ON THE TRAIL
Few men, even fathers, realize how
utterly inexperienced is the average well-brought-up
girl, just emerged from her teens, in the affairs of
the great mysterious world that lies about her.
A boy, in his youth living over again the history
of his progenitors, escapes his nurse to become an
adventurer. At ten he is a pirate, at twelve a
train robber, at fourteen an aviator, actually living
in all his thoughts and experiences the life of his
hero of the moment, learning all the while that the
world about him is full of adventurers like himself,
ready to dispute his claims at the slightest pretext,
or to carry off his booty by prevailing physical force.
Well-brought-up girls seldom are fortunate
enough to have such educative experiences. Their
friends are selected for them, gentle untaught creatures
like themselves. Few of them learn much of the
practical side of life. A boy is delighted at
knowing the toughest boy in the neighborhood.
A girl’s ambitions always are to know girls “nicer”
than she is. The average girl emerges into womanhood
with her eyes blinded, uninformed on the affairs of
life, business, politics, untrained in anything useful
or practical, knowing more of romance and history than
she does of present-day facts.
If Chief Fleck had understood how
really inexperienced Jane Strong actually was, it
is a question whether he would have ventured to entrust
so important a mission to her as he had done.
Jane herself, as she left his office, aroused by his
revelations of the treacherous work of Germany’s
spies, and uplifted by his appeal to her patriotism,
felt enthusiastically capable of obeying his instructions.
It seemed very simple, as he had talked about it.
All she had to do was to get acquainted with the young
man next door. Yet the further the subway carried
her from Mr. Fleck’s office after her second
visit there that morning, the more her heart sank
within her, and the fuller her mind became of misgivings.
In a big city next door in an apartment
house is almost the same thing as miles away.
She ransacked her brain, trying to remember some acquaintance
who might be likely to know the Hoffs, but failed utterly
to recall any one. She reviewed all possible means
of getting acquainted but could find none that seemed
practical. Never in her life had she spoken to
a man without having been introduced to him except
of course to Carter and Mr. Fleck, and these men,
she told herself, were government officials, something
like policemen, only nicer. At any rate, she
knew them only in a business way, not socially.
If she was to be successful in learning much about
the Hoffs about young Mr. Hoff she
felt that it was necessary to make them social acquaintances.
She must manage to meet Frederic Hoff
in some proper way, but how? She thought of such
flimsy tricks as dropping a handkerchief or a purse
in the elevator some time when he happened to be in
it, but rejected the plan as disadvantageous.
“Nice” girls did not do that sort of thing,
and even though she was seeking to entrap her neighbor
she did not for a moment wish him to consider her
as belonging to the other sort. It rather annoyed
her to find that she cared what kind of an impression
she made on him. What difference did it make
what a German spy thought of her, especially a murderer?
Yet, she argued with herself, the better the impression
she made at first the more likely she would be to gain
his confidence, and that she knew would delight Mr.
Fleck. Was Frederic Hoff, too, really, she wondered,
a spy? Her face colored as she recalled the mental
picture she last had had of him, gallantly and admiringly
raising his cup to her as she left the Ritz, not obtrusively
or impudently, but so subtly that she was sure that
no one had observed it but herself. It seemed
preposterous to associate the thought of murder with
a man like him.
As she entered the apartment house
she was arguing still with herself about him.
Her intuition told her that Frederic Hoff was a gentleman,
and how could a gentleman be what Mr. Fleck seemed
to think he was? As the door swung to behind
her she gave a little quick breath of delight, for
she had caught sight of a uniformed figure standing
by the switchboard. She had recognized him at
once. It was the naval lieutenant who had been
at the Ritz. She heard him saying to the girl
at the switchboard:
“Tell Mr. Hoff, young Mr. Hoff,
that Lieutenant Kramer is here. I’ll wait
for him down-stairs.”
Quick as a flash a course of action
came into her mind. She saw an opportunity too
good to be neglected. She hurried forward to where
the lieutenant was standing, her hand outstretched,
with a smile of recognition feigned, but
well-feigned on her lips.
“Why, Lieutenant Kramer,”
she cried, “how delightful. Have you really
kept your promise at last and come to see the Strongs?”
She could hardly restrain her amusement
as she watched the embarrassed young officer strive
in vain to recall where it was that he had met her.
She had relied on the fact that the men in the navy
meet so many girls at social functions that it is
impossible for any of them to remember all they had
“Really, Miss ”
he stammered, struggling for some fitting explanation.
“Don’t tell me,”
she warned reprovingly, “that it isn’t
Jane Strong that you are here to see, after all those
nice things you said to me that day we had tea aboard
She was hoping he would not insist
on going into particulars as to which ship it was.
Fortunately she had been to functions on several of
the war vessels, so that she might find a loop-hole
if he was too insistent on details.
“Indeed, Miss Strong,”
said Kramer, gallantly pretending to recall her, “I’m
delighted to see you again. I’ve been intending
to come to see you for ever so long, but you understand
how busy we are now. In fact, it was business
that brought me here to-day. I’m calling
on Mr. Hoff, who lives here, to take him to lunch
to discuss some important matters.”
At his last phrase Jane’s heart
thrilled. What important matters could there
be that a navy lieutenant could fittingly discuss with
a German, with the nephew of the man whose secret
code message they had just succeeded in reading?
Determining within herself to keep fast hold on the
beginning she had made, she masked her real thoughts
and let her face express frank disappointment.
“How horrid of you,” she
continued, “when I was just going to insist
that you stay and have luncheon with us.”
He was protesting that it was quite
out of the question when the elevator brought down
her mother, whom Jane at once summoned as an ally,
feeling sure that considering how many men of her daughter’s
acquaintance she had met, it would be perfectly safe
to keep up the deception.
“Oh, mother,” she cried,
“you remember Lieutenant Kramer, don’t
you? I’ve just been urging him to stay
and have luncheon with us. Do help me persuade
“Of course I remember Mr. Kramer,”
fibbed the matron cordially, all unaware of her daughter’s
duplicity. “Do stay, Mr. Kramer, and have
luncheon with Jane. I ordered luncheon for four,
expecting to be home, and now I’ve been called
away, but your aunt is there to chaperone you.
It spoils the servants so to prepare meals and have
no one to eat them, to say nothing of displeasing
Mr. Hoover. It’s really your duty your
duty as a patriot to stay and prevent a
“I’ve just been trying
to explain to your daughter that I was taking Mr.
Hoff to luncheon with me. Here he is now.”
Mrs. Strong’s eyes swept the
tall figure approaching appraisingly and apparently
was pleased with his aspect. As Mr. Hoff was presented
she hastened to include him in the invitation to luncheon.
“Have pity on a poor girl doomed
to eat a lonely luncheon by her parent’s neglect,”
urged Jane. “Really, you must come, both
of you. Nice men to talk to are so scarce in
these war times that I have no intention of letting
“I’m in Kramer’s
hands,” said Frederic Hoff gallantly, “but
if he takes me to some wretched hotel instead of accepting
such a charming invitation as this, my opinion of
him as a host will be shattered.”
“But,” struggled Kramer,
realizing that it must be a case of mistaken identity
and sure now that he never had met either Jane or her
mother before, “we have some business to talk
“Business always can wait a
fair lady’s pleasure,” said Hoff.
“Is this ruthless war making you navy men ungallant?”
With a mock gesture of surrender,
and as a matter of fact, not at all averse to pursuing
the adventure further, Lieutenant Kramer permitted
Jane to lead the way to the Strong apartment.
Soon, with the familiarity of youth
and high spirits, the three of them were merrily chatting
on the weather, the war, the theater and all manner
of things. Jane, in the midst of the conversation,
could not help noting that Hoff had seated himself
in a chair by the window where he seemed to be keeping
a vigilant eye on the ships that could be seen from
there. Even at the luncheon table he got up once
and walked to the window to look out, making some
clumsy excuse about the beautiful view.
Determined to press the opportunity,
Jane endeavored to turn the conversation into personal
“You are an American,”
she said turning to Hoff, “are you not?
I’m surprised that you are not in uniform, too.”
“A man does not necessarily
need to be in uniform to be serving his government,”
he replied. “Perhaps I am doing something
“But you are an American, aren’t
you?” she persisted almost impudently, driven
on by her eagerness to learn all she possibly could
“I was born in Cincinnati,” he replied
She could not help observing how diplomatically
he had parried both her questions. Mentally she
recorded his exact words with the idea in her mind
of repeating what he had said verbatim to her chief.
“Then you are doing work for the government?”
Intensely she waited for his answer.
Surely he could find no way of evading such a direct
inquiry as this.
“Every man who believes in his
own country,” he answered, modestly enough,
yet with a curious reservation that puzzled her, “in
times like these is doing his bit.”
She felt far from satisfied.
If he was born in America, if he really was an American
at heart, his replies would have been reassuring, but
his name was Hoff. His uncle was a German-American,
a proved spy or at least a messenger for spies.
If her guest still considered Prussia his fatherland
the answers he had made would fit equally well.
“You’re just as provokingly
secretive as these navy men,” she taunted him.
“When I try to find out now where any of my friends
in the navy are stationed they won’t tell me
a thing, will they, Mr. Kramer?”
“I’ll tell you where they
all are,” said Lieutenant Kramer. “Every
letter I’ve had from abroad recently from chaps
in the service has had the same address ’A
“I really think the government
is far too strict about it,” she continued.
“My only brother is over there now fighting.
All we know is that he is ‘Somewhere in France.’
War makes it hard on all of us.”
“Yet after all,” said
Hoff soberly, “what are our hardships here compared
to what people are suffering over there, in France,
in Belgium, in Germany, even in the neutral countries.
They know over there, they have known for three years,
greater horrors than we can imagine.”
The longer she chatted with him, the
more puzzled Jane became. He seemed to speak
with sincerity and feeling. Her intuition told
her that he was a man of honor and high ideals, and
yet in everything he said there was always reserve,
hesitation, caution, as if he weighed every word before
uttering it. Intently she listened, hoping to
catch some intonation, some awkward arrangement of
words that might betray his tongue for German, but
the English he spoke was perfect not the
English of the United States nor yet of England, but
rather the manner of speech that one hears from the
world-traveler. Question after question she put,
hoping to trap him into some admission, but skilfully
he eluded her efforts. She decided at last to
try more direct tactics.
“Your name has a German sound.
It is German, isn’t it?” she asked.
“I told you I was born in Cincinnati,”
he answered laughingly. “Some people insist
that that is a German province.”
“But you have been in Germany, haven’t
“Why do you ask?”
“I was wondering if you had not lived in that
“I could not well have been there without having
lived there, could I?”
Kramer came to her rescue.
“Of course he has lived there.
Mr. Hoff and I both attended German universities.
That was what brought us together at the start our
“Did you attend the same university?”
asked Jane. She felt that at last she was on
the point of finding out something worth while.
“No,” said Kramer, “unfortunately
it was not the same university.”
She caught her breath and blushed
guiltily. If Mr. Kramer had attended a German
university he could not be an Annapolis graduate.
He must be a recent comer in the American navy.
She knew that since the war began some civilians had
been admitted. It had just dawned on her that
if this was the case, since visiting on board ships
was no longer permitted, it clearly was impossible
for her to have met him at any function on a warship.
He must have known all along that she knew she never
had met him. He must have been aware, too, that
her mother did not know him. She felt that she
was getting into perilous waters and fearful of making
more blunders refrained from further questions.
A vague alarm began to agitate her. If he had
detected her ruse when she first had spoken to him,
why had he not admitted it? What had been his
purpose in accepting her invitation and in bringing
into it his German friend, Mr. Hoff?
The ringing of the telephone bell
came as a welcome interruption. A maid summoned
her to answer a call, and excusing herself from the
table she went to the ’phone desk in the foyer.
“Hello, is this you, Miss Strong?”
It was Carter’s voice, but from
the anxious stress in it she judged that he was in
a state of great perturbation.
“Yes, it is Jane Strong speaking,” she
“You know who this is?”
“Of course. I recognize your voice.
It’s Mr. C ”
A warning “sst” over the
’phone checked her before she pronounced the
name and starting guiltily she turned to look over
her shoulder, feeling relieved to see the two men
still chatting at the table, apparently paying no
attention to her.
“I understand,” she answered quickly.
“What is it?”
“You know that book I told you I was going to
“It’s not there.”
“What’s that? The book is gone!”
“The book is there all right, but it’s
not the book I want.”
“Are you sure,” she questioned, “that
you looked at the right book?”
“I looked at the one you told me to.”
“Are you certain the fifth book on
the second shelf.”
She heard a movement behind her and
turning quickly saw Frederic Hoff standing behind
her, his hat and stick in hand. Panic-stricken,
she hung up the receiver abruptly. Had he been
standing there listening? How much had he heard?
He would know, of course, what “the fifth book
on the second shelf” signified. Had her
carelessness betrayed to him the fact that he and
his uncle were being closely watched? Anxiously
she studied his face for some intimation of his thoughts.
He was standing there smiling at her, and to her agitated
brain it seemed that in his smile there was something
sardonic, defying, challenging.
“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. Kramer.”
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.
Then, once more, a feeling of patriotic
fervor swept over her. She thought of her brother
fighting somewhere in the trenches. She pictured
to herself the other brave soldiers in the great ships
in the Hudson. She remembered the evil plotters
with their death-dealing bombs, striving to bring
about a ghastly end for them all before they might
strengthen the lines of the Allies. She thought,
too, of those humanity-defying U-boats, forever at
their devilish work, guided to their prey by crafty,
spying creatures right here in New York, more than
likely by the very people next door.
With her pretty lips set in a resolute
line she left the house and walked rapidly north.
Come what may she would go on with it. Her country
needed her, and that was all-sufficient.