"What do those figures mean?" she asked.
"I can't tell you that. Mr. Fleck will explain everything. Promise me you will go to see him."
"Who are you?"
"I can't tell you that, yet."
"Who, then, is Mr. Fleck?"
"He will explain that to you."
"What has my address to do with it? I can't understand yet why you make this preposterous request of me."
"I tell you I can't explain it to you, not yet," the man replied, "but it's because you live where you do you must go to see Mr. Fleck. It's about a matter of the highest importance to your government. It is more important than life and death."
His last words startled her. They brought to her mind afresh the mysterious occurrence she had witnessed the night before and the equally mysterious death near her home. Had this man's odd request any connection, she wondered, with what had happened there? The lure of the unknown, the opportunity for adventure, called to her, though prudence bade her be cautious.
"I'll ask my mother," she temporized.
"Don't," cried the man. "You must keep your visit to Mr. Fleck a secret from everybody. You mustn't breathe a word about it even to your father and mother. Take my word for it, Miss Strong, that what I am asking you to do is right. I've two daughters of my own. The thing I'm urging you to do I'd be proud and honored to have either of them do if they could.
There is no one else in the world but you that can do this particular thing. A word to a single living soul and you'll end your usefulness.
You must not even tell any one you have talked with me. See Mr. Fleck.
He'll explain everything to you. Promise me you'll see him."
"I promise," Jane found herself saying, even against her better judgment, won over by the man's insistence.
"Good. I knew you would," said her mysterious questioner, turning on his heel and vanishing speedily as if afraid to give her an opportunity of reconsidering.
Puzzled beyond measure not only at the man's strange conduct but even more at her own compliance with his request, Jane made her way slowly and thoughtfully to the Ritz, where she found her mother and Mrs.
Starrett had already arrived.
As they sipped their tea the two elder women chatted complacently about the matinee, about their acquaintances, about other women in the tea-room and the gowns they had on, about bridge hands--the usual small talk of afternoon tea.
To Jane, oppressed with her two secrets, all at once their conversation seemed the dreariest piffle. Great things were happening everywhere in the world, nations at war, men fighting and dying in the trenches of horror for the sake of an ideal, kings were being overthrown, dynasties tottering, boundaries of nations vanishing. Women, she realized, too, more than ever in history, were taking an active and important part in world affairs. In the lands of battle they were nursing the wounded, driving ambulances, helping to rehabilitate wrecked villages. In the lands where peace still reigned they were voting, speech-making, holding jobs, running offices, many of them were uniting to aid in movements for civic improvement, for better children, for the improvement of the whole human race.