In a green village, not far from a large duckpond, a family lived in a little cottage. They were reasonably happy; the house was not quite big enough for the growing, noisy family, but they had enough to get by. The back garden became a wonderland for the children. They swung on ropes tied to a big poplar tree, they made bridges over tiny mud ponds, they planted flowers and vegetables anywhere  the seeds would take root. Soon the back garden was as noisy as the house.

There was only one other cottage, built alongside with an adjoining wall. There were no knocks on the wall. There were no notes pushed through the door. The house next door stood empty and silent. Every now and then the young mother would wonder when they would have neighbours. She hoped that they would like children as much as she did. Her husband spent a lot of time away from the cottage. He travelled a lot for his work.

One day the two youngest children were having an argument over a ball. This was nothing new and they were accustomed to raising their voices as loud as they saw fit.

“Be quiet!” shouted a deep voice.

Startled, the children shut up. They looked around. Then nudged each other and crept to the fence. Standing on flowerpots they peered over.

A giant mop of wiry black hair on a broomstick face, eyes like peeled currants and a knotted mouth stared back at them. “Keep your noise down. I want some peace.” The voice was hoarse like stripped bark.

The children slunk down and went in to tell their mother.

“There’s a new neighbour next door. We don’t like him.”

“I’ll take a cake round,” said their mother, “maybe that’ll sweeten him.”

There was no answer to her knocking. She left the cake in a tin on the doorstep with a note. The tin was never returned.

The children didn’t go outside for a long time. Until one day when their young mother couldn’t stand having them cooped up in the house any longer.

“Go and play,” she said, “but try and keep the noise down.”

“We’ll try,” said the children.

For a little while all was peaceful in the garden. The children played happily, whispering and giggling.

Then a cat entered the garden.

A little ginger tom tightroped across the tops of the fence posts, jumped onto the outhouse roof and  landed on the dustbin lid.

The children squealed. A bird hung from the cat’s mouth. A wing fluttered.

The cat crouched down over its prey, daring them to come closer, its ears flattened.

Shouts and crashes rained down as the children tried to make it let go by banging the dustbin sides with sticks.

“I said, BE QUIET!” boomed a voice. No one noticed. The cat was busy looking for a way to escape, the children were involved with their screaming.

The mop of wiry hair and the broomstick face appeared over the fence. the knotted mouth unstrung for a second.

The young mother came out into the garden, drawn by the sudden silence.

A feather fluttered to the ground.

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