All the Prisoners leave the Amba for Islamgee - Our Reception by Theodore - He harangues his Troops, and releases some of the Prisoners - He informs us of the Advance of the English - The Massacre - We are sent back to Magdala...
On the evening of the 7th of April we heard indirectly that the next morning all the prisoners, ourselves included, would be called before his Majesty, who was at the time encamped at the foot of Selassie, and that in all probability we should not return to the Amba. At day-dawn a messenger came from Theodore ordering us to go down, and take with, us our tents and anything else we might require. As was our wont on such occasions, we put on our uniforms, and proceeded to the Emperor's camp accompanied by the former captives. On approaching Selassie we perceived his Majesty, surrounded by many of his chiefs and soldiers, standing near his guns in conversation with some of his European workmen. He saluted us courteously, and told, us to advance and stand near him. Cameron was staggering from the effects of the sun, and could with difficulty keep himself from falling to the ground. On perceiving his condition his Majesty asked us what was the matter with him. We answered that Cameron was unwell, and begged permission for him to sit down, a request that was immediately granted. Theodore then greeted the other prisoners, asked them how they were, and on perceiving the Rev. Mr. Stern he said, smiling all the while, "O Kokab (Star), why have you plaited your hair?" [Footnote: Only soldiers plait the hair; peasants and priests shave the head about once a month.] Before he could answer Samuel told the Emperor, "Your Majesty, it is not plaited; it falls naturally on his shoulders."
Theodore then retired a little way from the crowd, and told us three and Cameron to follow him. Seating himself on a large stone, and telling us also to sit down, he said, "I have sent for you, as I desire to look after your safety. When your people come and fire upon me I will put you in a safe place; and should you even there be in danger I will remove you to somewhere else." He asked us if our tents had arrived, and on being informed that they had not, he ordered one of his own, of red flannel, to be pitched in the meanwhile. He remained with us about half an hour conversing on different topics; he narrated the anecdote of Damocles, asked us about our laws, quoted Scripture - in a word, jumped from one subject to the other, discoursing on topics quite foreign to his thoughts. He did his best to appear calm and amiable, but we soon detected that he was labouring under great excitement. When, in January, 1866, he received us at Zage, we were struck by the simplicity of his dress, in every respect the same as that of his common soldiers; of late, however, he had adopted a more gaudy attire, but nothing compared to the harlequin coat he wore that day.
After he had dismissed us, he ascended the hill under which our tent was pitched, and for two hours, at about fifty yards from us, surrounded by his army, he "fakered" (bragged) to his heart's content. He discoursed first on his former deeds, or what he intended to do when he should encounter the white men, speaking all the while in contemptuous terms of his advancing foe. Addressing the soldiers whom he was sending as an advanced post to Arogie, he told them, on the approach of the white men, to wait until they had fired, and before the enemy had time to reload, to fall upon them with their spears; and showing the gaudy dress he had put on for the occasion, he added: "Your valour will meet with its reward, and you will enrich yourselves with spoils, compared to which the rich dress I am wearing is but a mere trifle." When he had concluded his harangue he dismissed his troops, and sent for Mr. Rassam. He told him not to notice what had taken place, as it meant nothing; but that he was obliged to speak publicly in that manner to encourage his soldiers. He then mounted his mule and ascended to the top of Selassie to examine the road from Dalanta to the Bechelo, and ascertain the movements of the English army.
The next day, the 8th, we only saw his Majesty at a distance, seated on a stone in front of his tents, and talking quietly to those around him. In the afternoon he ascended to the top of Selassie, and on his return sent us word that he had seen nothing; but that our people could not be far off, as a woman had come to inform him that, the evening before, horses and mules had been taken down to the Bechelo to be watered.
As we came down from the Amba the day before, we had met on the road all the prisoners crawling along, many of them in hand and foot chains, having in that condition been obliged to walk down the irregular and steep descent. Their appearance was enough to inspire pity in the most callous heart; many had no other covering than a small piece of rag round the loins, and were living skeletons, covered with some loathsome skin disease. Chiefs, soldiers or beggars, all wore an anxious expression: they had but too much reason to fear that they had not been dragged out of the prison where they had spent years of misery for any good purpose. However, on that morning Theodore gave orders for about seventy-five to be released, all either former servants of his, or chiefs whom he had imprisoned, without cause, during his fits of madness, so frequent of late.
Soon after his return from Selassie, his merciful mood being over, Theodore sent orders to have seven prisoners executed; amongst them the wife and child of Comfou (the storekeeper who had run away in September) - poor innocent beings on whom the despot vented his rage for the desertion of the husband: they were shot by the "brave Amharas," and their bodies hurled over the nearest precipice. Theodore sent me word to go and visit Bardel, who was lying dangerously ill in a tent close by. Having seen him and prescribed, I afterwards visited some of the Europeans and their families; I found them all exceedingly anxious and none could arrive at any conclusion as to the probable course Theodore would adopt.