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21. CHAPTER XXI (continued)
"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. She moved her green-shaded lamp to another table, and covered "Some Aspects of the Democratic State" with a sheet of blotting-paper.
"Why can't they leave me alone?" she thought bitterly, connecting Katharine and Ralph in a conspiracy to take from her even this hour of solitary study, even this poor little defence against the world. And, as she smoothed down the sheet of blotting-paper over the manuscript, she braced herself to resist Katharine, whose presence struck her, not merely by its force, as usual, but as something in the nature of a menace.
"You're working?" said Katharine, with hesitation, perceiving that she was not welcome.
"Nothing that matters," Mary replied, drawing forward the best of the chairs and poking the fire.
"I didn't know you had to work after you had left the office," said Katharine, in a tone which gave the impression that she was thinking of something else, as was, indeed, the case.
She had been paying calls with her mother, and in between the calls Mrs. Hilbery had rushed into shops and bought pillow-cases and blotting-books on no perceptible method for the furnishing of Katharine's house. Katharine had a sense of impedimenta accumulating on all sides of her. She had left her at length, and had come on to keep an engagement to dine with Rodney at his rooms. But she did not mean to get to him before seven o'clock, and so had plenty of time to walk all the way from Bond Street to the Temple if she wished it. The flow of faces streaming on either side of her had hypnotized her into a mood of profound despondency, to which her expectation of an evening alone with Rodney contributed. They were very good friends again, better friends, they both said, than ever before. So far as she was concerned this was true. There were many more things in him than she had guessed until emotion brought them forth--strength, affection, sympathy. And she thought of them and looked at the faces passing, and thought how much alike they were, and how distant, nobody feeling anything as she felt nothing, and distance, she thought, lay inevitably between the closest, and their intimacy was the worst presence of all. For, "Oh dear," she thought, looking into a tobacconist's window, "I don't care for any of them, and I don't care for William, and people say this is the thing that matters most, and I can't see what they mean by it."
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