Project Canterbury

The Captive Missionary
Being an Account of the Country and People of Abyssinia.

By the Rev. Henry A. Stern.

London: Cassell, Petter and Galpin, 1868.

Chapter V

Conflicting Rumours--Vigilance of the Guards--Degenerate Taste-Midnight Discussion--Removal of my Foot-chains--Theodore's Court of Justice--Code of Laws--Forestalled Condemnation--Charges against Myself, Mr. Rosenthal, and Mrs. Flad--Revolting Baseness--The Royal Pedigree--A Challenge-- Sickening Existence--Dragged back to Prison--Visit of Executioners--A Dangerous Bill-book--Fresh Maltreatment--Slow Progress of Time--The Tyrant's Speculations--Freedom at the Expense of Truth--Fluctuations of Hope and Fear--A Revolting Sight--The Prisoners Stripped--Terrible Night--Anticipated Execution--Mitigation of our Wretchedness--Valuation of Silks--Royal Messages--Strange Garments--Compelled to write Letters to Europe--Consul Cameron's unfortunate Request.

A variety of conflicting rumours, some favourable and. some unfavourable, enlisted my attention, and counteracted that dull feeling of apathy to which I was disposed to yield. There were reports that a treasonable correspondence between the bishop, Consul Cameron, and myself, about certain church property, had been discovered; next, that a Frendjoj was making every effort to compass my death; and last, that I had indulged in reflections on the king, that would, even without the white man's aid, cost me my life. These stories were rapidly succeeded by others of a more encouraging character, viz., that the long-expected letter and presents from [89/90] England were positively on the road; that his Majesty was about to be reconciled to the Aboona; that all the Europeans, non-artisans, were to be expelled; that, to compensate me for my past sufferings, I was to receive a thousand dollars; and many other statements, that exaggerated or misrepresented, reached my ears in rapid succession, and acted like an artificial tonic on an exhausted and worn-out frame. My guards, as ever, notwithstanding the good or evil tidings which, according to their tenor, appalled or delighted me, were unwearied in their vigilance over the prisoner. Twenty-five soldiers and five chiefs had the charge to watch me in turns day and night, and I must praise the fidelity with which they discharged their onerous duty. Not a movement I could make, not a step I could walk, and not a jerk I could give to the detested fetters, without having half a dozen eyes glaring upon me. Even during the silent watches of midnight, when sleep lulled me into forgetfulness, a couple of legs were stretched across my cramped limbs, to prevent what they must have imagined a miraculous escape. No stranger was allowed to approach my tent. A slave of the principal gaoler, with whom I shared my frugal meals, brought me, according to his whims, daily, or, if he was annoyed at something, every alternate day, a leather bottle of drinkable water. In the luxury of a wash, I never did and could not [90/91] indulge; even my hair, which was long and matted, had to dispense with comb and brush, as I possessed neither of these useful articles. I had unwillingly degenerated into the savage, and, incredible as it may appear, found amusement in the very garments which, under more prosperous circumstances, would have caused me a shudder. On November 10th, I was bound hand and foot, and on the Monday following I heard that all the missionary agents from Genda and Darna had been brought in fetters to the camp. On the evening of the same day I was informed that they had all been released; then again that one was still in irons; and, lastly, as if to add to my perplexity and bewilderment, M. Mackerer (formerly a French soldier), in the service of Consul Cameron, sent me word that the longed-for letter from the British Government would arrive in two days, and that on Friday I was to be liberated. The arrival of the European workmen from Graffat, to whom the king wrote a fortnight before, "If .you think that I have tortured Cocab (the name by which I was known in Abyssinia) long enough, and if you approve of it, come and reconcile me with him," imparted an air of plausibility to the last part of M. Mackerer's message. The subject of my release also formed, during the long night, the staple of conversation among my talkative guards. "What is Janehoi to do with him?" quoth Jaque Obey. [91/92] "Is he not a priest? and have we not already-more than we want? He might kill him; but then what white men will come to our country and teach us their belhad (mechanical skill)?" "And is it true," inquired several well-greased pates, simultaneously, "that Janehoi is angry with the queen of their sunless country?" [Many Abyssinians believe that beyond Jerusalem, the limits of their geographical knowledge, the sun never shines.] "He is," rejoined the sapient chief, "and if she is not quick in transmitting the tribute, by St. George (a favourite adjuration), her realm will soon be devastated by our brave hosts." I had enough of this intellectual conversation, and would have gladly closed my ears and eyes in sleep, had not a suffocating, rancid odour, rendered the effort useless. Daylight did not dissipate the vision of impending deliverance; nay, the removal of my foot-chains, and the more friendly deportment of the gaoler, invested the story with a palpable reality.

After sunrise, the usual numerous guards were reduced to two. One of these, suspicious of the nimbleness of his charge, held firm the chain around my wrist, just as shepherds in the East hold a savage dog when a friendly stranger passes along the road. Perfectly ignorant of the ordeal that awaited me, I beguiled the slow progress of time in converse with a lively Galla lad, the slave of a [92/93] guard. Jaque Obey, contrary to his custom, came nearly every hour, and put his shining, buttery wig into the tent, to see that all was safe. I could not bear the glitter of that basilisk glance; and whenever it accidentally lighted on me, without disguising my sentiments I turned away from it in inexpressible disgust. The tramp of feet, the hum of voices, and the rattle of shields and spears, rang ominously and solemnly on my ears. About noon my fierce chief guardian, accompanied by half-a-dozen satellites, marched into the tent, and commanded me to accompany him to his Majesty. "Hold him firm," shouted the leader of the ruffianly gang; an order which, in less time than I can write it, stamped on my sides and arms the shape and size of several tawny hands. Not knowing, and not even caring to know, whether I was about to be led to execution or freedom, I unresistingly allowed the dastardly cowards to drag me to the spot from whence proceeded the muffled noise that had puzzled me the whole morning. Here, to my surprise, I found the élite of the whole army drawn up in a square, with the furthest line occupied by a throne, on which, in proud dignity, sat the savage king, shaded by two gigantic silken umbrellas. "Bring the Falasha forward," said, in a sharp and shrill voice, the recumbent figure on the throne. Quick as lightning, the heaving mass formed a passage [93/94] in the centre of the line, and there the pompous despot had the satisfaction to behold his victim, manacled, haggard, and exposed to the rude gaze of a despicable, servile mob. Averting my eyes from the execrable tyrant who had brought on me all that misery, I leisurely and fearlessly surveyed the throng that stared on me in wild, stupid wonderment. Many a face in that gorgeous royal judgment court was familiar to me, though not one had the heart or the courage to extend to the culprit even a sign of recognition. Messrs. Bardel and Zander, the imperial counsellors, were to the left, and the dignitaries of the church to the right of the dais. Fronting this most uninteresting assemblage, there was a vacant space, covered with new and old, bright and faded carpets, from Turkey, Europe, India, and Persia, From this sacred spot, where none dared to venture unsummoned, extended another line of carpets, on which sat, facing1 each other, the king's European workmen, her Britannic Majesty's Consul, and the missionaries. The consul was in his uniform; Messrs. Josephson, Sfcaiger, and Brandeis in their European garb, over which hung, in approved Court fashion, the white shama; and all the rest, who were knights of the shirt, shone [94/95] and sparkled in the dazzling glitter of tawdry harlequins. [The investiture of the silk shirt admits the recipient into the ranks of the nobility. King- Theodore conferred this dignity on the lowest villains and ruffians.]

Undaunted by a subservient multitude, and confident in the purity and integrity of my actions, I calmly awaited the issue of that day's pomp and ceremony. The sight of Mr. Rosenthal, in fetters, and guarded, gave me quite a shock, and my Christian fortitude (I do not say it in a boastful strain), which always rose higher as the danger became more imminent, almost faltered and flagged. Perfectly ignorant of the offences laid to his charge, I forgot my own misery by reflecting on that of my companion. The distress, agony, and grief of his desolate and friendless young wife, roused every dormant passion of my heart, and impotent as I was, had it been prudent or practicable, I would that moment have rushed on the craven savage, and defied him in the very midst of his rabble hosts. In my excitement I unconsciously shook the abominable fetters by which I was tightly held. A pull from the gaoler that made my arm ache reminded me that patience and submission, and not boldness and candour, were the virtues I had to practise. Aliga Fanda, the expounder of the Fetha Negest, a code of cruel laws, erroneously supposed to be based on that of Justinian, was then read. The servile scribe, who cared for his master's favour, and not for the maintenance of [95/96] justice, in a hurried tone, as if ashamed of his own baseness, declared the prisoners worthy of death. Poor man! he has expiated his cringing, criminal subserviency to an unscrupulous despot by the same terrible death of mutilation which he often pronounced on others. His innocent wife and her five children experienced a more lenient treatment, for the tyrant spared them the maddening pain of the knife, and graciously dispatched them in the flames of their blazing homestead. An indictment without a proof, and a verdict without a trial appeared inconsistent, even to the ruthless savage; and to invest his proceedings with an air of plausibility, the charges against the prisoners were read. Ten articles, I believe, were preferred against me. They were nearly all garbled, perverted, and disconnected extracts from notes and diaries, which the base minions of the tyrant, in the hope of favour and reward, had dexterously disposed to suit their own and their employer's murderous design. The most formidable crimes alleged against me were, that I had stated his Majesty had no good counsellors; that he had plundered various districts, and among these the episcopal domain of Genda; that he was no friend of our mission; that he was provoking the hostility of France, and the aggression of Egypt; that the Abyssinians had no legal marriages; that I had charged Mrs. Flad with [96/97] dishonesty; that I had said that at Dubark, on the Woggera plateau, the king had murdered in cold blood between 700 and 800 people; and, finally, that I was in correspondence with the Metropolitan, and had a few harmless letters from him in my possession. The only offensive statement in my book, of which I had one solitary copy, that was sent to me by post, consisted in the correct and well-ascertained pedigree of his Majesty. [This false charge was quite irrelevant to the accusation; but the manufacturers of the indictment had their own special reason for fabricating it. Samuel on. the preceding evening had urged Consul Cameron and others to pronounce on me the verdict of death. This, he assured him, would so please the king, that vindicated justice would instantly be followed by Christian mercy, and the culprit, instead of death, would receive a magnanimous pardon. The scoundrel knew that if his master once imbrued his hands in the blood of a white man, he would not soon stop.]

Rosenthal's sins, which were shifted on my shoulders, though I knew not a word of what he had written till that moment, consisted in some reflections on the king's domestic life in a private letter to his brother-in-law in London, and in a remark that Abyssinia would probably enjoy greater security under the sway of Egypt than under the sceptre of its native sovereigns. Mrs. Flad had also fearfully compromised herself in a note addressed to me, and which contained the treasonable observation, that his Majesty still bragged that he would invade England and conquer Jerusalem. Her Darwinian theory of development at an inverted [97/98] ratio--viz., that the Abyssinian lion had degenerated into a tiger--the considerate translators had omitted, probably to avert a little longer the hostility of the favoured artisans. She was, of course, arraigned before the august tribunal, but luckily her historical knowledge of the cruelties perpetrated by the Turks in Europe, and which she dreaded to see, during the king's absence on his distant expedition, re-enacted in Abyssinia, together with her husband's doubtful position at court, to my delight, gained her the royal clemency and pardon. Such was not the merciful verdict accorded to the other culprits. They were the victims of malicious intrigue and revolting selfishness. They were encompassed by foes who, whilst they professed friendship and devotion, sought revenge and honours by circumventing their destruction and that of other Europeans with whom, at the very moment, they were eating, drinking, and interchanging courtesies. Oh! it chills the blood, arrests the pulsations of the heart, and makes one blush to think that beings endued with a soul and conscience could remorselessly seek to gain their own nefarious ends by compassing the ruin and death of innocent fellow-creatures! Let philosophers praise, poets admire, and moralists speculate on the innate human virtues: daily experience verifies the old and much-abused truth, "that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked."

The mock trial, which lasted about three hours, was diversified by a few most ludicrous episodes. Thus, at one period, the tyrant was quite enraged with his temporal and spiritual chiefs, because they blundered most egregiously in tracing the royal descent. Prom Adam to Solomon all went on smoothly, and every one appeared satisfied that Isaac was the father of Abraham, and Jacob the progenitor of both. Such immaterial deviations from the sacred text did not affect the purity of the royal line, and name after name was bawled forth by the leader of the scribes, with a fluency that did credit to his patient toil. Down to Fasilidas, who reigned three hundred years ago, there was no fatal hiatus in the nomenclature; but suddenly the scribe became confused, wavered, and paused. The mantling visage and flashing eye of the monarch brought a score of squatting ecclesiastics on their legs, and these all, in the most boisterous confusion, repeated a genealogical register that must have convinced the most incredulous that the ash-coloured Theodore was the son of a very doubtful father, and that doubtful father a son of Adam, if not of Solomon. The important question of the paternity of Menilek's successor being settled, the learned and noble assembly proceeded to examine the family of the mother. The debterahs, as ever, were infallible, and their glib tongues ran on [99/100] smoothly over the list of rugged names. Suddenly the tide of ugly hissing words was arrested in its flow, and Iteghie Mantoub, the pious friend of Bruce, opposed all onward progress. Once more the scribes rake their dull memories, the priests (their coadjutors) nervously count their ivory beads, and the monks--poor imbecile fanatics--mutter paternosters; but the effort is of no avail, and the glory of the royal Theodore's maternal ancestry is extinguished in a harsh antique name. The Tigréan nobles, the proud pretenders to an aristocracy more ancient than the days of our grey world, now jumped up, and in the bold assurance which stupidity often assumes, they adverted to such a multitude of ancient families, and branches of ancient families, that in their confusion they demolished the very fact their master was so intent upon confirming. "Rogues, villains, knaves!" shouted the enraged king; "I shall teach you to remember who I am, and from whence I come;" and then turning to the trembling hierarchical party, he poured forth a volley of abuse that established beyond all doubt his true origin. To appease his devouring rage he turned his tiger gaze on me, and in a blustering jumble of impassioned phrases challenged me to single combat. I did not reply. This increased his fury, and forgetful of the dignity which he generally tried to maintain, he almost sprang from [100/101] his lofty seat, shouting, "Well, if you are not a woman, will you take the choice of the weapon, sword, spear, pistol, or even cannon, and fight me?" Calmly, and without manifesting either fear or contempt, I rejoined: "I am a priest, and do not fight." Whilst this colloquy was going on, two of the chief guards, who were stationed close to Mr. Rosenthal, suddenly, as if struck by an invisible arm, dropped down, and were carried insensible out of the heaving and surging lines. This incident one might suppose would have made some impression on the superstitious mind of the tyrant and his hordes, and move them to compassionate the strangers whom he had so outrageously wronged; but no, nothing could move a heart that was dead to every better feeling, and steeled against every foreign woe.

Arrested in the midst of life, activity, usefulness, and enterprise--far, far from friends, kindred, and home--my thoughts on that dark and desolate day did not wander to other scenes, but were concentrated on the unsympathising crowd that stared and gaped on the ill-fated objects of their cruel sovereign's rage. Among the white advisers, jury or audience--for they were invested with that triple character--two only looked pale and agitated; but the rest grinned and chuckled in unison with the dark visage that rolled from side to side on the [101/102] soft silken pillows and coverlets the good and generous Aboon had, unsolicited, presented, with other valuable gifts, to effect my release. It was my Gethsemane, and I had alone, unaided and unpitied, to sustain the conflict, and to fight the battle in which I was involved. The charge of pride, to which, in the absence of a better plea, despicable pusillanimity sought a refuge from censure for a guilty indifference to the sufferer's woes, was unsparingly alleged against me. I had unhesitatingly rebutted the accusations of the tyrant, accused of malice the translators of my papers, and, undaunted by multitudes, asserted that the very book from which my enemies had extracted mutilated passages to effect my condemnation, unequivocally demonstrated my regard and esteem for his Majesty. But if every one shrank from defending my cause or interceding in my behalf during that terrible afternoon, I was not forsaken or abandoned; there was One with me, and His presence supported me in my trouble, strengthened me in my weakness, and conducted me safely through all my exhausting conflicts.

The taunts, insults, and indignities to which I had been exposed for several hours, keenly jarred on nerves that had already [been fearfully shattered. Till that very day I cherished a faint hope that the tyrant would relent in his wanton barbarity [102/103] towards me; but the treatment to which I was exposed, the injustice I had experienced, and the verdict which was pronounced by the court, and imprudently confirmed by the Europeans, dispelled the illusion, and I longed--longed most ardently--that no new incident would protract the final crisis.

"Sabinyee (guards), lead away your prisoners!" now shouted the king. Instantly we were in the clutches of a crowd of ruffians who, instead of dragging, in the excess of their zeal, roughly lifted us above the moving masses that were hurrying to their different camps. The petty tyranny of the servile wretches awakened in me a feeling more akin to pity than anger. Crouching slaves, they fawned, grinned, and bowed before the very man who had ruined their country, murdered numbers of their relations, and, in many instances, desolated their own houses and homes. Depressed and faint, I would gladly have slumbered away the recollection of the last few hours, had not the terrible Jaque Obey torn me from my hard couch, and in his merciless method hammered again the galling fetters around my aching and tired legs.

Saturday and Sunday passed away without any other infliction of sufferings beyond those to which I, and, to some extent, my companion, had already become inured. This was not the case on Monday. With sunrise on that morning we were most [103/104] disagreeably surprised to see a whole division of Agha Faree Meshesha's notorious bands of executioners come into our tents. The blood-stained gang, with a consideration we had no right to expect, at once informed us that their errand was not to beat, whip, or scourge the prisoners, but to confiscate the property I had still in my possession. This intelligence caused me no regret; nay, I felt a kind of melancholy satisfaction to see the tent disencumbered of articles I could no longer claim as my own. To a revengeful spirit, a straw in the path, or a feather tossed about in the air, will afford a pretext to veil past injustice, and an incentive for fresh and greater atrocities. Thus, among my re-rummaged bags and boxes a bill-book was found with the seal and motto of the London Jews' Society on the margin. One of the king's well-known European advisers was immediately consulted; and, according to the report of the guards, he assured his Majesty that the book, as the episcopal insignia proved, was a gift from the Aboon, and empowered me, when I came to Egypt, to draw money on his account. "I always suspected," rejoined the king, "that Cocab, for other reasons than the black cowl, respected that Copt; I'll take care that the treacherous monk shall not remit my subjects' money to the Turks, nor his friends have an opportunity to spend it. Jaque Obey, strictly guard Cocab."

[105] It was already late when our chief tormentor returned from his duties as Agha Faree (gatekeeper) to the charge of the two miserable captives. [The Agha Farees perform the functions of royal gate-keepers, executioners, and military commanders.] I at once perceived that he was irritated, drunk, and in bad humour. For two or three minutes he sulkily squatted down, and conversed with another chief, Basha Hailu, on the discovery made among my baggage. Abruptly, as if impelled by a demon-spirit, he broke off the colloquy, and, fixing his ferret eyes on me, in accents that made me start, hissed out: "If I had my sword I would cut off that white dog's head. Never mind. Get up, you slave, and let me see your fetters!" He did not permit me to obey the injunction, but, suiting the action to the words, he pulled me forward, and began mercilessly to batter the iron hoops around my legs. Wounds, bruises, gashes, all were unheeded by the besotted savage. His friends begged, his subordinates entreated, even his own servants--wretches who envied the morsel of bread we ate--implored him to desist, and not to break my bones, and still the ruffian persevered in his barbarous work. I quailed and shivered beneath every stroke, but the ferocious Agow would not desist, till he actually saw me faint and almost insensible, on the knee of [105/106] my poor Joseph. Mr. Rosenthal's chains he also inspected, but as they could not be made tighter, he merely gave him a kick, that sent him rolling into his lair. The horrors of that evening and some similar scenes are so vividly impressed on my mind, that I shall remember the spot and the persons to my last hour.

Slowly passed the days and nights of anguish and pain. The former we spent in converse and prayer, the latter in struggles with tormenting guards and other tantalising visitors. Bibles--the solace of the Christian sufferer in sad, painful days--we were not allowed. The petulant despot, in his rankling animosity against the victims whom his dastardly resentment had wronged without just reason or honest motive, would not extend to them any indulgence that might indicate a regret for his unjustifiable severity, or an overt intimation that he had gratified his vile passion at the expense of all equity. No, he has done wrong, and arrogant pride must not avow it; he has been guilty of gross injustice, and his sham rage must not disclose it. "Let the white men perish, and their death will enhance my reputation, strengthen my power, and lead my people to believe that I am what I claim to be--the scourge of the Turk, and the destined occupant of Solomon's throne." Such, no doubt, were the [106/107]
arguments which swayed his decision, and prompted his atrocious proceedings owards us. Had this not been the case, he would never have wasted a moment on two insignificant and obscure individuals, whose detention, he had heard, involved no inquiry, and whose death, he was assured, entailed no risk. To adopt the latter alternative was his intention, as I heard from his own lips; but then, why should he sacrifice two insignificant missionaries, and leave untouched a big Consul? would not this half measure be construed into pusillanimity, and this moderation into cowardice? Besides that, was it not a palpable fact that his proceedings against the priests was dictated by other reasons than those he alleged, and more artful designs than he pretended?" Away with this wavering and vacillating policy, and let extreme measures supersede temporising expedients, and bold defiance artful compromise. If England wants her Consul, he is in my camp, and shall soon writhe in my chains; and if she demands satisfaction, I have soldiers, and will fight. The conflict may be severe, but in the end I shall be the winner; and if nothing else is obtained, Massowah and Sennaar will be annexed to the land over which I rule." Thus did that unscrupulous and intriguing despot persuade himself that the incarceration of a few helpless strangers, and, if needful, their execution, [107/108] would increase his reputation, secure him the applause of his people, and give a sea-port and an Egyptian province to his prostrate and distracted empire.

One morning, soon after the seizure of my property, Basha Olash, a Yedsho chief, [Wretched man! his faithful services were rewarded with imprisonment and a year's torture in fetters, ere he perished tinder the mutilator's knife at Debra Tabor.] and the worthy Samuel, came to my prison, and, in the name of his Majesty, promised me a free pardon and numerous favours if I confessed that through the family of Ras Oubie's wife, the commander-in-chief of the royal forces, I had obtained the information about the royal descent. To the surprise of the delegates, I deprecated all acquaintance, direct or indirect, with a family I only knew by reputation. They imagined that my answer was a mere artifice to extort a positive concession; but on reiterating that I could not purchase freedom at the expense of truth and honour, they ceased their importunities, and marched off.

A spasmodic calm, like the lull of the elements before the outburst of the storm, now crept into our tent. We attributed this to the arrival of the impatiently-expected letter from the British Government--an intelligence which, without any foundation, was industriously circulated.

[109] Every day some new incident came to our ears that roused our hopes or intensified our despair, our dimmed eyes imagined that they saw the glimmer of a better day; then again some fresh incident occurred which cast a shade over our prospects, and once more held us in suspense between the agonising extremes of a happy freedom and the dread of a cruel and violent death. Depressed or elated, the days of misery slowly glided away, bringing us neither the longed-for liberty nor a more rigorous confinement. On December 4th, without any previous intimation, the manacles were removed from our legs, and, escorted by a detachment of soldiers, we were led before the king. On our arrival near the fence which separated the royal domicile from the enclosure in which all public business was transacted, we found his Majesty occupied in some legal proceedings. Not to irritate the chafed lion, we bowed most deferentially in the direction where he was seated. He took no notice of our salutation, but continued to investigate a quarrel between half a score of peasants and their despoilers--a number of pillage-loving soldiers. The decision was, as might have been anticipated, designedly adverse to the peasants, and, to impress the white culprits with the severity of Abyssinian justice, they were indiscriminately condemned to the revolting penalty of the giraff.

[110] The verdict had hardly dropped from the judge's lips, when a band of hangmen, under Agha Fareo Meshasha, pounced on the offenders, and whilst two held tight their hands and two their feet, two more alternately wielded the formidable whip, that furrowed their backs with every descending stroke. It was a painfully revolting sight to see these muscular, stalwart peasants knocked down robust, hale, and full of life, and then, after a few minutes, to behold them rise lacerated, faint, and dying. A young woman who had been condemned to the same punishment the tyrant pardoned, and that simply, as he himself stated, because he did not wish that the Frendjoj should say, "King Theodorus gives women the giraff." His apparent mercy was cruel in the extreme; for the poor creature, ere she reached the fence which conducted into the open camp, was bereaved of a husband, brother, and two neighbours. One more, it was reported, expired at the outskirts of the camp.

This giraffing process lasted at least two hours. During the whole of that time we were obliged to stand close to the executioners, without being permitted to betray, either by word or signs, sympathy or compassion for the suffering and dying men. The malicious grins of the fell executioners as they wiped the blood from their whips, or by a dexterous whirl, spirted it on our faces, led us to anticipate a similar treatment. I felt no fear; I dreaded no death. All that harassed my mind was the number of strokes I might be able to stand, and the length of time their infliction would occupy. A hundred, I was quite certain, my frame, shattered as it was, would be able to sustain, and these, administered by the vigorous arms of two expert Shankgalla giants, I computed, would not occupy more than nine minutes. These reflections engaged my attention, till Samuel, who had been standing at some distance, approached, and authoritatively ordered the guards to advance with the malefactors into the inner fence.

"Are you afraid now?" interrogated the tyrant, in a tone of revengeful irony. This remark had evidently reference to some words that accidentally dropt from my lips one evening, when a set of vicious guards almost worried me to madness with a revolting description of the various methods by which criminals were dispatched in Abyssinia. Unable to retain my burning indignation, I told the scoundrels: "You may sport with human life if it delights you, but if you believe that your flippant prattle frightens me you are mistaken: I fear Crod, and not man." "Are you afraid now?" once more reiterated the dark, squatting figure before the royal pavilion. There was again no [111/112] reply. "Why did you insult me?" peremptorily demanded that same clear and distinct voice. Silence being dangerous, I fearlessly but respectfully rejoined: "We had no design to insult your Majesty, nor have we written a single word in the language of this country; but if we have done wrong, we humbly crave your Majesty's clemency." Samuel, who acted as interpreter, had not quite finished the translation of the whole sentence, when the irritated despot ordered our shamas and shirts to be torn off. Quick as lightning was the behest executed; and the denuded captives, amidst crowds of gaping legions, were led back to their prison lair.

Our brave watch, terrified lest the fear of a speedy execution might induce us to make a desperate attempt to effect our escape, or that a miracle might happen, and wrest us out of their clutches, had a long consultation about the manner of guarding us. Some said that it would be best to watch us outside the tent, as the cold would benumb us, and render flight impossible; others maintained that we should occupy a vacant space in the circle they would form. Jaque Obey did not approve of either proposition. "To leave them in the open air," he wisely observed, "is dangerous, for these white men have toungle (tricks) which we don't understand; and to place them in the midst [112/113] of a circle of guards affords them the comforts of a warmth they don't deserve. No, let them remain in the open tent, with two soldiers, and all the rest must encamp around it." Stretched on the hard, bare ground, and exposed to the sharp, keen blasts, we passed our last night, as we anticipated, in fervent prayer and devout meditation.

Cold and chilly was that night; dreary and dismal appeared that morning. Sick of captivity and weary of life, death had lost its terror, and the grave its gloom. The vision of a desolate home and sorrowing friends, of hearts that refused comfort, and of tears that will not cease to flow, caused many a pang, and embittered many solemn moments; but we had to seek composure and peace for our drooping spirits in the contemplation of scenes where separation cannot sadden or death create an aching void.

Our chief gaoler, who had gone to the king, we fully expected, would, on his return, announce the approach of our last moments. It must have been nine o'clock when he reappeared, accompanied by a royal slave, who carried a bundle of soiled, discoloured, and blood-stained rags. Jaque Obey, hardened in crime and insensible to human misery, in looking at the shivering forms of the two strangers that stood before him, must have experienced something of compassion, for, in the [113/114] gentlest tones he could assume, he told us that the king had relented in his anger towards us, and that probably we should, ere long, receive a complete pardon, but in the meantime, to mitigate our wretchedness, we were to put on the garments with which he had been charged to supply us. This very act of mercy partook so much of the character of a malicious taunt, that for some moments neither Rosenthal nor myself made the customary bow of acknowledgment. The gaoler generously attributed our indifference to the royal favour to surprise, and, without any acerbity, he said: "Down on your knees, and thank the king that he has had compassion on you." Mechanically we performed this act of homage; and then the messengers, perfectly satisfied with our gratitude, went to carry the report of what had taken place to their master.

Respite, and not release, did not ease our anxieties or alleviate our cares. Arragow, a native lad in the service of Mr. Flad, accompanied by a friendly soldier, occasionally crept to the door of our tent, and, by signs, kept us informed of what was going on in the world out of which we were banished. [Mr. Flad, when dispatched to England in 1866, took him to the Chrishona, near Basle, where he is receiving an education.] On his last visit he intimated, by pointing to his legs and spreading out his arms, that [114/115] our chains were to be unriveted. The civil and less obtrusive conduct of our guards indirectly confirmed this report; they manifested little or no restraint in their intercourse with us. It is true they would not, and perhaps could not, tell us the design of their master in the detention of a number of Europeans; but if they were uninformed about the future, they were well acquainted with the past, and, without the least reserve, they told us that our lives had been in most imminent danger, and that on the day the king took away our clothing our hands and feet would probably have shared a similar fate, had not the energetic remonstrances of the Etcheque (Prior) averted the catastrophe.

A deliverance so signal, and that, too, at the intercession of a stranger, acted like a tonic on our spirits, and roused us from a depression that verged on idiotcy.

Fifteen days more of anxious solicitude and corroding care rolled away. Our couch was still the bare ground, and our only covering the tattered filthy shamas given by the king. We tried to communicate with Consul Cameron, Flad, and Mrs. Rosenthal, but the soldier who acted as our messenger invariably gave us some agreeable intelligence of his own fabrication, and not the message entrusted by our friends. One morning in December [115/116] we were, however, surprised by a visit from Flad Samuel, and several of the bishop's and king's personal servants. My body being bent and crippled by the chains, I was requested not to rise, as the visit was merely to ascertain the price of certain silks which the Aboon had presented to the king. [The Metropolitan, as already stated, presented the king with most valuable presents, in the hope of effecting my release.] The valuation of the various stuffs which I had myself purchased for the Aboon did not take many minutes; but my visitors, instead of retiring, said that I must try to get up and hear the royal message. Samuel, the royal mouthpiece, after clearing his throat, which he always did when he spoke to me, as if his guilty conscience stifled his utterance, calmly informed me that it had been the design of his Majesty to kill me, and probably he would also have done it had God permitted it. "His Majesty," continued the courtier, "is now desirous to afford you an opportunity to regain his forfeited favour, if you comply with his condition, and assist him to obtain, through Mr. Flad, who is going to Europe, one or two powder maker?, and the requisite machinery. If Mr. Flad is successful," he proceeded, in a calm, deliberate tone, "his Majesty will, on his return, overwhelm you with presents and honours that will make your name famous in Africa and Europe. During the [116/117] interval, you will have to accompany his Majesty on his campaigns, and take photographic sketches of the sceneries he may visit." I was disposed to object to all these propositions, but I was advised not to contradict the despot, as it might involve me afresh in serious troubles. The following day his Majesty ordered our hand-chains to be unriveted; but, on Mr. Flad's representation that my legs were swollen and inflamed, the order was reversed, and the foot, instead of the hand fetters, taken off.

Our affairs, though still undecided, began at last to assume a more favourable aspect. We were again allowed to have a servant, and more decent clothing. Unfortunately, such a thing as a wardrobe was a luxury that belonged to the past, and the male Frendjoj in the camp we knew would have nothing to spare in the shape of undergarments. In this emergency we had recourse to Mrs. Flad and Mrs. Rosenthal, and ludicrous as it may seem, the white shifts of these ladies, our tabagies--excellent judges--assured us were most becoming substitutes for gentlemen's shirts. What we, however, most prized were two Bibles--a comfort and solace we had not possessed for six long and trying weeks. Poor Joseph, whose constitution suffering, hardships, and privations had entirely sapped, received the royal sanction to leave the camp for the greater quiet of a house at Gondar. [117/118] Here the poor fellow lingered on a week longer, and then breathed his last. He had been faithful to me in all my trials, and his death caused a most sensible gap in the limited circle of my sympathising friends.

Two or three days after the above interview, Messrs. Flad and Samuel visited me again, and requested that I would write the letters I intended to send to Europe, to ensure the success of the proposed mission. I put the best looks on an ugly business. The crafty Samuel noticed it, and, when out of my hearing, he said to Flad something to the effect that the indignant dashes of my pen in the shackled hand betrayed the disgust with which I performed the requested task. The king himself communicated his arrangements with me to the European employes at Gaffat. Through pity for the sufferer, and perhaps a secret surmise that one or two good artisans from Europe might divert to some extent the favour and dollars of the king into another channel, they wrote a petition to the despot, in which (so it was reported) they remonstrated against my further detention and captivity, and promised to provide the required machinery and gunpowder. The king admitted the plausibility of their argument, and, to effect a complete reconciliation, they were ordered to come to the camp at Gondar. Samuel himself, who came to my prison on some business [118/119] of his master, told me to "be of good cheer, for your liberation is not far distant." Consul Cameron, perhaps unacquainted with the court intrigues, or perhaps anxious to quit a country in which he was an unfettered prisoner, just at that critical moment, in compliance with the instructions received from his government, solicited the royal sanction for his departure to the coast at the expiration of the ensuing three days. This demand exasperated the tyrant, and marred my own and Mr. Rosenthal's prospects of release.

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