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Frederick Elliot is a student at Cambridge and almost alone in the world. He has finally attained some degree of contentment in his life after a rather unhappy childhood. Born with a lame left foot that kept him from most of the normal activities of children, he has grown up virtually without friends. Early in his life, his father began to call him “Rickie” because of the name’s close similarity to “rickety,” and the moniker has stayed with him. In addition to his deformity, Rickie has another, more serious, difficulty. He found out quite early in his life that his father and mother did not love each other, that his father did not love him at all, and that his mother loved him only a little. Both his parents died when he was fifteen years old, leaving him comfortably well-off financially but without anyone who wanted to give him a home.

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At Cambridge, he has shown himself to be a capable student but one without any scholarly pretensions. He has made several friends among the nonathletic groups and spends much of his time in long discussions on topics of literary or philosophical interest. During such a discussion one day, he is interrupted by the arrival of his old friends Agnes and Herbert Pembroke; he had completely forgotten that he had invited them for the weekend. Because the sister and brother are part of that very small group who have taken an interest in Rickie’s career, they spend a great part of their time at Cambridge encouraging him to decide on a particular course for his life, even if that course is nothing more than the intention to write, the only pursuit in which he admits having any interest. They point out that money is not important as long as he meets a certain standard of ideals.

During the Christmas holiday of the same year, Rickie sees his friends again. He has stayed several days with Stewart Ansell, a friend from Cambridge, but he feels that he should spend a part of his vacation with the Pembrokes as well. He dreads this part of his vacation because Agnes’s fiancé, a man whom Rickie had known when they were students together at public school, is to be there. Rickie not only dislikes Gerald Dawes but also hates to witness the happiness of the lovers; he feels that such happiness is forever denied him because of his lame foot, which he considers a hereditary disorder. During this time, Gerald is killed while playing football (soccer), and it is Rickie who is able to offer the most comfort to Agnes by convincing her that she should suffer, because her love for Gerald had been the greatest thing she could ever experience.

Two years later, when she comes again to visit him at Cambridge, Rickie realizes that he is in love with Agnes, although he still feels that he can never marry because of his deformity. She convinces him, however, that they should be married. Rickie is about to finish his work at Cambridge, but they feel a long engagement is necessary to give him time to settle himself. Ansell immediately opposes the marriage because he senses that Agnes is not a sincere person. She constantly lays claim to honesty and forthrightness, but Ansell cannot be convinced that these are the qualities of the true Agnes. He quickly comes to believe that she will force Rickie into a dull and conventional life, convincing him at the same time that he is taking the proper steps.

Soon after they become engaged, Rickie and Agnes visit his aunt, Mrs. Emily Failing, at her country home. Rickie has never particularly liked his aunt, but since she is his only known relative, he and Agnes felt that they should go to see her. Mrs. Failing is a woman who likes to have people do what she wants, and she is never happier than when they are obviously uncomfortable while carrying out her desires. While Rickie and Agnes are visiting her, they also see Stephen Wonham, a young man whom Rickie has met before but whose...

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