Imprisonment of Mr. Stern - Mr. Kerans arrives with Letters and Carpet - Cameron, with his Followers, is put in Chains - Mr. Bardel's Return from the Soudan - Theodore's Dealings with Foreigners - The Coptic Patriarch - Abdul Rahman Bey...
Such was the state of affairs when Mr. Stern obtained leave to return to the coast. Unfortunately it was impossible for him to avail himself at once of this permission. On Mr. Stern at last taking his departure he had to remain at Gondar a few days, and, but too late, thought of presenting his respects to his Majesty. He also accepted during his short stay there the hospitality of the bishop. On the 13th October Mr. Stern, accompanied for a short distance by Consul Cameron and Mr. Bardel, started on his homeward journey. On arriving on the Waggera Plain he perceived the King's tent. What followed is well known: how that unfortunate gentleman was almost beaten, to death; and from that hour, almost without remission, loaded with chains, tortured, and dragged from prison to prison, until the day of his deliverance from Magdala by the British army.
When speaking of Theodore's treatment of foreigners, I will endeavour to explain the real cause of the misfortunes that befell Mr. Stern. That he was only the victim of circumstances, is a fact beyond any doubt. The extracts from his book and the notes from his diary, brought as charges against him, were only discovered several weeks after many cruelties had been inflicted upon him. But I believe that many small, apparently trifling, incidents combined to make him the first European victim of the Abyssinian monarch. The Emperor could not endure the thought that Europeans in his country should do aught else but work for him. On his first interview with Mr. Stern, after this gentleman's return to Abyssinia, Theodore, on being informed as to the motives of Mr. Stern's journey, said, in an angry mood, "I have enough of your Bibles." Theodore also believed that by ill-using Mr. Stern he would please his "Gaffat children," therefore, immediately after Mr. Stern's imprisonment, he wrote to them saying, "I have chained your enemy and mine."
That the crisis was at last brought on by malicious representations to his Majesty of trifling incidents, was proved to us quite accidentally on our way down. At Antalo I had a few friends at dinner, amongst them Mr. Stern, when, in the evening, Peter Beru, an Abyssinian who had received his education at Malta and had been one of the interpreters of Mr. Stern's book at the famous public trial at Gondar, came into the tent, and, being a little excited, told Mr. Stern that three things had called down upon him the King's displeasure: first, the enmity of the Gaffat people against him; secondly, his (Mr. Stern's) intimacy with the Abouna; thirdly, his not having called upon his Majesty during his last stay at Gondar.
On the 22nd of November Mr. Laurence Kerans arrived at Gondar. He came for the purpose of joining Captain Cameron in the capacity of private secretary. He brought with him some letters for Captain Cameron; amongst them one from Earl Russell ordering the consul back to his post at Massowah. Of all the captives none deserves greater sympathy than poor Kerans. Quite a youth when he entered Abyssinia, he suffered four years of imprisonment in chains, for no reason whatever except that he arrived at an inauspicious time. It is true that, according to his wonted habit, his Majesty charged him with having intended to insult him by offering him a carpet representing Gerard the lion-killer. Gerard, in his Zouave costume, Theodore said, represented the Turks, the lion was himself, upon whom the infidel was firing, the attendant a Frenchman; but he added, "I do not see the Englishman who ought to be by my side." Poor Kerans remained only a few weeks in semi-liberty at Gondar; he had presented on his own account a rifle to his Majesty (the carpet was supposed to have been sent by Captain Speedy, who had previously been in Abyssinia); and every morning Samuel, who was the balderaba of the Europeans, would present himself, with supposed compliments from his Majesty, adding, "The Emperor desires to know what you would like?" Kerans answered, "A horse, a shield, and a lance." The next morning Samuel would ask, from his Majesty, what kind of horse he preferred, and so on, until at last the poor lad, who was obliged every day to bow to the ground in thankfulness for the supposed gift, began to suspect that all was not right.
Consul Cameron, a few days after the arrival of Kerans, was called to the King's camp and told to remain there until further orders. He was already so far a prisoner that he was not allowed to return to Gondar, when, on the plea of bad health, he applied for permission to do so. Cameron waited until the beginning of January, daily expecting a letter for the Emperor, but at last, as none came, he considered himself bound to obey his instructions, and accordingly, informed his Majesty that he had received orders from his Government to return to Massowah, and begged that he might be allowed to leave in a few days.