The Foreign Office London, 20 March 1906
Trebitsch Lincoln left his signature on the visitor’s book and looked over the pristine chequered floor. John Sinclair was tall and well turned out, black hair in a wild side parting and with a magnificent brush of whiskers.
“Mr. Lincoln, glad to meet you, come this way. ” said Sinclair. A thin man with a cautious brow emerged from a room behind them. Sinclair turned his head. “Mr. Ponsonby!”
“Hello, John. William and I just finished. He’ll see you right will John,” Ponsonby told Trebitsch. “The PM’s favourite! Good day!”
“Good day,” said Trebitsch and they walked. “My, you are very important!” he said.
“Mr. Ponsonby works closely with the Prime Minister?”
“He’s his private secretary.”
Sinclair stopped by one of many doors, let Trebitsch into an office furnished in leather green and oak brown.
“Take a seat. Now, Mr. Rowntree and yourself are doing important work so I want to make sure you get off to a good start.”
“Yes, I am highly committed to investigating opportunities for social justice here and in Europe on Mr. Rowntree’s –”
He was cut short by a knock. Tyrell entered: moving as officer class, tidy dark hair and a postage stamp moustache. Sinclair rose and gestured.
“Secretary, may I present Mr. Trebitsch Lincoln. He’s undertaking the land survey for Mr. Rowntree. Mr. Tyrell is Private Secretary to Edward Grey.”
“It is an honour. I look forward to bringing my expertise to help the Foreign Office,” said Trebitsch.
Sinclair had deep concerning eyes. “How may we help you today, Mr. Lincoln?”
“Well, Mr. Rowntree’s survey requires a broad collection of geographical information from a number of European offices. I am to begin in Brussels and see about establishing a research base there.”
“We can furnish you with a letter of introduction to the ambassador. That’s — —” said Tyrrell.
“Most grateful! Would it be too much trouble to have an introduction for the consulates in Berne and Paris also? I mean to call on them over the summer.”
Sinclair’s prominent cheekbones rose as he smiled. “Not at all. I’ll have Fitzmaurice type them up.”
“May I collect these today?”
“We could get the Brussels letter today,” said Tyrell. “It sounds like we should also send dispatches to the embassies and let them know you are coming.”
“Excellent. Thank you genuinely! Genuinely sincerely!”
Trebitsch sat in the embassy foyer by potted plants and photographs of diplomatic handshakes. Nicolas Hotermans looked up from the appointments book and smiled reassuringly. A door opened.
“Edmund Phipps, ex-Consul General. The new man, Hardinge, well it’s his first day. Hotermans tells me you were quite insistent on being seen.”
“It is imperative I’m furnished with the information today. The Prime Minister intends this study to be vast: from Paris to Romania and beyond.”
“I see. Very well, come this way. Hardinge was stationed in Romania. You’ll have a lot to talk about later. Maybe I can help you in the meantime. How well do you know Belgium?”
Phipps opened the door to a long tabled room were a map of Belgium took up most of the wall.
“Not well enough,” said Trebitsch.
Trebitsch’s eyes dived in, while Phipps went for a guide stick parked underneath. Phipps was a gaunt man with sparkling eyes, his jaw was surrounded by beard.
“Three regions: That’s us in the middle, and above the largely agricultural Flemish region: Flanders to the right here by the French…”
Trebitsch was there immediately, following the stick through patches of green in Bruges by the Iron Rhine rail-road
“…over to Antwerp, very busy with industry…”
The blue lined canals of Antwerp: the North Sea port with boats packed tight off the jetties and cruise ships like giants in the sky. Anyone who was someone would be there, magnates of zinc mines and factories making shoes and cigars.
“Antwerp is a major processing centre for diamond, brick and printed matter.”
Oh yes, all very useful. Its yellow roads haemorrhaged through thicker green and he followed Phipps’ pointer out towards Germany’s grey border line.
“Below us is the Walloonia region. First off, Liege, several hours away…”
He could see it: the spires over the lake, the rapid water and reed islands; the mills, bridges and waterfalls…
“…where Brussels has acquired coal and pig iron exports…”
Trebitsch followed the guide along the slivering River Meuse.
“To Namur. Remarkable views, houses from hill to hill.”
The city built into a rock.
“A hundred kilometres down the way, Luxembourg. The Belgians have a strong railway system that should service…”
Trebitsch was already on that train, through winding countryside were sheep wool was stripped, through green desert to Red Lands’ rich iron ore. He’d conquer the thick forests and brave the Pasarelle viaduct over precipitous cliffs. He’d arrive in the Cercle Municipal for cross-border trade deals with Germans over glasses of Moselle.
“You’re Hungarian, aren’t you?”
Phipps’ question shook him from his daze.
“Originally, though I have travelled.”
“Yes, I was stationed in Budapest. Coyngham Greene’s there now; good fellow.”
Trebitsch thanked Phipps for his time, and said goodbye to Hotermans on the way. Then he was out onto Auderghem Avenue. He’d meant to return to Au Wavre McQuain Hotel. The row of foreign embassies waving flags slowed him, there, by the Cafe de la Speranza. Towering porticos; window verandas; chequered dividers: a sense that only the finest would be dining there.
This week’s ones late. I’ve been preparing research, rare books. While I’m burrowed in Trinity library, I’ll be auto-posting. We’ll return to dailies for the next few weeks, as the format suits. I’ll be at the DECAF event on Sunday, the Dublin Eight Comics Art Festival, a real down-in-the-grassroots harbinger of future creative storytelling. Here’s a link: https://www.facebook.com/events/1413512145403983/
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