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JAOctGoHoNo -- The Chalice of Sorrow

November 01, 2016 01:28AM

The Chalice of Sorrow

Anne Elliot was beside herself when she learned that Frederick Wentworth was coming back to England. Not only was he returning to his native land, he was coming to her museum. The tumult of emotions didn't stop over the few months until she saw him again, but she was soon able to perform her duties as an assistant curator much the same as before. That was very much an apt summary of her entire relationship with Frederick Wentworth: he made her feel more than she could initially cope with and then, instead of the emotions dissipating, she learned to live with them as her new normal state if being. It had been like that in the giddy elation of falling in love with him and in the crushing despair of losing him. She carried both extremes inside her at all times, and she was now adding a third: trepidatious hope.

When he finally arrived he was not alone. It had been Professor Croft who had led the expedition to Neb-alhankh so it was the professor who first stepped forward to shook hands with her father and to performed introductions.

“This is James Benwick who has been with me for five years,” he said, indicating a serious looking young man. “And this is Frederick Wentworth who studied under you right before he joined my team.”

Professor Elliot nodded and shook hands stiffly then introduced William Hughes as his assistant. Anne was not mentioned.

Anne was used to her father's neglect; she had made her peace with it years ago. But she had hoped to catch Frederick’s eye, to read in his expression whether enough time has passed for her to speak with him again. She stared at him for as long and directly as she dared, but still he did not notice her and send her a wink or a scowl.

She began to feel her hope withering. If he was this close to her and could not bear to look at her, surely she was not forgiven yet. And then he did look at her with such blankness that she went cold. There was no flicker of recognition in his eyes, no sneer of derision on his lips. He looked at her, then looked through her. She was a stranger to him, a nothing.

She slipped from the room briefly to compose herself. When she returned, her father was ready to hand the men off to Anne who was too give them a short tour of the offices before showing them to the rooms that had been assigned to them.

Professor Elliot, placing no great respect in those that chose to go into the field rather than to study ancient cultures from the comfort of the armchair, had decided to put Professor Croft and his men in the basement. “After all, they are used to playing in tombs,” he attempted to be witty. Anne had countermanded this decision, substituting her own office and its window to the visiting archaeologist, and she sequestered the adjacent lab space for his assistants.

When she showed the office to Professor Croft, she was slightly embarrassed by the small size although she knew it looked larger without her personal effects. The professor, however, was quite pleased. He gravitated immediately to the window and drank in the scene of a dreary English day. “You cannot buy a view like this in Egypt for love or money,” he smiled.

His assistants were less impressed with rain clouds so Anne offered to show them the adjacent room. The two men were more pleased with the larger space. Their banter was full of references that Anne didn't understand. It was beyond strange to be in the same room as Frederick again and to be treated like this, as if he had never met her before. She tried to think of an excuse to send Mr. Benwick away or to lure Frederick into the hall so that she could speak privately with him. Inspiration eluded her however and, after fidgeting foolishly while the two spent minutes deciding where they would position their desks and bookcases, she left them to push the furniture around.

She tried, in the days and weeks that followed, to speak with Frederick but he was always busy running errands for the professor or sticking close to Benwick. But one afternoon she found him quite alone on the floor of the museum, staring at a cabinet of Roman metalwork found on British soil. She glanced about furtively but saw no one else so she squared her shoulders and cleared her throat.

He ignored her, or maybe he just hasn't heard. She took a step forward and tried again. He gave no reaction.

She walked up behind him and trapped him on the shoulder. “Frederick,” she said clearly.

“Miss Elliot!” She had startled him. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

She looked at him, at the lack of anger and bitterness in his eyes, and didn't know what to say. All her little speeches had been based on him not wanting to speak with her again, on him being angry and resentful, but there was no emotion there upon which she could mount her appeal. Her words died in her throat.

After a respectful pause he gave her a polite smile. “Excuse me,” he said kindly and turned to go.

“I'm sorry,” she blurted out. That seemed to stop him. “I'm sorry for hurting you, and for the way my father treated you. And I'm sorry I worried about the wrong things. You were right, all those years ago, when you said I'd regret my decision.”

He absorbed that for a moment. “Miss Elliot, what are you talking about?” he asked finally. “What decision? I'm afraid you have the advantage of me. Have we- have we met before? My apologies for not remembering.”

“Are you going to pretend you don't know me?” It had been painful when he ignored her from a distance, when she thought he was merely being cold to her, but this was worse.

“So we have met before?” He was skeptical.

“Yes,” she said in frustration. “While you were studying under my father --”

“Oh, that term was a blur,” he said affably. “I was so busy trying to prepare to leave England and join Professor Croft in Egypt that I barely remember any of my studies. If it's any consolation,” he concluded, “I can't blame you for some decision I don't even remember.”

Anne was struck by his words but the lack of any recognition in his eyes did her in. He had forgotten about her utterly.

She mumbled some excuse and walked out of the exhibit room. He watched her go, slightly worried over her reaction. She ducked into another hall to escape his gaze, then slipped through another room to avoid a museum guest. She kept moving from room to room to hide from various people as tears started to spill down her cheeks. The sound of her father lecturing Mr. Hughes sent her sprinting up to the safety of her office door and over its threshold.

Once safe from everyone, she gave out a sorrowful sob that provoked a startled exclamation, forcing her to realize she was not alone. She looked about her and saw Professor Croft sitting at her desk. She immediately began to apologize for intruding but the professor was quickly on his feet, passing her his handkerchief, and remarking kindly that she had just arrived in time to join him for tea.

Anne wiped her eyes and again apologized, but the visiting archaeologist would admit to no imposition. “Have tea with me,” he said instead. “It isn't English tea, you see. It's Egyptian, a very acquired taste, but I simply love it. You must try it.”

She was still protesting as he guided her to one of two extra chairs and poured a second cup of inky black tea which he then sweetened with an extravagant amount of sugar.

“Here,” he said, handing her the cup. “Take a sip and tell me what you think if it.”

Anne obeyed and then winced. She did not like it. “Well, it grows on you,” he observed philosophically. “So what brings you here, Miss Elliot?”

Anne started to repeat her apologies but he stopped her. “You've already told me that,” he reminded her. “I want to know what started you crying so hard that you couldn't see straight. It wasn't your father, was it?”

Anne looked up from her tea cup. “What makes you think that?”

Croft shrugged. “I'm used to observing obsolete society. Professor Elliot makes it his business to be patronising rather than paternal, if you'll forgive me for saying so.”

“It wasn't my father,” she said, wondering if she could confide in the man before her. Maybe as Frederick’s boss, Croft would have insight into what was going on. “It's Mr. Wentworth,” she said at last, deciding that Professor Croft looked trustworthy.

“Wentworth!” exclaimed the older man. “It is hardly like him to bring a girl to tears.”

“He -- We met years ago when he took a class of my father's,” she explained. “We didn't part on very good terms, and now he pretends he doesn't know me.”

“Maybe he doesn't remember,” suggested Croft. “It was a long time ago to a young person and some men are terribly bad at names and faces.”

“He had asked me to marry him,” Anne said bluntly.

The professor's eyebrows shot up. “A man ought to remember that,” he decided. “But if you're his fiancée, then why didn't your father mention your engagement already? Has it been a secret all this time? I know Wentworth has never mentioned it to me.”

“There is no engagement,” Anne admitted. “In the end, I refused him. I wasn't ready at the time and he couldn't wait.”

Croft leaned back and nursed his tea. “That explains a lot,” he said. “My wife always thought he had suffered a secret heartbreak. I'm sure she'd rather know she was wrong.”

Anne frowned. It had been clear at the time that she had hurt Frederick, but she had consoled herself with the expectation that his feelings would be short-lived. Now she learned that had not been the case. “He's never forgiven me,” she sighed.

The professor gasped, then started in his chair as something occurred to him. He set down his cup and stood to search through one of the heavily laden bookshelves.

“What is it?” Anne asked as he at last laid down a book on the desk.

“Wentworth’s heartache was a secret,” he said as he flipped through hand-written pages, “but Benwick’s was not. And that ended with curious abruptness.”

At Anne's quizzical glance, he explained, “You see, James Benwick was engaged to a very pretty English girl who stayed behind and waited for his return. They were always writing to each other; what that boy must have spent in postage! Everything was going swimmingly until he got a telegram that she had died suddenly.”

Anne gasped in sympathy.

“Yes,” agreed the professor, “it was very sad. Unfortunately, we had received reports of French in the area so I had split the team to better protect our claims. My wife and I had half the fellows to Neb-alhankh while Benwick and Wentworth had taken the other half to a smaller site, about 30 miles away. When Benwick received the news, he was bereft. Utterly inconsolable. Wentworth did what he could but I fear he was too creative. The men had discovered a new chamber, you see, and had a number of new artifacts for cataloguing.”

At this point, Croft pushed the book in front of Anne. The book was open to a specific page covered in drawings of a cup, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and notes written in English.

“The Chalice of Sorrow?” Anne read aloud.

“They uncovered it in a burial chamber,” said Croft. “Apparently Wentworth decided to use it on Benwick to help him with his grief. I don't know who drank from it first, but they both drank and after that Benwick had no memory of ever being engaged, no knowledge whatsoever of his fiancée. It was very disconcerting to my wife and I when we met up with him. Based on Wentworth's note, we had expected Benwick to be in the depths of despair and instead found him quite cheerful. Wentworth told us what he had done, and we three tried to explain it to Benwick, but no matter what we said or did -- told him stories, read her letters, showed her picture -- he couldn't remember her. After the third day we quit trying; it was making everyone too upset.”

Anne mulled over this. “Are you saying that drinking from this cup makes people forget their heartache?” She was understandably incredulous.

“I make it a point never to look down upon the beliefs of others,” he said gently. “Just because you don't understand it doesn't make it false. To quote the Bard, there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. And I have seen it work. I have experienced it for myself.”

“But --” Anne wanted to argue against such foolishness yet she held her tongue. Her father might look down upon fieldwork, but Professor Croft had seen more in his travels than she would ever know. Perhaps there was a reasonable explanation she could not yet see. “But how does it work?”

“According to the inscription,” he pointed to the notes in the margin, “you drink to the start of day to soothe your sorrow, to the close of day to forget it, to the cradle to sweeten it, and to the grave to end it. It sounds very poetic in the original Egyptian.”

“Does it matter what one drinks?” she wondered.

He shrugged. “Wentworth used whiskey with Benwick, but tea will suffice.”

“How do you know?”

He smiled. “My wife and I --” He paused to bring forward a framed picture on the desk. Anne recognized the professor and guessed the identity of the woman smiling next to him. “We doubted Wentworth’s story at first, but after Benwick maintained no memory of his fiancée we decided to experiment on ourselves.

“My wife and I have no children, you see, despite wanting them very badly. Sophie had been pregnant numerous times over the years, but it always ended in sadness and disappointment. She thought that if she drank while facing north, to the grave, it would end her sorrow, which meant that her difficulties would end and she would finally have a child.”

“What happened to her?”

“She died,” her said simply. “It was not the end to her sorrow that we had hoped for.”

“I -- oh, Professor Croft!” Anne exclaimed softly. “I'm so sorry.” In all his mentions of his wife, he had never implied that she was dead.

“Don't be sad for my sake,” he said. “I too have drunk from the chalice, but while facing east, to soften my sorrow. I miss my wife with every breath, but I do not wish to forget her. Forgetting is the wish of a rash, young man who had never experienced loss before and doesn't know how to cope with it. Sophie is too much a part of my life to erase, and I have experienced far too much joy with her to cast it all aside as Benwick had done. Wentworth also, I believe.”

“What was it like, drinking from the chalice?” Anne asked curiously. “How did it soften your loss?”

“Would you really like to know?”

Anne looked at the teacup sitting on the desk. Was the professor offering to perform another experiment? “Where is the chalice now?”

“In the next room,” he answered. “Would you like to see it?”

“Shall I bring my tea?”

JAOctGoHoNo -- The Chalice of Sorrow

NN SNovember 01, 2016 01:28AM

Re: JAOctGoHoNo -- The Chalice of Sorrow

KateBNovember 03, 2016 02:38AM

Re: JAOctGoHoNo -- The Chalice of Sorrow

NickiNovember 01, 2016 02:37PM

Re: JAOctGoHoNo -- The Chalice of Sorrow

Suzanne ONovember 01, 2016 01:13PM

Re: JAOctGoHoNo -- The Chalice of Sorrow

LiseNovember 01, 2016 02:42PM

Re: JAOctGoHoNo -- The Chalice of Sorrow

NickiNovember 01, 2016 02:51PM

Re: JAOctGoHoNo -- The Chalice of Sorrow

Shannon KNovember 01, 2016 01:12PM


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