Waking, Sleepy, Sleeping, Wakeful

As he walked away from the Whicharts’ house, comfortably full of newly baked cookies and spice tea, Eb felt his heart light and joyous. Happiness fizzed inside him with an altogether unfamiliar intoxication.

As he approached his own cottage, still and quiet in the darkness under the trees, of their own selves his feet executed a little improvised dance.

Humming to himself the jauntiest hymn tune he could think of, Eb pulled off his boots in the porch and went into his house with its good smells of wood-smoke and herbs.

It was not until he had burrowed down under his quilt into bed and lay there curled tight and shivering in the uncompromising chill of the night, waiting for his body warmth to ease the situation, that he had a sudden appalling thought. It made him feel quite sick.

Florence would see Harold and Harriet before he did – when she came in from the Lightfoots’ house, and when she rose for breakfast in the morning. Harold and Harriet would extend to her their smiling congratulations. Eb had neglected to mention to Harold that he had come to ask the blessing of the Servant of the Light first; to ascertain whether he might proceed with the courting of a Sister from beyond their community. He hadn’t actually mentioned anything about it to Florence, whom he had known, after all, for only a week and three days.

It was true that in the course of that week all kinds of minor errands had redirected Eb’s ways to Dorcas’ home; and it was surprising how necessary it had become to go on by Harriet’s place if Dorcas happened to mention that Florence had gone along there (as she obligingly did, for Dorcas was an observant and intelligent troll and took a shrewd guess at the nature of Eb’s sudden interest in her household – given the extra sparkle she had noticed in Florence’s eye). Florence had seen quite a lot of Eb over the last few days: but possibly not enough to prepare her for congratulations on the happy event of her forthcoming marriage.

In an instant, all Eb’s joy was snuffed out like a candle. He lay shivering in his freezing cold bed, wretchedly dismissing every possibility that came to mind: to rush over first thing in the morning and – no, they would already have seen her tonight; to get up again now and go back to – no, they would be in bed and astonished to be disturbed again; to – no, there was no other possibility.

Eb did not swear, and he did not despair; he didn’t sleep either. It was cold all night long.