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Agatha Webb

confounded the coroner, and rendered her at once the admiration and
abhorrence of the crowd who for so long a time had had the opportunity of
watching her.
Frederick, to whom this smile conveyed a last hope as well as a last threat,
looked away as soon as possible, but not before her eyes had fallen in their
old inquiring way to his hands, from which he had removed the ring which up
to this hour he had invariably worn on his third finger. In this glance of hers
and this action of his began the struggle that was to make that day
memorable in many hearts.
After the first stir occasioned by the entrance of two such important persons
the crowd settled back into its old quietude under the coroner's hand. A
tedious witness was having his slow say, and to him a full attention was being
given in the hope that some real enlightenment would come at last to settle
the questions which had been raised by Amabel's incomplete and
unsatisfactory testimony. But no man can furnish what he does not possess,
and the few final minutes before noon passed by without any addition being
made to the facts which had already been presented for general
consideration.
As the witness sat down the clock began to strike. As the slow, hesitating
strokes rang out, Sweetwater saw Frederick yield to a sudden but most
profound emotion. The old fear, which we understand, if Sweetwater did not,
had again seized the victim of Amabel's ambition, and under her eye, which
was blazing full upon him now with a fell and steady purpose, he found his
right hand stealing toward the left in the significant action she expected.
Better to yield than fall headlong into the pit one word of hers would open. He
had not meant to yield, but now that the moment had come, now that he must
at once and forever choose between a course that led simply to personal
unhappiness and one that involved not only himself, but those dearest to him,
in disgrace and sorrow, he felt himself weaken to the point of clutching at
whatever would save him from the consequences of confession. Moral
strength and that tenacity of purpose which only comes from years of self-
control were too lately awakened in his breast to sustain him now. As stroke
after stroke fell on the ear, he felt himself yielding beyond recovery, and had
almost touched his finger in the significant action of assent which Amabel
awaited with breathless expectation, when--was it miracle or only the
suggestion of his better nature?--the memory of a face full of holy pleading
rose from the past before his eyes and with an inner cry of "Mother!" he flung
his hand out and clutched his father's arm in a way to break the charm of his
own dread and end forever the effects of the intolerable fascination that was
working upon him. Next minute the last stroke of noon rang out, and the hour
was up which Amabel had set as the limit of her silence.
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