Second visit to Zage - Arrest of Mr. Rassam and the English Officers - Charges brought against Mr. Rassam - The former Captives are brought in Chains to Zage - Public Trial - Reconciliation - Mr. Flad's Departure - The Imprisonment at Zage...

On the 13th of April we made our third experiment of the bulrush boats, as the Emperor desired once more to see his dear friends before they left. The European workmen of Gaffat accompanied us. All the Magdala and Gaffat prisoners started the same day, but by another route; the whole party was to rendezvous at Tankal, near the north-west extremity of the lake, where the luggage was also to be conveyed by boats.

On our arrival at Zage, we were received with the usual marks of respect. Ras Engeddah and several high officers came to meet us on the beach, and richly harnessed mules were provided for us from the royal stables. We dismounted at the entrance of his Majesty's inclosure, and were conducted at once to the large audience-hall, erected quite close to the Emperor's private fence. On entering, we were surprised to see the large hall lined on both sides by Abyssinian officers in their gala dress. The throne had been placed at the extremity of the hall, but was empty, and the large circular space around it was filled with the highest officers of the realm. We had only advanced a few stages, preceded by Ras Engeddah, when he bowed and kissed the ground, we thought out of respect for the throne; but it was the signal for an act of base treachery. No sooner had the Ras prostrated himself, than nine men, posted for the purpose, rushed upon each of us, and in less time than I can express it our swords, belts, and caps were cast to the ground, our uniforms torn, and the officers of the English mission, seized by the arm and neck, were dragged, to the upper part of the hall, degraded and reviled before the whole of Theodore's courtiers and grandees!

We were allowed to sit down, our captors sitting next to us. The Emperor did not appear, but questions were brought to us by the Ras Engeddah, Cantiba Hailo (the Emperor's adopted father), Samuel, and the European workmen. Some of the questions asked by his Majesty were, to say the least, childish: "Where are the prisoners? Why have you not brought them to me? You had no right to send them without my permission. I wished you to reconcile me with them. I intended also to give to those who had no mule a mule, and to those who had no money some money for the road. Why have you given them fire-arms? Did you not come with a friendly letter from the Queen of England? Why have you sent letters to the coast?" and such like rubbish.

Many of the highest officers several times expressed openly their approval of our answers - a rare proceeding in an Abyssinian Court. They evidently did not like, nor could they justify, the treacherous conduct of their master. Between the questions, a paper was partially read, referring to his Majesty's pedigree. As it had nothing to do with, our alleged offences, I could not understand its object, except that it was a certain weakness of this parvenu to glory in his supposed ancestors. His Majesty's last message was: "I have sent for your brethren, and when they arrive, I will see what I shall do."

The assembly having been dismissed, we waited a little while, whilst a tent was pitched for us near the Emperor's inclosure. At the time we were undergoing our trial, all the luggage we had brought with us was personally examined by his Majesty. All arms, money, papers, knives, &c., were confiscated; the remainder being sent to us after we had been escorted to the tent; We had hardly entered our new abode, and had not yet recovered from our surprise at the turn the Abyssinian imbroglio had just taken, when cows and bread in abundance were sent to us by Theodore a strange contrast to his recent dealings.

At about the same hour which witnessed this reverse in our fortunes, the released captives were also destined to meet with a fearful disappointment. Their fate was even worse than ours. After about two hours' ride they came to a village, and were resting under the shade of a few trees, until their tents should be pitched, when they were called for, and told to enter the house of the chief of the village. As soon as they were all collected, a number of soldiers entered, and the chief of the escort, showing them a letter, asked them if it was his Majesty's seal. On their replying in the affirmative, they were told to sit down. They were rather perplexed, but imagined that perhaps his Majesty had sent them a letter to bid them farewell, and that they were allowed to sit down as they were tired. However, their conjectures were soon set at rest. On a signal given by the chief of the escort, they were seized by the soldiers who lined the room. The letter from Theodore was then read to them. It was addressed to the chief of the escort, and ran thus: - "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, to Bitwaddad Tadla. By the power of God, we, Theodore, the king of kings, are well. We are angry with our friends, and with the Europeans, who say, 'We are going to our country,' and we are not yet reconciled. Until we consult as to what we shall do, seize them; but do not make them uncomfortable or afraid, and do not hurt them."

In the evening they were chained two by two, their servants were watched, and but two allowed to each individual to prepare his food; the following morning they were taken to Kourata. There they heard of our arrest, and even reports to the effect that we had been killed. The wives of the Gaffat people treated them very kindly: they themselves were in great anguish, as they were quite ignorant of the fate of their relatives. On the morning of the 15th they were taken over by boat to Zage. On their arrival they were received by guards, who conducted them to a fenced space; mules had been brought for Captain Cameron, Mrs. Rosenthal, and Mrs. Flad, and shortly afterwards the Emperor sent them cows, sheep, bread, &c., in abundance.

The three days we spent in the small tent at Zage were days of great anxiety. We had until then seen but the good side, the amiable mood of our host, and we were not as yet accustomed to his sudden bursts of temper, to his violence and treachery. As soon as our luggage was returned, we destroyed every letter, paper, note, diary, in our possession, and repeatedly questioned Samuel as to our future prospects. On the morning of the second day Theodore sent us his compliments, and told us that as soon as the captives arrived, everything would be all right. We sent him some shirts that had been made for him during our stay at Kourata; he received them, but declined the soap that accompanied them, as, he said, we should require it for the road. In the afternoon we watched him through the links of the tent, whilst he was sitting for hours on a raised platform in front of his inclosure. He appeared calm, and remained, for a long time, in conversation with his favourite, Ras Engeddah, who stood below.

We were guarded night and day, and could not move a few steps outside the tent without being followed by a soldier; at night, if we had to go out, we were told to carry a lantern with us. Our guards were all old confidential chiefs of the Emperor, men of rank and position, who executed their orders, but did not abuse their position to make us feel still more our disgrace. On the evening of the 15th a small farce was played that amused me at the time. I was going out a short distance, a servant carrying a lantern before me. We had only advanced a few steps when a soldier roughly seized my servant; immediately the officer on guard ran up towards us, and pretending to be very indignant at the soldier's conduct, told him to let my servant go, and lifting up his stick, gave him a few strokes on the back, exclaiming, "Why do you stop him? These are not prisoners; they are the friends of the King." On turning round; I saw the chief and the soldier having a good laugh together. The following morning the reconciliation was to take place. Theodore desired to impress us with the idea that we might be still his friends, and that we had better give in to him with good grace, as the arrest of the 13th would prove to us that he could also treat us as enemies. His plan was not a bad one; at all events it succeeded.

On the 17th we received a message from his Majesty, telling us to go to him, as he desired to try before us the Europeans who had, he said, formerly insulted him. Theodore knows well how to make a display; and on this occasion he did his utmost to impress all, Europeans as well as natives, with an idea of his power and greatness. He was seated on an alga in the open air, in front of the audience-hall. All the great officers of state were stationed on his left hand in front; on his right were the Europeans, and around these more important individuals, the petty chiefs and soldiers formed an almost complete circle.

As soon as we approached, his Majesty rose and saluted us; received us, in short, as though we were still his honoured guests, and not the heralds from a great Power he had recently so grossly insulted. We were told to sit down. A few minutes of silence followed, and we saw advancing from the outer gate our countrymen guarded as criminals, and chained two by two. They were arranged in a line in front of his Majesty, who, after observing them for a few seconds, "kindly" inquired after their health, and how they had spent their time. The captives acknowledged these compliments by repeatedly kissing the ground before that incarnation of the Evil One, who all the time grinned in delight at the sight of the misery and humiliation of his victims. Captain Cameron's and Mr. Bardel's fetters were then opened, and they were told to come and sit down near us. All the other captives remained standing in the sun, and had to answer to the Emperor's questions. He was collected, and calm; only once, when addressing us, did he appear in any way excited.

He asked them, "Why did you wish to leave my country before you took leave of me?" They answered that they had only acted according to Mr. Rassam's orders, to whom they had been made over. He then said, "Why did you not ask Mr. Rassam to bring you to me, and be reconciled before you left?" and turning towards Mr. Rassam, said, "It is your fault. I told you to reconcile me with them; why did you not do so?" Mr. Rassam replied: that he had believed the written reconciliation that followed the trial of the charges he had sent against them to be sufficient. The Emperor then said to Mr. Rassam, "Bid I not tell you I wanted to give them mules and money, and you answered me that you had bought mules for them, and that you had money enough to take them to their country? Now, on your account, you see them in chains. From the day you told me that you desired to send them by another road I became suspicious, and imagined that you did so in order that you might say in your country that they were released through your cunning and power."

The former captives' supposed crimes are well known, and its the remainder of the trial was only a repetition of the one of Gondar, it would be a mere waste of time to speak of it here; suffice it to say that these unfortunate and injured men answered with all humility and meekness, and endeavoured by so doing to avert the wrath of the wretch in whose power they were.

The Emperor's pedigree was then read: from Adam to David all went on smoothly enough; from Solomon's supposed son Menilek to Socinius few names were given - perhaps they were patriarchs in their own way; but when it came to Theodore's father and mother the difficulty increased, indeed it became serious; many witnesses were brought forward to testify to their royal descent, and even the opinion of the puppet-Emperor Johannes was recorded in favour of Theodore's legal right to the throne of his ancestors.

We were then called forward, and the scene of the 18th enacted over, again. After we had been told to sit down, Theodore called his workmen before him, and asked them if he ought to get "kassa?" (meaning a reparation for what he had suffered at the hands of the Europeans). Some did not audibly reply; whilst others loudly proclaimed that "kassa was good." In conclusion, his Majesty said, addressing himself to us "Do you want to be my masters? You will remain with me; and wherever I go, you will go; wherever I stay, you will stay." On that we were dismissed to our tents, and Captain Cameron was allowed to accompany us. The other Europeans, still in chains, were sent to another part of the camp, where several weeks before a fence had been erected, no one knew why.

The following day we were again called before Theodore, but this time it was quite a private affair. The prisoners were first conducted to our tent, and released from their fetters. We were then called into his presence; the former captives followed us, and the Gaffat people shortly afterwards entered, and were told to sit at the Emperor's right. As soon as the released prisoners entered; they bowed their heads to the ground and begged for pardon. His Majesty told them to rise, and after informing them that they had never done anything wrong, and that they were his friends, bowed his head to the ground, and in his turn begged for pardon. He remained in that attitude until they had repeatedly told him, "For God's sake, we forgive you!" Captain Cameron then read aloud Dr. Beke's letter and the petition of the prisoners' relatives. The reconciliation effected, the Emperor dictated a letter for our Queen, and Mr. Flad was selected to convey it. We then all had our tents pitched in a large enclosure, fenced that very morning under his Majesty's supervision. We were once more all united; but this time all prisoners. Mr. Flad left; we expected that his mission would be unsuccessful, and that England, disgusted with so much treachery, would not condescend to treat further, but enforce her demands. The day Mr. Flad left, his wife accompanied the workmen, who were ordered back to Kourata; with them we had much less intercourse than before, as they were at all times timid, and very careful not to have many dealings with doubtful friends of the King.

Zage was one of the principal towns of the formerly prosperous and populous district of Metsha, but when we came we saw nought but ruins; and had we not been told that the guicho and coffee-covered hill was only a few weeks before the abode of thousands, we could not have credited it; nor that the small circular patches, now green with grass and weeds, had been the homes of a thriving and industrious population.

A few days after the reconciliation - the very morning Flad left for England - his Majesty returned us our arms, and a portion of our money; he also presented us at the same time with silver-mounted shields, spears, and mules, and a few days later with horses. We saw him on several occasions: twice he came to see us in our tents; one day we went with him to assist at the trial of some guns made by his European workmen; once duck-shooting with him on the lake; another time to see him play the national game of goucks. He endeavoured to appear friendly, supplied us with abundant rations, and twice a day sent his compliments; he even fired a salute and gave a feast on our Queen's birthday. Nevertheless, we felt unhappy: our cage was gilt, but still a cage; and the experience we had had of the King's treachery made us constantly fear a recurrence of it. When we met him in Damot, and when we visited him before at Zage, we had only seen the actor in his smiling mood; now all restraint was thrown off: women were flogged to death close to our tents, and soldiers laden with chains or beaten to death on the most trivial pretexts. The true character of the tyrant became daily more apparent, and we felt that our position was most dangerous and critical.

Theodore was still bent on building boats; seeing that everybody seemed reluctant to help him he went to work himself; he made an immense flat-bottomed bulrush boat of great thickness, and to propel it made two large wheels worked by hand: in fact he had invented a paddle steamer, only the locomotive agent was deficient. We saw it several times on the water; the wheels were rather high up and it required at least a hundred men on it to make them dip sufficiently. Strange to say he spent his time in that frivolous way and never took notice of a large rebel force not four miles from his camp.

Cholera had been making havoc in Tigre; we were not surprised, therefore, to hear that it had spread over other provinces, and that several cases had already broken out at Kourata. The King's camp was pitched in a very unhealthy situation, on a low, swampy ground; fevers, diarrhoea, and dysentery had prevailed to a great extent. Informed of the approach of cholera, his Majesty wisely decided upon moving his camp to the highlands of Begemder. Mrs. Rosenthal was at the time very unwell, and could not stand the journey by land; she was therefore allowed to proceed by water to Kourata, accompanied by her husband, myself, and Captain Cameron, also in delicate health. We started on the evening of the 31st of May, and reached Kourata early the next morning. A gale of wind was blowing at the time, and we had to make frequent stoppages on the lee of the land, as the heavy sea frequently threatened to swamp our frail boats. Without exaggeration, this last passage was in all respects the ne plus ultra of discomfort.