We are counted by the new Ras, and condemned to sleep in One Hut - Theodore's Second Visit to the Amba - Sends for Mr. Rassam and gives orders that Prideaux and myself should have our Chains taken off - The Operation described - Our Reception...

On the 28th of March, all of us, with the exception of Mr. Rassam, were called out and made to stand in a line to be counted by the new Ras; then at about ten at night, as we were undressing, Samuel came to inform us that he had received orders to put us all, with the exception of Mr. Rassam, in one hut for that night, but that as none of our huts was large enough, he had obtained leave that we should be distributed into two. Cameron, Mr. Rosenthal, and Mr. Kerans were made to join us company, and four villanous-looking rascals, with lighted candles burning all night, were posted inside the door to prevent our going out. Samuel and two chiefs slept in Mr. Rassam's room, and I strongly suspect that Samuel was on that occasion more in the position of a prisoner than a guardian.

We slept but little, expecting that the morning would bring some change for the worse. To our day guards some ten or fifteen of the greatest scoundrels of the camp had been recently added, and we felt rather anxious when we learnt early the next morning that Theodore had sent word he would come up in the course of the day to muster the garrison.

At about three in the afternoon some of our servants came rushing into our hut to tell us that Theodore had arrived on the Amba, and that he appeared to be a little drunk. Shortly afterwards Mr. Flad came with a message to Mr. Rassam from the Emperor, to the effect that if his Majesty had time he would send for him after his return from the church. A red-flannel tent, the sign of royalty, was, in the meanwhile, pitched in the plain, and all around carpets were spread. When Theodore issued from the church he was in a great passion, seized a priest by the beard, and said to him, "You say that I want to change my religion; before any one could force me to do so I would cut my throat." He then thrust his spear with violence into the ground, "fakered," cursed the Bishop, - in a word, acted in all respects as if drunk or mad. He called Mr. Meyer, who was standing at a short distance from him, and told him to go to Mr. Rassam with the message, "Your people are coming. I put you in chains for that purpose. I have not obtained what I wanted. Come to me, and in the same dress you used to wear before."

We all felt very nervous about the interview, as Theodore seemed in a bad disposition; however, all went on well. As soon as Mr. Rassam approached the tent, Theodore advanced a few steps to meet him, shook hands with him, and asked him to sit down. He then said, "I cannot say that I could not bring my throne today, as you are aware that it is at Magdala; but out of respect for my friend the Queen, whom you represent here, I desire to sit on the same carpet as yourself." After a while, he said to Mr. Rassam, "Those two persons who came with you are neither my friends nor my enemies, but if you consent to become their security, I will have their chains opened." On that Mr. Rassam rose, and said, "Not only will I become their security, but should they do anything displeasing to your Majesty, do not say it is Blanc or Prideaux, but that Rassam did it." Theodore then asked Mr. Rassam to send two persons to have our chains taken off, and as his Majesty insisted upon it, Mr. Rassam mentioned Mr. Flad and Samuel.

The servants had heard the good news and rushed in before Flad came to us with the welcome intelligence. On the arrival of Flad and Samuel, we were taken to Mr. Rassam's house, where Mr. Flad delivered to us from his Majesty the following message: - "You are neither my friends nor my enemies. I do not know who you are. I chained you because I chained Mr. Rassam: now I open your chains because he promised to be your security. If you run away it will be a shame for you and for me."

On that we were told to sit down; an iron wedge was first hammered in where the ring was joined, and when the intervening space was considered sufficient, three or four loops of strong leather rope were passed inside the irons, and we were told to put one leg on a large stone brought in for the purpose. On each side a long pole was then fixed in the leather loops, and five or six men pulled on them with all their strength, using the stone as a "point d'appui" for the lever. As the leather thongs acted on the iron ring, little by little it gave way and stretched out, until at last it was wide enough to pass over the foot: the operation was then performed on the other leg. It took at least half an hour to take mine off, and even more to open Prideaux's. Though we were delighted at the prospect of having again the free use of our limbs, we did not enjoy the rude operation at all; and although (as we were in favour) the soldiers did their best not to hurt us, still the pain was at times quite unbearable, as the "point d'appui" now and then slipped from the stone to the chain itself, and pressing on the shin it seemed to us as if the leg would be crushed to pieces.

At first we could hardly walk. Our legs seemed to us as light as feathers; we could not guide them, and we staggered very much like drunken men: if we met with a small stone in our way, we involuntarily lifted up the foot to a ridiculous height. For days the limb was painful, and the slightest exertion was followed by great fatigue.

Theodore having expressed his desire that we should present ourselves before him in uniform, we dressed ourselves immediately the chains were taken off. As I was the first to get rid of my twenty-one months' friends, I was ready when Prideaux came in; but no sooner had he begun taking off his prison garb to dress himself, than messenger after messenger rushed in, sent from Theodore to hurry us on. Well knowing the fickle disposition of their master, all the chiefs present, Samuel, the guards, every one kept continually shouting out to Prideaux, "Make haste, make haste!" Flurried, and unaccustomed since so many months to the civilized way of putting on his clothes, and unable to guide his feet properly, in his hurry he tore his uniform trousers almost in two. But no one would hear of waiting any longer: off we must go. Luckily a few pins were at hand, and what with his cap as a screen, the accident, if not repaired, was hidden. On reaching the Imperial tent, his Majesty, after greeting us cordially, said, "I chained you because your people believed that I was not a strong king; now that your masters are coming I release you to show them that I am not afraid. Fear not; Christ is my witness, and God knows, that I have nothing in my heart against you three. You came to this country knowing what the Consul had done. Do not fear, nothing will happen to you. Sit down."

Once seated he ordered some tej to be given to us, and conversed with Mr. Rassam; amongst other things he said, "I am like a woman in the family way, and know not if it will be an abortion, a girl or a boy; I hope it will be a boy. Some men die when they are young, some at middle age, some when they are old; some are prematurely cut off, but what my end will be, God only knows." He then introduced his son to Mr. Rassam. He inquired if we had carpets, and if our houses were comfortable; and on Mr. Rassam telling him that by his favour we had everything we required, and that his Majesty would be pleased if he saw the nice home he had, Theodore looking up to heaven said, "My friend, believe me, my heart loves you; ask me for whatever you like, even for my own flesh, and I will give it to you."

His Majesty, during the whole of the interview, was most courteous and appeared much pleased with Mr. Rassam's answers, and laughed heartily more than once. When he dismissed us, he sent his son and the Europeans to accompany us to our huts.

I heard, both from Mr. Rassam and from the Europeans that were present all along, that before as well as during the time we were present, Theodore had shown himself most friendly and kind. The Europeans told me that whilst our chains were being opened he talked on many subjects with Mr. Rassam. Amongst other things, he said to him, "Mr. Stern has wounded me in the arm, but if anything bad is to happen, before that I will wound him also." He also said, "I will fight; you may see my dead body, and say there is a bad man, who has injured me and mine; and perhaps you will not bury me."

After we left he mustered his troops and spoke to them about us. "Whatever happens, I will not kill these three - they are messengers; but amongst those that are coming, and here also, I have enemies; those I will kill if they want to injure me." As he was passing the gate on his way back to his camp, he called the Ras and told him, "Mr. Rassam and his companions are not prisoners, they may play and run; watch them with the eye only."

That night we had no guards inside our room; they slept outside as before. We, however, did not venture to avail ourselves of the order and walk about the Amba, but remained quietly in our inclosure.

On reaching his camp, Theodore assembled his people and said to them: - "You hear of white men coming to fight me; it is no rumour, but quite true." A soldier shouted out, "Never mind, my king, we will fight them." Theodore looked at the man, and said, "You fool! you do not know what you say. These people have long cannons, elephants, guns, and muskets without number. We cannot fight against them. You believe that our muskets are good: if they were so they would not sell them to us. I might kill Mr. Rassam, as he brings these soldiers against me. I did him no harm: it is true I put him in chains; but it is your fault, you people of Magdala, you should have advised me better. I might kill him, but he is only one; and then those who are coming would take away my children, my women, my treasures, and kill me and you."

The following morning, the 30th, a message was sent to the five who had lately joined us, asking them to work again for him, as he wanted more stone shots. On accepting his offer, their foot chains were taken off, hand chains put by pairs, and they were conducted to the camp. A tent was pitched for them, and on their arrival they received a present of tej, meat and bread, from his Majesty.

None of us were over sanguine at the recent good treatment we had received at the hands of Theodore; we knew how suddenly he changed, and that often, - as formerly in our case, - he pretended great friendship, when he intended all the while to ill-use, or even kill his dupes. We were, however, in good spirits and kept up our courage, knowing that the end was near: we left the result in God's hands, and hoped for the best.

On the 1st of April we learnt that the evening before, Theodore, being very drunk, had "fakered" a great deal. At about ten in the forenoon a large number of soldiers came rushing in from the camp below (we always disliked very much those abrupt movements of the soldiers), but instead of coming towards our fence, as at first we feared, they went in the direction of the magazines, and shortly afterwards we saw them again passing along on their way back, carrying the cannons Theodore had on the mountain, powder, cannon-balls, &c. We supposed that Theodore had either decided on defending Selassie, or had sent for his guns, as he intended, such was the general opinion, to have a great "faker."

Early on the morning of the 2nd, some of the chiefs were sent by the Emperor to inform us that his Majesty required us immediately to proceed to Islamgee. From our former experience of Theodore's fickle disposition we knew not what would be our fate, whether a polite reception, imprisonment or something worse; but as there was no help for it, we dressed, and, accompanied by the chiefs, left our huts, (perhaps never to see them again,) and walked down to the camp below the mountain. It was the first time, with the exception of the short distance we had gone on the day our chains had been opened, that we had left our inclosure. We had but a very indifferent idea of the Amba, and were astonished to find it much larger than we expected, the road between the gates longer and steeper, and the paths along the side of the Amba more abrupt and more lengthy than we had supposed from our recollections of twenty-one months before.

We found Theodore seated on a heap of stones about twenty yards below Islamgee, on the side of the road just completed, and through which the cannons, mortars, and waggons were going to be dragged. From the spot he had chosen he could see all the road down to the foot of Islamgee, where all his people were busily engaged fixing long leather ropes to the waggons, and, under the supervision of the Europeans, making everything ready, for the ascent. The Emperor was dressed very simply: the only difference in his attire from the chief in attendance standing some ten yards on his side, was in the silk border of his shama: he held a spear in his hand, and two long pistols were fixed in his belt. He greeted us cordially and made us sit down behind him : a proof of confidence, he would certainly not have accorded to his dearest Abyssinian friend, as we had only to give him a sudden push, and he would have rolled down the precipice below.

The road he had made on the side of Islamgee was broad but very steep on the average at a gradient of one in three; half way an almost straight angle intersected it, and we feared that there might be some difficulty in turning the heavy waggons without upsetting them. He did not speak much at first, being intent on examining the waggons below; but as soon as the big mortar came in sight he pointed it out to us, and asked Mr. Rassam his opinion about it. We all admired the huge piece, and Mr. Rassam, having complimented his Majesty on his great work, added, that before long he hoped that our people would have the same pleasure of admiring it as we did. Samuel, who translated on that occasion, turned quite pale, but as the Emperor understood a little Arabic he was obliged to render the sentence, though he evidently did not like it. Theodore laughed, and sent Samuel to tell Mr. Waldmeier what Mr. Rassam had just said. A few minutes afterwards his Majesty got up; we rose also, and Mr. Rassam told him, through Samuel, that to gladden his heart still more he begged him to be gracious enough to release from their fetters our companions still in chains on the Amba. This time Samuel not only turned pale, but shook his head, declining to open such a subject; but on Mr. Rassam repeating his request, this time in a higher tone of voice, Theodore looked round, and Samuel, having no option left, complied. His Majesty looked sullen and a little annoyed, but after a short pause gave orders to some of his attendants and to Samuel to proceed at once to the Amba and have the chains of the five remaining captives opened at once.

The Emperor then walked down to the spot where the road made a sharp angle, and directed the laborious task of having such heavy masses dragged up the precipitous incline. He sent us to the other side of the road, where we might witness the whole scene well, and appointed several of his high officers to attend upon us. None but Theodore, I believe, could have directed that difficult operation; the leather ropes, from long use, were always breaking, and we were very much afraid that some accident might happen, and that, at the very last stage, the ponderous mortar "Sebastopol" would tumble over the precipice. We fancied the rage his Majesty would be in; and our close proximity to him made us earnestly pray that nothing of the kind would occur. The sight was well worth witnessing: Theodore standing on a projecting rock, leaning on his spear, sent his aide-de-camp at every moment with instructions to those who directed the five or six hundred men harnessed to the ropes. At times when the noise was too great, or when he wanted to give some general instructions, he had but to lift up his hand and not a sound would arise from the thousands engaged in the work, and the clear voice of Theodore would alone be heard in the deep silence that his simple gesture had produced.

At last the big mortar was safely landed on Islamgee. We climbed up as fast as we could, and complimented his Majesty on the achievement of his great undertaking; he sent us word to examine the mortar. We all three jumped on the gun-carriage, greatly admired it, and loudly expressed our astonishment and delight to the bystanders. His Majesty was evidently well pleased with the praises we had bestowed upon his great favourite, and made us sit down near him on the verge of the Islamgee plateau whilst the remaining cannons and waggons were being drawn up. The wonderful work of dragging up the 16,000 pounds weight of "Sebastopol" once over - though some of the cannons were also of a considerable size, - the rest of the operation was only child's play, and his Majesty, though present, never interfered.

We must have remained with him for at least several hours in quiet and friendly talk. As the sun was getting hot, his Majesty insisted on our putting on our caps, and, on Mr. Rassam a short time afterwards asking his permission to open an umbrella, he not only granted it, but, seeing that I had none, kindly sent one of his pages for his own, opened it, and gave it to me. He told us of all the difficulties he had undergone, and how the peasants refused every assistance. He said, "I was obliged to make roads during the day and drag my waggons, and to plunder at night, as my people had nothing to eat." All the country, he said, had been against him, and when they could seize any of his followers they immediately put them to death; in return, when he made any of them prisoners, to avenge his friends, he burnt them alive: this he told us in the quietest way possible, just as if he had done the right thing. He then asked about our troops, the elephants, the rifles, &c. Mr. Rassam told him everything we knew; that about 12,000 troops had landed, but that not more than 5,000 or 6,000 would advance on Magdala - adding, "It will only be friendship." Theodore said, "God only knows; before, when the French came into my country, at the time of that robber 'Agau Negussi,' I made a quick march to seize them, but they had run away. Do you believe that I would not have gone to meet your people, and asked them what they came into my country for? but how can I? You have seen to-day my army, and" - pointing to the Amba above - "there is all my country. But I will wait for them here, and then let God's will be done."

He next spoke about the Crimean war, of the late contest between Austria and Prussia, of the needle-gun, and asked us if the Prussians had made the Emperor of Austria a prisoner, or seized his country. Mr. Rassam told him that the needle-guns, by their rapid fire, had gained the victory for the Prussians; that on peace being made the Emperor of Austria was obliged to pay a large sum of money; that a part of his territory had been annexed by the conqueror, and all his allies had lost their kingdoms. His Majesty listened with great composure, only when he was told that only 5,000 men were coming, the proud curl of his lip expressed how much he felt his fallen condition when so few men were considered sufficient to conquer him. He afterwards spoke to us about his old grievances against Cameron, Stern, and Rosenthal. About us he said, "You have never done me any wrong. I know that you are great men in your country, and I feel very sorry to have ill-treated you without cause."

After the last waggon had been drawn up, he rose and told us to follow; we walked a few yards behind him, and when Samuel, who had gone to give orders for a tent to be pitched for us, returned, he asked us, through him, several questions about shells, the charge required for his big mortar, &c., to all of which Mr. Rassam replied, that being a civilian he knew nothing about it. He then told him to ask me, but Mr. Rassam replied that I was only acquainted with medicines. On that he ceased his inquiries and conducted ne to the tent prepared for us; then bidding us good afternoon, retired to his apartment. An Abyssinian breakfast, tej, and a few European dishes and cakes that Mrs. Waldmeier had prepared; according to his instructions, were then sent for us to partake of. A short time afterwards he sent for Mr. Waldmeier and Samuel.

It seems that Theodore had already been drinking, as he talked to them in a very excited manner, inquiring why he had not received any intimation of the landing of our troops and if it was not customary for a king to inform another that he was invading his country &c. Mr. Waldmeier and Samuel, when they returned, appeared rather alarmed, as it was no unfrequent case with Theodore to be very friendly in the morning, and, when in his cups, to change his demeanour and ill-treat those he had petted a little while before. Samuel and Waldmeier were a second time sent for. Theodore then abused Samuel a great deal, told him that he had many charges to bring against him, but that he left it for another day; he then ordered him to take us back to the fort, gave instructions for three mules to be brought, and for the commandant of the mountain, together with the former one, to escort us. To Mr. Waldmeier he said, "Tell Mr. Rassam that a small fire, the size of a pea, if not put out in time, may cause a great conflagration: it is left to Mr. Rassam to extinguish it before it spreads." We were glad to return safe and sound to our old prison, and rejoiced on seeing our companions freed from their fetters and looking happy and hopeful.

On the following morning Mr. Rassam sent word to the Emperor, requesting his permission to be allowed to inform the Commander-in-Chief of the British army of his Majesty's good-will towards the Europeans in his power; but Theodore answered that he did not desire him to write, as he had opened the chains of the captives not out of fear, but simply on account of his personal friendship for Mr. Rassam.

As Theodore had on several occasions expressed his astonishment at not receiving any communication from the Commander-in-Chief, we thought it advisable to request Sir Robert Napier, through our friends, to be kind enough to send a short courteous letter to the Emperor, informing him of the object of the expedition; as the letter he had addressed to him before landing had been detained by Mr. Rassam, and the ultimatum sent by Lord Stanley previous to the intervention of an armed force, having also fallen into Mr. Rassam's hands, instead of reaching the Emperor, had been destroyed by that gentleman.

The five (Mr. Staiger and his party) were making stone balls for his Majesty's cannons, but as none of the Europeans in his service would stand security for them, every evening the hand chains were hammered on after their day's work was over. On the evening of the 3rd Theodore sent to Mr. Rassam, asking him to become their guarantee; but he refused, as he could not, he said, hold himself responsible for them so long as they were working for his Majesty and resided at a distance from him. However, Mr. Flad and one of the other Europeans consenting to become security, the torture of having the chains daily fastened on was discontinued, and the captives were simply guarded at night in their tent.

Provisions were running short, and for some days a foraging expedition was much talked about, Dahonte being considered as the place selected. But Theodore, unwilling to expose his small force to a repulse, did not venture so far, but on the morning of the 4th of April plundered his own people, the few small villages situate at the foot of the Amba; and he unsuccessfully attempted to sack the village of Watat, where his own cattle were kept. Theodore met with much more resistance than he expected from the Galla peasants; many of the soldiers were killed, and the booty brought back was very small.

The soldiers on the mountain were more despondent than ever: little aware of the great change that before long was to take place, they viewed with great concern and anxiety this last raid, as, were the Emperor to go away, they would be left to starve on their rock. From Mr. Munzinger we frequently received short notes, which reached us sewn in the worn-out trousers of some peasant or messenger; thus we knew that our deliverers were now near, and we longed for the day, not far distant, when our fate would be decided: for we suffered more from constant anxiety and doubt - as to what every minute might bring, than from the certainty of death: even the few hopeful thoughts we now and then indulged in were nothing compared to regained liberty.