"I cannot tell you, Miss Strong, how much I have enjoyed your hospitality. You made the time so interesting that I had no idea it was so late. You will excuse me if I tear myself away at once. I have some important business that demands my immediate attention."
"I hope you'll come again," she managed to stammer, "and you, too, Mr.
White-faced and terrified she escorted them out, leaving the telephone bell jangling angrily. As the door closed behind them, she sank weak and faint into a chair, not daring yet to go again to the 'phone until she was sure they were out of hearing.
What was the "immediate business" that was calling them away so suddenly? She was more than afraid that her incautious use of the phrase "the fifth book on the second shelf" had betrayed her. What else could it mean? Why else would they have departed so abruptly?
Mustering up her strength and courage she went once more to the 'phone.
"Hello, hello, is that you, Miss Strong? Some one cut us off," Carter's voice was impatiently saying.
"Hello, Mr. Carter," she called, "this is Jane Strong speaking. Where can I see you at once? It's most important."
"I'll be sitting on a bench along the Drive two blocks north of your house inside of ten minutes."
"I'll meet you there," she answered quickly, with a feeling of relief.
The situation was becoming far too complicated, she felt, for her to handle alone. Carter would know what to do. If Hoff and Kramer had learned from her about the trailing of old Hoff, the sooner it was reported to more experienced operatives than she was the better.
"Don't speak to me when you see me sitting on the bench," warned Carter.
"Just sit down there beside me and wait till I make sure no one is watching us. I'll speak to you when it's safe."
"I understand," she answered. "Good-by."
As she hastened to don her hat and coat she was almost overwhelmed by a revulsion of feeling. Two days ago the world about her had seemed a carefree, pleasant, even if sometimes boresome place. Now she shudderingly saw it stripped of its mask and revealed for the first time in all its hideousness, a place of murders and spying and secret machinations. People about her were no longer more or less interesting puppets in a play-world. They were vivid actualities, scheming and planning to thwart and overcome each other. Almost she wished that her dream had been undisturbed and that she had not been waked up to the realities. Almost she was tempted to abandon her new-found occupation.