Sara's guardian wants her to spend some time abroad and so she goes, first to London, then across the channel to Paris and by rail to Florence. She is weeks traveling, but the scenery is lovely and she feels very grown up with only her maid as accompaniment. She knows that Ram Dass worries very much about her all on her own, but she's a grown woman now and can certainly travel through civilized countries by herself.
She is walking the bridges of Florence at dusk, knowing that very soon she should return to her rooms, when she sees a young man stumble up and out from a basement bar. He's fairly tall but very slight, thin limbs all akimbo, white hands clinging to the dark building's wall.
He nearly runs into her as he scrabbles up the stairs and she backs up a few steps in order to avoid colliding with him.
"Pardon," he mumbles and she realizes he's an Englishman. He raises a hand to his head and peers at her through one bloodshot eye.
"Not at all," she replies, flustered. She hasn't seen a man so drunk since her time at Miss Minchin's, when she would walk through streets lined with boarding houses and bars. Then she wonders if perhaps this young man is ill, or in need of help, being so intoxicated so early in the evening. "Are you quite all right?" She asks him.
"Fine, fine," he says, mumbling still, though she supposes it could be described as slurring. Then he looks up for the first time and their eyes meet. His are a cornflower blue and when he smiles at her he looks like a boy, and a young boy, at that.
"Are you certain?" Sara pulls her coat tighter around her as she asks. She feels a chill settling in and she notices he has no overcoat. She wonders if he left it somewhere, or if he just did not think to wear one.
He grimaces and replies, still clinging to the wall, "Well, Mary's gone and married the damn gardener. So, perhaps not completely. But, I really think it's none of your concern, Miss."
She frowns at his tone, but does not let herself be deterred. "Is your hotel nearby? Shall I call a cab for you? I apologize, truly, but I fear I cannot leave you alone in this state."
He smiles again and laughs as he says, "Very well. I know from experience that arguing will do no good if a stubborn girl is involved. Walk with me then, I never ride in anything if it's a distance that can be walked." He finally seems to be able to stand upright without the aid of the wall and he holds his hand out to her. It's very thin and very white and Sara rather wonders if it's a ghost with whom she's speaking. "I'm Colin Craven."
"Sara Crewe," she replies and takes his hand. She does not like how cold it is and she hopes his room is not far. She wonders who should be caring for this young man, she wonders about his Mary. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Craven."
"Please, he snorts rudely, "I make it a point to be on a first name basis with anyone who sees me in such dire straits as this. You must call me Colin and I will call you Sara."
Sara can't help but be amused. His face is set in an aristocratically superior mask as he walks beside her. "My goodness," she laughs, "are you always such a demanding little Rajah?"
His expression falls into something torn between sadness and deep hurt and Sara is taken aback by her own boldness. "Oh, no," she cries, "I'm so sorry. I don't know what came over me."
She sees him trying to smile, to brush it off, as he says, "Please, it's nothing, Sara. I apologize."
He tries to take a step to the side and away from her, but he stumbles and she reaches out to seize his arm, stopping him from falling.
"You just... reminded me so much of a friend just now. A friend I fear I've lost forever." His eyes are stuck fast to hers as he explains and she sees the sadness in them, the despair. "I'm... you see I'm always ordering people around. It's terrible really. And you're only the second person to accuse me of it so quickly." He smiles then and looks at her like she some interesting curiosity. "How strange. You've spent time in India, then?"
"I was raised there," Sara replied. "My father was a soldier."
He laughs again and she clings to his arm to steady him. "How funny. Well, Sara, I think perhaps you and I will get a long very well."