Death of Ahmadee Busheer--Villany Triumphs--Revolt in Shoa--Guerilla "War--Disastrous Campaign--Cruel Scene--Vain Negotiations--Prince Menilek--"Want of Gallantry--Disagreeable News--Massacre of Gallas--Atrocious Orders--Good Advice--The Ncgoos and Metropolitan--Defiant Attitude of the Aboon--Unprovoked Resentment--Additional Fetters--Ingratitude--The Penitent Thief--Captured Galla Women--Royal Diversions--Fictitious Victory.
WEAKENED, but not exhausted; prostrated, but not destroyed; defeated, but not vanquished; the Gallas, after this convulsive shock, rose again out of the depths of their humiliation, and, headed by Ahmadee Busheer, a chieftain famous for his valour, sought to retrieve their overwhelming misfortune. The struggle lasted several years, and would have continued, had not a double-bladed lance pierced the brave leader, and forced him to tend the wound, which, to the universal grief of a grateful people, proved fatal to his precious life.
Woizero Worket, in the name of her youthful son, Imam Ahmadee, the hereditary prince, and the nephew of the valiant Busheer, now assumed the reins of government, and, to retain the fealty of the chiefs, prosecuted the popular war.
 Unwilling, and perhaps unable, to contend against a foe whom he could not annihilate or subdue, the artful Theodore, in conformity with his usual practice, tried by hollow flattery, and treacherous promises of glory, wealth, and renown, to entice the young prince into his plausible meshes. Restless, bold, and aspiring, the youthful Imam, who was dazzled by the fair speeches of the royal emissaries, and still more by the chivalrous exploits of the dreaded monarch, in an evil hour yielded to their reiterated solicitations, and, together with twenty-four of his great nobles, joined the Amhara's faithless standard. The unhappy regent-mother and her panic-stricken subjects, to forestall a more grievous calamity, in their embarrassing position submitted to the onerous conditions imposed by the crafty Negoos. Concession, extorted by villany and enforced by menace, could not perpetuate peace, or ward off hostilities. Theodore's demands, as in our own case, grew in proportion to the anxieties of the regent, and when it became impossible and ruinous to comply, the prince and his veteran companions were bound in fetters, and thrown into the common gaol.
The revolt in Shoa, and the defections in and out of the camp, ought to have taught the despot a salutary lesson; but propelled by the fury of his passion, he spurned opposition, and madly pursued a policy that shook the whole realm to its very [214/215] foundation. Impatient to chastise the disaffected provinces of the south, he took his prisoners from Zar Amba, in Tshelga, [This Amba lies between Wochnee and Tschelga, and is the scene of Rasselas' Happy Valley.] and hurrying on to Magdala he deposited them there, and then, with his usual alacrity, rushed on the seditious Gallas.
His plan was feasible, and had he succeeded in subjugating those restless mountaineers, it would have disheartened the Shoahs, and driven them to sue for an ignoble peace. The enemy penetrated his design, and, without hazarding a battle, withdrew to some distant and inaccessible rocks.
Foiled in his expectations, he recklessly pushed across the plains he had more than once before traversed as victor, and in his mind, no doubt, already ruminated on the castigation he would inflict on his rebellious Shoa subjects. Once in the midst of the hostile land, the foe plucked up courage, and, pouring down from their lofty hiding-places, began a destructive guerilla war. Numerous bands, like birds of prey, hovered around the camp when it rested, or assailed its rear when it moved. The entire route along which the enemy marched was stained with the blood and covered with the corpses of the mangled and mutilated Amharas.
Worried, exhausted, and dispirited, the dastardly hordes, who had achieved their former exploits more [215/216] by the exhibition of numbers than genuine martial valour, did not much relish the hardships, privations, and perils of the campaign; and the discouraged forces, instead of exposing themselves to the trenchant blades of the Mahomedan Gallas, and the no less true weapon of a rebel Amhara, deserted in whole divisions the Negoos' standard, and went over to the lines of the enemy. The expedition proved disastrous, and the tyrant, chafed and vexed, like a furious lion baulked of his prey, on the morning of February the 22nd, 1864, returned again to his secure and loyal Magdala. Imam Ahmadee and his companions were immediately visited by Ras Engeda and his myrmidons. "Why has your mother risen in arms against her friend, the Negoos?" bawled forth the exasperated commander-in-chief of the royal troops. "I am a prisoner," responded the youthful, undaunted Imam, "and cannot control the actions of my mother, or those under her sway." The ill-fated prince had scarcely uttered these words, when a dozen hands, storm-like, rattled on his own and companions' devoted heads. "Seize their property, arrest their servants, and lead away their wives," were the orders that issued in breathless succession from the Eas' compressed lips. Brave Imam, unintimidated, submitted to every indignity his oppressors could heap upou him, but the removal of his affectionate and tender wife, who clung to him in distracting agony, shook
his powerful frame, and he sank, unmanned, on the hard and stony ground. Disconsolate, and almost frantic, the impassioned young creature, in a flood of ardent, wild eloquence, besought the tyrant's minions not to separate her from the only object she loved on that lonely and friendless Amba. The attitude of mingled grief, adjuration, and despair so beautifully depicted in every line of that pale and agitated countenance, as she knelt, with one arm flung around the neck of her husband, and the other raised to the Ras in imploring entreaty, enlisted the loud sympathy of the captive and the free. The Ras himself, hardened as he was to every human sentiment, was visibly uneasy, and he might, perhaps, have yielded to the thrilling appeal of the crouching figure before him, had not the stern mandate of his cruel master steeled his heart, and, in a sharp voice, he called out to two grinning blacks: "Tear that woman away, and, if she refuses to walk, carry her." The grim eunuchs in a moment clutched her in their brawny arms, and, despite scalding tears and thrilling appeals, hurried her away to the royal harem--that dreaded abode of blighted affections and mourning hearts. Severed from the wife of his bosom, stripped of every vestige of property, buffeted, scorned, and derided, the young chief and the sharers of his captivity had, besides all their other sufferings, to experience the torture of the [217/218] crippling hand-chain, in addition to those around the ankles.
The queen-regent, on learning her son's unhappy position, tried, by bribes, ransoms, and even the offer of an annual tribute, to conciliate the rankling hate of the ferocious despot. Messenger after messenger in rapid succession followed each other with proffers of amity from the Gallas, and exorbitant conditions from the king. "Give up the deserters," was the peremptory order addressed to the regent, "and Imam shall live; refuse, and he shall die." Worket would willingly, had she been able, have sacrificed all the Amharas, to save her own son; but this she could not effect without the consent of her proud chiefs, who unanimously refused to yield up to a capricious and faithless tyrant the men they had solemnly sworn to protect. Baffled in her expectations, she had recourse to fair words, artful promises, and valuable presents, to ward off the catastrophe which might rob her of the very object around which her deepest affections were entwined, when an event occurred that caused every Galla's heart to swell with the mingled passions of anger and pain, indignation and grief.
Menilek, the son of Hailu Malakot, the successor of Sahala Salasie, the late King of Shoa, and heir-apparent to the throne of that province on the defeat of his father, gave himself up to King Theodore. [218/219] Quick, gentle, and unpretending, he propitiated the tyrant's favour, and was honoured with the hand of a royal princess, a daughter of the invincible conqueror. The troubles in his native land, combined with flattering offers of support from priests and military chieftains, revived in his bosom the dormant desire to ascend the throne of his father, the heritage of a long line of puissant ancestors.
Prompted by this proud and ardent passion, he did not long deliberate on the course he ought to pursue. His friends, to whom he communicated the design, gave their approval, and, during a dark and auspicious night, he and his followers, guided by a few glimmering stars, quitted the camp. Afraid to disturb the sleeping hosts, they noiselessly threaded their way across the wide chasm which forms a most formidable barrier between Amba Magdala and the Galla country, and then, pursuing their tortuous path up a steep bank to the south-east, they arrived by dawn of day on the high table-land of the Wollo Gallas.
The camp was astir at an unusually early hour. Bustle and confusion, which never prevailed in the lines of the royal army except under extraordinary circumstances, that morning had reached their climax. Officers, soldiers, servants, and slaves, excited and bewildered, were rushing about in all directions, instituting inquiries, and soliciting information, about [219/220] the fugitives. The princess, forsaken, and, if the report was true, maltreated, by the spouse her rank had exalted, sat convulsed with shame and indignation in her disgraced pavilion, sighing for the moment that would give satisfaction to her revenge, and quell the tempest of her soul in the torments of the ingrate.
At sunrise, the gates of Magdala were unbarred, and Ras Engeda, the commander-in-chief, followed by a score of nobles and governors, swept through the narrow entrance towards the royal domicile, to announce to his master the untoward event. The tyrant, although conscious that this desertion involved the irretrievable loss of a kingdom, dexterously concealed the wound that bled beneath the white shama in which he was enveloped. Being informed of the direction the runaways had taken, he calmly ordered his telescope, and gazed towards the spot where Menilek was exchanging courtesies and felicitations with his mortal foes. Immovable and statue-like, he sat for some minutes absorbed in the terrible contemplation that tore his heart; and then, turning to his expectant chiefs, he observed, with indifference--the prelude of an atrocious deed: "Worket has found a son who is free; she can dispense with the one who is chained."
These words, notwithstanding the bland accents in which they were uttered, needed no comment to [220/221] those around him, who so well understood his character; and, almost instantaneously, every one grasped the hilt of his sword, and stood ready to fulfil the executioner's task. Imam and his companions, twenty-five in number, were instantly dragged out of the prison-compound, and, in the presence of the king and his nobles, hacked and chopped into pieces. Not satisfied with the blood that had already flowed, he ordered the execution of all the Christian prisoners on the Amba. Lik Maquas Hailu--the second head-gaoler, and, till his death, which took place two years ago, one of my best friends--presented himself before the tyrant, and, in calm and respectful terms, deprecated the fiendish mandate. "You have executed the Gallas," energetically observed the worthy old man, "because they and their tribes are your enemies; but what reason can you allege for the butchery of a mass of people, whose only misfortune is that you are strong and they weak; you the master, and they slaves; you free, and they captives?" The counsel of the good man would probably have been unheeded, had not the despot shrunk from the dangers and perils which the wholesale massacre of all the great men of the land might entail. The Christian prisoners were spared, but the tyrant's rage was unappeased. He had seen blood flow; he had rioted in the dying throes of enemies; had stabbed a queen-mother [221/222] through the heart of her son; jet all this did not suffice to allay the evil passions which raged in every corner of his soul. Fiercely and madly his flashing eye roved in every direction, to discover some one on whom his torturing vengeance might exert its fury. The bishop, quietly seated in front of his house, was at once singled out for that purpose. Leaping out of his saddle, the infuriated monarch sprang forward, and, with a quivering spear, confronted the calm and undaunted pontiff. "Monk!" was the polite salutation, "why did you not come out and absolve me?" "I saw your face stained with blood," was the laconic reply, "and had no inclination to intrude on your presence." The altercation grew every moment more loud and animated. The king called the bishop traitor, and the bishop the king diabolos. Words led to threats, and threats almost to deeds. Weary of the wordy strife, the brave and fearless primate dashed aside his veil, and, baring his neck, summoned the executioner to execute the despot's fell design. Touched by the sight of their unshaken and death-courting Aboon, who stood before them like a venerated saint of the calendar, hurling heaven's wrath and judgment on scorning unbelievers, the fickle and superstitious multitude, fresh from the field of slaughter, cast themselves before the monarch and supplicated his clemency. Mute with surprise, the baffled tyrant, who expected to see a meek and [222/223] not defiant churchman, with affected scorn, said, "Well, since he wants to die, let him live; but write down his property, and guard him."
Disgusted with the proud attitude of the Aboon, the irritated monarch cast his vicious glance towards the gaol, where he knew he could, unopposed, extort tears of blood from the victims of his violence. Hitherto, most of the Magdala prisoners, ourselves among the number, had only manacles attached to their ankles; but now, at the behest of his Majesty, the right hand was fastened, by a chain about eight inches long, to the legs, and in this crippled and doubled-up posture all the prisoners were condemned to spend, according to the tyrant's expectation, the remainder of the wretched days of their life. It was at this very time that he received a third letter from Mr. Rassam, in which he solicited permission to visit the Abyssinian court. We anticipated that the reiterated proffers of friendship on the part of her Majesty's representative at Massowah would mollify his wrath, and improve our position. No such thing. The chief gaoler, anxious to know what he was to do with us, as our names were not on the list, asked whether the Frendjoj were to have wrist chains like the rest. "Ahia" (jackass), quickly returned the king, "I impose fresh penalties on my own people, and do you think I allow these hated strangers to escape [223/224] unscathed?" This happened the very time that Mahomed, a rascally relation of Samuel, reported to Mr. Rassam the well-known story of Consul Cameron's release--a fiction that had not even the faintest shadow of truth for its foundation. Had the king been inclined to practise any deception, he might have released the consul before the messengers were, dispatched, and then chained him again after their departure; but King Theodore was above such tricks; he had a lot of hostages in his dungeons, and he was determined not to give to any of them his freedom till he had obtained substantial concessions.
Housed together with a number of people of every rank and grade, from the midnight murderer to the proudest noble, our captivity was continually diversified by incidents that broke the stern monotony of our sorrowful days. We had discussions on religious and secular subjects, on ecclesiastical and civil law, murders and homicides, petty larceny and highway robbery; and when these became threadbare or tiresome, there was, perhaps, a squabble and a fight, a truce and reconciliation. Amongst our numerous companions we had some really good men, and others who were thoroughly bad and irreclaimable. A few of these, notwithstanding their professions of friendship, every night regularly pilfered our bread. As we were generous to all the poor, even if it involved a personal hardship and [224/225] privation, we thought this a very ungrateful and unbecoming act. We complained to the guards; but as prisoners in Abyssinia are without the pale of the law, they merely rejoined: "We have to watch your person, and not your bread." Determined to detect the thief, Mrs. Rosenthal baked a loaf with a few grains of Tartar emetic in it--enough to make the offender sick, without doing him any actual harm. As usual, early in the morning the bread-basket was emptied. We went to the chief gaoler, and related him our mishap. "You know the thief?" was his reply. "Yes, we suspect him." More considerate than his subordinates, he ordered the culprit to be brought before him. The offender, who felt not the effects of a guilty conscience, but of a powerful medicine, in a whining voice, denied the charge. "Take care," was the reminder, "that you do not enhance the sin of theft by adding to it the guilt of lying." "I am innocent," was the plaintive rejoinder. The fear of detection, blended with the energetic action of the emetic, rendered concealment beyond the reach of possibility. He grinned, spat, made comically-wry faces, and tried, by all kinds of gestures and contortions, to suppress a nausea for which he could not account. Unable to restrain any longer the internal commotion which shook his frame, he cried out: "If I am to die, let me die with the truth [225/226] on my lips;" but ere the confession could find utterance he lay writhing on the ground, in the wholesome tortures of the emetic. The poor fellow, who imagined that every convulsive start would be his final struggle, with vows and supplications invoked saints and martyrs to carry him through the terrible conflict. Old Lik Maquas Hailu, the second chief gaoler, who knew the trick, requested Mr. Rosenthal to give him an antidote. "This," he added, "will lead everyone to suppose that you can communicate sickness and health, and thus your bread will never again be touched." A few cups of water and the assurance that he would live and not die reanimated the penitent thief, and henceforth our larder was inviolate.
The king, so long as he continued in our vicinity, amply contributed to keep up the excitement among his prisoners. Thus, one day a whole troop of Galla women, most, if not all, young and handsome, were brought to the prison. They had not been kidnapped by the dealers in human flesh, or seized what is termed in fight and open battle. Secure on their native upland glades, and in the homes that had sheltered their infancy and childhood, the defenceless creatures were, in the absence of parents and husbands, who had been summoned to a tribal council, surrounded by some robber bands of Theodore, and dragged into misery and bondage. Their mournful [226/227] looks, tremulous frames, and piteous sobs, as much as their youth and beauty, ought to have ensured them a generous and considerate treatment. Such, however, was not their unfortunate lot. Driven like a herd of cattle into the prison compound, where ruffianly guards had them at their own mercy, they remained in that foul abode about forty-eight hours, ere they were handed over as lawful property to the tender care of their brutal and savage captors. A raid or two made the Gallas more wary; and outposts were planted on every hill and pass to give warning of the enemy's approach. Driven by want, the king himself made occasionally forays into the adjacent hostile districts, but as they invariably cost him numbers of his people, and brought him no other return than half a score of prisoners, whom he sent to swell our overflowing gaol, he gave up these disastrous expeditions, and contented himself with annoying everyone on the Amba, not exempting his own poor queen, who more than once bled under the application of the terrible giraff or an eunuch's hard fist. His chief place of diversion was, however, the prison. To kill all would have been his delight, but, as already stated, he dreaded the disgust, horror, and consternation the act would excite. In the absence of tens he contented himself with units. Two young men, whose only crime consisted in that they sought to [227/228] facilitate their imprisoned master's escape, were one morning taken out of the compound, shot, and tossed down a steep precipice. One of them when called was busily engaged in washing some tobacco for Consul Cameron. Seated close to him, I quite accidentally asked him: "What do the guards want from you?" Briefly he replied, as if he had a presentiment of what was impending: "Egziabeher youkal" ("God knows"). It was the last sentence he uttered. On another occasion two soldiers who wanted to desert, after enduring the most fiendish tortures, were executed--one by the hands of the king, and the other by a near relative.
To vary the programme, his Majesty at one time would order a public rejoicing on account of a fictitious victory, pretended to have been achieved by his troops over a powerful enemy; and at another, because he had received positive intelligence that Tadlow Qualou in Godjam, or Wagshum Gobazie in Lasta, had expiated the crime of rebellion by the invisible arrow of the angel of death. Thus, on July 11, 1864, there was music and rejoicing, gaiety and merriment, singing and firing, the greater part of the night, because at Cubreed Amba, near the entrance of Shoa, the royal garrison [They were indeed faithful to their king, and only surrendered to the enemy when they saw themselves abandoned by a sovereign whom they had most faithfully served.] sustained [228/229] a defeat, and not as he, the truthful Negoos, alleged, because they had won a triumphant victory. The prisoners guessed the truth; and the roar of the cannon, the firing of musketry, and the shrill notes of the martial airs were to them, as they secretly expressed, a sure indication of Theodore's waning power and approaching fall. A few days later there were similar rejoicings, to celebrate the death of Tadlow Qualou, the Godjam rebel. He had already been buried and raised so many times, that the most devout friends of the Negoos could not refrain from joining in the waggish joke--"Tadlow Qualou is too bad for the grave, for it always casts him up again."