Theodore in the vicinity of Magdala - Our Feelings at the Time - An Amnesty granted to Dalanta - The Garrison of Magdala join the Emperor - Mrs. Rosenthal and other Europeans are sent to the Fortress - Theodore's Conversations with Flad...

We have now followed the Emperor's career from the day of our departure from Debra Tabor to his arrival in our neighbourhood. During that time, apart from the letters he addressed to Mr. Rassam relative to the one from the Queen, and about Mr. Flad and the artisans, we had but little intercourse with him. For a long time messengers passed with the greatest difficulty, and, afraid lest his written communications with the chiefs on the Amba might fall into the hands of the rebels, he had of late sent only verbal messages. Every messenger usually brought us compliments, and when any were sent from the Amba they always came to us by order of the chief before they left, so that Mr. Rassam might return a civil message in answer to the one he had received.

The ordinary staff of messengers were too well known on the road to be able to pass through the districts in rebellion; and for a long time we rejoiced at the idea that all communications were for ever interrupted between the camp and the fort, when one day a young Galla, servant of one of the political prisoners, reached the Amba, bringing a letter from his Majesty. The lad went forwards and backwards many times; but, apart from the presents be received from us, I do not believe he ever even got a salt for so constantly exposing his life; a few more men, who had friends and acquaintances on the road, managed also to pass through. All of them were very useful to us, as they also carried the correspondence between us and Mr. Flad, and, beings well rewarded, could be trusted with the most dangerous letters. We thought it even good fun to make the King's messenger our medium of communication between our friends in his camp and ourselves, often on treasonable matters.

Soon after reaching Bet Hor, Theodore issued a proclamation to the rebel districts of Dahonte and Dalanta, offering full amnesty for the past, and pledging himself, "by the death of Christ," that he would neither plunder nor ill-use them, should they return to their allegiance. For some days both districts refused, as Gobaze had promised to come and defend them; but the people of Dalanta, on seeing that, far from giving them any help, Gobaze was himself getting out of the way of Theodore, thought that, after all, it was perhaps better to accept the latter's offer, and, as they could not help themselves, trust to his pledged word. Dahonte, however, remained in its rebellion, and proposed to resist by force of arms any attempt on the part of Theodore to plunder the province. As the Emperor had spoken in very friendly terms to his workmen and others about Mr. Rassam, that gentleman was advised by the chiefs to write to the King, congratulating him on his safe arrival. This he repeated on several similar occasions; and the messengers he sent with these letters were very cordially treated by his Majesty. Theodore also wrote to Mr. Rassam on one or two occasions; and we had a ludicrous repetition of the courteous and edifying correspondence that had passed formerly between the two in the sunny days of Kourata.

January, 1868, ushered in a period of great mental excitement for us, which lasted until the very end; increasing in intensity as we approached the last days, as we well knew that then our fate would be decided. But there is something in the constant repetition of stimulants, be they moral or physical, which blunts the feelings, hardens the heart, and at last allows the person long submitted to their influence to look upon everything with indifference and impassiveness. We had had so many "shocks" during the last three months - so many times we expected to be tortured or killed - that when the day arrived that we were in reality placed almost beyond hope, the crisis did not affect us much, and once passed, we never thought of the matter again.

Having become "reconciled" with his children of Dalanta, Theodore's task was much easier. Several thousand peasants helped him in his road-making, others carried part of his property to Magdala, and now that the brave garrison of the Amba could cross the Dalanta plateau without fear, he sent for them, leaving only a few old men on the mountain beyond the ordinary number of prisoners' guards. On the 8th of January Bitwaddad Damash, in command, with the "brave" Goji as his lieutenant, and accompanied by seven or eight hundred men, started for Wadela. Many left with beating hearts, trembling at the prospect of meeting the Emperor. He was worshipped at a distance, but dreaded on his approach. His Majesty, however, received them very well; but was not over civil to all. Damash he treated rather coolly; but as he wanted them a little time longer, he did not say much, nor give them any cause to believe that he was greatly displeased with them.

A few days after Theodore had reached Dalanta he sent back the Magdala garrison to the Amba, to accompany thither the prisoners he had brought, with him, - the Europeans included, - and forwarded by them some powder, shot, and the instruments belonging to his workmen. Mrs. Rosenthal was also allowed to accompany the party, and all arrived on the Amba on the afternoon of the 26th of January. The five Europeans were sent to us; and on the interpreter's hut being given to Mr. and Mrs. Rosenthal, the larger one that gentleman had previously occupied was made over to the other five. We were well pleased to be all together. The new comers had much to tell us, and we in return gave them an account of our doings. We were, above all things, rejoiced at the arrival of Mrs. Rosenthal; our morbid idea having been for months, almost up to the end, that some flying column would be detached from the main body of our army to cut off Theodore from the mountain; and our anxiety had been great on account of Mrs. Rosenthal and her child, as Theodore, according to his system of hostages, had kept her near him as a security to prevent the Magdala prisoners from running away.

Messengers now went backwards and forwards daily, sometimes twice in the same day, between the camp and the amba. At first, we saw with anxiety the near approach of Theodore and the renewed facility of his communications with us; but as it was an evil we were powerless to contend against, we consoled ourselves as best we could, and though fearing the worst, hoped for the best. One advantage we gained was the facility of corresponding with Mr. Flad, who always, with great courage, had, ever since his return from England, on all possible occasions, kept us informed of Theodore's doings, and of anything he might have said with reference to the existing difficulties. He wrote to us in the beginning of February to inform us that, from some, conversation he had had with officers of the Imperial household, it was his opinion that his Majesty was aware of the landing of our troops, and had purposely sent to him a chief to find out what the intentions of our Government were concerning himself, and if there was still any hope of the matter being peaceably settled.

There is no doubt that for several mouths past, his Majesty had been advised by his spies that English troops had landed in his country; but under the difficulties he was placed in at the time, he considered it advisable to keep silent on the subject. Since he had reached the vicinity of the Amba, however, he frequently, in his conversation with his people, gave strong hints that he expected before long to have to contend with the soldiers of Europe. On the 8th of February Theodore told Mr. Waldmeier, the head of the workmen - a very intelligent and well-educated man, for whom Theodore had a great regard, though of late he had somewhat roughly used him - that he had received news from the coast informing him that the English had disembarked at Zulla. The following day he sent for Mr. Flad, and calling him aside, told him, "The people from whom you brought me a letter, and who you said would come, have arrived and landed at Zulla. They are coming up by the Salt Plain. Why did they not take a better road? The one by the Salt Plain is very unhealthy."

Flad explained to him that for troops arriving from India, that road was the best, as they would in three or four days reach the highlands of Agam. Theodore said, "We are making roads with great difficulty; for them it will only be play to make roads everywhere. It seems to me that it is the will of God that they should come. If He who is above does not kill me, none will kill me, and if He says, 'You must die,' none can save me: remember the history of Hezekiah and Sennacherib." Theodore appeared very calm and composed during that conversation. Two days afterwards he said to some of his workmen, "I long for the day I shall have the pleasure of seeing a disciplined European army. I am like Simeon; he was old, but before he died he rejoiced his heart by holding the Saviour in his arms. I am old, too; but I hope God will spare me to see them before I die. My soldiers are nothing compared to a disciplined army, where thousands obey the command of one man." Evidently he still entertained some vague hope that the coming event might turn to his advantage, as on another occasion he said to Mr. Waldmeier, "We have a prophecy in our country that a European king will meet an Abyssinian one, and that afterwards a king will reign in Abyssinia greater than any before him. That prophecy is going to be fulfilled at the present time; but I do not know whether I am the king alluded to, or if it is some one else."

We were delighted at the receipt of this intelligence; for a long time we believed that Theodore knew of the landing of our troops, but as he had never made any mention of the fact we still had our doubts on the subject, and were somewhat in dread of his first burst of passion on the intelligence reaching him.

On the 15th of February a letter from the Commander-in-Chief addressed to Theodore was brought to us by the messenger to whom it had been entrusted, as he was afraid of handing it over to his Majesty himself. This placed us in a difficult position; though as regarded the Amharic translation, it was perhaps as well that it had not reached Theodore, as that version, on some important points, gave a totally different meaning from that of the letter itself. I was quite delighted at listening to the Commander-in-Chief's manly and straightforward language. The letter was as firm as it was courteous, and I felt happy and proud, even in my captivity, that at last an English general had torn asunder the veil of false humility which for so long a time had concealed the bold and haughty spirit of England. We felt strengthened by the conviction that the hour was come when right and might would prevail, and the merciless despot who had acted towards us with such unheard-of treachery would meet his fate.

According to the latest news we had received from the Imperial camp, Theodore did not seem inclined to vent upon us his disappointment and anger at seeing all his plans frustrated by the landing of an English army; it was therefore decided to keep for the present the important and valuable document that had so accidentally fallen into our hands, as a powerful weapon to use, should a change take place in the line of conduct Theodore had adopted since he was made conversant of the fact that force was at last resorted to to effect our deliverance: for we had our fears, knowing his changeable and fickle disposition.

Nor did Theodore's peaceful mood last much longer. The Dalanta people, relying on his promises, and anxious to get rid of his presence, gave him every assistance in their power, carrying his baggage to the Amba, or working at the roads under his direction. The honourable way in which he had kept his word with the people of Dalanta induced the neighbouring district to send him deputations begging for pardon, and offering to pay him tribute and send supplies into his camp, if he would proclaim in their favour the same amnesty he had granted to the Dalanta people. Had Theodore been wise, even then he had a good opportunity of regaining part of his lost kingdom; and had he continued to keep to his word, province after province, disgusted with the cowardice of the rebels, would have returned to him. But he was too fond of plundering: the peasants did not, according to his ideas, send sufficient supplies; and as he knew that the district was exceedingly rich in grain and cattle, regardless of his oath, on the 17th of February, he gave orders for his soldiers to plunder the peasants' houses.

Taken quite by surprise, very little resistance was offered. Theodore succeeded beyond his expectations; corn and cattle were now in abundance, and in order to economize his supplies, he allowed; all the Gondar people who were still with him, and many of the women and children of runaway soldiers and chiefs, to leave the camp and go wherever they liked. Since Ohecheo he had formed the strongest and hardiest of the women of his camp into a plundering band; he was always much pleased with their bravery, and one of them having killed a petty chief, and brought to him the sword of her adversary, he was so delighted that he gave her a title of rank and presented her with one of his own pistols. We knew enough of the Emperor's character to fear that, when once he again took to plundering and killing, he would lose much of the amenity and gentleness he had of late displayed, and look upon the arrival of an armed force from England in a very different light; we were not, therefore, much astonished to hear that he had again quarrelled with the Europeans around him. It is also not improbable that a copy of the proclamation the Commander-in-Chief had sent to the different chiefs may have fallen into his hands about this time, as one was found after his death amongst his papers. Whatever may have been the cause of his sudden change, he, without any apparent reason, all at once regarded his workmen with suspicion, and though he ordered them to be in constant attendance upon his person, he would not for many days allow them to work.

Mr. Waldmeier one evening, on returning to his tent to take his evening meal, entered into conversation with a spy of the Emperor's on the subject of the advance of the English army. Waldmeier, amongst other things, told the man that it would be a very unwise act of his Majesty if he did not at once make friends with the English, as he had not a single friend in the country. On the officer reporting that conversation, Theodore in a fearful passion sent for all the Europeans; for a while his rage was such that he could not speak, but kept walking up and down, looking fiercely at them, and holding his spear in a threatening attitudes. At last, stopping before Mr. Waldmeier, he abused him in no measured terms: "Who are you, you dog, but a donkey, a poor man who came from a far country to be my slave, and whom I have paid and fed for years? What does a beggar like you know about my affairs? Are you to dictate to me what I am to do? A King is coming to treat with a King! What do you know about such matters?" Theodore then threw himself on the ground and said, "Take my spear and kill me; but do not revile me." Waldmeier prostrated himself before him and begged for pardon; the Emperor rose, but refused to grant his request, and ordered him to rise and follow him.

On the 18th of February Theodore pitched his camp near the ridge of the Dalanta plateau, and the following day the chiefs of the Amba, with their telescopes, could perceive several working parties engaged in making the road down to the Bechelo. Theodore had made about a thousand prisoners when he had plundered Dalanta, and all of them, under strong escorts, were set to work for him; but when the road was finished half way, he allowed them to return to Dalanta.

For a while the communications between the Amba and the camp were again suspended. The few chiefs and soldiers that had remained at Magdala viewed with great despondency this last breach of faith of their master, as it foreboded anything but gratitude towards them for the many privations they had submitted to in fulfilment of the trust vested in them. With great difficulty we succeeded in getting a messenger to pass through the valley of the Bechelo, on account of the disturbed condition of the country since Dalanta had been plundered. The news he brought was a little more favourable. His Majesty had reconciled himself with Mr. Waldmeier, and now treated all his artisans with consideration and kindness. He did not, however, allow them to work, and they all slept in a tent near his Majesty: a precaution he had for a short time ceased to take. Often he spoke to his soldiers, or to the Europeans, about the coming of our troops; sometimes avowing his intention to fight with them, at other times expressing himself in a more conciliatory tone. He had hardly mentioned our names of late; he spoke about Mr. Stern, but, contrary to his habit, not in anger. He referred several times to a certain letter of Mrs. Flad's, which had given him great offence some years before. That lady alluded in it to the possible invasion of the county by the English and French, giving as her opinion that he would not be afraid. Theodore frequently said that Mrs. Flad was right: "They are coming, and I do not fear."

On the 14th of March his Majesty, with all his waggons, cannons, and mortars, reached the valley of the Bechelo. From a letter we received from Mr. Flad it appears that his Majesty was in a great hurry to reach Magdala. The Europeans were still treated courteously, but, day and night, were strictly watched. He evidently received good information of what was going on in the British camp. To Mr. Waldmeier, who was more than any other in his confidence, he said, "With love and friendship they will overcome me; but if they come with other intentions I know they will not spare me, and I will make a great blood-bath, and afterwards die."

On the 16th he despatched a messenger to the Amba to rejoice his people with the good news of his approach, and sent us a courteous message. Mr. Rassam at once wrote to him, complimenting him on his success. Mr. Rassam is certainly deserving of praise for endeavouring, by every means in his power, to impress upon his Majesty the fervent friendship he felt for him, and the sincere admiration and deep devotion which time had only strengthened, and that even captivity and chains could not destroy. Mr. Rassam's official position gave him great advantages over the other captives; he was able to make "friends" of all the royal messengers, of all the personal attendants, of his Majesty, and of every one on the Amba or in the camp, who could say a good word for him. Ignorant of the source of Mr. Rassam's liberality, the chief courtiers, and even his Majesty himself, came to the conclusion that Mr. Prideaux and myself were very inferior beings - harmless individuals, whom it would be perfectly absurd to place on a footing of equality with the open-handed, sweet-talking gentleman, who alone, and out of mere regard, again congratulated his Majesty.

Theodore was so pleased with Mr. Rassam's letter that early on the 18th he sent Mr. Flad, his secretary and several officers, with a friendly letter to that gentleman, and instructed the chief of the Amba to remove at once his friend's fetters. Theodore, in his letter to Mr. Rassam, forgetting that he himself had on several occasions made mention of his fetters, said that he had no quarrel with him, and that when he had sent him to Magdala he had only told his people to watch him, but out of precaution they put him in chains. He sent him also 2,000 dollars for the money and things Flad had brought with him, and said that, on account of the rebellious condition of the country, he had not been able to forward them, and hoped he would, at the same time, accept a present of a hundred sheep and fifty cows. No one else was included in the order; and I confess that we were foolish enough to feel this disappointment bitterly. Probably twenty months of captivity weakens the mind as well as the body, as at other times we should not have given even a thought to the matter. Even as it was we soon forgot all about it, wisely remembering that freedom and liberty would be ours when the British flag should float over our former gaol. It appears that our displeasure had been remarked, and a spy started at once for the camp to inform his Majesty that we were angry at our chains not being opened.

Mr. Flad returned that evening to the Imperial camp, already pitched on the northern banks of the Bechelo; and the following morning the Emperor sent for him and asked him if he had seen us all, and if we were looking well. He inquired especially about Mr. Prideaux and myself; Flad told his Majesty that we were in good health, but sorry that he had made a difference between us and Mr. Rassam. At this the Emperor, smiling all the while, said: - "Yes, I have heard of it: when they were put in chains by my people Mr. Rassam did not say a word, but both of them looked angrily at the chains. I have no anger against them, nor have they done me any wrong; as soon as I shall meet Mr. Rassam I will take off their chains also."

Mr. Flad explained to his Majesty that we had felt disappointed, as some one, on Mr. Rassam's chains being ordered to be opened, had come to the conclusion that the Consul, Dr. Blanc, and Mr. Prideaux would be included in the same order, and had run on ahead to bring us the miserach (good news); that Mr. Rassam was also very sorry his two companions were separated from him, and had asked him the reason why it was so, but as he did not know his Majesty's motives he could not answer him, &c. Theodore, still smiling, said to Mr. Flad, "If there is only friendship, everything will be right."

On the evening of the 25th of March, his Majesty pitched his camp on the small plateau of Islamgee; he had brought his cannons and even the monster mortar as far as the foot of the ascent, and was hard at work making the road required for them to be dragged up.

Early on the morning of the 26th, the priests of the Amba, in full canonicals, carrying crosses and gaily-tinselled umbrellas, went to Islamgee to congratulate the Emperor on his safe arrival. Theodore received them with great courtesy, and shortly afterwards dismissed them, saying, "Go back, my fathers, be of good cheer; if I have money I will share it with you. My clothes will be yours, and with my corn I will feed you." They were on the point of starting when an old bigoted priest, who had always shown himself badly disposed towards us, turned round and addressed his Majesty in the following terms: - "Oh, my King, do not abandon your religion!" Theodore, quite surprised, inquired of him what he meant. The priest, rather excited, exclaimed, in a loud voice, "You do not fast, you observe no more the feasts of the saints! I fear that you will soon follow entirely the religion of the Franks." Theodore turned towards some of the Europeans that stood near him and said, "Did I ever inquire of you about your religion? Did I ever show any desire to follow your creed?" They all replied, "Certainly not." Theodore then addressed the priests, who were listening with dismay to this conversation, and told them, "Judge this man." The priests did not consult long, and with one accord gave as their decision, that "the man who insults his king is worthy of death." On that, the soldiers fell upon the old priest, tore off his clothes, and would have, killed him on the spot had not Theodore mitigated the punishment. He ordered him to be put in chains, sent to the Amba, and for seven days not to be allowed either bread or water.

Another priest, who had also on a former occasion grossly insulted his Majesty, was sent up to the prison at the same time. That priest had said to some of the Emperor's spies that their master wore three matabs: [Footnote: Matab: a string made of blue silk, and worn round the neck as the sign of Christianity in Abyssinia.] one, because he was a Mussulman, having burnt the churches; the second because he was a Frank, never observing the fast days; the third, to make the people believe he was a Christian.

The following morning we were awoke by the merry elelta - the shrill cry of joy uttered by the Abyssinian beau sexe on great and happy events. On this occasion a peculiar mixture of joyous and plaintive strains slightly modified its usual character, and it was a sharp but also tremulous sound that greeted the arrival of the Emperor Theodore on the Amba. Carpets were at once spread on the open space in front of his house, the throne was brought out and decked with gorgeous silks, and the state umbrella unfolded to protect the reclining Emperor from the hot rays of the sun. We expected, on seeing all these preparations made and the large number of courtiers and officers assembled in front, that before long we would be called for, and that something similar to the trial and reconciliation of Zage was going to be acted over again. We were, however, mistaken: it was on account of some private affairs that the Emperor, abandoning for a day his work, had called a court of justice.

For a long time various charges had been whispered against two of the chiefs of the Amba, Ras Bisawar and Bitwaddad Damash. His Majesty now desired to investigate them; he listened quietly to the accusers, and having heard the defence, he asked the opinion of the chiefs around him. They advised him to forgive them on account of their former good services, but that they should not be trusted any more. Had not a chief, they said, deserted a few nights before - a feat he could not have accomplished had not several of the garrison helped him in his escape? - and moreover, should an enemy present himself before the Amba during one of the Emperor's absences, they would most probably quarrel amongst themselves instead of defending the place. The Emperor accepted their decision and said that he would send a new garrison, that the former one should proceed that very day to his camp, and that as their store of grain would only be a burden to them, they should leave it behind; he would give orders to the writers to make out a correct account of all they had, and, to oblige them, he would keep the grain himself and pay them the value in money. He afterwards sent for the two priests he had imprisoned the day before, released them from their fetters, and told them that he forgave them, but that they must leave his country at once. On going away, he sent word by Samuel to Mr. Rassam that he had intended to come and see him but that he felt too tired; he added, "Your people are near; they are coming to deliver you."

The soldiers of the garrison were greatly annoyed at having to leave, and were much pleased early the next morning to learn that Theodore had rescinded his order. He had, he said, pardoned them on account of their long and faithful services. The Ras was put on "half-pay," and a new commandant, Bitwaddad Hassanie, sent to take over the charge, while the garrison was reinforced by some 400 musketeers.

It is probable that Theodore wanted simply to know what amount of corn the garrison possessed, as he might perhaps require it himself before long, and possibly also the clemency shown by him was due to his being pleased at the soldiers having complied with his orders and purchased grain, as he had directed them, with the money he had a short time before given them.