If he had found the little cup on his garden wall, next to the lane, he would have shrugged it off as something drunkenly forgotten by Lord Cowdry on the festival night previous. But the cup was left on his thinking bench, right under his own bedroom window and next to his lemon hollyhocks: a place Herrick was sure to find it.
At first, Herrick didn’t consider it a gift, no, mostly because he didn’t really know anyone, as he had been by himself for twelve years and only exchanged quick pleasantries with the village folk. Besides, the crystal cup was much too fancy, too much of a treasure for someone like him, someone who found a thread of contentment in his solitary dinners of roast potatoes and burdock—he was a simple man who already had everything he needed. And so he set the crystal cup in the cupboard, a place that would keep it safe until the original owner asked for its return. There it stayed in the shadowy corner, until one morning—a golden dew beginning—his fingers skipped over his clay mug and fetched the shining cup and filled it with his favorite: mint tea. Then he sat on his thinking bench and thought about his day’s to-doings. And drank. And felt that this must be what it felt like to live the life of one of those silk-waistcoated nobles: fresh clover at his feet, sparkling cup in hand. For the first time in years, he thought, “This is a good life.” After he finished his tea, Herrick marveled at how light his heart felt—he even told a passing finch as much.
It was only upon tidying up that Herrick noticed a design carved into the bottom of the crystal cup: a rabbit, stretched long in flight. He found it quite odd that this little bit of artistry had escaped his notice, especially as he had held the cup to his face just minutes before. But he couldn’t think too long on it, as he had a half-acre of turnips to water and brush to bundle and trousers to darn. And so he set his body to work until the late afternoon, when he found a rabbit taut with fear, its foot trapped in the hedgerow. Gently, carefully, Herrick’s large hands freed it, and the rabbit stretched itself into flight through the green wheat field, a movement that resembled the carving at the bottom of the crystal cup.
Three days later, another carving appeared in the crystal. What was once a rabbit was now a skinny vase. Or a spoon; Herrick couldn’t really tell, though he examined it a good deal since his planned morning trip to the Honeymilk Bakery was scuttled due to a pounding rain. In the afternoon, while perusing the baskets of salted rolls and cinnamon twists (two for a little coin), he overheard chatter about a mishap that very morning involving a smashed wedding cake: a result of the head baker rolling on a fallen spoon. Herrick thought the incident quite curious. Only four days after, as Herrick sipped his mint tea, another carving appeared in the crystal, this time of an oak leaf; and he wondered at the enchantment, running his fingertip along its facets in a bid to convince himself it was not a fantasy wrought by the morning light. But again, his day’s duties caused him not to linger over such silly things until his walk to the village, where just as he was rounding the haystacks at Mouldeberg farm, he heard young children squabbling. There were four siblings, and as far as he could tell, they were all under the age of ten, and all were distressed by a wood pile that had toppled over. He set down his packages and helped sort the woodpile straight. Ever after, Evie and Thomas and Linna and George would wave as he passed by, and their parents invited him for suppers, which he gladly attended. It was nice to be around merriment.
And so it went. Each morning, Herrick’s beautiful little crystal cup showed him something sparkling and new. For the carving of a swan, he fetched a lady’s white feathered hat that had been stolen by the eastern wind and flung into the old birch tree’s crown. For the horse, he wrestled a stuck foal from a mudhole. Each daily symbol yielded a new adventure rich in heroics, and he kept every story’s beginning in his head: the two buttons, a thistle, bells, fox brothers, the weathervane, a sprig of strawberries… He found much joy in the act of helping others, and others brightened when he was around. Nearly every day there was a moment where Herrick thought about how happy he was.
One bright morning, as he shared his breakfast with his new good friend Thistle Rutledge, he tipped his cup to his mouth and saw on the bottom a bough of roses. It caused him pause because he immediately knew—like he knew his own heartbeat—what the roses meant, just like the cup’s previous caretaker must have known when they saw hollyhocks in the crystal: that it was time to pass the crystal cup on so someone else could find everyday treasures. And so, he set off down the lane with Thistle, eager to bestow a gift.
After all, he was a simple man, and had everything he ever wanted.