Departure from Kassala - Sheik Abu Sin - Rumours of Theodore's Defeat by Tisso Gobaze - Arrival at Metemma - Weekly Market - The Takruries at Drill - Their Foray into Abyssinia - Arrival of Letters from Theodore...
On the afternoon of the 10th November we started for Kedaref. Our route now lay in a more southerly direction. On the 13th we crossed the Atbara, a tributary of the Nile, bringing to the father of rivers the waters of Northern Abyssinia. On the 17th we entered Sheik Abu Sin, the capital of the province of Kedaref. [Footnote: From Kassala to Kedaref is about 120 miles.] Our cameleers belonged to the Shukrie-Arabs. They are a semi-pastoral, semi-agricultural tribe, and reside principally in the neighbourhood of and along the course of the Atbara, or wander over the immense plains that extend almost without limit from this river to the Nile. They are more degenerated than the Beni-Amers, having mixed more with the Nubian and other tribes that dwell around them. They speak an impure Arabic. Many have retained the features and general appearance of the original race, whilst others might be looked upon as half-castes, and some can with difficulty be distinguished from the Nubians or Takruries.
From Kassala to Kedaref we crossed interminable plains, covered with high grass, speckled here and there with woods of mimosas, too scanty to afford the slightest shade or protection during the fearful heat of the mid-day sun. Here and there on the horizon appeared a few isolated peaks; the Djbel Kassala, a few miles south of the capital of Takka. Eastward, the Ela Hugel and the Abo-Gamel were in sight for many days, whilst towards the west, lost almost in the misty horizon, appeared in succession the outlines of Derkeda and Kassamot.
The valley of the Atbara, luxuriant in vegetation, inhabited by all varieties of the feathered tribe, visited by the huge thirsty quadruped of the savannah, presented a spectacle so grand in its savage beauty that we could with difficulty tear ourselves from its shady groves; had it not been that "Forward" was our watchword, we would, braving malaria, have spent a few days near its green and fragrant banks.
Sheik Abu Sin is a large village; the houses are circular and built of wood and covered with straw; A small hut belonging to the firm of Paniotti, our host of Kassala, was placed at our disposal. We shortly afterwards received the visit of a Greek merchant, who came to consult me for a stiff joint brought on by a gun-shot wound. It appears, that some years before, whilst riding a camel on an elephant-hunting expedition, the gun, a large half-ounce bore, went off by itself, he never knew how. All the bones of the fore-arm had been smashed, the cicatrice of a dreadful flesh-wound showed what sufferings he had undergone, and it was indeed a wonder for me that, residing as he did in such a hot unhealthy climate, deprived of all medical advice, he had not succumbed to the effects of the wound, still more that he had been able to save the limb. I considered the cure so extraordinary, that, as there was nothing to be done, I advised him to leave well alone.
The governor also called upon us, and we returned his civility. Whilst sipping our coffee with him and other grandees of the place, we were told that Tisso Gobaze, one of the rebels, had beaten Theodore and made him a prisoner. He said he believed the news to be correct, but advised us to inquire into it on our arrival at Metemma, and should we find it untrue, to return on our steps and on no account to enter Abyssinia if Theodore was still the ruler. He then gave us some examples of the Emperor's cruelty and treachery; but we did not put much credence in his word, as we knew that of old a bad feeling existed between the Abyssinian Christians and their Mussulman neighbours of the plain. At Metemma that rumour was not even known; however, we had no choice, and never thought one instant of anything else but of accomplishing the mission intrusted to us, in face of all perils and dangers.
At Kedaref we were lucky enough to arrive on a market-day, consequently had no difficulty in exchanging camels. That very evening we were en route again, still towards the south, but this time making almost an angle with our former route, marching towards the rising sun.
Between Sabderat and Kassala, between that town and the Gash, we had for the first time seen some cultivation; but it was nothing compared to the immense vista of cultivated fields, beginning a day's journey from Sheik Abu Sin, and extending, almost without interruption, throughout the provinces of Kedaref and Galabat. Villages appeared in all directions, crowning every rounded hillock. As we advanced, these eminences increased in size until they gave place to hills and mountains, which ultimately blend with the uninterrupted chain of high peaks forming the Abyssinian table-land, now again, after so many days, rising before us.