Chapter 1: The Wee Professor
Duncan MacGregor awoke at 5:00 a.m. in the morning, both excited and anxious. He was excited because he was going to be engaging in his favourite occupation: he would be entering his very first day of teaching students history at the local University here in Queenston, Ontario. He was, however, anxious because of the fact that he was only fourteen years old.
There was a great deal of controversy over the fact that King’s University was hiring a fourteen-year-old boy to teach a history class; he was, however, only going to be teaching one class every other day because of restrictions on how long a child of his age could be permitted to work. Even so, it was the beginning of the realization of his most ambitious dream, which was to become a professor of history at a respected University. The University had, after much deliberation, decided to welcome him in the specialized role of an adjunct/assistant professor in spite of his tender age rather than because of it. Duncan was among one of the youngest PhD. graduates in the world, having earned his PhD. by the age of twelve. He had also shown a singular talent for organizing information and presenting it in a straight-forward and often entertaining manner. He had spent the last two years as a visiting guest lecturer at various institutions, and was known colloquially at his home University, the University of Drumnadrochit, as “the wee Professor.” He now felt, however, that he wanted and was ready for an actual position at a University.
This ambition, however, won him no accolades at home. Here on the MacGregor farm, Duncan was expected to work just as hard at his chores as the other children in his very large family.
Duncan’s father was an elderly, white-bearded man in ridiculously good health, given that he was one hundred and three years old. No one believed that he was that old, of course, because he seemed to have more energy than a truck-load of twenty-year olds.
Nevertheless, Hamish MacGregor had a copy of his birth record to prove his age.
He told everyone that his mother, who had long ago been known by the people in her Highland village as a common-sense herbalist with healing powers, was a “witch”. He went on to say that at an early age, she had spilled a “potion of youth” on top of himself and his twin brother, Calvin. This, Hamish explained to skeptical modernists, was why he and his brother were not only still alive, but raising families and running thriving businesses and farms as well. Hamish claimed that he, as the son of a “witch”, was a bona fide “warlock”, or a male witch.
When he used the terms “warlock” or “witch”, however, he meant them in the most positive sense, in spite of all the negative connotations which had been associated with these words for many centuries. In some circles, a “warlock” was an “oath-breaker” or liar, but Hamish did not intend for his title to be understood in that particular fashion; and in fact, he prided himself on being a man of his word. In the old days in Scotland, Hamish had told his children that the term “warlock” was also said to have meant a “cunning man”, and everyone could agree Hamish was certainly that. As a warlock (in the most positive sense of the word), he felt that he had the power to live as long as he bloody well pleased. He had an added incentive for living a long time, because he had created a rather large family during the past twenty years with his much younger wife, Kyra.
As a veteran of both World Wars, most people had to admit that Hamish MacGregor had certainly earned the right to claim a title with the word “war” in it, even if no one in this day and age particularly believed in “warlocks”. Nonetheless, the name “Hamish the Warlock” had unfortunately stuck; and it was somewhat embarrassing to his son Duncan, who hoped to be seen as a serious scholar and not the “son of that daft auld warlock, Hamish MacGregor.”
The other children in the family, however, saw their “magic heritage” as a source of pride. They were always bragging about it, and their father’s many “supernatural powers”, to other “normal” kids. His siblings were not in the least bit interested in Duncan’s aspirations as a rational-minded professor, and they often chided him for distancing himself from the rest of the family “just so you can get ahead in the adult world”.
“Duncan MacGregor!” cried the stern voice of his father, “are ye no' out of your bed yet? There is work to be done, laddie!”
Duncan sighed, hauling himself out of his bunk bed. His fraternal twin brother, Caleb, was already up and dressed. Caleb was bigger and bulkier than his twin, and considerably more capable when it came to physical labour. He was the quintessential “farm boy” who had no problem shoveling manure or fixing machinery, whenever it was necessary.
Duncan, on the other hand, was hopeless when it came to using his hands in a practical fashion, but soared above his brother, and just about everyone else, when it came to intellectual pursuits. Caleb struggled with dyslexia, and so reading was a very difficult task for him. Duncan had tried tutoring him, but Caleb resented being taught by his own brother. The pair of them likewise argued whenever Caleb tried to direct Duncan in any kind of practical task, as Duncan disliked being “ordered about” by his twin.
“You feed the indoor animals,” Caleb told him, “I’ll be in the barn feeding the horses, goats, and chickens.”
“I don’t need you to tell me what to do,” Duncan grumbled.
“Silence, lads!” Hamish called up to them, “I will hear no arguments between you today.”
Duncan pulled on his clothes, hanging up his suit jacket and tie until after he had completed his assigned chores for the morning. There was a rotating list of duties for each of them every week. It had been agreed that Duncan would be spared the barn work on the days that he taught because of the fact that he needed to maintain a minimum odour in order to work in a classroom.
Duncan’s job this morning entailed helping the wee one, Hamish Junior, to get dressed, after which he aided him to feed the many dogs and cats that lived within the family abode. Wee Hamish had been born with Down Syndrome and was seven years old. He had a special bond with his big brother Duncan, who was always trying to teach him new things. Duncan let Hamish, or “Hami” as he was known to the family, scoop the kibble out of the huge bag and put it in the bowls of the seven collies that lived with the MacGregors. He sometimes had to guide the child’s hand so that the kibble went into the bowls and not onto the floor.
There were one or more “Nanny-dogs” to aid the parents in minding each child under the age of twelve. Duncan no longer needed “minding” by a Nanny-dog, but he did have a German Shepherd who had been assigned to him as a kind of extra security measure because he had been attracting a good deal of media attention lately over his new, prestigious job.
The dog’s name was Major Davison, or “Davy” for short, and he accompanied Duncan everywhere he went. When Hami and Duncan arrived at Davy’s bowl, they instructed him to “sit” in the Gaelic language, as they had with all the other dogs.
“Suidh!” Duncan commanded the canine, and Hami repeated the word. Davy obeyed the command, as he always did. He had, after all, been trained by the Great Dog Charmer, Warlock Hamish MacGregor.
Their father insisted that the family speak only in Gaelic when at home, and so all the animals had been trained to mind Gaelic commands. Duncan enjoyed speaking the ancient Scottish language, and so he was more than happy to comply with this particular edict of his father’s. There were many other, less enjoyable “family laws” with which Duncan took issue; but he needed to be careful not to challenge his father too vociferously if he wanted to be permitted to teach at the University.
Hami and Duncan finished their feeding tasks with both the dogs and the house-cats. They were thankfully not expected to feed the barn-cats—Caleb and their sister Cara would do that.
“Come, quickly, and eat, Duncan,” Kyra MacGregor, Hamish’s often-harried wife, said to him, “I’ll fix Hami’s oatmeal for him. Your elder-sister Mairi is going to be picking you up soon.”
Duncan’s “elder-sister”, Mairi, as the adult children from Hamish’s first marriage were referred to, was the same age as Hamish’s second wife Kyra. Both women were in their fifties, and they were good friends. Mairi had helped Kyra to learn how to deal with the rather boisterous personalities which inhabited the MacGregor family. Without Mairi’s help, Kyra had often said, she would never have survived marriage with Old Hamish.
“Yes, Mum,” Duncan replied obediently to his mother’s order.
His mother Kyra had lived most of her married life in Scotland with Hamish, until recently when the family made a decision to move to Kyra’s home country of Canada. She and Mairi had helped Duncan to arrange the placement at King’s University, while Hamish had called up one of his younger Canadian 'war buddies' in order to get a deal on an old family farm. Hamish always knew how to ferret out every deal in the land, it seemed.
Duncan ate his oatmeal quickly and ran upstairs to retrieve his suit jacket and tie. He grabbed his briefcase and rushed downstairs, for he could hear Mairi speaking with his mother. It would not do to make his older sister wait. She was a strong, huskily-built woman with her father Hamish’s booming voice, and she did not suffer tardiness gladly.
“Well, then, my wee Professor laddie,” she greeted him, “are you ready to greet your pack of admiring newshounds?”
Duncan turned as white as a ghost.
“What...what do you mean, ‘pack’ of newshounds?” Duncan murmured fearfully, not wanting to hear the answer.
“I meant exactly what I said,” Mairi stated, without elaborating on her comment, “now let’s be off with us, shall we?”
Mairi bid Kyra and the others good-bye and strode out the door, while Duncan scurried hurriedly behind her.
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