Chapter Three

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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.

o—o—o

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.

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