"An agent--I don't understand."
"A Department agent," explained Mr. Fleck, adding, "engaged in secret service work for the government."
Jane's exclamation was not so much of surprise as of delighted realization, and the satisfaction expressed in her face was by no means lost on Mr. Fleck.
"Would you object," he asked, moving his chair a little closer to hers, "if, before I explain why you are here, I ask you a few questions--very personal questions?"
"Certainly not," said Jane.
"You are American-born, of course?"
"And your parents?"
"American for ten or twelve generations."
"How long have you lived in that apartment house on Riverside Drive?"
"For about five years."
"Do you know any of the other tenants in the house?"
"No--that is, none personally."
"Is your time fully occupied?"
"No, indeed it isn't, I've nothing to do at all, nothing except to try to amuse myself."
"Good," said Mr. Fleck. "Now would you be willing to help in some secret work for the United States Government, some work of the very highest importance?"
"Would I?" cried Jane, her eyes shining. "Gladly! Just try me."
"Don't answer too quickly," warned Mr. Fleck. "Remember, it will be real work, serious work, not always pleasant, sometimes possibly a little perilous. Remember, too, it must be done with absolute secrecy. You must not let even your parents know that you are working with us. You must pledge yourself to breathe no word of what you are doing or are asked to do to a living soul. Everything that we may tell you is to be buried forever from everybody. No one is to be trusted. The minute one other person knows your secret it will no longer be a secret. Can we depend upon you?"
"You may absolutely depend on me," said Jane slowly and soberly. "I give you my word. I have been eager for ever so long to do something to help, to really help. My father is doing all he can to aid the government.
He's on the Shipping Board."
Mr. Fleck nodded. Evidently he was aware of it already.
"My brother, my only brother," Jane continued, with a little catch in her throat, "is Over There--somewhere Over There--fighting for his government. If there is anything I can do to help the country he is fighting for, the country he may die for, I pledge you I will do it gladly with my heart, my soul, my body--everything."
"Thank you," said Mr. Fleck softly, taking her hand. "I felt sure you were that sort of a girl. Now listen." He moved his chair still closer to hers, and his voice became almost a whisper. "In the apartment next to you there live two men,--Otto Hoff and his nephew, Fred. They have an old German servant, but we can leave her out of it for the present. The old man is a lace importer. Apparently they are both above suspicion, yet--"