From Hill Close House to Hummersknott, Darlington was Pease territory, but that would change. Away from the electric trams of Northgate, the Liberal ‘s Albion Hall was full of working men. With accent he spoke fluently, the curls gone from his now straight parted hair , his belly filled out.
“I want you to see for yourself the ordinary Belgian’s struggle under tariff laws. Their long hours. Our trip to Antwerp will be educational. I am looking for volunteers to find the facts, and sponsors to subsidise this great venture.”
Men queued to put their names down for joining Trebitsch on the continent. As the numbers fell away, he saw one man lingering at the back, beady black eyes and fair hair. He quivered as the M.P. drew near.
“Will you be joining us?” asked Trebitsch.
“That would be difficult.”
Trebitsch recognised him then. One of the Quakers running the town, but no Pease nor Rowntree. “You’re Edmund Backhouse, aren’t you?”
“Baachus, the black sheep, at your service.”
“Perhaps you’re the herder of black cattle.”
“Oh, I hope not. My return to Darlington is temporary,” said Backhouse.
“I heard you were in China? Involved in the building of railways there? Quite the Darlington spirit.”
Backhouse sighed, then, some other spirit grabbed him. “You are looking for sponsors.”
“Yes! Yes. Would you be willing to assist?”
“Maybe. Do you know Foxes in Northgate? Good. How about one o’clock tomorrow?”
The Fox family Oriental Cafe was adorned with prints, candles and mirrors. Upstairs was dark and ornate. They sat by a latticed divider, spiced tea and incense wafting, while Backhouse spoke of his predicament at Pauling & Co. A London firm, they were to construct a railway with Chinese government funding.
“The Russians and Japanese protested. They want it for themselves and now the whole deal has been scotched. British jobs have been lost. If the government would be persuaded to speak out on this…”
“Yes, yes. You know I am a businessman too. I am making exciting in-roads on the Galician oil fields. We can work together. I will ask in the Commons this week.”
“Mr. Lincoln, you must be very careful this isn’t tracked back to me,” he said, and slid across the table an envelope of bank notes. “I’d be very grateful for your assistance.”
Coated pastilles fell from the sugar trough onto the conveyor belt, like new tides, until aligned and packed in silver foil. A tide of milk sloshed and breaking, cream waves exploding around the steel drum. The cartwheels spun, a loose stone bounced between the spokes. Astride the cobblestones, Trebitsch pulled his rebellious wheel-bag. Arnold, Seebohm’s brother and company director held the door open. He had receding hair except for voluminous clumps at the sides. They hello’d and goodbye’d. He waved to Mr. Robson, Rowntree’s secretary, through an open door.
“‘The most competent researcher you’ve ever employed!’ My, I am honoured!” said Trebitsch. Rowntree passed back the autographed Land and Labour, the book they’d worked so hard on. “I wonder if I might trouble you for a small loan.”
“Just until October. There’s the newborn and my family are coming from Budapest. £50 or £60 would suffice but I’m grateful for anything at all.”
Rowntree had his chequebook out. “I gave you a very large remuneration last year. You really must live within your means, Timothy.”
“I’m in the process of launching a petroleum business with some contacts made in Poland and the Ukraine.” Trebitsch made a noise of pulling out the prospectus but Rowntree was engrossed in his ledger, transferring figures. “In Austria. It’s very promising!” Still Rowntree’s head was down.
Franz Ferdinand had large eyes and spoke to Trebitsch earnestly of the Entente. Trebitsch asked was there an intention to isolate Germany. Out of that lightning bolt moustache the Archduke rumbled that of course Britain desired Austria, Hungary, or both, come away, weaken the Kaiser’s ‘upstart empire’. Trebitsch looked at his list of questions. Surely he had another page. The ink began to melt.
“I’ve made this out for £100,” said Rowntree. “I would not see you stuck. Please, would you make this the last time?”
Rowntree had to return to work so Trebitsch left. Along the hall a fierce sneeze grabbed his head and flung it downwards. The blue carpet filled with balls of silver and light. They swirled around and zipped past him as the second sneeze came on. There were more now, in a frenzy. Robson came out of his office with a handkerchief. Trebitsch eyed him through mercury’s swarm.
“You look terrible. Come in and take a seat. There must be a lot on your mind.”
Robson heard all about how the Archduke was a potential investor. He could not invest, but gave Trebitsch the £500 loan he asked for.
It was early August, early morning, when the Antwerp party met outside The Coronation Temperance Hotel on Victoria Road. Blumer already there with them, easily identified by his pock-marks. Trebitsch and Krausz had only to walk ten minutes from Park View and they met the men, all thirty-six by the head count. in all. He led them past the coal depot, up toward Bank Top Station.
“You are pleased,” Trebitsch told Blumer on the platform. “Do you see? This is what your loan of £100 had achieved. Everyone! Everyone! Mr. James Blumer, chairman of the Darlington Liberal Association.”
Trebitsch settled his bag and clapped furiously, until it was joined by applause from the workers.
“Not necessary, not necessary. This is all Mr. Lincoln’s work. Safe travels, gentleman!”
On the train to the port were Darlington’s brick-layers and boiler-makers, railwaymen and a postman. Trebitsch and Krausz mingled, made sure their needs were met. On the boat, a few of them sat around a bar table. The postman felt Trebitsch was painting the Belgians as far more impoverished than they could possibly be.
“I interviewed a woman in a village Liege,” Trebitsch said. “Very busy in her business washing an ironing. She worked right up until the birth: two weeks before, and only two weeks maternity leave. Fourteen children in all, no time for education, except schooling the younger ones to help her. They were not well-off, but self-sufficient from working eighteen hour days.”
The hotel in Antwerp was damp, with ambiguous insects. On Wednesday, they visited Liege and her factories. They toured the slums outside Brussels, watching their counterparts slave deprived and dressed in rags. Several times Trebitsch reminded them to watch their wallets. “The families in this street are living eight to a room,” he said.
“Why would they live like this?”
“There’s no pay to be had behind these tariff walls,” said Trebitch.
With their guide’s running-down commentary, the workers’ feelings were nearly unanimous. The lot of the Belgian worker was disturbing. Only the postman disagreed. “I haven’t seen any evidence of them eating dog meat,” he said. “Our week has been spent in dirty alleys and dead fields. There’s an international arts exhibition three streets over!”
Meanwhile in London, the Hungarian ambassador Count Mensdorff gazed up at the Foreign Office’s high ceiling, paint patterns of coral and ladder. He was a thin man with a flat face. William Tyrrell escorted him over scarlet carpet with customary sombre dignity. They ascended the grand staircase and Tyrrell took him to a room full of classical beams and arches. Sir Edward Grey and Eyre Crowe welcomed him and listened as he voiced his concern: Trebitsch Lincoln. The M.P. had been behind a series of statements questioning the Hungarian government: embarrassing statements, not at all diplomatic. Mensdorff said, making it seem an accidental slip, that the Budapest constabulary were keen to question him about a series of robberies. Grey treated this very seriously and asked Mensdorff to leave the matter with him. Once he left, Grey said someone had better have a word with Rowntree about the wolf in the fold.
The smoking train released them, early September: his mother, Julia, ten years after disowning her son over his Christianity had softened her heart. Lajos: humble on the platform, behind many cases of luggage was hopeful of progress. Jozsef the wanderer, resembling Trebitsch but uncomfortable in suit and tie dawdled by the sign, DARLINGTON. He read the money of the men and the darling of the women. Simon, eighteen, followed them. Glow in his mouth, he was given over already to this not-Budapest home. Trebitsch was nowhere to be seen. Shortly, their cousin Alexander stepped out to meet them and Julius, thirteen years old, at his side. Well dressed, they greeted one another with typical Hungarian embrace. Julius desired to impress his grandmother but was equally afraid of her.
Trebitsch returned on the next train, from Lviv. There, hotel reception were told at check-in the M.P.’s purpose was to examine the potential for drilling Galician oil fields. The bed was hard, the travel heavy and the noise – abominable! The hotel staff said word had gotten around and the lobby crowded with lawyers, arguing in Polish and Ukranian. At about 10pm, he’d risen, finding only Dr. Segal, the one who did not leave. This was the tale recounted to the brothers at the quiet Oriental Cafe, 94 Northgate.
It. sounded to Lajos like another tall tale though, and he read aloud from the inside pages of the Northern Echo. “Marie Curie Isolates Radium In Pure Form – New Element Discovered.”
Simon was engulfing biscuits. Jozsef, picking through the papers his brother had brought found an unmailed letter addressed to the London Society for the Jews. “I thought you were done with them. Who’s Lypshytz? Another financier?”
“He might be but that is none of your concern. Return it at once.”
Jozsef shrugged casually and laughed, flinging it back into the pile.
“Dr. Segal, on the other hand, is a good man and I trust him. Now listen. Galician Oil is controlled by nine relatively small companies.”
“And you want to amalgamate these?” asked Lajos, rubbing facial hair.
“Not want to, have! Well, virtually! Segal made his enquiries and eight of them were open to it. For only £5,000 we had options to bid. Once I heard this I telegraphed Mr. Rowntree immediately.”
“So we have jobs?” asked Simon.
“I have the papers. Anglo-Austrian Oil, incorporated in my name. Henry Dalziel M.P. Was talking to his banker friends this very day.”
“We’re to be oil barons,” said Simon
Trebitsch laughed. Then shook Simon’s hand, and he was laughing too.
Eyre Crowe was short, of height and hair, his frame thin and face angular and to the point. He shook Alex Murray’s hand, and Alex presented Jack, but excused them a minute later. He took broad old Lord Murray to one of the alcoves at the far end of the Dining Room, more like a bar table. The Liberal Club was full of such hiding spots, though the smell of carrots and gravy and roast pheasant wafted down to them.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet me,” said Crowe, rubbing his ear. “That was Jack Pease, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, member for Rotherham. He’s been giving me tips from his time as Chief Whip.” Murray laughed.
“Also former Mayor of Darlington I believe. We might need to bring him in on this before it’s all over. Tell me, do you know Timothy Trebitsch Lincoln?”
Crowe told Murray of the complaints by Count Mensdorff, Esme Howard, Sir Bertie and others.
“Things will have to change. He’s upset several ambassadors and is completely lacking in etiquette. It’s a good clean-up job is what’s needed.”
Two floors below, Trebitsch was squaring off against a backbencher over billiards. He laid out his pitch and lost the games. On the way to the bar, they stopped by the member’s mail boxes and he ripped open the letter from Rowntree. It confirmed a further £5,000 deposited in his account for negotiating the deal. He found renewed vigour to pitch. Murray and Crowe were out the door before they arrived on the ground floor.
Upstairs, he walked in to a few scowls. Herbert Samuel, with some concern, noted his entry, then gathered himself into the current conversation with Maundy Gregory and Jack Pease. When Trebitsch approached, Samuel made his apologies and left.
The boys were full of excitement, hyperactivity, when he took them to the newly opened Electric Picturedrome for John’s seventh birthday. A silent movie synchronised with gramophone, harbinger of Edison’s talkies coming to town soon. On the way home they met the Hudnalls and their newborn, Richard, the kids unable to contain themselves. Nicolas Hoterman’s sister and husband were employed as maid and butler at Park View. They cleaned dinner plates in the October darkness. Tall, pale Margarethe had Eddie suckling at her breast. John’s birthday was challenged by Julius, double in years. John straightened up, then seeing his brother taller took to the sofa. In the kitchen, Julia was yelling at the Belgians in a thick accent they could not understand.
“No, no. My plates! You cannot wash plates for unclean meat and kosher meat in the same water!”
The Trebitsch brothers were sat in the middle of it, Ignatius running laps around Uncle Simon’s seat. His father got up and slapped him on the legs. Lajos said they should take it upstairs. Ignatius’s tears followed them, set off Eddie in the other room. Julius and John stood to attention as they passed.
Simon said, “We’ve been here six weeks and working our damnedest.”
There was a desk against the wall, and other chairs around the side, between filing cabinets and precariously leaning books from over-stuffed cases.
“This is the nature of business. You have to invest to get paid. The more money you spend the more you get back.”
“Nonsense,” spat Lajos.
“We have been over this. £10,000 for the option and negotiation advanced by Rowntree. The cost comes to buy comes to £240,000 and Henry Dalziel is fairly sure he can raise it. How much of that is nonsense, Lajos?”
“What about us?” asked Simon. “We’ve been writing and typing, mailing and marketing and setting up accounts all while –”
“Brother, we’ve been lifting rubbish, sweating away for old foods in racist pubs,” said Jozsef.
“If you do not like it, then you know what to do,” said Trebitsch. “I promised you a job and we will strike big. Just be patient.”
It was an unusually quiet afternoon when Henry Dalziel met Trebitsch in the Smoking Room. He led the handsome Scotsman to his favourite spot: the fireplace flanked by mottled honeycomb pillars. Trebitsch sat with the clock behind him, Dalziel opposite, sunlight from across the Thames streaming over his face. Dalziel said the Bank of England had raised their rates and as a result the financiers had seen the investment n Galicia and similar as unprofitable. Trebitsch protested, suggested new angles, but nothing he put forward was growing.
His return journey took forever. At Bank Top a train had gone over the side of the line and one on the rails was smashed. There were two fatalities.
Several days later the trains were moving cautiously. He went south. Station Hotel, a gothic building as large as the Liberal Club signified his entry into York. It did not whiz by. He took a taxi a mile to the familiar fog of cocoa on Haxby Road. Greeted Robson in the hall, in passing.
“I talked with Henry Dalziel at the club a few days ago,” said Rowntree.
“Yes, this is what I came to see you about! I regret our venture has met an obstacle.”
“He also mentioned you borrowed several hundred pounds from him.”
“Mr. Rowntree, the money is resting in my account.”
“How much have you?”
“Enough. Though I have been considering resigning from the House, so as to put all my attention on this enterprise.”
Rowntree never looked judgemental. Though he raised an eyebrow, he was pleased.
“IF I move on.,” said Trebitsch. “The matter is not settled that my mind has been made up! I have my sights set on a cabinet post.”
“Sadly, I think it would be for the best? Perhaps you might run again at a later date,” said Rowntree
After Trebitsch showed himself out, Robson knocked thrice on the hardwood door. What was Lincoln’s excuse?
Rowntree said, “He did not answer directly. The tone was…he inferred the claims are untrue.”
“He has the funds?”
“He says he does, but in truth William, I don’t believe him. To compound matters he did not even mention to me his declaration of bankruptcy.”
Robson shook his head. “And his seat?”
“Half seated, half standing. That is, I have no idea.”
By Lear’s Ironmongers in the Horsemarket, Harrison Thompson and Sons held ‘the largest stock of chocolates in the district’. Beyond the ornate white plaster Roman archway, Thompson’s was long and spacious. Fred Maddison, 54, a gentleman, left his companions at the table and walked to the back wash-room.
“Mr. Lincoln, Timothy, I am aware you have filed for bankruptcy,” said Blumer. “It is not the customary for the House to let a bankrupt perform party duties..” Blumer leaned across the table and spoke in quiet tones.
Trebitsch, not so much. “I see. And what would be the benefit in abandoning my constituency? The people who voted for me, eh? You want I should leave them in bother?”
“The next election is several years away, we hope. You could wait in the wings. Fred has very good experience. He was president of the TUC and previously ran in Burnley.”
“Mr. Maddison’s character is not in dispute, but it seems mine is!”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“Well, you’d be in the minority. I have heard the talk at the club, treacherous whispers, as well as blatant racism.”
“I didn’t make the rules and I’m not your enemy, Timothy.”
“No, of course not. I apologise for my tone.”
“I simply wanted to make you aware there are options. If you resign now, perhaps moreso. This is not the end of the line.”
The M.P. for York Arnold Rowntree, accompanied his brother riding carriage’s worn seats, heads in newspapers. Inside margins of serrated pulp they read of Madero’s call to revolution in Mexico, the death of Tolstoy, and it was also a way not to talk about it.
Nearby investors talked excitedly about a new Darlington picture house, and Arnold was moved to speak. “Father was right when he said you would have felt bad if he was an honest man who had failed. Help was given him, and he turned out to be a bad egg.. You know this has to be done.”
Seebohm said nothing.
Off St. Augustine’s Way they were met by Blumer at door to Albion Hall. Trebitsch’s photograph looked mirthfully down at them. James Blumer turned his back to it, turned their backs to it and brought them inside .
The Whitehall Court club was in chaos: Lloyd George’s budget; the Irish Question; The Lords refusing to allow the bills to pass, though George V advised them not to. There was talk of dissolving parliament soon. Perhaps tomorrow or the next day. The speech was hot and so many bodies there pushed against one another. Groans of too many elections, a few dissenters said it would clear out the trash. The thought of weeks of electioneering pumped blood hot into Trebitsch’s head. He put his hand on a member’s back to steady himself. In the hall, away from the noise, but his legs were weak.
“Sir, may I help you?”
“I’d like to use the telephone.”
The butler lead him along the hallway, the long, expansive hallway.
On the second floor of his home in Park View, Trebitsch’s private study was anything but. Trebitsch explained people were working hard for them. Now Dr. Segal was in London and they could travel to meet him, hatch a rescue from the Liberal Club. Simon wanted to know if they would let him in.
“OF COURSE! I may not be an M.P. any longer but I have my contacts.”
“Simon is fed up with this, as we all are. I’m sure you’ll succeed but I did not come to England to mop floors and peel potatoes,” said Lajos.
Trebitsch hit back, “Simon has made a complete hash of the book-keeping. No wonder our funds are a mess!”
“It is getting old,” said Jozsef.
“You have been looked after by me here.”
Lajos laughed. “Your children had no food when we arrived. And Margarethe is pregnant again. How do you expect to cope with that?”
“Fine, then. You can get out of my sight, off to America! You’ve already driven mother away with your bickering. I am tired of your whining. All of you, your attitudes are not conducive to a healthy business atmosphere. I won’t have it under my roof. ”
It was around a year after Trebitsch took the stage at the Larchfield Drill Hall that Frederick Maddison tried to sell his candidacy. He’d hoped for a different venue, but was unable to find one. Worse, his predecessor had offered to join him on-stage and he couldn’t say no.
“I hope you’ll stand behind Mr. Maddison, Darlington, with all the conviction you showed to me.”
As soon as Trebitsch spoke it was the signal for Skinnergate’s hecklers. “Mr. Maddison, you stood in Burnley after Jabez Balfour. Is that your thing, coming on after bad M.P.s?”
The crowd roared with laughter. A press man asked why Lincoln had waited two days before parliament was dissolved before standing down.
“I have tried my best to arrange matters so I can continue working with you and fighting for the noble cause of Liberalism.”
“Mr.Maddison, do you make Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles as well?”
“Yeah, are you on the choco-choco train?”
“Oh, that’s very big!” thundered Trebitsch. “One of Mr. Pease’s supporters. I can tell by the lack of manners. Pike Pease has helped galvanise the pig-headed fools of this borough!”
Maddison tried to speak and was drowned out, the crowd barking like dogs.
With Christmas upon them and the Belgian help gone, Margarethe, heavy with child, stacked the plates as the boys ran through the house. Jozsef remained behind, and with Krausz and Trebitsch went over and over the books: the money, the financiers, the cost of equipment and labour. Trebitsch thumbed the cut edge of the solicitor’s letter. He had one week until meeting his creditors.
c. Andy Luke, 2017