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Fortitude by Hugh Walpole

Part 10 out of 10

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Scaw House and remain there; meanwhile the thing was postponed. He would
not think about it.

But on his second meeting with Norah Monogue he saw that he was not to be
allowed to dismiss it. He found her sitting still by her window; she was
flushed now with a little colour, her eyes burning with a more determined
fire than ever, her whole body expressing a dauntless energy.

The sight of her showed him that there was to be battle and, strangely
enough, he found that there was something in himself that almost welcomed
it. Before he knew where he was he found that he was "out" to defend his
whole life.

The first thing that she did was to draw from him a minute, particular
account of all that had happened during these last months. It developed
into a defence of his whole married life, as though he had been pleading
before a jury of Clare's friends and must fight to prove himself no

"Ah! don't I know that I've made a mess of it all? Do you think that I'm
proud of myself?" he pleaded with her. "Honestly I cannot see where, as far
as Clare is concerned, I'm to blame. She didn't understand--how could she
ever have understood?--the way that my work mattered to me. I wanted to
keep it and I wanted to keep her too, and every time I tried to keep her
it got in the way and every time I tried to keep it she got in the way. I
wasn't clever enough to run both together."

Norah nodded her head.

"But there was more than that. Life has always been rough for me. Rough
from the beginning when my father used to whip me, rough at school, rough
when I starved in London, roughest of all when young Stephen died. I'd
wanted to make something out of it and I suppose the easiest way seemed to
me to make it romantic. This place, you know, was always in my bones. That
Tower down in the Market Place, old Tan's curiosity shop, the sea--these
were the things that kept me going. Afterwards in London it was the same.
Things were hard so I made them into a story--I coloured them up. Nothing
hurt when everything was romance. I made Clare romance too--that was the
way, you see, that all my life was bound up so closely together. She was
an adventure just as everything else had been. And she didn't like it. She
couldn't understand the Adventure point of view. It was, to her, immoral,
indecent. I went easily along and then, one day, all the romance went out
of it--clean--like a pricked bubble. When young Stephen died I suddenly
saw that life was real--naked--ugly, not romantic a bit. Then it all fell
to pieces like a house of cards. It's easy enough to be brave when you're
attacking a cardboard castle--it's when you're up against iron that your
courage is wanted. It failed me. I've funked it. I'm going to run away."

He could see that Norah Monogue's whole life was in the vigour with which
she opposed him--

"No, no, no. To give it up now. Why, you're only thirty--everything's in
front of you. Listen. I know you took Clare crookedly, I saw it in the
beginning. In the first place you loved her, but you loved her wrong.
You've been a boy, Peter, all the time, and you've always loved like a boy.
Don't you know that there's nothing drives a woman who loves a man more
to desperation than that that man should give her a boy's love? She'd
rather he hated her. Clare could have been dealt with. To begin with she
loved you--all the time. Oh! yes, I'm as certain of it as I can be of
anything. I know her so well. But the unhappiness, the discomfort--all the
things, the ugly things, that her mother was emphasising to her all the
time--frightened her. Knowing nothing about life she just felt that things
as they were were as bad as things could be. It seems extraordinary that
any one so timid as she should dare to take so dangerous a plunge as
running off to another man.

"But it was just because she knew so little about Life that she could do
it. This other man persuaded her that he could give her the peace and
comfort that you couldn't. She doesn't know--poor thing, poor thing--what
it will mean, that plunge. So, out of very terror, she took it. And
now--Oh! Peter, I'm as certain as though I could see her, she's already
longing for you--would give anything to get back to you. This has
taught her more than all the rest of her life put together. She was
difficult--selfish, frightened at any trouble, supersensitive--but a man
would have understood her. You wanted affection, Peter--from her, from me,
from a lot of people--but it was always because of the things that it was
going to bring to you, never because of the things that you were going to
give out. You'd never grown up--never. And now, when suddenly the real
world has come to you, you're going to give it up."

"I don't give it up," he said to her--"I shall write--I shall do things--"

She shook her head. "You've told me. I know what that means." Then almost
below her breath--"It's horrible--It's horrible. You mustn't do it--you
must go back to London--you must go back--"

But at that he rose and faced her.

"No," he said, "I will not. I've given the other things a chance--all these
years I've given them a chance. I've stood everything and at the end
everything's taken away from me. What shall I go back to? Who wants me?
Who cares? God!" he cried, standing there, white-faced, dry-eyed, almost
defying her--"Why should I go? Just to fail again--to suffer all that
again--to have them take everything I love from me again--to be broken
again! No, let them break the others--I'm done with it...."

"And the others?" she answered him. "Is it to be always yourself? You've
fought for your own hand and they've beaten you to your knees--fight now
for something finer--"

She seemed as she appealed to him to be shining with some great conquering
purpose. Here, with her poor body broken and torn, her spirit, the purer
for her physical pain, confronted him, shamed him, stretched like a flaming
sword before the mean paths that his own soul would follow.

But he beat her down. "I will not go back--you don't know--you don't
understand--I will not go."


The little dusty Minstrels' Gallery saw a good deal of him during these
days. It was a lonely place at the top of the hotel, once intended to be
picturesque and romantic for London visitors, but ultimately left to its
own company with its magnificent view appreciated by no one.

Here Peter came. Every part of him now seemed to be at war with every other
part. Had he gone straight to Scaw House with bag and baggage and never
left it again, then the Westcott tradition might have caught him when he
was in that numbed condition--caught him and held him.

Now he had stayed away just long enough for all the old Peter to have
become alive and active again.

He looked back upon London with a great shuddering. The torment that he had
suffered there he must never undergo again. Norah was now the one friend
left to him in the world. He would cut himself into pieces to make these
last days of hers happy, and yet the one thing that could give her
happiness was that he should promise to go back.

She did not understand--no one could understand--the way that this place,
this life that he contemplated, pulled him. The slackness of it, the lack
of discipline in it, the absence of struggle in it. All the strength, the
fighting that had been in him during these past years, was driven out of
him now. He just wanted to let things drift--to wander about the fields and
roads, to find his clothes growing shabby upon him, to grow old without
knowing even that he was alive--all this had come to him.

She, on the other side, would drive him back into the battle of it all once
more. To go back a failure--to be pointed out as the man whose wife left
him because she found him so dull--to hear men like young Percival Galleon
laughing at his book--to sell his soul for journalism in order to make a
living--to see, perhaps, Clare come back into the London world--to break
out, ultimately, when he was sick and tired of it all, into every kind of
debauch ... how much better to slip into nothing down here where nobody
knew nor cared!

And yet, on the other hand, he had never known until now the importance
that Norah Monogue had held in his life.

Always, in everything he had done, in his ambitions and despairs, his
triumphs and defeats, she had been behind him. He'd just do anything in the
world for her!--anything except this one thing. Up and down, up and down
he paced the little Minstrels' room, with its dusty green chair and its
shining floor--"I just can't stand it all over again!"

But every time that he went in to see her--and he was with her
continually--made his resistance harder. She didn't speak about it again
but he knew that she was always thinking about it.

"She's worrying over something, Westcott--do you happen to know what it
is?" the doctor asked him. "It's bad for her. If you can help her about it
in any way--"

The strain between them was becoming unbearable. Every day, when he went in
to sit with her, they would talk about other things--about everything--but
he knew that before her eyes there was that picture of himself up at Scaw
House, and of the years passing--and his soul and everything that was fine
in him, dying.

He saw her growing daily weaker. Sometimes he felt that he must run away
altogether, go up to Scaw House and leave her to die alone; then he knew
that that cruelty at any rate was not in him. One day he thought her brutal
and interfering, another day it seemed that it was he who was the tyrant.
He reminded himself of all the things that she had done for him--all the
things, and he could not grant her this one request.

Then he would ask himself what the devil her right was that she should
order his life in this way?... everyday the struggle grew harder.

The tension could not hold any longer--at last it broke.


One evening they were sitting in silence beside her window. The room was
in dusk and he could just see her white shadow against the dim blue light
beyond the window.

Suddenly she broke down. He could hear her crying, behind her hands. The
sound in that grey, silent room was more than he could bear. He went over
to her and put his arms round her.

"Norah, Norah, please, please. It's so awfully bad for you. I oughtn't to
come if I--"

She pulled herself together. Her voice was quite calm and controlled.

"Sit over there, Peter. I've got to talk to you."

He went back to his chair.

"I've only got a few more weeks to live. I know it. Perhaps only a few more
days. I must make the very utmost of my time. I've got to save you...."

He said nothing.

"Oh! I know that it must all have seemed to you abominable--as though I
were making use of this illness of mine to extort a promise from you, as
though just because I'm weak and feeble I can hold an advantage over you.
Oh! I know it's all abominable!--but I'll use everything--yes, simply
everything--if I can get you to leave this place and go back!"

He could feel that she was pulling herself together for some tremendous

"Peter, I want you now just to think of me, to put yourself out of
everything, absolutely, just for this half-hour. After all as I've only
a few half-hours left I've got that right."

Her laugh as she said it was one of the saddest things he'd ever heard.

"Now I'm going to tell you something--something that I'd never thought I'd
tell a soul.

"I've not had a very cheerful life. It hasn't had very much to make it
bright and interesting. I'm not complaining but it's just been that way--"
She broke off for a moment. "I don't want you to interrupt or say anything.
It'll make it easier for me if I can just talk out into the night air, as
it were--just as though no one were here."

She went on: "The one thing that's made it possible, made it bearable, made
it alive, has been my love for you. Always from the first moment I saw you
I have loved you. Oh! I haven't been foolish about it. I knew that you'd
never care for me in that kind of way. I knew from the very first that we
should be pals but that you'd never dream of anything more romantic. I've
never had any one in love with me--I'm not the kind of woman who draws the
romance out of men.

"No, I knew you'd never love me, but I just determined that I'd make you,
your career, your success, the pivot, the centre of my life.

"I wasn't blind about you--not a bit. I knew that you were selfish, weak,
incredibly young about the world. I knew that you were the last person in
existence to marry Clare--all the more reason it seemed to me why I should
be behind you. I was behind you so much more than you ever knew. I wonder
if you've the least idea what most women's lives are like. They come into
the world with the finest ideals, the most tremendous energies, with a
desire for self-sacrifice that a man can't even begin to understand.
Then they discover slowly that none of those things, those ideals, those
energies, those sacrifices, are wanted. The world just doesn't need
them--they might as well never have been born. Do you suppose I enjoyed
slaving for my mother, day and night for years? Do you suppose that I
gladly yielded up all my best blood, my vitality, to the pleasure of some
one who never valued it, never even knew that such things were being given
her? Before you came I was slowly falling into despair. Think of all the
women who are haunted by the awful thought--'The time will come when death
will be facing me and I shall be forced to own that for any place that I
have ever filled in the world I might never have been born.' How many women
are there who do not pray every day of their lives, 'God, give me something
to do before I die--some place to fill, some work to carry out, something
to save my self-respect.'

"I tell you that there is a time coming when women will force those things
that are in them upon the world. God help all poor women who are not

"_I_ wasn't wanted. There was nothing for me to do, no place for me to
fill... then you came. At once I seized upon that-God seemed to have sent
it to me. I believed that if I turned all those energies, those desires,
those ambitions upon you that it would help you to do the things that you
were meant to do. I was with you always--I slaved for you--you became the
end in life to which I had been called.

"All the time you were only a boy--that was partly I think why I loved you.
You were so gauche, so ignorant, so violent, so confident one moment, so
plunged into despair the next. For a while everything seemed to go well. I
had thought that Clare was going to be good for you, was going to make you
unselfish. I thought that you'd got the better of all that part of you that
was your inheritance. Even when I came down here I thought that all was
well. I knew that I had come down to die and I had thanked God because
He _had_, after all, allowed me to make something of my life, that
I'd been able to see you lifted into success, that I'd seen you start a
splendid career.... Then you came and I knew that your life was broken into
pieces. I knew that what had happened to you might be the most splendid
thing in the world for you and might be the most terrible. If you stay down
here now with your father then you are done for--you are done for and my
life has, after all, gone for nothing."

Her voice broke, then she leaned forward, catching his hands:

"Peter, I'm dying--I'm going. If you will only have it you can take me, and
when I am gone I shall still live on in you. Let me give you everything
that is best in me--let me feel that I have sent you back to London, sent
you with my dying breath--and that you go back, not because of yourself but
because of everything that you can do for every one else.

"Believe me, Peter dear, it all matters so little, this trouble and
unhappiness that you've had, if you take it bravely. The courage that
you've wanted before is nothing to the courage that you want now if you're
going back. Let me die knowing that we're both going back.

"Think of what your life, if it's fine enough, can mean to other people.
Go back to be battered--never mind what happens to your body--any one can
stand that. There's London waiting for you, there's life and adventure and
hardship. There are people to be helped. You'll go, with all that I can
give you, behind you ... you'll go, Peter?"

He sat with his teeth set, staring out into the world. He had known from
the first sentence of her appeal to him that she had named the one thing
that could give him courage to fight his cowardice. Some one had once said:
"If any one soul of us is all the world, this world and the next, to any
other soul, then whoever it may be that thus loves us, the inadequacy of
our return, the hopeless debt of us, must strike us to our knees with an
utter humility."

So did he feel now. Out of the wreck there had survived this one thing.
He remembered what Henry Galleon had once said about Fortitude, that the
hardest trial of all to bear was the consciousness of having missed the
Finest Thing. All these years she had been there by the side of him and he
had scarcely thought of her--now, even as he watched her, she was slipping
away from him, and soon he would be left alone with the consciousness of
missing the greatest chance of his life.

The one thing that he could do in return was to give her what she asked.
But it was hard--he was under no illusion as to the desperate determination
that it would demand. The supreme moment of his life had come. For the
first time he was going to fling away the old Peter Westcott altogether.
He could feel it clinging to him. About him, in the air, spirits were
fighting. He had never before needed Courage as he was needing it now. It
seemed to him that he had to stand up to all the devils in the world--they
were thick on every side of him.

Then, with a great uplifting of strength, with a courage that he had never
known before, he picked up Peter Westcott in his hands, held him, that
miserable figure, high in air, raised him, then flung him with all his
strength out, away, far into space, never to return, never to encumber the
earth again.

"I'll go back," Peter said--and as he said it, there was no elation in him,
only a clear-sighted vision of a life of struggle, toil, torment, defeat,
in front of him, something so hard and arduous that the new Peter Westcott
that had now been born seemed small indeed to face it.

But nevertheless he knew that at the moment that he said those words he had
broken into pieces the spell that had been over him for so many years. That
Beast in him that had troubled him for so long, all the dark shadows of
Scaw House ... these were at an end.

He felt tired, discouraged, no fine creature, as he turned to her, but he
knew that, from that moment, a new life had begun for him.

He put his arms round Norah Monogue and kissed her.


He got up very early next morning and went down to the Harbour. The
fishing-boats were coming in; great flocks of gulls, waiting for the spoil
that was soon to be theirs, were wheeling in clouds about the brown sails.

The boats stole, one after another, around the pier. The air was filled
with shrill cries--the only other sound was the lapping of the water as it
curled up the little beach.

As Peter stood there there crept upon him a sensation of awe. He took off
his hat. The gulls seemed to cease their cries.

As another brown sail stole round the white point, gleaming' now in the
sun, he knew, with absolute certainty, that Norah Monogue was dead.




The day of Norah Monogue's funeral was fine and clear. Peter and little Mr.
Bannister were the only mourners and it was Peter's wish that she should be
buried in the little windy graveyard of the church where his mother had
been buried.

There was always a wind on that little hill, but to-day it was gentler than
he had ever known it before. His mind went back to that other funeral, now,
as it seemed, such a lifetime ago. Out of all the world these two women
only now seemed to abide with him. As he stood beside the grave he was
conscious that there was about him a sense of peace and rest such as he
had never known before. Could it be true that some of Norah Monogue's fine
spirit had come to him? Were they, in sober fact to go on together during
the remainder of his days?

He lingered for a little looking down upon the grave. He was glad to think
that he had made her last hours happy.

Indeed she had not lived in vain.


Heavy black clouds were banking upon the horizon as he went down the hill
and struck the Sea Road in the direction of Scaw House. Except in that far
distance the sky was a relentless, changeless blue. Every detail in the
scene was marked with a hard outline, every sound, the sea, the Bell Rock,
the cries of sheep, the nestling trees, was doubly insistent.

He banged the knocker upon the Scaw House door and when the old woman came
to open to him he saw that something had occurred. Her hair fell about her
neck, her face was puckered with distress and her whole appearance was

"Is my father in?" he asked.

"He is, but he's ill," she answered him, eyeing him doubtfully. "He won't
know yer--I doubt he'll know any one. He's had a great set-back--"

Peter pushed past her into the hall--"Is he ill?"

"Indeed he is. He was suddenly took--the other evenin' I being in my
kitchen heard a great cry. I came runnin' and there in the dining-room I
found him, standing there in the midst, his hands up. His eyes, you must
understand, sir, were wide and staring--'They've beaten me,' he cried,
'They've beaten me'--just like that, sir, and then down he tumbled in a
living fit, foaming at the mouth and striking his poor head against the
fender. Yer may come up, sir, but he won't know yer which he doesn't me

Peter followed her up to the dreary room that his father inhabited. Even
here the paper was peeling off the walls, some of the window-glass was
broken and the carpet was torn. His father lay on his back in an old high
four-poster. His eyes stared before him, cheeks were ashen white--his hands
too were white like ivory.

His lips moved but he made no sound. He did not see Peter, nor did his eyes
turn from the blank stare that held them.

"Has he a doctor?" Peter asked the old woman.

"Ay--there's a young man been coming--" the old woman answered him. She
was, he noticed, more subservient than she had been on the former occasion.
She obviously turned to him now with her greedy old eyes as the one who was
likely soon to be in authority.

Peter turned back to the door. "This room must be made warmer and more
comfortable. I will send a doctor from the hotel this evening--I will come
in again to-night."

As he looked about the poor room, as he saw the dust that the sunlight made
so visible, he wondered that the house of cards could so recently have
held him within its shadow. He felt as though he had passed through some
terrible nightmare that the light of day rendered not only fantastic but
incredible. That old Peter Westcott had indeed been flung out of the high
window of Norah Monogue's room.

Leaving Scaw House on his right he struck through the dark belt of trees
and came out at the foot of the Grey Hill. The dark belt of cloud was
spreading now fast across the blue--soon it would catch the sun--the Tower
itself was already swallowed by a cold grey shadow.

Peter began to climb the hill, and remembered that he had not been there
since that Easter morning when he had kissed an unknown lady and so flung
fine omens about his future.

Soon he had reached the little green mound that lay below the Giant's
Finger. Although the Grey Hill would have been small and insignificant in
hilly country here, by its isolation, it assumed importance. On every side
of it ran the sand-dunes--in front of it, almost as it seemed up to its
very feet, ran the sea. Treliss was completely hidden, not a house could
be seen. The black clouds now had caught the sea and only far away to the
right the waves still glittered, for the rest it was an inky grey with a
touch of white here and there where submerged rocks found breakers. For one
moment the sun had still evaded the cloud, then it was caught and the world
was instantly cold.

Peter, as he sat there, felt that if he were only still enough the silence
would soon be vocal. The Hill, the Sea, the Sky--these things seemed to
have summoned him there that they might speak to him.

He was utterly detached from life. He looked down from a height in air and
saw his little body sitting there as he had done on the day when he had
proposed to Clare. He might think now of the long journey that it had come,
he might watch the course of its little history, see the full circle that
it had travelled, wonder for what new business it was now to prepare.

For full circle he had come. He, Peter Westcott, sat there, as naked, as
alone, as barren of all rewards, of all success, of all achievements as he
had been when, so many years ago he had watched that fight in the inn on
Christmas Eve. The scene passed before him again--he saw himself, a tiny
boy, swinging his legs from the high chair. He saw the room thick with
smoke, the fishermen, Dicky the Fool, the mistletoe swinging, the snow
blocking in from outside, the fight--it was all as though it passed once
more before his eyes.

His whole life came to him--the scenes at Scaw House, Dawson's, the
bookshop, Brockett's, Bucket Lane, Chelsea, that last awful scene there ...
all the people that he had known passed before him--Stephen Brant, his
grandfather, his father, his mother, Bobby Galleon, Mr. Zanti, Clare,
Cards, Mrs. Brockett, Norah, Henry Galleon, Mrs. Rossiter, dear Mrs. Launce
... these and many more. He could see them all dispassionately now; how
that other Peter Westcott had felt their contact; how he had longed for
their friendship, dreaded their anger, missed them, wanted them, minded
their desertion....

Now, behold, they were all gone. Alone on this Hill with the great sea at
his feet, with the storm rolling up to him, Peter Westcott thought of his
wife and his son, his friends and his career--thought of everything that
had been life to him, yes, even his sins, his temptations, his desires for
the beast in man, his surly temper, his furious anger, his selfishness, his
lack of understanding--all these things had been taken away from him, every
trail had been given to him--and now, naked, on a hill, he knew the first
peace of his life.

And as he knew, sitting there, that thus Peace had come to him, how odd it
seemed that only a few weeks ago he had been coming down to Cornwall with
his soul, as he had then thought, killed for ever.

The world had seemed, utterly, absolutely, for ever at an end; and now
here he was, sitting here, eager to go back into it all again, wanting--it
almost seemed--to be bruised and battered all over again.

And perceiving this showed him what was indeed the truth that all his life
had been only Boy's History. He had gone up--he had gone down--he had loved
and hated, exulted and despaired, but it was all with a boy's intense
realisation of the moment, with a boy's swift, easy transition from one
crisis to another.

It had been his education--and now his education was over. As he had said
those words to Norah Monogue, "I will go back," he had become a man. Never
again would Life be so utterly over as it had been two months ago--never
again would he be so single-hearted in his reserved adoption of it as he
had been those days ago, at Norah Monogue's side.

He saw that always, through everything that boy, Peter Westcott had been
in the way. It was not until he had taken, on that day in Norah Monogue's
room, Peter Westcott in his hands and flung him to the four winds that he
had seen how terribly in the way he had been. "Go back," Norah had said to
him; "you have done all these things for yourself and you have been beaten
to your knees--go back now and do something for others. You have been brave
for yourself--be brave now for others."

And he was going back.

He was going back, as he had seen on that day, to no easy life. He was
going to take up all those links that had been so difficult for him
before--he was going to learn all over again that art that he had fancied
that he had conquered at the very first attempt--he was going now with no
expectations, no hopes, no ambitions. Life was still an adventure, but now
an adventure of a hard, cruel sort, something that needed an answer grim
and dark.

The storm was coming up apace. The wind had risen and was now rushing over
the short stiff grass, bellowing out to meet the sea, blowing back to meet
the clouds that raced behind the hill.

The sky was black with clouds. Peter could see the sand rising from the
dunes in a thin mist.

Peter flung himself upon his back. The first drops of rain fell, cold, upon
his face. Then he heard:

"Peter Westcott! Peter Westcott!"

"I'm here!"

"What have you brought to us here?"

"I have brought nothing."

"What have you to offer us?"

"I can offer nothing."

He got up from the ground and faced the wind. He put his back to the
Giant's Finger because of the force of the gale. The rain was coming down
now in torrents.

He felt a great exultation surge through his body.

Then the Voice--not in the rain, nor the wind, nor the sea, but yet all
of these, and coming as it seemed from the very heart of the Hill, came
swinging through the storm--

"Have you cast _This_ away, Peter Westcott?"

"And this?"

"That also--"

"And this?"

"This also?"

"And this?"

"I have flung this, too, away."

"Have you anything now about you that you treasure?"

"I have nothing."

"Friends, ties, ambitions?"

"They are all gone."

Then out of the heart of the storm there came Voices:--

"Blessed be Pain and Torment and every torture of the Body ... Blessed be
Plague and Pestilence and the Illness of Nations....

"Blessed be all Loss and the Failure of Friends and the Sacrifice of

"Blessed be the Destruction of all Possessions, the Ruin of all Property,
Fine Cities, and Great Palaces....

"Blessed be the Disappointment of all Ambitions....

"Blessed be all Failure and the ruin of every Earthly Hope....

"Blessed be all Sorrows, Torments, Hardships, Endurances that demand

"Blessed be these things--for of these things cometh the making of a

Peter, clinging to the Giant's Finger, staggered in the wind. The world was
hidden now in a mist of rain. He was alone--and he was happy, happy, as he
had never known happiness, in any time, before.

The rain lashed his face and his body. His clothes clung heavily about him.

He answered the storm:

"Make of me a man--to be afraid of nothing ... to be ready for
everything--love, friendship, success ... to take if it comes ... to care
nothing if these things are not for me--

"Make me brave! Make me brave!"

He fancied that once more against the wall of sea-mist he saw tremendous,
victorious, the Rider on the Lion. But now, for the first time, the Rider's
face was turned towards him--

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