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21. 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.
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