Gerald looked both ways and then darted out the back door of the manor and into the nearby woods. He pressed his arm against his chest, holding the golden chalice in place, hidden under his black coat. He tried to run as quietly as possible through the thick snow, but his boots crunched loudly beneath him leaving an easy trail through the snow that anyone could follow.
Finally, he stopped and listened. Far away a bird sang. Nothing more. He chuckled quietly as he pulled out the chalice. It glinted in the weak sunlight that filtered through the leafless trees from the over cast sky. It was finally his.
It was always meant to be his. He knew it the moment he’d come in for his interview for the assistant gardener job. He’d waited in the front room and glanced through the open door into the parlor and saw it there on the mantle. It glowed in a beam of sunlight and he thought he heard angels sing. At that moment he knew that he had to have it, no matter what it took.
He’d cautiously asked around. It was a priceless family heirloom, valued at more than Gerald had made working hard the last ten years. There wasn’t any way for him to acquire it legally. He looked at it longingly through the windows whenever he could. It was always all alone, unloved, uncherished.
Now its owners were out of town for a week, with just the butler home. The butler had slipped and fallen on the icy path and turned his ankle and Gerald was called in to sweep the walks. It was a sign. The way was clear. The butler had gone in to take his pain medicine and lie down. Gerald walked in quietly and took the chalice.
Unfortunately, he had no way to get it home. He hadn’t brought a bag, just his shovel. The sharp-eyed postman had offered to drive him over. The postman wouldn’t look the other way on the ride back. He was so law-abiding it made Gerald’s teeth hurt.
He’d have to hide it and bring a bag the next time he was called to the house. If the family came home before then, they’d blame the butler for its absence. Everyone always blamed the butler, right?
Gerald looked around. There was a little den, just the right size, nearby in the thin snow under a large tree. He wondered what animal lived there. It didn’t really matter.
Gerald murmured an apology to his chalice as he wedged it into the den and put a large rock on top. He built a snowman right on top of the rock. There, he’d marked the spot well. He blew a kiss. He’d be back.
He did marvelous job shoveling the walk. He felt as light as air. Mine, mine, mine, he thought. He smiled at the postman who picked him up. The postman frowned and looked suspicious, but he’d never know.
Gerald grinned. The next time it snowed, he would be back with a bag, and the chalice would come home with him. He’d keep it under his pillow and look at it every night. He couldn’t wait.
But it didn’t snow. It rained. It rained off and on for weeks. It was a month before Gerald was called back to trim the hedges. He brought a large bag with a lunch in it in case anyone asked. As soon as the head gardener turned the corner, Gerald slipped into the woods.
There was no snow left, so the snowman was gone of course. He tried to retrace his steps, turning over stones as he went. None of them had chalices underneath, or even likely looking animal dens. He’d lost the chalice. He took as much time as he dared and finally wobbled out of the woods and started trimming.
He wanted to weep. How had this happened? He should have walked miles in the dark to return here the very night he’d hidden it. The chalice was worth it. This was all his fault.
At lunchtime, he wandered over to the parlor window to peek inside and mourn the lost chalice. He looked, and the chalice was there on the mantle once more, glowing. Had losing it been a bad dream? It didn’t seem likely.
Was he dreaming now? He rubbed his eyes. It was still there, as beautiful as ever.
“A hunter found it out in the woods,” the head gardener said at his elbow. Gerald jumped.
“Found what?” he asked.
“The chalice there. No one knows how it got there. It was next to a fox den. The hunter took it as a bribe from the fox and left the poor thing alone,” the gardener said. “He took the chalice into town to look for the owner. It came home before anyone knew it was gone.”
“What a strange story,” Gerald said. “How did it get out in the woods?”
“No one knows. The butler says that no one is to go into the house any more but the family. He’ll mail us our pay,” the gardener said.
“No one?” Gerald asked. His heart sank. He’d failed the chalice and lost his chance. It was no longer his. He looked back in the window. The chalice glowed, reserved and remote.
“Nope. He says it was a warning from a guardian sprite or something that the security needed to be tightened. A lot of nonsense if you ask me. I makes a good story though.” The gardener laughed. “Lunch is over now, back to work.
“Back to work,” Gerald echoed. He turned and walked away from the window. He didn’t look back.