The Adventures of Jack Dalhousie: Part One
An exasperated sigh escaped Jack’s throat, breaking the early morning silence and sending a spray of condensation from his red muttonchops. With a final glance at the flat, bare scrap of land before him, he hitched up the straps on his rucksack and trudged ahead. There was a road to follow, at least, but it was in a sorry state, and in any case just meandered along before looping around and heading right back off the property, as if even the streets disdained the place. So, with little else to occupy it, Jack’s mind drifted back several weeks to a cold Monday morning in his hometown of Bonnyrigg, Scotland. He’d been reclining in the study, as was his morning custom, reading a book and waiting for the strong cup of coffee that the manservant was to bring. Regrettably, the servant had also come with a most unwelcome missive from Jack’s father.
So went the letter that George Ramsay, 9th Earl of Dalhousie, had been making a lot of talk about establishing a university on the coast of British North America. No sooner had he got the property paid for than he left the whole thing to wallow while he assumed a Governor-Generalship of the entire chunk of the continent. This left the job of completing the university rather open.
This was the most recent—and the most admirably effective—attempt by his father to get Jack out of the house. After all, with his older brothers already occupying the roles of lordling, soldier, and priest, he was that most uncomfortably superfluous addition to the household: the scholar. Undoubtedly, his father had seen Dalhousie’s name on the plans and thought of Jack. He was very proud of that name, in spite of its total lack of relation to the Earl himself, and was constantly vexed by the lack of honour Jack brought to it.
Jack tried to flush the thoughts from his head as he came up on the building. It was the only building on the property, low and constructed of dull, grey stone, squatting like a swamp beast lurking unpleasantly in the quagmire. The walls seemed entirely without windows, and heavy oaken doors promised no light within. Lighting a lantern and twisting the key, Jack pressed on the door, his wiry arms straining to budge it. Protesting all the way, it swung open, revealing the expected darkness within.
The building didn’t have the comforting darkness of a warm room at night, or the subtle and crystalline darkness of a starlit night. This was a crushing darkness, a suffocating darkness, a darkness that lingered on the edge of vision and threatened to steal away one’s very vision should whatever light to be found were to vanish. And as the door ponderously creaked shut, and the darkness was complete, Jack swung his lantern back and forth and knew that this task was not all that it seemed.