“I'm... Elmer Petty. I used to teach at BHS.”
“I remember you.”
“I'm looking for your friend, Tim Vick.”
Silence. Bob seemed nervous. “I don't know where he is.”
“His grandparents got a note saying he's been kidnapped and asking for a ransom – an illiterate note and a ridiculously small ransom – but he's still attending school so he must be somewhere near here. His grandparents are worried.
“I'll bet they are.”
“You sound skeptical.”
Another teen-age boy entered the room: medium height, medium build. “It's okay, Bob. I'm Tim Vick, Mr. Petty. Bob's parents are away on holiday for two weeks and he's letting me stay here. I wrote the ransom note.”
“But why? Your grandparents are worried about you.”
“No. They're worried about themselves, especially my tyrant of a grandfather. Without me, he'd have to get off his fat behind and do some work himself. You see, he had five sons and two daughters, a crew of field hands and a servant staff. He told them to stay in school and get an education, but after two or three years, each one dropped out, to get away from him, I suspect, and he was faced with the prospect of having no one to give orders to. Then my parents were killed.”
“'The Lord will provide' and he provided you.”
“ Yes. If I complained about the amount of work he made me do, he'd say 'My kids did it, you can do it.' He ignored the arithmetical fact that there were seven of them, and one of me, but he's not very bright. It's true, Mr. Petty. He waters and mows and rakes that big lawn every week or two and waters and weeds the garden and runs errands and shovels snow in the winter. Sometimes I think he made up jobs just so he could order me around. I couldn't take it any more. I have a little money saved and a job for the summer, so if I graduate in a few weeks, I'll go to university. I just need to survive for a few weeks. As for the ransom money, which I didn't get, by the way, I thought he owed me that and more.”
What a quandary! I didn't want to send Tim back into grandfatherly slavery, but he couldn't stay here when Bob's parents returned. He needed accommodation for three or four weeks. He also needed luck: if his grandfather checked with the school – but as Tim said his grandfather wasn't very bright.
Then I had an idea: my house. I lied to my clients and told them I couldn't find their grandson. Mr. Legree said I was too stupid to find sand on a beach and Mrs. Legree cried. I knew I'd be in deep trouble if the plot were discovered. Tim wanted to help with everything, but I had to restrict him to indoor tasks, lest he be spotted. I was glad to be able to help him with some of his courses. My experience with vicarious parenthood was a good one.
He graduated and before the end of June was gone, was the first and only winner of the Petty bursary.
In September, I received a postcard with a picture of a university building. The message read: “Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here. Glad grandpa isn't. Tim.”
I drive past the Legree house occasionally. The lawn is a hayfield and the garden's chief crop is weeds, but both are probably well watered with tears.