus, Bat paused. Then he cautiously walked forward, knelt, and peered through the window.
Joe was right: fire was like a ravenous beast. It had already consumed most of the broom manufactory in the south wing, kept back from entering the central tower and north wing only by the stone wall at the end of the manufactory, which held no door. But the fire was reaching high enough that soon it would be lapping the floorboards of the main storey.
Bat backed away hastily, his gaze turning automatically, instinctively toward Family Cottage Trustworthy. Joe wasn't on the porch. Neither were his crutches.
Of course not. Only one arsonist lived on campus. Only one boy forever kept matches in his pockets. Only one boy had sufficient motive for revenge.
Bat's initial reaction was relief. He was saved – they were all saved. The Administration Building would burn down, no doubt slowly enough that the workers in the kitchen and dining room in the north wing would escape unscathed. But with no Administration Building, no dining room, no chapel, the transformatory would be forced to close. The boys would be sent home. They'd be free.
He had not yet proceeded far enough to examine the fallacies in this assumption when another thought occurred to him. Or rather, not a thought, but a voice.
Trusty's voice, on the first day: "Super's bedroom is above the broom manufactory."
Then he was running, shouting, before he knew what he was doing. Only old training from the fire drills made him pause as he reached the porch door. Placing his palm on the door, which proved to be cool, he flung his sleeve over the lower half of his face and opened the door.
Smoke greeted him. Not fire; the flames had not yet reached the main storey. But smoke was pouring through the floorboards, creating a thin haze like morning mist.
He looked around frantically. He'd never before visited the south wing, and he didn't have time to search all the doors in the corridor in front of him. The floorboards under his feet were blazing hot, even through the soles of his shoes.
Then it occurred to him that, if the Superintendent came out onto the Administration Building's south porch every morning, that must mean his room was closer to the south porch than to the tower porch.
A door stood to the right of Bat. He flung it open.
The Superintendent lay on his bed, under a quilt, with a bolster and pillow under his head. His eyes were closed and he was coughing – clearly unaware that he was choking to death in his sleep.
This was no time for servant protocol. Bat ran over to the bed and flung off the quilt.
"Wha—?" The Super's startled exclamation ended in a series of hacking coughs.
"Fire, sir!" Bat managed to choke out. "Come with me!"
The Superintendent was an intelligent man; he did not pause for further questions but sat up, slid his feet into the slippers next to the bed, and let Bat help him out of the room. Without his cane, he leaned heavily against Bat and would have fallen at one point, but Bat doggedly pulled him into the corridor and through the porch door.
Trusty took the Super from Bat's arm. He was still wearing the white gown of a hospital patient. "Heard you shouting," Trusty said tersely as the Superintendent leaned over the railing to vomit from the smoke. "I got him. Go ring the bell."
Six hours later, it was all over. While most of the inmates had turned the steam-pump hoses upon the main storey of the south wing to keep the fire from spreading, a select collection of journeymen, employees, and officers had extinguished the fire in the manufactory. The Superintendent was everywhere, giving orders as he hobbled along with the aid of the makeshift cane that Trusty had made for him, out of a long stick.
Now, as the Super consulted with Trusty, Bat sat on the steps of the tower porch of the Administration Building, feeling sick and shaken, and not simply from the smoke. He'd already told the local fire inspector that he'd seen the Superintendent's cigar fall through one of the broken window panes and start the fire in the basement. Joe had discreetly remained in Family Cottage Trustworthy during the fire, so no suspicion had fallen in his direction.
But would Joe understand why Bat had saved the Administration Building? Why he had saved the life of the man whose foolishness had killed Frank? Would any of the boys in the Little Dorm understand? Bat didn't even understand why he'd done it.
Breaking away from his conversation with the Superintendent, Trusty came over to Bat. Bat looked up at him, not knowing what to say. Trusty leaned over.
"Eight," he whispered in Bat's ear.
Bat looked down at the merit-grade badge that Trusty had pressed into his hand. He said slowly, "You know, at this rate, I'll be nigh on nineteen years old before I get my parole."
"Worry about that when time comes," advised Trusty and gave him a brief squeeze of the shoulder before going over to help with the inspection of the ruined broom manufactory.
From the Superintendent of the House of Transformation to the High Master of the Second Landstead:
Since the opening of this Institution, there have been brought under its influence two thousand five hundred and twenty-eight boys. They have been sent to us from every town and city in the Second Landstead, the majority of them reeking with filth and iniquity, with no conception of decency or order; often they come half fed, and without sufficient clothing to cover their nakedness; ignorant, save in crime, blasphemy and untruth; learned by their association in earliest childhood with the very lowest order of depraved humanity; some of them do not even know their own or their parents' names; a large number of them, before entering the Institution, knew nothing of the cycle of rebirth, or their responsibility to their neighbors; some had never entered a chapel; they have known no ambition in life, beyond the gratification of their unbridled passions, and to elude the vigilance of the police authorities. But this moral degradation is small cause for wonder, when we consider the homes and environment from whence they came – steeped in iniquity, becoming a menace to the peace of society, and ultimately inmates of our penal institutions.
Such is the material upon which we have to work, out of which we are to make useful men, through the great avenues of industry and a common-school education, aided by the teachings of the clerics of rebirth. To counteract the baneful influences with which they have been surrounded, to regenerate their entire nature, and step by step lead them into the path of truth and virtue, to endeavor to return them to society with a proper regard for the rights of others, with a reverence for the knowledge of the cycle of rebirth in their hearts, with a respect for honest industry – this is the great work which we have undertaken here, and which we hope, by sacred aid, to bring to full fruition.
Bat's heart felt as though it were about to burst. He forced his weary legs further, straining to reach his goal. Beside him, clinging to Bat's waist as Bat was clinging to his, Joe gave a despairing moan.
They both collapsed onto the grass next to the lane, beneath one of the shade trees. Several yards ahead of them, watchers cheered as the winners of the race crossed the line.
"Journeymen," Joe managed to gasp as he caught his breath. "I'd have sworn this was the one race I could win. I suppose that journeymen get all their strength from their nightly battles."
Still lying on his back, Joe waved his hand in the direction of the field north of the lane, where Family Cottage Obedient and Family Cottage Mannerly were engaged in a ferocious effort to better each other in a game of picket-ball. Raising himself onto his elbows, Bat was just in time to see the batter of Cottage Mannerly duck a throw that appeared aimed at his head. The spectators booed.
Joe, who hadn't noticed, groaned at the pain of their running. "That was worse than a day in the manufactory."
Sitting up, Bat looked at Joe, then beyond him to the nearby shed, newly constructed and opened. Somehow, despite the House's stringent budget, the Superintendent had managed to find the money to replace the broom manufactory.
"I'm sorry," Bat said softly. Nobody was within hearing; most of the other apprentices were in the field on the south side of the lane, waging various feats: wheelbarrow races, tugs of war, bulldog games, and – most popular of all – pie-eating contests.
Joe opened his eyes and smiled up at Bat. "Don't be," he said equally softly. "I'd forgotten that Super slept above the manufactory. You saved me from being a murderer." He sat up abruptly, as though shoving aside that months-old episode, and said, "Untie us, will you? My hands are all torn up from yesterday morning's brooms."
Bat leaned forward to untie the bandage that bound his left leg to Joe's footless right leg. Nearby, the winners of the three-legged race were accepting bags of saltwater taffy from the Superintendent. The spring sun beat down upon the fields and the lane between them. The afternoon was new enough that the Administration Building's shadow remained short.
"I'm parched," announced Joe. "Do you suppose there's anything left to drink?"
"I'll check," said Bat, drawing himself up from the field and dusting the loose grass off his uniform. There would be drill-inspection before dinner, he'd been given to understand.
There was no punch left, but a few slices of cake remained, as well as melted ice cream. Cook, who would ordinarily have slapped Bat's hands with a wooden spoon if he'd tried to eat a dessert, stood by silently as Bat collected second helpings of cake and ice cream for himself and Joe. Balancing the two bowls in his arms, he made his way back to Joe, who was still lying under the tree, shading his eyes with his arm.
Joe sat up quickly, though, when he sighted the bounty. Slowly swallowing a spoonful of chocolate ice cream, he emitted a sigh. "What a swell day. Do you suppose he thinks this is how we always live?"
There was no need to ask who he was, but Bat looked in the appropriate direction. With nearly all the games finished, the head of the Committee for Servant Welfare – Comrade Carruthers – had wandered away from the chairs set out for the committee members and other distinguished guests. He had not brought his reputedly beautiful wife with him today, much to Slow's disappointment; nor had he brought his son, who would someday rule over them all as High Master. He had brought only the committee members, who were beginning to leave the chairs beside the ball-field as the game paused over a disputed play. Most of the committee members disappeared behind the Administration Building, evidently on their way to visit the rest of the campus, with the staff trailing anxiously behind them.
Comrade Carruthers, though, had fallen behind. Incongruously, he was down on one knee, talking to an inmate.
Looking that way, Joe nodded approvingly. "Clever. Lag behind the rest, so that no one notices when you ask the real questions. I'd heard that Comrade Carruthers was right smart."
Abandoning his cake, Bat rolled over onto his stomach to watch. The inmate was responding now, gently encouraged by the woman beside him, who had her arm around his shoulders.
Joe gave a snort. "Mastress Bennington has practically adopted Mordecai. She has him over to the farmhouse all the time now, even when he isn't working for her."
Bat nodded, continuing to prop up his chin to watch. "I heard her tell Super that she's quite sure Mordecai must have been given the wrong rank-mark tattoo – that he must be the son of a master and mastress. She and Farmer Bennington want Mordecai to come live with them as a son."
He'd switched, as seamlessly as Joe, to the master's tongue. All of them spoke it in private now: Bat, Joe, Slow, Emmanuel, and of course Mordecai. They were the only ones who knew about the secret lessons – except for Trusty, who must have guessed, because he'd interrupted them more than once while they were speaking their secret tongue. But as always, Trusty turned a blind eye to illicit activities that didn't threaten school order.
They hadn't told the Superintendent yet. They weren't sure how to tell him.
Now Joe hooted at the idea of Mordecai being a master. "Bet you the Superintendent will let Mordecai live there, though. Super doesn't like having an eight-year-old in this school."
"Probably." Bat's gaze darted away, distracted from the conversation by the sound of squealing. Just a few yards away, grinning with pleasure, Slow was winning the contest to keep hold of a greased pig.
Joe poked Bat with his elbow. "Did you hear about Slow? Super's found a home for him."
Bat stared at Joe, his cake entirely forgotten now. "Truth?"
"Truth. You know the veterinarian who gives candy to the inmates when he thinks the Super isn't watching? He needs an assistant, and Trusty told him that Slow is good with animals. It isn't even going to be a parole – Super is releasing Slow straight out. Said Slow's not likely to ever reach merit-grade one, what with his schooling marks being so low."
Bat felt the breath go out of him as tension inside him eased. With Emmanuel due to transfer to live with the journeymen in Family Cottage Obedient, Bat had been worried about Slow . . . Slow and Joe, but Slow was the bigger problem, being so much more defenseless. The veterinarian, whose kindness to boys was manifest, would give Slow a good home.
"So it's going to be just us now," concluded Joe, licking up the last of his ice cream. "Little Dorm's going to feel tiny, isn't it, with only us two there?"
Bat handed Joe the rest of his cake. "Finish this for me, will you? Trusty wants to talk to me."
Joe made his usual disdainful sounds at that announcement, then dug eagerly into the contents of the bowl.
Bat made his way over to Trusty, slower than usual. He could guess what this conversation would be about. Nearby, Mastress Bennington was leading Mordecai to the refreshments table while Comrade Carruthers disappeared around the corner of the Administration Building to join the rest of his committee. The journeymen, freed from the need to show absolute discipline, had broken into a fist-fight over the disputed play. The officers who had remained behind to watch over them waded into the fight, lashing liberally with their straps, beating offenders and innocents in an indiscriminate manner.
Trusty was standing in the shade of the broom manufactory. Not being one to dilly-dally with tidings, he said, "You're being moved to Cottage Mannerly."
Bat nodded. He'd been expecting this news, ever since his birthday of journeymanship arrived and left. He hadn't said anything to the other boys, not wanting to receive their pity.
He and Trusty stood silent a while, watching the Superintendent – who was clearly eager to get the games over with, so that he could catch up with the committee – present Slow with a watch for his bold deed. The Superintendent waited only long enough for Slow to take the watch with a look of wonder on his face; then the Super hurried away, leaving the apprentices – grass-stained and muddy and utterly contented – to rush toward the remaining feast on the refreshments table.
The battle at the ball-field had finally ended. Many of the journeymen were looking sullen. With a twist of the stomach, Bat imagined them taking out their anger on the newest arrival.
"What are you two talking about?" It was Joe, arriving at their side with the aid of his crutches.
"Business," replied Trusty. "You had enough to eat?" This was evidently meant as a joke, for Joe's face was covered in chocolate ice cream, from where he had licked the bowl.
"Say, did you hear?" Emmanuel skidded to a halt beside them, with Slow just behind. "Comrade Carruthers and his committee members have been asking questions – real questions, not just whether we like our Teachers. Comrade Carruthers asked Mordecai all sorts of questions about what really takes place here, when the committee isn't visiting. And Mordecai told the truth! Do you suppose anything will come of that?"
In his excitement, Emmanuel had forgotten to switch back to servants' dialect. Tactfully, Trusty took several steps away till he was beyond hearing distance; he stared at the sky, as though trying to sight a kite that had flown free.
Joe – who had earlier made a similar observation – chose this moment to scoff. "What are you expecting, that he'll give us a big gift of money, so that we can wear shoes when it snows? That's not going to save all the boys who have died."
On most days, Joe seemed as though he had entirely forgotten about those nights spent snuggled up with Frank. Then something like this would happen, and Bat would realize that the anger and aching were still searing within Joe.
Stung, Emmanuel said, "You know that's not what I meant! Why do you always take things the wrong way?"
Mordecai had crept up on their conversation as Mastress Bennington went forward to greet her husband; the young boy flinched at Emmanuel's words. He knew his dorm-mates well enough to guess what was coming. Slow looked uneasy.
Joe shoved Emmanuel hard. "You don't even care, do you? You don't care that he died!"
Emmanuel, who looked as though he was struggling to hold back tears, shouted, "You act as though you owned him! He wasn't just yours! He was dorm-mate to all of us! You can't keep his memory all locked up, like he's a prisoner—"
Joe swung at him before Bat had a chance to move forward and intervene. As Mordecai gasped, the two boys began to roll on the ground, hitting and kicking and biting.
Within seconds, Trusty had reached them and pulled them apart. "That's enough," he said sternly, shoving Emmanuel aside as he hauled Joe to his feet. "Emmanuel, you should know better than to fight a boy who can only stand on one foot. Joe, this is the third time this week you've picked a fight with another inmate. Any more of that, and I'll ask the Super to lower your merit-grade."
Bat scooped up the fallen crutches and offered them to Joe, who settled back onto them, looking abashed. Emmanuel opened his mouth – no doubt to point out that Joe remained the best fighter among them – and then abruptly closed his mouth again.
"What in the name of all that is sacred is going on here?"
The voice was unfamiliar; Bat had to turn round to see who the newcomer was. The new arrival – Bat realized with a sinking of the heart – was Comrade Carruthers. Behind him strode forward the Super and the other staff, as well as the remaining committee members. The rest of the inmates hung on the fringes, some of them clearly delighted to see a bit of extra drama.
In an automatic manner – it had been months since he hesitated on such occasions – Bat switched into formal service position, watching the others out of the corner of his eye. Trusty quickly released Joe. Slow was trying futilely to brush mud off his uniform. Mordecai hovered nearby, clearly uncertain whether to come forward and share in the upcoming punishment. Emmanuel simply looked grim.
"This is disgraceful!" cried Comrade Carruthers, his eyes narrowed with anger. "Simply disgraceful!"
"Sir, I'm sorry," said the Superintendent quickly. "I assure you, there will be punishment—"
"I should hope so! How old is that man?"
For a moment, everyone simply stared at the regent heir blankly. Then, in unison, everyone turned to look at Trusty.
He had switched into service position: eyes lowered, left arm behind his back. His cap shaded his expression, but his body was rigid.
"Ah . . ." The Superintendent was clearly taken aback. "No. 1611 is one of our older inmates."
"He is quite clearly beyond journeyman age," said Comrade Carruthers sharply. "And I saw him shove this apprentice and haul up this poor crippled boy. What is this man doing at your school, at his age?"
The Superintendent hesitated. Bat could guess that he was uncertain whether to reveal that he had kept Trusty around to be a handy man-of-all-work. Finally, opting for the safe answer, the Super said, "He has had some difficulty in rising to eligibility for parole."
"Then send him to the Men's Penitentiary!" snapped Comrade Carruthers. "I won't have hardened criminal men at this school, corrupting young, impressionable lads."
Trusty remained utterly still, his eyes down. Bat, who was having to exert all his effort to keep from hitting Comrade Carruthers, felt like shouting, "You're here to inspect the school, not get rid of inmates you don't like!" But he realized, with growing sickness, that Comrade Carruthers must possess the right to transfer inmates to the penitentiary. He was regent heir; his brother-in-law was High Master, and his son would one day be High Master. If Comrade Carruthers said, "Throw him into a punishment cell for a year," no doubt the Super would have no choice but to do so.
"Ah . . ." The Super himself seemed to be struggling for control. "Sir, I'm not sure the Men's Penitentiary is the best place for him—"
"Penitentiary, parole, as you wish. He mustn't remain an inmate here." Abruptly, as though he were an actor walking offstage, Comrade Carruthers turned his attention to the other participants in the drama. Smiling, he said, "And who are these young men? Introduce me, please."
Fumbling, the Superintendent said, "Sir, this is No. 2450—"
"Names, please, Master Duncan. These are not farm animals."
Completely nonplussed now, the Super looked helplessly toward Trusty. Trusty immediately swung into action. In a monotone, he introduced each of the dorm-mates, carefully exempting Mordecai from the dangerous introduction. Then he provided the numbers of each inmate, for the Supervisor's sake.
"I'm so glad to meet all of you," said Comrade Carruthers, smiling at them. Slow stared at him open-mouthed; the rest of them, still taking in the announcement about Trusty, endured the friendliness in a stoic manner. Undaunted, Comrade Carruthers said, "You were domestic servants before your arrival here?"
All of them sucked in their breaths, including Trusty. Mordecai looked as though he wasn't sure whether to run or to fall on his knees. The officers and employees and the other inmates exchanged mystified looks.
"Sir, these boys were all in training to be watermen before their arrival here." The Superintendent was red-faced, apparently embarrassed on behalf of the higher-ranked master who had made so great a mistake.
"Certainly not," said Comrade Carruthers, who did not appear to be the sort of man to ever admit to a mistake. "I heard them speaking in a refined tongue as we came forward. If they were watermen, who taught them to speak that way?"
There was a small, awful silence. Mordecai looked as though he were about to faint. Bat thought with hopelessness, Super only has to look in that direction, and he'll realize. . . .
Then he knew what had to be done. Still stiff with fury and fear, he stepped forward in the direction of the Super. "Sir, it was me," he said, his gaze fixed to the ground. "I'm a good mimic, and I taught the other boys how to speak like masters."
"Goodness gracious!" exploded the Superintendent. Whispers were spreading like fire amidst the inmates. Several of the officers and employees looked horrified, as though they had walked in on a group of servant-boys dressed like masters, mocking the masters' ways. The Super added, "Sir, I assure you, I had no idea—"
"Yes, yes." Comrade Carruthers batted away the Super's words, as though they were mosquitoes. Stepping in front of Bat, he asked, "Why did you do it?"
If Bat had been Trusty, he would have gone down on his knees. But that wasn't Bat's way. Meeting the regent heir's gaze squarely, he said, "I wanted to better myself, sir."
Some of the inmates gasped. Mordecai had broken down into tears, fortunately unnoticed by the officers, who were beginning to exchange angry mutters that suggested they were tallying punishments in their minds.
"Sir, there will be consequences for this—" began the Superintendent, who appeared more distressed than angered by this turn of events.
"I should hope so," said Comrade Carruthers firmly. "I should certainly hope so. What is your name again? Bat? Well, Bat, my son is entering into his journeyman years. I've been seeking another journeyman to serve as a footman in our household, in training to be my son's valet in the future. Do you think this is the sort of work you could do?"
The gathering fell abruptly silent. Bat stared at the regent heir, convinced he was being bitterly mocked before his punishment.
It was Trusty who broke the silence. "He's been trained to wait tables, at his own request. And he's risen twice in merit since he arrived here a sun-circuit ago."
"That's true." Grasping now the pathway to salvation – or perhaps simply returning to his usual pride in the transformatory and its inmates – the Superintendent eagerly plunged in. "This boy saved my life during the fire earlier this year, at risk to his own. He's one of the good boys, worthy of our trust."
Comrade Carruthers seemed to be waiting. Bat managed to nod.
"Good!" The regent heir stepped back. "There's no room to take you back to the capital in our cars today, but I'll leave train fare for you. Take the first train down on— Oh, the morning after week's break. I'll be busy before then, preparing the committee's report on this school. I'll have my valet Variel meet you at the station with my motorcar. As for the rest of you—" He swung round to look at the other offenders, who were now gaping at him. "Lads, when the Superintendent judges you're ready to leave here, any of you who are in need of a job can come to my Bureau and ask to speak with me. I'll see that you get good jobs on Solomons Island."
Joe and Emmanuel exchanged looks. Bat knew what they were thinking: jobs on Solomons Island meant they'd be able to see their families again. "Even me?" asked Joe breathlessly.
"Even you." Comrade Carruthers gave him a swift smile. "That is, if your skills in arithmetic are as good as your Superintendent has been telling me." Bat held his breath, knowing who must have kept Super informed of Joe's school-marks. "The Bureau of Employment on Solomons Island has need of bookkeepers. And you . . ." He looked at Emmanuel, clearly trying to slot a place for him.
"He's a waterman's son, sir," murmured Trusty.
"Ah, yes, of course. There are many watermen working on the island; I'm sure I can find a position for you there. —Well!" Comrade Carruthers swung round to address the transformatory's officers and employees, who were all goggle-eyed now. "This has been a most delightful and enlightening trip. And to think I was able to locate an appropriate journeymanship present for my son while I was here! I think that we'll just take a quick look at your new broom manufactory now; there's time before dinner, isn't there?"
"Company, form!" It was Trusty's voice, sharp. The other members of Family Cottage Trustworthy were nowhere within eyesight, but the five of them took the hint, immediately forming into drill position and marching their way out of the crowd, in the direction of the cottages. Joe kept time with the rest of them, swinging his crutches energetically. The committee members lightly applauded.
They managed to make their way safely back to the schoolroom in their cottage. Released from the march, Joe tossed his crutches away, and then he and Emmanuel flung their arms around each other. Mordecai jumped up and down eagerly, while Slow said, "This is good, right? Means jobs for you?"
"Fuck!" Bat picked up the Teacher's chair and threw it at the nearest window.
The chair crashed against the metal bars in front of the window, shattering and falling onto the benches below. The other boys, who had gone still, stared for a moment. Then Joe said, "What the bloody blades is wrong with you?"
"Comrade Carruthers called Bat a present," Trusty said quietly. "All right, the rest of you. Upstairs, and wash yourselves well. Slow, give yourself a sponge bath to get all that mud off you. Emmanuel, help Joe up the stairs. Dinner bell's close at hand."
They all departed, leaving Bat alone with Trusty. Gripping the back of a school-desk in an attempt to keep himself from throwing the potted plants at the window too, Bat said, "He called me a present. A present! Like I was some pet in a shop window, ready to be wrapped in brown paper and given to his son."
"He said that," Trusty acknowledged. "You going to punch him?"
The words shocked him out of his rage. As Bat stared, Trusty came forward, took him by the shoulders, and gave him a rough shake.
"Listen to me," said the older inmate. "You got a chance few journeymen get, to leave here and never come back to prison. And not just that – you got a chance to be the highest-ranked servant in all this landstead. Someday, Comrade Carruthers's son will be High Master, and you could be his manservant. Don't you dare give all that up, just to have the fun of letting loose that hot temper of yours!"
He gave Bat a harder shake. Sobered now, Bat found himself tracing back the events and realizing from whence Trusty's unexpected anger had arisen. He swallowed. "What about you?"
Trusty let him go at once. Pulling down his cap to shadow his eyes, he stared through the door at the open sky, as though for the last time. Finally he said, "I'll survive, like I always do. But you . . ." He looked back at Bat. "You got a chance, honey boy. One last chance. Don't throw it away."
From the Committee for Servant Welfare to the High Master of the Second Landstead:
As detailed in the attached report, we were struck by the deplorable conditions at the House of Transformation, which were in such contrast to the pride and conscientious devotion to the work on the part of the Superintendent of the Institution. Unquestionably, he is dealing with a situation which is too complicated to be handled by any one institution administration. He is attempting to fill the need for three institutions: an institution for delinquents, one for the feeble-minded, and one for orphans, not to mention a hospital for those with tuberculosis. It was pathetic to find extremely unskilled officers and employees dealing with a task so tremendous. It was obvious that a group of well-meaning men were trying to operate an institution serving the Second Landstead, but without sufficient support from our landstead.
At present, the House of Transformation, although a private Institution, is almost entirely supported by funds from the treasury of the Second Landstead. We therefore recommend that the title of this property and the control thereof be vested in the Second Landstead. We believe that the Institution needs the services of a dietician, a psychiatrist, a physician, a dentist, and an adequate supply of trained instructors. We also recommend the appointment of servant staff, as soon as possible. We believe that this will add to rank-status pride and obtain better results, if those selected are properly qualified.
We suggest that the present Superintendent, who has faithfully performed his duties for thirty sun-cycles, be retired on a pension, and that a trained executive be appointed to succeed him.
In short, your Committee believes that the House of Transformation should be changed into a training school for servants, rather than a preparatory school for the Men's Penitentiary.
on behalf of the Committee
cc: Wm. Duncan, Superintendent of the House of Transformation.
The freight depot was not far from the school. If he turned his head, he could see the pleasantly shaped building which marked the passenger depot, but of course only masters and mastresses started their journeys from there. The train was sitting there now, puffing up dark clouds of smoke as it awaited its elite passengers.
He did not turn his head, though. He was standing with his legs apart, his hands behind his back in drill-inspection position, facing away from the school. Behind him, the high-toned chapel bell began to ring, calling the boys out of their beds.
He was thinking, not about the House of Transformation, but about the day on which he'd taken his fury and transformed it into speed to save the Supervisor. And then the inmates and officers and employees had worked together to save the Administration Building.
His mind wandered to the nightly sessions in the Little Dorm of learning to read and to speak properly and to do all the other things they needed to know in order to break their way out of this prison.
He'd never have been able to do it alone, no more than he could have fought the fire alone. Whatever his future held, that was the key: banding together with other servants – and any masters and mastresses who showed an interest in servants' welfare – to try to make his life better.
To make every servant's life better.
He felt a presence beside him. Without turning to look, he said, "I was beginning to think you weren't coming."
Trusty moved forward into Bat's view. He was gazing past Bat, at something behind him. He said, "Super woke me. Said you were wanting to say goodbye to me."
Bat nodded but said nothing further. The two of them stood facing each other for a minute, in a final moment of restful silence. Bat could see that Trusty looked tired, as though he had not slept overnight.
Finally, Bat said, "I'll visit you."
Trusty said simply, "Not likely, 'less you're in the habit of visiting the Men's Penitentiary. And even if I was staying here . . . Let me give you a last bit of advice, boy. Forget about this place."
Bat stared at Trusty. "Forget about it?"
"Right. Forget you were ever here. You don't want that new master of yours remembering you were once an inmate. Put all this away, get on with your life. Keep nothing from this time . . . except the promise you make to yourself that you'll never come back, certain."
Looking over his shoulder to follow Trusty's line of sight, Bat realized the older servant wasn't gazing at the House of Transformation. He was gazing to the south of it. At the cemetery.
"Here we go," said Trusty. Bat was startled out of his thoughts as Trusty turned around to flag down the train. The train stopped with a screech. No conductor emerged – naturally not. Jumping up onto the ladder on the side of the train, Trusty slammed open the door to the servants' car, then reached down and pulled Bat into the doorway.
For a moment, a brief moment, they stood there, side by side – Trusty on the ladder, Bat inside the train, holding arms with each other. Then Bat leaned over and gave Trusty a light kiss on the cheek.
"Zero," he whispered into Trusty's ear, and as Trusty let go to fall back onto the ground, Bat slipped the cloth into his hand. He left Trusty staring down at the pentagonal badge that said, "Teacher, Family Cottage Trustworthy."
The servants' car was empty. Bat picked a backless bench at random and sat down, dusting off the bench first with his hand, so as not to ruin his new suit, which, the Superintendent had assured him, "will remind you to keep up a respectable appearance and good manners, obedient to your new master."
The Super had said that during their brief conversation on the porch before dawn. Bat had spent all night worrying over what he had to say, and it had taken him several tries to attract the attention of the Super, who seemed much absorbed in his thoughts. But once Bat had made his proposal, all went easy.
"I'd already had on my mind the possibility of hiring servant staff," the Superintendent had assured Bat. As he spoke, the Super slipped into his dressing gown's pocket what appeared to be – from the gold seal upon it – the committee report that the transformatory had been awaiting. "And you're quite right: sending that bright young man away to the Men's Penitentiary would be a waste of good manpower that this school sorely needs. Yes, I like your idea of releasing him and then hiring him to work here. As for appointing him to be a Teacher . . . Well, making a servant an officer would not have occurred to me, I confess. You're quite a bright young man yourself, Servant Bat." And he shook Bat's arm, as though the two of them were equals, before fetching the Teacher's badge and handing it to Bat, with a few words about how Bat must be looking forward to his new work.
"It's not freedom, Trusty," Bat whispered to the emptiness of the servants' car. "Not for either of us. But it's the best that either of us is likely to get."
The train started forward with a jerk. Bat took a moment to blow his nose into his new handkerchief and to wipe his face free of tears. No ties to bind him fast, he had told Trusty on the first day . . . but he had not been able to keep from binding himself in friendship to Trusty.
And now that bond would be lost. Refusing the temptation to look out the window for one last glimpse of Trusty and the House of Transformation, Bat forced himself to stare straight ahead as the train gathered speed, transporting him to his future.
Chapter 12: Historical Note
In Bat's alternate universe, the New World was settled by people from the Old World in ancient times. Because of this, classical and medieval customs still exist in the New World, such as lord/liegemen loyalties and an assumption that nearly all men and boys are capable of being attracted to both sexes.
The geography of the Dozen Landsteads is based upon the geography of the Chesapeake Bay region of the State of Maryland, halfway down the Atlantic coast of the United States of America. The history and culture of the Dozen Landsteads is more of a mixed bag: it is partly drawn from the actual history and culture of the Chesapeake region and partly from my own imagination. The Dozen Landsteads is an alternate-universe version of the Chesapeake region: it is what the region might have become if its ranking system, religion, and historical origins had followed the path described in this story.
The "watermen" mentioned in this story are based on the commercial fishermen of the Chesapeake Bay. Still active today, despite sharply declining harvests in the Bay, watermen were the center of a thriving Chesapeake culture in the 1910s. The watermen had a reputation – deserved or otherwise – for lawlessness. The servants' dialect in this story ("honey boy," etc.) is inspired by the modern dialect of watermen, which, as far as I can tell, extends back at least as far as the 1910s.
Emmanuel's reference to cigarettes being "coffin nails" is a phrase taken from Owen Johnson's Lawrenceville School stories, published between 1908 and 1922 and based on his experiences as a student at that American school. Although cigarette smoking was widely regarded in 1910s America as a coming-of-age rite for boys, some of the health dangers of smoking were known by then, so underage smoking was discouraged at Lawrenceville School.
One of the odder moments in my career as a writer of historical speculative fiction came while I was researching this story. I was hunting down online references to a "House of Reformation" for juvenile delinquents that had apparently existed in Southern Maryland during the 1910s, the setting on which I was basing my alternate history story. At a certain point in my hunt, I found myself staring with astonishment at a map of my old school grounds.
I was never a student at the "House of Reformation and Instruction for Colored Children," as it was called in the 1910s. But the school I attended during seventh grade – Cheltenham Center for the Emotionally Disturbed – was located on the campus grounds of the juvenile detention facility formerly known as the House of Reformation. (My school bus drove past armed guards every morning. It was a memorable opening to the school day.)
So at the time I started my research for this story, I was acquainted with the terrain of the former reform school in Cheltenham, Maryland, as well as the fact that the Cheltenham detention facility had come under criticism. What I did not realize was that criticism of the Cheltenham institution went back to the nineteenth century.
In retrospect, it is easy to see problems with the House of Reformation in the 1910s. Indeed, grand juries who investigated the school in the 1920s and 1930s were often biting in their criticisms. Yet at the time that it first opened its doors, in 1873, the House of Reformation was considered a model for liberal clemency. It provided a merciful alternative to the adult penitentiaries where most juvenile prisoners had hitherto been sent. Drawing upon the radical experiments of a penal colony in France named Mettray, turn-of-the-century reform schools such as the House of Reformation attempted to provide their young inmates with a more normal childhood through the use of "family houses," vocational training, a bit of classroom education, and freedom from prison cells.
I've drawn information on the House of Reformation's management from over five hundred pages of official reports dating from 1874 to 1917, as well as dozens more reports on the school from grand juries and from articles in The Baltimore Sun and The Afro-American. The latter newspaper, which had many harsh words to say about conditions in the school, printed a letter from a former inmate who had attended the school in 1912. (Incidentally, I have no information on whether any of the school's inhabitants chose to share a bed with each other.)
The House of Reformation's administrators and outside observers often provided wildly contrasting accounts of what was taking place in the school. On one subject alone they were in perfect unison: the school was terribly underfunded. While strict punishments and unflagging regimentation were common in turn-of-the-century prisons for inmates of all ages, the special problems that the House of Reformation faced seemed to be due largely to its perpetual lack of decent funding from the government. Some observers at the time suspected that this was due to the school's status as a reformatory for African-American children and youths.
In our world's classical era, service and slavery weren't determined by the color of one's skin. Likewise, service (and, in centuries past, slavery) are not determined by the color of one's skin in Bat's world. Although the surrounding nations are multiethnic and multiracial, the Dozen Landsteads are populated almost entirely by white descendants of that world's version of Britain. In the Dozen Landsteads, where servant status is inherited from one's parents, an equivalent institution to a prison for black children and youths would be a transformatory for servant apprentices and journeymen.
My characters and their society are imaginary. However, the letters by the Superintendent that I've placed at the beginning of chapters in this story, as well as the Superintendent's words of welcome to the newly arrived inmates and his remark about Bat's new suit, are all borrowed (and very lightly edited to fit Bat's world) from reports issued by the House of Reformation. The one exception is the letter to Servant Lucy, which is adapted from a letter reportedly sent by an official of the House of Reformation to the family of a paroled inmate. The committee report by Comrade Carruthers is adapted from reports on the House of Reformation by grand juries and by the Child Welfare League of America. The inscriptions of the three gravestones in the story are based upon the inscriptions of the three remaining gravestones in the school's cemetery. The digging of the tunnel by inmates (with the resulting lack of schooling), the boys who lost their feet to frostbite because of punishment and neglect by the school staff (and then were blamed by a nineteenth-century superintendent for self-inflicting that tragedy), the boy who saved the Administration Building from burning down, the boy who – on a separate occasion – burned down the broom factory, and many other details in my story are taken from real events at the House of Reformation. The buildings and grounds are that of the Cheltenham campus, as far as I've been able to reconstruct them from my memories, from a handful of historical photographs, from a modern aerial map, and from historical maps that don't agree with each other.
(The tree-lined lane that led to the Administration Building is still there. My school bus travelled down it every school-day in 1976, passing one of the last remnants of the reform school's fields. My school was in one of the modern buildings that had replaced the turn-of-the-century family houses. The turn-of-the-century creek became a pond that I and my schoolmates played beside. Frogs had a tendency to hop into our school.)
In the mid-1930s, when American society had changed sufficiently that the House of Reformation's older penal practices were finally recognized as abusive, the superintendent who had run the school for thirty years retired – apparently under pressure – and the State of Maryland took over the school. The school went through a number of name changes, eventually becoming Cheltenham Youth Facility. Its troubles did not end with the state takeover, however; inspections of the detention facility continued to show that conditions there were substandard and frequently dangerous. Officially desegregated in the middle years of the twentieth century, the institution remained eighty percent black in the twenty-first century. As the parents of youths who were housed there began to realize how long the troubles had existed, and how deeply tied those troubles were with Maryland's historical treatment of African-American youths, the parents held protests, petitioning for the institution to be shut down.
After nearly one hundred and fifty years, the former House of Reformation remains open.