Theodore writes to Mr. Rassam about Mr. Flad and the Artisans - His two Letters contrasted - General Merewether arrives at Massowah - Danger of sending Letters to the Coast - Ras Engeddah brings us a few Stores - Our Garden...

About this time a servant of Mr. Rassam, whom he had sent to his Majesty some months previously, returned on the 28th of December with a letter from Theodore, in which was inclosed one from our Queen. Theodore informed Mr. Rassam that Mr. Flad had arrived at Massowah, and had sent him the letter which he had forwarded us for perusal; he told Mr. Rassam to await his arrival, as he would be coming before long, and they would consult together about an answer. We were greatly rejoiced at the tenor of the Queen's letter: it was plain that at last a higher tone had been adopted, that the character of Theodore was better known, and all his futile plans would be frustrated by the attitude our Government had taken.

On the 7th of January, 1867, Ras Engeddah arrived on the Amba, having accompanied thither a batch of prisoners. He sent us his compliments and a letter from Theodore. Theodore's letter was rather a boastful and imperious one: he, first gave a summary of Flad's letter to himself, in which he had been informed by that gentleman that everything he had required had been consented to, but that in the meanwhile he had changed his behaviour towards us. Theodore also gave us his intended reply: he said Ethiopia and England had formerly been on a footing of friendship; and for that reason he had loved the English exceedingly. But since then (to use his own words), "having heard that they have calumniated and hated me with the Turks, I said to myself, Can this be true? and I felt some misgiving in my heart." He evidently wanted to ignore the ill treatment he had inflicted upon us, as he said: "Mr. Rassam and his party you sent to me I have placed in my house in my capital at Magdala, and I will treat them well until I obtain a token of friendship." He concluded his letter by ordering Mr. Rassam to write to the proper authorities, so that the things should be sent a to him; he desired Mr. Rassam's letter to be forwarded to him, and quickly, so that Mr. Flad might come without delay.

This letter must probably have been a post-prandial one; it was not the line of conduct he wanted to adopt: he knew too well that his only chance was to natter, appear humble, meek and ignorant; he might, he knew, enlist England's sympathy by appearing in that light, and that an overbearing tone would not suit his purpose, nor secure him the object he longed for. Early the following day a messenger arrived from the Imperial camp with a letter from General Merewether, and another from Theodore. How different this letter from the one brought by Ras Engeddah! It was insinuating, courteous; he orders no more, he humbly requests; he meekly entreats and begs: he begins by saying: - "Now in order to prove the good relationship between me and yourself, let it be shown by your writing, and by getting the skilful artisans and Mr. Flad to come via Metemma; This will be the sign of our friendship." He quotes the story of Solomon and Hiram on the occasion of the building of the temple; then adds, "And now when I used to fall girded at the feet of the great Queen, her nobles, people; hosts, etc., could it be possible to be more humble?" He then describes his reception of Mr. Rassam, and the way he treated him; how he released the former captives the very day of his arrival, in order to comply with the request of the Queen; he explains the cause of our imprisonment by reproaching Mr. Rassam with having taken away the prisoners without first bringing them to him; and concludes by saying, "As Solomon fell at the feet of Hiram, so I, beneath God, fall at the feet of the Queen, and her Government, and her friends. I wish you to get them (the artisans) via Metemma, in order that they may teach me wisdom, and show me clever arts. When this is done I will make you glad and send you away, by the power of God."

Mr. Rassam replied to his Majesty at once, informing him that he had complied with his request. The messenger, on his arrival at the Emperor's camp, was well received, presented with a mule, and quickly despatched on his errand. For several months we heard nothing more upon the subject.

General Merewether, in his letter to Theodore, informed him that he had arrived at Massowah with the workmen and presents, and that on the captives being made over to him he would allow the workmen to proceed to his Majesty's camp. We were quite overjoyed when we heard that General Merewether was entrusted with the negotiation: we knew his ability, and had full confidence in his tact and discretion. Indeed, he deserves our sincere gratitude; for he was the captives' friend: from the moment he landed at Massowah to the day of our release, he spared himself neither trouble nor pains to effect our deliverance.

Messengers now were despatched more regularly; by them we wrote long accounts of Theodore's proceedings, and urged that force should be employed to obtain our release. We knew the great risk we ran, but we preferred death to a continuance of such a miserable existence. We informed our friends that we had quite made up our minds, and that our safety was not to weigh for one instant in the balance. It was a chance: the only one left to us, and we implored that we might have the advantage of it. We gave all the information in our power as to the resources of the country, the movements of his Majesty, the strength of his army, the course he would probably follow should troops land, how to deal with him, and the means to adopt in order to insure success. We knew that should any of such letters fall into Theodore's hands, we had no mercy, no pity to expect; but we considered it our duty to submit our opinion, and to the best of our ability assist those who were labouring for our release.

At this time we frequently received news from our friends, as well as newspapers, or a few articles cut out of them, and inclosed in an envelope. War was still but little talked of; the press, with but few exceptions, seemed to look upon it as a rash undertaking that would only lead to failure. Correspondents, to our despair and disgust, expatiated on guinea-worms, poisonous flies, absence of water, and such like rubbish. For another two months and a half we led the same monotonous life. My medicines were getting low, and as the number of my patients was great, I was very anxious to receive some more.

On the 19th of March Ras Engeddah arrived on the Amba with a few thousand soldiers. He had brought with him some money, powder, and various stores which Theodore thought would be safer at Magdala. At the same time he sent us some stores, medicines, &c., which Captain Goodfellow had forwarded to Metemma soon after Mr. Flad's arrival. I will give credit to Theodore for having behaved well on that occasion. As soon as we were informed that the stores had arrived at Metemma, Mr. Rassam wrote to the Emperor, asking his permission to send servants and mules, in order to have them conveyed to Magdala. Theodore said that he would have them carried himself, and moreover kept his word. He sent one of his officers to Wochnee, with instructions to the various chiefs of districts to have our things carried to Debra Tabor. I had long ago given everything up, and was agreeably surprised when those few comforts reached us. For some days, we treated ourselves to green peas, potted meats, cigars, &c., and felt in better spirits; not so much on account of the stores themselves, as for the attention our dangerous host had shown us.

I remember that during the following months we felt more than at any time the burden of such an existence. We had expected great things, and nothing was effected: we could not have believed, on our first arrival at Magdala, that another rainy season was in reserve for us; we never would have credited the assertion that long before that date all would not have been over, some way or the other. What we disliked above all things was the uncertainty in which we were now placed: we trembled at the idea of the cruelties and tortures Theodore inflicted upon his victims; and each time a royal messenger arrived, we could be seen going from one hut to the other, exchanging anxious looks, and repeatedly asking our fellow-sufferers, "In there any news? Is there anything concerning us?"

General Merewether, with kind forethought, had sent us some seeds, and we obtained more from Gaffat. Rassam's inclosure had been considerably enlarged by the chiefs, and he was able to arrange a nice garden. He had before sown some tomato seeds; these plants sprang up wonderfully well, and Mr. Rassam, with great taste, made with bamboos a very pretty trellis-work, soon entirely covered by this novel creeper. Between our hut, the fence, and the hut opposite ours, we had a small piece of ground, about eight feet broad on the average, and about ten feet long. Prideaux and myself laboured hard, delighted at the idea of having something to do; with slit-up bamboos we made a small trellis-work, dividing our garden into squares, triangles, &c., and on the 24th of May, in honour of our Queen's birthday, we sowed the seed. Some things came out very quickly; peas, in six weeks, were seven or eight feet high, mustard, cress, radishes, and salads prospered. But our central flower-bed remained for a long time barren; and when at last a few plants came out, they belonged to some biennial species, as they only flowered in the following spring. A few peas, just to taste (our garden was too small to enable us to get from it more than a scanty dish or two), raw lettuces (we had no oil, and only inferior vinegar made out of tej), with now and then a radish, were luxuries we immensely enjoyed after our long meat diet. When a second parcel of seeds reached us, we transformed into "gardens" every available spot, and had the pleasure of eating a few turnips, more lettuces, and a cabbage or two. Soon after the rainy season everything withered away; the sun burnt up our treasures, and left us again to our mutton and fowls.

A month or so before the rainy season of 1867, fever of a malignant type broke out in the common gaol. The place was dirty enough before, and the horrors of that abode were indescribable even when sickness did not prevail; but when about 150 men of all ranks lay prostrate on the ground, contaminating still more the already impure atmosphere, the scene was horrible in the extreme, giving a better idea of the place of torments than even Dante's vivid description. The epidemic lasted until the first rains set in. About eighty died; and many more would have succumbed, had not, fortunately, some of the guards contracted the disease. As long as it was only the prisoners, they turned a deaf ear to all my suggestions; now they had become willing listeners, and quickly adopted the advice they had spurned but a short time before. To all who claimed my services I willingly sent medicine; and, when some of the guards also came to me for treatment, I gave them some also: but on condition that they would treat with more kindness the unfortunate men in their charge.

General Merewether, always thoughtful and kind, aware that much of our comfort depended on our being on friendly terms with the garrison, sent me some vaccine lymph in small tubes. I explained to some of the more intelligent natives the wonderful properties of that prophylactic, and induced them to bring me their children to be inoculated. Amongst semi-civilized races it is often difficult to introduce the blessings of vaccination; but on this occasion they were universally and gratefully accepted. For about six weeks an immense crowd collected outside the gates on vaccinating days; so much so that it was with some difficulty that they were kept back, so anxious were they to avail themselves of the famous medicine that protected from the dreaded "koufing" (small-pox). It so happened that, amongst the children I operated upon, was the child of old Abu Falek (or rather his wife's), the day guard I have already mentioned. He was naturally ill-natured and disobliging, and to save himself the trouble of bringing his child to have others inoculated from it, and at the same time so as not to be accused of selfishness, he spread the rumour that the children from whom the lymph was taken would shortly afterwards die. This was the death-blow to my endeavours to introduce vaccine amongst the natives; numbers still collected to be vaccinated, but none came to give the lymph, and as I had no more tubes, I was obliged to discontinue an experiment which had so wonderfully succeeded.

The rainy season of 1867 set in about the end of the first week in July. We had better shelter, and had time to make arrangements for provision for our followers and ourselves before the rains fairly commenced, and in that respect were better off than the year before; but, for other reasons, such as the political condition of the country, the daily increasing difficulty of communicating with the coast, it was perhaps, on the whole, more trying and disagreeable.

The chiefs of the mountain had not been long in finding out that the English captives had money. They all had frequently been presented with douceurs, in the shape of dollars for themselves, shamas or ornaments for their wives; also tej and arrack, which was brewed by Samuel under Mr. Rassam's direction, of which they partook frequently and freely. They tried to cut one another out; each one in his private visits pretending to be "the best friend;" but they could not openly leave the council-room, and start off for a glass, without being accompanied by the whole batch, so they forbade every one but themselves from visiting us. Poor Zenab for months took no more lessons in astronomy, and Meshisha played the lute to his wives and followers. They even went so far as to forbid the petty chiefs and soldiers coming to me for medicine. But this was too much; though a despotism, the constitution of the country only acknowledged one master. The soldiers therefore sent their petty chiefs in a body to the Ras and members of the council; they talked even of representing the matter to Theodore; and, as the chiefs were far from being immaculate, and dreaded nothing so much as reports to their master, they were obliged to give in, and cancel the order.

Theodore had, after his capture of Magdala, appointed a chief as governor of the Amba, giving him a kind of unlimited power over the garrison; but some years later he adjoined to him a few chiefs as his councillors, still allowing the Head of the mountain to retain a great deal of his former power. Always suspicious, but less able to satisfy his soldiers than before, he took every precaution to avoid treachery, and to make certain that, when engaged on distant expeditions, he might depend on his fortress of Magdala. With that object he ordered a council to assemble on all important occasions, and to consult on all matters concerning the internal economy of the mountain. Every head of department, and every chief of a corps, had a voice; the officers in command of the troops were to send separate and private messengers; the Ras was still considered as the Head of the mountain, but his authority was limited, and his responsibility great, should he think proper to overrule his companions. Under these circumstances, it is not astonishing that, as a rule, he would follow the advice of those chiefs whom he knew to be the greatest worshippers of his master, his most faithful spies and beloved tale-bearers.

The Head of the mountain on our arrival, Ras Kidana Mariam, was, on account of his family connections and his position in the country, considered "dangerous" by Theodore, and, as I have already mentioned, was on a false charge taken to the camp. Shortly before depriving Ras Kidana Mariam of his command he had promoted him from a Dedjazmatch to the rank of Ras. Every umbel (colonel) was promoted by the same order to be a Bitwaddad (something like a Brigadier-General), or a Dedjazmatch, a title only applied in former days to governors of one large or of several small provinces; bachas (captains) were made colonels, and so on throughout the whole garrison; which after this consisted only of officers and non-commissioned officers, the lowest in rank being at least a sergeant. Theodore wrote to them at the time to inform them that they would draw the pay and rations according to their rank, and when, as he expected before long, he should see them, he would treat them so generously that even the "unborn babe would rejoice in his mother's womb." Theodore, on three or four occasions, out of his few remaining dollars, gave them a small advance of pay. About forty dollars was the amount a general touched during the time we were there; a sergeant, during the same period, about eight, I believe. With that they were supposed to feed and clothe themselves, families, and followers; for no rations were distributed at the same time as the money. At first they were all dazzled by their new ranks - the only thing Theodore could distribute with a liberal hand; but they soon found out what these were worth, and, ragged, hungry, and cold, they were the first to joke about their high-sounding but empty titles.

A distant relation of Theodore by his mother's side, named Ras Bisawar, was, on the dismissal of Kidana Mariam, selected for the vacant post. He had in his youth been brought up for the church, had even been made a deftera, when the brilliant example of his relative took him from the peaceful and quiet life he had first chosen to cast him amidst the turmoil of camp life. He was a great big hulking fellow, bald-headed, and rather good-natured; but for all his sword and pistols could not conceal his first pursuit in life: he was still the deftera in borrowed plumage. His great fault was to be too weak; he had no decision of character, no firmness, and was always guided in his actions by the last talker.

Next in importance came Bitwaddad Damash, the ugliest and most pompous puppy and the biggest-boasting villain on the whole mountain. He was very sick when we first arrived, but though he could not come himself he was far too much interested in our affairs not to be at all hours of the day informed of our doings; for that purpose he sent his eldest son, a lad of about twelve, several times in the day with compliments and inquiries after our welfare. As soon as he could walk about a little he came now and then himself, to see me for advice, and when restored to health, in the thankfulness of the first moment, he helped to build our house. But gratitude is not a lasting quality - in Abyssinia it hardly exists - and not long afterwards Damash gave strong hints that if we wanted him to be our friend we must not "forget him." Prideaux and myself had not much money to spare, but as he was known to be a great scoundrel, we thought it would not be prudent to make an enemy of him, and therefore sent him, as a token of friendship, Prideaux's small folding looking-glass, the only presentable thing we had between us. For some time the looking-glass consolidated our friendship, but when, on a second application for "tokens," we turned a deaf ear to his soft words, he would have nothing more to do with as; he called us bad men, sneered at us, made us take off our caps before him, and even went so far as to insult Cameron and Stern, shaking his head at them in a threatening manner as, more or less intoxicated, he left in the afternoon the room of his beloved and generous friend, Mr. Rassam. Damash had command of half the gunmen, some 270, the Ras of the rest, about 200.

The third member of council was Bitwaddad Hailo, the best of the lot; he was in charge of the gaol, but was never known to abuse his position. His two brothers had commanded our escort from the frontier to the Emperor's camp in Damot; his mother, a fine old lady, also accompanied us part of the way: the brothers and the mother had been well treated by us, so that even before we came to the Amba we were known to him, and he always conducted himself very civilly, and proved useful on many occasions. When he heard of Theodore's approach, as he knew that charges were going, to be brought against him, he ran, away and joined the English camp.

He managed his escape, in a very clever manner indeed. According to the, rules of the mountain, not even a Bitwaddad could pass the gate without permission from the Ras, and since desertions had taken place the permission was no more granted. His wife and child were also on the Amba, and since he was suspected, if they had left he would have been strictly watched. His mother had accompanied Theodore's camp, being desirous of seeing her son. When his Majesty encamped in the valley of the Bechelo, she asked his permission to be allowed to go to Magdala, and on her arrival at Islamgee she sent word to her son to give orders at the gate to let her in; but he declined, stating publicly, as the motive of his refusal, that, not having received intimation from his Majesty that he had granted her request, he could not take upon himself to admit her into the fort. The mother had been made a party to the plot beforehand, and played her part well; it was market-day, and therefore the place was crowded with soldiers and petty chiefs. On hearing of her son's refusal to admit her, she pretended to be driven to despair, tore her hair and cried aloud, quite overcome by the ingratitude of the son she had made such a long journey to embrace. The spectators took her part, and, in her name, sent to him again; but he was firm. "To-morrow," he said, "I will send word to the Emperor; if he allows you to come I will be only too happy to admit you; to-day, all I can do is to send you my wife and child to remain with you until the evening." The old lady, with the wife and child, retired to a quiet corner for a friendly chat, and when no more noticed, quietly walked away. At about ten at night, accompanied by one of his men, and assisted by some friends, Hailo made his escape and rejoined his family.

Another member of council was called Bitwaddad Wassie: he also was in charge of the prison alternatively with Hailo. He was a good-tempered man, always laughing, but, it appears, not beloved by the prisoners, for, after the taking of Magdala, the women flew at him, and gave him a sound thrashing. He was remarkable in one respect: he would never accept anything, and though money was repeatedly offered to him he always declined it. Dedjazmatch Goji, in command of 500 spearmen, a tall old man, was as big a fool as he was bulky; he loved but one thing, tej, and worshipped but one being, Theodore. Bitwaddad Bakal, a good soldier, a simple-minded man, in charge of the Imperial household, and a few insignificant old men, completed the quorum.

Let us suppose a wet day during the rainy season of 1867. Our money was getting very scarce, and all communication with Metemma, Massowah, or Debra Tabor was completely interrupted. War had been talked of more seriously at home, and, in the absence of news, we were in anxious expectation of what would be decided. The weather did not permit us to do much gardening; and other occupations were few. We wrote home, (an easier task during the rains, as the guards kept to their huts,) studied Amharic, read the famous Commercial Dictionary, or visited one another, and smoked bad tobacco, simply to kill time. Mr. Rosenthal, a very clever linguist, managed, with an Italian Bible, to master that language, and, to drive away dull care, spent his evenings studying French with only the help of a portion of Guizot'sHistoire de la Civilisation. If it cleared up a little, we puddled about in the small road between the now increased huts; but probably, before long, would be scared away by some one shouting out, - "The Ras and the chiefs are coming!" If we could directly run away we did so; but if perceived, we had to put on our blandest smile, bow to the rude inquiry, "How art thou? good afternoon to thee" (the second person singular is only employed as a sign of disrespect, towards an inferior), and, O gods! pull off our ragged caps and keep our heads uncovered. To see them waddling along, ready to burst with self-conceit; whilst we knew that the clothes they were clad with, and the food they had partaken of that day, were all purchased with British money, was very annoying. As they accepted bribes the least they could do was to be civil; on the contrary, they looked down upon us as if we were semi-idiots, or a species between them and monkeys, - "white donkeys," as they called us when they spoke of us among themselves. Preceded by Samuel, they would make straight for Mr. Rassam's house; they were hardly swore civil to him than to us, though they always swore to him eternal friendship. I often admired Mr. Rassam's' patience on these occasions: he could sit, talk, and laugh with them for hours, gorging them with bumpers of tej until they reeled out of his place, the laughing-stocks, yet envied objects, of the soldiers who helped them to regain their homes. On the whole they were a vile set: to please their master they would have shuddered at no crime, and stopped at no infamy. When they thought that any cruel act of theirs might please Theodore, their god, no consideration of friendship or family ties would arrest their hands or soften their hearts. They came to Mr. Rassam, though he was kind to them, out of no regard, only because it was part of their instructions, and they could indulge their appetite for spirituous drinks; but had we been, by want of money, reduced to appeal to them, I doubt whether they would have sanctioned for us, to whom they owed so much, even the small pittance daily doled out to the poor Abyssinian prisoners.

About that time these wretches had a good opportunity of showing their zeal for their beloved master. One Saturday two prisoners took advantage of the bustle always attending market-days, to attempt their escape. One of them, Lij Barie, was the son of a chief in Tigre; some years before he had been imprisoned on "suspicion," or, more likely, because he might prove dangerous, as he was much liked in his province. His companion was a young lad, a semi-Galla, from the Shoa frontier, who had been kept for years in chains on the Amba awaiting his trial. One day, as he was cutting wood, a large splinter flew off, and, striking his mother in the chest, caused her death. Theodore was, at the time, on an expedition, and to conciliate the Bishop, he made over the case to him; who, however, declined to investigate it as it did not fall under his jurisdiction. Theodore, vexed at the Bishop's refusal, sent the lad to Magdala, where he was chained, awaiting the good pleasure of his judges. Lij Barie had only been able to open one of the rings, the other being too strong; so he fastened the chain and ring on one leg by means of a large bandage as well as he could, and put on the shirt and cloth of one of the servant-girls, who was in his confidence, and, carrying on his shoulder the gombo (earthen jar for water), left the prison inclosure without being seen. The boy had fortunately been able to get rid of his fetters altogether, and he slipped out also without being noticed; not being encumbered with much clothing, and quite free in his limbs, he soon reached the gate, passed out with the followers of some chief, and was already far away and in safety before his disappearance was noticed.

Lij Barie failed in his attempt. What with the chain fastened on one leg, the woman's dress, and the gombo, he could not advance quickly. He was, however, already half way between the prison and the gate, somewhere not far from our inclosure, when a young man, perceiving a good-looking girl coming in his direction, advanced to speak to her; but as he came closer, his eyes fell upon the bandage, and to his astonishment he saw a piece of chain peeping through the interstices of the cloth. He guessed at once that this was a prisoner endeavouring to escape, and followed the individual until he met some soldiers; he told them his suspicions, and they fell upon Lij Barie and made him a prisoner. A crowd soon collected around the unfortunate young man, and the alarm being given that a prisoner had been seized as he was endeavouring to escape, several of the guards rushed to the spot, and at once recognizing their old inmate, claimed him as their property. In an instant all his clothes were torn off his back, and the cowardly ruffians struck him with the butt-ends of their lances, and with the back of their swords, until his whole body was a mass of wounds and sores, and he lay senseless, nearly dead, on the ground. But even this was not enough to satisfy their savage revenge; they carried him off to the prison, hammered on hand and foot chains, placed a long heavy log of wood round his neck, put his feet in the stocks, and left him there for days, more dead than alive, until the good pleasure of the Emperor should be known.

An immediate search was made for his companion and for the servant-girl, his accomplice. The first was already beyond their reach, but they succeeded in capturing the unfortunate young woman. The Ras and council immediately assembled, and condemned her to receive, in front of the Emperor's house, one hundred blows from the heavy giraf. The next morning the Ras, accompanied by a large number of chiefs and soldiers, came to the spot to witness the execution of the sentence. The girl was thrown down on the ground, stripped of her skirt, and leather ropes tied to her feet and hands to keep her at full stretch. A strong, powerful ruffian was entrusted with the execution of the punishment. Each fall of the whip could be heard from our inclosure, resounding like a pistol-shot; every blow tore off a strip of flesh; and after every ten strokes the giraf became so heavy with blood that, it had to be wiped before the operation could be continued. She never said a word, nor even groaned. When she was removed, after the hundredth stroke, the naked ribs and the back-bone were visible through the flowing blood: the whole of the flesh of the back having been torn to pieces.

Some time afterwards a messenger brought back Theodore's answer. Lij Barie was first to have his hands and feet cut off, before all the Abyssinian prisoners, and afterwards to be thrown over the precipice. The chiefs made quite a holiday of that execution; and even sent a polite message to Samuel requesting him to "come and see the fun." Lij Barie was brought out, a dozen of the bravest fell upon him at once; and, with their ungainly blunt swords, hacked away at his hands and feet with all the delight an Abyssinian has for spilling blood. Whilst submitting to this agonizing torture, Lij Barie never lost his courage or presence of mind, and it is very remarkable that whilst they were so unmercifully murdering him, he prophesied, almost to a letter, the fate that before long awaited them. "You cowards," he shouted out, "fit servants of the robber your master! He can seize no man but by treachery; and you can kill them only when they are unarmed and in your power. But before long the English will come to release their people; they will avenge in your blood the ill treatment you have inflicted upon their countrymen, and punish, you and your master for all your cowardice, cruelties, and murders." The wretches took little notice of the dying words of the brave lad; they hurled him over the precipice, and, in a body, walked over to our place to finish the day, so well begun, by partaking of Mr. Rassam's generous hospitality.