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American Horses

Author: Post, Melville

Genre: Short Story


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 Picadilly 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 news papers 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."

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