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Title: On Peace Night
Author: Fred M. White
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100311h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Aug 2014
Most recent update: Aug 2014

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On Peace Night


Fred M. White

Published in The Townsville Daily Bulletin, Australia, 14 May 1929

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2014

LEONARD ANTONY FOX sat in his weekend cottage on the edge of Swinford Heath golf links nursing a sprained ankle. He was quite alone in his luxurious nest, for he had deliberately sent his solitary factotum away for an hour or two so that he might have the place to himself when his anonymous correspondent of a few days before came to keep a more or less secret interview which had been arranged through the medium of the box office of a popular London daily paper. The sprained ankle was a bit of a nuisance, because the business might be part of a trap, but Fox was not the man to flinch whatever happened. He knew that sooner or later the man Swiney would seek to get his revenge.

Swiney was the one to be really feared—as to the rest of the gang Fox could afford to treat them with contempt. But, given the chance and a clear opening, Swiney would not hesitate at murder to get those diamonds back again.

Not that they really were his diamonds. Fox told himself, as he sat there in his lonely cottage late at night waiting the coming of his anonymous correspondent. By every law of right and justice, save the cold legal side of the affair, those stones were the property of Leonard Antony Fox. They had been found on the claim near Parrsberg, which he had located himself. He had been too busy to register his claim, and Swiney and his creatures had jumped it and completed the necessary legal forms with the Diamond Fields Commissioner.

It was not till this had happened that Swiney came out in his true colours. The diamonds a fortune in themselves, belonged to him and his unsavoury satellites. Fox could go to the devil so far as they were concerned, but not a cent was he going to get. They jeered at him for a fool who did not know how to take care of his own, and bade him begone.

But they had reckoned without the grit and dogged courage that comes of breeding and a public school training. Fox had gone out to South Africa to seek his fortune, and since luck had literally made love to him he was not going to throw her smiles aside without a struggle. So he held on to Swiney's gang, swearing and grumbling and abiding his time, what time the others called him a white-livered cur.

Then the hour came to strike, and Fox struck like a tornado. He fought the gang single-handed on the way down to Cape Town, a desperate affray with revolvers in it, and when the dust cleared away the stones were in his pocket, and Swiney lay by the roadside with a bullet through his lungs.

So Fox came back to England a rich man, after all. So far he had made no effort to get rid of the stones, feeling that he had not yet heard the last of Swiney. And, moreover in the eye of the law those diamonds were legally the properly of Swiney, who had registered the claim in his own name. Swiney was not the man to be shaken off as easily as that. Even the fact that he was badly 'wanted' in more than one country would not deter him from what would be at the least a nasty scandal. If there was only a way of getting rid of the scoundrel so far as England was concerned, Fox would be content. Something to drive him out of the country, never daring to return.

Fox sat there in his sitting-room under the electric light impatiently awaiting the advent of his anonymous correspondent. He came presently, humbly knocking on the front door and timidly entering at a shout from Fox. A little, red-haired man who carried his sly character on his weak yet cunning face. Jackal was written all over him. A parasite and hanger on of superior animals of prey and as cowardly as his prototype.

"Sit down!" Fox commanded. "So it's you, is it? Ginger Joe. Swiney's little dog. Come from him, eh?"

"It's not quite like that, sir," Joe cringed. "I'm out with Swiney, curse him! That's why I wrote to you. Done all his dirty work for years, and now nothing but the dirty kick out. Me as planned the details of that Mere Croft robbery."

Fox nodded—that famous burglary had been the sensation in the Press a fortnight ago.

"A fine haul that Joe," he said.

"Ay, I believe you. Not much risk and Swiney waiting round the corner for the swag. A fast car what was stolen and the boodle in a shabby suitcase smothered with foreign labels. What's that? Where's the stuff now? Ask Swiney. Left luggage office in some London terminus if you ask me. But not for long. The gang's cutting it thick at the Envoy Hotel. Private suite. Rich men from Australia game. By this time the Mere Croft stuff is in Swiney's hotel bedroom or I'm the biggest mug out. It was to tell you that and a bit more as brought me here tonight. Now next Thursday night about ten o'clock—"

"That's Peace Night," Fox interpolated.

"Course it is. That's why the gang chose it. There's going to be a big dance that night at the Envoy with about two thousand guests with Swiney and the rest of the gang very prominent. In the crush Swiney sneaks off and comes down here knowing you are on your back helpless like—"

"Oh he knows that, does he?" Fox smiled.

"Sure thing, boss. A fast racer will bring him here and get him back within two hours. As you ain't parted with the stones he thinks they are hidden here and means to get them. And he means to murder you at the same time. After that he can put up an alibi that no lawyer can shake. Seen on and off at the dance all the evening by lots of his new hangers on and standing fizz galore. And the rest of the gang helping. 'Seen Swiney?' 'I saw him five minutes ago in the cocktail bar.' Repeated loud. See the game? Easy as kiss your hand."

"Quite," Fox agreed. "But where do I come in? Why did you make up your mind to tell me all this?"

"Told you already," Joe grunted. "Gang turned me out and left me without a bob. On my uppers. Not daring to give them away. So I came here to ask you for fifty of the best so that I could sling it to America where I got friends. Is it a go?"

Ten minutes later Joe left the cottage with a roll of notes in his pocket, and Fox sat down to think.

"Less than a week to strike a real blow," he told himself as he sat in his chair. "Curse this ankle of mine, I'll get old Chris Cadell to run down and talk matters over. Nobody like old Chris in an emergency like this."

With that Fox turned to his elaborate wireless set, and for the next hour forgot his troubles in listening to Madrid.

* * * * *

Promptly to a telephone call the wily and volatile Cadell turned up the following night. A man of leisure now, he had played a fine part in the great war as an intelligent officer, and still loved an adventure for its own sake. Also he already knew all there was to tell about the diamond business.

"I see your point," he said, when Fox had described the matter of Ginger Joe's visit. "The last thing you want is a stink. Drive Swiney out of England for good and the incident is closed so far as you are concerned. With the facts of the Mere Croft robbery in your possession you can easily give the police the office and get him five years. After that when he has nothing further to fear he will be at you again."

"Bang on the bull," Fox agreed. "Just what I fear. Now can you see any way of driving Swiney abroad for keeps?"

A slow smile dawned on Cadell's keen sensitive face.

"The brain-wave works," he cried. "Came to me almost before you had finished your lament, listen to me."

It was a lot that Cadell had to say and he said it slowly and deliberately. When he had finished Fox grinned delightedly.

"Well, I'm dashed," he grinned. "Some scheme, old man, that. But where precisely do I come in?"

And Cadell proceeded to tell him. A grateful Leonard Antony Fox held out a hand almost reverently.

"Shake, learned Cadi," he whispered, "shake."

* * * * *

It wanted but a few minutes to eleven on the night of Peace celebrations that the crook known to a select circle as Swiney came slinking up to the cottage on the links like the wolf that he was with greed and revenge and murder in his heart. It had been no difficult matter to get away from the glittering turmoil of the great peace gathering at the Envoy Hotel. A big fur coat hidden behind a bank of palms in one of the dancing rooms, a deserted car in a aide street, and a convenient service staircase close by had enabled him to get away without being seen and thus away on his murderous errand. So far, so good.

He knew his route exactly. In disguise he had been over it more than once before. With any luck, the passing of an hour and a half would see him back in the hotel again, and in that time his two confederates would see to it that he was not missed. It was all a matter of a little careful camouflage. And then, when the big job was done, he and his gang would get away from England with the proceeds of the Mere Croft burglary plus the fortune in diamonds which Swiney was on his way to get now.

So far everything had moved according to plan. And here he was on the threshold of murderous adventure without a single hitch. He had pushed the fast racing car into a tangle of heather hard by Fox's cottage, and now stood outside it ready and eager to be getting along with his task.

Twice did he creep round the lonely cottage without hearing a sound from within. No doubt Fox had retired long ago, and, with any luck, was probably fast asleep. His man must also be in the same state of blissful unconsciousness in the cockloft above which served him for a bedroom. Very gently Swiney pushed back the catch of the scullery window and as gently stepped into the passage. So far the sinister gods of night were with him.

But the quiet was not entirely unbroken. From the sitting-room-hall houseplace came the faint strains of music. Dance music beyond the shadow of a doubt. Somebody playing there in the darkness. Strange sort of thing to do, Swiney thought.

"The devil," he muttered. "Not gone to bed then. But why should he sit there in the dark?"

There was nothing for it now but to take Fox unawares. Drop in on him and flash a light in his face and at the same time confront him at the business end of a revolver. Swiney crept on into the grateful warmth of the room, gaining courage as he proceeded. Nothing moved. There was no sound of breathing, no sound of a body moving in a chair. The sixth sense of the trained burglar told Swiney that he was alone. And then he understood.

A wireless set, of course. Swiney had never seen or heard one before, but he had read a lot about them. He could see the faint glow of the valves in the black gloom. Careless of Fox, no doubt. Gone to his room doubtless without switching off the L. T. and the aerial, and gone to bed in ignorance of the fact. So much the better, perhaps, Swiney crept forward.

Then there was a sharp click and the whole place sprang into a bath of dazzling light. In the ingle close to the wireless set Fox was seen seated in his armchair with a weapon in his hand and that weapon in a direct line with Swiney's head.

"Stand still," the crisp command came. "An inch and I fire. You are armed, Swiney, and as a burglar thus equipped I am justified in shooting to kill. Turn your back on me. Thanks. Slip a hand into your hip pocket and drop your gun on the floor. Once more thanks. Sit there and listen to me."

There was nothing for it but to obey.

"That's better," Fox smiled. "In a way I have been expecting you. The next move is yours. Go on."

Swiney was beginning to collect his scattered wits. After all, he had a few leading cards to play.

"Oh, all right," he swaggered. "About those diamonds. I'm not unreasonable. Share and share alike and say no more about it. The stones are here, of course."

"Not within miles," Fox said with a sincerity that carried conviction with it. "Intelligent anticipation my friend. But that bluff doesn't go. You came here for the lot and my life as well. Smart of you to realise so quickly that the dice were loaded against you and be ready for a deal, but I risked my life for my own and that I propose to retain."

"And if I go to the Courts about it?' Swiney sneered.

"Yes, I see the point," Fox agreed. "But you won't do that for reasons which I am going to make obvious. And I'm not going to hand you over to the police for another reason. This time I am going to get rid of you for ever."

As Fox spoke he stretched out his hand and slightly twirled a knob on his wireless. Instantly the music swelled until it filled the room. Beyond it was a din of voices and ripple of applause. From out of it rang a voice loud and clear:

"Hullo, Tony. Can you hear me, Tony?"

In the ether somewhere a clock was striking twelve.

"Sounds cheerful, what?" Fox asked. "A reveller calling to his mate. From some dance, probably. You recognise the cacophony of a jazz band. Somebody there is calling to somebody else who is not present. A sort of mild joke on the part of the said Tony's friend. Does it convey anything to you?"

("Hullo, Tony. Can you hear me, Tony?")

The constant cry was beginning to get on Swiney's nerves. There was a cursed trap behind this somewhere and he could not do more than merely sense it. He was feeling as helpless as a child who is being teased.

"I see you are puzzled," Fox went on. "Let me give you what is called a light. That Mere Croft burglary."

Swiney gasped and swallowed. The trap was in sight now.

"A fine coup," Fox smiled, "and a perfect getaway. Not a bad idea to hide the swag in your bedroom at the Envoy Hotel. There at the present moment, isn't it? And the rest of your gang ruffling it with the best of them on the dance-floor of the Envoy at the present moment. But not for long, Swiney—not for long. Ah!—I thought it was coming."

Again the voice spoke through space but with a difference.

"Listen, Tony! Our friends in blue have gone up to No. 47 bedroom and taken a party with them. I'm off now, Tony."

The voice faded away and was heard no more. Fox switched off the set. Swiney looked up swiftly, a horrible thought stirring him to the depths of his black soul.

"What's the game?" he demanded, hoarsely. "Where did that music come from? And who spoke?"

"Happen to remember my full name?" Fox queried.

"Course!—Leonard Antony Fox. Tony! Curse you! Listening to what was going on at the Envoy Hotel, were we?"

"Real clever of you to guess it," Fox purred. "And don't forget that my man in the ballroom mentioned a certain bedroom and gave the numbers. Yours, I think, Swiney."

Swiney burst into a torrent of futile oaths.

"Also my man at the other end spoke of a party in blue. Need I remind the wily Swiney that the police are so attired? The game is up, my friend. I laid a trap for you, and you have walked into it like an innocent child. I knew that you were coming here to-night and made my preparations accordingly. Also I knew all about that sensational burglary and where the swag was hidden. Even if my little scheme had failed your bedroom would have been raided to-night and your confederates arrested. They are under arrest at this very moment, and the stuff has been found in your room. And Scotland yard is after you."

"So you say," Swiney mumbled.

"So I have proved," Fox chortled. "The voice calling to Tony was my friend's voice. Direct from the Envoy Hotel. What he said passed in the general din, but I heard it. And when my friend gave the number of your room and spoke of the party in blue and their escort I knew that all was well with me. If you don't believe me, go back to the Envoy and see for yourself."

Swiney lay back in his chair utterly beaten.

"You cunning devil!" he breathed. "But you haven't finished yet. Why not nobble me with the others? Why this consideration for the man you have most cause to fear? Come, your ace!"

"Wrong!" Fox smiled. "I have no occasion to fear you—now. But I might have had, after you had served your sentence, if I had sent you to penal servitude with the others. You can serve it now if you want to and then worry me afterwards, but I wanted to give you a choice. That's why the trap was laid by means of my wireless. Now, which is it to be—a long term in prison or a sporting chance of getting out of England with no possibility of ever returning? It's for you to decide."

Swiney glared impotently at his tormentor.

"I'm done!" he confessed miserably. "Well, if the choice has to be made it won't be the stone jug. My name's Walker. But if ever I catch you—"

"Good night!" Fox smiled. "Not that way, please! Keep clear of your late revolver. You might be tempted, you know."

Without another word Swiney pushed out into the night, and once aboard his car turned to the south and held a course that pointed in the direction of the nearest port. With luck he had all the world before him and a total of much value in notes in his pocket always there for emergencies. And Leonard Antony Fox in his cottage slept the sleep of the just.


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