The Watch Thief, Chapter 11

26 January, 1910. Budapest.

They burst from the station. Trebitsch with three bags angled round paused rears, over-took dawdlers. Among familiar steeples and grand boulevard monuments, he saw the hotels with their open arms.

The house door was opened by Sandor the home-bird. He and Simon, the youngest, took the bags. His anya entered the living room and pressed cheeks around him, then poured the coffee.

“Oh, Ignacz! Now, there are two politicians in the family!”

Trebitsch was to digress but these things should not concern him. Lajos showed up for dinner and indeed, things had been on the decline.

“I will speak favourably for you, for the business of running a country requires so many proficiencies.”

“You’ve only been elected two weeks!” said Lajos.

Trebitsch splashed kávé onto the table-cloth. “I intend to represent British interests while I’m here. You can attend if you like. I’ve arranged for a public meeting at the Hotel Hungaria. Tell me, where is Vilmos?”

Silence.

“Why is he not around?”

“Vilmos…”

Julia adjusted her large petticoat and said, “Oh, Vilmos, your father and I thought he would be the saviour of this family. Let’s not talk of unpleasant things. ”

“Mother!” said Lajos.

“He is not well.”

“Has heard voices,” said Simon. “He’s in the asylum.”

“With or without his help I will continue. I have some very interesting plans. I will be the saviour of this family!”

 

A burst of ink as Esme Howard signed the memorandum and dated it 7 February. He read it back, and from the words Trebitsch appeared as a spectre before him.

“Thank you for the introductions: Sir Cassel, Stuart Samuel at the firm of Samuel Montagu: they’re prepared to lay out as much as two million! So you see, the bank will be a reality. Also, I have purchased a patent for the most remarkable of devices!”

In London, Eyre Crowe read the telegram aloud to Tyrrell. “He says it is for a furnace which can take any coal, even ‘brown’ coal, and it produces no smoke or gas.”

Tyrrell too, could see him there in his room, electrified and bobbing.

“It is a most remarkable invention!”

“If only these details could disappear so easily,” Tyrrell told Crowe.

In Budapest, Howard fetched his coat for lunch. As he walked along Rákóczi Avenue clouds darkened his way. The towering clock gazed into his soul. There was the Lincoln echo again. “I am to lecture on British politics today at Hotel Hungaria.”

Concern led Howard sluggishly upstairs where he found Trebitsch. He sat behind thirty or so people. Good. He didn’t wish this visit framed as some kind of endorsement.

“I come from a respected banking family: my father, Nathan, god rest his soul, and my older brother, Vilmos. So it honours me to carry on this tradition and increase trade among both nations.”

With Lajos and Simon also in the audience, they listened as he answered questions on British employment. He recounted statistics and correlations of industrial ownership, town population and behaviour. The journalists there found him lucid in his response on trade in transport. Discussion verged from Britain to Hungary and he praised his “brother’s efforts” and the Social Democrats, however Trebitsch was anxious to steer the conversation back onto his course.

“What about Hungarian independence?”

“What about it, indeed? Agitation here can only strengthen the Church and the Conservatives. It’s the wrong time for this.”

Howard stayed as long as he could bear it. He could hear Lincoln in his head, the wild elemental chaos following him to the consulate. Howard grabbed his desk, grabbed the notepad. Over the desk he could still see the preacher, hands waving, fingers pointing to a calamity of global proportions.

“The dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary will only be weakened by your protest for independence. It puts Hungary in a vulnerable state and gives an unfair advantage to Germany and Russia.”

Budapest’s skies darkened Howard’s office. He could still hear the concern in the audience.

“Is that what the British think of us?”

“At the present moment, the Liberals of England do not look with sympathy on it.”

In London, Eyre Crowe read the second telegram.

“Oh, so very tactless! I regret, Mr. Tyrrell, this will have to be presented to Sir Grey.”

 

April 6th, 1910, The National Liberal Club, London.

 

Everything about the National Liberal Club was large. Square tiled celings of a Romantic age and golden chandeliers like upside down wedding cakes. Behind honey painted pillars caught green drapes with overhanging tassles fell ten feet to their bindings. On the walls opposite were the works of the masters.  The carpet was firm and expensively patterned. At the sculpted fireplace, Winston Churchill, elbow on leather arm-rest, sat with Squiffy, the P.M., who himself sat with an impressive collection of spirit glasses, their reflection upon the covering showing Asquith was in a bad way.  In the centre of the busy room, Herbert Samuel was in discussion with the Attorney-General, Rufus Isaacs: an angular faced Jew who was precise in all things.

“Alex Murray is sure Marconi’s shares could be used for party funds,” said Isaacs.

“I’m not sure it’s for me,” said Samuel

“I said Godfrey is managing director?”

“You did.”

“Your own siblings are in banking. Stuart and…Gilbert?”

“I rarely see them,” said Samuel.

“Well, I’ve already bought a few hundred. Let me know if you do wish to take some.”

Samuel spotted Rowntree at the memorabilia case and excused himself.

Rowntree said, “I forwarded the Chancellor excerpts from your land research, Timothy, and he’s quite excited by our publication.”

“And with this new budget we can provide for their health,” said Trebitsch.

“It may be enough to raise revenue for basic services and unemployment insurance,” Rowntree said. “Hello, Postmaster-General!”

Samuel and Rowntree shone smiles and extended their hands to one another.

“Seebohm, always a pleasure. And the distinguished Mr. Lincoln! I heard about your nasty fright. How are you?”

“Yes, a complication with the appendix. A month out of sorts! However they returned me in working order. Forgive me, this is Nicolas Hotermans, a friend from the Belgian embassy.”

“Herbert Samuel. A pleasure, sir. Well, I’m very glad to hear you’re on the mend, Mr.Lincoln.”

“I have Hotermans to thank. My new secretary has been working tirelessly to bring me up to speed.”

“Come, let’s get your thirsts sorted. Yes. I heard you spoke in the Commons today on the possibility of a Balkans Conference,” said Samuel.

“Mr. Samuel, Mr. Rowntree.” Edward Grey cut between them and passed Trebitsch with a frown and turned up nose.

“So rude, those who could not accept I was elected MP,” said Trebitsch.

“It was a honour to join you on the hustings and give them what for,” Samuel replied. “Today was not your first speech though. I saw the caricature in Punch!”

“Yes! Yes! It is my pride and joy! I have it framed!”

“Of course he made his newspaper fortune from Comic Cuts. On that score, I’ve an idea.”

Trebitsch turned, thinking the man was talking about him. He was a young, portly fellow, a thespian, with a ring, a monocle. Trebitsch had seen him in a theatre…the Waldorf, a year or two before.

“Coffee, please,” said Rowntree.

Trebitsch was searching his thoughts. There had been trouble at the Waldorf that month.

Hotermans said “There’s really someone I must say hello to. Excuse me, gentlemen?”

“You may go ahead, Nicolas. A coffee for myself,” said Trebitsch.

“Oh really? CHAMPAGNE!”

The boisterous fellow with Waldorf was the Liberal member for Hackney South, Horatio Bottomley. “You see that, Maundy? All these great minds talking about raising money for unemployment insurance and the blighters keep drinking the bar dry!” Bottomley winked at Samuel’s party. Rowntree smiled back.

“The benches were full for my maiden speech,” said Trebitsch.

“Are you staying in London tonight?” asked Samuel.presence

Bottomley’s friend, Maundy, was talking in Trebitsch’s ear. “I had an idea for a publication: Mayfair, built around a regular feature –”

Rowntree said, “Be careful not to do too much at once, Timothy. His wife is due any day now.”

Bottomley yelled, “A bottle of champers and make it quick!”

Trebitsch called over, “I am very interested in tomorrow’s discussion on Persia and the presence of the Russian army there.”

“We’ll call it ‘Man of the Day’ An article and a cartoonist’s colour portrait, perhaps Spy –” said Maundy

Trebitsch told Samuel and Rowntree, “The two matters greatly interest me, also the developments with the Chinese railways.”

“Huh, that’s Vanity Fair,” said Bottomley. “Look, Maundy, Odhams and I are too busy editing John Bull.”

Trebitsch fell silent and listened to the two men. Did they have the opportunity he’d been waiting for?

“Talk to the Keen-Hargreaves boys,” said Bottomley.

“Isn’t one of them a baron?”

“Jack. So he says. You remember how you showed up to the theatre with the Duchess on your arm? It’s the same principle. Reach out to prestige and you’ll have the door opened for you, boy.”

About that time, in Darlington, Edward Cuthbert Lincoln was brought into the world.

 

The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. To read advance chapters and access a big bundle of awesome extras come spend a few bob on Patreon.

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