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Title: Her Birthday
Author: Edgar Wallace
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
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Language: English
Date first posted:  Feb 2014
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Her Birthday

by

Edgar Wallace

Cover Image

First published in Novel Magazine, July 1914
Reprinted in Pearson’s Weekly, July 21, 1928, as “Two Rogues and a Girl”



The interest is sustained to the last line in this thrilling tale of two business men and their pretty typist.



REDWOOD, of the firm of Redwood & Fenner, came into the office in evening dress, for he was dining with Sigley that night. Much depended on the interview. Sigley would be the principal creditor if things went wrong, and things were going as wrong as they could. He was nervous. That he had dressed an hour before dressing was necessary was proof enough of his jumpiness.

Margaret Marsden was cool enough. The sight of her busy fingers manipulating the keys of the typewriter soothed him; the click-click of the machine was an admirable sedative.

Redwood strolled aimlessly down to his desk, stared thoughtfully at the pad, and dropped his overcoat over the back of a chair. The buzzer on the desk sounded. He picked up the receiver—it communicated with the hall-porter’s box.

“Yes? Detective-Inspector Harrod from the Criminal Investigation Department?” His eyes narrowed.

“Detective Inspector Harrod?” he repeated thoughtfully. “Tell him to come up.”

The hand that pulled open the drawer of the desk shook a little. He had been more reckless in his transactions than a member of an established firm of Hatton Garden jewel merchants should have been. He took a revolver from the drawer of his desk and examined it with a speculative eye. Then he replaced it and closed the drawer.

“Miss Marsden,” he said.

The girl looked round.

“Yes, Mr. Redwood.”

He was caressing his little black moustache meditatively.

“My bag is in the next room,” he said after a moment’s hesitation. “It is rather heavy, but I may want you to take it to Charing Cross cloakroom—if necessary. It may not be necessary, but if I have to—to go out, wait until I am gone, then get the bag away.”

“I see,” said the girl, and looked at him strangely.

There was a knock at the door, and the florid Detective-Inspector entered.

“Good evening, Inspector,” Redwood nodded, keeping his eyes fixed on the other’s face. The man smiled, so it was all right, thought Redwood. Sigley had not discovered that his diamonds had been pledged.

“I am lucky to catch you here,” said the Inspector.

“Catch me?”

Inspector Harrod laughed.

“That’s an unfortunate term for a detective to use, isn’t it?” he chuckled.

He sat down at the other’s invitation, but refused the proffered cigarette.

Redwood was terribly nervous. It required all his effort of will to disguise his apprehension.

“You’re going out?” said the detective, seeing the other’s attire. “I won’t keep you long.”

“My time is yours,” answered Redwood.

The detective leant over the desk and began in his businesslike way:

“Now, sir, it has come to our knowledge that you have—” He looked round. “Can I speak before your stenographer?” he asked, lowering his voice.

Redwood nodded.

“Yes. She—er—she is in my confidence. I mean in our confidence,” he corrected himself hastily.

Harrod nodded.

“Very good. It has come to our knowledge that you have in your office safe pearls to the value of 20,000.”

Redwood agreed with an inclination of his head.

“Yes, the Lai Singh rope.”

“A remarkable set?” suggested the officer.

Redwood shrugged his shoulders.

“Not remarkable save for the quantity; they are just a number of perfect pearls of an ordinary type.”

The police officer nodded emphatically.

“Exactly,” he said. “That is why the pearls are remarkable, and that is why at Scotland Yard we are anxious about them. They are pearls which would sell anywhere—in Paris, New York, Buenos Ayres; the very collection that would tempt Chicago Kate,” he said slowly and with emphasis.

Redwood was surprised and showed it.

“Is she in London?” he asked.

“According to our information, she is,” replied Harrod. “You know of her, of course?”

Redwood smiled. She was the nightmare of every dealer in Hatton Garden. Didn’t she steal the Grein diamond? Had she not taken Lady Dale Mortimer’s emeralds? From one end of the jewellery world to the Other Chicago Kate was a terror and a menace.

“She has been over here for some time,” the detective went on.

“Why isn’t she arrested?” asked the other

“Because very few people know her,” explained Harrod. “She is to most of us only a name. She hasn’t been working for quite a long time. Now apparently she has turned up in London.” He rose. “I came to warn you, as I have warned other gentlemen in your business. Take my advice and have your pearls sent to the bank.”

So that was all the visit signified. In his relief Redwood felt almost cheerful.

“I am greatly obliged to you, Mr. Harrod,” he said, walking to the door with his visitor.

Harrod looked round, his hand on the door. “Er—young lady,” he said.

“Yes?” Margaret Marsden raised her pretty face to the Inspector.

“I’m afraid I’ve said a little more than I Intended,” he said, half in jest. “You mustn’t talk about what you have heard.”

The girl smiled.

“I wasn’t listening,” she said.

“That’s wise of you. Good night, sir.”

“Good night, Inspector.”

Harrod paused irresolutely.

“By the way, sir, you don’t happen to know where I can find your partner?” he asked.

What did he want with Fenner?

“No, he’s probably gone home,” said Redwood. He had not seen Fenner that day; he was racing at Windsor, he believed. Fenner was always at races lately—that was one of the reasons why people had been so suspicious of the firm’s stability.

Redwood waited till the door closed on the detective; then he walked slowly back to the desk, his agile mind busy with a thought. Suppose these pearls disappeared while Chicago Kate was in London! People would think— The thought was worth pondering. He looked across to the girl. She was pulling a sheet from the typewriter.

“Finished?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied laconically.

“Have you finished the copy of the letters I gave you?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“No, they will take me till late,” she said.

She avoided his eye, this trim, pretty woman with the delicate hands and the gold-brown hair. He regarded her admiringly.

“You don’t mind working alone in the office? On your birthday, too?” he asked.

She smiled a little.

“Not at all; I prefer it—even on my birthday,” she said drily. He understood the emphasis she put upon one word.

“You mean that you’re glad to see the back of me?”

“Exactly,” she said briskly, and slipped a new sheet of paper into the roller of her machine.

“But, Margaret—” he protested.

“Don’t ‘Margaret’ me, please,” she said coldly.

He laughed.

“You’re a cold-blooded devil. Why do you work here for two pounds a week when—”

There was no need for him to finish his sentence. She had grown weary of the repetition. The offer he had made her was such as had been made to a hundred women. God knows that Redwood was not in a position to offer even ten pounds a week, and the furnishing of the flat might at this juncture have presented certain difficulties.

She made no reply to his suggestion, her quick fingers stabbed the keys with bewildering rapidity, and he had to talk through the clatter she made.

“I swear to you that I love no other woman in the world,” he said earnestly.

Clickety clickety, click clack.

“You don’t believe me?”

She stopped.

“I don’t believe you,” she agreed shortly, “and I’m not greatly interested anyway.”

“I would do the right thing,” he pleaded.

She smiled as she rose to carry her work to Fenner’s desk.

“When a man says that,” she said quietly, “he has started off by doing the wrong thing. The right thing, I suppose, is the flat and the 10 a week for housekeeping.”

Then it was he saw the little package on his desk.

“What’s this?” he demanded, and unwrapped it. “Why, you’ve sent back the present I gave you!”

She nodded.

“Your little present is too expensive even for a birthday present. I’m greatly obliged to you all the same. It goes with the flat and the ten pounds a week, I imagine?”

“My dear girl!” he laughed.

“My dear man,” mocked she, “don’t you realise that if I wanted that sort of life there are a dozen people in the world who would give me a much bigger flat, and—let us say, twenty pounds a week, and much more expensive birthday presents!”

“But they wouldn’t be me.”

The complacence in the tone tickled her.

“That would make the prospect ever so much more pleasant,” she said a little cruelly.

He shrugged his shoulders and looked up at the clock ticking soberly over the door. There were ten minutes before he need go; possibly the dinner with Sigley would be unnecessary—if he could persuade her. In his selfish way he loved her; and she was the more desirable because of her resistance. He walked over to the safe and unlocked it. The sight of the Lai Singh rope might inspire him to a course. She owed something to him. He had taken her into this office three months ago and given her a bigger salary than she had asked. He knew nothing about her; she might have been Chicago Kate for all he knew. He mentioned this fact.

“Chicago Kate?” she asked, puzzled.

“You know—the woman thief that detective was talking about. I took a risk when I brought you into one of the greatest firms of pearl merchants in Hatton Garden. I took a risk, by Jove!” he grumbled.

“And so did I, by Jove!” mocked the girl.

He had opened the safe and brought out the filigree silver box and placed it on his desk.

“Do you know what it contains?” he asked impressively.

“No,” she responded.

It seemed that she was in no mood for small talk.

“It contains the Lai Singh pearls. There’s 20,000 worth here.”

She was not as obviously impressed as he could have desired.

“It seems a lot of money,” sh.e said, and that was all.

“What would you do with 20,000?” he asked, with a smile.

“Me? “She considered. “I’d buy a new hat, I think.”

Her sarcasm left him unamused. An idea was growing.

“Margaret, there’s something I’d like to tell you,” he said.

If she knew the truth she might throw in her lot with his. Women are curious creatures.

“There’s something I’d like to tell you when you call me Margaret,” she said hotly, but he took no notice of her indignation.

“I could offer you a new life,” he said half to himself. “A life of ease and luxury in another land. By God, I’ve a good mind to take you into my confidence!”

Don’t!” She raised her hand warningly. “I don’t want to know.”

“Tell me. There isn’t anybody else? Fenner?”

The contempt in her smile disposed of that sportsman.

“I know Fenner,” he said. “He’s my partner, but he’s a wrong ‘un. There isn’t anything straight about him except his circumstances. Don’t put your faith in Fenner. He’s broke. Horses, and betting, and—worse.”

“The greatest firm of pearl merchants in Hatton Garden, I think you said?” she asked.

He spread out his hands in deprecation.

“These things happen. Affairs have gone badly with us.” He looked at his watch. “I shall miss my dinner,” he said. “Good night.”

“You’re not taking your bag,” she reminded him.

“No, that can wait.”

She nodded.

“You’ve packed up. Are you going away somewhere?” she asked.

“No. I just”—he hesitated. Then: “Well, it is nothing to do with you anyway; you aren’t interested.”

She nodded, this time vigorously.

“Yes, I am,” she said. “I am always interested when a prosperous pearl merchant packs his bag and books his ticket to the Continent.”

“How do you know?” he gasped.

She picked up a square black cover from the desk.

“Here is the ticket,” she said, with gentle malice. “You put it down and forgot to take it up in the agitation of your love-making.”

He swore under his breath, and at the door turned.

“Oh, by the way, your typing needn’t keep you,” he said carelessly. “I may want the office later, and remember this, Margaret—”

Oh, dear!” she protested wearily. What she had to remember she did not learn, for as Redwood stood with his hand on the knob of the door, Fenner came in. A smart man with a certain ruddiness of face that told of a life devoted to field sport. The race glasses slung over his shoulder suggested an explanation for his absence all day. He scowled at his partner.

“Hello!” he growled.

“Hello!” repeated the other ungraciously.

“I-came to get something out of my desk,” said Fenner.

“Oh!”

Redwood’s tone expressed, as if in so many words, that the explanation for the other’s presence was not accepted.

“Going?” asked Fenner.

“Yes. I’m dining with Sigley.”

Fenner grinned.

“Hope you have a good time,” he said ironically.

Still Redwood lingered.

“Are you coming my way?” he asked more politely than usual.

Fenner was sitting at his desk eyeing his correspondence dubiously; now he looked up.

“No, not just yet. I’ve a letter or two to dictate. Many happy returns, Miss Marsden,” he nodded to the girl.

“Thank you,” she smiled.

“I’ll wait for you,” Redwood decided. “Miss Marsden wants to get away.”

“Don’t trouble,” Fenner waved him to the devil. They are private letters.”

“Well, I’ll wait,” said Redwood.

He suspected the other of many things—but mostly of a partiality for this pretty girl at the typewriter.

“What the devil do you mean?” demanded Fenner. “If you don’t understand that I’d rather have your room than your company you’re more thick-headed that I thought you were.”

“I don’t know how thick-headed you thought I was,” said the other coolly.

“Look here, Redwood—” Fenner rose angrily from his chair.

“Gentlemen!” It was the shocked Margaret.

“Perfectly beastly temper you’ve got, Fenner,” complained Redwood. “Your horses been acting the fool again?”

“Mind your own business,” said his sullen partner.

“I see by the papers that ‘Molten Gold’ was beaten by a short head for the Windsor Handicap,” Redwood went on. He took up the paper he had brought in. “‘Heavily backed and beaten on the post,’” he quoted. “That was unfortunate for you, Fenner, if you were the backer.”

“There’s lots of interesting news in the paper,” snarled the other. “They say the South African market has slumped to blazes. Gilfontein Deeps are down to 20s. You held quite a parcel of Gilfonteins, Redwood.”

Redwood shuffled awkwardly. So Fenner knew!

“Yes, I did,” he admitted.

“That was unfortunate, too,” sneered Fenner.

I didn’t expect the market to go as it has,” replied Redwood in an injured tone.

His partner laughed.

“Nobody ever docs,” he said. “I didn’t expect ‘Molten Gold’ to be beaten by a short head this afternoon. These things happen.”

There was nothing to be gained by waiting.

“Good night, Miss Marsden,” said Redwood. And then: “Good night, Fenner.”

“Night,” growled the man at the desk without looking up.

Redwood slammed the door. As he did so Fenner rose.

“Maggie! “he said quickly, and she swung round.

“Now, Mr, Fenner,” she warned, “I’ve told you I can’t allow you to call me by my Christian name.”

“It’s probably the last time I will. I am in the devil of a hole.”

She saw the haggard face; he had put off his mask of indifference. Here was a man immensely hurt.

“It seems an unfortunate day for the firm of Redwood & Fenner,” said the girl not unkindly.

“But I’m not in such trouble that I haven’t thought of you. I’ve brought you this,” he said eagerly, and took a case from his pocket. “It’s a little birthday present.” She came over from her corner of the room and took the thing, opened it, and raised her eyebrows.

“A little birthday present! “she repeated “Why, that is worth a hundred pounds! “

“I forget,” he answered carelessly.

“I suppose you haven’t paid for it?” she said.

He frowned, then the humour of it struck him, and he laughed.

“That has nothing whatever to do with you,” he said.

“How curious men are!” She closed the case and handed it back. “Here is your present,” she said.

“What!” He was aghast. “You’re not going to take it?”

She shook her head.

“No, thank you,” she said. “I—er— can’t afford to take it.”

He was hurt now in his self-esteem—more vulnerable a part than his self- respect.

“Well, I can’t force it on you,” he said dourly.

“Besides,” she smiled, “it may be valuable to you—now.”

He drew a long breath.

“Oh, it will be valuable to me all right. I shan’t be able to settle on Monday?”

“Can’t you compromise?” she asked.

“No,” he said bitterly. “I couldn’t hold my head up again if I pleaded for time. I’ve got to clear out.”

“I see—make an honourable bolt. What happens to your head, then?”

This Margaret could be very hard.

“Don’t trifle, Maggie,” he said.

“Miss Marsden,” she corrected.

“Oh, well, if you want to be so infernally proper! I met Inspector Howard outside.”

“He- came to warn you about Kansas Jane, or some weird person,” she said.

“Chicago Kate. Yes. Suppose those pearls of ours disappeared—vanished in the night—” He laughed. He would not have been so amused had he known that the same idea had already occurred to his partner. “We should know where they’d gone, shouldn’t we?”

“I should,” said the girl, over her shoulder. “I should know that the partners of Redwood & Fenner were on their wav to the Continent.”

He was startled.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“You’ve brought your bag, too,” said she. He had; though at the sight of Redwood he had put it down by his desk without ostentation.

“Yes, I—er—” he began.

“Packed? And a ticket in your pocket to Berlin or somewhere? “

“How did you know?”

“I guessed,” she smiled.

He took two swift steps toward her and bent over her shoulder. There was a vibrant note in his voice as he spoke. Here was a stronger, more reckless passion than Redwood’s. He gripped her arm.

“You know there’s no girl in the world who is to me what you are,” he said rapidly. “Take the plunge! I offer you a life of happiness, of freedom, new sights, a new life in another land. I want you! “

She got up quickly.

“Let go my hand, please,” she said, and pushed him away. “How dare you!”

He laughed.

“How dare I? How dare I do anything? I’m ruined—so is Redwood. He’s waiting for the opportunity to clear away with these pearls, the last valuable consignment with which we shall ever be trusted. Don’t you think I know? They’re insured; nobody will lose except the underwriters.”

She had walked quickly to Redwood’s desk—a solid bulwark between herself and this masterful man.

“Poor underwriters!” she said.

In a moment he had forgotten her in the larger enterprise.

“If I could be sure they would fix on Chicago Kate—” he considered aloud.

He had a trick of biting his fingers when he was perturbed.

“Poor Chicago Kate!” she said, watching him. “Must she be in the same cart as the underwriters?”

He shook his head slowly.

“I can’t take the risk,” he said definitely then. “You can go as soon as you like,” he added briefly. The girl smiled, the tone was so different now.

“You’ll remember this birthday!”

“I shall.”

Fenner crossed to the safe and opened it, he pulled out the filagree box and brought it to his desk.

Margaret, watching him curiously, asked : “What are you going to do?”

“I must take my chance,” he said.

From his key ring he took a small key.

“Suppose I go to the police?” she asked quietly, and he laughed.

“Accuse me of robbing myself? Don’t be silly!”

He found the key and slipped it into the tiny lock.

“Suppose I am accused?” she asked suddenly.

“You!” He was astounded at the suggestion, and inclined to be amused, but she was serious.

“Yes, I,” she nodded. “I am the last in the office. They might arrest me as an accessory.”

It was a sane objection such as you might expect Margaret with her clarity of vision to offer.

Fenner thought he could settle that for her. It did not matter a straw one way or the other to him. The world would know to-morrow. He sat at his desk and wrote:

“I, George Kenner, hereby certify that I removed the Lai Singh pearls, and that I have decamped with them.”

He read the words aloud as he wrote them.

“That will satisfy you,” he added, and handed the paper to the girl.

“But not me!”

Fenner swung round with an oath. Redwood stood in the doorway looking very white—the white of murderous passion. He had heard and he had understood the significance of the scene.

He hated Fenner at that moment as he never hated a man in his life. Hated him for his treachery and because of the girl who had received his confidence.

“You treacherous hound!” he breathed. Are you the only man in the world looking for escape?”

Fenner was dazed. He passed his hand in front of his eyes as though to wipe away something that obscured his vision.

“We’re both in it, Redwood,” he said hoarsely. “I was mad. Can nothing be done to avoid this? Why,” the thought came to him suddenly, “you came back for them yourself!”

“What if I did? “ Redwood asked sullenly. “Anyway, we share and share alike.”

Margaret Marsden watched the little scene completely absorbed by its melodrama. Now, as Fenner went hastily to the safe, she asked: “What of me?”

“You?” asked Redwood.

“I!” she said. “You must put me right with the world. You shan’t leave me to hear the stigma of being concerned in this.”

Redwood remembered the letter his partner had written and frowned.

“She’s right,” said Fenner. “Give me that letter.”

Margaret handed it back, and Fenner ran his pen through some words and substituted others. “Here you are,” he said. “‘We, George Fenner and Horace Redwood certify that we have removed the Lai Singh pearls and have decamped with them.’”

“That alteration will do. Sign it, Redwood. If we bolt to-night what does it matter?”

Redwood looked at her. Then he signed, and the girl took the letter and gravely blotted it. She lifted down her little hat which hung above the machine, threw the ends of a stole about her neck, and took up her muff. The two men were busy; noiselessly she opened the drawer of Redwood’s desk.

“There’s a train leaves Waterloo to-night at ten,” Fenner was saying. “Southampton at midnight, arrives at Havre at day-break.”

“That’s the train,” said the other.

Fenner looked at his watch and opened the filigree box.

“We’ve time to share these up now. Why, Chicago Kate wouldn’t have done this job neater!” he added, with a grin.

“Stop!” It was the girl who spoke; her left hand fell upon the box, aud with one swift movement she drew it toward her. She stood between the two men at the far end of the desk.

“You are insulting Chicago Kate. She would not do this job so clumsily.”

“You seem to know a great deal about her,” said Redwood, recovering from a momentary spasm of alarm.

“I do,” she said quietly, “for I am Chicago Kate! Don’t move, my amorous friends,” she went on, dropping her voice, “with your twenty pound flats and your new lauds and your new joys. I’ll shoot the first man that gives me trouble.”

The revolver she pointed was undoubtedly Redwood’s taken from his drawer.

“Why, you don’t mean—” Redwood was floundering in amazement. Fenner was dumb.

“I am Chicago Kate,” said the girl quickly. “I came here for a job, because I was tired of the work I had been doing. I wanted to start straight in a new land. I came to a jewel store because I love jewels. But you didn’t give me a chance,” she almost wailed. “It was love, flats, and allowances, and journeys to the Continent, birthday presents of 100 for a poor typist. You’ve shown me that there isn’t a chance for a pretty woman in this game, so I’m going back to America. I shan’t steal any more. I’ve enough to live on—now.”

She lifted the box and tucked it under her arm, her fanning revolver covered the men.

“Ha!” Fenner heard the quick footsteps on the stairs, but not before the girl had heard.

“Don’t move! Don’t speak!” She shut and locked the door.

“Mr. Redwood! Mr. Redwood!” It was Harrod’s voice.

“The police! By God, we’ve got you!” Redwood cried triumphantly.

The girl lifted a letter and waved it before him.

“‘We, George Fenner and Horace Redwood hereby certify that we decamped with the Lai Singh pearls.’” She smiled her mockery.

“My God!” Fenner saw the hopelessness of the situation.

“Mr. Redwood, are you there?” Harrod outside was growing impatient.

“I’m going to open the door,” she said in a low voice. “I can shoot through my muff very easily.”

She turned the key noiselessly and Harrod came into the room in a hurry.

He looked from face to face and smelt a row; but he saw only the element of a vulgar misunderstanding in which a woman had played a part.

“I’m sorry to intrude,” he said, “but I’ve just had a message from Scotland Yard to say that they believe the story of Chicago Kate being in the City is untrue.”

“Untrue!” said Redwood, and caught the girl’s eyes.

“So that relieves you of anxiety,” said Harrod.

Fenner nodded.

“Good night, Mr. Redwood,” said Margaret. With the box under her arm she made for the door leisurely.

“I—” Redwood began in a strangled voice. She showed him a folded sheet of paper.

“I have this letter,” she said sweetly. “I’ll make a copy of it in the morning.”

She had to pass Harrod with the jewels under her arm. He took a step toward her and Fenner’s heart leapt to his mouth.

“That’s a pretty box you’ve got, miss,” said Harrod.

She smiled.

“Yes, isn’t it? “she drawled. “It is my birthday to-day, Inspector, and my employers have given me a little birthday present. Haven’t you?”

The two men nodded speechlessly.

For a moment she stood in the doorway, and then the gallant Harrod felt moved to offer her a good exit.

“Many happy returns,” he said, and bowed.

Three minutes later she was in a taxicab speeding West, and two men stared at one another across a common desk.

“She ought to, have been a member of the firm,” said Fenner, and laughed hollowly.


THE END

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