“Their cottage stood on its own at the edge of the great marsh, two miles away from the village of Waterslain. That marsh! Empty it looked and silent it seemed, but Annie knew better. She knew about the nests among the flags and rushes.”
Annie lives with her elderly parents in a remote cottage. She is used to being alone. Every day she walks by the lonely marsh to school. Only in winter, when the wind howls in the trees, is Annie ever afraid.
“The next day, Annie and her mother crossed the ford and walked up to the crossroads and meet Willa off the afternoon bus. ‘What a journey!’ said Willa. ‘Two changes?’ asked her mother. ‘Three!’ said Willa. ‘This place is miles from anywhere.‘”
“The only thing that Annie didn’t like were the steely winter days when it began to grow dark before she came home from school. The marsh didn’t seem such a friendly place then. The wind whined, seabirds screamed.”
Then, on a terrible night, with the phone lines down, Willa goes into labor. Annie is terrified of the ghost, but knows she must brave the storm to fetch help. As she ventures into the night, a horseman swings into view.
Her sister Willa is pregnant and Annie is overjoyed when she comes home to have her baby. Annie tells Willa the names of local plants and Willa tells Annie about the ghost, murdered by highwaymen, who is said to haunt the old forge nearby.
“As Annie dozed, she began to imagine she was not in bed but in a boat, rocking, quite safe, far out at sea. The sheets of rain lashing at her little window were small waves smacking at the bows, streaming down the boat’s sides....”