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 VII

Prison Discussions--Release of Rosenthal--Dangerous Controversy--Isaiah's Censures--Dissatisfaction in the Army--Quarrel between the King and Aboon--Episcopal Visit--Trumpery Charges--Divine Support--The enraged Monarch--Rope Torture--Removal of the Cords--Fluctuating Emotions--Artfulness of Samuel--Renewed Tortures--Maddening Sensation--Royal Interrogations--Pandemonium--Thoughts of Suicide--Terrible Warning--False Alarm--Firmness of the Aboon--King's Confession--Reconciliation--A misunderstood Letter.

Consigned once more for an uncertain period to fetters and a prison, each one, according to his peculiar taste, sought some occupation to beguile the long hours of the almost never-ending days. The accession to our numbers introduced also new topics of conversation. Popery, scepticism, and infidelity formed the staple of our discussion during part of the day; whilst our evenings were not unfrequently occupied in explaining the tenets of our faith to the loquacious guards. On the 29th of February the king asked me, through. Samuel, something about a certain passage of Scripture, which Mr. Rosenthal, who stood near me, happened to answer. Samuel was exceedingly affable--a symptom by which we obtained a cue [143/144] to the royal sentiments towards us. Our speculations that matters were again more promising were not unfounded, for in the afternoon the royal favourite came back, and released Rosenthal from his shackles, who now, together with his wife and babe, was permitted to enjoy the luxury of an unguarded tent; whilst to us he held out the prospect of a speedy happy change from prison to liberty. I had lost all confidence in his assertions--nay, invariably understood when he promised us freedom (a fact now incontestably ascertained) that he was toiling to effect our destruction and death.

A few weeks before Easter his Majesty one noon requested that I would prove to him from the Bible that fasting was not a Divine injunction, nor necessary to salvation. I readily obeyed the mandate, and message after message was carried in rapid succession from the white men's prison to the royal pavilion. Not to prolong the discussion, which, on the part of his Majesty and court, had degenerated into a challenge, I briefly observed that fasting, as a help to piety and devotion, was in harmony with the practice of the apostles; but such fasts, I added, were different from, nay, opposed to those enforced by the Abyssinian Church, and designed to effect a compromise between sin and good works, as was evident from Isaiah lviii. His Majesty instantly applied this chapter as a censure [144/145] on his own actions, and I might have had to pay dearly for my temerity, had not, at the very moment when a loud and ominous cry, re-echoed by scores of voices, "Bring Cocab," a counter order of "Tou" (stop), arrested the dangerous command. This discussion, which might have brought the terrible "bedder" stick on me, created, as we were told, a variety of speculations in the army, and it is very likely that the anticipations of an abridged Lent would have been realised, had not the Prophet Isaiah too unsparingly, by his denunciation of injustice and oppression, offended the sensitive Theodore.

The unloved Lent, however, passed away, and so also Easter, the season of pardon and mercy to criminals not stained with blood, and yet there was no indication that our fetters would be loosed or our imprisonment come to an end. And now winter--bleak and stormy winter--charged with misery, wretchedness, and gloom to the captives, stole upon us. The hordes who constituted the tyrant's stay and prop did not admire the inactivity to which they were condemned, nor did the visions of an impending famine improve their temper or deepen their attachment to the king and his throne.

Dissatisfaction among the people, factions and desertions in the camp, aroused all the vile passions [145/146] of the despot's ferocious heart. The spear, musket, and stick had, however, already lost the dread they were wont to inspire; and the giraff and mutilating knife were henceforward called into constant requisition. On one day, within sight of our prison, forty persons had their hands and feet wrenched off, whilst many more perished under the inhuman lash of the terrible whip.

On the 12th of May--a day which, like one or two more, will never he obliterated from my memory--his Majesty had a boisterous public interview with the "Aboon." Epithets neither becoming the descendant of Solomon nor the successor of the apostles were most profusely interchanged between the head of the State and the ruler of the Church. Once I audibly heard my own name, and two of my fellow-prisoners understood that it was coupled with the concealment of a curtain and taking of notes. Like a flash of lightning it struck me that it must refer to a certain morning when Consul Cameron and myself arranged some money matters with the bishop, which malicious tongues, in. this country of inquisitorial espionage, had viciously distorted into an unlawful secret communication. The altercation, which was occasionally very loud, and then again more subdued, lasted about an hour, and, from the deep silence which prevailed, it was evident that the [146/147] army did not approve of the quarrel. His Majesty, weary with the contest, abruptly mounted his horse, and, followed by a vast concourse, dashed furiously across the plain.

Conjecture was now rife among us about the probable issue of the dispute, in which one, if not more of us, were certainly involved. We were not long permitted to indulge in these gloomy musings. The tramp of feet, the hum of numerous voices, and the tinkling of church umbrellas, announced the approach of an extraordinary procession. Suddenly there was a rush of slaves through the palisaded doorway which led from the camping-ground of royalty to our prison, and then followed a mass of turbaned priests, proud chieftains, and high State functionaries. The Primate, clad in his simple Egyptian garb, with a black silk scarf negligently thrown over his head and face, led the van. There was a boisterous call for "Cocab" and the "Frendjoj." Precipitately we rushed out of our tent, and, in a most deferential attitude, confronted this formidable array of Church and State dignitaries. The royal notary, a tall, sleek personage, now opened a small parcel, and, taking out a portfolio that once belonged to me, he thrust his unwashed fingers into a packet of greasy papers, and took out the document that contained the charge garbled from my pilfered [147/148] notes, and the letter of Mr. Rosenthal. These were then read amidst a profound and death-like silence. The notary having performed his task, Samuel, the courtier, advanced, and, in a persuasive strain, more entreated than commanded that we should state the parties who had been our informants. Rosenthal, who, as Samuel well knew, had no communication with the bishop, in a few brief sentences, satisfied the inquisitor. Samuel then turned his villanous countenance full upon me, and requested that I would state the source from whence I had obtained the statements embodied in the books and papers found in my possession. Fully aware, from the character of the king, that the examination was a serious business, I turned to M. Bardel, and inquired whether he objected to my denying the correctness of the translations. M. Bardel rejoined: "No, I only read the English; Birrou, Samuel, and the debterahs are responsible for the Amharic."

Relieved from the apprehension of incurring the reproach and abuse of a fellow-prisoner, or the responsibility of adding to his troubles, whether merited or not, I turned to Samuel, and, in unsparing severity blended with becoming meekness, deprecated the malice of those who, without any provocation, had sought my destruction by attributing to me language not to be found in my [148/149] papers. Then, addressing the whole assembly, I said: "What offence have I committed? That I said the king had pillaged certain provinces was no libel, for I saw it myself. That I stated a number of people had been executed at 'Dubark,' the skulls scattered over the plain attest the fact. That I was misinformed about his Majesty's descent, I must blame the late Mr. Bell and the Negoos' own speech at the capture of a chief, recorded in the history of his accession to the throne, and at present in the possession of the king himself. That I was not impelled by any ill-feeling towards the Negoos, my book incontestably proved, for the very mistake about his origin was an honour in Europe; since beyond the great waters, not a man's glorious ancestry, but his own deeds, shed lustre around his name. The bishop," I continued, raising my right hand, "I honour as a friend, and were he even my enemy, neither diversity in our religious sentiments, nor the dread of danger, nor the hope of favour should make me swerve from the truth." [Captain Cameron, in a letter to Dr. Shaw, the late Secretary of the Geographical Society, which I saw on my return to England, says: "On the morning of that day (May the 12th) there was a public interview between the king and the Metropolitan, who had always been our fast and open friend, and a Billingsgate scene between the heads of the Church and State ensued, in which the representative of the State taxed the other with having given the information to Mr. Stern on which the charges against the latter had been founded. The bishop denied, and, I suppose, expecting Mr. Stern's acquiescence, the king sent him down, and confronted him with Mr. Stern, who acted like a thorough-bred gentleman and bold-spoken man in denying anything like collusion."] Samuel now interposed, and hypocritically remarked: "We do not wish that you should utter a [149/150] falsehood, nor does any one feel disposed to contradict your assertion that you had no design to misrepresent the origin of the Negoos; but there are different ideas in Europe, America, and Asia; and this," he added, emphatically, as if anxious, by a biting sarcasm, to vent his rancorous hate, "this, you know, is Africa." The bishop, who, during the whole of that time, sat like an unconcerned spectator on the bare ground, now started up, and, casting an oblique glance of sympathy towards his white friends, poured forth a torrent of abuse on the king and the whole army of sycophants who swarmed around the throne. "Guards, receive your prisoners!" shouted Samuel, and instantly we were driven into the tent; whilst the Primate and his cort├Ęge retraced their steps through the fence by which they had entered.

Enfeebled by a serious illness, from which I had not yet quite recovered, the exciting conference, I expected, would bring on a fatal relapse. A gracious Providence, however, strengthened, supported, and sustained me.

I was destined to confront still greater trials and to encounter still heavier afflictions ere the [150/151] dark and narrow passage of woe and misery through which I was passing revealed the gates that led to freedom and liberty. It was a critical moment. The king, exasperated against the bishop, whose proud spirit would not bend to the tyrant's lawless demands, artfully sought to find pleas to palliate his unjust proceeding. He had trumped up a variety of charges against the Metropolitan. His morality was impugned, his honesty suspected, and even his orthodoxy aspersed; but the natives and army ridiculed the mean artifices of the despot, and secretly sided with their oppressed and persecuted Primate. Theodore was fully aware of the odium he had incurred by his relentless severity towards the bishop. This, however, only intensified his resentment, and he was determined to continue the contest till the successor of Fromentius cried peccavi, and proclaimed every act and deed he had perpetrated, whether in his private or public conduct, whether in despoiling provinces or robbing churches, as proceedings sanctioned by the Church, and in conformity with ecclesiastical canons. To effect this, he suborned witnesses, invented trumpery charges; nay, even attacked the honour of the partner who, during her short and stormy life, had severed every tie of kindred and home to screen and to guard the unworthy object she had unfortunately clasped to her affectionate heart. My well-known intimacy [151/152] with the bishop led him to believe that the terror of his wrath would frighten his white captive, and induce him to confirm some infamous charges against the man he esteemed. My positive refusal to share in the royal plot I felt sure would involve me in further troubles; but, confiding in the guardian care of Him who is the refuge of the oppressed, I cheerfully said to my companions in misery, "I have hardly eluded the shafts of the angel of death, when I must prepare for foot-chains." No one, I believe, had the remotest idea of what was impending. All conjectured that the king would be angry, and that probably his passion would evaporate in threats and vile abuse.

About sunset his Majesty came galloping over the plain, and, bounding up to his pavilion, he asked some questions, and then there was a sound like the rush of a mighty torrent that had suddenly burst its pent-up limits, and was rolling on in unchecked impetuosity over the ruin and desolation created by its onward progress. M. Bardel, who was outside the tent, explained the cause of the commotion in the brief sentence, "The king is coming." "Dog! Falasha! scoundrel! tell me the name of the man who reviled my ancestors!" shouted the enraged tyrant, "or I'll tear the secret out of your 'hailanya'" (stout heart). I attempted to reiterate what I had said to the delegates in [152/153] the afternoon; but, ere I could finish a sentence, I was blinded with buffets; whilst, at the same time, several fellows violently seized me by the hand, and began to twist around my arms hard, coarse ropes, formed of the fibres of the Doloussa tree. Rosenthal, simultaneously with myself, experienced a similar treatment. His poor wife, thinking that our last moments had come, distractedly ran into the arms of Captain Cameron. The latter, who also believed that all were about to be butchered, called out to me, "Stern, we shall soon be in heaven!" This exclamation the savage king quickly interpreted into an exhortation that I should not compromise the prelate; and, as if glad of a pretext, Mrs. Rosenthal, under a shower of blows, was driven with her babe into our tent, and then into her own, whilst all the other prisoners, with the exception of Mr. Kerans, who was suffering from a dreaded disease, were thrown on the ground and pinioned.

Generally, criminals under torture are only tied around the upper part of the arm, but the white miscreants were deemed malefactors unworthy of such leniency. From the shoulder down to the wrists the cords were rolled fiendishly tight around the unresisting limbs. This being still regarded as insufficient, the swollen, throbbing hands were bound together behind the back, and then other ropes were fastened across the chest, and that, too, with [153/154] a force that made one gasp for breath. Writhing and quivering in every nerve, we lay in agony on the hard, bare ground. Some prayed; others groaned; here one, in excruciating torments, rolled about; there another, in desperate frenzy, knocked his reclining head on a loose stone, as if determined to end by suicide his career of suffering. The crescent moon, shining through a white canopy of clouds; the stillness of the guards, broken by the howling of savage dogs as they careered in quest of prey through the camp; and the moans and sighs of the tortured, formed a scene that beggars language to describe. His Majesty, immediately on the application of the ropes, quitted the spot, and repaired to his tent. Samuel, his face concealed under a black hood, every few minutes made his appearance, and inquired whether I would confess, and on not receiving a satisfactory reply, whispered to the guards, "Give him another rope round the chest." Three times he repeated his visits, and three times a couple of soldiers jumped on me, and with ardent delight, as if they felt pleasure in torturing a white man, executed the royal command. To contract the bark ligaments, the executioners now and then poured a profusion of cold water down our insensible backs. "Speak!" once more repeated the muffled royal messenger; a command which Captain Cameron [154/155] seconded by shouting, "Stern, Stern, say what you know!"

The maddening torture had now lasted about three-quarters of an hour, and still there was no sign that the tyrant would relent in his cruelty. Physically and mentally prostrated, the hand of faith in the birth hour of eternity held confidingly on the Eternal Rock, and prayerfully sighed for release from these earthly pangs and woes. The Negoos, probably suspecting that we should succumb beneath a protracted torture, and so elude the clutches of further revenge, ordered the ropes to be removed. Promptly, a score of black hangmen were bending over us and unfastening the cords. This process caused excruciating pains, for the hard bark ligaments rebounding from the stiff, marble limbs, tore away skin and flesh in broad gory shreds.

Infidelity, scepticism, sneers, and scoffs, were now all merged in one deep and pathetic cry of anguish, fear, and despair. In compliance with the requests of my fellow-sufferers, I poured forth the despair of our hearts to Him who "heareth the sighing of the prisoners, and delivereth those that are appointed to die." Our guards, who, on the approach of the king, scowled on us like fiends, now, in a most sympathetic spirit, so characteristic of the transient emotions of the barbarian and savage, rendered us [155/156] every aid in their power. My own "kuranyee," the man to whom I was chained, a kind Galla from Enaree, arranged the pallet on which I slept, and also gently swathed my wounded arms in the soft folds of the shama.

A harassing and anxious night was followed by a cheerless and desponding morning. Nervously we anticipated some new harrowing message from the king; but, to our delight, he rode out, and the forenoon wore away in silence and stoical apathy. Towards noon, the chief of our guards came into our prison, and, after some desultory remarks, urged me to satisfy his Majesty. "Tell those who sent you," I returned, "that I have spoken the truth; and if the king does not believe me, I can swear on this book"--the Bible, which I raised aloft on my palsied and swollen hand--"that the bishop never spoke to me about his descent." [It did not then occur to me that the only binding obligation in Abyssinia is an oath "by the death of the king," or the excommunication of the Aboon.] "Well," was the laconic retort, "you will all get ropes again, and that, too, much severer than last night." Uncertain about our fate, moments, minutes, and hours passed away in torturing suspense. Near evening, Samuel, that messenger of evil, again obtruded his hated person upon us. He crouched down near Consul Cameron, and with the utmost assiduity tended his [156/157] wounds. His affability and condescension emboldened me to ask him why the Negoos, after granting me a full pardon, again revived the old affair. A withering scowl gathered over his brow at these words, and, as if panting for breath, he glared at me a few seconds, and then poured forth a volley of frightful abuse. "Dog! Falasha! Villain!" &c, "how dare you criticise the king's actions, and defy his authority? Look here, and behold the sufferings you have inflicted on your brethren. This is poor M. Bardel; and do you know who lies here?" (pointing to the consul). "This is Victoria." Shattered and prostrate as I was, my whole frame shook and trembled at this unmerited rebuke. Samuel, I think, noticed this, and, bending down to me, he whispered confidentially, "Come out; I want to speak to you." Once in the open air, the raging courtier subsided into the smooth, flattering knave. Placing his hand affectionately on my aching shoulder, he said, "Don't think that I am angry with you; on the contrary, I admire you; but what possesses you that, for the sake of the bishop, who is neither your countryman nor of your belief, you incur the wrath of the king, and expose your person to suffering? He is my Aboon (he forgot that he had often told me he was a Protestant), but you are my friend; and I don't care what happens to him if you only (whose [157/158] money I have eaten), by obliging the Negoos, win honour and favours." I shook my head; and the foiled inquisitor hastened away, muttering no very charitable benison on my devoted head.

The shades of night had by this time gathered dark and thick around us. The guards took their station, and the white prisoners, after committing themselves to the guardian care of a Divine Protector, composed themselves to uneasy slumbers. The sudden whisper of voices, and the sound of approaching steps, made us start from our leather skins. "Cocab! Rosenthal! Makerer!" roared several voices at once. Leaping mechanically on our feet, we were in an instant out of the tent. Several dark figures in a trice encompassed me, and with ruthless fury dashed their horny hands in my eyes and face. Blow after blow, in quick succession, descended stunningly upon me, whilst at the same time the ropes were rapidly rolled around my wounded and lacerated arms. "Tie his legs, too, if he does not confess," [This fiendish, device, which entirely arrests the circulation of the blood, few persons can long resist without succumbing.] rang in deep but distinct accents from the royal pavilion, and was re-echoed from the lungs of three other beings, who stood at measured distances to send back my reply. My eyes, dimmed by buffets, started almost out of their sockets; my veins began to swell, and throbbed as if they would [158/159] burst; and my heart, compressed by the inhuman tightness of the cords, almost stopped its pulsations. Despairingly I raised my inflamed eyes towards heaven, and prayed that the bitter cup might either pass away from me, or, if I was to drain it to the dregs, that the agony might not be protracted. In less than five minutes my head became dizzy, my eyes dim, and my mind confused, bewildered, and mad. "Samuel, Samuel!" I shrieked, in frenzied agony, "what do you want? what do you want?" "Tell Janehoi all you have been told by the Aboon," was his calm response. "Oh! my God! my God!" I mentally ejaculated, "have I still longer to endure this wasting martyrdom?" and, seized by a fit of delirium, I vociferated in a hoarse, suffocating voice, "Yes! the Aboon often told me that the king was more dreaded and possessed more power than any of the former sovereigns of Ethiopia, but that his ambition and cruelty had depopulated the country." "Untie his ropes!" commanded a clear and distinct voice, that rang appallingly far above the cooling breeze, as it swept m refreshing gusts over the torn and bleeding limbs of the sufferer; "untie his ropes, and ask him if he is not a merchant of insects." [I had a large collection of insects, which shared the same fate as all my other property.]

I hesitated to affirm this palpable falsehood; but [159/160] Samuel, with clenched teeth, muttered, "Dog! do you want a fresh trial of the ropes?" Again roared from a succession of voices, accompanied by a slap in my bleeding face from the chief gaoler, "Ask him whether ladies in England do not eat rabbits and mice." Promptly my interrogator, who evidently now pitied me, responded "Yes." "Ask him whether the Queen of England does not sell thread, needles, and tobacco at Massowah?" returned the dismal echo; and before the sound had died away, there was a wild, merry shout, accompanied by the gay chuckle of some of the royal ladies. "Ask him whether it is lawful for an Aboon to commit------." Frantic, and almost raving, I vehemently roared out, "No, no!" The ropes were now entirely removed from me, and also from Mr. Rosenthal, whom, contrary to orders, the guards, in the exuberance of their zeal, had also tied; and poor M. Makerer was questioned about certain language insidious malice reported that he had uttered at Massowah. Elated with his success, although it must have been obvious to every rational being that I could not for days and days be the guest of the Primate without conversing on the pillage of different provinces, among which Genda, the domain of the Metropolitan, formed no exception; yet, as he had extorted a reluctant confession, harmless as it was, the triumph afforded him satisfaction, and a liberal [160/161] supper of bread, hydromel, and arackee was promptly ordered for his wretched victims. Supported by two executioners, I tottered back into the tent, where I sank, more dead than alive, on my painful couch. Immediately on my entrance, Consul Cameron, in that perfect absence of mind by which all the events of the outer world are excluded, abruptly called across the tent, "Stem, throw me over the tobacco pouch." And he might have added, "a star, or the crescent moon, to light the pipe;" for the one would have been as possible for me as the other.

Samuel, accompanied by a Galla slave, charged with a formidable horn of potent arackee, in less than half an hour's interval, stumbled into our tent. His looks, gait, and tongue betrayed that he was already elated, and that probably before long he would be altogether in a state of alcoholic ecstasy.

Our prison at that moment presented a sight Pandemonium alone could have equalled. There, guarded by a band of dark savages, and chained like untamed wild beasts, were huddled together in a wretched tent a party of white captives, in whose forlorn looks, sorrow and suffering, trouble and care, had written their indelible lines. In the centre of their frail tenement squatted several ragged savages around a nickering, unsteady taper, with their dilated eyes wistfully directed to the operations of a smooth-faced Galla lad, who was pouring [161/162] out of a gigantic horn a strong-smelling liquid. A grinning figure, girded to the waist, received the cup, and handed it, bowing obsequiously, to the criminals, who, with formal etiquette, quaffed the potent draught. The agonising groans of some, as with their tortured arms they forcibly raised the proffered cup to their feverish lips, and the boisterous shouts of others, as in "Rule Britannia," and "Cheer boys, cheer," they sought to drown reflection and sorrow, imparted to the tout ensemble an aspect no language can depict or pencil portray. As I was unable to move, Samuel, with great tenderness, held the cup to my parched lips, and in sympathetic tones said, "Drink, if only a few drops, to evince your regard for the king." Covered with bruises, sores, and scars, I did not know how to lie or sit without enduring the most excruciating tortures. Some one proposed that we should take opium, and thus elude the tyranny of the despot, and close our career of misery. My giddy and whirling brain rapturously caught the suggestion, and had my fingers been able to perform their wonted functions, I should, unless a gracious Providence had restrained me, have opened my small basket, and partaken, in the frenzy of the moment, with some or all of my fellow-sufferers of the fatal drug. Mrs. Rosenthal had a similar craving for laudanum, and, as she afterwards told me, she [162/163] considered it quite a mercy that the dangerous phial was not within her reach, as in the complete prostration of mind and body she might have terminated her own and her poor babe's troublesome existence. The horn was gradually drained, the voices of the singers hushed, and the ghastly visions of executioners and ropes shut out from our view in a dreamy, unrefreshing slumber.

At dawn the sinister visage of Samuel reappeared at the door of our tent. "Cocab," he commenced, in a hollow, sepulchral voice, to which the previous night's debauch, more than the message of evil he was about to deliver, lent a fearful solemnity--"Cocab, his Majesty knows that you are not afraid to die, but don't think that he intends to kill you; on the contrary, he will preserve your life, and torture you till the flesh rots on your bones. That this," continued the truculent delegate, "is not a vague threat, the last two nights, and many similar ones still in reserve, will prove. Do, therefore, satisfy the Negoos, or, by------, those ropes will soon extort by force what you now deny as a favour." The sight of the torturing instruments, which lay in a heap in the corner of our tent, caused a dizziness in my head, and, raising my racking frame, I said: "Samuel, I told you last night my conversation with the bishop, and if that does not satisfy you, God's will be done. I won't tell a lie." The [163/164] implacable inquisitor, touched by my sufferings, paused a moment, and then resumed once more: "Let us admit that the bishop did not furnish you with the false account of his Majesty's lineage; still, as he has proofs, you will never persuade him that the statement did not emanate from some of his priests or domestics." I now remembered that one of the Aboon's shums, who was then safe from the myrmidons of tyranny, had, many a time in the presence of strangers, given me episodes out of the Negoos' singular history, which evil tongues might have perverted to effect their own nefarious designs. I said, "Yes, Gebra Egziabeher often spoke to me about the exploits of the king, and at my request also gave me a few details about his birth and education; but never did he utter a word derogatory to his Majesty, for he knew that in Egypt and in Europe, where he had been, a man was respected on account of his actions, and not on account of his origin." "I will report this to the Negoos," was his laconic reply. Slowly the weary hours of terror and dread rolled on. Our nerves were horribly shattered, and our minds, too, would have been unhinged, had not religion, with her solacing influence, soothed the asperities and hardships of our existence. The Bible, prayers--a morning and evening exposition of an appropriate passage--were the exercises in which we regularly engaged. No bitter [164/165] gibes, no harsh expression, no unbecoming word, characterised our intercourse; religion formed a wonderful bond of harmony, and when I looked on the devout countenances that then hung over the inspired page as I commented on the selected text, I cherished the pleasing hope that the clouds, so big with wrath, had been charged with showers of everlasting mercy.

Our affairs, to our infinite satisfaction, suddenly ceased to occupy the royal mind, and few incidents occurred to interrupt our sad tranquillity. One afternoon there was a suppressed cry: "The king! the king!" which caused quite a panic in our tent. His Majesty, accompanied by a shield-bearer, it is true, had strayed into our prison premises, but for what purpose remains a mystery to this day. On another occasion Bash a Engeda, on the guards being changed, pointed me out as a special object of interest, a distinction I did not much appreciate..

On the 24th of June, 1864, twenty-two days after our torture, and the Aboon's confinement, his Majesty, moved by unmistakable symptoms of dissatisfaction in the army and church, after a long consultation with his great chiefs, sought to regain the primate's friendship, which he had so scornfully spurned. The latter, wounded in his pride, honour, and dignity, refused to receive the messages which were conveyed to his guarded domicile. "Go and [165/166] tell the king," were his orders to the long lines of turbaned priests, "that I am not afraid of his anger, nor solicitous to win his favours. He has been cruel to me and tyrannical to the church entrusted to my charge, but God will judge between us. [The bishop referred to the sequestration of ecclesiastical property.] These words you wall report to him verbatim; and if you come back with a troop of executioners I shall bless you; but if, on the contrary, you bore me with audacious proffers of reconciliation, I shall excommunicate you." The frightened ecclesiastics hastened back to the royal council, which was assembled in the open air not far from our canvas prison, to report their unsuccessful negotiation. There was some bustle and commotion. The king was indignant, the chiefs sad, and the priests alarmed. Once more the priestly procession, under a pouring torrent, moved up the hill close to the Islam Beit, where the Aboon had his quarters. A few brief sentences were only interchanged, and then the white bands, thoroughly drenched, which gave them a most ludicrous and undignified appearance, retraced their steps to the al fresco parliament. "Back again to the Aboon," rejoined the impatient monarch, to the cold shivering ecclesiastics, "and tell him that I deplore our misunderstanding, which never would have taken place, had I not for nearly [166/167] a month been continually drunk." Such an apology from a man like Theodore, even an Aboona Salama could not refuse to accept, and to our delight the occupant of the episcopal chair in a few minutes more was seen on his white mule threading his steps down the hill towards the camp, where, amidst the prostration of delighted hosts, the king and his nobility most meekly and penitently received him. This hollow and insincere peace between the Negoos and Primate gave rise to various conjectures among the prisoners. One evening a young lad in the service of the consul, who, together with other servants, had again returned to his master, crept down near me, and adroitly conveyed a small piece of paper into my dead and feelingless hand. I hastily put it into my Bible, thinking it was a letter from a European--a mistake which the Arabic character soon exposed. The note was from the bishop, and commenced: "To my brother in Christ, servant of the apostles and prophets," &c. &c. It then adverted to the sufferings all, and especially myself, had endured on his account; and quoting certain appropriate passages of Scripture, it concluded abruptly with a remark about money. By the dim glimmer of the guard's light, it occurred to me that the Aboon expected that ere long I should have to endure a fresh ordeal of the Negoos' retributive vengeance, and that, doubtful about the issue, he [167/168] wanted me to send him an order for the money I owed him. This warning, for such my warped imagination fancied it to he, gave me a momentary shock, and grasping the ill-boding missive between my numbed fingers, I held it clandestinely to the light, and to my satisfaction discovered that instead of an order for the money I had borrowed, it was a generous offer to advance me more. This incident, trifling as it may appear, inspired me and my fellow-captives with a vague hope that the reconciliation between the Negoos and the Aboon would effect an improvement in our position--an anticipation which might, perhaps, have been realised had the susceptible monarch's offended pride been appeased by the timely arrival of the long-expected despatch from England.


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