Page:History of England (Macaulay) Vol 4.djvu/115

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unpacked a hamper well stored with roast beef, mince pies, and bottles of wine, and were just sitting down to their Christmas cheer, when the alarm was given that a vessel from Tilbury was flying through the water after them. They had scarcely time to hide themselves in a dark hole among the gravel which was the ballast of their smack, when the chase was over, and Billop, at the head of an armed party, came on board. The hatches were taken up: the conspirators were arrested; and their clothes were strictly examined. Preston, in his agitation, had dropped on the gravel his official seal and the packet of which he was the bearer. The seal was discovered where it had fallen. Ashton, aware of the importance of the papers, snatched them up and tried to conceal them; but they were soon found in his bosom.

The prisoners then tried to cajole or to corrupt Billop. They called for wine, pledged him, praised his gentlemanlike demeanour, and assured him that, if he would accompany them, nay, if he would only let that little roll of paper fall overboard into the Thames, his fortune would be made. The tide of affairs, they said, was on the turn, things could not go on for ever as they had gone on of late and it was in the captain's power to be as great and as rich as he could desire. Billop, though courteous, was inflexible. The conspirators became sensible that their necks were in imminent danger. The emergency brought out strongly the true characters of all the three, characters which, but for such an emergency, might have remained for ever unknown. Preston had always been reputed a highspirited and gallant gentleman; but the near prospect of a dungeon and a gallows altogether unmanned him. Elliot stormed and blasphemed, vowed that, if he ever got free, he would be revenged, and, with horrible imprecations, called on the thunder to strike the yacht, and on London Bridge to fall in and crush her. Ashton alone behaved with manly firmness.

Late in the evening the yacht reached Whitehall Stairs; and the prisoners, strongly guarded, were conducted to the Secretary's office. The papers which had been found in Ashton's bosom were inspected that night by Nottingham and Caermarthen,