Arrival of Mr. Flad from England - Delivers a Letter and Message from the Queen - The Episode of the Telescope - Our Property taken care of - Theodore will not yield except to force - He Recruits his Army - Ras Adilou and Zallallou desert him...

Soon after the Gaffat people had been sent to Debra Tabor, Mr. Flad arrived from England, and met Theodore in Dembea on the 26th of April. Their first meeting was not very friendly. Mr. Flad handed to his Majesty the Queen's letter, with others from General Merewether, Dr. Beke, and from the relations of the former captives. On presenting General Merewether's letter to Theodore, Flad informed him that he had brought as a present to him from that gentleman, an excellent telescope. Theodore asked to see it. The telescope was rather difficult to arrange so as to suit Theodore's sight, and as it took some time before Flad could put it in order, Theodore got impatient and said, "Take it to the tent, we will try it to-morrow; but I know it is not a good telescope: I know it is not sent to me for good."

Theodore then ordered every one to retire, and having told Flad to sit down, asked him, "Have you seen the Queen?" Flad replied in the affirmative, adding that he had been very graciously received, and that he had a verbal message to deliver to him from her Majesty. "What is it?" Theodore immediately asked. Had replied, "The Queen of England has told me to inform your Majesty, that if you do not at once send out of your country all those you have detained so long against their will, you have no right to expect any further friendship from her." Theodore listened attentively, and even had the message repeated to him several times. After a pause, he said to Flad, "I have asked from them a sign of friendship, but it is refused to me. If they wish to come and fight, let them come, and call me a woman if I do not beat them."

The following day Mr. Flad presented him with the several gifts he had brought with him from Government, Dr. Beke, and others; the supplies he had brought for as he put aside, but everything was sent to the royal tent, and 1,000 dollars he had also conveyed for us, Theodore took, saying the roads were dangerous, and that he would send an order for it to Mr. Rassam at Magdala. On the 29th Theodore sent again for the telescope: one of his officers had examined it, and found it excellent, but Theodore pretended not to be able to see anything with it.

"It is not sent for good," he said; "it is the same story as some years ago when Basha Falaka (Captain Speedy) sent me a carpet by Kerans; but by the power of God I chained the bearer of that carpet. The man who sends me the telescope only wants to annoy me; he wishes to tell me, 'Though you are a king and I send you an excellent telescope, you will not be able to see through it.'" Flad did his best to disabuse his Majesty of this impression, and convince him of the fact that the telescope was sent to him as a token of friendship; but as Theodore only got more violent, Flad thought it prudent to be silent.

On Monday, the 30th, Theodore sent for Flad again and told him that he was going to send him to rejoin his family at Debra Tabor. Flad took advantage of this occasion to give a full account of the dealings of the rebels with France, and their desire to be acknowledged by us; he assured Theodore that if he did not comply with our Queen's request he would certainly involve himself in a disastrous war, etc. Theodore listened with great coolness and indifference, and when Flad ceased talking, quietly said: "Do not be afraid: the victory comes from God. I trust in the Lord and he will help me; I do not trust in my power. I trust in God who says, If you have faith like a mustard seed, you can remove mountains." He said that even if he had not chained Mr. Rassam it would have been all the same; they would not have sent him the workmen. He knew already, at the time of Bell and Plowden, that the English were not his friends, and he only treated these two well out of personal regard for them. He concluded by saying, "I leave it to the Lord: he will decide it when we fight on the battle-field."

Theodore had vented his rage about the telescope to hide his disappointment; he had said to one of his workmen at the time he wrote to Flad to come up with the artisans, "You do not know me yet; but call me a fool, if by my cunning I do not get them." Instead of artisans, white men to be held as hostages, he received a firm message, holding out no hope of friendship unless he set at liberty all those he had so long unlawfully detained. His answers, so full of meekness, he knew would please his followers; they were superstitious and ignorant, and placed a certain credence in his hopeful words.

Desertions had considerably reduced his army. He well knew the influence of numbers in a country like Abyssinia, and to increase his scanty host, after plundering for the fourth or fifth time Dembea and Taccosa, he issued a proclamation to the peasants in the following terms: - "You have no more homes, grain, or cattle. I have not done it: God did it. Come with me, and I will take you where you will find plenty to eat, cattle in abundance, and punish those who are the cause of God's anger upon you." He did the name for the districts of Begemder he had lately destroyed; and many of these poor starving, homeless creatures, not knowing where to go or how to live, were only too glad to accept his offer.

Theodore's position was not an enviable one. In May, Ras Adilou, together with all the Yedjow men, the only cavalry left to him, departed from the camp in open daylight, taking with them their wives, children, and followers. Theodore was afraid of pursuing the deserters, lest the greater part of his remaining force should seize the opportunity thus offered to them and join the discontented, instead of fighting to capture them. Not long before, a young chief of Gahinte, named Zallallou, at the head of two hundred horse, had fled to his native province, and through his influence all the peasants of that warlike district had aimed and prepared themselves to defend their country against Theodore and his famished host. Zallallou, the very day he left the Imperial camp, fell upon some of our servants en route to Debra Tabor, where they were going to purchase supplies; all were plundered of everything they had, stripped, and several detained as prisoners for a few days.

Dahonte and Dalanta not long afterwards, declared themselves for the Gallas, turned out of their provinces the governors Theodore had appointed over them, and seized upon the cattle, mules, and horses belonging to the Magdala garrison, which had been sent there, as was the custom before the rainy season, on account of the scarcity of water on the Amba itself. If Theodore, only a few months before, had but a very insecure portion of his former vast empire that he could call his own, at that date, June, 1867, he was a king without a kingdom, and a general without an army. Magdala and Zer Amba were still garrisoned by his troops; but apart from these forts, he had nothing left: even his camp was only full of mutinous men, and desertions went on at such a rate that he could then only muster from 6,000 to 7,000 men, the majority of whom were peasants, who had followed him to avoid starvation. For miles around Debra Tabor the country was a perfect desert, and Theodore saw with dread the rainy season coming on, for he had no supplies in camp, and a large number of followers, the people of Gondar, and an endless host of useless individuals to support.

In Begemder plundering was out of the: question; the peasants were always on the watch, and on the slightest sign of a move were everywhere on the alert, killing the stragglers and plunderers, and keeping out of the way of the gunmen who stood around the Emperor. Theodore remembered a rich district not as yet plundered, Belessa, at the north-east of Begemder. In order to surprise the inhabitants completely, he proclaimed some days before that he was going on an expedition in quite a different direction, and to make his army appear as formidable as possible, he had given orders that every one who possessed a horse or a mule, or a servant, must send them, under penalty of death, to accompany the expedition. The Belessa people, far from being surprised, had been informed of his intention by their spies, and Theodore, to his disappointment, saw from a distance their villages on fire; the peasants themselves having preferred destroying their homes to leaving them a prey to the invader. Under the conduct of a gallant chief, Lij Abitou, a young man of good family, and a runaway officer, from the Imperial household, the peasants, well armed, took up a position on a small plateau, separated by a narrow ravine from the route Theodore would take. To his surprise, instead of running away at the mere sight of his charger, they not only stood their ground, but several well-mounted chiefs rode out in front and bid defiance to Theodore himself. Astrologers must have told him that the day was not favourable, as after several of his chiefs who had answered the cartel had been laid dead on the field, he still refused to lead his men in person, and before this unexpected resistance gave way and ordered a retreat. Belessa was saved: the hungry, famished robbers that Theodore called soldiers passed a dreadful night; tired, hungry, and cold, they could not sleep, for the peasants might surprise and attack them, in their turn. The cruelties Theodore perpetrated after his return to Debra Tabor were fearful; too horrible to be related. At last, tired of taking his revenge on the innocent, he turned his thoughts to the place he might most easily plunder, and fixed upon the island of Metraha.

That island, situate in the Tana Sea, about twenty miles north of Kourata, is only a few hundred yards from the mainland. It was considered in the light of an asylum, and protected by its sacred character, priests and monks resided there in peace; while merchants and rich landowners sent their goods and stores there for safe custody. Theodore had no scruples about violating the sanctity of the island: the asylum afforded by the churches to all before his time he had long ago violated, and, certain of a large booty, did not hesitate to add another sacrilege to his numerous crimes. On his arrival before Metraha, he at once ordered his people to make rafts. Whilst Theodore was occupied in their construction, a priest came in a boat, and approaching within speaking distance, inquired of the Emperor what it was that he desired. Theodore told him the grain that they had in store. The priest replied that they would send it to him; but Theodore, not satisfied with the grain alone, told the priest not to be afraid, but to send their boats. He took a solemn oath that he would not injure them, nor remove anything but the grain he required. The priest, on his return to the island, informed the people of his conversation with the Emperor, and the majority being in favour of complying with his requests, it was agreed that all the available boats should be taken to the mainland. A few who had no trust in Theodore's word entered their canoes, and paddled away in an opposite direction. Theodore ordered the Europeans to fire upon them with the small cannons they had brought. They complied; but, to Theodore's great disappointment, failed to hit any of the fugitives. No sooner had Theodore and a select party been admitted on the island than he caused all the remaining inhabitants to be shut up in a few of the larger houses; and after all the grain, silver, gold, and merchandise had been removed, he set the place on fire, and burnt to death priests, merchants, women and children!

For a while, abundance reigned in Theodore's camp. The work of casting the big cannon had been going on for some time: the day of its completion at last arrived, and Emperor and workmen anxiously awaited the result of their labours. The Europeans, to their great dismay, saw that they had failed; but Theodore, not in the least put out, told them not to be afraid, but to try again: perhaps they would succeed another time. Theodore examined carefully everything, connected with the smelting, in order to find out the cause of the failure, and he soon perceived that it was due to the presence of some water around the mould. He at once set to work, and had a large, deep, broad trench constructed from beneath the mould to some distance outside. This drain dried up the place, and on a second attempt being made the success was complete. Theodore was delighted; he made handsome presents to the workmen, and prepared everything requisite to carry away with him his immense piece of ordnance.

During that rainy season (1867) Theodore's difficulties were very great: indeed, the punishment of his evil deeds was falling heavily upon him, and to his proud nature it must have been a daily and constant agony. The rebels were now so little afraid of Theodore that every night they made attacks on his camp, and were always on the watch to seize stragglers, or camp-followers. They had at last become such a terror to the soldiers that, to protect them, and at the same time check, to a certain extent, desertion, Theodore had a large stockade built around the foot of the hill on which his camp was pitched. A war of extermination on both sides now took place; Theodore showing no pity to the peasants whom he succeeded in capturing, and they, on their side, torturing and murdering any one who belonged to the Emperor's camp. A detailed account of the atrocities committed by Theodore during the last month of his stay in Begemder would be too horrible to narrate: suffice it to say that he burnt alive, or sentenced to some cruel death, in that short space of time, more than 3,000 persons! His rage at times was so blind that, unable to satisfy his revenge by punishing those who daily insulted and scorned him, he vented his anger on the few remaining faithful companions who shared his fate: chiefs who had fought by his side for years, friends whom he knew from his childhood, old respectable men who had protected him in former days, all had to suffer more or less for their faithfulness, and fell innocent victims to his mad fits of violence. Many succumbed to a lingering death, or chains and torture, for no reason whatever except that they loved him!

Desertions were still frequent, but the difficulty of escape was greater than before; the peasants often put to death the fugitives; and always stripped and plundered them of everything they had. The gates of the fence were guarded night and day by faithful men, and it required often a good deal of ability and cunning to be able to pass through them. I was told an anecdote which exemplifies the expedients the soldiers resorted to in order to get out of the dreaded camp. One evening, about half an hour before sunset, a woman presented herself at the gate, carrying on her head one of the large flat baskets used for keeping bread; she said, with tears in her eyes; that her brother was lying down some short distance from the fence so dangerously wounded that he could not walk; she had brought him a little bread and water, etc. The guards allowed her to pass. A few minutes afterwards a soldier presented himself at the gate, and asked if they had seen a woman go through, giving the description of the one that had just gone out. The guards said that they had; the soldier appeared to be in a fearful passion, and said that she was his wife, who had made an assignation to run away with her lover; and he threatened to report them to the Emperor. The guards told him that she could not be far off, and that he had better go quickly and overtake her; off he went: as might be expected, neither appeared again.

To the annoyances and difficulties caused by the presence of large bodies of armed peasants, day and night hanging about the outskirts of the camp, were soon added the evils of famine: a small Abyssinian loaf cost a dollar; a salt and a half, a dollar; butter could not by any means be obtained; and hundreds died daily of want and starvation. When the grain plundered at Metraha was consumed, no more could be found; plundering was now quite impossible, and as long as Theodore did not move his camp there was no hope of supplies of any kind being obtained. Almost all the mules, horses, and the few remaining sheep had died from want of food; they could not graze any more in close vicinity to the camp, that pasture being completely eaten up; and as to driving them to some green fields at a distance, that was impossible. The poor animals dropped one after the other, and infected the place by the stench that arose from their dead bodies. The cows had all been killed long before by order of Theodore. One day, when, after one of his first razzias, he had brought back with him to Debra Tabor more than 80,000 cows; at night the peasants came, and from a distance implored him to have pity upon them, and restore them their cattle, without which they were unable to cultivate the soil. Theodore was on the point of acceding to their request, when some of the rascals around him said, "Does not your Majesty know that there is a prophecy in the country, that a king will seize a large amount of cattle, and that the peasants will come and beg him to return them; the king will comply, but soon afterwards die." Theodore replied, "Well, the prophecy will not apply to me." He immediately gave orders for all the cows in camp, those he had lately brought, and all others, to be killed at once; the order was obeyed, and nearly, it is said, 100,000 were killed and left to rot in the plain at a short distance from the camp.

The next day, Theodore, seated outside his hut, perceived a man driving a cow into the fields; he sent for him, and asked him if he had not heard the order. The man replied in the affirmative, but said that he had not killed his cow because his wife having died the day before on giving birth to a child, he had kept that one for the sake of her milk. Theodore told him, "Why did not you know that I would be a father to your child? Kill the man," he said to those around him, "and take care of his child for me."

The waggons being at last ready, Theodore decided upon marching towards Magdala. Pestilence, engendered by famine and the noxious effluvia arising from the heap of unburied dead bodies, now increased the already dismal condition of the Emperor's army; and in a few weeks more he and his whole host must have perished from sickness and want. On the 10th of October, his Majesty set fire to his houses at Debra Tabor, and destroyed the whole place; leaving only, as a record of his stay, a church he had built as an expiation for his sacrilege at Gondar. His march was, indeed, the most wonderful feat he ever accomplished; none but he would have ventured on such an undertaking; and no other man could have succeeded in accomplishing the arduous journey that lay before him: it required all his energy, perseverance, and iron will to carry out his purpose under such immense difficulties.

He had not more than 5,000 men with him, all more or less in bad condition, weakened by famine, discontented, and only awaiting a favourable opportunity to run away. The camp-followers, on the contrary; numbered between forty and fifty thousand helpless and useless beings whom he had to protect and feed. He had, moreover, several hundred prisoners to guard, an immense amount of baggage to carry, fourteen gun-carriages, with cannon or mortars - one of them the famous "Sebastopol," weighing between fifteen and sixteen thousand pounds - and ten waggons, the whole to be dragged by men across a country without roads. Theodore did not let himself be influenced by all these unfavourable circumstances; he seemed, for a time, to have regained much of his former self, and behaved with more consideration towards his followers. His daily marches were very short, not more than a mile and a half to two miles a day. A portion of his camp marched early every morning, carrying the heavy luggage, dragging the waggons, and protecting the followers from the attacks of the rebels, who were always hovering in the distance, watching a favourable opportunity to avenge themselves on the Emperor's people for all the miseries they had suffered at his hand; another portion remained behind to guard what could not be carried; off, and, on the return of the first batch, all started for the spot fixed upon for that day's halt, conveying what had been left behind in the morning. Even then the day's work wast not over; the corn was as yet not quite ripe, and stood in the fields by the side of the road; Theodore would set the example, pluck a few unripe ears of barley, rub them between his hands, and, satisfied with this frugal meal, repair to the nearest brook to quench thirst. From Debra Tabor to Checheo, such was the daily routine of the reduced host of Theodore, - harnessed to waggons, in place of the horses and mules now so scarce in the camp; constantly on the alert, as the country was all up in arms against them; with no supplies available, only the unripe barley plucked by the wayside; no peace by day nor rest at night: in a word, a march unequalled in the annals of history.

The prisoners were very badly off: many - even the Europeans - were in hand and foot chains; to walk a few steps in such a condition is fatiguing in the extreme, but to have to go over a mile or two of broken ground with such fetters equals the cruellest torture. Mrs. Flad and Mrs. Rosenthal every day, as soon as they arrived at the stage, sent back their mules for the Europeans to ride; and some time afterwards, on Mr. Staiger making a gala dress for his Majesty, the hand-chains of all five were taken away. On the native prisoners requesting to be allowed to ride, his Majesty sent them word that, as he knew they had money, he would grant permission to those who would send him a dollar. Theodore must have been hard up, indeed, to be satisfied with such a trifle. Several complied with his demand, and, by giving small presents to those chiefs who had mules, they got an occasional lift.

At Aibankab Theodore halted a few days to rest his men; near it two heaps of stones arise, giving to the place the name of Kimr Dengea. [Footnote: "Kimr Dengea," heap of stones.] The story the people of the country narrate with reference to these heaps of stones is that on one occasion a Queen, at the head of her army, went on an expedition against the Gallas; before starting she ordered every one of her soldiers as he passed along to put a stone on a certain spot, and on her return again ordered them to place a stone at a short distance from the former heap. The first is a large mass, the second very much smaller; the Queen knew by that how great her loss had been, and never since then ventured against the Gallas.

At Kimr Dengea Theodore fell in with a caravan of salt-merchants on their route to Godjam. He asked them why they went to the rebels instead of coming to him. The chief of the caravan honestly replied that they had heard from merchants that his Majesty was in the habit of burning people alive, and consequently they were afraid to come near him. Theodore said, "It is true I am a bad man, but if you had trusted and come to me, I would have treated you well; but as you prefer the rebels, I will take care that in future you do not go to them." He then seized the salt and mules, sent all the merchants into an empty house, had it surrounded with dry wood, put guards at the door, and set fire to it.

The peasants of Gahinte, to whom Theodore offered an amnesty, declined to accept it; on three occasions he issued a proclamation offering them a free pardon should they return to him. At last, however, they sent him some priests to see what terms he would make; he received the priests well, and told them that he would not enter Gahinte: he only required a few supplies; but to prove to him their sincerity they must send from each village a person of influence to reside in his camp until he left Begemder. Luckily for them, the peasants declined to comply with his demands; Theodore was too prudent to venture into their valleys, and contented himself by plundering at a short distance from his camp; burning alive, before he left, a few poor wretches who had been simple enough to rely on the faith of his proclamation.

Theodore arrived at the foot of the steep ascent that leads from Begemder to Checheo on the 22nd of November. Up to that spot the road was not bad; but now an almost perpendicular height stood before him, and he was obliged to blast enormous rocks, cut a road through basalt, to enable him to bring his waggons, guns, and mortars on the Zebite plains above.

About that time he must have received the first intelligence of the landing of British troops at Zulla; for one afternoon he said to the Europeans, "Do not be afraid if I send for you at night. You must be on the watch, as I hear some donkeys intend stealing my slaves." The Europeans could not make out his meaning, and retired as usual to their tents. In the middle of the night, all of them, with the exception of an old man called Zander, and McKelvie, who had for a long time been suffering from dysentery, were awoke by soldiers coming into their quarters and ordering them to go at once to the Emperor. They were all ushered into a small tent, and many frivolous charges made against them. They were not allowed to leave that night; even a large bundle of chains was brought in; but on some of the chiefs representing to his Majesty that without their labour it would be exceedingly difficult to make roads and guide the waggons, and that he could always put them in chains when he reached Magdala, Theodore relented. He allowed them to go to their own tents in the daytime, when not on duty; but at night for their own safety, and, as he said, on account of the badness of his people, he made them all sleep in one tent, a few yards from his own: with the exception of a few days, they remained prisoners at night and slaves during the day, until the beginning of April.

From early dawn to late at night Theodore was himself hard at work; with his own hands he removed stones, levelled the ground, or helped to fill up small ravines. No one could leave so long as he was there himself; no one could think of eating, drinking, or of rest, whilst the Emperor showed the example and shared the hardships. When he could capture a few peasants or some of the rebels that crowned all the heights around him, and day and night insulted or laughed at him, he killed them in some cruel way or the other; but towards the soldiers, ever since leaving Debra Tabor, he behaved better, and left off beating or imprisoning them, as had been of late his wont. On one or two occasions only he called them all around him, and, standing on an elevated rock, addressed them in these terms: "I know that you all hate me; you all want to run away. Why do you not kill me? Here I am alone, and you are thousands." He would pause for a few seconds, and add, "Well, if you will not kill me, I will kill you all, one after the other."

On the 15th of December, the road being completed, he brought up his waggons on the plain of Zebite, and encamped there for a few days. The peasants of that district, believing that Theodore would never be able to ascend to their plateau, with all the incumbrances he had with him - though they were themselves ready to fly at the shortest notice - had not removed their cattle and grain; thus Theodore, for the first time for many months, was able to provide food for his small army, and make even some provision for the future. From Zebite to Wadela the road is naturally good, so that, as far as that district, the task before him was easy. He reached that plateau on the 25th of the same month, and encamped at Bet Hor.

But the work now before him would have driven any other man to despair; though not fifty miles from his Amba Magdala, he had, before he could rest there, to make roads down two precipitous descents, cross two rivers, and surmount again two steep perpendicular ascents. He went, however, steadily to work. Little by little he made a road, creditable even to a European engineer, bringing with him his mortars, cannons, &c.; he plundered at the same time, and kept away by his name alone Watshum Gobaze and his uncle Meshisha, who were both watching his movements: not that they intended to attack him, but who were anxious to be able to decamp at the first sign of his marching in the direction of the provinces they "protected." On the 10th of January he began his descent, reached the valley of the Jiddah on the 28th of the same month, ascended the opposite precipice, and encamped on the Dalanta plain on the 20th of February, 1868.