Chapter 41

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Kowloon, Hong Kong, South China.
Monday 16 April, 1928

Rain sloshed by the glass, fall shelves of transparencies, damp seeping into the crammed apartment. He moved, skinned head above ochre robes. His identity: kitchen cleaner. The moments of surface wiping, cloth folding and dusting re-energised his space and his health. Then he became tenzuo, cook. He arranged two carrots, a potato, parsley, as knock bang knock reverberated at the door.

Trebitsch Lincoln? I’m from the South China Daily News.”

The voice was male, British with a hint of American, forty-something.

There is no one here of that name,” said Trebitsch.

Are you plotting more intrigue against the British Empire?” he asked.

Breathing calmly, Trebitsch opened the door. The man was five foot and forty-something. He’d a full head of grey-red hair, slits of blue eyes and was clean shaven.

Now listen. My time in politics has ended. I simply wish to be left alone,” said Trebitsch. And they talked.

Peking, North China.
Three Weeks Later: May, 1928.

At her temple, Alice Cleather raked sand in n gentle geometric motions. Her moves reflected the changes of the city: new streets and public parks, changing attitudes to food, waste and water. Though replaced by Nanking as the capital, she was not done yet. For a half hour the woman in her mid-eighties had forgotten this and forgotten the burden of leadership. The once graceful round curves of her body has become thin, sharp and jagged. She hears the detective’s approach, and quieter, Basil’s steps. She didn’t look, just carried on marking out the furrow.

You’d do well to keep your people close,” said Doyle. “Thirty dead in Jinan last night. The Japanese and Kai-shek’s forces each converge on Peking.”

Yes we heard,” said Basil. “Where is Trebitsch Lincoln?”

I spoke with him in Kowloon,” said Doyle. “Pretended to be a journalist. Didn’t get much; the authorities deported him two weeks later.”

Good,” said Basil.

They deported him by sea,” Doyle said. “I have a contact that puts him in Dalian.”

Cleather slowed her rake down to a vibration near stillness. For the first time she looked up, into the chubby face and grey-red hair of her sleuth. Her calm fell into distress, mouth and eyes knocked wide open. Tall Basil Crump was usually unflappable. The news of their competitor reflected Cleather’s panic in his tired dark eyes.

He’s in Manchuria?” asked Cleather. Though English she’d grown a Chinese accent, a venomous one, and the words came out like a spit.

Possibly Manchuria. Rumours grow easily round this fellow,” said Doyle.

What did he say to you in Kowloon?” asked Basil.

Very little. That he devotes his life to spiritualism. He intends to reach Tibet.”

Dalian is three days by foot from Mudken…” said Cleather.

The Panchen Lama is in Inner Mongolia,” said Basil.

Far from persecutors and pretenders. As it should be,” said Cleather.

We need to address the bill,” said Doyle, taking a sheet from his jacket.

Cleather waved it away. “Basil will pay you on the way out.”

She watched them leave and then turned back to work. A monk behind her threw a seed out in slow motion.

Jiahao, come here,” she said.

The Foreign Office, London
One Year Later: June 1929

William Tyrrell took Lincoln’s file and slapped it on his desk. Each time there was a new Minister, especially a Labour minister, he was required to train them up. Official policy stated Lincoln was to be ignored. Reports on his activities were also discouraged. The existence of his file was a paradox-fuelled headache emblematic of the man himself.

There were many reports the previous year, most from friends of Buddhists and Theosophists in Peking. They were international, of course, right down to a Croydon bank manager. Tyrrell turned the pages faster. April: Shanghai, Hangchow; Mid-May: Tientsin, Manchuria, and then Tientsin again in August. There, Vice-Consul George had ignored orders, and listened to Lincoln’s paranoid tales. Lincoln had stalkers and George wanted to know if he should be offered police protection.

Tyrrell remembered this was when he’d tired rebuking officials with bothersome sightings. George’s superior, Jamieson had written the next day, of Lincoln’s sell-out public lecture to the Tientsin Rotary Club. Jamieson had written them a strongly worded letter. Then the same from Ambassador Lampson in Shanghai the very next day! The previous Autumn Tyrrell had reprimanded Lampson’s second, Steptoe, on the Lincoln matter.

William Tyrrell wondered why they had so much intel on a man supposedly dead to them. Today’s entry was a plea from Lincoln, asking to be let into England to see his sons. It came through the PM’s office, wired on a boat from Shanghai to Hamburg. Before Tyrrell put it with the others he flipped the next page forward and back and found a strange thing. Six months before, an official statement from the Indian government denying Lincoln (nor T.E. Lawrence) were in Afghanistan.

Other than the report of no report, and the PM’s message, there were, well, no reports. For a year, Lincoln had seemingly disappeared.

Shanghai, East China Coast.
One Year Later: May 1930.

The central waterfront strip, The Bund, was home to the five floor Cathay Hotel. Completed only a year before, it was a luxurious sanctuary from the world’s cares. Noel Coward and Emily Hahn stayed here. Charlie Chaplin called by. Brawls erupted in the streets outside but arrangements between police and crime gangs kept the parties in swing. It was a magical time in a magical city with an edge to it: the storm that was about to break.

Walking through the ground floor brasserie, property magnate Silas Hardoon waved to his tenants: the shaven-headed monk and the silver haired ex-politician. They waved back as Hardoon passed. It was eight years since Lincoln waited for Bauer in Vienna, and enlisted Kreitner to ghost write his autobiography.

I missed his funeral. He had me on a job in Berlin,” said Kreitner.

Energy is the true matter of the universe. Bauer is still at work. After I was barred from entering Germany I made it to Rotterdam, and crossed the Netherlands into Belgium. I worked on the book on the train and when I arrived in Paris. It is ready.”

Did you change those names?” asked Kreitner.

Trebitsch bent over for his satchel. In the space behind him Cleather’s monk, Jiahao, faced Kreitner. Trebitsch raised his head. In his hands were two hundred typed and marked pages. He ran his fingers across ‘his’ first chapter, liquid metal flapping from beneath his nails. He repeated the motion on chapter two as the silver formed tiny spheres. A dozen floating pearls circled Trebitsch’s field of vision. As he spoke they seemed to spark.

There are people who have wronged me. While I have a platform, I will not be idle while they wrong others.”

Kreitner lifted a chapter from the pile and flicked through to the second page. “They won’t print this. And if they do, we’ll be sued in court!” he said.

Trebitsch countered, “We name names or foist obsolete negativity upon the world.”

We’ll be open to libel,” said Kreitner as he put a pen through two lines.

Trebitsch sunk his head and Jiahao watched.

Peking, North China.
One Year Later: May 1931.

Political power and wealth are leaving Peking. Bank capital disappears to nothing. It becomes the old world again, in narrow dusty streets. Yet the people continue. There are street kitchens, barbers, cloth shoe cobblers, and one man theatres. Men walk their birds. Cigarette stubs are turned to new rollies by coolies. Cleather’s monks stroll along Wangfujing with it’s many shops. The cool air stirs their consciousness. On a bench, a balding old Westerner with a full grey-red beard reads a hardback.

Cleather said, “I like the beard, Mr. Doyle. Three years has made all the difference.”

He stared up at her and the two acolytes. “Speak of the devil. I guess you’ve seen this?”

Doyle raised the book. Cleather’s acolyte, Basil Crump took it. The cover title was ‘Die Autobiographie eines Abenteurers’, authored by I.T. Trebitsch-Lincoln.

Autobiography of An Adventurer,” said Doyle. “Berliners can’t get enough of it. Have you had dealings with him lately?”

We have not,” said Cleather.

Doyle told her, “He’s in Nanking. His latest nom de plume is Chao Kung.”

Yes, we are aware of this,” said Basil. He passed the book to Cleather who waved it off.

Yes, you’re watching him,” said Doyle. “How many updates has Jiahao sent in the last year?”

Our decision has been made,” said Basil.

We do not require your services, Mr. Doyle,” said Cleather.

He leafed back through to his place in the book. “The British employed me to track him. I thought you might appreciate some of the benefits of that at a discount.”

We have no need of rude outsiders,” said Basil.

Good day, Doyle,” said Cleather.

An hour later, Basil remarked to Cleather that Doyle must have faith in his sources. If Trebitsch was in the South, in Nanking, what was Doyle doing there in Peking, a thousand kilometres away?

At the same moment Doyle was sat aboard a train, across from the Venerable Master. He rolled in and out of sleep eight hours to Nanking, eyeing the monk occasionally. The carriages paused at Tientsin then carried on twenty minutes to the new capital.

Nanking still rebuilt from Kai-shek’s power grab four years before. Then raided embassies and mass looting drew reprisals from the international community. The British had sent heavy and light cruisers, destroyers, explosive rounds and bomb craters, Snipers returned fire and forty people died, mostly the Chinese, until one of Kai-shek’s commanders reigned his men in. Deserters and communists were blamed. Now Nanking was home to a fast growing population. The Kuomintang party hosted national conferences and outlined progress toward a constitutional government.

The next day two birds winged by as Doyle followed the bells toward the laurel trees. The brick building he sought was at the heart of Pao-hua Shan temple. Inside, public observers of the ceremony were sat on chairs around the edges. He joined Prop-Moller, a Dane expert in Buddhism, as twelve monks read the twelve precepts of the Bodhisattva.

Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t engage in sexual misconduct. Don’t lie or engage in wrong speech. Don’t sell or consume alcoholic beverages or other recreational drugs.

The Venerable Master’s palms were together in prayer and Trebitsch Lincoln a.k.a.‘Chao Kung’ kneeled to the left of him. A triangle chimed between the chanting of each commandment.

Don’t discuss the faults of the Buddhist assembly. Don’t praise oneself and speak ill of others. Don’t be stingy or hostile to others who are less fortunate.

Doyle got that this was a big deal. The initiation of the Bodhisattva, the one who stays behind; he who delays reaching nirvana out of compassion for all.

Don’t harbour anger or resentment. Don’t slander the triple Jewel of the Buddha, the Dharma or the Sangha.

Then, the Venerable Master said there were forty-eight other precepts and the monks began to chant each in turn. Doyle stifled a sigh. He wasn’t one for sitting around, hence checking on the Master in Peking. Twelve candles smoked, and would have warmed his heart but they had first been dipped in India ink and the fumes stank. Cleather’s man Jiahao was there, knelt on floor cushions with other monks. Among the guests he spied a monk he saw with Cleather and Basil Crump before leaving Peking. Doyle was sure of it. Perhaps they, or ‘Chao Kung’, would recognise him. He’d have an excuse to leave. He wondered how many pages there were to the ordination booklets.

The monks rose and Master spoke and they chanted more and he didn’t understand much of it. Then, one stepped forward and covered the head of ‘Chao Kung’ with a shawl. ‘Kung’ was led to the foot of the Master, literally, taking the ankle in both hands. The first candle was brought forward. The Master dipped a pen into it and scribed a star into Kung’s forehead. He gripped the Master’s leg tight as the pen seared his flesh. A second star was tattooed on the initiate’s head, then, a slow third carving and Doyle’s face was pale. The initiate’s face contorted. He trembled and squeezed the Master’s leg through the fourth and fifth. There were twelve stars in all and the pain was immense. He resisted screams that would have been heard throughout Nanking.

Peking, North China.
Six Weeks Later: June 1931.

On her walk through Tianamen Square Alice Cleather tried not to think about the second man she’d sent to follow Lincoln, or the news he’d brought back. It was the morning Lincoln’s book had been reviewed in the London Times. ‘Short and summary, makes amazing reading.’ As she turned onto Dongjiaomin Alley she saw the English edition in the window of a book-store. Cleather breathed in cold morning air to keep anger at bay. She approached the Grand Hôtel des Wagons-Lits on Qianmen East. On the hotel wall, Lincoln’s face looked sombrely down on her.

The poster read, ‘The Abbot Chao Kung in Three Public Lectures: The Mysteries of The World, Of Life, Of The Self.’

The fire gathered in Cleather’s breath. She whirled her head around and saw two monks walk the pavement opposite.

You see this??” she screamed. “They have taken this ‘creature’ into their confidence!! The Europeans think he is some holy one!”

As blood mist evaporated from her face, she recognised the monks. The first was Chao Kung, the second was disloyal Jiahao. Disappointed, Jiahao shook his head before returning to the noble eightfold path.

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Chapter 40

You can pay for chapters and over 75 pieces of exclusive content at http://patreon.com/andyluke

The Port of Shanghai.
Friday 9 March, 1928.

Colonel Max Bauer boarded the steamer for Hong Kong. At sixty he was no less imposing. The triple turbines took them into the East China Sea. She was a large ship: 480 feet by 146 metres. Cruising at twelve knots made it a three day journey and Bauer spent the first in his cabin, reading and preparing papers. On the second day they’d only passed Pudong when he found three Germans to lunch with. The men spoke a while longer, the Zhoushan Islands flanking them on one side and Hangzhou Bay on the other. He found them again on the final day as the five year old liner sailed by Taiwan. One pointed out the extensions down the corrugated hull which acted as stabilisers.

Oh look, there’s the funny fellow again.”

Who is it?” asked Bauer.

He’s a German. A strange one. He told me his name is Hermann Ruh,” said the first man.

He told me his name was Jack,” said the second.

Fascinating man,” said the third. “but he gave me some Buddhist name.”

If you’ll excuse me gentlemen,” said Bauer.

Walking, he scrutinised the thin cheekbones and Roman beard, the skullcap and robes. Next to the monk he sat down casually.

Not such a big world after all,” Bauer said.

Max Bauer, hello! What an unexpected surprise,” said Trebitsch.

You look… changed. What is all this?”

I am finding enlightenment on the Buddhist path.”

I nearly didn’t recognise you.”

I believe the self and ego are unimportant so I will take that as a compliment.”

You have been travelling?”

I was in a Buddhist house in Peking and before that San Francisco. Of course, I had to leave.”

The Americans kicked you out.”

I told them after I arrived I was in the country with the purpose only of growing a church.”

I read you had been arrested for the murder of the Italian premier,” teased Bauer.

Do not even joke about that. How did things pan out in Russia?”

They were not as bad as all that. I assisted in co-ordinating the Red Army in response to the Rapallo treaty. Russia is very powerful, and yet no threat to Germany.”

There is no reason for war, really. I hope you did not take Wu Peifu up on his job offer. The man is a liar.”

Wu allied with his former enemies, the Fengtian; but Chiang Kai-shek is the new power in China. He drove Wu out of his base in Hubei, with my help of course, out to the North-west. I assumed you knew of this.”

I do not bother much with newspapers these days. They are full of violence and exploitation. There is little of relevance.”

This is how we inform ourselves of the world around us, Trebitsch. Or is it Hermann? Or Jack?”

I went by both in Peking. I also go by Anagarika Pukkusati. It is a Buddhist name, meaning ‘homeless one.’”

I like Jack. Jack Fisher!”

We cannot influence the world unless we stand apart from it. The current state of things is no example.”

Trebitsch looked along the deck as he spoke. The boat accommodated ninety-eight passengers in first class and a hundred and forty-two in second. Folk strolled by them and drinkers laughed far off. An orange sun bowed to the shy grey moon.

This is the ship I was on when they executed my son.”

Dear God,” said Bauer.

They were to dock at Marseilles but we went on to Amsterdam.”

How did he die?”

By hanging. I had hoped to… see him before… we spoke to one another by telepathy. I am sure you balk at the notion.”

No. I did not lose a son. If anything happened to Ernst… my condolences.”

Thank you. Ignatius was my eldest.”

A father should not outlive his son.”

Indeed. Then, I had only set foot in Amsterdam when I was surrounded by reporters. ‘How do you feel about what happened, Mr. Lincoln? Where will you go next?’”

Bloody parasites.”

Yes. I had spent all my money on telegraphing Ignatius so had no choice but to sell them my story. Then they made me haggle; and printed lies. ‘How he met the Kaiser!’ I told them I did not. It was humiliating.”

Baldness had set in on Lincoln emphasising his shell eyes, angled nose and funnel mouth. In brown robes he seemed to take things in stride but it was defiance. Beneath the folds of meditation was damaged goods. The boat rolled him about like a bag of bones.

Bauer said, “You have family in England. Where they with him at the end?”

The boy’s mother and our youngest travelled from Hamburg. She saw me in Amsterdam after: begged me to give up Buddhism and return to Christianity. That part of my life is over. I had to tell her we could not live together as husband and wife. She was in tears.”

When was all this?”

Two years ago. It has not been easy for me.”

Well of course. Women often forget we have emotions because we do not arm ourselves with them. Why do you set yourself apart from your family?”

Do not judge me, Colonel.”

I meant no disrespect, sir.”

The spiritual path is my prime concern. I sent several letters to the British to ask if I may visit my son’s grave. They would not allow it.”

That is a shame.”

I have tried my best to make amends there: I wrote to apologise for past mistakes; re-applied for citizenship; asked them kindly if I may enter Calcutta to go to Tibet. They ignore me.”

This is the pig-headed British, and bureaucracy. I endure similar frictions from Weimar in trying to further Sino-German relations. Kai-shek, on the other hand, has been very helpful. When I return to Berlin, I will have his top man, Chen Yi. We could use your expertise too.”

No. Thank you. Even were I interested they would not allow it.”

They called an amnesty for all those involved in the putsch.”

I tried to see Margarethe in Hamburg. I was told I would not be let in.”

Trebitsch, if you are with me, and you have Kai-shek’s backing, they will not challenge it.”

Look at me, Colonel. The mobilisation of armies is everything I oppose. The Noble Eightfold Path is my focus. Where would my place be in your operation?”

Twelve balls of light materialised on deck as if cast from the silvery moon or reflecting sea. They moved with Trebitsch as he looked to Bauer, who could not see them. They coalesced and from the centre a brittle, translucent humanoid emerged, with notepad and pen.

It is not all about ordering guns and explosives or engaging in warfare. I am working with the Julius Berger Konsortium to develop China’s railway system.”

Trebitsch could make out the words the spectre wrote:

To Kreitner. Autobiography.

1923 – Yang-Sen, Wu Peifu

– Developing railways

The words then were blotted out by grey speckles over-writing the transparent form.

We’re developing communications with the help of Beier-Ifa, and Junkers have asked me to be their representative in Nanking. The W33 and 34 are new commercial aircraft. They’ve been very successful.”

The creature gained definition. It was Trebitsch, several years older, but there, in robe and skullcap. It was strange to view himself in this way.

The Chinese still have to learn there must be interdependency in all aspects when running a country. A central plan with the military at that centre. I tried to tell the Russians, and my own people.”

The other Trebitsch did not look up from his notepad. It might have been an unsettling feeling: it should have been. Trebitsch felt as if he understood, even though he did not.

For example, Kai-shek’s pride and joy is the Whampoa Military Academy. I said, move it, Canton to Nanking. Let me hire fifty German officers to advise and train your men.”

The second Trebitsch was de-materialising from grey particles back to translucent form. Then the first of the mercury balls slowly began to re-form.

He considered this plan and approved it: no sentimentalism. This Summer Chen Yi and myself will interview the candidates.”

The twelve balls drew out into a circle, hung over the deck for a moment and then sped off like shooting stars. Trebitsch stared out to sea, not flinching.

We aim to improve the quality of China’s produce and open their market to German goods”

They only want you for the moment. Colonel, they do not want foreigners.”

You are wrong about that.”

Am I? You are dealing with provincial dictators intent on slaughter and oppression.”

No. Rule under Kai-shek will be different. You said they would not drop their Marxist ways, but there’s been mass expulsion of Russian advisors.”

I heard thousands were massacred,” said Trebitsch.

Communism simply does not fit with law and order there. Nothing to do with ideology.”

And now China has civil war. Anyway, I am out of politics. I do wonder about Yang-Sen.”

I never met him. Did you say he had a friend who claimed to be 250 years old?”

I believe in the immortality of consciousness and the soul. I am not a fool.”

I wondered if I might meet the two men we were with in Europe, but no. I did meet Ehrhardt and Von Jagow. The Chief of Police?”

Yes. They hung the whole putsch business on him.”

Four years inside. He sued the Imperial Court to have his pension back-paid.”

So they had no choice but to bring in the amnesty,” said Trebitsch.

Age fell on Bauer: his smiling cheeks given to depressing creases; a back which stooped. Always neat in shirt and dress trousers but the weather of his life had bitten his hands to the veins.

Kapp died in prison in Leipzig: cancer. General Maercker’s gone. We lost Hugo Stinnes to a burst gall bladder.”

How is Captain Ehrhardt?”

“Healthy. As opinionated as ever. He’s been getting job offers. Escherich in Bavaria wants to form a new Ogresch army. And from Pabst. Vienna put him in charge of the Heimwehr. Mussolini is funding him, but I think you might want to stay clear of Waldemar Pabst.”

“Why?”

“I think he wants to put the White International back together.”

“Goodness. No! That time has passed, Colonel!”

“Krauss leads the National Officers Association in Vienna. It may happen”

“Time has not altered your wit. It would seem it has not altered Pabst’s either.”

Bauer rumbled with laughter. Trebitsch too, holding a smile as he recounted Pabst’s sneaking up on them with the fake red beard, Bauer gesturing wildly to portray the size of it.

What else did Ehrhardt say?” asked Trebitsch.

We talked about Hitler. Of course they’re all around him. The fools Wulle, Reventlow and Stephani. The smart men, from Ludendorff to Weigand. I heard Biskupski is bankrolling him. Anyway, Ehrhardt did not have much in the way of kind words about Hitler.”

Ludendorff has fallen out with me, or rather his new wife has.”

Erich is old and not always in his right mind.”

She is a mad occultist. In with all sorts of poison creatures. This began when I approached a Buddhist group in Peking led by Alice Cleather and Basil Crump, followers of the late Madame Blavatsky.”

Black magic. What did you want with them?”

Blavatsky herself went to Tibet, but yes, Theosophy is fake Buddhism trapping Europeans. I only learned this after I asked Cleather for an introduction to the Panchen Lama.”

I don’t know that one.”

Trebitsch looked to the black, dull Taiwan Strait and the forms of the Penghu archipelago. Only the nearest of Japanese controlled islets, Magong, burned its lights back at them. The chill was jabbing now as the boat bounced on the waves.

He is the senior monk. Where the Dalai Lama provides access to Westerners, we in the East look to the Panchen Lama. His teachings are purer, closer to the source. I have been corresponding with Dr. Grimm in Munich about this.”

So this ‘Lama’ can help you to reach Tibet?”

Yes. Well, he was in Mongolia… and these… kooks! They think they have exclusive rights to him. In a week they’re smearing my name over Peking, blabbing my whereabouts to all the press and police. One local official asked if I was spying for the Russians!”

Maybe it was the beard.”

I saw them go to the British consulate. Perhaps they plot with Lampson and Steptoe there!”

That seems extreme. Why would they do this?”

Jealously! They think I wish to lead their silly group. I have no time for such nonsense! The Theosophists have detectives tracking me all round Northern China. I don’t know what to do about it.”

Tell the Shanghai police. In turn, that puts the British on them. Or work for us in Nanking and you could use your position to kick them out. Alright, alright. The offer is an open one.”

The wind flapped away at Trebitsch’s robes and he bundled his arms together. A moment’s thought and though it was so dark Bauer could barely see him, Trebitsch gave a gentle smile.

I will get to Tibet. I thought long on it. ‘Burma? India? Ceylon? Siam? I cannot stay in those areas legally.’ Though truthfully with Hong Kong it’s the same, and we will be there by morning. Who knows? Next year, Munich??”

Ha ha. Very good, Trebitsch. Now… it is past my bedtime. I will see you in the morning. Good night.”

To you also.”

At Victoria Harbour, Bauer said he was sure their paths would cross, and they parted on good terms. Both sailed on SS Coblenz again: Bauer on his frequent trips between Germany and China. Trebitsch was mostly off-grid that year. He was not aware of the pressure put on his comrade by the German and Japanese governments. Among others, Lampson and Steptoe were watching Bauer, aware of his violations of the Versailles Treaty.

Trebitsch returned to that night many times in solitary meditation. It was a month after his fiftieth birthday, May 1929, when the mystery of the spectral doppelgänger, and Bauer’s public journeys were revealed to him. In a church in Shanghai, Madame Kai-shek placed a wreath of white roses on the coffin. Outside the church, the German war banner hung with that of China’s Kuomintang party. Trebitsch struck up conversation with one of the soldiers.

What did he die of?” asked Trebitsch.

Smallpox. He’s the only man in the village infected. It is sure evidence of assassination.”

We have all suffered a terrible loss. You must excuse me. Thank you for your time.”

Trebitsch returned to his room above the Hollandisch Restaurant in the French Concession. It was a simple abode; he’d few belongings. He took out his pen and notepad and began to write.

To Kreitner. Autobiography.

1923 – Yang-Sen, Wu Peifu

– Developing railways

Communications

– Transport systems

The Watch Thief: Chapter 39

You can pay for chapters and over 50 pieces of exclusive content at http://patreon.com/andyluke

Trowbridge, Wiltshire.
Wednesday 23 December, 1925.

The silence was tangible. The houses at night barricaded by wall and leaf were remote and vulnerable. The Triumph bike stood still on the tarmacadam at the front Edward Richards’ home. Ignatius ‘John’ Lincoln was looking from open door into the unlit kitchen. On an overcast morning at Trowbridge Barracks, a soldier devoid of passion stood fixed outside the armoury, his eyes far away. No one spoke their names. Nothing stirred at night in the prison grounds. Wings A through C where silent. William Tyrrell, like many other men and women all across Britain, slept quietly. In Sussex the Home Secretary, Joynson-Hicks, laid back in his easy chair. He did not go to see the King. The rope hung from the ceiling. Margarethe prayed. The silence came from the mouths of those who did not know what they could offer, minds scraping for perfect words to bridge reality with a better state.

The hush was concentrating into pockets. Their first foot-falls in Edward’s home in Victoria Avenue. Clifford Lincoln in the visitors room at HMP Shepton Mallet, Julius next to him, Margarethe’s eyes welling up with tears. In the office of his mirror Tom Pierrepoint buttons his white shirt. The calm was a brief gap in the passage from the basement generator to the upper court. The noise squashed the word on Lord Hewart’s lips and the public gallery. It struck the moments between the nine bells that Tuesday morning.

Ian Stewart’s motorcycle growled out of the barracks and tore the night open. Ignatius held tight as they wound with Victoria Road. The wind was like a barrage of tiny pellets. The cylinder was a vague echo when Ian parked it. The two off-duty bombardiers entered through unlocked back door with less grace. They knew Edward had a gun and it turned up in minutes, Ignatius scraped it by a cupboard door and put in his coat so both sides weighed even. Ian brought out the brandy and glasses. They had their breath warmed and rummaged some more. Bitter and pale ale. They clinked a toast to their prizes, and sunk to the floor. They approved of Edward Richards’ decor. The conservative and modern layout. The comfortable linoleum.

Ian said, “Put the empties back in the crate like they never went anywhere!”

Upstairs was a-creaking. The drunken soldiers raised themselves as steps crossed the landing.

It’s Edward. John, the bike!” Ian pointed to the lounge and broke ahead. The armchair arm pushed him on the way in. Ignatius, beer sloshing, avoided it. Ian swung at the front door lock, shook it left and right.

Edward shouted, “Who’s down there?”

Ignatius pulled out his automatic. “Get back,” he shouted, and fired a bullet into the stairs.

As the bullet thumped dully, Ian defied the urge to wince, his face screwed up from the loud retort of the pistol however and he yelled against the front door – “We are warning you!”

Ignatius blasted twice into the bannister. Ian gave the lock a final shove and then doubled back into the lounge. Ignatius followed. In his haste his foot caught in the folds of the rug, tumbling towards the ground, the darkened room spun before his eyes. In desperation he reached out for support – his hands finding a table, searing pain in sprained wrist. Someone else entered the room with him. He felt the breeze of the open back door. A pistol flashed. A bullet whizzed by and pounded the plaster wall. The pistons hammered on Ian’s bike as he revved it up. Ignatius raised his automatic and fired and fired. He fired until Edward screamed out.

Four officers marched them into Shepton Mallet. The prison housed just fifty; seven per cent of its capacity. Christmas Day was their first day. Acoustics made the carol singing sound like a haunting. But unsettling festivities settled in to something more hopeful, genuinely happy inmates and guards. His sweetheart Lily Morgan visited. She knew him as John. He used the name to avoid the stigma of association. Seeing her took his mind from the depression. At nine o’clock, the lights went out.

Prison’s threat only nibbled at the edges: the Governor’s approval of him; Lily’s visits; New Years Eve. Ignatius had seen the light flicker in Edward’s eyes. He was afraid the feeling of asylum would last the three weeks to his trial. The officer who found the vomit in his cell pressed his nose in it. Later, in mad thought, he was grateful. Each day he followed the bell to inspection and the canteen. On one occasion he recognised Tom Pierrepoint, walking with the Governor. Both were well dressed, large aristocratic figures. He’d heard Pierrepoint didn’t like the American method. He preferred to get the inmate out quickly. They were on their way to the brick building forty-three metres from the prison wall. In the exercise yard, speckled dry concrete led to a metal fence mounting barbed wire, and an enclosure of mottled stone framed portcullises. The steps and walls were cold. There were only stone corners. In A-Wing less people meant guards could watch the walk-way slips and stop any jumpers. The other levels revealed a mirror image of the hive. Ignatius was in a cell on his own. Sat on his bunk, he thought about Edward Richards: his voice; how he knew Ian. What did he do in his twenty-five years? The final shot had lit up the lad’s face with the bullet hole in his skull and the blood streaming out of his eyes. Edward Richards was looking into him. He didn’t know much about Edward, but he knew he killed him. Neither man could lie about that.

In Cologne, Julius Lincoln took his bag from the hall. He closed the door of his house and walked the streets to Trankgasse. At Köln Hauptbahnhof, he bought his ticket for Hamburg and waited. In Hamburg, Margarethe wailed and flung clothes into her case. Four times she checked their passports and emergency certificates. ‘Mother is in dire straits’, Clifford wrote in a letter to John. ‘We all are. Can you get to England?’

The lawyer said they had a good case. The evidence was inconclusive: he should plead not guilty. He nodded obediently to make Lily happy. Edward’s dying cry was with him every moment. Lily seized on the notion he might be released. He asked her not to call for a week. He slept, knowing it was not enough. He slept contented, forgetting what he had done. In the night, the grounds of Shepton Mallet were quiet. Lily wrote to him. He wrote back, even when a jailer warned him not to. In the visitor’s room, Julius said they would get him out of there. Margarethe assured him anyone could see it was an accident. They were praying for him. Clifford said he would be there at the trial, they all would.

The criminal law courts were in Devizes, central Wiltshire, a four-column Grecian building. Custodians led the charges past the chugging generator and stink breath of the boiler. Out of the tunnel, they found the steps into the court. A hundred jarring threads of conversation clustered around their fates. Amid the babble-storm he saw his family and Lily, who smiled with dewy eyes.

“Unfortunate parentage,” said one of the gawkers.

“All rise,” said the clerk.

“Edward was my neighbour,” said Walter.

“You found him, Mr. Stouton?” asked the prosecutor.

“I held his head in my hands an’ went with him to the hospital. Fifteen minutes after we got there, they said he was dead.”

The arresting officer said, “I found them later that morning. The captain at barracks did not release them to us easily.”

The prosecutor told them, “There is an indication joint enterprise might be applied here. Each man went to Mr. Richards home armed, and must face the penalty.”

A reporter called out, “Mr. Lincoln! Mr. Lincoln. Can we have a word? Mrs. Lincoln. Just a moment?”

He saw the family disappear in newsmen before he and Ian stepped down dark stairs to the dust swirling by the flatulent generator at tunnel’s end. The next day was Wednesday 20th January, when court heard from the defence.

“An investigation of the crime scene has shown Mr. Richards fired at Mr. Lincoln at close range.”

Ignatius said, “It was only to protect myself.”

“Objection! Being drunk is no excuse.”

The judge said, “A distinction should be made for Mr. Stewart. Since he did not discharge his firearm, the jury should consider acquittal in the charge of murder.”

The prosecutor said, “Your honour, new evidence has surfaced in a letter from Mr. Lincoln to his friend, Miss Morgan. Obtained by the staff at HMP Shepton Mallet, it contains a full confession.”

On Thursday morning, after the clock struck nine times, the jury met. They did not retire long. Stewart would serve a long sentence for burglary. For Lincoln came the black cloth.

“Ignatius Emanuel Napthali Trebitsch Lincoln, I pronounce the only sentence that can be passed for the crime of wilful murder.”

Margarethe sunk her mouth into her handkerchief.

“You will be taken to a place of execution to suffer death by hanging.”

Julius froze as their mother clung to his chest. Clifford gasped. They took Ignatius down.

His father sent a letter nineteen pages long. A friend was bringing money so he expected to set sail from Ceylon within days. The German-Lloyd steamer, SS Coblenz, would take him to Marseilles and he’d fly to England if he had to. He asked forgiveness. There was a terrible regret for the past, for if he had been a better father, none of this might have happened. His sins seem to have been visited upon the head of his favourite son. ‘Nat’ stood by him when they were arrested at the Hotel Viktoria in Vienna; and before that, when in Prague he told his father Czech spies were trailing them. Ignatius remembered them board the train and watch the Czechs get into the next carriage. As the doors were closing, father and son leapt back onto the platform.

Julius raised funds from the public for an appeal the following week. The man from The Times watched him, impressed. The coroner’s jury refused to return a guilty verdict. Lord Chief Justice Hewart rejected that motion and set March 2nd for the date of Lincoln’s execution.

There were echoes in Shepton Mallet. Ignatius saw him still: Edward Richards, his hair matting with blood, looking at his attacker. Ignatius smashed the cut bottle down on his face clawing the tissue. A cold wave spread over him as he did so, and Edward’s head slumped. Twenty-five years old, a representative for a brewery, a hard-working honest man wrenched out of his sleep. Ignatius could feel the weight of his head in his hand: the warmth; the wet. His eyes flickered. The louder cough of the motorbike engine was at the back. He set down Edward. Out to the back yard, out, out, Walter the neighbour shouting, “Hey! You there!”

Ignatius looked right past the open door of his cell. He could still hear the captain and constable bicker. Still Ian Stewart telling him he gets a high from risk. Ian was on a different wing and he tended to avoid him, tactfully. Margarethe rarely got in a visit without crying. His father telegraphed the both of them from the Coblenz each week. Meanwhile, Julius wrote to the Home Secretary to make sure he could come onto British soil. There was a lot of public support, he said. The telegram from Java expressed regret. John hoped to see him in the Summer.

Four weeks later, Thursday 24th, thousands swarmed Trafalgar Square. Placard carrying bodies close to one another sang and prayed. They clustered in lines to sign the petition and talked of what was to be done: activist Quakers and Anglican clergy; miners and dockworkers; a whole spectrum of society. Margarethe was over-whelmed and receptive to journalists’ whys, where’s and hows. One-time manager for Houdini, Colonel Harry Day, found Julius near the steps.

We’ve all been moved by his plight,” said Day. “I will pursue this in the Commons.”

We’ve seen him every day this week,” said Margarethe.

This is murder for manslaughter. Where’s the Edward Richard’s say in this?” said Clifford.

Is it true the boy’s father entered a monastery?”

A paper earlier this week ran an interview from Victoria Station. Can you confirm that?”

Attention! Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming. My name is Julius Lincoln. John Ignatius is my half-brother. He would appreciate this show of protest and solidarity. A man of good nature and humour, your support is getting him through tough times. Like all of us, John served this country in the war. Unfortunately the judge was out to make an example. Out to make an example of my father’s son. The verdict was decided before he set foot in court. The appeals jury disagreed. It is my hope another will grant his reprieve. Please sign the petition which tomorrow, I will present to the Home Secretary.”

Julius took the petition by St. James Park to the Home and Foreign Office building. Over four weeks he’d collected fifty thousand signatures. William Joynson-Hicks was well acquainted with the case. It was he whose constitutional function it was to advise their monarch whether to exercise the prerogative of mercy. The P.M., Baldwin, was a close friend and reacted by praising the Home Secretary’s expertise regarding British prisons. Archbishop Randall Davidson, back from an anti-theosophy conference, said he would pray for him. A telegram from the SS Coblenz begged for a stay of execution.

In another room, Foreign Secretary Austen Chamberlain asked Tyrrell for a report on Trebitsch Lincoln. The file hadn’t been updated since the incident with Mr. Davidson. Basil Thomson had only written of Trebitsch in a stock article he sold to the Northern Whig and Belfast Post. Workaholic Eyre Crowe sailed the Foreign Office through three governments in four years. A vacuum was left after his death the previous April. It was Tyrrell’s opinion Trebitsch should be allowed to see his son. Chamberlain told the House he’d be under guard for three days and leave immediately afterwards.

In the Liberal Club, on-off friends Lloyd George and Asquith spoke of Lincoln. In Piccadilly, the solicitor John Goldstein listened to the report on the radio. At Savoy Hill House BBC Director Jack Pease peered through the glass at his newscaster. Seventy-two year old Conyngham Greene, once minister to Roumania, listened in his Plymouth home until the weather flickered the signal into absence. Basil Thomson read the paragraphs in his parlour, curtains drawn.

In a comfortable bed in Trowbridge, Tom Pierrepoint fancied an early night and loosened his tie. Lily Morgan returned from prison early evening to her home. She was exhausted and asleep within minutes, but woke a few hours later. In Sussex, Joynson-Hicks turned the page of his newspaper. He ignored the nine chimes of the grandfather clock. Through the night he slept without interruption, oblivious to the world.

Ignatius walked to the scaffold without visible emotion, standing rigidly to attention as the noose was adjusted. Until late last night he had waited in the death cell for his father’s promised visit, and when told that it was impossible for him to arrive he broke down and wept.”

– New York Times, 3 March 1926

Chapter 38

Colombo, British Ceylon/Sri Lanka.
Tuesday 8 December, 1925: Bodhi Day.

Prismatic a rainbow colours the sky. Monks sit in damp; and think; and walk barefoot over twigs, while bells sing. The deities are ever present: watchful eyes; multi-tasking hands with candles, scripture and birds. Red lanterns are set at the foot of the sacred Bodhi tree. Under the Bodhi, the Lord Buddha sat for seven days without moving. This tree was grown from one of thirty-two saplings brought by King Asoka’s daughter, the nun Sanghamittra, in the 3rd century B. C. It is said a child treading the ground under this tree will never fail in life. The main building is built around it, the domed temple, the shrine room, and monk’s cells. By ficus religiosa, disciples bless one another with the peace of the Buddha.

The new arrival professed an interest in Theosophy, the esoteric group that teach of the Tibetan Masters. From Colombo he was to journey to Annie Besant’s school in Adyar, Southern India. On the stop-over he learned of this place and the Buddhist philosophy of liberation, suffering and rebirth. From a hotel window months ago he saw low yellow buildings line dusty roads and quiet lanes. There was a serenity, a cleanliness to the air. This was what took him out to the countryside. He walked, soothed and mesmerised by the fields, drawn there to Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya. Before the resplendent arches are seen, everywhere the disciples are heard in long chanting, ascending harps and drum beats.

This is one of the smaller monasteries. The central building is orange-gold, two storeys and columns lovingly carved with bas-reliefs. Inside are the library and seminary. Behind the building is the mosque-shaped white prayer house. Magnificent trees sway and bow in these heavy rains of monsoon season. These skies of indigo are expected to pelt another month or two. Rains ricochet on a glass cover over a twelve foot praying gold Buddha. It swamps green shrubs and sweeps grey stone steps.

Language cannot truly manifest the voice of the spirit, which in this modern world is shackled to The Self. However, communication can turn the key. Listen to the universe. The early morning song of the swallow. The strong wind is cut apart by the leaves of the palm trees. These things are the extensions of The Creator. Pali, the language of the original Buddhist writings, is said to be a dead language. How can this be so when it breathes wisdom through the ages?

The newspapers do not teach the fundamental principles of Buddhist thought or practice. They impart no knowledge of Pali, Sanskrit or even modern Sinhalese! The New York World, for example, is the antithesis to the state of quiet study. It is loud and crude and insincere. For five Sundays Summer past it carries the series, ‘Lincoln World War Spy Plotted to Control China!’ It told of his making bridges with Britain: Captain Corlett and Consul Steptoe. Lincoln was advisor to Wu Peifu, ‘In the Centre of a Struggle for the Destiny of The Orient!’

Leo Tandler’s concentration breaks. His feet he sees, crossed where he sits. His palms are upturned on his knees. A cloud colours the sun. There is pain in his thin bones. There is pain everywhere. He thinks of our slavery to modern life with its noisy technology and petty grievances. It may be the selfishness of the soul, ego that must be left behind. Dr. Tandler breathes to centre himself. He is in the carpeted, warm apartment of Joseph Schlesinger. The newspaper is in Joseph’s hand. He reads how Lincoln wishes to pay off his debts and gather his scattered family to retire to some quiet corner of the globe. Flapping the pages back, Joseph reads a line aloud.

“’He claims Britain is the greatest political institution that has ever existed, and desires to be reinstated as a citizen of that nation.’”

The tropical sun returns, cumulo-nimbus coming and going like the waves of the sea. He can feel its faint breeze, its perpetual rise and fall. These are mere waves of existence. Behind the unconscious mind is The Breather, experiencing by act of will, seeking truth. He lets the tension slip away, red to violet, risen from the base of the spine leaving through the top of the head. The breath can take you all the way to Nirvana.

Behind him are 2,243 miles of conical mountain and forest trail: Adam’s Peak; the Jewelled Hill; the Climb to Heaven; Butterfly Mountain. It has as many names as worshippers. From December to May pilgrimages gain momentum. They seek a rock formation at the summit, held as the left footprint of the Buddha. In Pali, it is known as Sri Prada. From the peak the Kelnai River brings its drinking water and fish ninety miles down into Colombo. The Kelnai River’s flow empties into folk poetry, and shrines.

When he first arrived he existed on one meal a day. He did not realised how little his body required. The teachers became fearful and encouraged the Austrian to change his diet. Each morning he rose at six to clean his cell and meditate. Then he consumes a simple breakfast of fruit, a rice cake, and tea. No sugar or milk. After three more hours of meditation the monks have a small bowl of rice and vegetables. He will teach some of them English before six o’clock prayers.

He only vaguely recognises the man in New York.

I am sick of life,’ he had written to her. ‘I have experienced too great adversities. But what is the use of lamenting? I am engulfed in impenetrable darkness.’

Under the Bodhi tree outside the chapel he knows this is the suffering of all existence. Those words are the past. They are also a moment of clarity among commerce’s poison illusion. When he looks at the work-book of one of his novices he sees his own hand, his true hand. The moment of a great revelation came to him in a room at Astor House in Tientsin; rooted to that spot, for who can say how long? The weight lifted from his back, of Jupiter and Zeus; a burden greater than he’d known, it shot through the tall ceiling and he fell to his knees weeping, weeping with happiness in the gaze of beauty. He made the great renunciation then. He made the great decision to quit the world, force the doors of the lunatic asylum open, and walk out. The novice’s hand-writing has his curls and dips. He returns the work-book with a gentle nod.

Each monk has his own cell with a pink roof and grey walls. Inside are a bed, table, chair, water jug, wash-basin and mug. Their clothing: black robes, skull-caps and slippers. Offerings are made but sometimes the monks must walk the six miles to Colombo, which is another world away. They beg at Kayman’s Gate, entrance to Pettah market. Tourists gather by Indian traders with stalls of gold and jewellery, and mull around the candy-striped Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque. There are five hundred Muslims resident there, and another hundred monks from the central Gangaramaya Temple, a kitschier tourist trap. Tram car tracks line the roads and doorsteps of businesses are fronted by granite flooring brought by their British town planners. He does not like the shops; the newspapers; the government buildings. Too easily they trigger him. He is reminded of the British diplomat in Tientsin who billed him for a wire to the Home Secretary in London. It evokes a feeling in his spleen like bile.

This monk will preach at the temple instead. All who meet him speak highly of his enthusiasm and sincerity. The Most Venerable Master will ask him again to address the Buddhist Working Men’s Club. Tandler will forgive the British, remembering the official in Manilla who granted him a visa for India months before. Yet he does not need it. Theosophy, with its schools at odds, is not something he pretends to comprehend. He gradually practices and develops mindfulness of the in-and-out breath as taught by the Enlightened One. He is in search of illuminating the entire world like the moon when it’s freed from clouds.

In the shrine room are great tapestries of worshippers and students gathered by ascending ones: hands at chins; hands on heart; a painting of the Bodhi tree. Under patterned ceilings are significant images from the Buddha’s life. Glistening sculptures of celestial hosts lurk in alcoves with bejewelled foreheads or blue skin. They dance and share, their feet on wisps of clouds. The sage Gautama Buddha levitates cross legged beyond orange fire.

Stars in violet night skies draw in after January’s Moon-Day, after the revellers have gone. He strolls through town near Kayman’s Gate, the Khan Tower Clock and water fountain. A young Sinhalese newsboy is in front of him, then behind him, and keeping close. The boy calls out: buy paper, buy paper. The monk gestures ‘no money’, but the boy keeps following. Eventually the tabloid is pushed into the man’s hands, taken when all other means have not sent the boy away.

In his cell the next morning the monk reads the words ‘Trebitsch Lincoln… facing charges in London.’ Will the English not leave him in peace? Old upsets in his appendix flare and clog his solar plexus, yet he reads on. The story is not about Trebitsch Lincoln, but his eldest son. The monk’s eyes quickly fill like pools and he is anything but centred. He stands, and looks around him, feels the space in his fingers. His instinct is to grab the chair and smash it, smash it over and over until the walls fall down.

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Chapter 37

Batavia, Java.
Friday 17 October, 1924.

Clifford sits alone in the hallway, listening to Father pitch (through the walls) to the Principal. Batavia wouldn’t be his first school, no. The cheerful thirteen year old has learned in London, Hamburg and Nanking. The Principal hears tales of monasteries and warlords and the pirates of the Yangtze. They left China only days after Wu Peifu’s forces suffered a major loss to Zhang Zuolin in another fruitless Zhili–Fengtian conflict. He had warned Wu, and General Chi. Trebitsch hopes his youngest will become an entrepreneur or political advisor. With his back to the hall’s stained crème plaster, Clifford sits still while his father talks of investment.

Java was wild and wet, yet large and free. At Palabuhanratu, the rice paddies touch a black sand beach. Looking out to the shore, the green stretches are squared, hedged, serrated; a half dozen palm trees before the baby blue and periwinkle Indian Ocean which floats rafts by misty asparagus hills. Astride two black buffaloes, the males waddle in. Seven volcanic mountains rise over the bay. There are thirty-eight in total, snaking west to east. Clifford is a ray of light as they track the lush and scenic forests nearby. At Cipanas Hot Springs boiling water bubbles up from river rock pools and he sees his father smile.

Trebitsch lifts up a shoe at Pasar Baru market. He studies the sole from heel to toe and places it back on the rack. The great concentration of people in these narrow streets slow them to look at the china, the silver-ware and herbal remedies.

The Batavia school is English language and the children have been lifted from all parts of the globe. They are from Java and Sumatra, Vietnam, Indochina and China. They are British, Dutch, Hindi, Muslim and mixed sex. One of the boarders has heard Clifford’s father is famous. A spy, a criminal? The boy has been told not to answer these questions. Did he change his name like Mrs. Jamu?

He barely knows his father but is fixed to his side at every chance. Trebitsch wears a white linen suit with a high collar; a pith helmet plumped on the back of his head. Soon John wears one, and then Clifford. They will be a family of planters. From the Great Post Road they can see all of Java’s lush, rugged countryside. It is only weeks after John’s twentieth birthday. Spirits rise as they’re climbing Puncak Pass, fifteen hundred metres up. Clifford and his parents laugh at the sight of John on the rug, fallen asleep under Australian Eucalyptus. When he awakes they descend to fertile, cultivated fields.

This is unlike any place he’s known. The curtains seem to shine. Stray cows wander dusty and humid paths. This vision, of the Lincoln family future, won’t come cheap. The parents must travel to Europe in search of finance, a loan. The world takes them and Clifford thinks he understands his father’s sadness. Christmas days are just like any others. On New Years Eve, this youngest son dreams in snippets of his father visiting them in Bucharest with great news about oil. He was three years old at the time. The memory is happy and uncluttered.

There are twelve boys in bunk beds, farting and slinging and snoring; hanging out to dry sweaty vests and towels. The wet season gurgles at the windows. Concentration during lessons is strained. On the first weekend John takes him out past the tall Dutch country houses lining the Molenvliet Canal. The people who live there own shipping and trading companies in Weltevreden: to the south. They are in Weltevreden the next weekend. They re-trace the steps around the Pasar Baru markets. Containers of quinine bark from the old town storage centres of Kota trail, then pass them, bound for the shops.

Clifford makes friends, prized for his football skills. The pitch soil is wet and dark, and sticks to him like it is supposed to. He is not so good with the books. The temple bells, once a joy, now nag and he is distracted with gossip and capers. Mrs. Jamu scolds him. He is falling behind, and does not want to visit the Principal. When Clifford sees his brother he says he shouldn’t worry. They’ll not be here long. They trek again to Cibodas Gardens, where John fell asleep on the rug. He has a job there now, harvesting quinine from the cinchona trees. Quinine is a key anti-malaria remedy and an active ingredient in Indian tonic water. Lake-side, under European conifers, they talk of Ignatius: employed at Trowbridge Barracks, England. When asked why Ignatius changed his name to John, John quickly says it was so he can be more like him. Clifford doesn’t believe his brother. John talks about how he and Ignatius had travelled from school in London to visit their mother for Christmas in Bucharest ten years before. Ignatius had insisted on making all the travel arrangements. Lining up the timetables and buying the tickets, he led the pair of them across Europe. A black swan glides across Mandalawangi Lake in front of them. A gamekeeper’s shot startles it into flight, and it leaves ripples that slosh against the edges after they’ve gone.

Clifford would like to live with John at Cibodas Lodge and the whole dorm hear of it. He’s ingratiated himself with one of the popular gangs but isn’t smart enough to duck a beating. He plays hooky at Hindu temples, abandoned when Islam came, were rice is left out for gods and rats. He sees the protests for Jakarta independence, the martial artists and the shadow puppet theatre. The Principal had assumed Clifford was as trustworthy as his father and cannot understand why John is not as capable as him. Clifford’s behaviour, they say, is completely inappropriate. It flies in the face of everything he should be doing. John says all his work may as well be for nothing. Clifford leaves, sure in himself, that all their problems are his fault. He tries harder: at Maths; History; neatens his hand-writing and develops consistency of style. John works over-time the following two weeks. Clifford wonders if it’s because he isn’t important enough to be with. He buries this. He dreams of a pile of gold, fading, and his mother’s hair. A letter from her arrives from south-eastern France. They were in Marseilles, are now in Nice, and proceeding to Monte Carlo. Father has calculated a full proof method of winning at baccarat.

Mrs. Jamu takes the boys to feed and pet the horses. They are warm and firm and brave. Spring is here and with his parents return imminent, Clifford knuckles down. The geography teacher singles him out for best homework. He passes a test, then another.

Beyond the sports pitch, hanging cocoa pods are macheted and piled. Other labourers work the palm oil plantations: fields of green shrubs under a blue sky. Clifford runs track laps rain or shine, managing his pace and time. He no longer needs John or Mrs. Jamu to tell him he is doing well. He has enough.

Mother writes to John again. The youngest son is quietly angry with the elder’s demeanour; how he drags his feet along the road, and his tired eyes. Clifford, though, has the same bitterness associated with his parents. They had travelled to Rome to see the Pope, The Hague, then Cologne, where they met Julius and his new wife. Trebitsch has gone on to New York and Margarethe is in Hamburg. The boys are to come to her. They both expected it. John is off on a rant. Where will he find the money for the travel? What about Clifford’s school fees? His boss may let go of him at any moment if he doesn’t work more over-time.

Clifford’s fourteenth birthday is spent alone in the dorm. He thinks about how John is so sick: perhaps it is his fault. He is driving his brother away. They will take him; just like the Viennese police took his father three years before. With these things in mind it makes much more sense to fail his Summer tests.

John secures the travel permits. He finds no way around it but to explain that he cannot afford to go with his brother. It is the job. Their debts will be paid in no time. He hugs Clifford goodbye and the boy steps onto the heavy and lumbering boat. Fish swirl in a mud pond underneath. The engine whinges and purple bellows of smoke fail to surf the wave. The boat bounces and Clifford takes his seat on the wooden bench. They leave behind water buffaloes, a floating bamboo raft, fields of horses and the snaking volcano horizon. He moves away from Christmas Island, Sumatra, leaves Indonesia. Everywhere around are tiny tidal pools, little self-contained swirls. Swirl, swirl, swirl. Past the Bay of Bengal but before the Arabian Sea lies Colombo. Off its coast thunder strikes water and springs hard upon the vessel.

He spends many more weeks by train crossing Eurasia to find his mother. He thinks of Ignatius and John’s trip to Bucharest a decade before. He knows they will be proud. He is taking the long way back.

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Chapter 36

St. James’ Square, London.
Friday 28 September, 1923.

The sale goes in Hamptons’ ledger, another commission earned. The nineteen year old tells Brian he can maybe sell the properties on Lambeth Road. The rain lashes on the glass front of the office. It is only a silver street by the time he’s out onto the embankment. There’s a homeless man, about fifty, and he gives him a penny; tells him he was once on that same bench and they wish each other better days. John’s home is a single room in Spitalfields. He sits on his bed, letter pad in his lap and writes to Ignatius at Trowbridge Barracks. He returns the ten pounds. Though his brother had asked him not to repay him, John derives small mischief from the gesture. He goes to bed thinking how lucky he is. He thinks of Edward, living with his adopted parents in York, and Linda, the office secretary with smooth black locks. His sleep is warm and restoring.

Each morning he slows down at the pawnshop looking for his mother’s ring. He scrutinises the display and it is gone, for the cobblers, a heel mended against Westminster’s showers. Perhaps he can make it up to her, to both of them. He gets to the office early. There’s another letter from his father: the Chinese job is very important. He needs John’s help. He must understand. John wonders why only Magnus is in the office and puts the letter back in the envelope. He counts and piles the receipts, makes short tallies. Magnus sits down beside him and tells John about the changes. Brian was too soft on the staff and Linda wasn’t what they were looking for. Somewhere between memories of his paternal, good humoured boss and the day-dream of Lincoln & Sons Ltd, John is asked if he wants to continue under the new company appointed manager. He casually tells them no, not really, and it is a decision he will regret.

The timetables say he can arrive in Zurich on the afternoon of October 29th. He has no belongings to sell, some money in the bank and time on his passport. Before he leaves his father writes again. His commands are to be obeyed. He must come. John takes a boat from Dover to Calais. The Wagons-Lits carriages speed him from there to Paris. A different track and he ascends the Morvan peaks of Burgundy. The train sidles along the Doubs river until Saint-Ursanne, across the Swiss border. At Zurich Hauptbanhof his father waits on the platform. Trebitsch holds his arms out as if waiting to embrace John, then he disappears momentarily: the hug was not meant for him. He stops his father as they’re leaving the platform: Bauer; Suez; Chiang and Viktor, introduced at length drop their guard back at the hotel. They are impressed with how he looks over their projections, prospectuses and balance sheets. He feels like one of them. He is alarmed to discover that his mother and Clifford are due any day. His father had forgotten this, the clash with their very important meeting with Stinnes. This pains John because it feels familiar. General Chiang says Margarethe’s arrival necessitates a special welcome.

The next day Suez is ordering specialist porcelain and arranging for Chinese food and drink to come. He brings long silk robes to John, and a skull-cap. The men each have one, which they wear to Hauptbanhof Station. His mother does not see them: for each person disembarking a thought spins unresolved behind her travelled face. Clifford points to them. They are like five monks, he says. Margarethe looks at them twice over, and they bow respectfully.

John is not pleased that his mother and brother, just come from Hamburg, have to return there after only days. Mother says nothing but the twelve year old questions the decision openly, to Viktor’s amusement. They travel the longer route, via Berlin, and already John is regretting coming. At Berlin, his father puts them on the next train and goes back to Zurich. Mother laments the missed opportunity of visiting Julius who is stationed nearby.

I met Ignatius over the Summer. And his girl, Lily Morgan,” John says.

That’s good. You know not to call him ‘John’ around his father. It was fine when Ignatius was a boy, but his reasons–”

I can see the sea!” says Clifford, as he paws the windows.

Through the ages, Hamburg was decimated by Vikings, The Black Death, The Great Fire and a cholera epidemic, and each time she was rebuilt. The city was spared the worst of the hyperinflation punishing Germany, on account of her large port trade. Margarethe took her sons along the river Elbe where their grand-father once worked, and to the Jerusalem Mission House where their own father had studied. There were no extra items to pack or loose ends to tie. John suspected the only reason they were there was so they were not in Zurich. He would walk along the jetty at nights, thinking of taking a liner to Canada. Two weeks later, Father wanted them back with him.

They returned to a blazing row. Colonel Bauer had been asked to Russia as a guest of the state. Trebitsch said it couldn’t have been worse timed, that he was letting Wu Peifu down. Bauer put his hands up and told him to calm himself. Moscow was only temporary: he would likely be in Nanjing in two weeks. As he went, Bauer gave John a firm handshake, the sort that nearly breaks bones. Their own journey to the Italian port of Genoa took a long day by high speed tracks; a week’s sailing to Shanghai. Aboard the liner, John noticed Clifford was not like other boys his age: he was pensive and still. Their parents talk with the Chinese about schooling and the arts, and he wonders if they aren’t overlooking the kid. Wang Suez is telling the story of how Shanghai first opened to the West; where Christian missionaries physically forced the city gates. John tells Clifford they had to fight through dragons thirty feet tall. Their father begins to talk about the serious business of railways. Already there are services connecting Shanghai, Beijing and the North. John knows this, and that the expansion boom passed ten years ago. His skills, developed as an estate agent, trained him to read up and he has Nanjing facts stored away just for sharing with Clifford. The gardens there have enormous tortoises and elephants made from stone. There are old, old burial sites: the body of the Emperor’s brother, from the fifth century.

Shanghai is a bustling cosmopolitan port. There are many political and Jewish emigres from Russia. Father is constantly out meeting them all. Mother is at once uncomfortable. John recalls another Christmas, ten years past, when she lived in Bucharest. Lost as to the language and prices, she depends on her sons to help her shop and this is no different. Boldly, John corners Suez at the Oriental Hotel and explains she needs help. A guide is discretely arranged.

Several weeks later the train brings them to Nanjing. The weather is like London’s: cold damp rain every day. The street sellers tout lamb kebabs and salted duck, honey duck, duck oil blood, all duck, all the time. Also radishes, which locals are obsessed with. Neither John nor Clifford care for radishes.

Nanjing was once China’s capital and size is everything. The City Walls are fourteenth century granite, limestone packed layers of gravel, yellow earth and broken bricks, their joints coagulated by mixed lime, tung oil and cooked rice water. Mid January masses rclimb the walls as part of some festival which John never truly understands. He walks on the banks of Qinhuai, ‘Nanjing’s mother river’, tributary of the Yangtze, where there are barges, bazaars, lanterns and Fuzimino the old Confucius Temple, now a barracks, and the New Year’s fireworks whistle over, popping in showers of green and red. In the mornings he looks out at Purple Mountain, named for the ethereally covered clouds signalling his transportation to this alien world. Pink cherry blossom trees are in bloom.

All these spells distract John from the vaguest murmur that says he is unemployed. After all, he is taking Chinese lessons. They were arranged by his father so that John can act as translator. Yet Trebitsch is never around. Clifford attends Hillcrest American School, while their mother fusses over their spacious home, dusting its rectangles and ethnic baubles. There are silk screens and hanging scrolls, though the floor is covered with garish kitchen linoleum, one of many anomalies Wu Peifu had installed in the mistaken belief that the designs were ‘wordly’. Trebitsch briefs Marshal Wu and General Chi Hsien-Yuan, and ratifies the Knolls agreement; he tutors Wu’s son; goes to meetings with Bauer and his secretary; he writes articles for the local English paper and seems to have a new job every week.

The passport office in Nanjing is like most others: world maps on white walls and uninspiring plants; dour wood framed dusty glass kiosks. John finds this both mundane and reassuring. He hands over the Trautwein passport which his father needs endorsed for his trip to Zurich. The clerk asks why Trautwein is returning after only two months. If John is not Trautwein, then Trautwein must appear in person if he wants the privileges of an updated passport. John’s father sends him back. It takes a third visit for John to be successful. Trebitsch is gone a matter of weeks when Suez delivers the news he has been detained by police in Zurich. The charge is of carrying false papers though it is likely he has been released already. John enquires about the contract with Knolls and Suez says he is worried. Not a single dollar has been received.

Bathers are jumping in their number into the Qinhuai signalling the beginning of Spring. The rain is of the particularly wet kind that clings to John, and he wanders, and thinks of Thames embankment. He dreams of escape to Vancouver, not happy with the prospect of looking for work again. A letter from his father brings tears to his mother’s face. Everything is in ruin he says. Knolls turns out to be a small furniture business, a two-bit operation, in no way positioned to deliver the loan they agreed. It is surely Viktor’s fault, and that of Bauer, who has disappeared again. He has been betrayed, embarrassed, six months of his life wasted. There is no point to any of this. John suggests they should move on. His mother agrees but fights the words out through her tears. She has no passport, neither does Clifford. John tells her he will look after them.

Early April is the solar Qingming Festival: observing ancestors with the burning of joss paper and incense sticks. All the departed are similarly honoured on July 15th with Zhongyuan, the Ghost Festival, when the gates of Hell are said to open to let spirits eat and drink. This was the day when Trebitsch returned. On the way home he had learned Chi Hsien-Yuan and Wu Peifu were preparing for war. Suffice to say he was not in a good mood.

After all I have given you here, John, you try to slip away, like some snake! And to add insult to injury you try betray my location to the British government!”

I have a right to my passport, just as mother and Clifford do,” he says.

Oh, you may leave whenever you like,” said Trebitsch.

Well I can’t. He impounded my passport. The consul Harry Steptoe. He said he knew all about me, who my father was, what the passport was really for…”

Steptoe? Right then. We shall take it to his superior, and to the London Foreign Office. Marshal Wu will hear of it!”

He went on and on, making up stories about me using a fake name. Do you know him? This Steptoe seemed to think passport was for you. Now I am stuck here!”

I think I have heard enough back-talk, John. I have enough trouble from bloody furniture men without all this nonsense!! Go and get your writing pad.”

A month later, Eyre Crowe and Basil Thomson discuss the letter mailed through Nanjing consulate. Trebitsch Lincoln’s tone, in angry five point outline, sways them against the whole family. Eventually, after speaking with the Home Office, they grant Margarethe Lincoln and her sons a one-way emergency certificate. Crowe, and Steptoe, receive a response from John Lincoln. The conditions they have imposed upon him are humiliating. He will remain in China against his will until he has a passport like any other British citizen. When John has written as he is told to, Trebitsch instructs him to sign the letter. A few weeks later, Wu Peifu gets involved in the doomed Beijing Coup. Father is tired of the Generals’ cold callousness, the political corruption, and tells the family to pack their bags.

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Chapter 35

Piazza San Marco, Venice.
Monday 3 September, 1923.

Venice’s centre and everywhere is calm; life relaxes. People buy fish and hand-crafted lace. The rain from the night before has created a mini-canal across the centre of the square. On the south side a brass band plays ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ and a man feeds pigeons. They hobble around the porch, under the tables of Caffe Florian, established 1720. Maximillian Bauer is in tight fitting clothes; clean shaven; unflinching. He looks just as he did at their first meeting. Trebitsch’s hair is cut short, flecks of grey and a few of white. He wears a chequered tweed overcoat and silk shirt, a gift from the Zhili clan. He thanks Bauer for coming. Bauer says nothing. He watches a boy loose a black painted wooden boat on the puddle. The child steps back and imitates the long swings of a gondolier to the amusement of Chiang and Suez. Neither man has been outside China before. They see the flapper girls with eyebrows done in India ink, the men with Broadway hats and moleskin coats. Everything is a wonder to them. Trebitsch’s eyes sink into the stained chequered tiles as a cripple hobbles past him with golden-tipped cane.

Finally Bauer replies. He says Trebitsch’s letter was timed so he had to come, or let them down. He smiles gently at the Chinese. Bauer asks Chiang about his military service. Chiang recounts how the provinces tried to remove the generals from politics, how Beiyang’s Premier made an alliance with Marshal Wu, then betrayed him. Bauer says he recognises every detail. His wartime government were the same. Ebert was the same. Their decisions have led to the hyperinflation currently destroying Germany.

Yet isn’t this a fine thing?” says Trebitsch. “Two of the finest Generals and diplomats each – proven teams – gathered to make great international changes!! Italy, China – Britain’s weak spots – plans in action, unfettered!”

Trebitsch’s chair has one uneven leg which wobbles as he talks. Bauer cold-shoulders him. Trebitsch only wants to redevelop China, make her a first rate global power. Suez says he is sure they will all get along just fine. Bauer has a few ideas to secure the loans China needs. They have a map of Chongqing showing coal deposits and projected railway lines; banks and addresses; persons of interest, points of contacts and overheads. It is only when Bauer is planning with Chiang and Suez does Trebitsch see the familiar light in his eyes.

They spend a week in negotiations: mostly fruitless. Trebitsch insists on being known as ‘Ludwig Tolnai’. They travel to Vienna and Bauer’s friend, Professor Viktor Otte, joins them. He dresses in a chequered tweed overcoat. Trebitsch takes an instant dislike to him. He says Viktor is a pigeon-breasted fake of a man. On their last night they unwind inside Schweizerhaus, corner of Prater public park, a raucous bar. Suez is quickly intoxicated. Chiang and Bauer bond over war stories and Trebitsch watches as they drift from him. Viktor comes back with two beers. There are two more at the bar. Bauer smiles; he will get the others. Trebitsch says he will get his own. The band are loud they shout to be heard.

A lager please! Max. You must be careful using my real name. The Chinese–”

The Chinese are the only reason we are talking,” says Bauer coolly.

Yes, yes, I betrayed you. And I am sorry. But put yourself in my shoes. Stephani would have had me shot!”

He swore to me –”

You were naive to re-employ him and it put me in an impossible position. No matter, it is all done. Let us think of the present, the future, rather than what has gone before.”

Bauer stares into him a moment then lifts the beers and walks away. They are calling for him. Trebitsch pays for his drink and walks around Viktor and Bauer, his chair set apart from the others. Suez has fallen asleep against Chiang’s shoulder. Chiang is offering Bauer a job as Wu Peifu’s foreign advisor. Trebitsch misses the toast. They will celebrate until closing time, says Viktor, but Trebitsch disagrees. They have an early start. Suez ought to be wakened. Viktor says Suez will be a rich young man soon and can sleep where-ever he likes. Trebitsch is not sure whether to scowl or laugh with them.

Ludwig Tolnai’ will not speak with some in Vienna. Some will not speak with him. Alone by Josefstadt Prison and courthouse, people are caught up in new drama, White International revelations long forgotten. Half a mile from there, Cafe Central – six moon chandeliers, satin drapes and marble pillars; a polished wooden tile floor and grand piano – the others are talking excitedly. Suez welcomes him. Viktor has come up with a list of potential investors in Berlin.

The Hungarian embassy refused me a passport. And with this ‘Interpol’ operation.. it seems I will not be joining you all. There are men in Berlin who would have me jailed; or worse.”

I see no reason why this should up-end the mission,” said Bauer.

The Colonel and I will take his place,” said Viktor.

I will stay here and try to make other contacts. I am sorry General Chiang.”

Actually,” says Bauer, “If you are alone here, I do not know if I can protect you. Maybe you should explore our opportunities in Zurich.”

It is neutral territory, more or less,” says Viktor.

Zurich is infernally quiet. He can feel the temperature dropping. He wears items of Asian jewellery and his Chinese skull-cap, to meetings arranged with dead-eyed men. ‘Maybe.’ ‘Perhaps.’ ‘We’ll see what can be arranged.’ The Foehn wind crosses the Limmat River and cuts to his bones. He sits at Confiserie Sprüngli turning his spoon, a gesture rumoured to lure rich old ladies. It doesn’t and he feels old and fat. He is not used to the seat next to him being empty. St. Peter’s, with the largest clock face in Europe, looks down on him. The city is built around Lake Zurich which has less swimmers every day.

On Heimplatz, a dozen streets intersect. He regularly sits at the covered tables of Pfauen Restaurant, known locally as Peacocks, stirs his tea and talks to anyone. His grasp of Swiss-German is poor. He is oblivious to their wishes for solitude. It is at Peacocks he opens the first letter from Bauer. Ludendorff is well, though spends too much time with Hitler. Scheubner-Richter, who introduced them to Biskupski, is positive he can smooth things over with Hugo Stinnes, financier of the Kapp Putsch. Bauer laments it will not to do much good. Money is worthless and he cannot see a future for his beloved country. Trebitsch looks up to the aeroplane from Dubendorf passing the Uetliberg mountains. Then it is gone. He knows for any German deal to pass he must remain outside it all.

He kicks a stone along Heimplatz, and another. He chain smokes, alone at the tables, watches trains around Zurich Hauptbanhof. The tea is low in the mug and the spoon scrapes against the sides. Near Peacocks is the Museum of Design, the ‘combination of aesthetic and functional qualities translating the themes of visual communication’. There are prints and illustrated books going back centuries. Looking closely at a drawing of an 18th century explorer he sees his face reflected in the glass. He is kicking more stones when he remembers Kreitner, the Austrian who discovered China in the 1870s. Kreitner’s son is in Zurich and at the apartment he writes to arrange a meeting. He writes also to Margarethe in Hamburg, and to John, in England.

Gustav Kreitner is in his late thirties: handsome with a bushy head of brown tufts. He is also a former Vienna police director. They laugh when it transpires he knew Trebitsch’s arresting officer. Kronenhalle restaurant is expensive but serves a veal stripped, sautéed, with tagliatelle, paprika and lemon juice. It reminds Trebitsch of Lajos’s kitchen in New York.

Look, Mr. Kreitner. I am Trebitsch Lincoln. I cannot be humble about that. I do not have time for any flash-in-the-pan article. Still, the truth about my life be told. What say you to helping author such a book?”

In October mornings he is at Peacocks most mornings waiting his audience. Kreitner transcribes the tales of the Canadian cleric; the British politician; the American spy; the European revolutionary. The more Trebitsch hears from himself, on himself, the more his enthusiasm is stirred. He shares Bauer’s latest report, how the Chinese have been gifted a signed photo from his good friend Ludendorff. Details of his family are kept to a minimum. Margarethe cannot get a travel permit, or find the right clothes. One delay after the next. He writes that she should come at once or he will send someone to fetch his son.

It is nearly two months since he has seen Bauer. He embraces him on Hauptbanhof’s crowded platform. There is a meeting with Stinnes’ East Asiatic Department in Berlin that Saturday, but Bauer is not returning to Germany. Viktor will accompany the Chinese. Trebitsch will join them part of the way: he has to deal with family in Hamburg. His seething contempt for Viktor has not passed. On that journey he eyes Viktor suspiciously; undercuts the man; briefs Chiang and Suez to do without him.

Back in Zurich the following week, he finds two letters: Chiang says Stinnes has turned them down: they will return soon. The other letter is from Scheubner-Richter: Hitler plans a putsch in Munich. He finds Bauer packing a case and tells him to sit.

You have seen the letter then? It means that Germany will rise,” says Bauer.

No. No. It’s a second ‘Kapp Putsch’, I tell you. I think we two have had a little experience of these affairs, haven’t we?”

You think that nothing will come of it?” Bauer asked.

I not only think, I am certain of it. They will not stand by Hitler. They will betray him before the day is out. Perhaps it is not too late to send a telegram and warn Ludendorff. First though, we must deal with this Chinese matter.”

I have been feeling out a company called Knolls,” says Bauer. “Their base is Stuttgart but they are also in Stammheim, about forty kilometres away.”

Yes, I know Stammheim but I am unfamiliar with this bank,” said Trebitsch.

They are a large industrial concern. I think just what we are looking for.”

They are shocked by Scheubner-Richter’s death and the arrests of Ludendorff and Hitler. Regardless, they open negotiations with Wilhelm Knoll. Wilhelm is a handsome man, well groomed and polite. ‘Ludwig Tolnai’ takes an interest in his family, his brother Walter in Stuttgart, and his young nephew, Hans. Wilhelm finds this endearing. Bauer is all business. If Knolls are willing to supply a loan equal to twenty-five million U.S. dollars, he says, they can have concessions to exploit minerals and operate transport across China. Wilhelm expresses concern over the amount. ‘Tolnai’ says the concessions are exclusive, a virtual monopoly. Wilhelm will confer with the board of directors.

A week later Chiang, Suez and Viktor join them in Stammheim. While they wait in the conference room, Trebitsch steals Bauer’s attention. He has a new photo passport under the name ‘Hans Trautwein’. Bauer laughs. Trebitsch hides it before Viktor can see. Over several hours Wilhelm and his people go over contracts with them. Finally, an agreement is reached. Bauer slaps his chair and rises, shaking hands with everyone.

That evening they celebrate. When asked how he did it, Trebitsch advises Chiang that it all happened with Viktor out of the picture. The next day, Suez tells Viktor his services are no longer required.

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