Charles Dickens

The sun was getting low in the west, and, glancing out of a red mist, pierced with its rays opposite loopholes and pieces of fretwork in the spires of city churches, as if with golden arrows that struck through and through them - and far away athwart the river and its flat banks, it was gleaming like a path of fire - and out at sea it was irradiating sails of ships - and, looked towards, from quiet churchyards, upon hill-tops in the country, it was steeping distant prospects in a flush and glow that seemed to mingle earth and sky together in one glorious suffusion - when Florence, opening her heavy eyes, lay at first, looking without interest or recognition at the unfamiliar walls around her, and listening in the same regardless manner to the noises in the street. But presently she started up upon her couch, gazed round with a surprised and vacant look, and recollected all.

'My pretty,' said the Captain, knocking at the door, 'what cheer?'

'Dear friend,' cried Florence, hurrying to him, 'is it you?'

The Captain felt so much pride in the name, and was so pleased by the gleam of pleasure in her face, when she saw him, that he kissed his hook, by way of reply, in speechless gratification.

'What cheer, bright di'mond?' said the Captain.

'I have surely slept very long,' returned Florence. 'When did I come here? Yesterday?'

'This here blessed day, my lady lass,' replied the Captain.

'Has there been no night? Is it still day?' asked Florence.

'Getting on for evening now, my pretty,' said the Captain, drawing back the curtain of the window. 'See!'

Florence, with her hand upon the Captain's arm, so sorrowful and timid, and the Captain with his rough face and burly figure, so quietly protective of her, stood in the rosy light of the bright evening sky, without saying a word. However strange the form of speech into which he might have fashioned the feeling, if he had had to give it utterance, the Captain felt, as sensibly as the most eloquent of men could have done, that there was something in the tranquil time and in its softened beauty that would make the wounded heart of Florence overflow; and that it was better that such tears should have their way. So not a word spake Captain Cuttle. But when he felt his arm clasped closer, and when he felt the lonely head come nearer to it, and lay itself against his homely coarse blue sleeve, he pressed it gently with his rugged hand, and understood it, and was understood.

'Better now, my pretty!' said the Captain. 'Cheerily, cheerily, I'll go down below, and get some dinner ready. Will you come down of your own self, arterwards, pretty, or shall Ed'ard Cuttle come and fetch you?'

As Florence assured him that she was quite able to walk downstairs, the Captain, though evidently doubtful of his own hospitality in permitting it, left her to do so, and immediately set about roasting a fowl at the fire in the little parlour. To achieve his cookery with the greater skill, he pulled off his coat, tucked up his wristbands, and put on his glazed hat, without which assistant he never applied himself to any nice or difficult undertaking.

After cooling her aching head and burning face in the fresh water which the Captain's care had provided for her while she slept, Florence went to the little mirror to bind up her disordered hair. Then she knew - in a moment, for she shunned it instantly, that on her breast there was the darkening mark of an angry hand.

Her tears burst forth afresh at the sight; she was ashamed and afraid of it; but it moved her to no anger against him. Homeless and fatherless, she forgave him everything; hardly thought that she had need to forgive him, or that she did; but she fled from the idea of him as she had fled from the reality, and he was utterly gone and lost. There was no such Being in the world.

What to do, or where to live, Florence - poor, inexperienced girl! - could not yet consider. She had indistinct dreams of finding, a long way off, some little sisters to instruct, who would be gentle with her, and to whom, under some feigned name, she might attach herself, and who would grow up in their happy home, and marry, and be good to their old governess, and perhaps entrust her, in time, with the education of their own daughters.