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Copyright (C) 1997; Janet MacKay First UK Serial Rights
Tales of Hamish Iain Iye Haggis, Q.C.
(Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada)
by Janet MacKay

Chapter 4 - The Banquet

Scottish music was playing softly when Hamish and his friends entered the grist mill at Balmoral Mills. Colourful streamers led the way down to the banquet area on the lower floor. The pleasant aroma of maple wood burning in the kiln greeted them. It was a small fire, for cooking only.

Haggai were there from various parts of Colchester and Pictou Counties. Hon. George Haggis and his wife had come up from Halifax for the occasion. Typical of all haggai gatherings, it was a family affair. Baby haggai slept in their cradles, or snuggled up close to their mother's warm fur. The youngsters were busy in their special area, making toy boats from birch bark under the watchful eye of two haggai craftsfolk. Teenagers and adults stood in casual groups, sipping on heather wine while they chatted about the latest news.

The mill was closed for the season. There would be no wheat or oats dried above the kiln until spring. This left the mill free for the use of the haggai, who were always welcome to hold gatherings there. In return, the haggai kept marauding animals out of the mill. Mice and rats fled in fear, and the squirrels never dared enter when the haggai were about. The skunks and raccoons stayed away too, and found shelter under other buildings.

An angry haggis is a fearful beastie to deal with. And, now, three young haggai were about to find that out.

Jamie and Johnie were racing around the banquet floor, squealing with delight, and their cousin Sammy joined them. They ignored the stern warnings of their parents. Hamish frowned. Suddenly, Johnie bumped into Great Aunt Jane, knocking her cane to the floor. She staggered, but Hamish caught her in time to keep her from falling.

"You three! Jamie, Johnie, Sammy, you come outside with me!" Hamish ordered. They stopped in their tracks, and turned pale. They all adored Hamish, and tried to please him. Now, he was very angry.

"Come with me!" Hamish repeated, as he motioned to the door. He stopped them below the steps, and pointed to a tree up at the end of the lane. "You three! You scramble up the bank, run along the road to that tree, and scamper back down to me. You are going to do that seven times, and then we are going to talk about things. Now, be quick about it!"

They ran, as fast as their long leg and two short legs could carry them -- up the bank, along the road to the tree, down the lane, up the bank again, along the road, and so on until seven circles were completed. At a sign from Hamish, they stopped. They were out of breath, but Hamish ignored their huffing and puffing. He knew they had spent their energy, and could sit quietly for a long while now.

"Young gentlemen do not run around inside, especially in banquet halls," Hamish reminded them. "You could hurt someone. You could have hurt Great-Aunt Jane." Hamish reviewed the manners all young haggai should have. The three boys hung their heads in shame.

But, the worst was yet to come. "You will each apologize to Great-Aunt Jane," Hamish said. "Also, you will each share your dessert with her."

They meekly followed Hamish back inside. He nodded, and they went to Great-Aunt Jane. Jamie apologized first, then Johnie. Sammy bowed, before he apologized. Great-Aunt Jane smiled and thanked the boys.

The skirl of bagpipes resounded through the building. It was a signal for all to assemble at the tables.

Hamish was assigned to the head table, with George and Sally Haggis. George was the local haggis councillor. Hon. George Haggis and his wife sat beside George and Sally. Rev. Alexander and Nancy Haggis were at the end of the head table. Between Hamish and Rev. Alexander, sat Granny Elizabeth Haggis, aged 103 years. Granny, as she was affectionately called by young and old alike, was an esteemed matriarch among the haggai.

The youngsters had their own table, near the head table. They liked to see what was going on, and this was a great vantage point. No one had to remind them that they were in full view of the head table and all the adults, as students in the front rows in a classroom are in full view of the teacher. The haggai have gentle ways of guiding their young ones.

Councillor George Haggis stood to welcome everyone to the banquet. He thanked Hon. George Haggis and his wife for making time in their busy schedule to be with them. Turning to Granny Haggis, he paid her kindly tribute. Granny beamed with pride, and thanked him. He told the assembly that Hamish was soon to embark for Scotland, and would speak to the group after the meal. Then he asked Rev. Alexander Haggis to say grace, offering thanks for the food they were to enjoy that evening.

As soon as the formalities were over, the teenage waiters and waitresses set a steaming bowl of cream of celery soup before each haggis. The youngsters received smaller bowls of soup, for their tummies would not grow until they became teenagers. The soup had been made in large pots hanging over the maple fire in the kiln, using a recipe from the Young Womans Group Cookery Book from Dornoch (Sutherland, Scotland).

Four teenage haggai boys went about with bottles of heather wine, discreetly filling the wine glass by each plate. The waitresses poured root beer into the youngsters' glasses. The young uns loved root beer, and hardly cared that it was full of nutrition that helped them grow. Soft Scottish music by the Alexander brothers (audio tapes) was heard in the background, setting the mood for the evening.

While the soup bowls were cleared away, the teenagers brought out spiced hot grapefruit, in grapefruit half-shells elegantly placed on a small plate with a sprig of mint on the side. These had been broiled over a maple fire in a separate area of the kiln, again using a recipe from the Cookery Book.

Then came the main course, and what a feast it was too! Haggai are vegetarians, and excellent cooks. A cheese nest, baked in a mound of mashed potatoes, stood in the centre of each plate. It was surrounded by parsnip balls, fresh peas cooked in mint sauce, beets smothered in parsley butter and turnips in orange sauce. Green pepper coleslaw and carrot & apple salad offered cool alternatives to the hot vegetables. A side dish contained a generous serving of maple syrup baked beans, laced with heather rum.

When the haggai were almost finished eating, Councillor George Haggis announced a treat for the group that evening. Elspeth and Maggie Haggis, aged seven years, would perform a special dance for the company. Willie Haggis would play a tune on his bagpipes to accompany them.

Elspeth and Maggie rose, went to get a quick hug from their mothers, and stood in front of the head table. Each girl had a tartan ribbon bow in her hair. William began his tune, then nodded to the girls who then performed one of those dances that the haggai know well. They gave a small curtsey when they finished, and the gathering cheered. It was a sign for an encore.

Shyly, the girls looked at Willie. He smiled encouragement and began his tune again. Elspeth and Maggie danced a short number, gave another short curtsey, and quickly went back with their friends at the youngsters' table. It was almost time for dessert, and they knew they would get an extra large serving for dancing.

The teenage waiters refilled the wine glasses and the root beer glasses while the waitresses brought out generous servings of warm apple raisin pie, covered with scoops of vanilla ice cream. The recipe was one used in Earltown, and tonight the haggai cooks had slipped chopped walnuts into the pie filling. It was delicious!

There were large squares of "crown jewels" for the youngsters, one of their favourite desserts. Crown jewels are made from a traditional Pictou County recipe. Small cubes of yellow, green, red and orange jello in a fluffy white cream (a homemade version of "cool whip" found in humans' stores) were spread over a graham cracker crust, and cooled overnight in the fridge. Haggai never divulge this recipe, though humans make repeated attempts to copy it.

Angus Haggis brought a plate to Jamie, Johnie and Sammy at the youngsters' table. "Hamish says you are each to give one-quarter of your dessert to Great-Aunt Jane. I will cut away that portion for you and you will take it to her, the three of you together."

The boys wanted to object, but they didn't dare. They knew Hamish was watching. Angus gave the plate to Johnie, and escorted the three boys to Great-Aunt Jane. Again, the elderly lady smiled and thanked the boys. Jamie, Johnie and Sammy scooted back to their seats.

In truth, Great-Aunt Jane wanted to share her ice cream with them, but that was against the rules of discipline. She would have to wait for another time to do something special for Sammy, Johnie and Jamie. Great-Aunt Jane liked the boys.

Coffee and tea were brought out, and the wine glasses were refilled. Ginger ale was given to the youngsters, to help settle their tummies after the feast.

At a nod from Councillor George Haggis, Hon. George Haggis stood to bring greetings to the group from the Province of Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia, an eastern seaboard province of Canada, was founded by Sir William Alexander of Scotland, in the early 1600s. Nova Scotia is Latin for "New Scotland", and Scotland is often referred to as Auld Scotia.

Councillor George then introduced Hamish, who was to speak. It was a short intro, for Hamish was well known in Nova Scotia. He told of Hamish's upcoming journey to Scotland. Hamish rose, smiled at the haggai
before him and gave a special smile for the young uns sitting at their table.

"Did you know that Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh?" he asked the group. "His parents' home still stands near the City Centre in Edinburgh, not far from Princes Gardens. I will visit it again, when I am in Scotland."

"Alexander Bell is well known for inventing the telephone," Hamish continued. "But, Mr. Bell performed his first invention when he was only 14 years old, not much older than some young uns at this table."

Hamish went on to tell how young Alexander Bell and one of his friends, the son of a miller in the area, liked to hang around the mill after school. They were easily bored, and often got into mischief there. Finally, the miller had enough of them. "Come into my office!" he ordered his son and young Bell.

The miller lectured his son and young Bell on good behaviour while at the mill. "We cannot have you here, if you keep up your foolish pranks," he said sternly, eying them both with fierce eyes. "Why don't you do something useful for a change?"

Alexander Bell took up the challenge. "What would you like us to do, that would be useful?" he asked.

The miller was taken aback. He didn't know what to say, but he stalled for time by running some grains of wheat from a nearby barrel through his fingers. He had to think of something. Suddenly he had an idea. He thought they couldn't do it, but it was worth stumping them. "Why don't you find a way to take the hulls off these oats?" he demanded.

"I can find a way to do that!" bluffed young Bell, really not knowing if he could. He wanted, more than anything, to be dismissed from the lecture the miller was giving them. Alexander Bell and his friend were very subdued when they left the miller's office. Alexander had been given a bag of oats for his experiments. It was almost time for supper, so they bade each other good-bye and went home to their mothers.

Young Bell went to sleep that night, thinking about how to hull oats automatically. In the morning, just before dawn, he wondered about brushes and the movement of stones. It was in his mind all day at school.

As soon as he got home, Alexander Bell found some brushes and attached them to round stones. Nothing happened. He tried again with flatter stones, and again several times. Eventually, he was able to remove the hulls from the oats, with a circular brushing movement under the stones.

"I have it!" he told his friend the next morning in school. When classes were over for the day, the young friends again returned to the mill. Alexander Bell knocked on the miller's office door, and heard "Come in!"

The miller frowned when he saw the boys, but that did not deter young Bell. "I've found a way to hull oats," he announced, and proceeded to set up the brushes and stones so he could demonstrate on some of the miller's oats.

The miller was impressed, and ordered an experiment on a larger scale with Alexander Bell in attendance. Again, the procedure worked. The method was used in all the grist mills in Scotland, as long as grist mills were needed in communities.

John MacKay, the old miller, used the same method invented by Alexander Bell in the grist mill he built in Earltown in the 1820s, and his son Alexander used it in the Balmoral Grist Mill. "And Alexander Bell was only 14 years old at the time," Hamish ended his tale. "He was not much older than Johnie, Jamie and Sammy are today."

The audience was spellbound, even the young uns. One could hear a pin drop. The three boys slunk down in their seats, but they were encouraged. They put on a brave face for Hamish to see.

Councillor George Haggis thanked Hamish for his interesting speech, which entranced both youngsters and older folks. He reminded them that the dance floor on the middle level was ready, having been warmed by the heat rising from cooking in the kiln. Lively strains of Scottish Country dancing music could be heard upstairs.

The teenage waiters and waitresses quickly cleared the tables, eager to follow their elders up to the dancing that was now beginning. They put the dishes to soak, and would return the next afternoon to wash them and tidy the banquet hall and dance floor.

And so an evening of merry revelry began. The youngsters soon snuggled into a bed of hay and were sound asleep. Angus Haggis winked at Johannah, a pretty teenage haggis, and asked her to dance. Shyly, Johannah accepted. Hamish felt honoured when Granny Elizabeth accepted his offer for a dance. And so the haggai danced the night away, and found their way home just before dawn.

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