They all ran on together. Some of the villagers had seen the glare too, and were running down the lane as well. It was exciting.
“It’s Mr. Hick’s house,” said a man. “Sure as anything, it’s his house.”
They poured down to the end of the lane. The glare became higher and brighter.
“It’s not the house!” cried Larry. “It’s the cottage he works in, in the garden—his workroom. Golly, there won’t be much left of it!”
There certainly wouldn’t. The place was old, half-timbered and thatched, and the dry straw of the roof was blazing strongly.
Mr. Goon, the village policeman, was there, directing men to throw water on the flames. He saw the children and shouted at them.
“Clear orf, you! Clear orf!”
“That’s what he always says to children,” said Bets. “I’ve never heard him say anything else.”
One morning before school there was a week long serial on the radio to which I listened assiduously. It was the first of the rare occasions that I got away with listening to radio plays in the morning. In fact, I realise now that it was a reading of a novel—of The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage by Enid Blyton.
The result was a week in which I was late for school every day because this reading occurred at just the time when I should have been leaving to walk to school. That it stuck in my mind is weirdly prophetic. It was my first introduction to the notion of insurance and how it could be defrauded—years later insurance would be my first chosen career—as misguided and as much as failure as all my others, including an even later adventure when I would actually write radio plays.
Sixty years after they were published, and forty years after they had any relevance, the Famous Five and Secret Seven mysteries by Enid Blyton are still being re-published and sell out completely every Xmas—leaving whole shelves in bookshops across the world standing empty by Boxing Day.