She waited. She knew her son well; knew that he had become unusually brave, because he had been from the outset unusually timid – so that just to speak, to act, to stand up for himself was an act of courage. He had grown up, she thought, too close to her own grief.

Or maybe it was simply his temperament: but by the time Eb reached adulthood, he could no longer have distinguished between an act of bravery worth decorating with a medal, and saying a prayer in public, or answering the door. Therefore he didn’t differentiate; he just did what had to be done because none of it seemed easy, so he had no preferences. And Hannah wondered now what he was struggling to confess – there was no way of knowing, with Eb, whether it would be something devastating or completely inconsequential.

“The thing is . . . I know you will have been wanting us to be married in the summer, when there’s been time to grown celery and there’s plenty for a feast in the garden – and time to enjoy planning and all. But I do so want to marry Flo. Now, I mean. At Christmas.”

“I see,” said Hannah. Christmas was three weeks away. “And Flo? Flo’s family? ”

“This has been just my wish. Flo thought we should do things without rush; to give everyone time to enjoy. But when I told her this morning I’d like us to be married at Christmas, she laughed; said I was impetuous, and that she must send word to her mother.”

“Eb, my part in this begins and ends with sharing your joy. It’s not me getting married. I see no reason to delay – if you had your doubts you wouldn’t have asked her. And as for planning and preparing, well: you have a house to take her home to. If you are happy with simplicity, then you will live contentedly and enjoy your wedding day the more. You can just be wed after the Circle Gathering, and we can ask everyone to bring along a plate of food. The joy’s meant to be in the union, not in the celery.”