chapter  XIV
25 Pages

Chapter XIV

On the morning of the 5th of September, whilst at breakfast, one of our interpreters rushed into the hut, and told lIS that our friend Afa Negus Meshisha (the lute-player), and Bedjerand Comfou, one of the officers in charge of the godowns, had run away. Theirs was a long-preconcerted and ably managed plan. At the beginning of the rainy season, ground had been allotted to the various chiefs and soldiers, at Islamgee and at the foot of the mountain. Some of the chiefs made arrangements with the peasants living below for them to till the soil on their account, they supplying the seed grain, and the harvest to be divided between the two; others, who had many servants, did the work themselves. Afa Negus Meshisha's and Bedjerand Comfou's lots happened to be at the foot of the mountain; they themselves undertook the cultivation, occasionally visited their fields, and sent once or twice a "reek all their male and female servants to pullout the weeds under the superintendence of their wives. The whole of the

land they had received had not been put under cultivation, and, a few days before, Comfou spoke to the Ras about it, who advised him to sow some tef, as, with the prevailing scarcity, he would be happy to reap a second harvest. Comfou approved of the idea, and asked the Ras to send him a servant on the morning of the 5th, to allow him to pass the gates. The Ras agreed. On that very morning Meshisha went to the Ras, and told him that he also wanted to sow some tef, and asked him to allow him to go down. The Ras, who had not the slightest. suspicion, granted his request. Both had that morning sent down several of their servants to weed the fields, and, not to excite suspicion, had sent their wives by another gate, also under the same pretence. As the Gallas often attacked the soldiers of the garrison at the foot of the mountain, the door-keepers were not surprised to see the two officers well armed and preceded by their mules; nor did they take much notice of the bags their followers carried, when they were told that it was tef they were going to sow, a statement moreover corroborated by the Ras's servant himself. Off they started in open daylight, meeting many of the soldiers of the mountain on the way down. Arrived at the fields, they told their servants to follow them, and made straight for the Galla plain. Some of the soldiers who were at the time working at their fields suspected that all was not right, and at once returned to the Amba and

communicated their suspicions to the Ras. He had but to take a telescope to perceive the two friends winding their way in the distance along the road that led to the Galla plain. All the garrison was at once called out, and an immediate pursuit ordered; but during the interval the fugitives had gained ground, and were at last perceived quietly resting on the plain above, in company with such a respectable-looking body of Galla horsemen that prudence dictated to the braves of Magdala the advisability of not following any further. On their way back they found, hiding herself in the bushes, the wife of Comfou, carrying her infant babe in her arms. It appears that, flurried and excited, that young woman failed to find the place of rendezvous, and was concealing herself until the soldiers had passed by, when the cries of her child attracted their attention. She was triumphantly brought back, chained hand and feet, and cast into the common gaol, "awaiting orders."