It was a delightful evening. The train to Leeds was pleasant, talking about literature all the way. They enjoyed an excellent dinner before Chekov’s Three Sisters at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and then the late train back to Harrogate. And though she knew she wasn’t a beautiful, sophisticated woman of education and class, Marion felt as if, for a while, she was. He made her think that way. He was so charming to her. He made her feel like he thought she was a worthwhile person.

He was a perfect gentleman, the sort of man she dreamt of when she was a young girl and dreamt of perfect men. She had given up having such ideals a long time ago, but for the past week perfection in her mind had started to look like Professor Kristoph De Leon.

And so, when they stood by the gates of the college, as she said goodnight to him, she was neither surprised nor unhappy when he reached out and touched her face gently before drawing her close and kissing her on the lips. It was brief, fleeting, and quite out of the blue. But it felt nice.

“Would you like to meet for lunch tomorrow?” he asked. “At my house?”

“I would love to,” she said. “Thank you.”

“No, thank YOU, Marion,” he said. Then she went to her room and he walked back to his house alone.

“What ARE you doing?” The man known to everyone on the planet who knew him at all as Kristoph de Leon stared at himself in the mirror as he shaved and got ready for bed. “You are NOT falling in love with that woman. She is pleasant company, and being seen with her will help cover you if anyone gets suspicious. But the risk you are running….”

I know what I’m doing,” he told himself. “I’m not in love with her. She’s hardly more than a child. Not even THAT by our standards. But yes, she IS pleasant company and just because I am stuck here on a sleeper assignment doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy some pleasant times with an ordinary, innocent young woman who has nothing to do with my sordid world.”

She made him wish his world was not sordid, that he didn’t walk in the shades of grey between the dark and the light. He regretted as he never did before that quite often he was forced to step right into the darkness. He wished he really was a literature professor called Kristoph De Leon.

Nobody asked about her date the next day. She didn’t bother to volunteer any information. Nobody noticed that she had a contented smile on her face or that she got dressed especially neatly and put on make-up and perfume.

She set out in high hopes, with that contented smile still. The sun was shining as she left the college gates, but before very long dark clouds gathered. She looked up at them apprehensively. She had decided against wearing her coat. It was dull and dumpy looking and she wanted to feel pretty and feminine. She had put the one nice thing she owned over her dress, a silk shawl. It looked and felt nice, but it did nothing for keeping out the cold.

And it was certainly not waterproof. There was a rumble of thunder and a flash of lightning, and then the rain began. It seemed to drop all at once and in a half a minute what had been sun-drenched was simply drenched, including her. She broke into a run. The professor’s house was only a hundred yards away. She could see it. But even so, by the time she got there she was soaked to the skin. Her carefully applied make up was running all over her face, not just because of the rain, but because of the humiliated tears that she could not stop falling.

She reached for the knocker and then changed her mind. She couldn’t meet him like that. She turned away.

The door opened. He called her name. She turned and just cried even more. He took her by the hand and drew her into the house, closing the door behind him.

“You’re frozen,” he said. “My dear child.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I….”

“A hot bath, and a change of clothes,” he said and brought her upstairs. He took her into the master bedroom and gave her a huge bathsheet. He told her to get undressed while he ran the bath. She was too cold to argue. She peeled off her sodden clothes as she listened to the bath running. She wrapped the towel around herself. It covered her perfectly discreetly, though she blushed when he came back into the room. He told her the bath was ready and that there would be clothes for her to wear when she was done.

She went through to the bathroom. It was a luxuriantly big tub, and it was filled with steaming, fragrant water. She didn’t know what he had added to the water, but it smelt wonderful. She sank her cold, aching body into it and at once felt herself relaxing. It was wonderful. She felt wonderful. Why was it that the professor managed one way or another to make her feel so different to the real her – Mousy Marion? She felt like Cleopatra in her great bath, or a beauty queen.

She made the bath last as long as she dared. A rare self-indulgence. But she was in somebody else’s house, after all. She rose from the bath and dried herself thoroughly before going through to the bedroom.

Her wet clothes had gone. He must have taken them. In their place was a long robe of a warm fabric. It was all black except for a sort of symbol, maybe celtic, on the front. It was obviously meant to fit him, but she put it over her head and fastened it at the waist with a tie belt that went with it. It felt warm and comfortable at least, though she was conscious of having no underwear on beneath it.

She came down the stairs to find him opening a bottle of red wine in the dining room. He smiled at her.

“Your clothes are in the washing machine,” he said. “But you look delightful in that, so don’t worry for now.”

“What sort of robe is it?” she asked.

“I belong to a religious sect,” he said. “It is the robe worn at our ceremonies.” She looked dubious. “I know what you’re thinking. Something druidic, chanting in circles, erotic fantasies. The truth is actually quite dull and boring and long-winded and not at all what the writers of lurid fiction would expect.”

“Is there anything else I should know about you?” she asked as he held a chair for her to sit. He disappeared for a moment to bring the soup, and did not answer her question immediately.

“There is a lot that you don’t know about me, Marion,” he said. “I’d be afraid to tell you much of it, at risk of frightening you. And I don’t want to do that. I want you to trust me, and come to understand me in the fullness of time, so that when you do know it all it is not so frightening.”

“What could possibly be so frightening?” She asked him. But he changed the subject, asking her if she was enjoying the summer school so far. She was, but the highlight, she said, had been their theatre trip last night.

“I’m glad you enjoyed it. I find you delightful company.”

She blushed and looked away from him.

“You are so self-effacing. Don’t you believe you could be delightful company?”

“No,” she said. “I’m just me, an ordinary woman with nothing special about me.”

“I think you need more self-confidence, Marion. I’m surprised after a year at university. Don’t you enjoy the social life at all?”

“No, not really,” she said. “I don’t like the kind of music they play at the clubs most people go to, and I really don’t like getting so drunk I don’t know where I am or who I am with. I hear the other girls talking about that sort of thing, and it REALLY does not sound like fun to me.”

“Nor me,” the professor agreed. “What sort of music DO you like?” he added.

“Jazz,” she said. “And some classical. This is nice…” She indicated the music that was playing. “I don’t know it, but it’s nice.”

“It’s The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams,” the professor answered. “If you listen carefully, with your soul, not just your ears, you can hear the lark spreading his wings and soaring up into the sky. Feel his joy as he experiences the true freedom of flight.”

“I feel it,” she said with a laugh. “It’s beautiful.”

“You have a beautiful soul, Marion,” he said. “Don’t waste it on the mundane. Strive for what is higher. You already have a love for literature, for good music. No, you don’t need to listen to mindless rubbish played too loud for the Human ear to stand and you don’t need to poison your body with alcohol. But I wish you weren’t so lonely.”

“I’ve always been lonely,” she said. “Never really made friends. I don’t really have a family. I’ve never done anything like this before, even. Lunch… with…” She blushed. “With a really nice man.”

“I hope that does describe me,” he said. “If it’s any consolation I have not very often had a young lady to lunch. My life is one of solitude, too.” He smiled. “Perhaps we could keep each other company.”

“I would like that,” she said. “But…”

“Is there a but?”

“I… no. Not really.” She couldn’t even think what her objection was going to be. Perhaps that it seemed too good to be true. He was NOT a classically handsome man. He was a little too old to be anyone’s pin up man. He was a little too old for her. She was 19. He was…. well at least forty-five anyway. But he WAS attractive in a way. His eyes were beautiful. Deep brown. She seemed drawn to his eyes. She thought he could hypnotise her with them.

He could, he thought. He could hypnotise her into believing in herself, into believing she wasn’t as plain and dowdy and uninteresting as she believed she was. But it was probably better if she found that out for herself. He felt he wanted to be there when she did. Marion was a girl at the start of a journey of self-discovery and he wanted to see her do it.

“You’re playing with fire,” his inner voice told him.

“I know what I’m doing,” he argued.

After lunch, he brought her to the drawing room and put another CD of classical music on. She sat on the sofa and he in an armchair near her and talked about music and art and literature. At first she was very careful to sit upright and politely, but as she relaxed and forgot her nervousness she laid back against the comfortable cushions. She put her legs up under herself and lounged comfortably as she let the music wash over her and gradually her responses to him became shorter and vaguer. He stopped talking and sat back with a glass of whiskey and watched her sleep. The warm bath, food, wine, had all contributed to making her sleepy and she gave in despite herself. He smiled and picked a book from his bookcase. Not one of the books from the open part of the case, but inside where his special books were kept - a large, leatherbound tome with a tooled design on the front that matched that on the robe Marion was currently wearing.

When she stirred again, some hours later he put the book away carefully. She looked up, puzzled, and then embarrassed.

“It’s a very comfortable sofa,” he said. “Don’t worry.”

“I…” No matter what he said she still felt embarrassed about it. “How long was I asleep?” she asked.

“It’s teatime,” he said. “I’ve got a simple salad and some local strawberries and fresh cream if you’re interested. Your clothes should be dry by now, if you would prefer to be yourself again.”

“If you don’t mind,” she said. She followed him to the kitchen where he passed her washed and dried clothes to her. They were ironed and folded, too. She was surprised. It didn’t look as if he had moved from the place where he had been sitting, and the cleaning lady only worked weekdays. But she took the clothes and went upstairs while he began preparing the salad. As he sliced through a cucumber with the speed and precision of a trained chef, she couldn’t help wondering if there was an end to the professor’s talents.

“Yes, my dear,” he thought. “But slicing salad vegetables is not the reason I learned to be skilful with a knife.” And he sighed and paused for a moment before continuing the job at a speed that would have stunned his guest.

She didn’t mean to go into that room. She was looking for the main bathroom where there might be a laundry hamper to leave the robe in now she was finished with it.

This room was not a bathroom, and as she looked at it she knew she probably should not have strayed into it. It had no furniture at all, just a carpet fitted corner to corner, pale beige coloured but with a rug placed in the centre of it with that same swirling design that was on the robe. The same pattern was on wall hangings around the room, too. She stepped inside and looked around. She realised there was no window in this room. It had been blocked out by a screen, again with that symbol on it.

“Marion…” She jumped guiltily as he spoke her name. She turned and began to stammer an apology.

“It’s all right,” he said gently. “There is nothing to apologise for. This room is not a secret. It is my meditation room. A place I come into when I wish to clear my mind and find inner peace.”

“It FEELS peaceful,” she said. “This is part of that religion of yours?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“That design….”

“Come and eat,” he said. “And I will explain.”

He took her by the hand down the stairs to the dining room, where he had laid out a delicious tea. They took their time eating. She felt comfortable in his company despite the air of mystery about him, a mystery confirmed by that strange room.

“The symbol is the Seal of Rassilon. Rassilon is the man who founded the society I come from, who gave us our philosophy and our way of life. And much more besides.”

“The religion you talked about earlier.”

“Yes, though it is less of a religion than a way of being. Like… well, I suppose Buddhism is the nearest thing that you might have heard of.”

“Yes, I have heard of that. I have never heard of…. Oh well, it doesn’t matter. It is strange to meet somebody who is not… you know… Christian… or at least an ordinary kind of religion.”

“Does that mean you won’t have lunch with me again?”

“No,” she assured him. “It has been… well, not exactly wonderful. I got wet, and I slept through most of the afternoon… but it was nice. And….” She realised what he had said. “Is that… are you asking me to do this again?”

“Same time next week if you would do me the honour,” he said.

She said nothing. She just smiled. She looked out at the rain that pelted down still. Was there anything else she would rather do on a Sunday when there were no classes? She couldn’t think of anything.