Think of a farm near an old stone bridge, with a river winding past. There are sheep on the hills and cows in the fields. There are chickens in the barns. There’s a field called a croft where more chicken sheds are kept. There’s a pony in the orchard and his name is Silver. There’s an old red tractor in the yard. The farmer is called William. His wife is called Jean and she’s warm and soft. They’re Grandpa Bill and Nanny Jean. And there’s Uncle Dusty with hair like a cloud. They all live together in Peak Dale Farm.
And it’s a long, long time since any children lived there.
But now Anna’s come to stay. She has an old brown case full of books, a wooden doll called Mrs Rattle and a brown violin that used to be her dad’s.
“How old are you?” Uncle Dusty asked. His voice came from so high up that at first Anna didn’t know he was talking to her. He bent his back and put his hands on his knees and brought his cloudy head down and asked her again.
“Dusty, don’t pester the child with questions!” Nanny Jean said. “She’s eight years old, and she’s tired and upset and ready for bed.”
Uncle Dusty pulled himself back up to his great height and scratched his head. “So how long is she staying here?” he whispered. Even though he was so high up, Anna heard him say that.
“As long as it takes,” Nanny Jean whispered back. “She nearly lost her mum in that terrible big bang on the train, and she hasn’t got a dad any more. She stays here till her mum’s better. And longer, if she needs to. Isn’t that right, William?”
Grandpa Bill blew his nose noisily into a large handkerchief and muttered, “If her mum gets better, Jean.”
Anna stared round at the kitchen of her grandmother’s farm and decided she didn’t like it at all. It was dark and untidy and not a bit like home. Grandpa started whistling and went to the doorway to put his wellies on. “Come on Dusty,” he said. “Work to do.”
“Aye. Work to do,” Uncle Dusty said, and followed his father out into the rain.
“Come here, Anna,” said Nanny Jean. “There’s no need to cry. You’ll have a lovely time here, and when your mummy’s better, you’ll go home again. Let’s show you your bedroom. It used to be your mummy’s, when she was a child. You’ll love it up there, I promise you.”
She took Anna up the creaking stairs, and up some more creaking stairs, right to the top of the house. She showed Anna the bed where her mother used to sleep, and the shelf where all her books were still kept. “There’s room for yours there too,” she said.
She showed Anna the chair where Mrs Rattle could sit, but Anna kept her doll firmly under her arm. Then she showed her the window. They looked out through the rainy grey at the bare trees and the dark hills. They looked down at Silver in the orchard and the cows and the sheep in the field, and the chickens in the croft.
“When you lie in bed at night, you’ll hear the river going chitterchatter, chitter-chatter, over the stones,” Nanny Jean said. “And you’ll hear the owl going hoo-hoo from the hollow tree.”
And it was just as she said. When Anna went to bed that night, she could hear the river, she could hear the owl, she could hear the sheep calling to each other. But she still didn’t like it. She wanted to go home.