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Night and Day

CHAPTER XXI
Mary walked to the nearest station and reached home in an incredibly short
space of time, just so much, indeed, as was needed for the intelligent
understanding of the news of the world as the "Westminster Gazette" reported it.
Within a few minutes of opening her door, she was in trim for a hard evening's
work. She unlocked a drawer and took out a manuscript, which consisted of a
very few pages, entitled, in a forcible hand, "Some Aspects of the Democratic
State." The aspects dwindled out in a cries-cross of blotted lines in the very
middle of a sentence, and suggested that the author had been interrupted, or
convinced of the futility of proceeding, with her pen in the air. . . . Oh, yes, Ralph
had come in at that point. She scored that sheet very effectively, and, choosing a
fresh one, began at a great rate with a generalization upon the structure of
human society, which was a good deal bolder than her custom. Ralph had told
her once that she couldn't write English, which accounted for those frequent blots
and insertions; but she put all that behind her, and drove ahead with such words
as came her way, until she had accomplished half a page of generalization and
might legitimately draw breath. Directly her hand stopped her brain stopped too,
and she began to listen. A paper-boy shouted down the street; an omnibus
ceased and lurched on again with the heave of duty once more shouldered; the
dullness of the sounds suggested that a fog had risen since her return, if, indeed,
a fog has power to deaden sound, of which fact, she could not be sure at the
present moment. It was the sort of fact Ralph Denham knew. At any rate, it was
no concern of hers, and she was about to dip a pen when her ear was caught by
the sound of a step upon the stone staircase. She followed it past Mr. Chippen's
chambers; past Mr. Gibson's; past Mr. Turner's; after which it became her sound.
A postman, a washerwoman, a circular, a bill--she presented herself with each of
these perfectly natural possibilities; but, to her surprise, her mind rejected each
one of them impatiently, even apprehensively. The step became slow, as it was
apt to do at the end of the steep climb, and Mary, listening for the regular sound,
was filled with an intolerable nervousness. Leaning against the table, she felt the
knock of her heart push her body perceptibly backwards and forwards--a state of
nerves astonishing and reprehensible in a stable woman. Grotesque fancies took
shape. Alone, at the top of the house, an unknown person approaching nearer
and nearer--how could she escape? There was no way of escape. She did not
even know whether that oblong mark on the ceiling was a trap-door to the roof or
not. And if she got on to the roof--well, there was a drop of sixty feet or so on to
the pavement. But she sat perfectly still, and when the knock sounded, she got
up directly and opened the door without hesitation. She saw a tall figure outside,
with something ominous to her eyes in the look of it.
"What do you want?" she said, not recognizing the face in the fitful light of the
staircase.
"Mary? I'm Katharine Hilbery!"
Mary's self-possession returned almost excessively, and her welcome was
decidedly cold, as if she must recoup herself for this ridiculous waste of emotion.
 
 
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