Chapter 45

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Sunday 6 May, 1934.
Duchess of York, North Atlantic Ocean.

Marie counted the hours since Ottawa, to the minute, to carry out his command. Walking to the cabin she was met by Steinke, his face white and full of shock. He pushed by her, avoided eye contact. They knew each other a year: he’d never lacked composure. She carried on to Room 427, knocked, then opened it. Adeline kneeled in prayer.

The Abbot says you can go now,” said Marie.

Good. I am better for the penance. I reaped the seeds I sowed.”

Oh, Adeline! Of course you did not!”

My poison tongue! I regret missing Ottawa, and the Prime Minister.”

We did not speak with him, only the Abbot did,” said Marie.

Is everything alright dear?” asked Adeline.

Did Mister Steinke come to see you today?”

Tao Chun?”

Suddenly Abbot Chaokung was upon them, out of breath and red faced. “MARIE!” he screamed.

I know, Abbot. I am sorry,” she said.

Be silent!”

The liner drifted into Gladstone Harbour. Passengers cluster at the stairwell. Mothers hush crying babies for the slow shuffle to land. They dock, and wait. A trickle of movement and then calls to back up. Four police officers climb the stairs.

The boat empties and they are led out: one constable in front, the other behind, two either side of the Abbot. Margot is weeping. Jiahao sees Hertha ready to faint and puts an arm out to steady her. Descending the gangplank, Escoffier spies a photographer, and turns her head away.

Chaokung pulls his arm from the officer’s grip. “You seem to be afraid of me, when it needs both of you to go with me!”

He is a Man of God!” said Willem. “This is completely inappropriate!”

They are led through a temporary walkway to a restricted access area, and their belongings searched. Then came the questioning and the long wait. Steinke was unusually silent, and with the Abbot separated the group descended into chaos.

Where have you taken him?” asked Margot.

Listen here. We are on a mission of peace,” said Henri.

The Abbot is a revered leader throughout the East. His teachings are known to millions,” said Willem.

Your Abbot is barred from Great Britain: standing order from 1919.”

He is not a spy!” said Willem. “Tell them, Steinke!”

Mister Steinke, what is the matter?” said Marie.

Are we under arrest?” asked Hertha.

Another officer entered then, a burly man with a cape of a moustache. “Thank you for your patience while we made enquiries, and I apologise for keeping you. You’re all free to disembark.”

What about the Abbot?” asked Jiahao.

Mr. Lincoln is being held in custody while the Home Office reviews the case. Constable, would you take these people through?”

They are led out onto Liverpool’s docklands, scrawks of gulls over the LMS train on the bridge. Ahead, policemen put Chaokung in a van. Margot breaks free of the others, and Hertha right after. The van circles round. Henri gives chase. Margot leaps onto the bonnet and Hertha dives for the door. The van swerves. Margot rolls onto the ground and Hertha holds on until it leaves her behind. She rolls in a ball of tears on the concrete.

Steinke and Escoffier were to find lodgings, but first paid for the others to go by train three miles through Bootle to Walton. The gatehouse was battered stone with turrets and the windows had angled shafts. Built in the 1850s, Walton was one of England’s largest prisons and the panopticon design let a few wardens watch many inmates. Chaokung is devoid of expression when they arrive. He is all business, laying down chores for each of them. Forbidden to give interviews, they would be his intermediaries: Adeline, in charge of taking his statements to the press; Henri: given the names of friends and a lawyer to contact.

We will stay here all week if need be,” said Hertha.

We are willing to go on hunger strike until they let you travel to London,” said Margot.

No you will not. The British press are not trustworthy. I do not want them to say you are being mistreated in any way.”

I will do nothing but that my master commands,” said Hertha.

Please forgive me,” said Margot. “Tao To suggested the idea, and I mistook it for your will.”

No, Tao Lo. It was posed only an example of what the Bodhisattva might ask. Instruction comes from Him alone.”

The hostel on Great George Square is an old sea-man’s mission. Named after the charitable philanthropist, David Lewis, it had recently expanded to a club including a sports hall, theatre and cinema. Inside the great Edwardian building they set down their luggage and meet around six. They eat their first meal of the day quietly. They find themselves in the common area after, no other guests.

This is the first time in months,” said Marie, “that I have relaxed. Henri, I am having doubts. About all of this.”

That is only natural,” he said.

We’ve worked sixteen hours, six days a week, for… a year?” she said.

These things are sent by God to challenge us,” said Adeline.

Henri we’ve barely spoken,” said Marie.

You’re right. And I have concerns too,” said Henri.

The Venerable One requires our support,” said Willem.

I will visit the Abbot every day,” said Hertha.

And I will not leave his side,” said Margot.

Love,” said Henri, “Let’s wait. Let’s give this another try.”

Maurice said, “Let’s take a train to Westminster and campaign for his release.”

That is a stupid idea,” said Adeline.

I agree,” said Escoffier.

It will do no good,” said Steinke. “In any case, we should not be beholden to him.”

How can you say that?” asked Jiahao.

I will not let his situation get in the way of our holy mission,” he replied.

Steinke goes to bed with no intention of visiting the Abbot. His blood is hot, his thoughts loud and confused. It is a long time since his mind had been this cluttered. Among it all he remembered Henri’s words to Marie: Give it another try. Perhaps this trip can be salvaged. With that seed planted, tears fall, and he dozes heavily.

Above the entrance of Walton Prison is a clock, with surrounding zig-zag mouldings. Martin Steinke stands over the visitor’s book. Among the guests the previous year are hangman Albert Pierrepoint, the nephew of Ignatius Lincoln’s executioner. The desk wardens speak to one another about the Home Office proposal. Steinke learns if Chao and the others take the evening sailing to Antwerp, the government will pay for their travel. ‘Trebitsch’ has flatly rejected the offer:, saying he will lecture four months in England, or return to the Far East.

Steinke awaits his turn, when Chao is done shouting at Hertha. He doesn’t need her around when work is to be done. Why can’t she be more like Tao Lo? Hertha avoids Steinke’s eyes, passes by with locked lips and folded arms.

When Steinke enters it is like a switch has been flicked: Chao’s mood is calm, perfectly untroubled. He forgives his assistant for not visiting. If the disciples have no business at the prison, they should to be confined to the hostel, and Steinke is asked to see that this is done. The routine of prayer and fasting should be maintained. Steinke says nothing during the meeting. His eyes narrow with anger. The Home Office proposal is not mentioned. A warden arrives at the door with news of another visitor. Chaokung instructs Steinke to go now. He has no more need of him today.

His youngest son, Clifford, has grown into a tall, handsome man, with colour in his cheeks. It is his twenty-third birthday, a frivolous earthly sentiment, therefore not remarked upon. Clifford talks about his new life in England. He’s seen Julius from time to time and written to John, who is still on Java trying to make a living. Chaokung nods, and tried again to open Clifford’s eyes to the life-changing opportunities of the Noble Eightfold Path. Several hours a day in prayer and meditation combined with abstinence from meat, fish and sugary foods would truly open his eyes to universal suffering and knowledge. He said his religion was supreme. He would go to Japan to rule as an Abbot.

The three shaved heads attract stares passing The Athenaeum club. A third of Liverpool are unemployed and the gutter journalists who get in their way are shown the way. Jiahao has never seen double-decker buses. Nor the dump wagons, bound for the Mersey and Queensway Tunnel. A tenement torn down the day before has grown into a housing block. There is darkness in the weight of the city’s stone. A plane roars overhead but cannot be seen and Jiahao tries to keep in step behind Willem. By the shops on curving Lord Street, Hertha has skipped ahead. She’s talking to a flapper outside the Adelphi, while Willem reads the listings. Jiahao cast around: the jewellers and bakery, the cobblers and coffee shops. Bikes move past, dapper men walk dogs. A couple meet with orange blossoms by Victoria. A paper seller hollers. Then Hertha, Willem by her arm, says they should all take in a film.

A huge crowd gathers at Gladstone Docks on Friday morning,: cameras on tripods; men with notebooks. The taxicab from Walton arrives and Hertha hugs him tightly. Chaokung meets with a donor from France and with his son, who knows he will probably never see his father again. The captain comes to see Chaokung and Steinke when they board. There is room in First Class, for no extra charge, to let them meditate without distraction. Chao thanks him, but their religion forbids them from living luxuriously. He walks to his disciples, in among the families shelving luggage and smokers talking about the horses. They set sail for Ottawa, but soon after the devotees are walking up and down the ship. Willem stays with the Abbot but he knows something is gravely wrong.

Where’s Steinke?” asked Henri.

I have not seen him since we boarded,” said Adeline.

We have looked everywhere,” said Jiahao.

The Abbot flattened down his robe. “This is of great sadness, that a brother has strayed. He has abandoned his duties, his siblings. We must pray for him.”

What has happened?” asked Willem.

His bags have gone,” said Margot.

Steinke did not look good all week,” said Escoffier.

That is enough,” he snapped. “Do not be seduced into following his wickedness. And do not speak unless spoken to.”

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