Florence turned from the window, and her bright glance missed nothing in the room. The shelf for the candlestick and the book of the holy Word; a few pots and things – not many, for Eb’s needs were uncomplicated, living alone. His boots by the door. A broom propped against the wall, and a wash tub and bucket and such hanging tidy from nails in the wall.

Some dried herbs hung from the rafters, and clusters of onions, garlic and sausages; but not hams, because Eb had felt it pointless to go to the trouble of cooking a ham for himself. Still, Florence saw spice jars on the shelves, and all the usual jars of butter beans and lentils, raisins and nuts, flour and molasses sugar, and the dried apples without which no troll could call a place home.

The fireplace, Florence noted with approval, was a capacious affair. Within the hearth, toasting forks and a chestnut roaster, the work of a capable smith, hung from nails. Three baskets ranged against the wall there held pinecones, neat-chopped kindling sticks and split logs. The door to the firebox of the black stove stood open, and she saw that Eb had laid his kindling ready for the evening. He had a low couch with cushions near to the fire, for he liked to sit soft in the evening time, warm by the stove.

Finally, Flo looked at the well-scrubbed table with two chairs drawn up to it. A pot of meadow-flowers stood on the table. Flo smiled.

“There’s not many bachelor households where you’d see flowers on the table,” she said.

Eb nodded. He said nothing for a moment, then confessed “Nay, nor this one. Sarah Mueller comes in to do for me while I’m out working on the hof during the day. She spruces it all up real pretty, and she often leaves flowers there on the table.”

Flo’s smile widened “You do need looking after, then?”

“Looking after?” Eb gazed at her, speechless. He hardly knew how to put this. “Flo I’m desperate for someone to look after me. I can manage by myself, it isn’t difficult to live simple and live alone. What’s to do but organise some bread and cheese and sit down with a book by the fire? But I – “

He couldn’t say this and look at her. He turned away and gazed out of the window across the hof. “I want someone who will be pleased to see me when I come home. I want to wake up in the morning and not always be alone.”

He took a deep breath. “Actually, Flo, I want you here. I’m sorry, I know this is meant to string out along two or three months but – from the minute I saw you . . . Flo, will you be with me? Will you be my helpmeet, my wife? Do you want me?”

He stood with his back to her, his head bent. He wouldn't look.