Second Residence in Kourata - Cholera and Typhus break out in the Camp - The Emperor resolves to march to Debra Tabor - Arrival at Gaffat - The Foundry transformed into a Palace - Political Trial at Debra Tabor - The Black Tent...

At Kourata a few empty houses were put at our disposal, and we went to work to make these dirty native dwellings inhabitable. It was rumoured that Theodore intended to spend the rainy season in the neighbourhood, and on the 4th he made a sudden visit; he was only accompanied by a few of his chiefs. He came and returned by water. Ras Engeddah arrived about an hour before him. I was advised to go and meet him on the beach; I therefore accompanied the Gaffat people, who also went to present him their respects. His Majesty, on seeing me, asked me how I was, if I liked the place, &c. No one ever knew why he came. I believe, to judge for himself if the cholera was raging there at the time or not, as he made many inquiries on the subject.

On the 6th of June Theodore left Zage with his army; Mr. Rassam and the other prisoners accompanied him; all the heavy baggage had been sent by boat to Kourata. On the 9th, his Majesty encamped on a low promontory south of Kourata. Cholera had by this time broken out in the camp, and hundreds were dying daily. In the hope of improving the sanitary condition of the army, the Emperor moved his camp to some high ground a mile or so north of the town; but the epidemic continued to rage with great virulence both in the camp and in the town. The church was so completely choked up with dead bodies that no more could be admitted, and the adjoining streets offered the sad sight of countless corpses, surrounded by the sorrowful relatives, awaiting for days and nights the hallowed grave in the now crowded cemetery. Small-pox and typhus fever also made their appearance, and claimed the victims cholera had spared.

On the 12th June we received orders to join the camp, as Theodore intended to leave on the following day for the higher and more healthy province of Begemder. On the 13th, at early morning, the camp was struck, and we encamped in the evening on the banks of the Gumare, a tributary of the Nile. The next day the march was resumed. We had been more or less ascending since our departure from Kourata, and Outoo (a beautiful plateau, our halting-place of the 14th) must have been several thousand feet higher than the lake; nevertheless, cholera, small-pox, and typhus fever continued unabated. His Majesty inquired what was usually done in our country under similar circumstances. We advised him to proceed at once to the higher plateau of Begemder, to leave his sick at some distance from Debra Tabor, to break up as far as possible his army, and distribute it over the whole province, selecting a few healthy and isolated localities where every fresh case that broke out should be sent. He acted upon this advice, and before long had the satisfaction of seeing the several epidemics lose their virulence, and, before many weeks, disappear entirely.

On the 16th we made a very long march. We started at about 6 A.M. and never halted once until we arrived at Debra Tabor at about 2 P.M. As soon as we reached the foot of the hill on which the Imperial houses arise, we received a message from his Majesty telling us not to dismount, and shortly afterwards he rode towards us, accompanied by a few of his bodyguard. We all started for Gaffat, the European station, about three miles east of Debra Tabor. En route we were overtaken by the most severe hailstorm I have ever seen or experienced; such was its violence, that Theodore was several times obliged to halt. The hail poured down in such thick masses, and the stones were of such an enormous size, that it was indeed quite painful to bear. At last we reached Gaffat, frozen and drenched to the skin; but the Emperor, seemingly quite unaffected by the recent shower, acted as our cicerone, and took us about the place, explaining to us the foundry, workshops, water-wheels, &c. A few planks were transformed into seats, and a fire lighted by his order, and we remained with him alone for more than three hours, discussing the laws and customs of England. Some carpets and cushions had been left behind at Debra Tabor, and he sent back Ras Engeddah to have them conveyed. As soon as he returned with the bearers, Theodore led the way up the hill to Gaffat, and with his own hands spread the carpets, and placed the throne in the house selected for Mr. Rassam. Other houses were distributed to the other Europeans, after which his Majesty left.

On the 17th June the European workmen, who had remained behind at Kourata, arrived at Debra Tabor. We are not aware that they made any objection to our occupying their houses, but the Emperor perceived by their demeanour that they were not pleased; he therefore accompanied them to Gaffat, and in a few hours had the foundry, by means of shamas, gabis, and carpets, transformed into a very decent abode. The throne was also conveyed there, and when all was ready we were called. His Majesty, after apologizing for the accommodation he was obliged to give us for a few days, returned to Debra Tabor, promising that the next day he would see for a more suitable dwelling for his guests. Accordingly, the following morning he arrived, and had several native houses on a small hill opposite Gaffat cleared out for our reception. As Mr. Rassam's house was rather small, that gentleman took advantage of the circumstance to request that the Emperor would withdraw the honour of placing the throne in his room. His Majesty acquiesced, but had the place well carpeted, and the walls and ceiling lined with white cloth. After all these daily changes we thought that we were settled for the rainy season. Cholera and typhus fever had made their appearance at Gaffat, and from morning to night I was in constant attendance on the sick. One of my patients, the wife of one of the Europeans, greatly occupied my time: she had first been attacked with cholera, and was afterwards laid for many days at death's door with typhus fever.

On the morning of the 25th of June we received a message from the Emperor, to the effect that Mr. Rassam, his companions, the priests, and any one he would like to take with him, should repair to Debra Tabor, to be present at a political trial. The European workmen, Cantiba, Hailo, and Samuel accompanied us. Arrived at Debra Tabor, we were surprised at not being received with the usual salutations, and instead of being at once conducted to the presence of Theodore, we were ushered into a black tent pitched in the King's inclosure. We surmised that the political trial concerned ourselves. We had been seated but a few minutes, when the European workmen were sent for by his Majesty. After a while they returned, with Cantiba Hailo, Samuel, and an Afa Negus (mouth of the King), who delivered the Imperial messages.

The first and most important was, "I have received a letter from Jerusalem, in which I am told that the Turks are making railways in the Soudan, to attack my country conjointly with the English and French." The second message was much to the same effect, only adding that as Mr. Rassam must have seen the railway in construction, he ought to have informed his Majesty of it. The third question was, "Is it not true that the Egyptian railway was built by the English?" Fourthly, "Did he not give a letter to Consul Cameron for him to deliver to the Queen of England, and did not the Consul return without an answer? Did not Mr. Rosenthal say that the English Government had laughed at his letter?" Altogether; there were some seven or eight questions, but the others were insignificant, and I do not remember them. A few days before a Greek priest had arrived from the coast with a letter for his Majesty: Whether these statements were contained in the missive; or were merely a pretext invented by Theodore himself, to give a reason for the ill treatment he intended to inflict upon his innocent guests, it is impossible to say. The concluding message was, "You must remain here; your arms his Majesty no longer trusts in your hands, but your property will be sent to you."

Mr. Rosenthal obtained permission to return to Gaffat to see his wife, and I was granted leave to accompany Samuel, as Mrs. Waldmeier was that day in a very critical state. Mr. Rassam and the other Europeans remained in the tent. Mr. Waldmeier, on account of his wife's serious illness, had remained at Gaffat, and he was much startled and grieved when he heard of our new misfortune; especially as it would deprive his wife of medical attendance at a time her life was despaired of. He begged me to remain near her for an hour, whilst he would gallop to Debra Tabor to entreat his Majesty to let me remain with him until his wife should be out of danger. Mrs. Waldmeier is a daughter of the late Mr. Bell, who was held in great esteem and affection by the Emperor. Not only did Theodore at once grant Waldmeier's request, but added, that if Mr. Rassam had no objection, he would allow me to remain at Gaffat, as sickness was prevailing there, during the expedition he intended to make. As I was much reduced by chronic diarrhoea and overexertion, I was much pleased at the prospect of remaining at Gaffat, instead of campaigning during the rains. Mr. Rassam himself on the following day requested his Majesty to allow me and some of our companions to remain for the rainy season at Gaffat. In my case and in Mr. Rosenthal's, permission was granted, but was refused to all the others.

Every day we heard that orders had been issued for the camp to be struck, but his Majesty did not leave. He daily inquired after Mrs. Waldmeier, and sent me his compliments. He visited Gaffat twice during the few days I was there, and on each occasion sent for me and received me courteously. Mr. Rassam and the other Europeans were allowed to come to Gaffat and spend the day with us; and although now and then the word "Magdala" was whispered, still it seemed as if the storm had blown over, and we hoped before long to be all again united at Gaffat, and there in peace spend the rainy season. On the 3rd of July an officer brought me the Imperial compliments, and stated that his Majesty was coming to inspect the works, and that I might present myself before him. I went at once to the foundry, and on the road I met two of the Gaffat workmen also proceeding there. A little incident then occurred, which was followed by serious consequences. We met the Emperor near the foundry, riding ahead of his escort; he asked us how we were, and we all lowed and took off our hats. As he passed, along, the two Europeans with whom I walked, covered themselves; but aware how touchy his Majesty, was on all points of etiquette, I kept my head uncovered, though the sun was hot and fierce. Arrived at the foundry, the Emperor again greeted me cordially; examined for a few minutes the drawing of a gun his workmen proposed to cast for him, and then left, all of us following. In the courtyard he passed close to Mr. Rosenthal, who did not bow, as Theodore took no notice of him.

As the Emperor issued from the foundry fence a poor old beggar asked for alms, saying, "My lords (gaitotsh) the Europeans have always been kind to me. Oh! my king, do you also relieve my distress!" On hearing the expression "lord" applied to his workmen, he got into a fearful passion. "How dare you call any one 'lord' but myself. Beat him, beat him, by my death!" Two of the executioners at once rushed upon the beggar, and began beating him with their long sticks, Theodore all the while exclaiming, "Beat him, beat him, by my death!" The poor old cripple, at first in heartrending terms, implored for mercy; but his voice grew fainter and fainter, and in a few minutes more there lay his corpse, that none dare remove or pray for. The laughing hyenas that night caroused undisturbed on his abandoned remains.

Theodore's rage was by no means abated by this act of cruelty; he advanced a few steps, then stopped, turned, his lance in rest, looking around, the very image of ungovernable fury. His eyes fell upon Mr. Rosenthal. "Seize him!" cried he; Immediately several soldiers rushed forward to obey the imperial command. "Seize the man they call a Hakeem." Instantly a dozen ruffians pounced upon me, and I was held fast by the arms, coat, trousers - by every place that afforded a grip. He then addressed himself to Mr. Rosenthal. "You donkey, why did you call me the son of a poor woman? Why did you abase me?" Mr. Rosenthal said, "If I have offended your Majesty, I beg for pardon." All the while the Emperor was shaking his lance in a threatening manner, and every minute I expected that he would throw it; I feared that, blind with rage, he would not be able to control himself; and I well knew that if once he began to give vent to his passions, my fate was also sealed.

Fortunately for us both, Theodore turned towards his European workmen and abused them in no measured terms. "You slaves! Have I not bought you with money? Who are you that you dare call yourselves 'lords?' Take care!" Then addressing the two I had met on the road, he said, "You are proud, are you? Slaves! Women! Rotten donkeys! you cover your heads, in my presence! Did you not see me? Did not the Hakeem keep his head uncovered? Poor men that I have made rich!" He then turned towards me, and seeing me held by a dozen soldiers, he cried out, "Let him go; bring him before me." All drew back except one, who conducted me to within a few feet from the Emperor. He then asked me, "Do you know Arabic?" Though I understand a little of that language, I thought it more prudent, under the circumstances, to reply in the negative. He then told Mr. Schimper to translate what he was going to say. "You, Hakeem, are my friend. I have nothing against you; but others have abused me, and you must come up with me to witness their trial." Then ordering Cantiba Hailo to give me his mule, he mounted, I and Mr. Rosenthal following; the latter on foot, dragged the whole way by the soldiers who had first seized him.

As soon as we reached Debra Tabor, the Emperor sent word to Mr. Rassam to come out with the other Europeans, as he had something to tell him. Theodore sat upon a rock, about twenty yards in front of us; between him and ourselves stood a few of his high officers, and behind us a deep line of soldiers. He was still angry, breaking the edges of the rock with the butt-end of his lance, and spitting constantly between his words. He at once addressed himself to the Rev. Mr. Stern, and asked him, "Was it as a Christian, a heathen, or a Jew, that you abused me? Tell me where you find in the Bible that a Christian ought to abuse? When you wrote your book, by whose authority did you do it? Those who abused me to you, were they my enemies or yours? Who was it told you evil things against me?" &c. He afterwards said to Mr. Rassam, "You, also, have, abused me." "I?" replied Mr. Rassam. "Yes, you; in four instances. First, you read Mr. Stern's book, wherein I am abused; secondly, you did not reconcile me with the prisoners, but wanted to send them out of the country; thirdly, your Government allows the Turks to keep Jerusalem - it is my inheritance. The fourth I have forgotten." He then asked Mr. Rassam whether he knew or not that Jerusalem belonged to him, and that the Abyssinian convent there had been seized by the Turks? As the descendant of Constantine and Alexander the Great, India and Arabia belonged to him. He put many foolish questions of the same kind. At last he said to Samuel, who was interpreting, "What have you to say if I chain your friends?" "Nothing," replied Samuel; "are you not the master?" Chains had been brought, but the answer somewhat pacified him. He then addressed one of his chiefs, saying, "Can you watch these people in the tent?" The other, who knew his answer, replied, "Your Majesty, the house would be better." On that he gave orders for our baggage to be conveyed from the black tent to a house contiguous to his own, and we were told to go.

The house assigned to us was formerly used as a godown: it was built of stone, with a large verandah all around, and closed by a single small door, with no window or other aperture. It was only when several lighted candles had been brought that we could find our way into the dark central room, and it only required numbers to react the fearful drama of the Calcutta Black Hole. Some soldiers carried in our bedding, and a dozen guards sat near us, holding lighted candles in their hands. The Emperor sent us several messages. Mr. Rassam took advantage of this circumstance to complain bitterly of the unfair treatment inflicted upon us. He said, "Tell his Majesty that I have done my best to bring on a good understanding between my country and him; but when to-day's work is known, whatever the consequences may be, let him not throw the blame upon me." Theodore sent back word, "If I treat you well or not; it is the same; my enemies will always say that I have ill-treated you, so it does not matter."

A little later we were rather startled by a message from his Majesty, informing us that he could not rest before comforting his friend, and that he would come and see us. Though we did our best to dissuade him from such a step, he soon afterwards came; accompanied by some slaves carrying arrack and tej. He said, "Even my wife told me not to go out, but I could not leave you in grief, so I have come to drink with you." On that he had arrack and tej presented to all of us, himself setting the example.

He was calm, and rather serious, though he made great efforts to appear gay. He must have remained at least an hour; conversing on different topics, the Pope of Rome being the principal one discussed. Amongst other things: he said, "My father was mad, and though people often say that I am mad also; I never would believe it; but now I know it is true." Mr. Rassam answered, "Pray do not say such a thing." His Majesty replied, "Yes, yes, I am mad," Shortly before leaving, he said, "Do not look at my face or take heed of my words when I speak to you before my people, but look at my heart: I have an object." As he returned, he gave orders to the guards to withdraw outside, and not to inconvenience us. Though we have seen him since then once or twice, at a distance, it is the last time we conversed with him.

The two days we spent in the black hole at Debra Tabor, all huddled up together, obliged to have lighted candles day and night, and in anxious uncertainty about our future fate, were really days of mental torture and physical discomfort. We hailed with joy the announcement that we were going to move; any alternative was preferable to our position - be it rain in a worn-out tent, be it chains in one of the ambas - anything was better than close confinement, deprived of all comforts, even of the cheering light of day.

At noon on the 5th of July, we were informed that his Majesty had already left, and that our escort was in attendance. All were delighted at the prospect of seeing fresh air and green fields and bright sun. We did not require a second command, and did not even give a second thought to the journey, rain, mud, and such like inconveniences. On that day we made but a short stage, and encamped on a large plain called Janmeda, a few miles south of Gaffat. Early morning the following day the army moved off, but we waited in the rear at least three hours before the order came for us to start. Theodore, seated on a rock, had allowed the whole force, camp-followers included, to go on in advance, and like us, unprotected from the pouring rain, and seemingly in deep thought, examined the different corps as they passed before him. We were now strictly watched; several chiefs with their men guarded us day and night, a detachment marched ahead of us, another in the rear, and a strong party never lost sight of us.

We halted that afternoon on a large plain near a small eminence called Kulgualiko, on which the Imperial tents were pitched. The following day, the same mode of departure was adopted, and after travelling all night we halted at a place called Aibankab, at the foot of Mount Guna, the highest peak in Begemder, often covered during the rainy season with frozen hail.

We remained the 8th at Aibankab. In the afternoon his Majesty told us to ascend the hill on which his tents were pitched, to see the snow-covered summit of the Guna, as from our position below we could not obtain a good view of it. A few polite messages passed between us, but we did not see him.

Early on the 9th, Samuel, our balderaba, was sent for. He stayed away a long time, and on his return informed us that we were to go on in advance, that our heavy baggage would be sent after us, and that we must keep with us a few light articles which the soldiers of our escort and our mules could carry. Several of the officers of the Imperial household, to whom we had shown some kindness, came to bid us good-by, all looking very sad - one with tears in his eyes. Though no one informed us of our destination, we all surmised that Magdala and chains were our lot.

Bitwaddad Tadla, with the men under his command, now took charge of us. We soon perceived that we were more strictly guarded than ever; one or two mounted soldiers had special charge of each separate individual of our party, flogging the mules if they did not go fast enough, or causing those in front to wait until the less well mounted could come up. We made a very long march on that day, from 9 A.M. to 4 P.M., without a halt. The soldiers, who carried a few parcels, came on shortly after us, but the baggage mules only arrived at sunset, and dead tired. As the small rowties we had brought with us had not arrived, the head of the guard had a house in the village of Argabea cleared out for our reception. No food being forthcoming, we killed a sheep and broiled it over the fire, Abyssinian fashion; hungry and tired, we thought it the most exquisite meal we had ever made.

At sunrise, the following morning, our guards told us to get ready, and soon after we were in the saddle. Our route lay E.S.E. Any slight doubts we might still have had about our destination now vanished; the former prisoners knew too well the road to Magdala to have any misgivings on the subject. On the previous day the road was a gradual ascent over a well-cultivated and populous district; but on the 10th, the country bore a wild aspect, few villages were to be seen, and but few dark tufts of cedars graced the summit of the distant hills, proclaiming the presence of a church. The scenery was grand, and for the artist no doubt full of attractions; but for Europeans, driven like cattle by semi-barbarians, the precipitous descents and steep acclivities had certainly no charms. After a few hours' march, we arrived at an almost perpendicular precipice (almost 1,500 feet in height, and not more than a quarter of a mile in breadth), that we had both to descend and ascend in order to reach the next plateau. Another couple of hours' march brought us to the gate's of Begemder. In front of us arose the plateau of Dahonte, only about a couple of miles distant, but we had to ascend a more abrupt precipice than the one we had just passed and climb again a steeper ascent before we could reach it. The valley of the Jiddah, a tributary of the Nile, was between us and our halting-place - a stiff march, as the silver thread we viewed from the narrow passage between the basaltic columns of the Eastern Begemder ridge was 3,000 feet below us. Tired and worn out, at last; we accomplished our task.

We halted for the night at a place called Magat, on the first terrace of the Dahonte plateau, about 500 feet from the summit. Our small tent arrived in time, our servants had carried with them a few provisions, and we managed to make a frugal meal; but only one or two of the best baggage mules made their appearance, so that we had to lie on the bare ground - those best off on leathern skins. It was five days after our arrival at Magdala before a small portion of our luggage arrived, and until then we could not even change our clothes, and had nothing to protect ourselves against the cold nights of the rainy season. Early on the morning of the 11th we continued our ascent, and soon reached the splendid plateau of Dahonte. This small province is but a large circular plain about twelve miles in diameter, covered at the time of our journey, with fields in all stages of cultivation, and with beautiful green meadows, where grazed thousands of heads of cattle, and where mules, horses, and innumerable flocks everywhere meet the eye. The whole circumference of this plain is dotted with small rounded hillocks, and from their base to the summit numerous well-built villages arise. Dahonte is certainly the most fertile and picturesque district I have seen in Abyssinia.

By noon we reached the eastern extremity of the plateau, and there before us again appeared one of those awful chasms we had encountered twice on our road since leaving Debra Tabor. We did not at all rejoice at the idea of having to descend, then wade through the wide and rapid Bechelo, and again climb the opposite precipice - a perfect wall - to complete our day's work. Fortunately, our mules were so tired that the chief of our guard halted, for the night half way down the descent, at one of the villages that are perched on the several terraces of this basaltic mountain. At dawn on the 12th we continued our descent, crossed the Bechelo, and ascended to the opposite plateau of Watat, where we arrived at eleven A.M. There we made a slight halt and partook of a frugal breakfast, sent by the chief of Magdala to Bitwaddad Tadla, who kindly shared it with us.

From Watat to Magdala the road is an inclined plain, constantly but gradually shelving upwards towards the high plateau of the Wallo country - the end of our journey, as Magdala is on its border. The amba, with a few isolated mountains, all perpendicular and crowned with walls of basalt, seem like miniatures of the large expanses of Dahonte and Wallo - small particles detached from the neighbouring gigantic masses.

The road on nearing Magdala is more abrupt; one or two conical hills have to be crossed before the amba itself is reached. Magdala is formed of two cones, separated by a small plateau named Islamgee, a few hundred feet lower than the two peaks it divides. The northern peak is the higher of the two, but on account of the absence of water and the small space it affords, it is not inhabited; and to Magdala alone belonged the privilege of being Theodore's most famous fortress, his treasury, and his gaol.

From Islamgee the ascent is steeper, but we were able to ride on our mules up to the second door; a feat we could not perform whilst ascending from the Bechelo and Jiddah, as we had not only to descend almost all the way on foot, but had frequently to dismount at the ascent, and climb on all-fours, leaving the mules to find their way as best they could. The distance from Watat to Magdala is generally accomplished in five hours, but we were nearly seven, as we had to make frequent halts, and messengers came to and fro from the Amba. Many of the chiefs of the mountain came out to meet Bitwaddad Tadla.

At Islamgee another long halt was made, I suppose while our lettre de cachet was examined by the chiefs in council. At last, one by one, counted like sheep, we passed the doors, and were taken to a large open space in front of the King's house. There we were met by the Ras (Head of the mountain) and the six superior chiefs, who join with him in council on every important occasion. As soon as they had greeted Bitwaddad Tadla they retired a few yards, and consulted with him and Samuel. After a few minutes, Samuel told us to come on; and, accompanied by the chiefs, escorted by their followers, we were taken to a house near the Imperial fence. A fire was lighted. To fatigued and dejected men the prospect of a roof, after so many days passed in the rain, cheered us even in our misery, and when the chiefs had retired, leaving a guard at the door, we soon forgot - talking, smoking, or sleeping near the fire - that we were the innocent victims of base treachery. Two houses had been allowed to our party. At first we all slept in one of them, the other being made over to the servants, and used as a kitchen.