Little Amy Dorrit stroked the white button in her hand as she gazed out onto the River Thames. It had fallen off of his jacket cuff when Maggie and she had ventured to his lodgings, in order to thank him for his extraordinary kindness in releasing her brother, Tip, from the Marshalsea Prison. The button had not left her person in the fortnight since, wrapped in her mother's faded lace kerchief and kept in the pocket of her dress. Arthur… she rolled his name on her tongue, Arthur Clennam. Such a gentleman, so kind and lovely and different than any man she had ever met in all her short, miserable life. A chill blew through her, and Amy pulled her woolen wrap closer about her shoulders. She looked far out onto the river, watching the currents rush by. How like the river his eyes were, deep and gray and unfathomable, with unspoken sorrow floating in their depths. She almost believed that he might be some ancient river god, rising from the water to show kindness to her family, only to dissolve back into the river, to the mysterious depths which seemed a part of him.
Amy started as the small click of the latch sounded behind her. She paled, for whom should it be but Mr. Clennam now. Fumbling for air and her wits to return to her, Amy folded the kerchief and slipped it into her pocket.
"Miss Dorrit?" he said, stepping to her.
"Hello, Ar-, Mr. Clennam," she replied, feeling her face heat.
"I was attending to some business matters in the area, and I thought I'd stop by and see how you are. It's beautiful, isn't it?" he said, casting his eyes out to the river.
"Yes, yes it is," she said, letting her eyes linger on his profile for a moment before following his gaze.
"I'm very fond of the water. As a child, my house overlooked the sea. I was not blessed with a brother and sister as youare, so I spent hours on the beach alone, walking down its length, back and forth and back. I never made mud pies or sand castles, just stared out to sea and made up fantastical stories in my head," he turned to her, a sudden smile breaking out on his features, relieving the quiet melancholy of his face. "My parents surely thought I was an odd one, but I can see that you are a kindred spirit. I dearly hope I did not disturb you. You seemed lost in thought."
Amy, who had turned to him at the first sound of his voice, replied quickly, "No, sir. You did not disturb me in the slightest. I am too much in the habit of staring out to the river and daydreaming myself, and your company can only do me well." She was a bit breathless from the glimpse of sunshine that flitted over his features.
"Well then, would you like to take a stroll?"
Amy nodded her assent, and they began to walk east along the riverbank, Arthur matching his pace to hers. They walked silently for a time, absorbing the call of the gulls and the wild yet peaceful rush of the river currents. Unconsciously, not even knowing that she did so, Amy's hand went back in her pocket, stroking the kerchief containing Arthur's button. Arthur noticed this, but made no remark as they continued walking. Amy kept her eyes downcast in the water, scarcely daring to look at this lovely man's face, fearing her weakness, fearing he would read her thoughts in her eyes. Suddenly, a little glimmer in the water caught her eye. She bent down quickly to see what it was. Unfortunately she lost her balance and stumbled in the water, falling before Arthur realized she was even moving.
An involuntary gasp escaped her lips, and before she fully realized what had happened, she was back on her feet again, pulled up by the strong arms of Mr. Clennam.
"Oh dear! Are you alright, Miss Dorrit?" he asked, looking at her with grave concern.
"Yes, yes, I think so," Amy replied, very disconcerted and hot. "I should know better than to reach for whatever shiny object captures my attention." This, with the hint of a smile.
"What have you got there?" Arthur asked, and Amy unfurled her fingers to reveal a small silver ring crusted with sand.
"I caught it shining in the water, and ever since I was a young child, I have been collecting things from the river," she replied.
"I see. That will make a very nice addition to your collection," he said, picking the ring up and examining it closely. He stopped suddenly, looking her over. "Oh, but you are dripping wet. Here, let me help you." His hand darted to his pocket to pull out a kerchief, but Amy moved more quickly.
"No need, Mr. Clennam. Really, I'm fine," she said, as she hurriedly pulled her mother's kerchief from her pocket. She unfolded it quickly, dabbing at the water and mud clinging to her dress. She was so flustered and engrossed that she did not see the flash of white fall to the ground.
"What's this?" Arthur said, bending down. He picked up the white button, turning it in his hand and studying it closely. "Why, Miss Dorrit, I do believe this is the button that fell off of my jacket a fortnight ago, the one I am wearing this very day."
Amy braced herself with a start. "Oh, well, yes it is. It does look like the one you lost," she said quickly. "I know that you said you would have a tailor mend it for you, but since I am already employed as a seamstress for your mother, I do not think you should have to go through all that trouble. Would you give me the honor of repairing your fine jacket?" Amy said, recovering herself.
Mr. Clennam just stared at her for a moment, his lips curving slightly. "Very well then," he said. "I accept your offer." He removed his coat, pressing the button down into her hand. "I trust my coat to your care, until we meet again."
"I won't disappoint you, Mr. Clennam," Amy Dorrit said, gathering his coat in her arms.
He said, "You had better go in before you become ill from the damp. I will walk you back."
Amy stole a secret glance at him, her eyes glowing with admiration as he spoke. At that moment, Maggie came running towards them.
"Hallo, Mr. Clennam. Hallo, Little Mother," Maggie said, giving her a hug. "Your father sent me for you. You're wanted right away. Our friend can come too, if you like," Maggie said, slipping her hand in Amy's.
Amy looked at Arthur.
"Go along, Miss Dorrit," he said. "I will take my leisure on the riverbank for a time longer. The breeze off the water suits me well today."
"Just so," Amy said, slightly inclining her head in parting. "Have a good afternoon, Mr. Clennam. I will be done with your jacket shortly."
"Good afternoon, Miss Dorrit, Maggie," he said, tipping his hat.
Long after the women had departed, the brooding figure of Mr. Clennam stared out to the river, thinking of buttons and childhood fancies and clear eyes like pools of still water.