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."