Then he fought. Got himself under command; sent his own voice full and strong over the wire as if to give life to the voice it seemed must fade away.
“Ann,” he said firmly, authoritatively, “listen to me. No matter what happens—no matter what’s the matter—I’ve got something you must hear. If we’re cut off, call up again. Will you do that? Are you listening?”
“Yes,” came Ann’s voice, more sure.
“I’ve got to see you. You hear what I say? It’s about Katie. You care a little something for Katie, don’t you, Ann?”
It was a sob rather than a voice came back to him.
“Then tell me where I can find you.”
“Tell me where you’re living—or where I can find you. Now tell me the truth, Ann. If you knew the condition Katie was in—”
She gave him an address on a street he did not know.
“Would you rather I came there? Or rather I meet you down town? Just as you say. Only I must see you tonight.”
“I—I can’t come down town. I’m sick.”
His hand on the receiver tightened. His voice, which had been almost harsh in its dominance, was different as he said: “Then I’ll come there—right away.”
There was no reply, but he felt she was still there. “And, Ann,” he said, very low, and far from harshly, “I want to see you, too.”
There was a little sob in which he faintly got “Good-bye.”
He sank to a chair. His face was buried in his hands. It was several minutes before he moved.
Children seemed to spring up from the sidewalk and descend from the roofs as his cab, after a long trip through crowded streets with which three months before he would have been totally unfamiliar, stopped at the number Ann had given. All the way over he had been seeing children: dirty children, pale-faced children, children munching at things and children looking as though they had never had anything to munch at—children playing and children crying—it seemed the children’s part of town. The men and women of tomorrow were growing up in a part of the city too loathsome for the civilized man and woman of today to set foot in. He was too filled with thought of Ann—the horror of its being where she lived—to let the bigger thought of it brush him more than fleetingly, but it did occur to him that there was still a frontier—and that the men who could bring about smokeless cities—and odorless ones—would be greater public servants than the men who had achieved smokeless powder. Riding through that part of town it would scarcely suggest itself to any one that what the country needed was more battleships.
The children still waited as he rang an inhospitable doorbell, as interested in life as if life had been treating them well.
He had to ring again before a woman came to the door with a cup in her hand which she was wiping on a greasy towel.