Marian Horsley looked at herself in the mirror. She still looked like plain little Mousy Marion no matter how long she spent doing her hair and make up and putting on clothes. She just didn’t have it. She read somewhere that some fashion person, Mary Quant or somebody, had once said ‘chic’ is something you either have or don’t have.

She didn’t have it. She was too short, her hair was a dull brown, her features unremarkable. Even her mouth was too small. Her body was ‘ok’. She wasn’t fat, and she didn’t get spots. That was about the only plus.

But tonight she actually had a date - although if her friends knew who with, they’d either fall about laughing or fall over themselves in shock.

She couldn’t even date an ordinary guy. None of the male students were interested in a bookish type who spent more time in the library than the student bar. No, she was dating a man twice her age who happened to be one of the professors.

If they were actually in Liverpool, at the university, she knew she couldn’t even think about it. Here in Harrogate, at the summer school, rules were relaxed. The staff they knew as remote and distant did spend as much time in the pubs as the students. They were on a working holiday too, and she felt that it was ok, sort of, to go out with the Professor.

If she reasoned with herself, it was not a date. It was a sort of private tutorial.

Not even a proper date.

Not a proper boyfriend.

She sighed.

Funny, she’d seen him around the university all year. He was the one who wore tweedy clothes that looked about thirty years out of date. He looked like a throwback to when universities were only for grammar school people with the right sort of accent.

He had that sort of accent - very well spoken, precise, very quintessentially ‘English’, utterly out of place among the ‘scouse’ accents of most of the students and many of the staff.

And yet his name was so exotic. Kristoph De Leon. You’d expect somebody French or German or Austrian or some such thing, not this old-fashioned Englishman.

He hadn’t been her tutor in the first year, so she hadn’t thought a lot about him. He was just one of the many people she DIDN’T have to worry about in that long, hard, terrifying year when she had to get used to being among nearly 20,000 other people who seemed far more with it, who seemed to know what they wanted, and had a good time while they were getting it.

She had travelled to Yorkshire by train. She had started off late because she couldn’t get away from her part time job sooner. It meant that she missed the first night ‘getting to know you barbecue’ but she really wasn’t bothered. Most of the people there were the same people she hadn’t got to know properly all term.

And the train to Leeds was late. Which meant that she missed the connection that would get her to Harrogate before midnight. She’d rung up and told the admissions office of her problem and they had been pretty much unsympathetic. She would have to book into a hotel when she got there. They recommended one that would take late bookings. It was expensive. It was a huge chunk out of the money she had to spend for the six week course. That many less extra-mural trips to the theatre, and she’d have to stay away from the pubs the brochure raved about. But then she wasn’t a pub person anyway and hadn’t expected to go to many of them.

She was not too worried when the professor walked into the waiting room. She looked up from her newspaper and nodded politely. At least it was somebody she vaguely knew, not a stranger.

He sat opposite her and took the Times from his overnight bag. She was reading the Liverpool Echo. A social gulf was revealed in their choices of newspaper. And then she saw him take out a gold pen from his breast pocket and begin to fill in the crossword. The TIMES crossword and he was completing it as fast as her grandfather used to fill in his football pools coupon. She realised she was staring and looked away quickly.

“Sorry,” he said. “That does disconcert people. I usually do the crossword in private. It’s been a hectic day. This is my first quiet moment.”

“Yes,” she answered. "Me, too."

“I think I’ve seen you around. You’re at Liverpool University aren’t you? I’m Professor De Leon, from the Humanities department.”

“Marion Horsley, first year, literature,” she answered. “I’ve seen you sometimes, I think.”

“I teach the Romantics. But it's a third year course. I won’t have had you in my lectures yet.”

“I love the Romantic poets,” Marion said. “But I’ve not decided if I will take that module yet.”

“If you LOVE them, I suggest you don’t. The course as it is prescribed by the examination board will make you HATE them. Take Modernism and carry on loving the Romantics.”

Marion laughed. “Aren’t you supposed to encourage me to do YOUR course?”

“The idea of TEACHING literature is ludicrous anyway,” he said. “It's not a thing to be dissected like a specimen in the biology lab. It is a thing of the hearts and soul. How can you measure such things? How can you put a grade upon how much the soul has encompassed the joy of a fine piece of poetry?”

“I’d like to teach literature when I graduate,” Marion said. “But… I sort of see what you mean. In a way. But people have to learn the tools of understanding so that they can appreciate the great works.”

“No,” he insisted. “If the hearts are open… if the heart is open…” She wondered at his strangely amended words but she was just too fascinated by what he was saying. “If the heart is open then appreciation is easy enough. They talk about the ‘tools’ of understanding in order to make it seem as if literature is meant only for an educated elite. They want to close the door to the underclasses. Shakespeare didn’t write his plays for the educated upper classes. He wrote for the ordinary people. His actors didn’t speak with Received Pronunciation. They spoke the plain English of their day in the accent of the ordinary man.”

She stared at him. The passion with which he said those words was startling to begin with. And then she appreciated the meaning of his words. She was a working class girl. She had gone to an ordinary comprehensive school and she had not really been encouraged to go to university. Her foster parents had been unhappy about her staying on till six form, even, mainly because they didn’t get paid the allowance for her keep after she turned seventeen. They didn’t need a dependent who wasn’t earning her keep. That was the main reason she was on the summer school course. She had no home to go to anyway. But she WAS one of the people literature and learning was a closed door to. She was not meant to LOVE the Romantics. She was meant to read Catherine Cookson and watch Coronation Street. She was meant to be a typist or a machinist at the local factory, not a student, a teacher later if her ambitions were realised. He was talking about her when he talked about those closed doors.

And she was so grateful to find somebody who understood. And yet.… She smiled wryly. He saw her smile and just raised an eyebrow in answer.

“You’re thinking that all sounds very well from one with an accent such as mine, for whom there were no closed doors?”

Marion was astonished.

“Yes,” she admitted. “I’m sorry, it was rude of me. But… yes, that’s just what I thought.”

“This is not my true accent,” he said. “I am not a British gentleman in truth. My home is… far from here. I speak this way because….” He paused and then began to quote from a book she had loved all her life.

“Well, I know that, did I move and speak in your London, none there are who would not know me for a stranger. That is not enough for me. Here I am noble. I am a Boyar. The common people know me, and I am master. But a stranger in a strange land, he is no one. Men know him not, and to know not is to care not for. I am content if I am like the rest, so that no man stops if he sees me, or pauses in his speaking if he hears my words, `Ha, ha! A stranger!' I have been so long master that I would be master still, or at least that none other should be master of me.”

“So… you’re a Transylvanian aristocrat pretending to be an English literature professor?”

“Not exactly,” he said with a smile. “But close enough.”

“That’s our train,” Marion said as the tannoy voice cut into the conversation like a discord. He picked up his suitcase and, to her surprise, picked up hers too. “Oh, you don’t have to,” she said. “I can manage.”

“Where I come from – that place that isn’t Transylvania – we still consider chivalry towards women a virtue. Even though we also consider some of them our intellectual equals.”

“I think I might move there,” Marion said. “Sounds good to me.”

“I think you would love it,” The Professor told her.

The train was almost empty, but they sat opposite each other on one of the middle seats where there was plenty of legroom. Marion noticed as he stretched himself just how long his legs were. The tweedy clothes disguised a lean, long figure that he must work on with some kind of athletics. There was no sign of middle-age spread. When she looked at his face she saw that it was quite handsome. His nose might be thought of as too big, and his forehead was too pronounced and his eyes a little too deep and hooded, but those eyes were a warm brown and quite attractive and when he smiled, showing teeth that were strong and white, but not quite even, it was an attractive smile.

But she had put those thoughts from her mind as they talked about literature for the whole of the journey from Leeds to Harrogate. She was almost sorry when the train pulled into the station. Then she remembered she had nowhere to actually go except a hotel if it even had a room. And the tiredness swept over her.

“The residence halls will be closed by now,” the professor said, as if he had read her mind. “What will you do?”

She told him about the hotel. Again he seemed to read her mind even though she had not mentioned the financial struggle it would be.

“I have rented a house for the summer,” he said. “It has a guest bedroom. I can assure you there would be no impropriety if you would like to spend the night with me.”

“Oh!” The idea was startling. It was tempting, too. “Well… I….”

She couldn’t make up her mind. He made it for her.

“I need to arrange safe delivery of a large piece of luggage that I have with me,” he said. “If you would be so kind as to wait with both suitcases for a few minutes, then we can take a taxi. Usually I rather enjoy walking at night, but I feel quite weary, too, tonight.”

Marion agreed. She sat on a seat and waited. She saw him with a couple of men with railfreight uniforms and a large crate. It looked big enough to be some kind of old fashioned wardrobe or some huge piece of furniture, anyway, and it took three more men between them to move it. He waited until they had put it on board a waiting truck and he seemed to have tipped all of the men handsomely.

“His coffin,” Marion thought with a smile, remembering the quote from Dracula earlier. Then she laughed at herself for such a fanciful idea.

“There, that’s sorted. I have an extensive library,” he said in answer to the question she had not asked. “I would feel lost without it.” He brought the cases to the taxi rank. There was one cab still waiting there. They got into it. Marion sighed gratefully to be close to the end of tonight’s journey.

“I arranged for a lady to come in and cook and clean,” he said. “I asked her to leave a hot meal for me. I am sure it would stretch to two.”

And it did. It was just a simple casserole in the oven, with home made bread and butter, but a bottle of rather nice red wine made it a little special and afterwards he showed her to the guest bedroom and he went to his room. There was no impropriety.

Even so, when she signed in to the hall of residence and was assigned her room for the summer she didn’t tell anyone where she had stayed. And she didn’t tell her friends where and with whom she was going out tonight.

Anyway, it was none of their business.

“Marion, you look lovely,” he said when she met him at the gate of the summer school residence.

“I look perfectly ordinary,” she said. But she smiled anyway as he took her arm like an old fashioned gentleman.

Maybe it wasn’t a proper date, but it felt like one.