The Watch Thief, Chapter 17

Foreign Office, Whitehall. May 24, 1915.

Eyre Crowe greeted Sir Grey as he entered the office and the Minister returned the sentiment.

“I saw William Tyrrell on the way in. I knew he was under enormous pressure but he’s in a bad way, looked very stressed,” said Grey.

“His sick leave starts next week. Minister, have you read The Times this morning?”

“I left my copy with William. He said he wanted a read. What’s in it?”

“They’ve reprinted a feature from The New York World Sunday Magazine. I managed to obtain the periodical..”

Grey took Crowe’s Sunday Magazine and read the front page headline.

“‘Revelations of I.T.T. Lincoln, Former Member of Parliament, Who Became a German Spy’. Oh, no. ‘Amazing Confession of a Naturalised Subject of England, Who For Revenge Sought To Betray His Adopted Country to Her Enemies.’ Oh no. This is most troublesome.”

“Admiral Hall at the navy was looking into it, along with Thomson at the Yard. There’s an arrest warrant out on him for multiple frauds.”

“Extradition?” asked Grey

“The Yard doesn’t have the man-power to find him. Though Thomson suggested we call in Pinkertons,” said Crowe.

“William and yourself have met Lincoln. What do you think?” asked Grey

“I think myself –“

Suddenly there was an almighty scream from the adjoining room.

“What in good heavens?” asked Crowe.

“I think myself and William would agree with Thomson’s proposal.”

A different timezone and daylight faded in Trebitsch’s room as he read the letter from his wife. Margarethe had been forced to give Eddie up for adoption and had gotten in contact with a Quaker family who promised to raise him in a loving home. His education would be seen to, he’d be fed and clothed. She begged for forgiveness and understanding and he wrote back that he could deny her neither. Then he returned to the manuscript he was working on and wrote. ‘Sir Edward Grey knows that I have indeed many things to reveal — hence the “frame-up” of some charge, for which my extradition could be demanded in order to silence me, and thus to prevent at all cost my Revelations being published!’

The day after C.I. Ward visited, Nicolas Hotermans found Margarethe and Clifford on his steps, both in their pyjamas. Her faces were burned with tears. Her landlady had locked her out, made her sign all the house’s belongings over to make up the back rent: when she’d asked for a blouse she was not allowed to have it. He consoled her and at the end of the day waited at Torrington Square until Ignatius and John came home from scrubbing floors.

The landlady let them back in as a temporary relief. They were to find somewhere else. Then the reporters came, with notepads and pens and the New York World article. ‘Mr. Lincoln is married and has four sons. His eldest son, an adopted child, is now serving in the British army. This young man is actually at the front in France.’ They rapped on her door seeking verification, clarification and quotation. How much did she know about the spy, her husband? Mrs. Lincoln, the German. They were all over her home but Nicolas told her to say nothing unless they helped her clear debts.

The bombs dropped on London. Margarethe was barely asleep when the bombardment began. Four miles away, murder from the skies fell on Stoke Newington. She gathered Eddie and Clifford, screaming. They dropped three miles over Whitechapel and Hoxton then closer still. The roof fell in on Shoreditch’s Music Hall, one of over a hundred incendiaries. They hid under the table, frightened and alone.

C.I. Ward called the next day and suggested she might want to move away.

Trebitsch rubbed his beard as he sat at the table by his bed. He turned a full page and tasked his pencil to the blank one. ‘It is a fallacy to blame the English ‘People’ or the German ‘People’ for this war; neither they nor any other ‘People’ wanted it. Notwithstanding the democracy or parliamentary government, and other much vaunted achievements of our age, the people, the nation in fact, not only does not know the hidden moves on the international chessboard; they are not even consulted in the most vital questions.’

Franz Von Papen lifted his eyes gently to his attache. “Yes, Karl. What have you there?”

“Berlin told us that if Trebitsch Lincoln called again we were to have nothing to do with him.” He unfolded the front page of the New York World. “So we didn’t authorise this?”

Von Papen read quickly the May 23rd headlines and the first column. ‘The German Secret Service knew that Kuepferle’s alleged reports came from Scotland Yard and the requested instructions they obstensibly sent to Kuerpferle were indeed meant to mislead the British officials.’ Then he laughed, and laughed.

“One of their own says he was working for us,” said Karl, “Lording it over them!”

Von Papen shared his enthusiasm. “This! This is a great coup. Regardless of the truth!The British have egg on their faces!”

‘I arrived on February 9th, and at once got in touch with a certain German. Through him I got my cable to Berlin past the English censor without delay. Before leaving London I sent a note by circuitous route to the German Consul at Rotterdam, telling him in a prearranged code of all that had happened and advising him immediately to take the necessary steps. Through some inadvertences of Captain Kenny’s, I learned that the Secret Service of England was then considering and elaborating a plan to blow up all the railway bridges and important railway stations of the Rhine by sending into Germany emissaries with false passports.’

Trebitsch thought about his summer past: the move to Lajos’s; to his own room in Harlem; then here to nearby Raymond Street. Some of the block was over-crowded, smelled badly, but his room was a prime spot. He liked the neighbours. The walls were thin and he burned the midnight oil writing, but no-one complained.

Simon tugged the suitcase up the stairs after him. It chipped the wall as he walked. A man, about twenty, waited outside his apartment and they eyed one another as the gap closed. Already the young man’s hair was faded; blackest in the tiny moustache on his bony, jocular face: too cool for the formal posture he assumed.

“Mr. Trebitsch?”

“Who wants to know?”

He produced his identity card. “My name’s Hammett, with Pinkerton’s detective agency. I’d like to ask a few questions about your brother: Ignacz Trebitsch Lincoln.”

“My ‘brother’ and I have not spoken in several months,” said Simon, letting them in.

“You’re just back from holiday?” asked Hammett.

“Basic training in Honolulu.”

“Then I assume you’ll not have seen this? It’s last week’s.”

Hammett reached inside his bag and brought out the New York World Sunday Magazine. The front page was given over to the one piece and the headline seemed to explode in his eyes.

‘How He Obtained Important Secrets Regarding Germany’s War Plans and Attempted to Use Them to Gain the Confidence of the British War Office – When Suspected He Fled From England And Sought Refuge In New York.’

“Revenge; treason: serious things. The British have me looking into this and the U.S. army will discover your connection with him. You could deal with the question now by telling me what you know?”

The on-site library stocked any newspaper Trebitsch would want. He had access to paper and pens all hours, sometimes even coffee. The writing desk was tight by his bed, but turned to the wall and he had missed this minimalist life: just him, the book, pen and candlelight.

‘My brother, like so many of the younger generation of the Jewish faith, had little sympathy with the ‘Chasidim’, the strictest sect of the Pharisees, and soon drifted into infidelity.’

It was a hot night in Harlem, the Hudson’s August breeze turning the air to a sauna; wet towels on the window evaporating in the room. He moved his head so the sweat would not hit the page. It stung his eyes. The doorbell rang and he jumped. He sat back and listened. Another ring, loud banging on the door. He got up, looked through the narrow vertical window to six men in the dark.

“Open the door at once, or we’ll break through the window!”

Trebitsch sighed and got up; made his way downstairs. He turned the handle and stared into the nickeled barrel of a revolver.

“Don’t move, don’t make a move!”

The men rushed him; gloves on his arms, gloves patting him down.

“What do you want??” he screamed out.

At his desk in Raymond Street he was productive. After the New York World article, publishers McBride & Hitchcock had made him an offer. He was committed to it. Trebitsch drafted and re-drafted and re-drafted again.

“Lights out in ten, Mr. Lincoln.”

“Thank you. I’ll finish up now, Mr. Hayes!” he said, and rested his pen to turn, smile at the warden through the bars.

‘United States Deputy-Marshal Proctor there-upon pointed his revolver at me and admonished me not to move.

“Are you afraid of met” I jokingly asked him.

“Not exactly,” he said, “but we never take chances.”

Forced to play the host to such a formidable party of secret service agents and Pinkerton detectives, I hastened to let them in. These five gentlemen were courteous but firm. It was their duty to arrest me under a warrant sworn out by the British Consul. When I had packed a few belongings to cover what I was sure would be a temporary period, I was conducted by the officials to the Raymond Street prison, Brooklyn.’

The Federal building was packed with reporters, their excitement rising as Trebitsch took the stand.

“Your honour, I would like to read an excerpt from the New York World article which was mentioned. It is very relevant to my defence.”

“Make it so and proceed, Mr. Lincoln.” Judge Veeder was fifty, receding hair and statesman-like. He had the aura of a giant, moved slowly, very slowly and watched constantly.

“Thank you, Judge Veeder. If the court would pay close attention to the context here? ‘Although working as a military censor, old friends in the Liberal Club snubbed me because of my Hungarian birth and finally asked me to keep away from the club. I knew what I was going to do was technically high treason, but my blood was boiling in me at all the calculated barbarities inflicted by a haughty, perfidious race upon innocent people.’

“Mr. Lincoln, the charges against you are ones of fraud, not espionage and certainly not treason,” said Veeder.

“Your honour, I did work as a German spy, but I am not guilty of fraud. My arrest is also to prevent my publishing this book.” Trebitsch held the journal up so all could see it. “I am against the war and –“

“A state of war does not affect the situation in the slightest degree. Great Britain is not under martial law. Her courts are open and it must be allowed that justice will be done. To establish a prima-facie case exists for extradition, we will wait for papers from London. In the meantime, Mr. Lincoln is to be remanded without bail for a fortnight.”

Trebitsch rose up in fury and Judge Veeder slammed his gavel. Trebitsch was led out of the court.

The reporters swarmed towards them.

“Mr. Lincoln, a statement, please?”

“Is this a political prosecution?”

“Most certainly,” he called out. “It’s a subterfuge to get me into Britain! Once I get back there I’ll be arrested as a spy! When they get me to London they’ll drop the forgery charge like hot coals and proceed to make my head shorter by several inches.”

‘The proceedings there commenced for my extradition on a trumped up charge of forgery — as I already pointed out in the Preface — are still going on. But I am more than ever hopeful of regaining my freedom within a short time.’

Some nights the prisoners screamed for opium and cocaine and he’d pull his sheets over his head. Most nights thought, he slept soundly. His company was enjoyed by prisoners and warders, who he thought more like waiters.

He was writing a letter to Margarethe when he smelled the air fill up with tobacco. He heard the group of prisoners arrive at his cell door.

“Lampe’s got a surprise for you, Lincoln. Show him.”

Lampe, one of the more excitable inmates, presented Trebitsch with a ragged five month old copy of the New York World. Trebitsch read his own words and marvelled.

‘I had become a censor at the outbreak of the war, and quit in disgust after discovering appeals of Hungary for Red Cross aid from the United States were intercepted and destroyed.’

“Would you sign it for us, Lincoln?” asked Lampe.


Another prisoner spoke up. “We heard there’s a man from London come for you. I thought they said your papers had been sunk by German raiders!”

“Bernard, your delivery of that joke is far funnier than that of the British government!”

“Here, have a smoke,” said Laszlo, and he gave a cigar over.

In time they left Trebitsch get back to work. He weaved the tale of his life as an international spy. He wrote of how Britain’s Bucharest embassy on Jules Michet was previously looked after by Arthur Hardinge, once his key diplomat in Brussels, who he’d observed in turn replaced by Conyngham Greene, previously at the consulate in Bern. He wrote of his relationship with Frank Lascelles in Berlin. Then Lascelles was replaced by Edward Goschen, who Trebitsch first met as ambassador to Vienna in November, until replaced by Sir Fairfax Cartwright who had secret files, mission instructions and was a key mover and shaker in the diplomatic ring. Trebitsch was revealing the key figures in the circle moving and watching Germany.

Warden Hayes rapped on the bars. Two Scotland Yard detectives were downstairs and wanted to see him. So Hayes and Trebitsch walked the narrow dank grey-stone, between barred cells, to Hayes’ office. Waiting for them were Marshal Proctor, C.I. John Ward and his partner, Cooper. Trebitsch raised his arms in joy when he saw them.

“Ah! Mr. Ward! The top man in Scotland Yard still here after four weeks. I am important!”

I was hoping I could convince you could accompany us home,” said Ward.

Trebitsch rocked back in his chair and smiled “This is a fiasco! A wanton squandering of public money!”

“C.I. Ward has a warrant,” said Proctor, sharply.

“But no writ. A plea of haebus corpus has been entered preventing my extradition,” said Trebitsch.

“I went to see the Judge about hurrying it along. Someone filled his head with stories London had been destroyed by Zeppelins! There are many here who have not been quite helpful.” Ward looked accusingly at Trebitsch and he gave a full smile back. “

Please, detective,” said Hayes. “Mr. Lincoln has been a model prisoner.”

“If you return to England you may have the forgery charges against you dropped,” said Ward.

“You have the reputation of being a very clever man, Chief, and you are,” I said, “and I do not expect nor ask you to admit anything, although you know why Sir Edward Grey is so anxious to get hold of me.”

The hint thrown out by him had reference to a substantial compensation in return for abstaining from publishing my revelations! We walked out of the room, he disappointed, dejected. I elated, satisfied.

Four days later, Ward and Cooper were on a steamer for London to report their findings. At the same time in the Foreign Office, Eyre Crowe sorted through Edward Grey’s recently arrived telegrams. One was form Raymond Street Jail, Brooklyn.

Scotland Yard detectives after months of fruitless waiting returned today without me. Cannot British Government find other uses for public funds than vindictive persecution of me? – T.L.

Crowe cursed, drawing Grey’s attention.


c. Andy Luke, 2017

The Watch Thief runs one chapter a week. You can find more here.
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