Looking for an entrance, Tom stumbled along the campus walkway and tried each door.
Everything was locked.
Huddled in an entryway, he realized they were surrounded.
Crestfallen, the two exchanged a nervous glance.
“I’m sorry, Sarah,” he admitted sadly.
“It’s okay, Tom,” she whispered with a heavy heart, tears gathering in her eyes. “We did our best.”
Just then a door swung out behind them, knocking Tom in the back.
“Pardon me, terribly sorry,” apologized Professor Hainsworth. He was dressed in a crisp white shirt, burgundy vest and tweed jacket. His short, grey hair was neatly trimmed. “I was headed out for a bit of fresh air.”
* * * *
Dr. Randolph Churchill Hainsworth III was a celebrity in the academic community, with doctorate degrees in physics, advanced sciences, mathematics, and British literature (the fourth degree was just for fun). Promised a sabbatical three years ago, along with countless other vacations, he still hadn’t received any time off. Stressed and overworked, with no help or assistant, he was plagued with endless days of teaching and grading. He longed for a break, for adventure, for freedom, for anywhere in the world but Oxford.
* * * *
“Oh, sir, you’ve got to help us,” pleaded Tom. “You’ve got to hide us!”
“Why? What have you done?”
“It usually is.”
“It’s a long story,” said Tom, frantic. “We don’t have time to explain right now!”
“Please, sir,” begged Sarah. “Can’t you just help us?”
Although Hainsworth was busy with his own problems, he was touched by the sincerity in their voices. Tom’s integrity and Sarah’s innocence softened his rigid exterior and stern temperament. He felt compelled to help.
“All right,” he replied apprehensively. “Get her upstairs quickly and wait for me in my study.”
* * * *
Almost an hour had passed. Sarah’s foot was wrapped with ice and elevated on a pillow. She had taken an aspirin for the pain and was now sleeping soundly. Hainsworth deduced that it was nothing more than a twisted ankle and should be fine. Tom walked around the room telling Professor Hainsworth everything; his life growing up in the different orphanages; his time at Weatherly and the terrible conditions; the Factory and its grueling work; Mr. and Mrs. Grievous, their vicious dog Wind, Speckle; rescuing Sarah; all the orphans helping them escape; running through the countryside; Detective Gowerstone, finding the balloon; the continuing chase; and anything else he could think of. Tom had never talked so much in all his life. His throat was parched, and his mouth was exhausted.
“That’s incredible, Tom,” said the professor sympathetically, trying to process all the information. “The things you’ve both endured at Weatherly — horrible, just horrible.” He shook his head in disgust. “Despicable people, those Grievouses. I can’t believe things like that still go on, right here in England of all places. It’s just dreadful,” he declared.
“Yes, it is.”
“And now you’d like to get to London. Start a new life.”
“Yes, sir,” he answered confidently.
Hainsworth poured a glass of water and handed it to Tom.
“Thank you, sir.”
“I suppose if I ever ran away, London is where I would venture. Spectacular city — so much to do, so many places to go.” The professor paused in thought, reminiscing. “The author Samuel Johnson once wrote, ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’”
* * * *
Hainsworth looked over again at the stacks of papers dominating his office.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said, inspired by a sudden spark of insight. “I’ll make a deal with you.”
“Yeah?” replied Tom eagerly.
“Yes?” questioned Sarah suspiciously.
“I’ll pay for the propane and get you to your balloon, if . . .”
“If what?” they both exclaimed.
Hainsworth leaped up. “If you let me safely escort both of you to London,” he said excitedly. “It sounds like you could use some help.”
Tom and Sarah were surprised. Yet considering their current situation, it was an offer they couldn’t refuse.
“Absolutely,” said Tom joyously, overwhelmed by the prospect.
Tom helped Sarah downstairs, followed by Hainsworth. No one knew what to expect when the door opened or what the future would bring, but there was an underlying sense of excitement. Although Tom and Sarah had journeyed this far on their own, they now had a trustworthy ally.
* * * *