Mutual Feuds and Hostilities in Abyssinia--Theodore--His Birth and Parentage--Leaves his Mother and flees to Tschangar--Atrocity of Dejatch Marou--Confou, Uncle of Theodore--His Death--Intestine Strife between his Sons--Theodore taken Refuge at Saragie--Turns Bandit--Schemes of Empire--Ancient Prophecies and Traditions--Theodore's Popularity and Growing Power--Woisero Menin attempts to crush him--Defeat by the Turks--Fever at Tschangar--Insulted by the Queen--Civil War--Defeat of the Queen--Ras Ali--Battle of Aishal--Victory of Theodore--Schemes for Subjugation of the Gallas--Shoa and Tigré--Battle of Semien--Capture of Amba Boahil--Coronation of Theodore--Treachery to the Princes--Victories over the Shoanes and Gallas--Quarrel with the Church.
It is a complete anomaly that a people speaking one language, professing one belief, and united together by a common interest, should for ages be involved in mutual feuds and hostilities. Ties of blood, friendship, and affection have in all lands, and among all tribes, times without number, curbed the ambition of the proud, and restrained the greed of the avaricious. This salutary fear of severing sacred bonds and desolating happy homes has often served to keep the sword in its sheath and the arrow in its [1/2] quiver. In Abyssinia, on the contrary, the loudest clamours for peace, and the most boisterous professions of a common Christian brotherhood, have only inflamed the passions and excited hostilities. Without unravelling the ponderous folios of monkish annals, which delight to depict royal exploits that were never achieved, and glorious battles that were never fought, we have in the authentic history of the last three centuries enough to demonstrate the cupidity and licentiousness of the Abyssinian people, and the rapacity and corruption of their rulers. Weary and tired of these perpetual conflicts between contending chiefs, whose road to power lay athwart the ruin and desolation they had created, the enslaved peasantry with delight hailed the advent of the great Theodore, who, according to ancient prophecy, was to introduce an era of unprecedented splendour and glory, peace and prosperity.
This wonderful personage, around whose infantine couch clustered the hopes and expectations of an enslaved race, was born in the year 1822, in the small province of Quara, close to the north-western frontier of Abyssinia. His father, Hailu Weleda Georgis, reputed to have been the scion of a noble house, died while the boy was still very young. The small property of the defunct noble was immediately seized and squandered by avaricious and extravagant relatives. The mother of Kasa--for that was the [2/3] orphan's name--had no home to which she could repair, and no friends on whose liberality she could depend. Driven from the home that had so long sheltered her as a nominal wife, she repaired to Gfondar, where, by the sale of kosso--a specific for the tapeworm--she eked out a miserable subsistence. The orphan boy betrayed in childhood those traits which distinguished him when he became a man. Impatient, passionate, and proud, he disdained the humble vocation of his mother, and in a fit of anger left her poor hut and took refuge in a convent at Tschangar, near the northern shores of Lake Tzana. In this asylum Kasa plight have spent many years in dreamy indolence had not Dejatch Marou, a defeated rebel chief, invaded its sacred precincts, and in the mutilation of innocent boys resented the brave resistance of their victorious parents. Marou's wholesale butcheries did not remain unrequited. He had slaughtered the aged priest and his youthful pupil; but the boy who was destined to inflict a retributive vengeance on the murderer's race saved his life by a timely flight to an adjacent stronghold of his uncle, Confou.
In the home of this powerful noble, whose residence was the rendezvous of all the Amhara chiefs, the enthusiastic youth imbibed that ardent love for those brave and daring exploits which subsequently distinguished his military career. Dejatch Confou, the [3/4] puissant ruler of the north-western provinces, frequently allowed his nephew to accompany him on those dangerous expeditions which still form the theme of the bard's fulsome effusions. Kasa on these occasions exhibited an undaunted valour and martial skill that elicited the admiration and applause of both friend and foe. Honours and favours were profusely lavished on the youthful hero, and he would probably have obtained a high appointment, had not death robbed him of his guardian and protector. The sons of Confou, animated by jealousy and lust of power, immediately after the death of their father, engaged in a fratricidal strife which weakened their forces and exposed them to the mercy of an encroaching foe. Woisero Menin, the mother of Ras Ali, and wife of Atze Yohannes, the shadow king, took advantage of the quarrel, and whilst her forces seized on the north-western portion of their patrimony, Dejatch Goshou, of Godjam, invaded the districts abutting on the Lake Dembea. Kasa, who had in this quarrel taken the side of the elder brother, fled before the ferocious legions of the south to a peasant's hut at Saragie, not far from his native province, where he met with a cordial and generous reception.
Panting for distinction and military fame, Kasa organised a band of freebooters, consisting of seventy men, and with these he infested the borders of the [4/5] western lowland. Hated by his own gang, who wanted a chief to lead but not a master to rule, a conflict ensued, in which more than half the banditti lost their lives. It was at this period that Kasa, afraid of the vengeance of his former companions, fled to Matamma, the territory of the Tougrourees, where, as a grass-cutter, he found food and shelter in the stables of Sheikh Shuma. His new employment was evidently not suited to his taste, and ere a few months had elapsed the sickle was exchanged for the robber's sword, pistol, and lance. Prompted by a bitter hatred against the Tougrourees, which to some extent verifies the story of his degrading service, the bandit, with his newly-organised gang of desperadoes, for many months became the terror and scourge of every lowlander.
Disgusted with a freebooter's precarious vocation, he left the feverish wilds in the undisturbed possession of Shankgallas, Tougrourees, and other equally ferocious occupants, and reappeared on his own native soil. The squabbles and conflicts between the ruling chiefs inflamed the towering ambition of the retired robber, and he began in reality to cherish those schemes of aggrandisement which won him a kingdom and a crown. Such aspirations were not new to his heart. In the convent at Tschangar, where he was preparing for the niggardly preferments bestowed by the church, he became acquainted with many of the [5/6] legends attributed to inspired and wonder-working saints. Among these was a prophecy of the advent of a great king called Theodorus. The story has not lost in romance by tradition. Born of humble parents, though of Solomon's royal line, the hero of many a romantic and eventful tale was for a limited period, like Moses in the solitudes of Midian, and David on the lonely green pastures, to be shrouded from the ken and observation of mankind. On his appearance on the wide stage of humanity, exploit after exploit was to crown his invincible arms. He was to exterminate the hated Turks, conquer the Holy Land, plant the cross on the site of the ancient temple, make Jerusalem the metropolis of the universe, and bring princes and rulers, nations and tribes in homage before the throne of Solomon's restored dynasty. This idea, which had evidently taken deep hold on the mind of Kasa and his adherents, paved the road for the success that attended his military expeditions. Prom all parts of the country the needy and ambitious, the disaffected and improvident flocked around the rebellious standard of the rising chief. Wherever he went, young and old welcomed him with bursts of delight. The proud and fair Amhara maiden, who a few years before would have disdained the attention of the kosso vendor's son, now rejoiced in his smiles and loving glances. Kasa was not insensible to the admiration he elicited, and the [6/7] saint-like character after which he aspired was frequently tarnished by the gallantries in which he indulged. He had several sons and daughters, but, with the exception of Dejatch Meshasha and two daughters, they were, together with their mothers, discarded by the popular hero, who was as inconstant in love as in all other matters that did not suit his whims or capricious fancies.
Woisero Menin, the mother of Ras Ali, and nominally the queen of all the provinces west of the Tacazze, began to dread the growing power of the rebel, and, prompted by deep passionate animosity, which invariably characterised her proceedings towards those who defied her authority or did not minister to her corrupt taste, she dispatched a large force to crush the arrogant lowland robber. Informed of the expedition, Kasa, without delay, hastened to meet the enemy; but no sooner did the royal forces come in sight of their antagonists, than they took to their heels and fled. The treacherous woman, foiled in her expectations, had recourse to intrigue and fascinating blandishments, which experience had taught her were more formidable weapons than the lances of her legions. Kasa saw the snare and eluded it. Baffled and thwarted, the queen, with all the rancour of a passionate woman, was more than ever intent on entrapping the presumptuous rebel. To effect this she did not hesitate to sacrifice the honour of her own [7/8] grandchild, the daughter of Ras Ali. The young wife, true to the generous instinct of her tender and guileless heart, instead of abetting her grandmother's infamous design, with a constancy and devotion seldom witnessed in that demoralised country, imperilled her own life to protect that of her ungrateful and faithless husband.
Unable to make the daughter forgetful of the duty of the wife, Woisero Menin hit upon a new scheme to compass her end. The Arabs on the north-western frontier, as in all undefined and wild border lands, had occasionally hostile encounters with their Abyssinian neighbours. Dejatch Confou, the uncle of Kasa, delighted in these forays, which afforded a wide field for his strategic skill, and considerably augmented the revenues of his overburdened exchequer. Menin was anxious to obtain this kind of tribute, but she had neither troops nor a chief capable to levy it. To get rid of a dreaded foe, or, if successful, to secure a rich booty, Kasa, under the specious pretext of avenging an affront, was ordered to proceed with a strong force against several Egyptian outposts. The bold soldier willingly obeyed a behest that promised to gratify his vanity and adventurous spirit. Sixteen thousand men, well equipped and full of ardour, started from the high land to rob and to destroy the detested Mahomedans, but scarcely 4,000, crestfallen and wounded, returned to their homes. The few Egyptian outposts had [8/9] received intimation of the intended expedition, and with a rapidity that did credit to the few indolent and ease-loving officials, about 800 Bashe-Bouzouks--Turkish irregulars--were collected together and stationed behind a stockaded fence to watch the movements of the enemy. Kasa and his army, confiding in their prowess and valour, boldly advanced on the despised foe. Some pieces of brass and inflated skins, that were suspended in front of the slight defence of sticks and thorns, had a magic power in attracting the pillage-loving Amharas. In excited masses the impetuous host rolled on towards the fatal stockade till they were within easy reach of the defenders' muskets and artillery, when suddenly a destructive fire, that carried terror and death, came flashing into their serried ranks. Appalled and panic-struck, the discomfited assailants, in their savage bewilderment, instead of retreating, stood aghast and almost petrified on the fatal battle-field. Kasa, mounted on a gallant charger, with his sword flashing in the sun's fiery rays, and a countenance full of fury and wrath, like a demon of vengeance, sprang over heaps of dead and dying, shouting forth commands which in the confusion no one heeded. A well-aimed ball forced him from his saddle, and the pretended destroyer of Mahomedanism, with a mere remnant of his late numerous forces, had to flee from the pursuit of a contemptible handful of ill-disciplined Turkish troops. The disappointed [9/10] queen, stung to the very quick by the failure of her design and the disasters of the expedition, did not conceal the deep repugnance she cherished towards the man who had brought troubles and misfortunes upon her. Basha Lamlam, a Magdala chief who was in the fight, frequently amused the captives with the account he gave of it.
Lamlam himself, one of the heroes of the day, as well as every one who had joined that ill-fated expedition, received several dangerous wounds. The majority who escaped were wounded in the back, which, whilst it did honour to their discretion, told a not very creditable tale of their valour. Poor Basha Lamlam fell on April 10th, 1868, in a fight with a nobler enemy than the Turks. He was a kind-hearted, good-natured man, and ought to have breathed his last on a bed surrounded by sympathising and affectionate friends, and not on a battle-field, and in the midst of hostile and unconcerned foreigners.
Stunned with the excess of his calamitous defeat, Kasa repaired to Tschangar, the home of his childhood, to tend his wounds, ere he again ventured on the stormy scene of war and bloodshed. The kind monks paid their distinguished guest and former pupil the most assiduous attention. Under their tender care his impaired health might speedily have been restored to its wonted vigour, had not a devouring impatience for action preyed on his mind and fed the [10/11] fire of a delirious fever. The wiry frame, however, triumphed over the inroads of disease, and the patient was so far advanced in his recovery that the Hippo- crates of Tschangar confidently undertook to extract the rankling ball which an infidel had lodged in his side, if a fat cow and a large jar of butter were given him. Kasa thought the doctor's prescription a good opportunity to remind the queen that he was still m the land of the living; but the proud though dissolute daughter of a noble line of Galla chiefs, who had been more than once defied and insulted by the Quara upstart, instead of complying with the request, sent him a joint of beef, with the bitter sarcastic taunt that men of low birth and rank were not entitled to a whole cow.
Frantic with rage, the indignant soldier bided the time required for his recovery, and then once more bestrode his war-steed, and hastened to Quara, where he collected his faithful followers, and then pressed forward to Dembea and Gondar, to extort by force, as he said, that deference and respect which his birth denied him. Convinced that no expression of regret and no assurance of royal favour could heal the breach or ward off the stormy contest, the Queen promptly despatched a strong body of troops to intercept the progress of the insurgents. The hostile forces met near Tshako, and, in a fierce encounter, the royalists sustained a most signal defeat. The loss of [11/12] the Queen in arms, wounded, and prisoners was very great. Amongst the latter was Dejatch Wanderad, a noble chief who, in a council of war at Gondar, had loudly boasted that he would bring the kosso vendor's son, alive or dead, to the capital. Kasa, to whom this speech was reported, sent for Wanderad in the course of the evening, and, to the amazement of the assembled rebel chiefs, handed him a horn full of the obnoxious draught, with the biting sarcasm: "My mother did no business to-day; you will, therefore, accept this humble fare for your evening repast."
A war à outrance now began to rage all over Western Abyssinia. The Queen, anxious to redress past errors and failures, assumed the command of her army, and in a fierce conflict at Balaha, near the Tzana, displayed the daring and courage of a consummate general and dauntless warrior. The army, unfortunately, did not emulate the fearless bravery of their commandress, and the unsupported heroine lost the battle through her fiery impetuosity and mad valour.
Ras Ali, the son of Menin, and father-in-law of Kasa, now shook off that voluptuous sloth to which he had abandoned himself, and grasping the sword, which his hand knew well how to wield, he placed himself at the head of his followers, and marched against the presumptuous Quara rebel. The common people, who had hitherto continued indifferent to the
struggle between the contending parties, were stirred to the very depth of their hearts by the exciting intelligence that a battle was about to be fought that would decide the fate of the realm and the destiny of the reigning family. At Aishal, in Dembea, towards the end of the year 1855, the hostile forces encountered each other in a most sanguinary conflict. The troops on both sides, stimulated by their leaders, fought with marvellous bravery. Kasa, repulsed in every direction by the Begemeder and Gfalla horse, had prepared an ambush, and artfully feigned a retreat. Mushed with success, the conquerors pursued the discomfited foe, spreading terror and death among the flying ranks. Unacquainted with the craft of their cunning opponent, they darted forward till they came close to some hedges and trees, when suddenly, from scores of small mirrors that hung suspended in the sun's rays, a dazzling light painfully glared on their swarthy countenances, whilst, in different directions, the undermined ground burst in deep furrows beneath their war-steeds' hoofs. The superstitious barbarians, imagining that evil spirits and demons were arrayed against them, stood nerveless and aghast on beholding these wonderful phenomena. Kasa immediately whirled round, and before the panic-stricken pursuers had recovered from their amazement, they were surrounded and butchered by the incensed foe. Ras Ali, as Mr. Bell, who was in the engagement, [13/14] assured me, performed prodigies of valour; but despite the despairing effort of the doomed chief, the rule of the Galla usurpers had reached its end, and before night their last descendant was crownless and a fugitive.
The victor of Aishal, not much disposed to rest on his laurels, quickly marched to Quami Tsherk, in Godjam, to seize on the territory of the ruthless Birrou Goshou. In the evening preceding the conflict which freed Abyssinia from a moderate ruler, and gave it an insatiable, bloodthirsty tyrant, Kasa and his brother officers were discussing, over some reeking joints of broundo, the merits of their respective troops, when one of the great magnates, in the-exuberance of his tedj-inspired loyalty, ejaculated, "What need we to fear? No one can resist us; how much less you, our gallant leader." The following morning, in a short skirmish, Birrou was unhorsed, and with a stone round his neck--the sign of humility and contrition--led as a prisoner into the presence of the man whom he had always treated with contempt and supercilious hauteur. The victor now asked his prostrate foe what fate he would have awarded him if their fortunes had been reversed. "You would have been executed," rejoined the unguarded Birrou. Instantly a score of swords gleamed over his head, and Birrou Goshou might never have uttered another syllable had not an authoritative voice ordered the murderous [14/15] blades back to their scabbards. The prisoner's wife, a daughter of Queen Menin, unconscious of her husband's fate, with a strong force, had entrenched herself on Tshebella Amba, an impregnable fortress. Kasa, anxious to secure this strong position, sent an imposing deputation to persuade the lady to evacuate her stronghold. "And if I do," said the proud princess, "what will Kasa give me in exchange?" "Your husband," was the brief response. "He may take the Amba without restoring me my husband," was the quick reply of the fond wife. The request was granted, and Birrou Goshou to the end of his days will probably never again trust a female heart. He wore his shackles thirteen years; and probably only the grave would have unriveted them, had not the white man come and avenged Abyssinia's wrongs, and unbound her nobles' chains. Perhaps the school of adversity has taught him a salutary lesson, which he will apply to his own and his country's weal. He, with all the other great Magdala prisoners, was released on the memorable Easter Monday, the 18th of April, 1868, the last morning of Theodore's treacherous and cruel rule.
Godjam, Dembea, and all the western provinces had made their humble submission to the conqueror's sway. This did not satisfy the ambition of Kasa; he had still to subdue the Gallas, the hereditary enemies of his country, and to annex the independent [15/16] governments of Shoa and Tigré to his dominions ere he sought new laurels beyond the legitimate boundaries of his own realms. Dejatch Oubie, the ruler of Tigré, a man of firm nerve and stout heart, was quite prepared for a passage of arms with his ambitious and unscrupulous opponent. Kasa, notwithstanding his late successes in Dembea and Godjam, hesitated to risk the hard-gained toils of years in the brief contest of an hour. Friends on both sides tried their utmost to prevent the unnecessary effusion of blood. Their humane exertions were not altogether unsuccessful. The hostile chiefs, by solemn oaths, agreed to submit their respective quarrels to the arbitration of nobles, whose decision was to settle every claim. Whether true or not, Kasa pretended that the nobles of Tigré intended to place Oubie on the throne, and that Aboona Salama had consented to crown him king. To intimidate the primate, the crafty intriguer put himself in communication with Mgr. Jakobi, the zealous, indefatigable, and unscrupulous chief of the Romish mission in Abyssinia. The political Jesuit grasped with delight what he imagined the opportunity which would annex the largest patrimony of St. Mark to the trembling domain of St. Peter.
Perfidy and perjury now joined hands for a mitre and a crown. Kasa, encouraged by his episcopal ally, cast his oath to the winds, and made secret preparation to attack his foe. The treacherous proceedings of the [16/17] Quara usurper reached the ears of the Aboona, and he threatened him with the severest excommunication of the Church if he did not desist from his wicked design. Kasa, with a nonchalance unknown in Abyssinian history, replied to the episcopal messenger: "Tell your master that if he bans me, my new Aboona Jakobi will absolve me and ban him."
Dejatch Oubie now foresaw the storm that was looming in the horizon. To prevent a sudden surprise, he instantly assembled a well-organised force, and amidst the alpine heights of Semien awaited the issue of coming events. On a cold, raw, and stormy day in February, 1856, the Amhara forces, after a long and fatiguing march, came in sight of the well-ranged lines of Oubie's extensive camp. With that activity and promptitude which has often done more for Kasa than his valour and prowess, he at once marshalled his forces into battle array, and commanded them to charge the enemy. On hearing this command, distinct murmurs of discontent, like the rush of the sea against distant rocks, broke from the agitated masses of warriors, and for some moments Kasa himself stood appalled in witnessing these symptoms of fear and insubordination. Fully convinced that in the fortune of that day the prospects of a crown, and perhaps of life, were involved, the resolute chief, in that clear and ringing voice which always electrified his followers, gave them a short and pithy address, in [17/18] which he recapitulated in glowing terms their former achievements; and then, swinging his sword defiantly towards the enemy, he thundered forth, in soul-inspiring accents, "After all your numerous conquests, does yonder rheumatic dotard damp your courage? Do yonder guns, charged with powder and rags, cow your souls? Are yonder rocks and chasms a barrier to your bravery? Follow me, and to-morrow by this time my name will be Theodorus, and not Kasa, for God has given me the kingdom."
Roused by the stirring words of their chief, the countless host rushed on the expectant foe, who welcomed them with a shower of iron balls and well-aimed spears. The groans of the dying and the war-whoop of the living--the echoes of the cliffs and the reverberating thunder of the storm, all combined to mark that day as one of the most terrible in the annals of Abyssinian warfare.
Evening was fast approaching, and the shades of night were beginning to confound friend and foe; still the desperate struggle raged with unabated ardour, and the carnage continued with unmitigated fury. Oubie, who had on that day evinced a generalship and gallantry that recalled to many a scarred head the deeds of their former adored Sabogadis, was at last, unknown to his soldiers, forced by exhaustion and age to seek a brief rest in a deep dell at the outskirts of the battle-field. This almost unguarded [18/19] retreat was discovered by a detachment of Kasa's troops, and before the old chief could recover from the sudden surprise, he was seized, and carried in triumph to the enemy's camp. The Tigréans, bewildered and panic-stricken at their leader's captivity, were immediately thrown into the utmost consternation, and before the different chiefs could summon courage to rally their disordered retainers, some had sought safety in flight, others in passive submission, and not a few in a soldier's honourable grave.
The following day Kasa besieged Amba Boahil, 13,500 feet above the level of the sea, the reduction of which rendered him master of that bleak and inaccessible mountain range. Treacherous himself, he did not admire treachery in others when it no longer served his designs, and as Mgr. Jakobi might have become a troublesome guest, he received a polite mandate to leave the country. Aboona Salama, though almost a prisoner, indignantly refused to comply with the request to crown Kasa. Urged by priests and laymen, soldiers and chiefs, he reluctantly assented to perform the odious task, and on the 5th, Kasa, the rebel, had the sacred meron poured on his head, and, amidst the prayers of the primate, the chants of priests, and the shouts of an enthusiastic army, was crowned in the Church of Mariam Deresgie by the pompous name of Theodorus, negoos negest of Ethiopia.
 After the coronation the troops marched off to take possession of Amba Hai, on whose summit were the treasures and the two youthful sons of the fallen chief. The princes, who were respectively twelve and fourteen years old, refused to surrender unless commanded by their parent. Kasa knew that Oubie would be as reluctant to assent to this as he was to leave the rich booty. In this emergency, as on all perplexing occasions, he had recourse to stratagem. There resided in the neighbourhood of Hai an ascetic renowned for his wonderful sanctity. The king sent for this recluse, and, after kissing his hands and cross, told him, with many an oath, of the anxiety and solicitude he cherished for the princes and their attendants, who had scorned his most generous overtures. Amazed at such obstinacy, the holy man volunteered his good offices to induce them to exchange their cold eyrie for the more genial atmosphere of the royal court. The words of the santon were received like the oracles of inspiration, and the whole party, in obedience to a decree it was sin to resist, left their lofty rampart, and, in the company of the saint, repaired to the royal tent. A present of a handful of dollars rewarded the envoy, who, unaccustomed to the din and tumult of a camp, gladly accepted his congé, and, with his dollars and sanctity intact, retired to the quiet solitude of his untainted hermitage. "So you trust a monk, and not a king," were the cutting words addressed to the [20/21] amazed princes on the departure of the recluse, by the man who had sworn to shelter and protect them. "Well, you were right, and if the chains in which you will be fettered are ever taken off, you will afterwards be more cautious and prudent." [The two princes, Kasai and Quanquoul, who were my companions in chains for sixteen months, gave me this account of their capture.] In fetters they remained until the day when the British flag of liberty fluttered to the breeze on the ramparts of Magdala; but it may be doubted whether these two princes, during the many years of their hard captivity, acquired much wisdom from their sad experience.
The treasures on the Amba exceeded the anticipations of the king. There were heaped up on that high rock seven thousand muskets, two cannons, a great quantity of gold and silver, and above forty thousand Maria Theresa dollars, besides a vast number of copper utensils, and gorgeously-coloured berilles, which the Abyssinians use instead of wine-glasses in drinking their hydromel. Thus did the base treachery of that ruthless man triumph over every obstacle that opposed his schemes of aggrandisement, or ensured safety to a doubtful friend or open foe.
Tigré was subdued; the Aboona apparently reconciled; Oubie and his sons in chains. Prophetic utterances were about to become historical facts. It [21/22] is true the Wollo Gallas, those hereditary enemies of the Amharas, were still unsubdued, and Shoa, a fief of the Gfondar crown, was governed by an independent prince. These were, however, trifling achievements after what had already been accomplished. The march southward to subjugate the two countries that had not yet volunteered submission, was, after the conquest of Tigrc, prosecuted without delay. On the plain of Bola Worka, not far from Ankobar, the southern capital, the Shoa and Amhara forces measured their strength. The Shoanes, anxious to maintain their old renown, rushed to the charge with a courage that defied every resistance, and overcame all opposition. Theodore's quick eye at once perceived that the very violence of the assault would exhaust the vigour of the assailants. "Stand firm, and do not divide," was the command. The royalists murmuringly obeyed. Mad with rage, the Shoanes, in scattered groups, attacked the enemy's compact hosts. This immobility, so new to Amhara warfare, they foolishly attributed to the cowardice of the enemy. They did not know that Theodore had received some lessons in the art of war from Baron Heuchlin, and other Europeans, who taught him that unity of action ensures victory, or renders a retreat comparatively safe. Recklessly they poured in detached columns on the concentrated masses of the impassive foe. Quick as lightning the serried lines [22/23] opened out, and ere the chiefs could reassemble their dispersed hosts, they were encompassed by the Amharas, and compelled to surrender. Fresh from the victorious battle-field of Bola Worka, the impetuous conqueror, with his countless multitude of Shoa, Tigré, and Amhara, forces, torrent-like, rushed on the unprepared Wollo Gallas, drenching field and meadow with the blood of the young and the old, the weak and the strong. The campaign was most successful, and King Theodore, the ruler of all Abyssinia, laden with spoils, and accompanied by weeping and disconsolate multitudes of captive boys and girls, retraced his steps towards Gondar, the metropolis of his realm. To protect his newly-acquired provinces, he fortified, according to Abyssinian fashion, the rocky heights of Magdala, which he garrisoned with faithful troops, under the command of Af Negus Work and Dejatch Alamee, two tried and trusty chiefs. On Amba Geshen, about thirty miles east of Magdala, to intimidate his turbulent newly-acquired Yedshoo subjects, he also placed a large troop under the command of a Bengal Christian Jew, a man most faithfully devoted to his interests. These two positions, garrisoned by men in whom he could place implicit confidence, were quite sufficient to defend the country against any foreign invader; but Theodore, bent on chastising the Turks and conquering Jerusalem, wanted to make his own [23/24] dominion impregnable, and so another small Amba, called Quoied, near the Beshilo, had also to receive its quota of lancers. To occupy these strongholds was easy enough, but not so the means of provisioning them. His chiefs reminded him of that difficulty. "Ah! you donkeys," was the curt reply, "haven't I got peasants enough? and if these do not suffice, we shall soon get Turkish slaves to do the work."
Winter, that season of inactivity, wet, and cold, had now fairly set in. Theodore, inured to bustle and the tumult of the camp, could ill brook the quiet and confinement of the Gondar Castle. To while away his time, he was obliged to find some objects worthy of the royal diversion, and as he could not make any distant forays with his tired and weary troops, nor plunder loyal and devoted provinces, he selected the Church for this special service.
Ever since the reign of Yasou, A.D. 1680, the Abyssinian Church, partly by intrigue and partly by voluntary bequests, had acquired vast landed property. Free from all imposts and taxation, the ecclesiastical domains, which amounted to a third of all the landed property, was a great eyesore to King Theodore. Anxious to appropriate these extensive possessions for his own use, he artfully promised to provide for the wants of the clergy, whilst at the same time he proposed to release them of all secular concerns so incompatible with their holy vocation. The hierarchy, [24/25] with the bishop at their head, were not so easily gulled. They understood Theodore better than the peasantry, and contrary to his expectation, all unanimously declared that they would not be slaves dependent on the royal bounty. The tyrant, at whose bidding legion after legion of his armed countrymen had laid down their weapons and sworn fealty and allegiance, was little prepared for this outburst of priestly opposition. In his wrathful ebullition, he would probably have evoked the sword to decide the quarrel, but his faithful advisers reminded him that the sympathies of the troops and the nation were with the priests, and that serious consequences might ensue if he provoked their superstition and bigotry. The furious despot, unaccustomed to be baulked in his schemes, like a lion at bay, in his rage rushed on Wagshum Tafaree, the mouthpiece of the counsellors, and probably would have transfixed him with his lance, had not his better genius, and perhaps an opportune recollection of ten thousand Lasta and Tedshoo horse under his command, curbed his fiery passion. [This chief, the best informed and most gentlemanly of all the Abyssinian nobles, and who may yet play a significant part in his country's history, related the whole occurrence to the Aboona, to whom he was devoutly and sincerely attached.] Mr. Bell was not such high game, and the lance intended for the Wagshum sped its flight over the Englishman's bending form, and fell blunted against an opposite wall. The storm soon abated, [25/26] and the tyrant, convinced of the unreasonableness of a conflict that might, at the very outset of his reign, convulse the whole realm to its very centre, yielded to the dissuasions of his friends, and the Church spoliation plan was suspended till 1860, when it was carried into effect.