Okay, correction, "hard on the heels" means right behind, rather than close. But still, the "hard" in that sentence seems to mean "close". I think "hardly" is a simple contrast to "easily" as in easy vs hard = difficult. "He was easily breathing" vs "he was hardly breathing". (Not good grammar, just trying to get the point across.)No idea why "bare" would mean "imperceptible". "Clothed" doesn't mean a sure thing.
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