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 XVIII

Theodore reaches Magdala,--Change of Guards--Release of Dr. Blanc and Lieut. Prideaux--Royal Promises to the Envoy and his Companions--Change of Sentiments--Bardel's Warning--Mr. Rassam and Theodore--Prisoners Released--Faith and Trust--Summons to the Royal Camp--Gracious Reception--Harmless Brag--The Despised Letter--Seven Executions--Revolting Massacre--Providential Escape--Return to Prison--Battle of Arogie--Diplomacy in Requisition--Lord Napier's Firmness and Courtesy--Theodore's Confession--Suicide Prevented--Suspected Treachery--Sympathy of Natives--Audience Refused--Contradictory Commands--Royal Designs--Divine Interposition--Arrival in the British Camp--Delicious Sensation--Easter Sermons--Theodore's Despair--Visit to Magdala--The Dead King--Success of the Expedition--Thanksgiving Service.

On March 25 the gay and merry li-la-la-lil of the women, and the excitement and bustle of the men, announced that King Theodore had reached Salamegee. Mr. Rassam, whose fetters had been taken off' a week before, sent a messenger to felicitate him on his arrival. He was not in a very gentle temper, and it was generally expected that it would require a considerable number of executions to appease his wrath. The messenger with the congratulations met with no very gracious reception, and he was glad enough to get safe and sound out of his presence. The next day he visited our fortress. He [368/369] was violent, coarse, and savage. Some of the Amba chiefs had ruffled his temper, and as he could not well afford to have them all butchered, he contented himself with bespattering them with volleys of the vilest epithets. More than half the garrison and all the chiefs were removed to the camp, and new men appointed to their posts. We did not like the change; for the old chiefs, bad as they were, had already become familiar with us, whilst the new ones were strangers to us, and of a reputation that made even Abyssinians afraid to come in contact with them.

Our new commandant had an inspection of his prisoners before sunset; and about ten in the evening we were ordered into two huts, which were strictly guarded by a set of coarse ruffians, in whose very countenances vice and malice had traced their most revolting lines. They mustered at least a hundred, a large number to guard only eight prisoners. This solicitude for our safety was not a very satisfactory and auspicious indication. Most of us, however, no longer troubled themselves about good or evil signs. We were impervious to troubles and trials, dangers and difficulties. Our long captivity had hardened us. We sighed for freedom, without perplexing our minds in what shape it would be effected. Life had almost lost its fascination, and death its sting. Liberty alone was the [369/370] word that haunted us by day, and occupied our dreams by night. A few more unpleasant shocks, a few more ugly encounters, a few more trying episodes we were prepared to sustain ere rest in heaven, or freedom on earth, would bring our miserv to a close.

On Sunday, March 29th, the king, accompanied by his ragged chiefs and the European workmen, visited Magdala a second time. A large scarlet tent was erected in the open space fronting our prison; carpets were spread; the troops ranged in a crescent form; and all sorts of preparations made that prognosticated something grand and imposing. "We were agreeably mistaken in our conjectures. His Majesty, for the nonce, abstained from enjoying the pleasure of a fresh trial of his white captives--a self-denial, no doubt, painful to his heart; and, to our delight, he contented himself by indulging in a long confabulation with his friend Mr. Rassam, who was summoned from his prison for this very purpose. As usual, he poured forth whole torrents of impotent brag. His subjects, his priests, the late primate, with whom, as ever, he associated my name, came in for a profuse share of 'abuse--the usual method in which he vented his rage on those whom he had most grievously wronged. To Consul Cameron, Mr. Rosenthal, and others he also adverted, and that too, in no very gentle terms. Towards Mr. Rassam [370/371] he was all smiles, devotion, and love. At the special request of the latter he removed the chains from the legs of his two companions. From his message to them it was evident that he would not have complied with that request, had he not regarded them with something approximating supercilious indifference: "You are neither my friends nor my enemies. I do not know who you are."

The operation of wrenching off the shackles occupied some time; and then, in conformity with Abyssinian court etiquette, they were conducted into the royal presence to acknowledge the favour that had been conferred on them. The king was all condescension and benignity. "I chained you," he said, "because your people believed that I was not a strong king. Now that your masters are coming, I release you, to show them that I am not afraid. Fear not; Christ is my witness; and God knows that I have nothing in my heart against you three. You came to this country knowing what the consul had done. Do not fear; nothing will happen to you. Sit down." He then adverted to the original quarrel, and, amongst other things, said: "When Consul Cameron came to my country I treated him well. On his departure I entrusted him with a letter to the Queen. He came back a second time, and on my asking him, 'Where is the reply to my letter?' he answered: 'I have not got one.' I then beat [371/372] Stern. I know," he added, "that Stern praised me in his book, and said I was a wonderful man. Well, I must prove that I can fight; for if I don't, he will write another book, and call me a coward. I will, however, make him stand near me; and if I am wounded in the left arm, I will wound him in the right. You, my friend (addressing Mr. Rassam), and your two companions, have nothing to fear; your lives are sacred."

This effusion of love, devotion, and attachment to Mr. Rassam was not of long duration. Theodore was as fickle in his affections as he was capricious in his hatred. He had no heart. He was guided by impulse. One moment he would solemnly vow eternal friendship, and the next moment he would forget his oath, and deliver the object of his ten-derest regards into the cruel hands of the executioner. Thus, on the Amba, Mr. Rassam was so dear to him that he would not injure a hair of his head, even if he knew (to use his own words) he would kick his lifeless corpse, and deny it burial; but no sooner did he reach the camp at Salamegee than he began to prate about killing Mr. Rassam, as he had brought enemies upon him.

The next day we heard that M. Bardel--the Frenchman, whom, with scarcely any exception, every one dreaded--had become seriously ill. Only about a fortnight before, he wrote an epistle to Mr. Kerans, [372/373] in which he said, in a tone of triumph, "Kerans, my boy! drink your ink! drink your ink! and don't write religious or political pamphlets. I have seen a pamphlet written by Stern, in which he describes his own and his companions' sufferings, not omitting the straw and the condition of the beard. There is a gentleman here [the king], if he knew of it, would give, not the pamphlet, but the writer's wrist, a red ribbon [cut off my hands]. Drink your ink, my boy! Drink your ink!" My companions, most considerately, wanted to keep the whole story concealed from me; but, by some accident, I heard of it, and then Mr. Kerans showed me that part of the letter which referred to me, the rest my fellow-prisoner told me I should not peruse, as it was too indecent. From the quotations, I suspected that the story of the pamphlet, of which I never before heard a word, was a fabrication; still, it gave me a shock, and some anxiety. Death I did not dread; but the faintest anticipation of torture made my heart palpitate, and my blood run cold. King Theodore, I knew, would not pardon any statement of his proceedings towards us, or any one of his prisoners, however cautiously it might have been worded; and, if really my friends had published some of my letters in a pamphlet, and a single page (which was not likely) had come back to Abyssinia, my doom was sealed. Dr. Blanc, in ciphers, kindly informed [373/374] General Merewether of M. Bardel's threat, and the danger to which I was exposed. His sickness allayed all surmises about the ropes, whip, and mutilating knife, which, ever since the arrival of the letter, most persistently haunted my imagination.

Early on the morning of April the 2nd, Mr. Rassam and his two companions received an order to repair to the royal camp at Salamegee. We did not know what the summons indicated, but we felt certain that it prognosticated nothing very dismal or inauspicious. Mr. Rassam still enjoyed ostensibly the favour of his Majesty, and, so long as that was not withdrawn, we felt certain that our heads, humanly speaking, were safe on our shoulders till the approach of the expedition. I certainly, during the last eighteen months, as all my letters, many of which appeared in the public journals, testify, never doubted that God, in His mercy, would deliver us. I prayed for freedom, and I believed that God would also grant it. The king might, perhaps, work himself into a state of frenzied passion; but I knew there was One above who could restrain his wrath and curb his violence. My expectation was not disappointed. King Theodore was, in the beginning of the interview, gruff and sullen; but gradually, Mr. Rassam told me, he became calm and affable. During the conversation which ensued, he dilated on his faded greatness, the ingratitude of his people, and [364/375] the ungracious repulses he had experienced from foreign potentates. The Emperor Napoleon, he asserted, had taken his envoy, M. Bardel, by the neck, and turned him out of his palace. Consul Cameron had offended him by coming back without bringing an answer to his letters; and the rest had all been guilty of some offence worthy of chains and a prison. Mr. Rassam, during his long interview, most considerately availed himself of an auspicious moment to solicit the removal of the fetters from the limbs of his five companions on the Amba. The request, which was readily granted, afforded great satisfaction to our native friends, and several at once hastened up the Amba to bring the mesratsh (happy tidings). Young Desitah, one of Mr. Rassam's interpreters, whom I had for several months under regular Christian instruction, outstripped his companions in the race. He was quite breatbless when he came into my hut; but, from the joy beaming in his sparkling eyes, I could perceive that he had no disastrous intelligence to communicate. It took more than an hour to wrench off the fetters, which, for twenty-one months, without a single day's release, had encircled our legs. We dreaded the homage we might have to render for the clemency we had experienced; but, to our satisfaction, his Majesty was too busy with his big mortar to trouble himself about a few prisoners, who, notwithstanding that they were [375/376] freed from chains, were still as much as ever in his dungeons and grasp.

Slowly the hours of our captivity rolled on. We knew that in less than a week our fate would be decided, and our wretched existence either close in death or liberty. Every incident was now of great significance, and every word the king uttered of momentous import. From four to four years and a half the old captives had lingered in chains and a gaol, and, as the crisis of our sad history approached its climax, it was natural that we should feel a deep and overwhelming anxiety about the issue. Some of our party, myself among the number, were animated by the most sanguine hopes; still, we could not divest ourselves entirely of those fears and doubts, dread and horror, which our position inspired. My confidence and faith in our ultimate release had, during our second captivity, been only once or twice a little shaken, and I was determined, in the final crisis, to continue with unyielding trust to cling to Him who is emphatically the refuge of the oppressed, the strength of the weak, and the help of the destitute.

About sunset, on the 6th, we received an intimation that, on the following morning, all the prisoners, Europeans and natives, would have to repair to the royal camp. We did not much appreciate this impending change from a dingy prison-hut to a tented [376/377] camp confinement. It was a sad exit that awaited us next day. We had a considerable number of friends on the Amba, and many of these repaired at an early hour to the open space in front of our prison, to see us taking our departure. They all looked sad, disconsolate, and sorrowful; and it was evident, from the sighs and irrepressible tears of the multitude, what doom they imagined would be our lot. The native prisoners, between four and five hundred, who, owing to their hand and foot chains, in a bent and stooping posture shuffled on in our rear, heaved the deepest and most heart-rending groans and sighs. Their eyes were riveted on us with an agonising interest, for they knew that the reception accorded to us would be the verdict of their own fate. To the joy and delight of our friends, and the numerous victims of lawless tyranny, his Majesty gave us a most friendly salutation. On perceiving my long hair, which I had allowed to grow undipped as a protection round the neck from heat and cold, he smilingly turned his eyes on me, and said: "O Cocab, why have you plaited your hair?" Samuel forestalled my response by replying: "Your Majesty, it is not plaited; it falls naturally over his shoulders."

The bustle and tumult, din and confusion, which prevailed near the spot where we were standing, induced the king to move out of the heaving and toiling multitude by whom he was encompassed. [377/378] The officials followed, but the rest of the captives kept at a respectful distance. His Majesty was exceedingly affable, courteous, and polite. He dilated on all sorts of topics, but the tenor of his conversation was so incoherent that his efforts, and he was a master in disguising his real sentiments, failed to conceal the conflicting thoughts that occupied his mind. After an hour's interview, he ordered us all to repair to a gorgeous tent which, in the absence of Mr. Rassam's, had been erected for our accommodation.

After this interview with his white captives, he compensated himself for the little self-denial his courtesy had imposed, by a good deal of bluster and brag on the victories and triumphs he was about to achieve. Amongst other things he said: "The English, ever since the time of Noah, have cast cannons, and manufactured guns and powder, whilst we only commenced yesterday; but don't be afraid, we shall strip them of their arms, and you will be clad in their gay and gorgeous garments." Such and a variety of similar effusions came flowing from his lips, in smooth and well-shaped phrases, till weary with the effort, he dismissed his bands, and mounting his mule, proceeded, accompanied by his European workmen and several chiefs, up to the summit of Salasie, from whence he had a full view of the onward movement of the expeditionary force.

[379] Next day a messenger brought a letter from Sir Robert, now Lord Napier of Magdala. The road to the very camp being infested by robbers and insurgents, it was necessary to stitch the missive in a seam of the bearer's ragged inexpressibles to essure its safety. Theodore was quite indignant at receiving a small note, instead of a large letter. He was told that it was not disrespect, but necessity, that had compelled the commander-in-chief to send such an epistle. "It is true," he responded, "the road is full of thieves and robbers, but who is this man that addresses himself to me? I wrote some years ago to his Queen, and she did not answer me; does he suppose that I shall enter into a correspondence with him? Take the paper away, I don't want to see it." This was, however, merely bluster, for when the messenger and his own chiefs had retired, he sent for Samuel, and requested to know the contents of Lord Napier's despatch.

In the afternoon of the same day he was angry, passionate, and savage. To quell the fury of his wrath, it was necessary that blood should flow. He had not yet decided on the massacre of his prisoners, but to appease the demon that devoured his heart, a few victims had to be sacrificed. Seven individuals were immediately selected for a holocaust to pacify the blood-thirsty Moloch. Among the innocent sufferers was a young woman and her infant, the [379/380] wife of the fugitive Becherwand Confou, who had decamped in September last. Ever since the flight of her husband, she had been a prisoner, and probably the long reprieve she had experienced led her to cherish the pleasing illusion that her young life, and that of her babe, would not be sacrificed to the despot's resentment. Poor woman--like hundreds more--she dreamt of life, freedom, and happiness, till the executioner dragged her and the innocent creature clasped in her slender arms, to a horrible and cruel death.

These incipient butcheries were merely a prelude to still greater atrocities and more extensive massacres. In the afternoon of the next day we were suddenly startled by the sound of an intermittent musketry. I looked out of the tent to see whether the king was fackering (bragging). The rash of armed soldiers from every part of the camp, indicated that something serious and disastrous was taking place. All was hushed, as if the silencer of all sounds had suddenly traversed those lines of huts and tents in which noise and clamour perpetually reigned. The rattle of musketry blended with the yells of despair, and the shouts of rage fell, however, with an ominous and appalling horror on our ears. "What is the matter?" I inquired of my neighbour. "Hist," was the response, "the king is killing all the prisoners." These terrible words diffused an [380/381] aguish chill through my very heart. "What!" I involuntarily ejaculated, "killing his prisoners--men whose only crime consists in their having served, and served faithfully, too, a tyrant to whom they ought never to have tendered allegiance?" Most of the sufferers were our former companions in the common gaol, which deepened the sympathy we felt for them in their last mortal struggle. The sun had already disappeared from the horizon, and twilight spread a dismal, dusky hue over the scene around, and still the firing continued unabated. With night it gradually diminished, and then only isolated shots reverberated across the panic-stricken camp.

The slaughter lasted about three hours, and during that interval three hundred and seven human beings were, unwarned, and perhaps unprepared, hurled into eternity. Some of the prisoners did not unresistingly yield to their woeful doom. One, Immer Ali, a native of Ferga, near the Tzana Lake, formerly a chief of consideration in his province, in spite of hand and foot chains, with a convulsive grasp dragged his executioner towards the precipice over which he was to be hurled. The hangman, who dreaded the doom which he intended to inflict on his fellow man, shouted for help. On hearing the cry the tyrant, tiger-like, sprang forward and with his gory sword literally hacked the man to [381/382] pieces. One victim after another lay writhing and quivering in the last pangs at the foot of the dizzy precipice, and still the tyrant's rage was un-appeased. "Bring the white men, and let their blood flow, mingled with that of my own subjects," was the order that fell from his lips. Already, we were informed, whole bands of ruffians stood prepared to seize the intended prey, when several chiefs, no friends of the foreign captives, stepped forward, and requested that our execution might be deferred till next day. "Your Majesty," they respectfully remarked, "the white men do not deserve the easy death of the sword and bullet; no, keep them till to-morrow, and then let the slow torture of a flaming hut put an end to their existence." "You are right," was the response.

We were not unconscious of the perils by which we were encompassed, still we could scarcely realise that our lives were suspended on such a slender thread. One minute's silence, one repressed sentence of the chiefs, and the gulf between time and eternity would have been crossed. When the above fact was narrated to me by one of my companions, I was utterly lost in bewildering amazement. Our Heavenly Father, I knew, had more than once interposed between us and a violent death, but such a visible display of his guardian care and protection overwhelmed me with a feeling of awe akin to that [382/383] which the high priest must have experienced when he entered the holy of holies, and stood in the immediate presence of the Shechinah.

The following day was Good Friday, which the Abyssinian Church most strictly observes. The tyrant, though a perfect fiend and coarse blasphemer, repaired, from a superstitious impulse, at a very early hour to church. On his return he sent word to Mr. Rassam that we should without delay repair to our Amba prison. It was a delightful message, and I believe no prisoners ever returned to their dungeons with greater joy than the white captives did to their huts on the fortress of Magdala. The very walls of those dismal abodes, which before imparted a desponding melancholy to our minds, on that very morning beamed with a peace and serenity that sent back to our cold hearts a warm tide of gladness and joy to which, for a long, long time, they had been perfect strangers. It was a perfect bliss to quit the royal charnel-house, and to breathe once more, if even for a few hours, an atmosphere not impregnated with blood and death.

In the afternoon of the same day we heard that a division of the expeditionary force had approached till within two hours of our fortress. Some of our servants who had followed us came every instant into our huts with some intelligence about the dress, looks, and attitude of the soldiers whom their piercing [383/384] glances detected on the heights around Arogie. Samuel, who was justly afraid lest their observations should be reported, and draw on us the tyrant's resentment, ordered none to move out of their tents, if they dreaded the whip.

Between three and four p.m., the boom of a distant thunder, which the rocks and cliffs reverberated for miles and miles around the isolated Amba, made us all start on our legs. "Was that rattle a peal of thunder or the roar of cannon?" formed the question of every lip. Again and again the sky above awakened the sleeping echoes of the surrounding scenes, intermingled apparently with other sounds than those created by the shadowy and hazy clouds that hung pall-like over our homes. It was now no longer doubtful that the royal artillery was in full play, and that the king was either bragging or engaged in a regular fight. We could not believe that he had ventured to measure his strength with disciplined troops, and the victorious li-li-lil, which floated from the royal camp up to the fortress, where every woman and child repeated the shrill notes, till their throats were hoarse from the exertion, rendered the very thought ridiculous and absurd. At ten o'clock in the evening, Messrs. Flad, Waldemeier, and several of the king's servants, came to our prison to announce to us the cheering intelligence that a fight had taken place, and that his Majesty's troops [384/385] had sustained a most signal and fatal defeat. The crest-fallen tyrant who, only little more than eighteen months before, claimed the universe for his realm, had learnt a lesson from the destructive contest at Arogie which, had it been administered to him a few years before, might have spared Abyssinia an incalculable amount of bloodshed, misery, and desolation. "Once I thought," was the message to Mr. Rassam, "that your people were women, and could not stand before me, but I find that they are men. I have been beaten by the fit aurari (advanced guard). My musketeers are dead. Prove that you are my friend, and reconcile me with the man who is stronger than I." Mr. Rassam returned a polite and most judicious reply. He informed the king that the object of his mission had been the re-establishment of peace between England and Abyssinia, and that although he had failed in achieving this end, he was still as friendly disposed as ever, and if his Majesty was inclined to listen to his counsel, he would advise him to give up to the commander-in-chief all the prisoners. Not to irritate the chafed lion he, however, proposed to send Lieut. Prideaux as his envoy to Lord Napier, if his Majesty consented to send one of the Europeans and some of his own chiefs to accompany him.

Excited by drink, his Majesty, when the delegates returned, had become oblivious of the errand on which [385/386] they had been despatched. Towards dawn the fumes of the alcohol evaporated, and the messengers received instructions to depart for the British camp.

Lord Napier was exceedingly attentive and courteous towards the native envoy, Dejatch Alamie. His affability did not, however, modify his demands for the surrender of all the Europeans, and the unconditional submission of Theodore to the Queen of England, who would award him honourable treatment.

Persuaded that all negotiations would be futile if these conditions were not promptly complied with, the delegates hurried back to the royal camp. During the interval King Theodore dictated a semi-defiant letter to the commander-in-chief. "You," he wrote, "have prevailed against me.....Believing myself to be a great lord I gave you battle, but by reason of the worthlessness of my artillery, all my pains were as nought. The people of my country by taunting me with having embraced the religion of the Franks, and by saying that I had become a Mussulman, and in ten different ways, provoked me to anger against them. Out of what I have done evil towards them may God bring good.....Since the day of my birth till now, no man has dared to lay hand on me. Wherever my soldiers began to waver in battle, it was mine to arise and rally them. Last night the darkness hindered me from doing so. ... I had hoped, after subduing all my enemies [377/378] in Abyssinia, to lead my people against Jerusalem and to expel from it the Turks. A warrior who has dandled strong men in his arms like infants will never suffer himself to be dandled in the arms of others." This document, together with a letter he had received from Lord Napier, were handed to the messengers. Before, however, finally dismissing them, he inquired what honourable treatment of himself and family signified, and on not receiving the desired explanation, he turned to those who surrounded him, and ironically remarked: "Does the man know anything about my family that he speaks of honourable treatment? Has he counted the number of my wives and children?"

Impassive to a degree that rendered us almost if not altogether impervious to those fluctuations of hope and fear, which, under ordinary circumstances, might have agitated our whole being to a feverish pitch, we passed our forenoon in comparative peace and tranquillity.

The messengers had been gone about two hours, when the king, goaded to despair by the mad fury that burned in his heart, seized a pistol, and dashing the muzzle into his mouth, wanted to put an end to his own existence. Several of his chief's promptly wrenched the weapon out of his hand. In the struggle the pistol exploded, and inflicted a wound on the royal ear. The chiefs, who were all deeply [387/388] affected, urged him to shake off all despondency, and to prove himself worthy of the name he bore. "Our lives are yours," they said, "and we will fight, and if necessary, die with you. Let us bravely defy the Frendjoj, and if they venture to approach, they shall have dead and not living captives." To this honest remonstrance--and it was honest, for they fell fighting at his side during the capture of Magdala--he deigned no reply, but turning to Betwodet Hassanei and Ras Bissawur, he ordered them to go to our prison and inform us that we were free, and could go to the camp. I could scarcely believe the import of the message, so utterly opposed did it appear to reason, common sense, and the usual tactics of Theodore.

We instantly got ready to obey the royal behest, the most gracious he ever issued, when another messenger arrived to inform us that it was probably too late that day to reach the British camp, and that we should postpona our departure till the next day. As we all harboured a vague dread that our exit was a mere blind to give ├ęclat to some base treachery, we did not regret another night's reprieve. After waiting an hour, more peremptory orders were conveyed to us that we should start. As we emerged out of our prison we encountered many faces bathed in tears. It was touching to see that even at Magdala there were hearts not indifferent to the [388/389] foreigners, or unconcerned about our freedom and release. The kind and sympathetic groups, like ourselves, imagined that the march into the royal camp was a short funeral procession to execution and the grave. Near the gates of the fortress we met Messrs. Meyer and Saalrnuller, two of the European artisans, who were to escort us into the British camp. "Is there any treachery?" we anxiously inquired of our appointed conductors. "We are not aware that there is," was the response. "We know for certain," they added, "that a little while ago the king intended to commit suicide, and had he succeeded in his design, you and every European in the camp would, ere this, have fallen beneath the lances and swords of the enraged chiefs." That the restraint imposed on the tyrant's violence should, humanly speaking, prove the safeguard of his captives, seemed to me an interposition so miraculous and Divine, that I dismissed all apprehensions, and rapturously contemplated the approaching hour of freedom and liberty.

The order was, that we should quit the camp without delay. We were quite willing to obey this behest, had not two of the chiefs, who were friendly disposed towards us, unsolicited sent a message to their master that we were loth to leave without a parting interview. Certainly we had no desire to encounter once more the ash-coloured countenance [389/390] and vengeance-flashing eye of Theodore. The chiefs knew that perfectly well, and to forestall that sad catastrophe, which they anticipated the commander-in-chief of the British forces would visit with a retributive vengeance, they took every precaution to avert it. Two or three messages new forwards and backwards from the king to his white captives, and at last the order came that his Majesty would receive Mr. Rassam, and no one else.

Our friend, in full diplomatic uniform, and surrounded by a whole concourse of chiefs and royal domestics, hurried on to Fahla, whilst the other seven captives and Mrs. Rosenthal, who was a semi-prisoner, and always associated with us, which was not the case with the rest, were driven along a path that lay at the foot of serrated cliffs and shivered rocks that were literally crowded with spectators. [The members of the mission, unlike the old prisoners, were not stripped of their property.] King Theodore, we were told, was not two hundred yards from the spot where we stood. This startled us. Go on--stop--to the right, to the left, were the contradictory commands that hissed in whispering notes along the line formed by the captives and their guards.

Hemmed in by dizzy precipices and lofty rocks, the frowning countenance of the king in front, and the anxious and expectant gaze of numerous [390/391] guards in the rear, we resolved not to risk the peril of an unguarded step till Ave positively knew what course to pursue. Pale and trembling we awaited the issue of the next few minutes. The clatter of shields and the glimmer of spears made me turn to the right, and to my amazement I beheld Theodore threading his way between huge blocks towards the path where we were standing. Instantly we all fell prostrate on the ground and saluted him. He looked flushed, distracted, and wild. When close to me, and I was the fifth in the rear, his fiery gaze lighted for a moment on me, and then in a smooth soft tone, he said: "Howr are you? Good-bye." It was the sweetest Amharic to which I had ever listened--the most rapturous sentence that ever greeted my ears. It was said that-at the very moment when he dismissed Mr. Rassam, his hand grasped a gun, evidently with the design of discharging it at his white captives. Had he done so, the group of musketeers by whom he was surrounded would have followed his example. Impelled by an invisible power, the weapon with the rapidity of the lightning's flash, dropped out of his hold, and Divine mercy, not Theodore's clemency, saved us from a violent death.

Slowly and solemnly we marched on our way. There was no haste or hurry which might have aroused the tyrant's wrath, and brought the [391/392] executioner upon us, but the measured tramp of men who reluctantly leave a spot where they would willingly linger. Once, however, beyond the hated camp, we accelerated our steps, and did not halt till we were within sight of our liberators' closely ranged conical tents. Evening had already set in, and dark shades shrouded every object from our view. On, on we rapidly strode. Suddenly we heard a challenge. They were Indian pickets. They salaamed us in tones of evident pleasure. We advanced. The hum of voices became more distinct. There was a shout, a cheer, and a hurrah. A clear melodious voice resounded far above the hum and murmur of the wide-stretching lines, it was from its accents the voice of an officer, and the message it conveyed was affecting, solemn, and significant. "God has heard his people's prayer, and disposed King Theodore to let his prisoners go."

It was, indeed, a wonderful deliverance. King Theodore and his few faithful chiefs had no intention to grant us freedom and liberty. They had resolved to immolate us on that very path, which they foresaw our liberators would, ere many hours had elapsed, traverse. One word, and one only would have stretched us lifeless on the hard and rocky ground. God, however, was with us, and He alone conducted ns safely through the midst of the murderous band, who were quite prepared to imbrue their [392/393] hands in the white man's blood. Twice his chiefs, and particularly Ras Engeda, urged him, as we were quitting the camp, that he should wrench off our hands and feet, and thus demonstrate that he feared no enemy and dreaded no danger. "No; I have already killed people enough, let the white men go and be free."

Having yielded to an irresistible power, and given up his most valued hostages, he unhesitatingly complied with Lord Napier's firm and unbending demand, and on the following day, Easter Sunday, surrendered his European workmen and their families. This last act of submission may, perhaps, have been prompted by a faint hope that the commander-in-chief would now withdraw his troops and leave Magdala in possession of a gang of desperadoes, to carry on their atrocious and murderous trade. He forgot the condition imposed on him, and had to learn that a British general is as true to his word as he is faithful to his sword.

I was during the whole of that day in a state" of delicious ecstacy and dreamy raptures. Unrestrained freedom appeared to me unnatural. I felt as if I could not divest myself of the idea that I was no longer guarded, that I needed not to conceal every scrap of paper, or burn the letters with which dear friends and kindred in anticipation greeted my safe arrival in the British camp. It was, indeed, a [393/394] resurrection festival--a foretaste of that glorious resurrection, when the grave will be deprived of its precious treasures, death of its ghastly trophies, and the lap of decay and mortality become the abode of life and everlasting beauty.

In the afternoon, at the request of the senior chaplain, the Rev. E. S. Goodhart, I preached twice in the camp on the solemn subject suggested by the stupendous events of that grand festival of the Church. The roll of the drum, the clash of arms, the long line of troops, and above all, the vague consciousness that I was free, and stood among friends who had encountered innumerable hardships, toils, and privations, to rescue me and Taj companions out of the fangs of a remorseless tyrant, made my heart gush forth with emotions of the deepest gratitude towards God and man.

Early next morning all the troops marched up to Magdala. King Theodore, to forestall his capture, tried to decamp. His people feigned as if they intended to follow him. There was the usual bustle and clamour of voices, the saddling of mules, and striking of tents; but after waiting for an hour--an hour in which was crowded and compressed a terrible future--he perceived that he was disobeyed, abandoned, and forsaken by the men in whom his last hopes and expectations were centred. In a trice his charger's head was turned towards the mutinous host. [394/395] His effort to stimulate their courage and to animate their devotion was in vain. His voice had lost its charm, and his words fell on deaf ears. Indignant, furious, and almost mad, he clutched his pistol and stretched the nearest two dead on the spot where they stood. This outburst of rage did not frighten into submission the rebellious bands, and the dreaded leader of victorious legions, with his few devoted and faithful chiefs, was forced to seek a refuge and shelter from a foe he had so proudly defied, behind the ramparts of a rocky fortress. Desperation imparted vigour to his arm, and valour to his heart. His career of blood was, however, fated to close. He had enthralled myriads and myriads of helpless beings; he had rioted again and again in the throes and agonies of the weak and defenceless; he had literally shed streams of human blood, and now when every prospect looked dark and dismal, that very pistol which had been so familiar with death, became the instrument with which he sealed his own doom.

On the following morning, I rode with Mr. Goodhart and Captain Nicholson up to Magdala. Our path wound along the precipice, where lay in putrefying heaps the slaughtered corpses of the great king's prisoners. The sight made me shudder, and, almost loudly, I ejaculated: "Here my mortal career would have terminated, had not an invisible power [395/396] interposed in behalf of a helpless captive and the sharers of his misery." On the Amba itself all was activity and animation. There was now no longer heard the clank of galling chains, or witnessed the sad glance of despair. Every one looked happy and content. There were still some prisoners with portions of their fetters dangling on their legs. They had, however, no shadow on their brow; on the contrary, their hearts were overflowing with an excess of gratitude that stifled their voices, and only in broken accents they could breathe forth their true, genuine, and hearty blessings on their deliverer (Lord Napier). It was quite an exciting scene. The whole fortress swarmed with crowds of the curious and busy. Some collected Theodore's treasures, others despatched them down to the camp, and not a few, like myself, idly sauntered about, to have a full view of a spot that will for generations to come live in the history of British enterprise, energy, and valour. The king had not yet been buried. He was laid out on a stretcher, in a hut which for many months formed the dungeon of one of his white captives. To behold that man, whose nod or word had often caused myriads and myriads to tremble, now rigid, gory, and dumb, awoke in me many solemn reflections. I now no longer remembered the tyrant who had transformed fertile provinces into tangled wildernesses, and happy homes into charred ruins. I no longer remembered [396/397] the sufferings he had inflicted on me for four years and a half. I no longer remembered the throes and agonies of a nation, in which he found his delight to revel. No; my views wandered beyond the limits of time, and the visions that rose before my mind made me rush out of the familiar hut.

The expedition, undertaken in the cause of humanity, and followed by the prayers of thousands, had achieved a most noble, glorious, and bloodless triumph. Magdala, however, still stood out in bold relief from the surrounding scenery, a proud monument of Theodore's conquest and power. Unexpectedly, on the 17th April, a mass of dense smoke rose in circling columns from the centre of the fortress. In a few minutes it became more bright and luminous. The last stronghold of Theodore was on fire. It was a glorious sight--a sight which thrilled with joy the heart of the Amhara and Galla, the liberated captive and the victorious soldier.

On the following Sunday there was a thanksgiving service. The preacher selected for his text the words of the Apostle, "Thanks be unto God, which giveth us the victory." All felt the truth of this significant sentence--all were struck with its solemn import. It was indeed a victory--a victory achieved by prayer, and redounding to the glory of Him who has said, "Thou shalt call, and I will answer."


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