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.
YOU ARE READING
Survival School [alternate history adventure; friendship fiction] (Young Toughs)Adventure
"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." How far can trust grow, when yo...