“Straighten up, Leith. For
heaven's sakes lad, don’t walk with a slouch.” Muirfinn Wallace placed his
hand in the middle of his only son's back and pushed in. “That’s better. I
didn’t send you to private tutors for nothing. You are a refined gentleman
and you’d better not forget it.”
Mrs. Wallace smiled a
confused grin at Leith, not sure which of the men in her family deserved
her loyalty more. She took only a few moments to make her choice. “Leith,
your father's right. You’ve got a reputation to uphold. Imagine how it
would look to Headmaster McDiarmad if he saw our son, a descendant of
Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret, walking with a slouch.”
“Yes, Mum.” The scolded
boy frowned, his light brown hair falling into his steel blue eyes. His
father coughed and leered at Leith. “I mean yes, Mother.” Mr. Wallace
nodded with approval.
The three of them walked
up the cobblestone path to the front door of Ewan McDiarmad's School for
Boys. Two other families stood waiting.
“Good morning to you
both.” Mr. Wallace reached for the men's hands, ignoring the wives and
boys. “My son, Leith, will be attending, starting today. Your sons too?”
Mr. Bruce accepted Mr.
Wallace's grip. “Good to meet you, Wallace. This is my son, Duncan. His
eighth birthday is today, August 8th. What better place to form a strong
character than here. His ancestors have been coming here since the school
began.” The boy blushed with embarrassment, his gaze aimed at the ground.
Mr. Wallace released Mr.
Bruce's hand and took the other man’s. The bald-headed father squeezed
back with a firm grip. “I’m Magnus Tait. This is my son, Murray. Like your
two lads, it’s his eighth birthday too. I agree with you, Bruce.”
“My son, Leith, is late
starting school. He’s eleven, not eight. I’ve been stationed overseas in
Dubai…” Mr. Wallace gasped when a dark blue balloon fell on top of his
head, exploding with ice-cold water, which ran down his face onto his
clothes. “What in the…”
The wives dashed off at
the first sign of water, each patting their hair as if to protect it.
Another balloon followed, splattering on Mr. Bruce’s back. Duncan, Murray
and Leith jumped out of the way. “Look out!” Leith tugged at his father’s
arm as four more balloons rushed towards them. They burst in a circle
around both. Leith tipped his head back and looked up. “Stupid idiots! Ha!
You missed us.”
Mr. Wallace pulled a
handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face. “Who is responsible for
that? Did you see who it was, Leith?” He glanced upwards, but couldn’t see
anyone at the windows above. He grabbed Leith by the arm and pulled him to
the side. “I’ve warned you once boy; a Wallace does not call people stupid
idiots. I hope you’ll not make a spectacle of yourself once you begin your
studies here. Remember who you are.”
“Wallace, calm down.
They’re only lads having a bit of fun.” Mr. Tait squeezed the water from
his handkerchief and wiped off his glasses.
“Fun? I wouldn’t call that
fun. They’re not just ordinary street urchins. They are students of Ewan
McDiarmad’s School for Boys. I expect more from them, as you should too.
I’m sure their parents would frown if they knew their sons were involved
in such things. What sort of welcoming is that for our lads? Wait until
the next board meeting. I assure you I’ll bring it up.” Mr. Wallace
stepped down to the grass where his wife stood. The others followed. “Are
you ladies all right?” Each nodded. Seeing the bombardment of water
balloons had ended, Mr. Wallace cleared his throat. “Now, may I finish my
story? I’ve been stationed in Dubai for the last four years. I am aware of
the rule stating boys must enter on their eighth birthday, such as your
lads are doing. I had hoped Leith could start when he was eight, but
traveling pre-empted him being able to do that.” Mr. Wallace took a deep
breath. “But as I’ve always said, it’s better late than never.” He
swallowed, scruffing his son's hair. “You are all aware that Dubai is one
of the United Arab Emirates, eh?” Leith blushed as his father rambled on.
“I’m CEO of one of the big companies linked with North Sea Oil. My job has
kept us moving from place to place. My son was born in Kirkwall, Orkney
and lived there until he was seven, before we moved overseas. I hope he
will have no trouble adjusting to the routine with such a late start.” Mr.
Wallace ignored his son's reddened face. His gaze kept darting upward,
ever watchful for more balloons.
The large wooden door
opened. A giant of a man, bald with curly gray hairs around his ears and
bifocals barely hanging onto his face, grinned and stepped towards them,
their portfolios clasped in his hands. “Ah, Mr. Wallace. It’s good to see
you, and you too, Mr. Bruce and Mr. Tait and your lovely wives.” The
Headmaster shook the men’s hands. “Where did all this water come from?” He
spotted the burst balloons. “It must be the Hall Three lads. Their Hall is
the closest to the front of the school. Boys will be boys.”
“Does this sort of thing
happen often? Standards seem to have lowered at the school. I certainly
hope you will have those boys properly disciplined, Headmaster McDiarmad.
That sort of behavior is not acceptable.” Mr. Wallace dabbed his jacket.
“This is Harris Tweed, one of a kind and if it is ruined, I assure you the
lads of Hall Three will be purchasing me a new one.”
The Headmaster glanced
down at the boys, ignoring Mr. Wallace’s outburst. “Good morning,
gentlemen. I hope you are having a marvelous birthday. What an honor to
have these three great families represented at Ewan McDiarmad's School for
Boys. I trust the three of you were students here at one time?” He
raised his glance to the fathers. The men nodded. Leith noticed his
father's stern glare at the Headmaster. “Of course, we know your family
has been coming to this school since it opened, Mr. Wallace. You are a
member of the Board after all.” Headmaster cleared his throat.
The wives, who had been
overlooked, glanced at each other. Mrs. Wallace chose to speak for them.
“Headmaster McDiarmad, I’m Leith's mother. I’m simply thrilled that he
will be attending this fine academy, as I’m sure Mrs. Bruce and Mrs. Tait
are too.” The other two women each gave a quick smile and lowered their
“Thank you, Mrs. Wallace.
I apologize on behalf of the lads and hope you didn’t get too wet. I trust
you’ll have a safe drive home. Now, if you’ll follow me lads.” The
Headmaster turned and stepped inside the door.
The boys gave their
parents a quick goodbye. Leith stared at the gargoyles above the door and
the unusual Celtic carvings of greenmen, crosses and designs that had been
etched long ago into the wood. They stepped forward and pulled the door
closed behind them, following the Headmaster into the mystery and fear of
their new world. Leith tried his hardest not to show the other boys his
anxiety by wrapping his arms tightly around his travel bag.
stopped without warning; the nervous Leith crashed into him. “My fault,
Master Wallace. Your luggage has been taken to your dormitory, but before
you go, I would like the three of you to come to my office. I have a few
rules and regulations I wish to go over. You may call me Headmaster
McDiarmad.” The boys stared up at him, each nodding. They followed the
lanky man to his office. “Please sit.” He pointed to a row of chairs
against a wood-paneled wall. His desk was made from gean, the finest
cherry wood in Scotland, as was the paneling and the chairs. “Pardon me
for asking, Master Tait, but are you chewing gum?”
Murray swallowed it. “Um,
no Headmaster. I was just playing with my tongue. It’s a nervous habit.
“I see.” Headmaster gazed
over the top of his glasses at the boy. “I’m happy to hear that. No gum
chewing allowed in the school.”
Leith moved to the end
chair, sinking into the deep green leather. His gaze wandered to the
frescoed ceiling. Tiny cracks spread throughout the pictures of deer,
ravens, grouse and wildcats, making it look more authentic. Fern, broom
and gorse filled in the empty spaces, as did trickling burns and heather
“If you would please put
your travel bags down, I'd like each of you to begin by telling me your
full names. You may proceed, Mr. Wallace.” The Headmaster picked up a
quilled pen and held it above an open book.
“My name is Leith Muirfinn
“I’m Murray Andrew Tait,
“I’m Duncan McAllister
The Headmaster scribbled
their names, adding them to one of the end pages of a thick book. “When I
speak to you, I shall call you Master Wallace, Master Tait and Master
Bruce.” He stood behind his desk and handed each of them a piece of paper.
“These are the rules and regulations. As you can see, there aren’t many,
but I wish to go over a few of them with you. I understand you are
frightened, as this is probably the first time you have been away from
your parents. Let's start at the top of the page. If you’ll follow along
with me please. Number one; no student shall chew gum on the premises. It
is strictly forbidden and a disgusting habit. If caught with gum in your
mouth, you shall spend your weekend in the library, studying instead of
playing. Number two; no student shall attempt to leave the island at any
time. If an emergency arises, we will inform your father, who will come to
collect you. This island is quite isolated, as you noted on your travels
this morning. The school sits in the middle of Loch Ardith in the Scottish
highlands and the only way to get to, or leave the island, is via the
narrow road. There is a gate at each end to stop unwanted visitors.”
Leith thought about his
father and the events earlier that day. They had stood at the gate for ten
minutes, waiting for it to open; he had been in a rather foul mood after
that. Leith smirked.
“Is there something you
would like to share with us, Master Wallace?” The Headmaster glared down
at the boy.
“No, Headmaster McDiarmad.
I was just clearing my throat.” Leith lied.
“I take it you understand
rules number one and two. There is no reason for you to leave here. All of
your needs will be met. Let's go on then to the rest of them. If you have
any questions, please feel free to raise your hands and I shall do my best
to answer.” The boys nodded in agreement. “The cemetery is located on the
west side of the school. If you choose to, you may wander through the
newer part, but to enter the older part of the cemetery is strictly
forbidden and will result in immediate expulsion from the school.” A shaky
hand went up. “Yes, Master Bruce? You have a question?”
The boy nodded. “What’s in
there? Why can't we?”
“Students don’t need to
know why. They only need to obey the rules, which state quite clearly it’s
forbidden. However, since you are new and curious, I shall answer your
question. There are three parts to the cemetery. The oldest part at the
back is a Pictish cemetery and the headstones and markers are quite
fragile and worn. In front of that is the Celtic cemetery. The crosses are
also fragile and rare. Many of the inscriptions contain valuable
historical information. In the past we have had a few pranksters who have
gone into these off-limits cemeteries and damaged some of the priceless
relics there. They were quickly dealt with. I warn you; stay out of the
Leith, Duncan and Murray
glanced at each other; fear shone in their eyes.
Headmaster McDiarmad shook
his head. “I’ve decided not to go over the rest of the rules at this time.
Take the paper with you to your hall and study it before going to bed.
Ignorance of the rules is no excuse if you get caught breaking them. I’ll
call for the Head Boys from your halls to take you to around and show you
where everything is located. We call the dormitories, halls. You two
young lads will be going to Caledonia Hall. Master Wallace, since you are
eleven, you’ll be put in Thistle and Heather Hall. You’ll meet your
professors later on and I’m sure you’ll adapt to the routine soon enough.”
He picked up the telephone, spoke to his secretary, Mr. Green, and then
sat in silence, staring at the boys.
A few minutes later a
knock on the door broke the tension in the air. Mr. Green opened it and
announced, “Headmaster McDiarmad, Master Hume is here to take Master
Wallace to Thistle and Heather Hall. Master Wallace, if you’ll please grab
your travel bag and follow Master Hume.” The wavy-haired man nodded, gray
strands mottled with brown fell into his eyes. Leith stood, picked up his
bag and followed Mr. Green into the outer room.
A boy dressed in a uniform
smiled at Leith. He wore deep purple slacks and cardigan sweater, a white
shirt with a black, purple and white striped tie, black shoes and socks
and his red hair was neatly combed to the side. Mr. Greer dismissed them,
leaving the two boys standing outside the door in the hall. “I’m Grant
Hume. You can call me Master Hume,” the boy mocked the Headmaster, “or you
can call me Grant.”
“I’m Leith Wallace.”
“Rumor’s spreading that
your father got clobbered with a few water balloons.” Grant leaned against
the stone wall.
“You know about that?”
Leith snickered. “He did and he was furious. ‘I’m going to bring this up
at the next board meeting.’” Leith mocked his father. “I’d be getting my
ear cuffed if I used the word clobbered.”
“Fathers, eh? You didn't
start here when you were eight, like the rest of us. That’s the first time
I have heard of it. I suppose that’s because your father’s on the Board so
he’s got a lot of pull.” Grant pulled a piece of lint from his pocket.
“My father has money,”
Leith scoffed. “He buys his way in and out of everything. When you are
rich and fund the school, you have all sorts of say. My father says money
can buy anything. It seems he is right.”
“Money, or a title of
nobility. My father is Lord Grant Hume XXVII. That makes me, the eldest
son, Lord Grant Hume, XXVIII. We have plenty of money too. My father helps
fund the school, but has no interest in being on the Board. I’m glad for
that. Now that we’ve settled that, I’ll show you around. Right now we’re
on level one. There are three levels. Did you know this used to be a
castle? Headmaster Ewan Uisdean,” he spelled the second name out,
“McDiarmad; Uisdean is pronounced oosh-jan, is a direct descendant of the
original Ewan McDiarmad, who founded the school in 1496. He believed
nobles and royalty should be better educated than the normal folks, so he
built this place. It’s in good shape. The castle was converted to a school
and then modernized with heating, electricity, sewer and running water
about fifty years ago. I have no idea what it was like before then. It’s
drafty enough now as it is. Some spots of the castle are so bad that there
is moss growing inside on the stone walls. If you ever get sent to
Detention, Mr. Arbuckle might have you spending the entire time scraping
Leith glanced at the other boys passing by. “I’ll be
careful not to. Why is everyone wearing different colors?”
“Headmaster didn't tell you much, did he? All right, I’ll do my best to
explain it to you. There are ten halls and each hall has ten boys. You
should know that part. Your father is one of the Board members who select
which boys can and cannot attend. Only direct descendants of Malcolm
Canmore and Queen Margaret are allowed in and the only time a new boy is
allowed is when another one leaves. You’re lucky.”
“It wasn’t luck. My father
could not face the world if his son did not attend Ewan McDiarmad's
School for Boys. I’m sure he made a large donation so that I could
have the honor of coming here. I have been groomed for it since the
day I was born.” Leith scowled.
“Your father is a bit
controlling, eh?” Grant scuffed his feet on the stone floor.
“Yes he is. Go on; tell me
more about the school.” Leith let out a deep sigh.
“We have to wear uniforms.
Each hall's uniform is a different color. After a while you’ll know which
boys go with which hall. Take those blokes coming towards us.” Grant
nodded their direction. “They are the oldest in the school, sixteen and a
half to seventeen years old. I know that by their black slacks, gold
sweater and gold, silver and black striped tie. They are in Kenneth
McAlpin Hall. It’s best to stay out of their way. You’ll learn soon
enough. Don’t worry.”
Grant stopped in front of
each door so Leith could take a look. “That’s the auditorium. We gather
together once a week for a lecture. Usually it’s Headmaster McDiarmad who
speaks, but now and then we have guest speakers who come in from the
outside. I wouldn’t be surprised if your father comes and speaks to us one
of these days.”
Leith ignored the comment
and glanced inside the room. Rows of bolted-down chairs led down to a
polished hard wood stage. “Do they have plays and concerts here?”
“We do now and then. Are
you an actor?” Grant stepped into the room.
“I write poetry, but I
have never acted.” Leith's gaze wandered to the chandelier hanging from
“Poetry? Are you one of
those girly boys?” Grant chuckled. “Sorry, just kidding. Impressive, isn't
it?” Grant stood back and let Leith soak in the artistry and charm of the
enormous room. The walls were covered with gold leaf wallpaper. Each seat
was padded and enshrouded with luxurious maize-colored velvet, with
spacious leg room. The stage, made from the finest Tasmanian eucalyptus
burl, had been imported from the country by boat decades before. It shone
with a glossy polish and sat cupped, bordered with heavy brown curtains.
After a few moments he broke the silence. “What do you think?”
“Impressive,” Leith said.
“Only the best for us. We
had better get on with our tour.” They closed the door to the auditorium.
“Those steps,” Grant pointed, “and those at the other end of the hall lead
to the upper two levels. Down there, next door to Headmaster's office is
the gymnasium. Come on. I’ll show you.”
They went into the room.
“There’s a swimming pool! Marvelous! I love swimming.” Leith took in the
sight of the Olympic-sized pool.
“You’ll get plenty of chances to swim. We have an
exercise period each day. Some days we do calisthenics, or aerobics, and
other days we swim. See that room at the back? That’s the chemist and
there’s a small infirmary office. Try to avoid going there.”
“I’ll remember that too,”
“Across the hall is the
dining room. Oh, before we go any further, look up. Every piece of that
chandelier is made of Edinburgh Crystal, designed just for our school.”
Leith tipped his head
back. “That’s bigger than the one in L'Opera in Paris. There are a lot of
chandeliers in this school.”
“This one is rather
magnificent. When it’s turned on at night, it’s even more spectacular.
Each piece of crystal acts like a prism and this entire hall looks like
you’re surrounded by a huge nebula. Now to the dining room. Your paper has
the times for meals. The food is fairly tasty. During the week we can sit
with whoever we want and there is a whole hour for lunch. They want us to
stretch our legs and release our pent up energy so we’ll sit still in
afternoon class. Once every ten days our hall has kitchen duty. Each hall
takes turns cooking the meals for the day. That means we cook and clean
the kitchen about three days a month. On Sundays we have a huge feast.
They bring in cooks from Dunstan, a local village, and every meal is a
full ten courses. It’s my favorite day of the week.” When he pulled the
door open he pointed to the table. “Our table is that one over there,
second from the end on the right side. Everything is organized here. Did I
mention we have to sit together as a hall on Sunday?”
“What’s that room?” Leith
walked back across the main hall.
“It’s the computer and
“We’re allowed to send
emails and watch television?”
“You are allowed to
communicate via email with your family, but nobody else and only on
Saturday. We have no school on Saturday. There is a great selection of
DVD's to watch and once again, we can watch them on Friday night and all
day Saturday. Sometimes the teacher gives us assignments and we are
allowed to use the computer, but that’s only if we go as a class and are
strictly supervised.” Grant did not open the door, but kept walking to the
next room. “Over there, next to the dining room is the kitchen. It has all
the modern conveniences, microwaves, dishwashers and all that. This is the
laundry room. Each hall has to come here to do washing, drying and ironing
and there are clothes lines to hang up your wash if you want. We have to
wash our own clothes once a week. We can wash early on Tuesday morning,
or between 7-9 P.M. that evening. I hope you have plenty of clean socks
“I have never done washing
before. I hope you’ll teach me.” Leith sighed.
“No problem. Let's go
upstairs. All the halls are on the second floor.” Grant led the
overwhelmed boy up the flight of stairs. Pine green carpet clung to each
stone step, bringing warmth and color as it snaked upwards towards the
A group of boys dressed in
red slacks galloped down the stairs. Grant pulled Leith out of their way.
“St. Ninian of Iona Hall. We’ll be there next year. You just turned
eleven. I’m the oldest in our hall. I’ll be twelve in two months. I’m Head
Boy until I leave. They are on kitchen duty today. We just had our turn.
You missed that too.” Grant winked.
Leith stopped at the top
of the stairs. A long hallway led from where he stood to the other end of
the building. Ten pine doors broke up the stone walls. “Will you be
leaving our hall on your birthday?”
“Yes. As soon as I turn
twelve on October 28th, I’ll go up to the next hall. Usually it
works out. Someone leaves and another takes his place without too long a
wait or back up. This is our floor. We are in Hall Seven. They are
actually big rooms. Headmaster doesn’t like us to call them dormitories,
but we all do anyway. Come on. We are on the west side. That’s at the back
of the school and you can see the cemetery from our windows. We’re right
above it. Creepy old place, mind you.” Grant stopped at the door. A number
seven hung in the middle. “This is us. Hall Seven.” He turned the knob and
the heavy oak door creaked open. The room was empty. “Everyone is off at
class. Here is your bed. Looks like they brought up your uniforms.”
Leith saw several pairs of
purple slacks and cardigans, white shirts and black, purple and white
striped ties. A polished pair of shiny black shoes and a few pairs of
clean black socks lay at the bottom of the bed. “Why purple?”
“I know it’s an awful
color. We look like grapes. Last year’s color, dark green, was better.
Next year it’s red. I think I would rather have purple.” Grant stopped at
Leith's bed. “If you’ll notice the school's emblem is embroidered on
everything, even your socks.”
Leith picked up the shirt.
Emblazoned on the pocket was a symbol. “It’s swirly. What is it?”
“It might be some old Pict
symbol. Who knows; I’ve never figured it out. I just accept it as the
school's symbol. You might as well too. You’ll notice the carpet is purple
and the drapes too. They don’t want us to forget! By the way, there are
ten of us in here. My bed is the first one, closest to the bathroom. We
are in two rows of five. The older ones are on this side of the room and
you younger ones are by the windows. Pull the drapes shut tight; sometimes
there’s a bit of a draft. You’ll meet the other lads later. Back there,”
Grant pointed, “are the toilets and showers.”
“Whose bed did I take?”
“Tavish Ballantyne just
turned twelve and moved on to St. Ninian of Iona Hall,” Grant said. “The
lad sleeping next to you was using your bed.”
“What are the other boy's
names?” Leith saw his suitcase on the floor next to his bed.
“There’s me and you and
Sandy Stewart. He’s always getting into trouble. I would stay away from
him if I was you. Creighton Napier sleeps next to me. His family is
wealthy and he always has sweets. Keep him as a friend. There’s Gavin
Oliphant, Payton Crawford, Lyle Sinclair, Monroe McAllister, Rory Knox and
Fraser Laird. They are ordinary lads. We are all of old Scottish blood. My
father says we should be proud to be descendants of King Malcolm III and
Queen Margaret. I suppose I am.” Grant coughed. “I’m going to leave you
here for a while to settle in. I’ve got to run to class. I’ll be back
“Wait. Tell me about our
professor. Is he nice?”
“That would be Professor
Roderick Morrison. He’s a bit on the plump side with no hair and he wears
thick glasses. This year we are learning about Scottish art, poetry, story
writing; you know, that sort of stuff. You should enjoy it. I’m off.” He
waved goodbye and left Leith alone in the vast room.
Leith sat on the edge of his bed. A pile of clean sheets and pillow cases
lay stacked on top of two tartan blankets. “At least the classes sound
interesting. I wonder what I’ve missed.” He pulled a pile of papers out of
his bedside table drawer. “Hall Ten learns about writing ancient
languages. Hall Nine studies obscure subjects, such as Knights Templar,
Iona, and Druids. Hall Eight learns about Scottish plants and animals.
Easy enough. I’ve been studying that for years.” His gaze wandered around
the room. The top and bottom part of each window was decorated with
stained glass. Leith ran his fingers over the smooth surface and noticed
that a name was etched into one of the pieces of red glass. “Aileen
Ogilvy. She must be the woman who designed and worked on these windows.
They look fairly new.” From close up they just looked like bits of glass,
but when he stepped back he noticed that each window was a piece of a
larger picture. “Aileen Ogilvy did a good job. I’m sure Ewan McDiarmad’s
School for Boys hires only the best.” Shapes of thistles and
heather-covered hills decorated the room. “I see why it’s called Thistle
and Heather Hall.” He stuck his head in the loo. “I suppose I should get
to work.” Leith spent the next hour making his bed, putting his clothes
away and hanging up his uniforms. “I hope the other lads are friendly.”