Mystery of the Burnt Cottage

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by Enid Blyton

The Five Find-Outers and Buster the Dog

Mystery #01

The village of Peterswood was perfectly quiet and peaceful, except for a dog barking somewhere. Then suddenly, to the west of the village, a great light flared up.

Larry Daykin was just getting into bed when he saw it. He had pulled back his curtains so that the daylight would wake him, and he suddenly saw the flare to the west.

"Golly! What's that!" he said. He called to his sister. "Daisy! I say, come here and look. There's a funny flare-up down in the village somewhere."

His sister came into the bedroom in her nightdress. She looked out of the window.

"It's a fire!" she said. "It looks pretty big, doesn't it? I wonder what it is. Do you think it's some one's house on fire?"

"We'd better go and see," said Larry, excited. "Let's get dressed again. Mummy and Daddy are out, so they won't know anything about the fire. Come on, hurry."

Larry and Daisy dressed quickly, and then ran down the stairs and out into the dark garden. As they went down the lane they passed another house, and heard the sound of hurrying footsteps coming down the drive there.

"It's Pip, I bet," said Larry, and shone his torch up the drive. The light picked out a boy about his own age, and with him a small girl of about eight.

"Hallo, Bets! You coming too?" called Daisy, surprised. "I should have thought you'd have been asleep."

"Larry!" called Pip. "It's a fire, isn't it? Whose house is burning, do you think? Will they send for the fire-engine?"

"The house will be burnt down before the firemen come all the way from the next village!" said Larry. "Come on — it looks as if it's down Haycock Lane."

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 all 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."

It was not the least use throwing pails of water on the flames. The policeman yelled for the chauffeur.

"Where's Mr. Thomas? Tell him to get out the hosepipe he uses to clean the car."

"Mr. Thomas has gone to fetch the master," shouted a woman's voice. "He's gone to the station to meet the London train!"

It was Mrs. Minns, the cook, speaking. She was a fat, comfortable-looking person, who was in a very scared state now. She filled pails of water from a tap, her hands trembling.

"It's no use," said one of the villagers. "Can't stop this fire now. It's got too big a hold."

"Some one's phoned for the fire-engine," said another man. "But by the time it gets here the whole place will be gone."

"Well, there's no fear of the house catching." said the policeman. "Wind's in the opposite direction luckily. My word, what a shock for Mr. Hick when he comes home."

The four children watched everything with excitement. "It's a shame to see such a nice little cottage go up in flames," said Larry. "I wish they'd let us do something — throw water, for instance."

A boy about the same size as Larry ran up with a pail of water and threw it towards the flames, but his aim was bad, and some of it went over Larry. He shouted at the boy.

"Hey, you! Some of that went over me! Look what you're doing, for goodness' sake!"

"Sorry, old boy," said the boy, in a funny drawling sort of voice. The flames shot up and lighted the whole garden well. Larry saw that the boy was plump, well-dressed and rather pleased with himself.

"He's the boy who has come to live with his father and mother in the inn opposite," said Pip in a low voice to Larry. "He's awful. Thinks he knows everything, and has so much pocket-money he doesn't know what to do with it!"

The policeman saw the boy carrying the pail. "Here you!" he yelled. "Clear orf! We don't want children getting in the way."

"I am not a child," said the boy indignantly. "Can't you see I'm helping?"

"You clear orf!" said Mr. Goon.

A dog suddenly appeared and barked round the policeman's ankles in a most annoying way. Mr. Goon was angry. He kicked out at the dog.

"This your dog?" he called to the boy. "Call him orf!"

The boy took no notice but went to get another pail of water. The dog had a wonderful time round Mr. Goon's trousered ankles.

"Clear orf!" said the policeman, kicking out again. Larry and the others chuckled. The dog was a nice little thing, a black Scottie, very nimble on his short legs.

"He belongs to that boy," said Pip. "He's a topping dog, absolutely full of fun. I wish he was mine."

A shower of sparks flew up into the air as part of the straw roof fell in. There was a horrible smell of burning and smoke. The children moved back a little.

There came the sound of a car down the lane. A shout went up. "Here's Mr. Hick!"

The car drew up in the drive by the house. A man got out and ran down the garden to where the burning cottage stood.

"Mr. Hick, sir, sorry to say your workroom is almost destroyed," said the policeman. "Did our best to save it, sir, but the fire got too big a hold. Any idea what caused the fire, sir?"

"How am I to know?" said Mr. Hick impatiently. "I've only just got back from the London train. Why wasn't the fire-engine sent for?"

"Well, sir, you know it's in the next town, said Mr. Goon, "and by the time we knew of the fire, the flames were already shooting through the roof. Do you happen to know if you had a fire in the grate this morning sir?"

"Yes, I did," said Mr. Hick. "I was working here early this morning, and I had kept the fire in all night. I was burning wood, and I dare say that after I left a spark flew out and set light to something. It may have smouldered all afternoon without any one knowing. Where's Mrs. Minns, my cook?"

"Here, sir," said poor, fat, trembling Mrs. Minns. "Oh, sir, this is a terrible thing, sir! You never like me to go into your work-cottage, sir, so I didn't go in, or I might have seen that a fire was starting!"

"The door was locked," said the policeman. "I tried it myself, before the flames got round to it. Well — there goes the last of your cottage, sir!"

There was a crash as the half-timbered walls fell in. The flames rose high, and every one stepped back for the heat was terrific.

Then Mr. Hick suddenly seemed to go mad. He caught hold of the policeman's arm and shook it hard. "My papers!" he said, in a shaking voice. "My precious old documents! They were in there! Get them out, get them out!"

"Now, sir, be reasonable," said Mr. Goon, looking at the furnace not far from him. "No one can save anything at all — they couldn't from the beginning."

"My PAPERS!" yelled Mr. Hick, and made a dart towards the burning workroom, as if he meant to search in the flames. Two or three people pulled him back.

"Now, sir, now, sir, don't do anything silly," said the policeman anxiously. "Were they very valuable papers, sir?"

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