American Horses





The thing began in the colony room of the Empire Club in London.

The colony room is on the second floor and looks out over

Piccadilly Circus. It was at an hour when nobody is in an English

club. There was a drift of dirty fog outside. Such nights come

along in October.



Douglas Hargrave did not see the Baronet until he closed the door

behind him. Sir Henry was seated at a table, leaning over, his

face between his hand, and his elbows resting on the polished

mahogany board. There was a sheet of paper on the table between

the Baronet's elbows. There were a few lines written on the

paper and the man's faculties were concentrated on them. He did

not see the jewel dealer until that person was half across the

room, then he called to him.



"Hello, Hargrave," he said. "Do you know anything about

ciphers?"



"Only the trade one that our firm uses," replied the jewel

dealer. "And that's a modification of the A B C code."



"Well," he said, "take a look at this."



The jewel dealer sat down at the other side of the table and the

Baronet handed him the sheet of paper. The man expected to see a

lot of queer signs and figures; but instead he found a simple

trade's message, as it seemed to him.



P.L.A. shipped nine hundred horses on freight steamer Don Carlow

from N. Y.



Have the bill of lading handed over to our agent to check up.



"Well," said the jewel dealer, "somebody's going to ship nine

hundred horses. Where's the mystery?"



The Baronet shrugged his big shoulders.



"The mystery," he said, "is everywhere. It's before and after

and in the body of this message. There's hardly anything to it

but mystery."



"Who sent it?" said Hargrave.



"That's one of the mysteries," replied the Baronet.



"Ah!" said the jewel dealer. "Who received it?"



"That's another," he answered.



"At any rate," continued Hargrave, "you know where you got it."



"Right," replied the Baronet. "I know where I got it." He took

three newspapers out of the pocket of his big tweed coat. "There

it is," he said, "in the personal column of three newspapers -

today's Times printed in London; the Matin printed in Paris; and

a Dutch daily printed in Amsterdam."



And there was the message set up in English, in two sentences

precisely word for word, in three newspapers printed on the same

day in London, Paris and Amsterdam.



"It seems to be a message all right," said Hargrave: "But why do

you imagine it's a cipher?"



The Baronet looked closely at the American jewel dealer for a

moment.



"Why should it be printed in English in these foreign papers," he

said, "if it were not a cipher?"



"Perhaps," said Hargrave, "the person for whom it's intended does

not know any other language."



The Baronet shrugged his shoulders.



"The persons for whom this message is intended," he said, "do not

confine themselves to a single language. It's a pretty

well-organized international concern."



"Well," said Hargrave, "it doesn't look like a mystery that ought

to puzzle the ingenuity of the Chief of the Criminal

Investigation Department of the metropolitan police." He nodded

to Sir Henry. "You have only to look out for the arrival of nine

hundred horses and when they get in to see who takes them off the

boat. The thing looks easy."



"It's not so easy as it looks," replied the Baronet. "Evidently

these horses might go to France, Holland or England. That's the

secret in this message. That's where the cipher comes in. The

name of the port is in that cipher somewhere."



"But you can, watch the steamer," said Hargrave, "the Don

Carlos."



The Baronet laughed.



"There's no such steamer!" He got up and began to walk round the

table. "Nine hundred horses," he said. "This thing has got to

stop. They're on the sea now, on the way over from America: We

have got to find out where they will go ashore."



He stopped, stooped over and studied the message which he had

written out and which also lay before him in the three

newspapers.



"It's there," he said, "the name of the port of arrival,

somewhere in those two sentences. But I can't get at it. It's

no cipher that I have ever heard of. It's no one of the hundred

figure or number ciphers that the experts in the department know

anything about. If we knew the port of arrival we could pick up

the clever gentleman who comes to take away the horses. But

what's the port - English, French or Dutch? There are a score of

ports." He struck the paper with his hand. "It's there, my word

for it, if we could only decode the thing."



Then he stood up, his face lifted, his fingers linked behind his

back. He crossed the room and stood looking out at the thin

yellow fog drifting over Piccadilly Circus. Finally he came

back, gathered up his papers and put them in the pocket of his

big tweed coat.



"There's one man in Europe," he said, "who can read this thing.

That's the Swiss expert criminologist, old Arnold, of Zurich.

He's lecturing at the Sorbonne in Paris. I'm going to see him."



Then he went out.



Now that, as has been said, is how the thing began. It was the

first episode in the series of events that began to go forward on

this extraordinary night. One will say that the purchasing agent

for a great New York jewel house ought to be accustomed to

adventures. The writers of romance have stimulated that fancy.

But the fact is that such persons are practical people. They

never do any of the things that the story writers tell us. They

never carry jewels about with them. Of course they know the

police departments of foreign cities. All jewel dealers make a

point of that. Hargrave's father was an old friend of Sir Henry

Marquis, chief of the C. I. D., and the young man always went to

see him when he happened in London. That explains the freedom of

his talk to Hargrave on this night in the Empire Club in

Piccadilly.



The young man went over and sat down by the fire. The big room

was empty. The sounds outside seemed muffled and distant. The

incident that had just passed impressed him. He wondered why

people should imagine that a purchasing agent of a jewel house

must be a sort of expert in the devices of mystery. As has been

said, the thing's a notion. Everything is shipped through

reliable transportation companies and insured. There was much

more mystery in a shipload of horses - the nine hundred horses

that were galloping through the head of Sir Henry Marquis - than

in all the five prosaic years during which young Hargrave had

succeeded his father as a jewel buyer. The American was

impressed by this mystery of the nine hundred horses. Sir Henry

had said it was a mystery in every direction.



Now, as he sat alone before the fire in the colony room of the

Empire Club and thought about it, the thing did seem

inexplicable. Why should the metropolitan police care who

imported horses, or in what port a shipload of them was landed?

The war was over. Nobody was concerned about the importation of

horses. Why should Sir Henry be so disturbed about it? But he

was disturbed; and he had rushed off to Paris to see an expert on

ciphers. That seemed a tremendous lot of trouble to take. The

Baronet knew the horses were on the sea coming from America, he

said. If he knew that much, how could he fail to discover the

boat on which they were carried and the port at which they would

arrive? Nobody could conceal nine hundred horses!



Hargrave was thinking about that, idly, before the glow of the

coal fire, when the second episode in this extraordinary affair

arrived.



A steward entered.



"Visitor, please," he said, "to see Mr. Hargrave."



Then he presented his tray with a card. The jewel dealer took

the card with some surprise. Everybody knew that he was at the

Empire Club. It is a colony thing with chambers for foreign

guests. A list of arrivals is always printed. He saw at a

glance that it was not a man's card; the size was too large.

Then he turned it over before the light of the fire. The name

was engraved in script, an American fashion at this time.



The woman's card had surprised him; but the name on it brought

him up in his chair - "Mrs. A. B. Farmingham." It was not a name

that he knew precisely; but he knew its genera, the family or

group to which it belonged. Mr. Jefferson removed titles of

nobility in the American republic, but his efforts did not

eliminate caste zones. It only made the lines of cleavage more

pronounced. One knew these zones by the name formation.

Everybody knew "Alfa Baba" Farmingham, as the Sunday Press was

accustomed to translate his enigmatical initials. Some wonderful

Western bonanza was behind the man. Mrs. "Alfa Baba" Farmingham

would be, then, one of the persons that Hargrave's house was

concerned to reach. He looked again at the card. In the corner

the engraved address, "Point View, Newport," was marked out with

a pencil and "The Ritz" written over it.



He got his coat and hat and followed the steward out of the club.

There was a carriage at the curb. A footman was holding the door

open, and a woman, leaning over in the seat, was looking out.

She was precisely what Hargrave expected to see, one of those

dominant, impatient, aggressive women who force their way to the

head of social affairs in America. She shot a volley of

questions at him the moment he was before the door.



"Are you Douglas Hargrave, the purchasing agent for Bartholdi &

Banks?"



The man said that he was, and at her service, and so forth. But

she did not stop to listen to any reply.



"You look mighty young, but perhaps you know your business. At

any rate, it's the best I can do. Get in."



Hargrave got in, the footman closed the door, and the carriage

turned into Piccadilly Circus. The woman did not pay very much

attention to him. She made a laconic explanation, the sort of

explanation one would make to a shopkeeper.



"I want your opinion on some jewels," she said. "I have a lot to

do - no time to fool away. When I found that I could see the

jewels to-night I concluded to pick you up on my way down. I

didn't find out about it in time to let you know."



Hargrave told her that he would be very glad to give her the

benefit of his experience.



"Glad, nonsense!" she said. "I'll pay your fee. Do you know a

jewel when you see it?"



"I think I do, madam," he replied.



She moved with energy.



"It won't do to think," she said. "I have got to know. I don't

buy junk."



He tried to carry himself up to her level with a laugh.



"I assure you, madam," he said, "our house is not accustomed to

buy junk. It's a perfectly simple matter to tell a spurious

jewel."



And he began to explain the simple, decisive tests. But she did

not listen to him.



"I don't care how a vet knows that a hunter's sound. All that I

want to be certain about is that he does know it. I don't want

to buy hunters on my own hook. Neither do I want to buy jewels

on what I know about them. If you know, that's all I care about

it. And you must know or old Bartholdi wouldn't trust you.

That's what I'm going on."



She was a big aggressive woman, full of energy. Hargrave could

not see her very well, but that much was abundantly clear. The

carriage turned out of Piccadilly Circus, crossed Trafalgar

Square and stopped before Blackwell's Hotel. Blackwell's has had

a distinct clientele since the war; a sort of headquarters for

Southeastern European visitors to London.



When the carriage stopped Mrs. Farmingham opened the door

herself, before the footman could get down, and got out. It was

the restless American impatience always cropping out in this

woman.



"Come along, young man," she said, "and tell me whether this

stuff is O. K. or junk."



They got in a lift and went up to the top floor of the hotel.

Mrs. Farmingham got out and Hargrave followed her along the hall

to a door at the end of a corridor. He could see her now clearly

in the light. She had gray eyes, a big determined mouth, and a

mass of hair dyed as only a Parisian expert, in the Rue de la

Paix, can do it. She went directly to a door at the end of the

corridor, rapped on it with her gloved hand, and turned the latch

before anybody could possibly have responded.



Hargrave followed her into the room. It was a tiny sitting room,

one of the inexpensive rooms in the hotel. There was a bit of

fire in the grate, and standing by the mantelpiece was, a big old

man with close-cropped hair and a pale, unhealthy face. It was

the type of face that one associates with tribal races in

Southeastern Europe. He was dressed in a uniform that fitted

closely to his figure. It was a uniform of some elevated rank,

from the apparent richness of it. There were one or two

decorations on the coat, a star and a heavy bronze medal. The

man looked to be of some importance; but this importance did not

impress Mrs. Farmingham.



"Major," she said in her direct fashion, "I have brought an

expert to look at the jewels."



She indicated Hargrave, and the foreign officer bowed

courteously. Then he took two candles from the mantelpiece and

placed them on a little table that stood in the center of the

room.



He put three chairs round this table, sat down in one of them,

unbuttoned the bosom of his coat and took out a big oblong jewel

case. The case was in an Oriental design and of great age. The

embroidered silk cover was falling apart. He opened the case

carefully, delicately, like one handling fragile treasure.

Inside, lying each in a little pocket that exactly fitted the

outlines of the stone, were three rows of sapphires. He emptied

the jewels out on the table.



"Sir," he said, speaking with a queer, hesitating accent, "it

saddens one unspeakably to part with the ancient treasure of

one's family."



Mrs. Farmingham said nothing whatever. Hargrave stooped over the

jewels and spread them out on top of, the table. There were

twenty-nine sapphires of the very finest quality. He had never

seen better sapphires anywhere. He remembered seeing stones that

were matched up better; but he had never seen individual stones

that were any finer in anybody's collection. The foreigner was

composed and silent while the American examined the jewels. But

Mrs. Farmingham moved restlessly in her chair.



"Well," she said, "are they O. K.?"



"Yes, madam," said Hargrave; "they are first-class stones."



"Sure?" she asked.



"Quite sure, madam," replied the American. "There can be no

question about it."



"Are they worth eighteen thousand dollars?"



She put the question in such a way that Hargrave understood her

perfectly.



"Well," he said, "that depends upon a good many conditions. But

I'm willing to say, quite frankly, that if you don't want the

jewels I'm ready to take them for our house at eighteen thousand

dollars."



The big, dominant, aggressive woman made the gesture of one who

cracks a dog whip.



"That's all right," she said. Then she turned to the foreigner.

"Now, major, when do you want this money?"



The big old officer shrugged his shoulders and put out his hands.



"To-morrow, madam; to-morrow as I have said to you; before midday

I must return. I can by no means remain an hour longer; my leave

of absence expires. I must be in Bucharest at sunrise on the

morning of the twelfth of October. I can possibly arrive if I

leave London to-morrow at midday, but not later."



Mrs. Farmingham began to wag her head in a determined fashion.



"Nonsense," she said, "I can't get the money by noon. I have

telegraphed to the Credit Lyonnais in Paris. I can get it by the

day after to-morrow, or perhaps to-morrow evening."



The foreigner looked down on the floor.



"It is impossible," he said.



The woman interrupted him.



"Now, major, that's all nonsense! A day longer can't make any

difference."



He drew himself up and looked calmly at her.



"Madam," he said, "it would make all the difference in the world.

If I should remain one day over my time I might just as well

remain all the other days that are to follow it."



There was finality and conviction in the man's voice. Mrs.

Farmingham got up and began to walk about the room. She seemed

to speak to Hargrave, although he imagined that she was speaking

to herself.



"Now this is a pretty how-de-do," she said "Lady Holbert told me

about this find to-night at dinner. She said Major Mikos wanted

the money at once; but I didn't suppose he wanted it cash on the

hour like that. She brought me right away after dinner to see

him. And then I went for you." She stopped, and again made the

gesture as of one who, cracks a dog whip. "Now what shall I do?"

she said.



The last remark was evidently not addressed to Hargrave. It was

not addressed to anybody. It was merely the reflection of a

dominant nature taking counsel with itself. She took another

turn about the room. Then she pulled up short.



"See here," she said, "suppose you take these jewels and give the

major his money in the morning. Then I'll buy them of you."



"Very well, madam," said Hargrave; "but in that event we shall

charge you a ten per cent commission."



She stormed at that.



"Eighteen hundred dollars?" she said. "That's absurd,

ridiculous! I'm willing to pay you five hundred dollars."



The American did not undertake to argue the matter with her.



"We don't handle any sale for a less commission," he said.



Then he explained that he could not act as any sort of agent in

the matter; that the only thing he could do would be to buy the

jewels outright and resell them to her. His house would not make

any sale for a less profit than ten per cent. Hargrave did not

propose to be involved in any but a straight-out transaction. He

was quite willing to buy the sapphires for eighteen thousand

dollars. There was five thousand dollars' profit in them on any

market. He was perfectly safe either way about. If Mrs.

Farmingham made the repurchase there was a profit of ten per

cent. If not, there was five thousand dollars' profit in the

bargain under any conditions.



They were Siamese stones, and the cutting was of an old design.

They were not from any stock in Europe. Hargrave knew what

Europe held of sapphires. These were from some Oriental stock.

And everybody bought an Oriental stone wherever he could get it.

How the seller got it did not matter. Nobody undertook to verify

the title of a Siamese trader or a Burma agent.



Mrs. Farmingham walked about for several minutes, saying over to

herself as she had said before:



"Now what shall I do?"



Then like the big, dominant, decisive nature that she was she

came to a conclusion.



"All right," she said, "bring in the money in the morning and get

the sapphires. I'll take them up in a day or two. Good-by,

major; come along, Mr. Hargrave." And she went out of the room.



The American stopped at the door to bow to the old Rumanian

officer who was standing up beside the table before the heap of

sapphires. They got into the carriage at the curb before

Blackwell's Hotel. Mrs. Farmingham put Hargrave down at the

Empire Club, and the carriage passed on, across Piccadilly Circus

toward the Ritz.



The following morning Hargrave got the sapphires from Major

Mikos, and paid him eighteen thousand dollars in English

sovereigns for them. He wanted gold to carry back with him for

the jewels that he had brought out of the kingdom of Rumania. He

seemed a simple, anxious person. He wished to carry his

treasures with him like a peasant. The sapphires looked better

in the daylight. There ought to have been seven thousand

dollars' profit in them, perhaps more; seven thousand dollars, at

any rate, that very day in the London market. Hargrave took them

to the Empire Club and put them in a sealed envelope in the

steward's safe.



The thin drift of yellow remained in the city; that sulphurous

haze that the blanket of sea fog, moving over London, presses

down into her streets. It was not heavy yet; it was only a mist

of saffron; but it threatened to gather volume as the day

advanced.



At luncheon Hargrave got a note from Mrs. Farmingham, a line

scrawled on her card to say that she would call for him at three

o'clock. Her carriage was before the door on the stroke of the

hour, and she explained that the money to redeem the jewels had

arrived. The Credit Lyonnais had sent it over from Paris. She

seemed a bit puzzled about it. She had telegraphed the Credit

Lyonnais yesterday to send her eighteen thousand dollars. And

she had expected that the French banking house would have

arranged for the payment of the money through its English

correspondent. But its telegram directed her to go to the United

Atlantic Express Company and receive the money.



A few minutes cleared the puzzle. The office of the company is

on the Strand above the Savoy. Mrs. Farmingham went to the

manager and showed him a lot of papers she had in an

official-looking envelope. After a good bit of official pother

the porters carried out a big portmanteau, a sort of heavy

leather traveling case, and put it into the carriage. Mrs.

Farmingham came to Hargrave where he stood by the door.



"Now, what do you think!" she said. "Of all the stupid idiots,

give me a French idiot to be the stupidest; they have actually

sent me eighteen thousand dollars in gold!"



"Well," said Hargrave, "perhaps you asked them to send you

eighteen thousand dollars in gold."



She closed her mouth firmly for a moment and looked him vacantly

in the face.



"What did I do?" she said, in the old manner of addressing an

inquiry to herself. "The major wanted gold and perhaps I said

gold. Why, yes, I must have said I wanted eighteen thousand

dollars in gold. Well, at any rate, here's the money to pay you

for the sapphires. I'll telegraph the Credit Lyonnais to send me

your eighteen hundred, and you can come around to the Ritz for it

in the morning."



She wished Hargrave to see that the telegram was properly worded,

so the stupid French would not undertake to ship another bag of

coin to her. He wrote it out, so there could be no mistake, and

sent it from Charing Cross on the way back to the club.



Hargrave had to get two porters to carry the leather portmanteau

into his room at the Empire Club. Mrs. Farmingham did not wait

to receive the sapphires. She said he could bring them over to

the Ritz after he had counted the money. She wanted a cup of

tea; he could come along in an hour.



It took Hargrave the whole of the hour to verify the money. The

case had been shipped, the straps were knotted tight and the lock

was sealed. He had to get a man from the outside to break the

lock open. The man said it was an American lock and he hadn't

any implement to turn it.



There were eighteen thousand dollars in American twenty-dollar

gold pieces packed in sawdust in the bag. The Credit Lyonnais

had followed Mrs. Farmingham's directions to the letter. Such is

the custom of the stupid French! She had asked for eighteen

thousand dollars in gold, and they had sent her eighteen thousand

dollars in gold. Hargrave put one of the pieces into his

waistcoat pocket. He wanted to show Mrs. Farmingham how

strangely the stupid French had made the blunder of doing

precisely what she asked. Then he strapped up the portmanteau,

pushed it under the bed, went out and locked the door. He asked

the chief steward to put a man in the corridor to see that no one

went into his room while he was out. Then he got the sapphires

out of the safe and went over to the Ritz.



He met Mrs. Farmingham in the corridor coming out to her

carriage.



"Ah, Mr. Hargrave," she said, "here you are. I just told the

clerk to call you up and tell you to bring the sapphires over in

the morning when you came for the draft. I promised Lady Holbert

last night to come out to tea at five. Forgot it until a moment

ago."



She took Hargrave along out to the carriage and he gave her the

envelope. She tore off the corner, emptied the sapphires into

her hand, glanced at them, and dropped them loose into the pocket

of her coat.



"Was the money all right?" she said.



"Precisely all right," replied the American. "The Credit

Lyonnais, with amazing stupidity, sent you precisely what you

asked for in your telegram." And he showed her the twenty-dollar

gold piece.



"Well, well, the stupid darlings!" Then she laughed in her big,

energetic manner. "I'm not always a fool. Come in the morning

at nine. Good-night, Mr. Hargrave."



And the carriage rolled across Piccadilly into Bond Street in the

direction of Grosvenor Square and Lady Holbert's.



The fog was settling down over London. Moving objects were

beginning to take on the loom of gigantic figures. It was

getting difficult to see.



It must have taken Hargrave half an hour to reach the club. The

first man he saw when he went in was Sir Henry, his hands in the

pockets of his tweed coat and his figure blocking the passage.



"Hello, Hargrave!" he cried. "What have you got in your room

that old Ponsford won't let me go up?"



"Not nine hundred horses!" replied the American.



The Baronet laughed. Then he spoke in a lower voice:



"It's extraordinary lucky that I ran over to the Sorbonne. Come

along up to your room and I'll tell you. This place is filling

up with a lot of thirsty swine. We can't talk in any public room

of it."



They went up the great stairway, lined with paintings of famous

colonials celebrated in the English wars, and into the room.

Hargrave turned on the light and poked up the fire. Sir Henry

sat down by the table. He took out his three newspapers and laid

them down before him.



"My word, Hargrave," he said, "old Arnold is a clever beggar! He

cleared the thing up clean as rain." The Baronet spread the

newspapers out before him.



"We knew here at the Criminal Investigation Department that this

thing was a cipher of some sort, because we knew about these

horses. We had caught up with this business of importing horses.

We knew the shipment was on the way as I explained to you. But

we didn't know the port that it would come into."



"Well," said the American, "did you find out?"



"My word," he cried, "old Arnold laughed in my face. 'Ach,

monsieur,' he cried, mixing up several languages, `it is Heidel's

cipher! It is explained in the seventeenth Criminal Archive at

Gratz. Attend and I will explain it, monsieur. It is always

written in two paragraphs. The first paragraph contains the

secret message, and the second paragraph contains the key to it.

Voila! This message is in two paragraphs:



"'"P.L.A. shipped nine hundred horses on freight steamer Don

Carlos from N. Y.



"'"Have the bill of lading handed over to our agent to check up"



"'The hidden message is made up of certain words and capital

letters contained in the first paragraph, while the presence of

the letter t in the second paragraph indicates the words or

capital letters that count in the first. One has only to note the

numerical position of the letter t in the second paragraph in

order to know what capital letter or word counts in the first

paragraph.'"



The Baronet took out a pencil and underscored the words in the

second paragraph of the printed cipher: "Have the bill of lading

handed over to our agent to check up."



"You will observe that the second, the eighth and the eleventh

words in this paragraph begin with the letter t. Therefore, the

second, the eighth and the eleventh capital letters or words in

the first paragraph make up the hidden message."



And again with his pencil he underscored the letters of the first

paragraph of the cipher: "P.L.A. shipped nine hundred horses on

freight steamer Don Carlos from N. Y."



"So we get L, on, Don."



"London!" cried Hargrave. "The nine-hundred horses are to come

into London!"



And in his excitement he took the gold piece out of his pocket

and pitched it up. He had been stooping over the table. The fog

was creeping into the room. And in the uncertain light about the

ceiling he missed the gold piece and it fell on the table before

Sir Henry. The gold piece did not ring, it fell dull and heavy,

and the big Baronet looked at it openmouthed as though it had

suddenly materialized out of the yellow fog entering the room.



"My word!" he cried. "One of the nine hundred horses!"



Hargrave stopped motionless like a man stricken by some sorcery.



"One of the nine hundred horses!" he echoed.



The Baronet was digging at the gold piece with the blade of his

knife.



"Precisely! In the criminal argot a counterfeit American

twenty-dollar gold piece is called a `horse.'



"Look," he said, and he dug into the coin with his knife, "it's

white inside, made of Babbit metal, milled with a file and

gold-plated. Where did you get it?"



The American stammered.



"Where could I have gotten it?" he murmured.



"Well," the Baronet said, "you might have got it from a big, old,

pasty-faced Alsatian; that would be 'Dago' Mulehaus. Or you

might have got it from an energetic, middle-aged, American woman

posing as a social leader in the States; that would be `Hustling'

Anne; both bad crooks, at the head of an international gang of

counterfeiters."





Adventures In The Secret Service Of The Post-office Department An Aspirant For Congress facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback