It was hard for Winnie to hide the excitement on her face when Madame Nan told her that she would have an afternoon date for that day. It had been weeks since she'd met the professor and she was waiting through every horrible minute with the Johns upstairs thinking how wonderful it will be to be in the company of a man who had no desire to sleep with her.
Since Winnie was almost sure it was the professor, she dressed down. She didn't want to go to whatever social function he might bring her to. She put on whore makeup though, just so that Madame Nan would not have something to scold her about.
Winnie came down to the parlor and the professor was waiting. This time he wore a brown tweed suit with a vest and gold pocket watch.
He smiled at Winnie and then nodded to Madame Nan, and with that they left the green building.
"Your chariot awaits, Mademoiselle" The professor said to Winnie as he opened the car door.
He has his own car?
Once Winnie was in the car she was so in awe of everything she hardly even noticed that the professor was in the driver's seat and turned the car on.
"Where are we going? I hope you don't mind my asking, Professor."
"Of course you may ask any question you like. I may or may not answer them child. This particular question I will answer. We are going to Loyola University."
"Oh, and what will we do when we get to Loyola University?" Winnie asked a little jokingly.
"Firstly you will be seen with me. The other part, well that part you will have to wait for."
The professor glanced over at Winnie and then reached into his coat pocket retrieving a handkerchief and handing it over to Winnie.
"Wipe some of that wretched paint off of your face. You don't need all that. Your youth is enough on its own."
"Somehow I think that Madame Nan would disagree." Winnie said with a less cheerful tone than just a minute ago.
"Madame Nan is not here right now."
"She isn't." Winnie said as she wiped off the horrible red lip stick.
The ride to the University seemed short. The great triumph over red lipstick made Winnie smile.
The professor helped her out of the car and led her down a side walk. During the walk he greeted many people who seemed to know him. She smiled at all of them and nodded but said nothing in fear of sounding like the dumb whore she was.
Look pleasant. Play the part of a normal woman.
"This is where you work?" Winnie asked.
"Yes, I am a professor of English literature here at this very university. These people passing me are colleagues of mine mostly. I would count very few of these people among my friends."
"Then why do you feel the need to have me seen with you around here?"
"Ah, child. Friends we can share things with, colleagues and the like you do what you have to in order to protect your reputation"
Who'd have thought that having a whore on your arm would actually help someone's reputation.
The professor lead the way, all the while stopping and greeting other Professors or anyone else who recognized him. Most everyone who greeted them was an old man. Not one of them passed without noticing Winnie. Only a few of them asked about her.
"I see you have a new lady friend Charles! What's her name?" A man asked as he removed his hat removing a shiny bald head.
"This is Miss Winifred Thomas." The professor said. Winnie was not used to being called by her formal name, but she just smiled as the man nodded and walked away.
Their final destination seemed to be a very large building with huge, heavy doors.
They entered the building and Winnie was a bit taken aback. She had never seen such a place. It seemed to me shelves full of books.
"This, as you may have guessed is the library of Loyola University. Today is our first reading lesson"
"You really meant it? You are really going to teach me to read?" Winnie asked
"Of course, child. Why would I lie about that?" The professor said.
"I don't know, really. I guess I'm used to being disappointed. I try not to hope for to much" Winnie said as her face began to flush with embarrassment.
"It's ok. I am a man of my word. I told you I was going to teach you and I will. I want you to learn to read. You can find whole different worlds in these books." The professor said while gesturing to the many shelves.
Winnie nodded eagerly. She couldn't remember a man being this kind to her.
"What will we do first?" Winnie asked
"Well do you know your alphabet?"
"Yes. I know that much. I can't say it's ever done me any good. Whorehouses aren't just spilling over with books." Winnie said.
"Hush. None of that talk here." The professor reminded Winnie.
"Yes sir. I'm sorry."
"No need for all that. I know what it's like to live in secret. You and I have that in common" The professor said with a smile.
"I didn't know I could have anything in common with someone like you."
"Well child, that's the first lesson of today. Now, would you like for me to read you something? Just to get a taste for something you may be able to read yourself one day?"
"Yes sir. I would like that very much." Winnie said.
The professor walked through the isles of book shelves and found a book. He then lead Winnie to a small table and opened the old book to one page at the beginning and then another in the middle.
Winnie tried, but she couldn't remember anyone ever reading to her. She was not sure if her Ma knew how to read. If Pa did, he wouldn't have spent time reading to anyone. This was a new and happy experience for Winnie.
"This is one of my favorite Poems. The title is ‘The Bells.' A man named Edgar Allen Poe wrote it some years ago."
The professor began to read. His voice was like music, it was clear he had feelings attached to the words he read.
The words rhymed like a song and repeated. Winnie really didn't understand what was going on in "The Bells", but listing to the professor read and seeing his face was incredible.
"To the moaning and the groaning of the bells" The professor finished.
"I've never heard anything like that before. It's amazing. Do you really think I can learn?"
"I really do." The professor said encouragingly.
Winnie and the professor sat at the table for around an hour doing their lesson. Mostly Winnie tried to sound out words from books. Then learn to spell them. It might have been commonplace to have a lesson in a library, but to Winnie this was the best thing to happen in a very long time. She was smiling sincerely and actually laughing.
When the Professor announced that today's lesson was through, Winnie was some what sad. She was already looking forward to the next time the professor would come to take her out.
As they walked back Winnie was silent but smiled and nodded at the people who greeted the professor.
It wasn't until they got back into the professor's car that she said anything.
"Yes, my dear?"
"I was wondering, if you might be able to drop this by the post office?" Winnie asked while she grabbed an envelope from her purse.
She had been carrying the envelope for a few days, awaiting an opportunity to send it. Inside was 50 dollars that she had earned over the past months. She hoped it would help her ma in some way. She didn't leave a return address, only her name.
"Surely." The professor said.
"Also, can I ask you something else?"
"Didn't I tell you, you can always ask me anything? I may not answer, but you can always ask." The professor said in his usual jovial tone.
"I wondered why you need me. You are hiding something, you even said it yourself."
"I am hiding something. Only out of necessity, dear."
"I understand that. I hide so many things so much of the time. But why you? You seem so nice and normal."
"I do seem that way. I try to be nice and I would like to think I am normal in most ways. It's just my choices in who I keep company with, if people knew then I might be in danger."
"Who do you ‘keep company' with? How could a whore be better?" Winnie asked.
"You are so young, still a child really. So much of the world has yet to reveal itself" the professor said seemingly to himself.
"I keep the company of other gentlemen" The professor continued.
"Oh" Winnie said.
She was surprised, she had never considered that might be the professor's secret. She never heard talk of anything like it. In a way it was also relieving. Now she knew for sure that he would never ever try to sleep with her.
"So we both have secrets. I am glad I can be of some help to you. You are being so nice to me and all." Winnie said.
"It's nothing. You deserve some light in your life."
Winnie was so glad that she had these light spots to look forward to. The rest of her life might be filled with dirty old men with their hands all over her, but she couldn't complain. She had light to look forward to.