“Will you forgive me, Pelham? I was beside myself,” said Shuffles, when his companion had recovered breath after his exertions.
“You have saved me, Shuffles. I should have gone down without you.”
“Will you forgive me?” pleaded the penitent. “I did not mean to injure you.”
“Never mind it; we won’t say a word about it,” answered Pelham, as the boat came up.
They were assisted into the cutter, and the oarsmen pulled back to the ship. When the party reached the deck, a cheer burst from a portion of the crew; but Wilton, Monroe, and a few others, believing that Pelham had “fallen overboard accidentally,” were appalled at the probable consequences of the event.
Pelham was assisted to the after cabin, where Dr. Winstock immediately attended him. He was not seriously injured; and the next day he was able to be on deck, and do duty.
“How was that?” asked Wilton, when Shuffles had changed his clothes, and warmed himself at the stove, as they met in the waist.
Shuffles looked sad and solemn. He made no reply.
“Did he fall overboard accidentally?” demanded Wilton.
“Don’t ask me.”
“You jumped in after him, and saved him, they say,” added Wilton; “so, I suppose, it was really an accident.”
Shuffles still made no reply.
THE END OF THE CHAIN LEAGUE.
The fact that Shuffles had plunged into the sea, and labored so effectively for the rescue of the fourth lieutenant, blinded the eyes of “our fellows,” who, knowing the penalty of treachery to the “Chain,” might otherwise have suspected that he had “fallen overboard accidentally,” or, in other words, that he had been pushed into the water by his unscrupulous rival. Wilton, Monroe, and Adler, had discussed the matter, and reached the conclusion that Pelham had been knocked over by the shaking of the staysail sheet, or that he had really fallen accidentally. They had been appalled and horrified by the event; and those who were disgusted with the League were not disposed to betray its secrets; for it was possible, though not probable, that the mishap which had befallen Pelham was an incident in the history of the “Chain.”
When a wicked man or a wicked boy exceeds his average wickedness, the excess sometimes produces a moral reaction. A person who tipples moderately may have the drunkard’s fate vividly foreshadowed to him by getting absolutely drunk himself, and thus be induced to abandon a dangerous practice. That loathsome disease, small pox, sometimes leaves the patient better than it finds him; and through, and on account of, the vilest sin may come the sinner’s reformation.
Shuffles had exceeded himself in wickedness; and the fact that his foul design was not even suspected by any other person than his intended victim did not diminish his self-reproaches. He shuddered when he thought of the remorse which must have gnawed his soul during the rest of his lifetime if Pelham had been drowned. He would have been a murderer; and while so many knew the penalty of treachery to the League, he could hardly have escaped suspicion and detection.