We were ushered into the cathedral on the hill, past the well, across the stream. The proctors said it was a treat for the orphans to be let in like this. I don’t know who else could go there, and neither did Ewan; maybe the adults standing in their red coats holding their guns proudly? They hid their pride with the solemn look the proctors used for us, but they weren’t as good at it. I kept bumping into other boys who stopped to gawk at the well dressed strangers, so unused to seeing adults other than the proctors it was a shock for us. Ewan barely glanced at them and took my hand, snaking through the boys a full head shorter than him, sliding me through the gaps in his wake, circling the islands of proctors ushering boys and adjusting caps and blazers. Ewan said something but I didn’t hear over the shouting, so I squinted apologetically and he pointed up.
“Have you been here before?” I shook my head as I looked up to the ceiling. High above there were bathtubs. The great tin bathtubs we have in the older parts of the orphanage, hanging from rope as thick as my arm, swaying slowly but not touching, echoing our noise with a low hum. I looked back at Ewan and was answered with a quick poke to my nose.
“You, boys, in here. This tie…” The proctor was on us, tightening ties and tucking shirts and pulling socks.
“In here, in here,” pushing us into the low benches lining the hall in front of the proud red men, squeezing past squirming boys to our spot.
A rapping pierced the rumbling sound of us, the lector was ready to begin and was furiously banging his baton on the side of his pulpit. He ranged across us with a disappointed parental stare and I wondered if he had once lived at the orphanage, if the proctors ever did anything after they stopped or if they indeed stopped ever, no one had seen one leave or join, always the same proctors as long as any boy could remember.
“Quiet, quiet! This is a rare treat, do not spoil it with lolly-gagging and tom-foolery.” It wasn’t until the proud men clicked their boots together and presented their rifles with a loud harumpf that we stopped, focused on taking in this rare new experience. They spun on their heels and separated, marching off down further into the church past huge bells sitting along the sides, each taking a place in front of one until they lined the isle, guns raised against us. For a long moment they stood there, as if waiting for a cue, until in unison they shot at the bathtubs with a terrible clanging, setting them swinging and crashing into each other in a flood of noise. Over and over they shot into the ceiling and I ducked under my song book when the bullets fell back down to shower us with the sound of heavy rain.
“Mother bring those bells down,” we sung, as we were taught, “mother bring those bells down,” to the hollow clanging of bathtubs in the air.