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The Founder Effect

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If you were to glance quickly at the huge banner hanging across Highway 48 in Ontario that read MACDONALD HALL CENTENNIAL FOUNDERS’ DAY, you would be forgiven for the assumption that the founders in question were named Macdonald. After all, Miss Scrimmage’s Finishing School For Young Ladies, right across the street, is named after (and still run by) its founder Miss Scrimmage.

You would also be forgiven for the assumption that the plans for the celebration were in the hands of an august collection of distinguished alumni, benefactors, and administrators.

In fact, neither of these assumptions would be true. First of all, the school was named for Sir John A. Macdonald, first Prime Minister of Canada. The actual founders were Rufus and Horace Farnsworth, two patriotic brothers who made their fortunes as the owners of the largest cabbage farm in Ontario, and then – both being single and childless – willed it all to the founding of a school for boys.

Second, the eminent leaders of Macdonald Hall decided to try something different this year.


“They chose us!” Bruno Walton exulted as he charged into the dining hall. “Look!” He waved a piece of Macdonald Hall Board of Directors letterhead aloft like a flag.

“Is that the Founders’ Day competition?” Wilbur Hackenschleimer asked, not looking up from his dinner. Not even Founders’ Day could distract him from meatloaf night.

“Yes! We won! Boots, look! We had the best plan of anyone!”

Boots dropped his fork. “What do you mean, we?”

“You didn’t think I’d leave you out of something as important as this, did you?” Bruno slapped his roommate on the back.

Sure enough, there were both of their names across the top of the letter. “Well, I thought you might tell me about something as important as this…” Boots sighed.

“Letting students plan something the centennial?” George Wexford-Smyth III sniffed. “How vulgar. An event like that shouldn’t be left to amateurs.”

“Vulgar?” Bruno gasped. “Never! We can do just as good a job as the professionals. We’ll be better than the professionals! This is going to be the best Founders’ Day ever!

“Mildred, this is going to be a disaster.” Dinner at the Sturgeon household was also meatloaf, but much less cheerful.

“Nonsense, William.” Mrs. Sturgeon patted her husband on the shoulder. “You know how much those boys love the school. I thought it was a lovely idea to let a group of students plan the Founders’ Day celebration this year.”

“Yes, but Walton? And O’Neal? How could Jim Snow pick them?”

“It was an open competition, dear.”

“Well, did it have to be that open?”

“Of course it did! What kind of example would we be setting for the boys if we weren’t honest?”

Mr. Sturgeon chose not to answer that. He wouldn’t actually approve of vote-rigging, but compared to putting the biggest alumni fundraising event of the year in the hands of Walton and O’Neal, he was seriously tempted.

* * *
The next morning, Bruno and Boots made their way from Dormitory 3 to the Headmaster’s office. The campus was already filling up with alumni visiting for Founders’ Day, from men old enough to be the current students’ grandfathers down to the university students that Bruno and Boots remembered as seniors from their own first year. All around them echoed the happy shouts of people reuniting after years apart.

“What do you think the Fish wants with us?” Boots asked nervously, dodging around a cluster of middle-aged men earnestly trying to reconstruct the harmony of a song they’d sung in the glee club thirty years before. “We haven’t done anything wrong, have we?”

“Not lately,” Bruno reassured him. “He probably just wants to congratulate us on winning the Founders' Day competition.”

As they went through the door to Mr. Sturgeon’s office, they saw that with the Headmaster were two extremely old men. One had an untidy thatch of white hair that drooped down to the wire rims of his glasses; the other was nearly bald. Both wore suits, ties, and disapproving expressions.

“Boys,” Mr. Sturgeon began as soon as they were seated, “allow me to introduce two representatives from the Macdonald Hall Alumni Association. Mr. Kenneth Finlay and Mr. Timothy Chadwick.” He gestured to the bespectacled man and the bald man in turn.

“It’s very nice to meet you,” Boots said with a hopeful smile.

“Nice to meet you too,” Mr. Chadwick said, his frown easing a little at the show of politeness. “Melvin and Bruno, is it?” Boots winced a little at the sound of his first name.

“Good to see that you boys are enthusiastic about the Hall. Putting on a proper celebration, and all that.” Mr. Finlay’s scowl stayed just where it was.

So did Bruno’s. “Were they in the first graduating class a hundred years ago?” Bruno muttered. Boots kicked him under the table.

“They will be your alumni advisors on the Founders’ Day Committee,” Mr. Sturgeon continued.

“Advisors?” Bruno repeated, his voice rising in a startled squeak. “Nobody said anything about advisors!”

Mr. Sturgeon gave a thin smile. “Actually, we did. The contest’s submission form clearly said that all student committees would operate under Alumni Association oversight.”

“They did,” Boots confirmed.

Bruno glared at his roommate as if he were a traitor. “I thought you didn’t read the form!”

“I didn’t submit the form, but I read it,” Boots replied.

“So, boys,” Mr. Sturgeon declared. “I’m sure that you will give Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick your full cooperation, and that they will be a great help to you on the committee. They graduated some time ago – “ Boots’s foot poised to give Bruno another kick if he made another crack about their age, but fortunately, Bruno stayed silent. “ - and they’re very interested in seeing what the school is like today.

“We can already see that it has changed quite a bit,” said Mr. Finlay, his frown deepening even more.

“Indeed it has,” Mr. Chadwick agreed. “Quite a bit.”

“No dress code now, I see,” Mr. Finlay sniffed. “Or honor code.”

Bruno bristled. So did Mr. Sturgeon: “Our boys can always be expected to act with honor,” he said flatly.

Mr. Finlay didn’t seem to hear – or, maybe, didn’t care. He shook his head. “Just as I thought. Do you remember,” he said to his companion, “when McMillan refused to sign the honor code?”

Mr. Chadwick let out a dry laugh. “Do I? Oh, how he went on about his honor. Didn’t need a code, he said.”

“And then he ended up cheating on the first exam!” Mr. Finlay finished his friend’s sentence, cackling in harmony. "Just goes to show what happens when you try to do without a code!"

Mr. Sturgeon cleared his throat. "Boys, why don't you show Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick some of the campus? They haven’t seen the pool yet.”

“Ah, a pool!” That got a slightly more approving look from Mr. Finlay. “Athletics! It builds character. You’ll have compulsory morning swims, then?”

“Er, no,” Boots cut in before Bruno could make some less judicious answer. “But I’m on the swim team. And we raised the money for the pool ourselves. We’d be happy to show you, sir.”

“Excellent!” Mr. Finlay started to push himself up to his feet. He wavered slightly on the way up, and Mr. Chadwick reached out to give him a steadying arm. Still leaning on each other, the old men tottered out of the office, with Bruno and Boots following helplessly after.

* * *
“This meeting of the Centennial Founders’ Day Committee is called to order!”

Room 306 was overflowing. Boys perched on every available bed, chair, desk, and even the top of Bruno’s dresser. Boots was squeezed onto the edge of his desk, his bed and chair having both been taken over by members of the committee. Bruno didn’t mind that there wasn’t any room for him to sit; he gave better speeches when he was standing up anyway.

The only committee members not present were Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick. The two old alumni had peered and sniffed at the pool, then went on a long digression about a friend they’d had who did exercises every morning. That led to a long digression about another friend who’d tried to get out of every Phys Ed requirement, and that led to reminiscences about the various sports coaches and the victories won by the Macdonald Hall soccer and hockey teams. By the end of it, three hours had passed, Bruno had nearly fallen asleep three times from boredom, and Boots was flinching every time one of the old men called him ‘Melvin.’

Still, Boots was worried at their absence from this evening’s meeting. “Shouldn’t our, er, advisors be here?” he asked Bruno under his breath.

Bruno waved away his roommate’s concern. “It’s late! They’ll be asleep already. My grandparents always go to sleep early.” With that question answered, at least as far as Bruno was concerned, he raised his voice again to address the room. “My fellow students! This is the biggest event in the history of Macdonald Hall! Just about everyone who’s ever graduated from the school will be here! The eyes of the world will be upon us! A hundred years from now on the bicentennial, they’ll look to us for what we did! We will determine Macdonald Hall’s legacy for eternity!”

“Actually,” Elmer Drimsdale piped up, “it is extremely improbable that Macdonald Hall will still be here a hundred years from now. Boarding schools on average have an operating period of – “

“For eternity!” Bruno repeated, thumping his hand on the desk where Boots was sitting. “So we need to make this the best celebration ever! Chris, I’m going to need a lot of banners in the school colors.” Chris Talbot was one step ahead of him, already making sketches.

So was Mark Davies. “Special edition of the newspaper?”

“Absolutely! Can you reproduce the first copy of the newspaper from a hundred years ago? With a cover sheet saying Macdonald Hall Then and Now.”

“How about a special feature on the founders?” Mark suggested. “The Farnsworths: Their Life and Legacy.”

“Perfect!” Bruno cheered. “We’ll need to have entertainment as well.”

“There’s always the Scrim-Band,” someone suggested.

“Don’t they only know one song?”

“Yeah, but it’s a great song!”

“It’s ‘Monster Mash’! That’s a terrible song!”

“It was great at the Halloween dance…”

Bruno’s fist pounded down on the desk again. “We need to do better than that! We’ll get together…” He searched through his mind until inspiration struck: “A jazz band! I bet the Fish’ll give us money to hire a real band. It’s for Founders’ Day, after all! And a dance, for all of the alumni and their spouses.”

“We should have something more about the founders,” Boots suggested. “The feature in the newspaper is great,” he said, nodding to Mark, “but what else can we do to honor the Farnsworths themselves?”

“Well,” Elmer Drimsdale began, clearing his throat, “since the Farnsworth brothers made their fortune growing cabbage, what about a series of exhibits on the culinary and medicinal uses of cabbage? They are surprisingly versatile. Did you know that the ancient Greeks used cabbage to cure gout, and as an antidote to poison mushrooms?”

Even the thought of gout and poison mushrooms couldn’t dim Bruno’s enthusiasm. “That’s perfect, Elm! You’re in charge of that. We’ll show everyone the kind of advanced academic research that’s going on at Macdonald Hall. I bet you’ll come up with a hundred new uses for cabbage. You’ll be the George Washington Carver of cabbage!”

“We could have a cabbage-eating contest,” Wilbur offered.

“Great!” cried Bruno. “And we can plant those ornamental cabbages around the edges of campus – you know, those purple ones? There will be cabbages everywhere!” The applause was a little halfhearted; even with Bruno’s cheerleading, it was hard to get excited about cabbages. “Okay! Everyone’s got their assignments. Get to work! We need to make this the best Founders’ Day ever!”

* * *

Classes were cancelled all that week in honor of Founders’ Day, so Bruno didn’t have to wake up at 8:45 for his usual mad dash. Instead, he had to wake up at 7:30 for a breakfast meeting with Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick. Stumbling and bleary, he collapsed in front of a huge plate of eggs and sausage and started digging in. “Not right,” he mumbled. “Too early.”

“But look how much extra time we’ll have to work on the Founders’ Day plans,” Boots offered, trying to look on the bright side.

“Ah! Bruno! Melvin!” Two pairs of beady eyes, one behind wire-rimmed glasses, stared down at Bruno and Boots. Leaning on each other as always, Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick tottered forward to take their seats across from the boys. “We’ve made some more arrangements for the Founders’ Day celebration.”

“But we’ve made arrangements for the celebration!” Bruno protested, suddenly awake.

Mr. Finlay waved that away with one thin hand. “Never mind. It’s all taken care of. Now, we need to go over the schedule of speakers. We’ve found three who would be suitable: one from the class of ’35, one from the class of ’42, and one from the class of ‘53. About an hour each, I think?”

Bruno and Boots exchanged horrified looks. Three hour-long speeches?

“Yes, we thought that would be about right,” Mr. Chadwick confirmed. “Not counting the speeches by Mr. Snow and Mr. Sturgeon, of course.” He poked discontentedly at his toast. “Overdone at the edges.”

“Speaking of which,” Mr. Finlay continued, “we’ve seen to the catering as well. Do you remember,” he added, turning to his companion, “we used to have a Sunday roast every week?”

Mr. Chadwick sighed nostalgically. “We did. Not at all like what you’ve got these days.”

“Our food is great!” Bruno protested.

“Weren’t you just saying that you hated yesterday’s dinner?” Boots muttered.

Bruno ignored him. “The food here is great!” he repeated.

“Could’ve been worse,” Boots sighed. “They could be trying to get us to eat more cabbage.”

“Well, you don’t need to worry about that,” Mr. Chadwick said, in what he presumably intended as a reassuring tone. “We’ve got the catering all taken care of. You boys will see what Macdonald Hall should be like.”

* * *

Later that night, Bruno and Boots fled campus for the relative safety of Miss Scrimmage’s.

When they climbed up into the familiar window of Cathy and Diane’s room, they found Cathy sprawled on the floor while Diane sat backwards on her desk chair, both looking glum. In place of the spread of cold cuts, fruit, and cookies pilfered from the dining hall that they usually found at Scrimmage’s, there was an odd speckled cake, tiny sandwiches, and some shriveled things that looked like they had once been tomatoes.

“What is that?” Bruno asked. “What happened to your food?”

“As if you didn’t know,” Cathy groaned. She rolled over so that her back was to the boys, conspicuously not greeting them.

Boots picked up a slice of the thing that looked most like a cake and took a bite. “Ugh! Are these caraway seeds? Who puts that in a cake?”

“The Victorians,” Cathy intoned darkly.

Boots tried to dispose of the bite of cake as politely as possible. “Why would they do something like that?”

“And why do you have it?” Bruno stopped adding to his pile of miniature sandwiches and looked more closely at one of them. “This looks like cucumber. Is that actually cucumber?”

“I think so,” said Diane. “They’re not that bad, once you get used to them. Apparently this is the kind of thing that people ate a hundred years ago. Miss Scrimmage is really excited about your centennial.”

“Don’t even start!” Cathy flung a hand across her face to shut out the world.

Bruno and Boots looked at her curiously, and then at Diane, who shook her head. “Please tell me that things are going better for you?”

“Did you know that Macdonald Hall used to have an honor code?” Bruno asked by way of answer. “Or that some guy named Nichols ate breakfast outside for a month because he lost a bet, or that some math teacher used to begin every class with the recitation of the Pythagorean Theorem, or that the sophomores used to celebrate the first day of school by having a race around the administration building?”

Diane stared blankly.

Bruno clutched at his hair in frustration, “We have spent the last day being told every single detail of what Macdonald Hall was like a hundred years ago by our committee advisors from the Alumni Association.”

“They’re not actually from a hundred years ago,” Boots pointed out for the tenth time that hour. “Only fifty or so. Maybe seventy.”

“Whenever they’re from, it is clearly the most boring part of the twentieth century.”

“I don’t know,” Boots said a little shyly. “I thought some of those stories were pretty neat. And they’ve actually known each other since they were students – can you imagine, being friends that long?”

“Pretty neat?” Bruno turned on his roommate. “Do you want to spend another afternoon hearing about how much better dressed and better behaved Macdonald Hall students were back in their day, and how terrible we all are?”

Boots looked to the girls, desperate for a change of subject. “So – what is going on with the food? And what’s Miss Scrimmage doing that’s so horrible?”

“It’s all your fault!” Cathy said, pointing an accusing finger up from the floor at the boys.

Boots drew back. “How is it our fault?”

“Miss Scrimmage is having us ‘commemorate’ the centennial,” Diane explained, “not only by eating like people did a hundred years ago, but by dressing the way students did a hundred years ago.”

Boots shook his head in confusion. “But it isn’t your centennial. I mean, wasn’t Scrimmage’s only founded thirty or so years ago?” He had a sudden image in his head of an immortal hundred-year-old Miss Scrimmage, or a string of identical Miss Scrimmages stretching centuries back in history, each emerging to replace the one before.

“I know that,” Diane sighed, “and you know that. Sometimes even Miss Scrimmage knows that. But she’s so excited about tradition that she’s having us act like students at a girls’ school would have a hundred years ago. Food, clothes, everything.”

“Long skirts!” Cathy moaned. “High collars! Shoes with buttons on them!” She flopped her feet – still clad in sneakers – around on the floor. “A whole week of embroidery and music lessons! These are our last moments of freedom!”

“It could have been worse!” Diane offered bleakly. “She could have had us wear corsets.”

“Compared to that, listening to boring stories from a couple of old guys doesn’t seem too bad,” Boots said. “I hope you can find a way to get out of it.”

“Oh, we’ll find a way, all right.” From Cathy’s tone, that might have been a threat, or a promise, or both. “And when you come back, please bring hamburgers?”

* * *
With school out of session, nearly every classroom in Macdonald Hall had been given over to some aspect of Founders’ Day preparation. Saws buzzed away in the wood shop to build the speakers’ stands and platforms for the band; the art studios were full of Chris Talbot’s assistants painting dozens of banners and signs; the print shop thumped and whirred with the production of Mark’s special-edition newspapers.

“See, what did I tell you?” Bruno said to Boots, striding down the corridor like a king on a royal progress. “Everything is turning out perfectly!”

That’s when they heard a familiar shuffling double footstep behind them.

“Ah! Bruno and Melvin!” Mr. Chadwick called. “There you are! Good to see you, boys.”

Boots swallowed back a wince at the name and put a smile back on his face as he turned towards the two old men. “Here we are,” he agreed weakly. “How can we help you?”

“We’re here to oversee your plans,” Mr. Finlay explained as the pair tottered forwards. “To make sure that everything is satisfactory. Let’s start here, shall we?” He pointed to the next room on the hallway, which was the chemistry lab. “Can’t tell one room from another in these modern buildings,” he added in a discontented grumble.

Bruno and Boots looked at each other “Er. All right,” Boots agreed slowly. It couldn’t hurt anything to show the alumni what everyone was working on, could it?

Bruno even thought it might help. “Oh, you’ll love this!” he said, bounding ahead to open the door for the others. “It’s an example of the best scientific research going on at Macdonald Hall.” He charged into the lab, where a very startled Elmer Drimsdale nearly dropped a pipette. “Elmer! These are the two advisors from the Alumni Association that we were telling you about, Mr. Chadwick and Mr. Finlay. Gentlemen, this is Macdonald Hall’s resident genius, Elmer Drimsdale!”

“So, what have we here?” Mr. Finlay peered skeptically over his glasses at Elmer’s experiments.

“In honor of Macdonald Hall’s founders, the Farnsworth brothers,” Elmer explained, “I have been endeavoring to demonstrate as many of the potential uses for cabbage as possible. For example, here is some freeze-dried cabbage powder. And here I demonstrate how red cabbage can be used as a chemical indicator similar to litmus paper. As you see here, it reacts to different pH levels to turn the solution a different color.”

“Hm. All right, I suppose,” Mr. Finlay allowed.

“All right?” Bruno puffed up with indignation on his friend’s behalf. “It’s better than all right. I told you, Elmer’s a genius!”

Elmer shook his head modestly. “Oh, Mr. Finlay is right. This is an illustration of some rather elementary chemical principles. Over here, I have a slightly more advanced application: cabbage extract as an anti-fungal agent. Or, would you care to look at the array of culinary uses for cabbage?” Elmer asked, motioning to a series of large buckets. “I have several different preparations of sauerkraut in progress, each with a slightly different proportion of water to salt, and with different varieties of juniper berries - ”

Boots feared what might happen if the two old men started to taste-test Elmer’s sauerkraut recipes. “Er, why don’t we look at the banners now?” he offered hastily. “Thanks, Elmer,” he added. “Your experiments are great, really. And I bet the sauerkraut will be delicious.”

Elmer beamed as Bruno and Boots shuffled the two old alumni away.

“Now, I’m sure you’re very busy with other things,” Bruno said to Mr. Chadwick and Mr. Finlay. “You’ll probably need to go…”

“Not a bit of it!” Mr. Chadwick dismissed Bruno’s hints. “We’ve got all the time in the world. What’s next? You said that you have some of your friends working on banners?”

“Er, yes,” Boots said. “Come this way.”

In the art room, Chris proudly unfurled his banners, each one a carefully drawn arrangement of the Macdonald Hall crest, the date of its founding, and the slogan “Centennial Founders’ Day.”

The two alumni frowned.

“The outlines around the school crest should be darker,” Mr. Finlay said. “And those colors – they should be brighter.”

Mr. Chadwick nodded. “And the banners should all be bigger.”

“Might be better to just start over,” said Mr. Finlay casually.

Chris stared at the two old men, and then at Bruno and Boots, his hurt and betrayal growing with every new criticism of his work.

“Um, why don’t we move on?” Boots said hastily, ushering Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick towards the door.

“Don’t start over!” Bruno mouthed to Chris behind their backs. “They look great!”

“Of course,” Mr. Finlay continued on the way out, “there’s only so much that can be done with these new buildings.” He cast a disapproving glance at the walls. “You can hang all the banners you like, but you can’t cover up modern architecture.”

For the next two hours, Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick followed Bruno and Boots around, giving their critique of every bit of creative work and every aspect of Macdonald Hall that they found – and when they weren’t doing that, they were spouting endless reminiscences of how much better Macdonald Hall had been when they were students there.

“These guys!” Bruno groaned, when they were finally able to escape. “Nothing is ever good enough for them! We’re never going to get anything done as long as they’re hanging around. We have to find some way to get rid of them.”

“We can’t do that!” Boots protested. “They’re supposed to be helping us. Anyway, they’re bigwigs on the Alumni Association. The Fish would kill us if we got them mad at us. Well, madder than they already are,” he corrected himself with a sigh.

“Okay, then,” Bruno said slowly, with that tone that meant that he was starting to come up with a plan. “If they want to see everything that’s going on, we’ll find a way to get them to see everything.”

* * *

“What’s going on at Scrimmage’s?” Pete Anderson asked, squinting across the road.

Chris Talbot shaded his eyes. “Are they having a parade?”

The athletics field was full of girls in white high-necked blouses and long skirts, marching around the running track holding signs and shouting slogans. In the lead was Cathy Burton, her powerful voice carrying across the distance. “Votes for women!”

A few middle-aged Macdonald Hall alumni had wandered curiously over. “What’s going on here?” one of them asked.

Cathy Burton was front and center to explain. “In honor of Macdonald Hall’s centennial, we’re re-enacting what life would have been like for women a hundred years ago.” Her smile was perfectly angelic, and only someone who knew her very well would be able to see the glint of mischief in her eyes. “The suffragist movement was very prominent in this part of Ontario. We’re holding a rally.”

Miss Scrimmage ran up, hands alternately fluttering and wringing. “Girls! Girls! Oh, what are you doing?”

“We’re being women of the past, Miss Scrimmage!” Diane stepped up next to Cathy, her blonde hair straggling out of its nineteenth-century updo after the exertion of marching. “Miss Scrimmage is very enthusiastic about our historical studies,” she added to the still-confused alumni. “She’s been asking us to learn all about life a hundred years ago!”

“But – but – “ Miss Scrimmage floundered, caught between pride in her girls’ praise and confusion at how her demure Victorian experiment had turned out.

“You’ve inspired us to do so much research, Miss Scrimmage!” Cathy enthused. “Did you know that some women in Toronto had to pretend to be a literary club because it was the only way they could be allowed to gather to talk about voting rights and the inequality of women’s education?”

“And we’ve been learning all about labor conditions,” Diane chimed in. “They were terrible! Especially for servants – working fourteen or sixteen hours a day, earning hardly any money. Of course, Miss Scrimmage isn’t asking us to re-enact that part of it. But if it weren’t for this project, I never would have known about all of the injustices facing women in the nineteenth century.”

“Really?” The Macdonald Hall alumni were taking in Cathy and Diane’s facts with growing interest. “I never knew that! This is a great idea for a school project, Miss Scrimmage – having the students actually live as people from the past.” He fished a business card from his pocket and held it out to Miss Scrimmage. “My wife is the head of a school in Calgary – can I have her get in touch with you about doing something similar there?”

Miss Scrimmage took the card, still slightly uncertain about where she was or how she had gotten there. “Why – er – yes, of course. Well done, girls!” she ventured. “Your – er, research is just what I’d hoped it would be.”

Cathy beamed. “Thank you, Miss Scrimmage.” As she and Diane turned away, Cathy let the satisfaction come back into her smile to take away some of the careful innocence she’d put on for the alumni and Headmistress. “If she wants us to live like nineteenth-century girls, then we’ll talk about what things were really like in the nineteenth century.”

* * *

The next morning when Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick arrived on campus to meet with the Founders’ Day Committee, they found Mark Davies waiting for them. “Good morning,” he said with a bright smile. “I’m glad that you’re here. The Committee really needs your help today. Could you go meet Bruno and Boots – er, Melvin,” he corrected himself, on seeing the blank looks from the old men, “in Dormitory 3?”

“They have three dormitories now?” Mr. Finlay said, as he and Mr. Chadwick tottered off in that direction. “What do they need three dormitories for?”

At the entrance to Dormitory 3, they were greeted by Larry Wilson. “Oh, you’re looking for the heads of the Committee? They had to go to the dining hall to check on the catering arrangements. You can find them there.”

In the dining hall they found Wilbur, who didn’t have any information about catering the celebration but did offer them some of the finest regular food that Macdonald Hall had available, along with a vague indication that Bruno and Boots had gone off to the athletics field.

Pete Anderson paused on his way around the running track (a show of athleticism that drew grudging approval from an increasingly out-of-breath Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick) to say that they just missed Bruno and Boots, and to try checking the chemistry lab.

In the chemistry lab, Elmer Drimsdale blinked up from his chemical analysis of yet another variety of cabbage to say with complete honesty that he had no idea where Bruno and Boots were.

While Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick hobbled and gasped from one end of the campus to the other, Bruno and Boots were in fact in the art room overseeing yet another round of banners, and adding the finishing touches to their “Notes from the Committee” column for the special edition of the newspaper. After a satisfyingly productive day, they made their way back to Room 306 for a brief rest before dinner.

They probably shouldn’t have been surprised to find a summons to Mr. Sturgeon’s office waiting for them.

* * *

“What is the meaning of this?”

Mr. Sturgeon never shouted, but anger made his voice and eyes even colder as he glared at the boys across the forbidding barrier of his desk.

“I have just spent the last hour speaking to Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick. They inform me that you and your friends sent them on a wild goose chase all over this school in an effort to keep them away from you and your Founders’ Day plans. Plans which, I might add, those two gentlemen are supposed to be overseeing. And what is worse, your insistence that they hurry everywhere has put them under severe physical strain. You are aware that they are both in their eighties?”

Boots looked horrified. “Are they all right? We never wanted to hurt them!”

“Yes, they are fine,” Mr. Sturgeon replied. Bruno and Boots let out matching sighs of relief. Mr. Sturgeon’s fury lessened – but only a little. “What on earth were you two thinking?”

“They’re awful!” Bruno burst out. “They won’t let us do anything!”

“Sir, we’re sorry,” Boots said, hastily trying to moderate his roommate’s words. “But we’ve been working really hard on the Founders’ Day celebration, and every time we tell Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick about it, they try to undo what we’ve planned.”

Bruno nodded. “And all they can talk about is how terrible Macdonald Hall is now!”

For a moment, Mr. Sturgeon felt a twinge of sympathy. He’d been hearing much the same thing from Finlay, Chadwick, and their contemporaries too, and he was thoroughly tired of having to defend every decision of his tenure as Headmaster. “Be that as it may,” he said firmly, “they are distinguished alumni and benefactors of this school. You owe them respect. And putting two elderly people at risk of harm is not the kind of behavior that I expect from my students.”

Boots shrank further down in his seat, and even Bruno looked slightly abashed.

“You are hereby removed from the Founders’ Day Committee,” Mr. Sturgeon declared. “Clearly you cannot handle the responsibility that such a position entails. From now on, the arrangements will be taken care of by the Alumni Association. And after the celebration is over, we will discuss your punishment, which may very well last until the next Founders’ Day, if not until the next centennial.”

“But, sir!” Bruno dared to protest. “What about all the work that everyone’s been doing?”

“The special edition of the newspaper is already going to press,” Boots added. “And Elmer’s been working on his cabbage for days!”

“The newspaper and the – er – scientific research may continue.” If it was Drimsdale, it had to be something scientific, and Mr. Sturgeon wasn’t sure that he wanted to inquire further than that. “We still want to showcase the achievements of current students And we do not want to penalize anyone who was not involved in this stunt of yours – although from what Mr. Chadwick and Mr. Finlay have said, I doubt there is anyone who was not involved! But you are not to have anything to do with the planning of the ceremony itself. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir,” they chorused.

* * *

“This is an outrage!”

Bruno had been pacing up and down Room 306 for nearly an hour while Boots curled miserably on his bed, occasionally trying to put in a helpful or soothing suggestion, but mostly just feeling guilty.

“After all the work we’ve put into the Founders’ Day celebration, how can the Fish take us off the committee now?” Bruno ranted. “What have we ever done to deserve this?”
“We nearly drove two defenseless old men to heart attacks?” Boots ventured.

“We were just trying to make sure that we could get our jobs done without any interference! How could we work with those two vultures looking over our shoulders the whole time? And all of their stories about how things were better back in their day? As if Macdonald Hall weren’t the greatest school in Canada right now – maybe even the greatest school in the world?” Bruno whirled around, struck by a new idea. “They think they can control everything? Well, we’ll show them! This school is about the students! Let’s show them what kind of celebration we can make!”

“What do you mean?” Boots asked.

Bruno didn’t answer – he was already off and running. “First we’ll need to talk to Larry. He’s got access to The Fish’s office, and that means he’s got access to all of the invoices and work orders for the Founders’ Day celebration, right? And then, let’s go see Cathy and Diane…”

* * *

Founders’ Day dawned bright and sunny, and surprisingly peaceful considering everything that had gone on before. Students from Macdonald Hall’s present and past mingled, introducing families, spouses, and new acquaintances as they waited for the festivities to begin.

Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick shuffled up to the entrance to the athletics field, scowling at the banners. “I told that boy to change the colors!” Mr. Finlay grumbled. “These young people – they never listen to a word that you say!”

* * *

“Mildred!” Mr. Sturgeon stood, phone in hand, as he stared through the open door of his office closet. “Is my tuxedo there?”

“No, dear,” Mrs. Sturgeon replied, confused. “You brought it to your office yesterday.”

Mr. Sturgeon sighed. “That’s what I was afraid of.”

“What?” Mrs. Sturgeon asked, but her husband had already hung up the phone.

He went back to staring at his closet, in which there hung not a tuxedo, but a judo suit.

At least he had earned a black belt, he noted with bemusement.

* * *

A pair of thirtysomething Macdonald Hall alumni circled around the athletic field, looking curiously down at the ornamental plants arranged along the edges.

“Hey, are these…cabbages?” one asked. He had to raise his voice to be heard over the sound of the droning speech being given by a member of the Class of ’35.

The other poked at the ruffly-leaved plant with his toe. “Yeah, I think so. Why are they lined up like that?”

“Looks like they’re arranged in some kind of pattern?” the first one said. “The real question is, why cabbage?”

The speech ended, and Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick – front and center, of course – led the sparse and relieved applause.

The second alumnus kept poking at the cabbage. “Beats me. Maybe for the Farnsworths? But, yeah, you’re right, they’re in some kind of pattern. I think they're spelling something out. You can probably read it from farther back. Or maybe high up?”

The first alumnus grinned. “Like from the roof?”

His friend grinned back. “Yeah, probably. Wanna see if that fire door to the roof of Dormitory 3 still works?”

“You’re on!”

What they would see when they got to the roof was a neat arrangement of ornamental cabbages, re-dug and re-planted in the wee hours of the morning, that spelled out MACDONALD HALL LIVES.

* * *

“Where is the jazz band?” Mr. Sturgeon – wearing his best black suit rather than the absent tuxedo – asked, his heart sinking as he walked onto the athletics field.

“I don’t know, dear.” Mrs. Sturgeon looked curiously at the people assembling on the newly-constructed stage. “Is that…a Scrim-Band? And why are they dressed like that?”

Feedback squealed from speakers and microphones as the sound of the Scrim-Band’s electric guitars blared across the field.

Half a dozen girls in long-skirted high-necked dresses stood on the platform. One of them had her petticoats hiked up so that her high-buttoned boots could reach the pedals on the drumset; another’s hair was sprayed up in a spiky parody of a Victorian updo. All had their faces painted dead white, some highlighted with dots of fake blood or Frankenstein-monster stitches.

Front and center was Cathy Burton, with gruesome red lines crisscrossing on her face and a splash of fake blood on her demure white blouse. She took hold of the microphone and intoned in a low, ominous voice, “I was working in the lab, late one night…”

The Macdonald Hall students went wild. “Monster Mash!” they screamed. “Sing it, Scrim-Band!”

The alumnus from the Class of ’45 – still only a quarter of the way through his hour-long speech – tried to shout over the noise, but to no avail.

But the younger alumni, especially those who had graduated during the 1960s, cheered right along with the current students. “I love this song!” one shouted over the din to his friend. “Why didn’t the girls play music like that when we were here?”

“I don’t know,” his friend replied, “but this is great! Where are those Founders’ Day chairs? Finlay and Chadwick, wasn’t it?”

“How did a couple of stuffed shirts like them come up with the idea to have the girls from Scrimmage’s play? Scrimmage’s wasn’t even open when Finlay and Chadwick were students here!”

“Beats me!” The second alum shrugged. “Maybe they’re not as stuffed-shirt as we thought!”

The girls beamed through their ghoulish makeup, soaking up the cheers.

“It was a graveyard smash!” everyone shouted in unison over the chorus.

Miss Scrimmage grabbed Mr. Sturgeon by the shoulders and spun him around to face her. “What have your horrible boys done to my girls?” she demanded, shaking him hard. “They have corrupted them! Somehow they have made my innocent girls turn their music lessons into this – this – horror show! My girls have such delicate sensibilities – they must be terrified!”

“It doesn’t look that way to me,” Mrs. Sturgeon said mildly, looking over at the array of vampire and ghoul makeup onstage.

“It looks more like they’re trying to terrify other people,” Mr. Sturgeon said, starting to grin. “A feat at which, I might add, they very often succeed even when they aren’t trying.”

The Scrim-Band’s song blared to its triumphant conclusion, and the Founders’ Day guests burst into wild applause and cheers. “Thank you, Macdonald Hall alumni and families!” Cathy shouted. “We are…the one and only Super Spooky Scare-Inducing Centennial Scrim-Band! And now we’ll give you our greatest hit - ”

“Our only hit,” muttered the drummer, just out of the range of the microphone.

“ – Monster Mash!”

The cheers and applause were a little more subdued this time, but the Scrim-Band played just as loudly.

* * *

Near the edge of the crowd, Bruno stood, surveying his work with pride. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he grinned.

“They’ve gotten really good at that song,” Boots agreed.

“Not just the song!” Bruno waved a hand expansively. “All of it! The Scrim-Band, the cabbage planting – did you see, there’s a bunch of guys on the roof of Dormitory 3? They totally got what we were trying to do. We got other people to sneak onto the roof! If only the Fish had worn his judo suit,” he sighed – a single note of regret amid his rush of pride.

“I’m just glad the Fish hasn’t killed or expelled us yet,” Boots fretted. “And that Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick haven’t hunted us down!”

“Don’t worry about them. This is about us! About the students.”

* * *

As the Scrim-Band neared the end of their third time through Monster Mash, there was a huge boom from the other side of the field.

“My cabbages!” Elmer wailed, and took off running.

The little cluster of tables where Elmer had set up his cabbage experiments was swamped by a flood. Sauerkraut poured out of buckets and spilled over the lab equipment, sending its pungent aroma wafting over the field.

“I must not have put adequate weight on it to compensate for the fermentation!” Elmer waved his hands in helpless anguish. “The expansion has made it overflow! This is terrible!”

Boom! Another bucket lid popped off, sending another flood of sauerkraut over the table. Students, alumni, and distinguished guests ran in all directions: some running towards Elmer to help, some running away from what sounded like a bomb going off, some running to try to get down off the roof of Dormitory 3 before the police showed up.

“What’s going on?”

“Is that sauerkraut?”

“Hang on, Elmer! Help is on the way!”

“Ugh, that stinks!”

“Quiet! We can’t hear the speeches!”

“Who cares about the speeches?”

“Who cares about about the sauerkraut?”

“Save Macdonald Hall!”

“Save the cabbages!”

“Macdonald Hall Lives!”

“Sauerkraut lives!”

Boom! “Don’t worry, girls! I’ll protect you!” Right on cue, Miss Scrimmage came charging onto the field, shotgun waving.

“How did she get the shotgun so quickly?” Mr. Sturgeon marveled.

Mrs. Sturgeon wasn’t interested in answering that question. “William, aren’t you going to do anything?” she asked frantically.

“There’s nothing that can be done.” Mr. Sturgeon felt oddly calm as he surveyed the chaos: running students, shouting alumni, an increasingly agitated speechmaker, and waves of sauerkraut pouring over the field. “These things just…happen. I’ll see Walton and O’Neal in my office tomorrow, but for now, I think we just need to let this go.”
“Bruno, what did you do?” Boots gasped, racing towards the center of the field.

“I didn’t do anything!” Bruno cried, close on Boots’s heels. “This wasn’t part of the plan! But isn’t it excellent? I bet those old geezers will hate it!”

Boots’s heart skipped several beats. The old geezers? What if Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick had been trampled! What if Miss Scrimmage had shot them?

Then he saw them at the edge of the crowd, holding onto each other as they tottered around the field. “Melvin!” Mr. Finlay hailed him. “Is this a hullabaloo?”

It took Boots a second or two to recognize the expression on Mr. Finlay’s face – it was the first time he’d seen the cranky old man with a genuine smile. “I – I suppose it is, sir,” Boots replied.

“Well, it’s a fine one!” Mr. Finlay said, his smile growing wider. “I didn’t realize you still had things like this!”

Next to him, Mr. Chadwick nodded emphatically. “Young man, this is without a doubt the best hullabaloo we’ve seen in years!”

“Almost as good as the time that Danforth switched out the chemistry lab components for baking soda and vinegar! Oh, how the teacher jumped when it started overflowing!” Mr. Finlay broke into a cackling laugh.

“Or,” Mr. Chadwick offered, “the time the flock of sheep wandered in from the farm across the way. Do you remember that?”

Bruno and Boots watched Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick as they laughed and laughed, holding onto each other’s arms to keep falling down and losing themselves in happy memories of their days at Macdonald Hall.

When Boots looked over at Bruno, he saw that his friend’s expression had changed. Instead of gleeful anticipation at how much Mr. Finlay and Mr. Chadwick would hate the riot, Bruno was watching the two old men with a strangely thoughtful air. “Maybe they’re not so bad after all,” Bruno mused.

Boots grinned. “You know that that’s us in fifty years, right?”

Bruno was only a little bit surprised to find himself grinning. “Yes, it probably is.”