Chapter 44

Image Source: Pacific Press Ltd / Wasserstein, B. (1989) The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln, Penguin.
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Great Western Road, Shanghai.
Friday 25 August, 1933.

The north-west suffered a devastating earthquake and armed conflict, but Shanghai had returned to a state of relative peace and sunny serenity. The door opened at Buddhist House, 131 Great Western Road. Martin Steinke, Marie Chauve and Hertha Henschel left, walking fifteen minutes to Jing’an Temple.

The Italians, Anthony and Giotto, studied under Adeline, a small stern Belgian nun with a fat head. Her icy exterior only breaks when Chaokung enters. He looks the manuscript over. Thirty years in the civil service has made her a polished communicator.

The pillars of a narrow hallway hold up two floors to blue sky. Adeline strolls the square by gargoyles the size of fingernails, and gryphons, big as houses. The shade of curving roofs and emerald lotus leaves give her pause to interrogate the self. From the kitchen there is a vegetable aroma and Maurice from Munich taking dishes from bamboo drainers. Adeline barks his name. Suddenly Juliet Escoffier flies past, pulling bowls from Maurice, putting them back. The mother sauces must be prepared first, she says. She comes from a family of gourmet chefs. Escoffier looks at Adeline as if she is responsible. Maurice apologises, and Escoffier suggests he brush the square.

Maurice C. Braus is thirty, with a ball shaped chin and dazed black eyebrows. The Latvian, Margot Markuse, wipes the steps in circular motions and does not see him passing. The married couple from Cannes bow. Henri and Marie rake the allotment soil on this, Henri’s fiftieth birthday. The expedition is much harder than they pictured yet gardening around the stone lions makes it all worthwhile. Marie is twelve years younger than Henri. They met after the war, when she became his first hire at the perfumery. Marie wooed him with her eye for art and renditions of show-tunes. Marie notices the Abbot watching them. Between the black cloak his face is thin, all bone and bulbous head. Marie’s friend, Hertha, the youngest, is at his side. There is to be no talk now for Chaokung sends Marie away.

He puts the tool in Hertha’s hands and guides her in direction and posture. A slow rake can make sure soil is not pushed onto the path, he says, taking her hands in his.

The summer furnace recedes, transforming into purple clouds at dusk.

Three months and three hundred kilometres by Tientsin-Pukow railway, they toil above Nanking. Damp Yangtze River rain sprinkles on the frost: on red maples at cave entrances; sixth century rock-cut shrines; golden gingkoes with fan shaped leaves.

Willem Jansen, the railway planner from Holland, knocks on the Abbot’s office. When called, he sees Martin Steinke counting the last donations. Chaokung puts his pen down and asks Willem to approach. The invite to the Confucian monks of Fuzimiao to come there, to Ch’i-hsia Chan Monastery, on Sunday, was positively received. The Soviet and French ambassadors will also be there, helped by their familiarity with Steinke’s writings. Steinke has protruding angular ears but does not seem to hear Willem. He’s fixed on the accounts. Their land is owned in perpetuity and so temple finances should be stable.

Willem is dismissed, and the Abbot and Steinke exchange books. Chaokung’s draft sermon uses Steinke’s writings on breathing and healing. It is barely in Steinke’s hands when Escoffier enters. She gives the Abbot an envelope bursting with yuan banknotes. Steinke is pleased his work will be shared however, it may not be appropriate to lecture the crowd on sexual desire. Escoffier agrees. The people do not want to hear all that. They do not want to be told what they can’t do, for their life is not for everyone. Very well, said Chao. He will bow to her wisdom in this matter.

Escoffier steps out to the path were the rain is now only an echo. She makes her way to the bathroom. On nearing the partitions anguished sobbing fills the air. Young Hertha’s face streams with blood from cut hair, razor trembling in her hand.

At Ch’i-hsia Chan they rose before the dawn, sitting cross-legged reciting vows. At seven they washed, then ate. Before lunch they studied The Sublime One’s holy texts, and after, attended a lecture. Adeline took strength from the sermons on avoiding the pleasures of the flesh. Chao said he was legally married, but in all things he was married to God, and looked at Henri and Marie as he spoke. In doing so, he saw Hertha’s mouth dip in sadness.

Abbot,” she asked, “nothing will stand between myself and God. Should I not share him with others?”

He thought for a moment. “Of course you must. You live with God, day and night. He is with us not just in prayer. We do eat with Him and do sleep with Him; do all in His Presence.”

On Sunday Hertha was ordained ‘Tao Ta’, which means ‘Our Right Path’. Steinke was also anointed as ‘Tao Chun’, and Margot Markuse as ‘Tao Lo’. The Bodhisattva led the ceremony before a crowd of two hundred people. Afterwards, Adeline and Jiaho politely turned away reporters. Chao and Hertha spoke with Walter Fuchs, and a Chinese official. Steinke was with Lo Chia-Ling and Baroness Soucanton. They were the monastery’s two biggest funders. Chao saw them and excused himself. Steinke was caught off guard by the interruption. Ladies, he said, our mission starts under favourable signs. We will propagate the Buddha’s doctrine in the West with His Holiness The Panchen Lama at our side. Steinke briefly registered the lie; his thoughts raced to Chao’s role in this successful day.

In December they returned to Shanghai, and mourned the death of the thirteenth Dalai Lama. The Italians, Anthony and Giotto, left then, and Chao did not seem to care. He was quite happy to hear of The New Life Movement, a moral reform program led by Kai-shek and his wife. Chao said it reflected their own principles.

Marie preferred Nanking: she missed the deer; the goats; gibbons; the coveted sightings of big cats. Initially reluctant about their early retirement, now she enjoyed sitting in one space for many hours. Except, Shanghai was noisier, and with it, the Abbot was harsher. He doled out extra work and punishments. She wanted to discuss it with Henri but Chao made sure she saw him less and less.

In January, Chao took Marie to the German embassy. His friends, Collenberg and Fuchs, had been replaced by Richard Behrend, and his request for a visa would have to go to Munich. Marie sensed Behrend had no interest in helping them. Two weeks later, she took down Chao’s dictated letter to the Fuhrer. He said he had once judged him wrongly and now, was full of praise for his role in the rise of Indo-Aryan civilisation, of which the foundations were the universal truth of the Buddha.

Hertha, twenty-four years young, thought the monastic life suited her. Where-ever they practised she could pray and paint, and find balance. She got on especially well with Escoffier, Marie and Willem, but not Adeline. She sensed she was not alone in this. Only The Venerable One considered Adeline a favourite. When he asked Hertha to join him in applying for a visa at the Belgian consulate, she was surprised. On Nanking Road, the Chinese turned Hertha’s head. She examined the women’s faces and postures. Hertha wanted to be one of them and could not understand why they held low status: women, and the Chinese generally.

A month later, Hertha looked over the edge of the SS Empress of Russia, the North Pacific Ocean long kissing her lungs, that vast face of God. She grappled with the door and found the Frenchwoman laughing at her on the other side. Escoffier had magnetism: she was sensible but also exuberant, and forever chirping on about colour. Hertha sneezed as old Adeline walked past and she stared disapprovingly from black raisin eyes. Escoffier, looking to cheer her up, took her to one side. Abbot Chaokung, she said, was once known by another name. He was a British spy! Hertha laughed at the idea of it. She did not believe Escoffier’s stories; until they reached Vancouver.

At first they thought it was related to Jiahao, and the Chinese Exclusion Act. They waited patiently forty five minutes. Then word came the Abbot would not be admitted on Canadian soil. Chao raised his voice. They had planned to go to Ontario to set up a Buddhist colony!

The group were returned to the ship and Adeline arranged for a telegram appeal to be sent to the Prime Minister. Journalists from the Vancouver Sun, The Courier and The Province gathered with cameras and tape recorders. Immigration were swamped with enquiries. The next morning, a telephone call came in from Ottawa. It was the Prime Minister, R. B. Bennett. He told the head official that Chaokung was to be allowed into Canada for thirty days.

They stayed at a skid row hostel between Gastown and Chinatown. Most other buildings they walked by in the afternoons were extravagant: Birks on Georgia Street with terracotta friezes; the Hotel Vancouver, where Babe Ruth and Sarah Bernhardt lodged; the Eastside Majestic picture house, and the Army and Navy Shoe Department claiming, ‘We Undersell Everybody’. The people were crushed by the Great Depression. ‘Willing to Work’ lay in laps of men sleeping in the streets. Rats ran around spilled soup and beans in a Government relief camp. Man, wife and child fought with police, who charged them with vagrancy. Chaokung’s protégés offered an intriguing distraction, and they discussed which were men and which were women. Reporters followed them, and the locals took advantage of this. Why did the papers not talk about Eton’s Clothing, who exploited crisis laws to pay half the minimum wage? The reporters brushed them off, and Chaokung in turn brushed them off. The acolytes formed a protective circle around him, but a few slipped through.

I am pleased at being officially on British soil for the first time since the war,” one heard.

I will speak at leading cities throughout England this summer,” another learned.

He told a third, “You can write a story without seeing me or talking to me,” before a door was slammed in his face.

Hertha was there only for show when he agreed to be interviewed by The Sun at Vancouver Hotel. When the journalist said he was in court for the trial of the Abbot’s son, he was gripped by sadness. Hertha was sent out, as Chao demanded the man recall every detail.

The attention from the press made sure the public lecture sold out quickly. Martin Steinke opened with a reminder how Siddhārtha Buddha was but a man living two thousand years ago. Modern culture was quite different. No one could stick to finding enlightenment in Buddha’s old ways. The modern disciple should embrace relevancy, be open to new teachings and new revelations.

At the interval, the Abbot was short and cold with him. He said it was him they came to see.

Rising above the restless soul is the only way to banish impatience. Politics is a dangerous game. It makes the heart heavy, but is necessary as a mechanism for Truth to be birthed across nations. Government, the armed forces, big business, these things cannot be entered into for ego. Or profiteering. Or power. Those traits must be removed by abstinence and fasting. The binding power of the universe is energy. Responsibility stands in the flesh. For too long men think in terms of greed and we deceive ourselves into loss.”

The name of his talk was ‘How I Killed Trebitsch Lincoln’.

On the train to Ottawa, he and Steinke looked out into scenes of white hillsides and gold rivers, brown countrysides and tiny houses. Chaokung saw the waterway to St. Lawrence River, and recognised sites of Presbyterian pilgrimages. He got up and passed his silent followers, to send the telegram.

TO RAMSAY MACDONALD, PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM

FROM BRITISH TERRITORY WHERE HAVE BEEN KINDLY PERMITTED TO LAND I SEND YOU FOR BRITISH GOVERNMENT FOR BRITISH PEOPLE MY ASSURANCE THAT I AM THEIR FRIEND NOT THEIR ENEMY STOP PLEASE ACCEPT MY SINCERE WISHES FOR THEIR WELFARE PROSPERITY AND PEACE.

Escoffier, Adeline, Hertha and Jiahao sat together, the lenses of Jiahao’s spectacles smiling permanently, and he was, of all of them happiest to be there. With his head shaved he looked much older than thirty-six, due in part to his poor upbringing. Hertha scrutinised him for any clue to the Chinese mindset. Tutelage under Cleather and Chaokung meant Jiahao had a good grasp on sacrifice, divinity and enquiry.

You should stop staring at him, Tao Ta,” said Adeline.

Pardon?” asked Hertha.

Perhaps if you spent more time affirming your vows,” said Adeline.

Now wait just a minute,” snapped Hertha.

Oh. Don’t think I don’t see you and Tao Lo.” Adeline shook her head. There was a glimpse of disgust and she turned to the window. “Lusting after the Abbot. Why, it’s unseemly,” she said.

I did not!” cried Hertha. “I did not!”

How about you cease bullying her?” said Escoffier. “Looking over that poor child’s shoulder every hour, like nothing is ever good enough. And she dare not say boo to you, no one dare.”

Everyone but Adeline, whose face was white, looked at the Frenchwoman with timid pride.

We do not make inappropriate remarks about you and the Abbot. Yet you get preferential treatment, you get anything you want!”

That is simply not true,” snapped Adeline. “How dare you, you harlot! Swanning about like you’re better than me!” Adeline didn’t know where to look. Finally she looked up and saw Chaokung.

He said nothing for a moment, and then, “This will not do. It is not for one sister to turn on another. It is a futile waste of the energies of the Buddha. You are all to remain silent until I say otherwise. Only I will talk during our week in Ottawa. Adeline, you will spend that time in solitary meditation. I hope you will learn to transcend your folly.”

That night they hear Sutton on sax, Gillespie’s trumpet, Ellington’s piano. On Friday morning they see linen mill workers going to risk their lives for a cheque. ‘Closed’ signs are hammered out by alleys brimming with the guts of store rubbish. They see a soup kitchen and ragged malnourished dockers and bawling babies with buckets. It is the third week of April and food rations have run out.

On Monday they return across Wellington Street bridge, above Rideau Canal. Across from the station is the magnificent Château Laurier. The hotel windows are Tiffany stained-glass. A diplomat crosses the lobby’s Belgian marble floor to meet them. They pass carved gables of scrolls and flowers to the new East Wing. The panelling is dark oak, like a British baron’s home, with trophies of the hunt overlooking the gallery. The elevator rises above the Jasper Tea Room, the two floors of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, to Bennett’s seventeen room suite. They line up before the Prime Minister, who greets each in turn. He offers refreshments, only to be told they are fasting.

They stand silently for an hour. In another room, Chaokung and Bennett talk about Buddhism and money.

Chapter 43

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Cologne, Germany.
November, 1919.

Something about him troubled Olga Nieuwkamp. Not at first, when he’d come to them from the Prince’s residence at Wieringen. He was charming, knowledgeable, and well connected. He had done some favour for Elsa, Olga’s secretary, at the American embassy. Elsa von Nagelein undertook charity work with Austrian and German P.O.Ws, one of many jobs she did brilliantly. Given how they felt, it seemed fitting to bring him to their home at The Hague. Olga opened up about her father and first husband, both consuls in Singapore; and her second husband, Thomas, the Dutch Consul in Cologne. When Trebitsch asked for a loan of two thousand florins, he had sounded embarrassed, and that endeared him to her.

Four days only,” he’d said, but the weeks went by. He returned to Berlin, and took Elsa with him. It was she who responded, once, to the letters demanding repayment. Her darling, T.L., was getting it organised. He just needed another month. After the Kapp Putsch, Lincoln was reported walking up and down Wilhelmstrasse in defiance of the authorities. That was when Olga lost patience. She talked the matter over with Thomas, and they set his lawyer on Lincoln’s trail. Summons went to Vienna, were the Czechs already had him in the courts. Then he escaped: to America, to China. Thomas continued working at the embassy and related any sightings, but a decade of legal action was going nowhere. He had disappeared entirely when the Great Depression hit. Olga and Thomas dropped the case, sold the house in The Hague, and moved to Cologne permanently.

Berlin Philharmonic Hall.
Tuesday 25 October, 1932.

A line slowly moved on Bernburger, the street home to Germany’s largest newspapers. They paid their admission fee and waited in the lobby, glimpsed Martin Steinke, moving through the crowd. An unmistakeably serious intellectual, he’d tight cheekbones and dark cropped hair. Then into the darkness of Schwechten’s converted ice rink, a thousand seater grand auditorium. Rows Door A, stalls and balconies Door B. The lights simmered low and then the hush. Steinke took the stage and introduced himself, leader of ‘Gemeinde unm Buddha’. For ten years he’s published ‘Community Around Buddha’. Devoted as they were to fellowship and study it was the group’s great honour that evening to present to Berlin a man in keeping with those practices; the Abbot Chaokung.

Good evening. Wǎnshàng hǎo. Yi’n shui’ si yuan: when you drink the water, remember the spring.”

My Way to Buddha’ drew on the teachings of Madame Escoffier, Dr. Grimm and the Brahmavihara bhvana: the four virtues which were love, compassion, empathic joy and an even mind. What could be accomplished in a year’s devotion, he said.

The audience delighted in the descriptions of the Pao-hua-Shan Monastery: how every monk worked in co-operation for the temple’s up-keep. Each were rotated around different jobs: cook, cleaner, gardener, barber, each role like the taking on of a different identity, an identity fluid like the water of life. Some chores were only performed in days ending in ‘4’ or ‘9’. The monastery was cleaned daily, even areas that were spotless. That was how to assure a clean mind and a clear heart. He spoke of Shanghai, were conflict was lessened after the Ceasefire Agreement. Yet “heian shije”, a dark world, was coming. So Buddhism was on the rise. Asia could not contain it. There was a need for it in Berlin, Stockholm, Budapest, anywhere man breathes.

The curtains closed, black on house light, to applause. The newspaper presses rolled, sending Chaokung’s words across Berlin by tram. Night and day, Kung prayed with Steinke and Hertha Henschel. Cymbals chimed and Hertha’s pretty eyes fluttered. Steinke counted out Deutsch-marks, gifted to the Abbot for his train to Brussels.

He looked into the box of silver and would think back wondering if that was the moment everything went wrong.

The window delivered a fast reel of grainy snapshots. Leipzig: tall evergreens of triangular trinities. Frankfurt: mountain ranges rolling and bobbing, yellow and red steel bridges. Cologne, and rain clouds gathered over the locomotive. Then, like sudden revolution, the sun stretched out and breathed into the carriage. The man in black suit and trilby was a British secret agent. He just knew it. He stopped in Liege, where two men seemed to follow him in October’s callous weather. Damp robed he arrived in Brussels. He watched life speed up, contemplated all the people through the intersecting steel bars.

Before Steinke even arranged the lecture he’d wanted to prove he could be in Berlin: capitalising on a successful market; a cooler climate than Munich. Brussels was another return to another country, toward another coast. The prison bars sub-divided the dimensions of the universe, like the mesh of the train carriage. The sound of the train carriage was the encore and omen of applause. He remembered thinking he would go to where he was safe, appreciated, powerful.

From Brussels back to Liege, because he was in no hurry. He’d hustled another speaking lecture. From there, across the German border. Not far, for he was not quite ready to retreat.. He would go back to Cologne, back, back the way he came like some worker ant. There were passengers with newspaper faces talking of Gyula Gömbös, who had become Prime Minister of Hungary. The opening of the San Francisco Opera House. They pass viaducts and transmitter towers, enter the Rhineland. Die Transportgewerkschaften streiken. Shénme? On Thursday. Donderdag. Het is waar. Współpraca nazistowsko-komunistyczna. Ilekshanz zenen vayter vokh. Je vais changer mon vote. Du bist ein dreckiger Verräter!

The police car mesh window broke down all the buildings of the twenties: Cologne Butzweilerhof Airport, the University; disassembled them for his study. Then it was fogged over from his sweat. The door to his dirty cell rolled back like the carriages of the trapped. He was in prison in Brussels. He was in prison in Cologne. The two seemed to blur together:: with Parkhurst and Pentonville and Vienna. At night he dreamed of Cologne’s auditorium, rows and rows of metal seats filled with monks and nuns in black and white. From darkness, he illuminated. Then he remembered curtains backstage, and the sudden flash of the policeman’s torch on his eyes. They poked and prodded him and he screamed at the Belgian officer.

Do you work for the British Secret Service?” Chaokung said. “Ou étes-vous des agents de la France? Je suis un moine bouddhiste et aucun crime n’a été commis!!”

Vous avez été identifié comme un personnage indésirable,” said the Belgian officer.

The heat had boiled over in him as he listened to the demeaning tone. He put it at a distance, watched the events unfold before him, as the other prisoners swore, howled, laughed at the Nosferatu jail-bird.

Vous êtes expulsé. Vous ne devez pas retourner en Belgique,” said the officer.

Ihre Haftbefehl ist vom niederländischen Konsulat. Ihnen wurde der Diebstahl von zweitausend Gulden vorgeworfen,” said the German, and left.

Here he was again, trapped in the world’s dark time, the “heian shije”. When would it end? Might he slip through the bars, aided by the spirits of the Wise Ones? Chaokung thought deeply, silently. He practised his breathing exercises. He had to take his time. When he was released, for he would be, he would savour the successes, just like Steinke said. He’d do what he needed to do: be the victor, the advisor, the leader. This current state was just a part. He remembered the Belgian returning his personal artefacts: telegram from Collenberg, a book of prayer, his journal and the German visa. As he clung to this, something slipped through the cracks.

Frau Nieuwkamp,” seethed Trebitsch.

Chaokung looked past the apparition. To speak with it was to engage with it.

I have no money to give! I have only just gotten out of jail. Imprisoned because I am an enemy of the people!” said Trebitsch.

It was moustached, thirteen years younger and frail. This Trebitsch spoke in English, smelled of the sea air around Harwich A temporary autonomous state, released from Pentonville, he thought he could hear the radio orders demanding his recall.

Chaokung had accepted the truth of these words, of all things. He had no possessions worth any money. His only assets were owed fees from various concert halls. He was just a poor Buddhist monk.

I am already declared bankrupt!” shouted Trebitsch.

Footsteps approached. “Mr. Lincoln, ich bin Ihr Anwalt”

Chaokung raised his head and smiled. “Gut. Gut. Ich möchte eine Insolvenz anmelden.”

Chaokung drank his green tea then set the cup upon the saucer. He was barely in Cologne prison a week, he said. All part of some elaborate intimidation tactic, again!! Hermann Erben laughed. He asked what didn’t Trebitsch do to annoy the German government. Chaokung said that he was no longer that person. Neither was he the man Erben met in Shanghai in 1928.

The three of them sat in the lobby of the Hong Kong Hotel. Erben was an Austrian physicist, now in his mid thirties. His friend, twelve years younger was a handsome bit-part actor from Australia. They listened with wonder as the monk spoke of Cologne, and his return to Berlin. The new government there refused to give him a new visa. The British said the same, so he returned to Nice. Errol Flynn asked about Shanghai and Chaokung talked of birdsong and bountiful fauna along the Yangtze’s mammoth cliffs. Flynn, who had come from filming ‘In the Wake of the Bounty’ in Sydney, didn’t talk of himself much. He was keener to hear about the twelve star tattoos on the Abbot’s forehead, which he learned were spokes on ‘The ‘Wheel of Becoming’. Their talk was cut short by Margot Markuse, arriving in flowing brown robes.

Excuse me, Master,” she said. “You asked me to inform you when the time was right.”

Chaokung bowed. Flynn and Erben shook his hand and he walked with Margot along Victoria Harbour to the ferry. Henri and Marie Chauve followed behind them, then Madame Escoffier, Martin Steinke and Hertha Henschel, each robed, looking out at the South China Sea anticipating their voyage to fantastic Shanghai.

Video: Talking Trebitsch with Richard Barr

Author Richard Barr remembers how Andy Luke discovered Trebitsch Lincoln. In this twenty-five minute interview, we talk about the great chameleon’s interest in his family, mysticism and the Nazis.

On Richard’s question to why Trebitsch was so obsessed with travel, I think a part of it has to do with Story. His own tale was for him a fixation therefore he used to travel to bolster his identity and create new dialogue, weave sub-plots and twists, and to make an end or sequel when the going got tough. It matches with his early love for the arts, his first biography and the self-image was doubtlessly reinforced by press coverage.

Richard Barr has written for NI Screen, The Big Issue and on toilet walls throughout the world. He is the co-creator of Axel America, with Andy Luke, and writer of comic strips for Hold the Phones! and We Shall Not Be Stapled. The Last of the Little Atlanteans featured in this year’s Gruesome Grotesques Volume 2, and The Dismemberment of Corpses featured in free e-mag, The Scum Gentry.

Chapter 42 (Series 5×1)

You can pay for chapters and over 75 pieces of exclusive content at http://patreon.com/andyluke

Shanghai.
Wednesday 27 January, 1932.

Three and a half million people, a tenth of them foreigners, milled around the free-market gateway to the East. Harbour improvements in the twenties brought in more ships, more businessmen and opium. The largest of the immigrants were from Japan, and the least popular with the Chinese. At the Versailles conference they’d delivered China a humiliating ‘Twenty-One Demands’, and held on to territory on the Southern peninsula: Port Arthur and Dairen. Every few years anti-Japan demonstrations resulted in student fatalities. National strikes would follow, shut downs of shops, factories and shipping. In reprisal, the Municipal Council cut the electric to Chinese owned businesses. Generalissimo Kai-shek took a passive approach to these and threats. His armies focussed on the Communists. Ten thousand were butchered, along with Northern warlords, and bystanders.

The International Settlement had extra-territorial rights for twenty-five thousand and was run by the wealthiest. These were British, who made up nearly half the colony, as did White Russians. Nearly half were Japanese. Life in the settlement was good for it was largely safe from Shanghai’s woes. A state of emergency occurred every few years, usually bringing warships from America, Europe, Japan and the British Empire to protect the municipality. The smaller French Concession housed ten thousand residents: only a tenth were French. Two fifths were Americans and a quarter British. Chao Kung lived in ‘French-town’, on Route Admiral Courbet. Those who knew him as Trebitsch suspected his attraction to Shanghai was linked to his desire to return to Britain. He’d dedicated Autobiography’ “to the Prime Ministers of His Majesty” and ended it pondering his folly of hate for “one of the great bulwarks of civilisation.”

The summer prior, catastrophic flooding struck Central China and four million lives were lost in a week. In September the Japanese bombed a railway line in Mukden: a false flag pretext for their invasion of the North-East. They took Manchuria, and this caused the Chinese bond market to collapse. Though these woes came on top of the Great Depression, the dollar and rouble went far in Shanghai and it entered a uniquely prosperous era. Parties in the Cathay Hotel were hosted by owner Victor Sassoon, a Baghdad Jew, who shaped his signature V.S. onto the roads he had built. Sassoon received diplomats and dignitaries such as Einstein and the Roosevelts: there was Emily ‘Micky’ Hahn, the journalist who introduced China to America; Zau Sinmay, the romantic poet; Morris ‘Two Gun’ Cohen, a Whitechapel Jew and boxer whose life of adventure mirrored Trebitsch’s. He’d travelled through Europe, Russia and America before settling down as Chiang Kai-shek’s bodyguard. There was Walter Fuchs of the German Consulate, known to British Intelligence, and Chao Kung. Much of his day was spent in meditation and study, but the afternoons he’d kept free for meetings. Chao wore a black robe with close fitting white trousers and carpet slippers, a skull cap on his closely shaven head, and a string of beads. Chao and Fuchs worried about the attack on five Japanese monks, and that the soldiers would use the incident to exact retribution.

On January 28th, the city’s optimism was ground to dust as three thousand Japanese troops marched through Chinese Shanghai. From the Cathay’s windows, guests saw thirty warships sail into the bay. Forty of Japan’s planes took to the skies. In the weeks ahead mortars blew holes in the city’s streets. Thousands of Chinese civilians were gutted and corpses piled up. Travellers brought tales of other Japanese invasions in the North: Hongkew and Suzhou Creek.

On February 9th, five days after the battle of Harbin, Chao Kung walked into the offices of the North China Daily News. ‘Can China be saved?’ he asked their English readers the following day. This bloodshed, he wrote, had been foretold by him through his ten year history with China. As ‘the first foreigner to be admitted into an age-old Buddhist order’, he had ‘Twenty-One Points’ for national regeneration. These included an end to opium dens and criminality, and more foreign advisors in key administrative positions.

The fighting continued until early March: hundreds were killed and thousands were made homeless. The occupation of the northern train station further closed Shanghai off from the world. ‘French-town’ was relatively safe. From there the Venerable Chao Kung wrote: to Margarethe, whom he asked not to call him Ignacz. He was no longer her husband. If she was willing to accept that he, as a monk of the Supremely Enlightened One, was her teacher, they could correspond further. To Kreitner he wrote angrily that he was disowning ‘Autobiography’. Kreitner protested that edits were made by the publisher without his knowledge. Chao decided to write his own book, free of editorial meddling. He incorporated details of correspondence with other Buddhists: Walter Persian in Hamburg; Dr. Grimm in Munich; and Madame Escoffier in Nice. The stars gashed on his forehead had not blocked his need for travel. The desire to get away, to be in transit, was only exacerbated by Shanghai’s volatility.

When the fighting came to an end he left the flat to give public lectures and was heckled by Christians. He met with Fuchs, who was enticed by his talk of forming a European Buddhist community. It would be a great centre of learning, and so Fuchs made regular donations to the cause. The widow of the richest man in Asia, Lo Chia-Ling, also contributed. Like Victor Sassoon, she was a Baghdad Jew, but Shanghai had made ‘Liza’ a devout Buddhist. She gave regularly to the monks and was an admirer of the Bodhisattva.

Fuchs got Chao an appointment with German ambassador Baron Collenberg at the German consulate. Fuchs’ assurances meant by the time June came and he sat in front of Collenberg, Chao’s new book was on his desk. ‘Can War Be Abolished?’ was a self published work which took advantage of Shanghai’s cheap printing and high quality calligraphy. On the cover was a photo of Abbot Kung, cross-legged on a cushion in deep reflection. Collenberg lifted a hundred page hardback from his desk.

I found it urgently touching,” he said. “I drew much hope for the future while reading it.”

I am grateful for your support, and that of the wider German community here,” said Chao.

You are no longer involved in politics?” asked Collenberg.

I am out of it. I fled, into the void,” said Chao.

From Saul to Paul. I understand you wish to visit Germany for literary and religious activities?”

I wish to study, and perhaps set up a monastery there. A man in Hamburg wishes to do likewise, but I do not think him fit to do so,” said Chao.

I see,” said Collenberg. “Then, your holiness, I am happy to recommend to Wilhelmstrasse you be allowed to return.”

He walked a Shanghai in recovery. The orphans cried and Chao Kung shook in the reverb-storm. Though he was heartened meeting Collenberg, his mind moved faster: to Germany; to France; Canada. He soon found himself on the SS Trianon sailing for Antwerp. It was the slow sail: nearly two months over the Pacific, past Java, around the Atlantic. He made what sociable sport he could with the passengers, and wired ahead to Madame Escoffier. He and the Buddhist leader could reunite during his stop off at Marseilles. The sea air lifted his mood, the boat bobbing as he sunk and rose in meditation. He sailed through a world which heard jazz and talked peace, saw talkies Battleship Potemkin and Metropolis, and new stars Marlene Dietrich and Mickey Mouse. In America, the Chrysler and Empire State buildings competed for skyline, above which his friend, Karl Weigand, travelled on the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin years before. It was a pleasant trip. In blue sky birds flew and in evenings became luminous wonders in electric light.

The clean air and soft light warmed Chao’s robes as he lay back on the purple cushioned lounger, to the sound of excited holiday makers and the smell of fresh baked baguettes, olives and ratatouille. A coloured glass was put in his hand, cool water trickling a ring around his finger. He looked at Madame Escoffier with her suntanned skin, golden hair and curves. He acknowledged her with his signature nod that was not a nod: a subtle lowering of the eyelids. Escoffier sat by Henri and Marie, who eased out of their daydreams to give the same silent nod. He looked out to the descending houses of the Riviera, shapes of buildings competing for character: the cathedrals; Nice Opera House; the Masséna Casino; the restaurant terraces and the old town. The cannon, firing midday since the Sixteenth century, was unlike the terrible bombs of Shanghai. It was a simple call, reminding citizens to lunch. He’d grown to expect it. Somewhere down there, Chagall and Matisse painted glories on canvasses. Palms and citrus trees stood assured of serenity. The Promenade des Anglais and flat beach curved around the Bay of Angels and the cool Mediterranean.

Then a sudden, flaring alertness. Inside, throat to root chakras screamed, demanding everything. Chao blinked, twice, and saw a ray of orange heat binding Escoffier and her disciples. As she moved across the patio, watering can in hand, their shared consciousness seemed to follow. He could hear the plants, gently replenished. Deep in these ruminations it was a moment before he realised Henri was speaking to him.

Bodhisattva, will you talk more of this monastery you want to establish?”

Chao’s eyes silver-sparkled. He waited for Escoffier to join them and he began to speak.

 

Chapter 41

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Kowloon, Hong Kong, South China.
Monday 16 April, 1928

Rain sloshed by the glass, fall shelves of transparencies, damp seeping into the crammed apartment. He moved, skinned head above ochre robes. His identity: kitchen cleaner. The moments of surface wiping, cloth folding and dusting re-energised his space and his health. Then he became tenzuo, cook. He arranged two carrots, a potato, parsley, as knock bang knock reverberated at the door.

Trebitsch Lincoln? I’m from the South China Daily News.”

The voice was male, British with a hint of American, forty-something.

There is no one here of that name,” said Trebitsch.

Are you plotting more intrigue against the British Empire?” he asked.

Breathing calmly, Trebitsch opened the door. The man was five foot and forty-something. He’d a full head of grey-red hair, slits of blue eyes and was clean shaven.

Now listen. My time in politics has ended. I simply wish to be left alone,” said Trebitsch. And they talked.

Peking, North China.
Three Weeks Later: May, 1928.

At her temple, Alice Cleather raked sand in n gentle geometric motions. Her moves reflected the changes of the city: new streets and public parks, changing attitudes to food, waste and water. Though replaced by Nanking as the capital, she was not done yet. For a half hour the woman in her mid-eighties had forgotten this and forgotten the burden of leadership. The once graceful round curves of her body has become thin, sharp and jagged. She hears the detective’s approach, and quieter, Basil’s steps. She didn’t look, just carried on marking out the furrow.

You’d do well to keep your people close,” said Doyle. “Thirty dead in Jinan last night. The Japanese and Kai-shek’s forces each converge on Peking.”

Yes we heard,” said Basil. “Where is Trebitsch Lincoln?”

I spoke with him in Kowloon,” said Doyle. “Pretended to be a journalist. Didn’t get much; the authorities deported him two weeks later.”

Good,” said Basil.

They deported him by sea,” Doyle said. “I have a contact that puts him in Dalian.”

Cleather slowed her rake down to a vibration near stillness. For the first time she looked up, into the chubby face and grey-red hair of her sleuth. Her calm fell into distress, mouth and eyes knocked wide open. Tall Basil Crump was usually unflappable. The news of their competitor reflected Cleather’s panic in his tired dark eyes.

He’s in Manchuria?” asked Cleather. Though English she’d grown a Chinese accent, a venomous one, and the words came out like a spit.

Possibly Manchuria. Rumours grow easily round this fellow,” said Doyle.

What did he say to you in Kowloon?” asked Basil.

Very little. That he devotes his life to spiritualism. He intends to reach Tibet.”

Dalian is three days by foot from Mudken…” said Cleather.

The Panchen Lama is in Inner Mongolia,” said Basil.

Far from persecutors and pretenders. As it should be,” said Cleather.

We need to address the bill,” said Doyle, taking a sheet from his jacket.

Cleather waved it away. “Basil will pay you on the way out.”

She watched them leave and then turned back to work. A monk behind her threw a seed out in slow motion.

Jiahao, come here,” she said.

The Foreign Office, London
One Year Later: June 1929

William Tyrrell took Lincoln’s file and slapped it on his desk. Each time there was a new Minister, especially a Labour minister, he was required to train them up. Official policy stated Lincoln was to be ignored. Reports on his activities were also discouraged. The existence of his file was a paradox-fuelled headache emblematic of the man himself.

There were many reports the previous year, most from friends of Buddhists and Theosophists in Peking. They were international, of course, right down to a Croydon bank manager. Tyrrell turned the pages faster. April: Shanghai, Hangchow; Mid-May: Tientsin, Manchuria, and then Tientsin again in August. There, Vice-Consul George had ignored orders, and listened to Lincoln’s paranoid tales. Lincoln had stalkers and George wanted to know if he should be offered police protection.

Tyrrell remembered this was when he’d tired rebuking officials with bothersome sightings. George’s superior, Jamieson had written the next day, of Lincoln’s sell-out public lecture to the Tientsin Rotary Club. Jamieson had written them a strongly worded letter. Then the same from Ambassador Lampson in Shanghai the very next day! The previous Autumn Tyrrell had reprimanded Lampson’s second, Steptoe, on the Lincoln matter.

William Tyrrell wondered why they had so much intel on a man supposedly dead to them. Today’s entry was a plea from Lincoln, asking to be let into England to see his sons. It came through the PM’s office, wired on a boat from Shanghai to Hamburg. Before Tyrrell put it with the others he flipped the next page forward and back and found a strange thing. Six months before, an official statement from the Indian government denying Lincoln (nor T.E. Lawrence) were in Afghanistan.

Other than the report of no report, and the PM’s message, there were, well, no reports. For a year, Lincoln had seemingly disappeared.

Shanghai, East China Coast.
One Year Later: May 1930.

The central waterfront strip, The Bund, was home to the five floor Cathay Hotel. Completed only a year before, it was a luxurious sanctuary from the world’s cares. Noel Coward and Emily Hahn stayed here. Charlie Chaplin called by. Brawls erupted in the streets outside but arrangements between police and crime gangs kept the parties in swing. It was a magical time in a magical city with an edge to it: the storm that was about to break.

Walking through the ground floor brasserie, property magnate Silas Hardoon waved to his tenants: the shaven-headed monk and the silver haired ex-politician. They waved back as Hardoon passed. It was eight years since Lincoln waited for Bauer in Vienna, and enlisted Kreitner to ghost write his autobiography.

I missed his funeral. He had me on a job in Berlin,” said Kreitner.

Energy is the true matter of the universe. Bauer is still at work. After I was barred from entering Germany I made it to Rotterdam, and crossed the Netherlands into Belgium. I worked on the book on the train and when I arrived in Paris. It is ready.”

Did you change those names?” asked Kreitner.

Trebitsch bent over for his satchel. In the space behind him Cleather’s monk, Jiahao, faced Kreitner. Trebitsch raised his head. In his hands were two hundred typed and marked pages. He ran his fingers across ‘his’ first chapter, liquid metal flapping from beneath his nails. He repeated the motion on chapter two as the silver formed tiny spheres. A dozen floating pearls circled Trebitsch’s field of vision. As he spoke they seemed to spark.

There are people who have wronged me. While I have a platform, I will not be idle while they wrong others.”

Kreitner lifted a chapter from the pile and flicked through to the second page. “They won’t print this. And if they do, we’ll be sued in court!” he said.

Trebitsch countered, “We name names or foist obsolete negativity upon the world.”

We’ll be open to libel,” said Kreitner as he put a pen through two lines.

Trebitsch sunk his head and Jiahao watched.

Peking, North China.
One Year Later: May 1931.

Political power and wealth are leaving Peking. Bank capital disappears to nothing. It becomes the old world again, in narrow dusty streets. Yet the people continue. There are street kitchens, barbers, cloth shoe cobblers, and one man theatres. Men walk their birds. Cigarette stubs are turned to new rollies by coolies. Cleather’s monks stroll along Wangfujing with it’s many shops. The cool air stirs their consciousness. On a bench, a balding old Westerner with a full grey-red beard reads a hardback.

Cleather said, “I like the beard, Mr. Doyle. Three years has made all the difference.”

He stared up at her and the two acolytes. “Speak of the devil. I guess you’ve seen this?”

Doyle raised the book. Cleather’s acolyte, Basil Crump took it. The cover title was ‘Die Autobiographie eines Abenteurers’, authored by I.T. Trebitsch-Lincoln.

Autobiography of An Adventurer,” said Doyle. “Berliners can’t get enough of it. Have you had dealings with him lately?”

We have not,” said Cleather.

Doyle told her, “He’s in Nanking. His latest nom de plume is Chao Kung.”

Yes, we are aware of this,” said Basil. He passed the book to Cleather who waved it off.

Yes, you’re watching him,” said Doyle. “How many updates has Jiahao sent in the last year?”

Our decision has been made,” said Basil.

We do not require your services, Mr. Doyle,” said Cleather.

He leafed back through to his place in the book. “The British employed me to track him. I thought you might appreciate some of the benefits of that at a discount.”

We have no need of rude outsiders,” said Basil.

Good day, Doyle,” said Cleather.

An hour later, Basil remarked to Cleather that Doyle must have faith in his sources. If Trebitsch was in the South, in Nanking, what was Doyle doing there in Peking, a thousand kilometres away?

At the same moment Doyle was sat aboard a train, across from the Venerable Master. He rolled in and out of sleep eight hours to Nanking, eyeing the monk occasionally. The carriages paused at Tientsin then carried on twenty minutes to the new capital.

Nanking still rebuilt from Kai-shek’s power grab four years before. Then raided embassies and mass looting drew reprisals from the international community. The British had sent heavy and light cruisers, destroyers, explosive rounds and bomb craters, Snipers returned fire and forty people died, mostly the Chinese, until one of Kai-shek’s commanders reigned his men in. Deserters and communists were blamed. Now Nanking was home to a fast growing population. The Kuomintang party hosted national conferences and outlined progress toward a constitutional government.

The next day two birds winged by as Doyle followed the bells toward the laurel trees. The brick building he sought was at the heart of Pao-hua Shan temple. Inside, public observers of the ceremony were sat on chairs around the edges. He joined Prop-Moller, a Dane expert in Buddhism, as twelve monks read the twelve precepts of the Bodhisattva.

Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t engage in sexual misconduct. Don’t lie or engage in wrong speech. Don’t sell or consume alcoholic beverages or other recreational drugs.

The Venerable Master’s palms were together in prayer and Trebitsch Lincoln a.k.a.‘Chao Kung’ kneeled to the left of him. A triangle chimed between the chanting of each commandment.

Don’t discuss the faults of the Buddhist assembly. Don’t praise oneself and speak ill of others. Don’t be stingy or hostile to others who are less fortunate.

Doyle got that this was a big deal. The initiation of the Bodhisattva, the one who stays behind; he who delays reaching nirvana out of compassion for all.

Don’t harbour anger or resentment. Don’t slander the triple Jewel of the Buddha, the Dharma or the Sangha.

Then, the Venerable Master said there were forty-eight other precepts and the monks began to chant each in turn. Doyle stifled a sigh. He wasn’t one for sitting around, hence checking on the Master in Peking. Twelve candles smoked, and would have warmed his heart but they had first been dipped in India ink and the fumes stank. Cleather’s man Jiahao was there, knelt on floor cushions with other monks. Among the guests he spied a monk he saw with Cleather and Basil Crump before leaving Peking. Doyle was sure of it. Perhaps they, or ‘Chao Kung’, would recognise him. He’d have an excuse to leave. He wondered how many pages there were to the ordination booklets.

The monks rose and Master spoke and they chanted more and he didn’t understand much of it. Then, one stepped forward and covered the head of ‘Chao Kung’ with a shawl. ‘Kung’ was led to the foot of the Master, literally, taking the ankle in both hands. The first candle was brought forward. The Master dipped a pen into it and scribed a star into Kung’s forehead. He gripped the Master’s leg tight as the pen seared his flesh. A second star was tattooed on the initiate’s head, then, a slow third carving and Doyle’s face was pale. The initiate’s face contorted. He trembled and squeezed the Master’s leg through the fourth and fifth. There were twelve stars in all and the pain was immense. He resisted screams that would have been heard throughout Nanking.

Peking, North China.
Six Weeks Later: June 1931.

On her walk through Tianamen Square Alice Cleather tried not to think about the second man she’d sent to follow Lincoln, or the news he’d brought back. It was the morning Lincoln’s book had been reviewed in the London Times. ‘Short and summary, makes amazing reading.’ As she turned onto Dongjiaomin Alley she saw the English edition in the window of a book-store. Cleather breathed in cold morning air to keep anger at bay. She approached the Grand Hôtel des Wagons-Lits on Qianmen East. On the hotel wall, Lincoln’s face looked sombrely down on her.

The poster read, ‘The Abbot Chao Kung in Three Public Lectures: The Mysteries of The World, Of Life, Of The Self.’

The fire gathered in Cleather’s breath. She whirled her head around and saw two monks walk the pavement opposite.

You see this??” she screamed. “They have taken this ‘creature’ into their confidence!! The Europeans think he is some holy one!”

As blood mist evaporated from her face, she recognised the monks. The first was Chao Kung, the second was disloyal Jiahao. Disappointed, Jiahao shook his head before returning to the noble eightfold path.

Chapter 40

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The Port of Shanghai.
Friday 9 March, 1928.

Colonel Max Bauer boarded the steamer for Hong Kong. At sixty he was no less imposing. The triple turbines took them into the East China Sea. She was a large ship: 480 feet by 146 metres. Cruising at twelve knots made it a three day journey and Bauer spent the first in his cabin, reading and preparing papers. On the second day they’d only passed Pudong when he found three Germans to lunch with. The men spoke a while longer, the Zhoushan Islands flanking them on one side and Hangzhou Bay on the other. He found them again on the final day as the five year old liner sailed by Taiwan. One pointed out the extensions down the corrugated hull which acted as stabilisers.

Oh look, there’s the funny fellow again.”

Who is it?” asked Bauer.

He’s a German. A strange one. He told me his name is Hermann Ruh,” said the first man.

He told me his name was Jack,” said the second.

Fascinating man,” said the third. “but he gave me some Buddhist name.”

If you’ll excuse me gentlemen,” said Bauer.

Walking, he scrutinised the thin cheekbones and Roman beard, the skullcap and robes. Next to the monk he sat down casually.

Not such a big world after all,” Bauer said.

Max Bauer, hello! What an unexpected surprise,” said Trebitsch.

You look… changed. What is all this?”

I am finding enlightenment on the Buddhist path.”

I nearly didn’t recognise you.”

I believe the self and ego are unimportant so I will take that as a compliment.”

You have been travelling?”

I was in a Buddhist house in Peking and before that San Francisco. Of course, I had to leave.”

The Americans kicked you out.”

I told them after I arrived I was in the country with the purpose only of growing a church.”

I read you had been arrested for the murder of the Italian premier,” teased Bauer.

Do not even joke about that. How did things pan out in Russia?”

They were not as bad as all that. I assisted in co-ordinating the Red Army in response to the Rapallo treaty. Russia is very powerful, and yet no threat to Germany.”

There is no reason for war, really. I hope you did not take Wu Peifu up on his job offer. The man is a liar.”

Wu allied with his former enemies, the Fengtian; but Chiang Kai-shek is the new power in China. He drove Wu out of his base in Hubei, with my help of course, out to the North-west. I assumed you knew of this.”

I do not bother much with newspapers these days. They are full of violence and exploitation. There is little of relevance.”

This is how we inform ourselves of the world around us, Trebitsch. Or is it Hermann? Or Jack?”

I went by both in Peking. I also go by Anagarika Pukkusati. It is a Buddhist name, meaning ‘homeless one.’”

I like Jack. Jack Fisher!”

We cannot influence the world unless we stand apart from it. The current state of things is no example.”

Trebitsch looked along the deck as he spoke. The boat accommodated ninety-eight passengers in first class and a hundred and forty-two in second. Folk strolled by them and drinkers laughed far off. An orange sun bowed to the shy grey moon.

This is the ship I was on when they executed my son.”

Dear God,” said Bauer.

They were to dock at Marseilles but we went on to Amsterdam.”

How did he die?”

By hanging. I had hoped to… see him before… we spoke to one another by telepathy. I am sure you balk at the notion.”

No. I did not lose a son. If anything happened to Ernst… my condolences.”

Thank you. Ignatius was my eldest.”

A father should not outlive his son.”

Indeed. Then, I had only set foot in Amsterdam when I was surrounded by reporters. ‘How do you feel about what happened, Mr. Lincoln? Where will you go next?’”

Bloody parasites.”

Yes. I had spent all my money on telegraphing Ignatius so had no choice but to sell them my story. Then they made me haggle; and printed lies. ‘How he met the Kaiser!’ I told them I did not. It was humiliating.”

Baldness had set in on Lincoln emphasising his shell eyes, angled nose and funnel mouth. In brown robes he seemed to take things in stride but it was defiance. Beneath the folds of meditation was damaged goods. The boat rolled him about like a bag of bones.

Bauer said, “You have family in England. Where they with him at the end?”

The boy’s mother and our youngest travelled from Hamburg. She saw me in Amsterdam after: begged me to give up Buddhism and return to Christianity. That part of my life is over. I had to tell her we could not live together as husband and wife. She was in tears.”

When was all this?”

Two years ago. It has not been easy for me.”

Well of course. Women often forget we have emotions because we do not arm ourselves with them. Why do you set yourself apart from your family?”

Do not judge me, Colonel.”

I meant no disrespect, sir.”

The spiritual path is my prime concern. I sent several letters to the British to ask if I may visit my son’s grave. They would not allow it.”

That is a shame.”

I have tried my best to make amends there: I wrote to apologise for past mistakes; re-applied for citizenship; asked them kindly if I may enter Calcutta to go to Tibet. They ignore me.”

This is the pig-headed British, and bureaucracy. I endure similar frictions from Weimar in trying to further Sino-German relations. Kai-shek, on the other hand, has been very helpful. When I return to Berlin, I will have his top man, Chen Yi. We could use your expertise too.”

No. Thank you. Even were I interested they would not allow it.”

They called an amnesty for all those involved in the putsch.”

I tried to see Margarethe in Hamburg. I was told I would not be let in.”

Trebitsch, if you are with me, and you have Kai-shek’s backing, they will not challenge it.”

Look at me, Colonel. The mobilisation of armies is everything I oppose. The Noble Eightfold Path is my focus. Where would my place be in your operation?”

Twelve balls of light materialised on deck as if cast from the silvery moon or reflecting sea. They moved with Trebitsch as he looked to Bauer, who could not see them. They coalesced and from the centre a brittle, translucent humanoid emerged, with notepad and pen.

It is not all about ordering guns and explosives or engaging in warfare. I am working with the Julius Berger Konsortium to develop China’s railway system.”

Trebitsch could make out the words the spectre wrote:

To Kreitner. Autobiography.

1923 – Yang-Sen, Wu Peifu

– Developing railways

The words then were blotted out by grey speckles over-writing the transparent form.

We’re developing communications with the help of Beier-Ifa, and Junkers have asked me to be their representative in Nanking. The W33 and 34 are new commercial aircraft. They’ve been very successful.”

The creature gained definition. It was Trebitsch, several years older, but there, in robe and skullcap. It was strange to view himself in this way.

The Chinese still have to learn there must be interdependency in all aspects when running a country. A central plan with the military at that centre. I tried to tell the Russians, and my own people.”

The other Trebitsch did not look up from his notepad. It might have been an unsettling feeling: it should have been. Trebitsch felt as if he understood, even though he did not.

For example, Kai-shek’s pride and joy is the Whampoa Military Academy. I said, move it, Canton to Nanking. Let me hire fifty German officers to advise and train your men.”

The second Trebitsch was de-materialising from grey particles back to translucent form. Then the first of the mercury balls slowly began to re-form.

He considered this plan and approved it: no sentimentalism. This Summer Chen Yi and myself will interview the candidates.”

The twelve balls drew out into a circle, hung over the deck for a moment and then sped off like shooting stars. Trebitsch stared out to sea, not flinching.

We aim to improve the quality of China’s produce and open their market to German goods”

They only want you for the moment. Colonel, they do not want foreigners.”

You are wrong about that.”

Am I? You are dealing with provincial dictators intent on slaughter and oppression.”

No. Rule under Kai-shek will be different. You said they would not drop their Marxist ways, but there’s been mass expulsion of Russian advisors.”

I heard thousands were massacred,” said Trebitsch.

Communism simply does not fit with law and order there. Nothing to do with ideology.”

And now China has civil war. Anyway, I am out of politics. I do wonder about Yang-Sen.”

I never met him. Did you say he had a friend who claimed to be 250 years old?”

I believe in the immortality of consciousness and the soul. I am not a fool.”

I wondered if I might meet the two men we were with in Europe, but no. I did meet Ehrhardt and Von Jagow. The Chief of Police?”

Yes. They hung the whole putsch business on him.”

Four years inside. He sued the Imperial Court to have his pension back-paid.”

So they had no choice but to bring in the amnesty,” said Trebitsch.

Age fell on Bauer: his smiling cheeks given to depressing creases; a back which stooped. Always neat in shirt and dress trousers but the weather of his life had bitten his hands to the veins.

Kapp died in prison in Leipzig: cancer. General Maercker’s gone. We lost Hugo Stinnes to a burst gall bladder.”

How is Captain Ehrhardt?”

“Healthy. As opinionated as ever. He’s been getting job offers. Escherich in Bavaria wants to form a new Ogresch army. And from Pabst. Vienna put him in charge of the Heimwehr. Mussolini is funding him, but I think you might want to stay clear of Waldemar Pabst.”

“Why?”

“I think he wants to put the White International back together.”

“Goodness. No! That time has passed, Colonel!”

“Krauss leads the National Officers Association in Vienna. It may happen”

“Time has not altered your wit. It would seem it has not altered Pabst’s either.”

Bauer rumbled with laughter. Trebitsch too, holding a smile as he recounted Pabst’s sneaking up on them with the fake red beard, Bauer gesturing wildly to portray the size of it.

What else did Ehrhardt say?” asked Trebitsch.

We talked about Hitler. Of course they’re all around him. The fools Wulle, Reventlow and Stephani. The smart men, from Ludendorff to Weigand. I heard Biskupski is bankrolling him. Anyway, Ehrhardt did not have much in the way of kind words about Hitler.”

Ludendorff has fallen out with me, or rather his new wife has.”

Erich is old and not always in his right mind.”

She is a mad occultist. In with all sorts of poison creatures. This began when I approached a Buddhist group in Peking led by Alice Cleather and Basil Crump, followers of the late Madame Blavatsky.”

Black magic. What did you want with them?”

Blavatsky herself went to Tibet, but yes, Theosophy is fake Buddhism trapping Europeans. I only learned this after I asked Cleather for an introduction to the Panchen Lama.”

I don’t know that one.”

Trebitsch looked to the black, dull Taiwan Strait and the forms of the Penghu archipelago. Only the nearest of Japanese controlled islets, Magong, burned its lights back at them. The chill was jabbing now as the boat bounced on the waves.

He is the senior monk. Where the Dalai Lama provides access to Westerners, we in the East look to the Panchen Lama. His teachings are purer, closer to the source. I have been corresponding with Dr. Grimm in Munich about this.”

So this ‘Lama’ can help you to reach Tibet?”

Yes. Well, he was in Mongolia… and these… kooks! They think they have exclusive rights to him. In a week they’re smearing my name over Peking, blabbing my whereabouts to all the press and police. One local official asked if I was spying for the Russians!”

Maybe it was the beard.”

I saw them go to the British consulate. Perhaps they plot with Lampson and Steptoe there!”

That seems extreme. Why would they do this?”

Jealously! They think I wish to lead their silly group. I have no time for such nonsense! The Theosophists have detectives tracking me all round Northern China. I don’t know what to do about it.”

Tell the Shanghai police. In turn, that puts the British on them. Or work for us in Nanking and you could use your position to kick them out. Alright, alright. The offer is an open one.”

The wind flapped away at Trebitsch’s robes and he bundled his arms together. A moment’s thought and though it was so dark Bauer could barely see him, Trebitsch gave a gentle smile.

I will get to Tibet. I thought long on it. ‘Burma? India? Ceylon? Siam? I cannot stay in those areas legally.’ Though truthfully with Hong Kong it’s the same, and we will be there by morning. Who knows? Next year, Munich??”

Ha ha. Very good, Trebitsch. Now… it is past my bedtime. I will see you in the morning. Good night.”

To you also.”

At Victoria Harbour, Bauer said he was sure their paths would cross, and they parted on good terms. Both sailed on SS Coblenz again: Bauer on his frequent trips between Germany and China. Trebitsch was mostly off-grid that year. He was not aware of the pressure put on his comrade by the German and Japanese governments. Among others, Lampson and Steptoe were watching Bauer, aware of his violations of the Versailles Treaty.

Trebitsch returned to that night many times in solitary meditation. It was a month after his fiftieth birthday, May 1929, when the mystery of the spectral doppelgänger, and Bauer’s public journeys were revealed to him. In a church in Shanghai, Madame Kai-shek placed a wreath of white roses on the coffin. Outside the church, the German war banner hung with that of China’s Kuomintang party. Trebitsch struck up conversation with one of the soldiers.

What did he die of?” asked Trebitsch.

Smallpox. He’s the only man in the village infected. It is sure evidence of assassination.”

We have all suffered a terrible loss. You must excuse me. Thank you for your time.”

Trebitsch returned to his room above the Hollandisch Restaurant in the French Concession. It was a simple abode; he’d few belongings. He took out his pen and notepad and began to write.

To Kreitner. Autobiography.

1923 – Yang-Sen, Wu Peifu

– Developing railways

Communications

– Transport systems

The Watch Thief: Chapter 39

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Trowbridge, Wiltshire.
Wednesday 23 December, 1925.

The silence was tangible. The houses at night barricaded by wall and leaf were remote and vulnerable. The Triumph bike stood still on the tarmacadam at the front Edward Richards’ home. Ignatius ‘John’ Lincoln was looking from open door into the unlit kitchen. On an overcast morning at Trowbridge Barracks, a soldier devoid of passion stood fixed outside the armoury, his eyes far away. No one spoke their names. Nothing stirred at night in the prison grounds. Wings A through C where silent. William Tyrrell, like many other men and women all across Britain, slept quietly. In Sussex the Home Secretary, Joynson-Hicks, laid back in his easy chair. He did not go to see the King. The rope hung from the ceiling. Margarethe prayed. The silence came from the mouths of those who did not know what they could offer, minds scraping for perfect words to bridge reality with a better state.

The hush was concentrating into pockets. Their first foot-falls in Edward’s home in Victoria Avenue. Clifford Lincoln in the visitors room at HMP Shepton Mallet, Julius next to him, Margarethe’s eyes welling up with tears. In the office of his mirror Tom Pierrepoint buttons his white shirt. The calm was a brief gap in the passage from the basement generator to the upper court. The noise squashed the word on Lord Hewart’s lips and the public gallery. It struck the moments between the nine bells that Tuesday morning.

Ian Stewart’s motorcycle growled out of the barracks and tore the night open. Ignatius held tight as they wound with Victoria Road. The wind was like a barrage of tiny pellets. The cylinder was a vague echo when Ian parked it. The two off-duty bombardiers entered through unlocked back door with less grace. They knew Edward had a gun and it turned up in minutes, Ignatius scraped it by a cupboard door and put in his coat so both sides weighed even. Ian brought out the brandy and glasses. They had their breath warmed and rummaged some more. Bitter and pale ale. They clinked a toast to their prizes, and sunk to the floor. They approved of Edward Richards’ decor. The conservative and modern layout. The comfortable linoleum.

Ian said, “Put the empties back in the crate like they never went anywhere!”

Upstairs was a-creaking. The drunken soldiers raised themselves as steps crossed the landing.

It’s Edward. John, the bike!” Ian pointed to the lounge and broke ahead. The armchair arm pushed him on the way in. Ignatius, beer sloshing, avoided it. Ian swung at the front door lock, shook it left and right.

Edward shouted, “Who’s down there?”

Ignatius pulled out his automatic. “Get back,” he shouted, and fired a bullet into the stairs.

As the bullet thumped dully, Ian defied the urge to wince, his face screwed up from the loud retort of the pistol however and he yelled against the front door – “We are warning you!”

Ignatius blasted twice into the bannister. Ian gave the lock a final shove and then doubled back into the lounge. Ignatius followed. In his haste his foot caught in the folds of the rug, tumbling towards the ground, the darkened room spun before his eyes. In desperation he reached out for support – his hands finding a table, searing pain in sprained wrist. Someone else entered the room with him. He felt the breeze of the open back door. A pistol flashed. A bullet whizzed by and pounded the plaster wall. The pistons hammered on Ian’s bike as he revved it up. Ignatius raised his automatic and fired and fired. He fired until Edward screamed out.

Four officers marched them into Shepton Mallet. The prison housed just fifty; seven per cent of its capacity. Christmas Day was their first day. Acoustics made the carol singing sound like a haunting. But unsettling festivities settled in to something more hopeful, genuinely happy inmates and guards. His sweetheart Lily Morgan visited. She knew him as John. He used the name to avoid the stigma of association. Seeing her took his mind from the depression. At nine o’clock, the lights went out.

Prison’s threat only nibbled at the edges: the Governor’s approval of him; Lily’s visits; New Years Eve. Ignatius had seen the light flicker in Edward’s eyes. He was afraid the feeling of asylum would last the three weeks to his trial. The officer who found the vomit in his cell pressed his nose in it. Later, in mad thought, he was grateful. Each day he followed the bell to inspection and the canteen. On one occasion he recognised Tom Pierrepoint, walking with the Governor. Both were well dressed, large aristocratic figures. He’d heard Pierrepoint didn’t like the American method. He preferred to get the inmate out quickly. They were on their way to the brick building forty-three metres from the prison wall. In the exercise yard, speckled dry concrete led to a metal fence mounting barbed wire, and an enclosure of mottled stone framed portcullises. The steps and walls were cold. There were only stone corners. In A-Wing less people meant guards could watch the walk-way slips and stop any jumpers. The other levels revealed a mirror image of the hive. Ignatius was in a cell on his own. Sat on his bunk, he thought about Edward Richards: his voice; how he knew Ian. What did he do in his twenty-five years? The final shot had lit up the lad’s face with the bullet hole in his skull and the blood streaming out of his eyes. Edward Richards was looking into him. He didn’t know much about Edward, but he knew he killed him. Neither man could lie about that.

In Cologne, Julius Lincoln took his bag from the hall. He closed the door of his house and walked the streets to Trankgasse. At Köln Hauptbahnhof, he bought his ticket for Hamburg and waited. In Hamburg, Margarethe wailed and flung clothes into her case. Four times she checked their passports and emergency certificates. ‘Mother is in dire straits’, Clifford wrote in a letter to John. ‘We all are. Can you get to England?’

The lawyer said they had a good case. The evidence was inconclusive: he should plead not guilty. He nodded obediently to make Lily happy. Edward’s dying cry was with him every moment. Lily seized on the notion he might be released. He asked her not to call for a week. He slept, knowing it was not enough. He slept contented, forgetting what he had done. In the night, the grounds of Shepton Mallet were quiet. Lily wrote to him. He wrote back, even when a jailer warned him not to. In the visitor’s room, Julius said they would get him out of there. Margarethe assured him anyone could see it was an accident. They were praying for him. Clifford said he would be there at the trial, they all would.

The criminal law courts were in Devizes, central Wiltshire, a four-column Grecian building. Custodians led the charges past the chugging generator and stink breath of the boiler. Out of the tunnel, they found the steps into the court. A hundred jarring threads of conversation clustered around their fates. Amid the babble-storm he saw his family and Lily, who smiled with dewy eyes.

“Unfortunate parentage,” said one of the gawkers.

“All rise,” said the clerk.

“Edward was my neighbour,” said Walter.

“You found him, Mr. Stouton?” asked the prosecutor.

“I held his head in my hands an’ went with him to the hospital. Fifteen minutes after we got there, they said he was dead.”

The arresting officer said, “I found them later that morning. The captain at barracks did not release them to us easily.”

The prosecutor told them, “There is an indication joint enterprise might be applied here. Each man went to Mr. Richards home armed, and must face the penalty.”

A reporter called out, “Mr. Lincoln! Mr. Lincoln. Can we have a word? Mrs. Lincoln. Just a moment?”

He saw the family disappear in newsmen before he and Ian stepped down dark stairs to the dust swirling by the flatulent generator at tunnel’s end. The next day was Wednesday 20th January, when court heard from the defence.

“An investigation of the crime scene has shown Mr. Richards fired at Mr. Lincoln at close range.”

Ignatius said, “It was only to protect myself.”

“Objection! Being drunk is no excuse.”

The judge said, “A distinction should be made for Mr. Stewart. Since he did not discharge his firearm, the jury should consider acquittal in the charge of murder.”

The prosecutor said, “Your honour, new evidence has surfaced in a letter from Mr. Lincoln to his friend, Miss Morgan. Obtained by the staff at HMP Shepton Mallet, it contains a full confession.”

On Thursday morning, after the clock struck nine times, the jury met. They did not retire long. Stewart would serve a long sentence for burglary. For Lincoln came the black cloth.

“Ignatius Emanuel Napthali Trebitsch Lincoln, I pronounce the only sentence that can be passed for the crime of wilful murder.”

Margarethe sunk her mouth into her handkerchief.

“You will be taken to a place of execution to suffer death by hanging.”

Julius froze as their mother clung to his chest. Clifford gasped. They took Ignatius down.

His father sent a letter nineteen pages long. A friend was bringing money so he expected to set sail from Ceylon within days. The German-Lloyd steamer, SS Coblenz, would take him to Marseilles and he’d fly to England if he had to. He asked forgiveness. There was a terrible regret for the past, for if he had been a better father, none of this might have happened. His sins seem to have been visited upon the head of his favourite son. ‘Nat’ stood by him when they were arrested at the Hotel Viktoria in Vienna; and before that, when in Prague he told his father Czech spies were trailing them. Ignatius remembered them board the train and watch the Czechs get into the next carriage. As the doors were closing, father and son leapt back onto the platform.

Julius raised funds from the public for an appeal the following week. The man from The Times watched him, impressed. The coroner’s jury refused to return a guilty verdict. Lord Chief Justice Hewart rejected that motion and set March 2nd for the date of Lincoln’s execution.

There were echoes in Shepton Mallet. Ignatius saw him still: Edward Richards, his hair matting with blood, looking at his attacker. Ignatius smashed the cut bottle down on his face clawing the tissue. A cold wave spread over him as he did so, and Edward’s head slumped. Twenty-five years old, a representative for a brewery, a hard-working honest man wrenched out of his sleep. Ignatius could feel the weight of his head in his hand: the warmth; the wet. His eyes flickered. The louder cough of the motorbike engine was at the back. He set down Edward. Out to the back yard, out, out, Walter the neighbour shouting, “Hey! You there!”

Ignatius looked right past the open door of his cell. He could still hear the captain and constable bicker. Still Ian Stewart telling him he gets a high from risk. Ian was on a different wing and he tended to avoid him, tactfully. Margarethe rarely got in a visit without crying. His father telegraphed the both of them from the Coblenz each week. Meanwhile, Julius wrote to the Home Secretary to make sure he could come onto British soil. There was a lot of public support, he said. The telegram from Java expressed regret. John hoped to see him in the Summer.

Four weeks later, Thursday 24th, thousands swarmed Trafalgar Square. Placard carrying bodies close to one another sang and prayed. They clustered in lines to sign the petition and talked of what was to be done: activist Quakers and Anglican clergy; miners and dockworkers; a whole spectrum of society. Margarethe was over-whelmed and receptive to journalists’ whys, where’s and hows. One-time manager for Houdini, Colonel Harry Day, found Julius near the steps.

We’ve all been moved by his plight,” said Day. “I will pursue this in the Commons.”

We’ve seen him every day this week,” said Margarethe.

This is murder for manslaughter. Where’s the Edward Richard’s say in this?” said Clifford.

Is it true the boy’s father entered a monastery?”

A paper earlier this week ran an interview from Victoria Station. Can you confirm that?”

Attention! Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming. My name is Julius Lincoln. John Ignatius is my half-brother. He would appreciate this show of protest and solidarity. A man of good nature and humour, your support is getting him through tough times. Like all of us, John served this country in the war. Unfortunately the judge was out to make an example. Out to make an example of my father’s son. The verdict was decided before he set foot in court. The appeals jury disagreed. It is my hope another will grant his reprieve. Please sign the petition which tomorrow, I will present to the Home Secretary.”

Julius took the petition by St. James Park to the Home and Foreign Office building. Over four weeks he’d collected fifty thousand signatures. William Joynson-Hicks was well acquainted with the case. It was he whose constitutional function it was to advise their monarch whether to exercise the prerogative of mercy. The P.M., Baldwin, was a close friend and reacted by praising the Home Secretary’s expertise regarding British prisons. Archbishop Randall Davidson, back from an anti-theosophy conference, said he would pray for him. A telegram from the SS Coblenz begged for a stay of execution.

In another room, Foreign Secretary Austen Chamberlain asked Tyrrell for a report on Trebitsch Lincoln. The file hadn’t been updated since the incident with Mr. Davidson. Basil Thomson had only written of Trebitsch in a stock article he sold to the Northern Whig and Belfast Post. Workaholic Eyre Crowe sailed the Foreign Office through three governments in four years. A vacuum was left after his death the previous April. It was Tyrrell’s opinion Trebitsch should be allowed to see his son. Chamberlain told the House he’d be under guard for three days and leave immediately afterwards.

In the Liberal Club, on-off friends Lloyd George and Asquith spoke of Lincoln. In Piccadilly, the solicitor John Goldstein listened to the report on the radio. At Savoy Hill House BBC Director Jack Pease peered through the glass at his newscaster. Seventy-two year old Conyngham Greene, once minister to Roumania, listened in his Plymouth home until the weather flickered the signal into absence. Basil Thomson read the paragraphs in his parlour, curtains drawn.

In a comfortable bed in Trowbridge, Tom Pierrepoint fancied an early night and loosened his tie. Lily Morgan returned from prison early evening to her home. She was exhausted and asleep within minutes, but woke a few hours later. In Sussex, Joynson-Hicks turned the page of his newspaper. He ignored the nine chimes of the grandfather clock. Through the night he slept without interruption, oblivious to the world.

Ignatius walked to the scaffold without visible emotion, standing rigidly to attention as the noose was adjusted. Until late last night he had waited in the death cell for his father’s promised visit, and when told that it was impossible for him to arrive he broke down and wept.”

– New York Times, 3 March 1926

Chapter 38

Colombo, British Ceylon/Sri Lanka.
Tuesday 8 December, 1925: Bodhi Day.

Prismatic a rainbow colours the sky. Monks sit in damp; and think; and walk barefoot over twigs, while bells sing. The deities are ever present: watchful eyes; multi-tasking hands with candles, scripture and birds. Red lanterns are set at the foot of the sacred Bodhi tree. Under the Bodhi, the Lord Buddha sat for seven days without moving. This tree was grown from one of thirty-two saplings brought by King Asoka’s daughter, the nun Sanghamittra, in the 3rd century B. C. It is said a child treading the ground under this tree will never fail in life. The main building is built around it, the domed temple, the shrine room, and monk’s cells. By ficus religiosa, disciples bless one another with the peace of the Buddha.

The new arrival professed an interest in Theosophy, the esoteric group that teach of the Tibetan Masters. From Colombo he was to journey to Annie Besant’s school in Adyar, Southern India. On the stop-over he learned of this place and the Buddhist philosophy of liberation, suffering and rebirth. From a hotel window months ago he saw low yellow buildings line dusty roads and quiet lanes. There was a serenity, a cleanliness to the air. This was what took him out to the countryside. He walked, soothed and mesmerised by the fields, drawn there to Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya. Before the resplendent arches are seen, everywhere the disciples are heard in long chanting, ascending harps and drum beats.

This is one of the smaller monasteries. The central building is orange-gold, two storeys and columns lovingly carved with bas-reliefs. Inside are the library and seminary. Behind the building is the mosque-shaped white prayer house. Magnificent trees sway and bow in these heavy rains of monsoon season. These skies of indigo are expected to pelt another month or two. Rains ricochet on a glass cover over a twelve foot praying gold Buddha. It swamps green shrubs and sweeps grey stone steps.

Language cannot truly manifest the voice of the spirit, which in this modern world is shackled to The Self. However, communication can turn the key. Listen to the universe. The early morning song of the swallow. The strong wind is cut apart by the leaves of the palm trees. These things are the extensions of The Creator. Pali, the language of the original Buddhist writings, is said to be a dead language. How can this be so when it breathes wisdom through the ages?

The newspapers do not teach the fundamental principles of Buddhist thought or practice. They impart no knowledge of Pali, Sanskrit or even modern Sinhalese! The New York World, for example, is the antithesis to the state of quiet study. It is loud and crude and insincere. For five Sundays Summer past it carries the series, ‘Lincoln World War Spy Plotted to Control China!’ It told of his making bridges with Britain: Captain Corlett and Consul Steptoe. Lincoln was advisor to Wu Peifu, ‘In the Centre of a Struggle for the Destiny of The Orient!’

Leo Tandler’s concentration breaks. His feet he sees, crossed where he sits. His palms are upturned on his knees. A cloud colours the sun. There is pain in his thin bones. There is pain everywhere. He thinks of our slavery to modern life with its noisy technology and petty grievances. It may be the selfishness of the soul, ego that must be left behind. Dr. Tandler breathes to centre himself. He is in the carpeted, warm apartment of Joseph Schlesinger. The newspaper is in Joseph’s hand. He reads how Lincoln wishes to pay off his debts and gather his scattered family to retire to some quiet corner of the globe. Flapping the pages back, Joseph reads a line aloud.

“’He claims Britain is the greatest political institution that has ever existed, and desires to be reinstated as a citizen of that nation.’”

The tropical sun returns, cumulo-nimbus coming and going like the waves of the sea. He can feel its faint breeze, its perpetual rise and fall. These are mere waves of existence. Behind the unconscious mind is The Breather, experiencing by act of will, seeking truth. He lets the tension slip away, red to violet, risen from the base of the spine leaving through the top of the head. The breath can take you all the way to Nirvana.

Behind him are 2,243 miles of conical mountain and forest trail: Adam’s Peak; the Jewelled Hill; the Climb to Heaven; Butterfly Mountain. It has as many names as worshippers. From December to May pilgrimages gain momentum. They seek a rock formation at the summit, held as the left footprint of the Buddha. In Pali, it is known as Sri Prada. From the peak the Kelnai River brings its drinking water and fish ninety miles down into Colombo. The Kelnai River’s flow empties into folk poetry, and shrines.

When he first arrived he existed on one meal a day. He did not realised how little his body required. The teachers became fearful and encouraged the Austrian to change his diet. Each morning he rose at six to clean his cell and meditate. Then he consumes a simple breakfast of fruit, a rice cake, and tea. No sugar or milk. After three more hours of meditation the monks have a small bowl of rice and vegetables. He will teach some of them English before six o’clock prayers.

He only vaguely recognises the man in New York.

I am sick of life,’ he had written to her. ‘I have experienced too great adversities. But what is the use of lamenting? I am engulfed in impenetrable darkness.’

Under the Bodhi tree outside the chapel he knows this is the suffering of all existence. Those words are the past. They are also a moment of clarity among commerce’s poison illusion. When he looks at the work-book of one of his novices he sees his own hand, his true hand. The moment of a great revelation came to him in a room at Astor House in Tientsin; rooted to that spot, for who can say how long? The weight lifted from his back, of Jupiter and Zeus; a burden greater than he’d known, it shot through the tall ceiling and he fell to his knees weeping, weeping with happiness in the gaze of beauty. He made the great renunciation then. He made the great decision to quit the world, force the doors of the lunatic asylum open, and walk out. The novice’s hand-writing has his curls and dips. He returns the work-book with a gentle nod.

Each monk has his own cell with a pink roof and grey walls. Inside are a bed, table, chair, water jug, wash-basin and mug. Their clothing: black robes, skull-caps and slippers. Offerings are made but sometimes the monks must walk the six miles to Colombo, which is another world away. They beg at Kayman’s Gate, entrance to Pettah market. Tourists gather by Indian traders with stalls of gold and jewellery, and mull around the candy-striped Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque. There are five hundred Muslims resident there, and another hundred monks from the central Gangaramaya Temple, a kitschier tourist trap. Tram car tracks line the roads and doorsteps of businesses are fronted by granite flooring brought by their British town planners. He does not like the shops; the newspapers; the government buildings. Too easily they trigger him. He is reminded of the British diplomat in Tientsin who billed him for a wire to the Home Secretary in London. It evokes a feeling in his spleen like bile.

This monk will preach at the temple instead. All who meet him speak highly of his enthusiasm and sincerity. The Most Venerable Master will ask him again to address the Buddhist Working Men’s Club. Tandler will forgive the British, remembering the official in Manilla who granted him a visa for India months before. Yet he does not need it. Theosophy, with its schools at odds, is not something he pretends to comprehend. He gradually practices and develops mindfulness of the in-and-out breath as taught by the Enlightened One. He is in search of illuminating the entire world like the moon when it’s freed from clouds.

In the shrine room are great tapestries of worshippers and students gathered by ascending ones: hands at chins; hands on heart; a painting of the Bodhi tree. Under patterned ceilings are significant images from the Buddha’s life. Glistening sculptures of celestial hosts lurk in alcoves with bejewelled foreheads or blue skin. They dance and share, their feet on wisps of clouds. The sage Gautama Buddha levitates cross legged beyond orange fire.

Stars in violet night skies draw in after January’s Moon-Day, after the revellers have gone. He strolls through town near Kayman’s Gate, the Khan Tower Clock and water fountain. A young Sinhalese newsboy is in front of him, then behind him, and keeping close. The boy calls out: buy paper, buy paper. The monk gestures ‘no money’, but the boy keeps following. Eventually the tabloid is pushed into the man’s hands, taken when all other means have not sent the boy away.

In his cell the next morning the monk reads the words ‘Trebitsch Lincoln… facing charges in London.’ Will the English not leave him in peace? Old upsets in his appendix flare and clog his solar plexus, yet he reads on. The story is not about Trebitsch Lincoln, but his eldest son. The monk’s eyes quickly fill like pools and he is anything but centred. He stands, and looks around him, feels the space in his fingers. His instinct is to grab the chair and smash it, smash it over and over until the walls fall down.

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Chapter 37

Batavia, Java.
Friday 17 October, 1924.

Clifford sits alone in the hallway, listening to Father pitch (through the walls) to the Principal. Batavia wouldn’t be his first school, no. The cheerful thirteen year old has learned in London, Hamburg and Nanking. The Principal hears tales of monasteries and warlords and the pirates of the Yangtze. They left China only days after Wu Peifu’s forces suffered a major loss to Zhang Zuolin in another fruitless Zhili–Fengtian conflict. He had warned Wu, and General Chi. Trebitsch hopes his youngest will become an entrepreneur or political advisor. With his back to the hall’s stained crème plaster, Clifford sits still while his father talks of investment.

Java was wild and wet, yet large and free. At Palabuhanratu, the rice paddies touch a black sand beach. Looking out to the shore, the green stretches are squared, hedged, serrated; a half dozen palm trees before the baby blue and periwinkle Indian Ocean which floats rafts by misty asparagus hills. Astride two black buffaloes, the males waddle in. Seven volcanic mountains rise over the bay. There are thirty-eight in total, snaking west to east. Clifford is a ray of light as they track the lush and scenic forests nearby. At Cipanas Hot Springs boiling water bubbles up from river rock pools and he sees his father smile.

Trebitsch lifts up a shoe at Pasar Baru market. He studies the sole from heel to toe and places it back on the rack. The great concentration of people in these narrow streets slow them to look at the china, the silver-ware and herbal remedies.

The Batavia school is English language and the children have been lifted from all parts of the globe. They are from Java and Sumatra, Vietnam, Indochina and China. They are British, Dutch, Hindi, Muslim and mixed sex. One of the boarders has heard Clifford’s father is famous. A spy, a criminal? The boy has been told not to answer these questions. Did he change his name like Mrs. Jamu?

He barely knows his father but is fixed to his side at every chance. Trebitsch wears a white linen suit with a high collar; a pith helmet plumped on the back of his head. Soon John wears one, and then Clifford. They will be a family of planters. From the Great Post Road they can see all of Java’s lush, rugged countryside. It is only weeks after John’s twentieth birthday. Spirits rise as they’re climbing Puncak Pass, fifteen hundred metres up. Clifford and his parents laugh at the sight of John on the rug, fallen asleep under Australian Eucalyptus. When he awakes they descend to fertile, cultivated fields.

This is unlike any place he’s known. The curtains seem to shine. Stray cows wander dusty and humid paths. This vision, of the Lincoln family future, won’t come cheap. The parents must travel to Europe in search of finance, a loan. The world takes them and Clifford thinks he understands his father’s sadness. Christmas days are just like any others. On New Years Eve, this youngest son dreams in snippets of his father visiting them in Bucharest with great news about oil. He was three years old at the time. The memory is happy and uncluttered.

There are twelve boys in bunk beds, farting and slinging and snoring; hanging out to dry sweaty vests and towels. The wet season gurgles at the windows. Concentration during lessons is strained. On the first weekend John takes him out past the tall Dutch country houses lining the Molenvliet Canal. The people who live there own shipping and trading companies in Weltevreden: to the south. They are in Weltevreden the next weekend. They re-trace the steps around the Pasar Baru markets. Containers of quinine bark from the old town storage centres of Kota trail, then pass them, bound for the shops.

Clifford makes friends, prized for his football skills. The pitch soil is wet and dark, and sticks to him like it is supposed to. He is not so good with the books. The temple bells, once a joy, now nag and he is distracted with gossip and capers. Mrs. Jamu scolds him. He is falling behind, and does not want to visit the Principal. When Clifford sees his brother he says he shouldn’t worry. They’ll not be here long. They trek again to Cibodas Gardens, where John fell asleep on the rug. He has a job there now, harvesting quinine from the cinchona trees. Quinine is a key anti-malaria remedy and an active ingredient in Indian tonic water. Lake-side, under European conifers, they talk of Ignatius: employed at Trowbridge Barracks, England. When asked why Ignatius changed his name to John, John quickly says it was so he can be more like him. Clifford doesn’t believe his brother. John talks about how he and Ignatius had travelled from school in London to visit their mother for Christmas in Bucharest ten years before. Ignatius had insisted on making all the travel arrangements. Lining up the timetables and buying the tickets, he led the pair of them across Europe. A black swan glides across Mandalawangi Lake in front of them. A gamekeeper’s shot startles it into flight, and it leaves ripples that slosh against the edges after they’ve gone.

Clifford would like to live with John at Cibodas Lodge and the whole dorm hear of it. He’s ingratiated himself with one of the popular gangs but isn’t smart enough to duck a beating. He plays hooky at Hindu temples, abandoned when Islam came, were rice is left out for gods and rats. He sees the protests for Jakarta independence, the martial artists and the shadow puppet theatre. The Principal had assumed Clifford was as trustworthy as his father and cannot understand why John is not as capable as him. Clifford’s behaviour, they say, is completely inappropriate. It flies in the face of everything he should be doing. John says all his work may as well be for nothing. Clifford leaves, sure in himself, that all their problems are his fault. He tries harder: at Maths; History; neatens his hand-writing and develops consistency of style. John works over-time the following two weeks. Clifford wonders if it’s because he isn’t important enough to be with. He buries this. He dreams of a pile of gold, fading, and his mother’s hair. A letter from her arrives from south-eastern France. They were in Marseilles, are now in Nice, and proceeding to Monte Carlo. Father has calculated a full proof method of winning at baccarat.

Mrs. Jamu takes the boys to feed and pet the horses. They are warm and firm and brave. Spring is here and with his parents return imminent, Clifford knuckles down. The geography teacher singles him out for best homework. He passes a test, then another.

Beyond the sports pitch, hanging cocoa pods are macheted and piled. Other labourers work the palm oil plantations: fields of green shrubs under a blue sky. Clifford runs track laps rain or shine, managing his pace and time. He no longer needs John or Mrs. Jamu to tell him he is doing well. He has enough.

Mother writes to John again. The youngest son is quietly angry with the elder’s demeanour; how he drags his feet along the road, and his tired eyes. Clifford, though, has the same bitterness associated with his parents. They had travelled to Rome to see the Pope, The Hague, then Cologne, where they met Julius and his new wife. Trebitsch has gone on to New York and Margarethe is in Hamburg. The boys are to come to her. They both expected it. John is off on a rant. Where will he find the money for the travel? What about Clifford’s school fees? His boss may let go of him at any moment if he doesn’t work more over-time.

Clifford’s fourteenth birthday is spent alone in the dorm. He thinks about how John is so sick: perhaps it is his fault. He is driving his brother away. They will take him; just like the Viennese police took his father three years before. With these things in mind it makes much more sense to fail his Summer tests.

John secures the travel permits. He finds no way around it but to explain that he cannot afford to go with his brother. It is the job. Their debts will be paid in no time. He hugs Clifford goodbye and the boy steps onto the heavy and lumbering boat. Fish swirl in a mud pond underneath. The engine whinges and purple bellows of smoke fail to surf the wave. The boat bounces and Clifford takes his seat on the wooden bench. They leave behind water buffaloes, a floating bamboo raft, fields of horses and the snaking volcano horizon. He moves away from Christmas Island, Sumatra, leaves Indonesia. Everywhere around are tiny tidal pools, little self-contained swirls. Swirl, swirl, swirl. Past the Bay of Bengal but before the Arabian Sea lies Colombo. Off its coast thunder strikes water and springs hard upon the vessel.

He spends many more weeks by train crossing Eurasia to find his mother. He thinks of Ignatius and John’s trip to Bucharest a decade before. He knows they will be proud. He is taking the long way back.

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Chapter 36

St. James’ Square, London.
Friday 28 September, 1923.

The sale goes in Hamptons’ ledger, another commission earned. The nineteen year old tells Brian he can maybe sell the properties on Lambeth Road. The rain lashes on the glass front of the office. It is only a silver street by the time he’s out onto the embankment. There’s a homeless man, about fifty, and he gives him a penny; tells him he was once on that same bench and they wish each other better days. John’s home is a single room in Spitalfields. He sits on his bed, letter pad in his lap and writes to Ignatius at Trowbridge Barracks. He returns the ten pounds. Though his brother had asked him not to repay him, John derives small mischief from the gesture. He goes to bed thinking how lucky he is. He thinks of Edward, living with his adopted parents in York, and Linda, the office secretary with smooth black locks. His sleep is warm and restoring.

Each morning he slows down at the pawnshop looking for his mother’s ring. He scrutinises the display and it is gone, for the cobblers, a heel mended against Westminster’s showers. Perhaps he can make it up to her, to both of them. He gets to the office early. There’s another letter from his father: the Chinese job is very important. He needs John’s help. He must understand. John wonders why only Magnus is in the office and puts the letter back in the envelope. He counts and piles the receipts, makes short tallies. Magnus sits down beside him and tells John about the changes. Brian was too soft on the staff and Linda wasn’t what they were looking for. Somewhere between memories of his paternal, good humoured boss and the day-dream of Lincoln & Sons Ltd, John is asked if he wants to continue under the new company appointed manager. He casually tells them no, not really, and it is a decision he will regret.

The timetables say he can arrive in Zurich on the afternoon of October 29th. He has no belongings to sell, some money in the bank and time on his passport. Before he leaves his father writes again. His commands are to be obeyed. He must come. John takes a boat from Dover to Calais. The Wagons-Lits carriages speed him from there to Paris. A different track and he ascends the Morvan peaks of Burgundy. The train sidles along the Doubs river until Saint-Ursanne, across the Swiss border. At Zurich Hauptbanhof his father waits on the platform. Trebitsch holds his arms out as if waiting to embrace John, then he disappears momentarily: the hug was not meant for him. He stops his father as they’re leaving the platform: Bauer; Suez; Chiang and Viktor, introduced at length drop their guard back at the hotel. They are impressed with how he looks over their projections, prospectuses and balance sheets. He feels like one of them. He is alarmed to discover that his mother and Clifford are due any day. His father had forgotten this, the clash with their very important meeting with Stinnes. This pains John because it feels familiar. General Chiang says Margarethe’s arrival necessitates a special welcome.

The next day Suez is ordering specialist porcelain and arranging for Chinese food and drink to come. He brings long silk robes to John, and a skull-cap. The men each have one, which they wear to Hauptbanhof Station. His mother does not see them: for each person disembarking a thought spins unresolved behind her travelled face. Clifford points to them. They are like five monks, he says. Margarethe looks at them twice over, and they bow respectfully.

John is not pleased that his mother and brother, just come from Hamburg, have to return there after only days. Mother says nothing but the twelve year old questions the decision openly, to Viktor’s amusement. They travel the longer route, via Berlin, and already John is regretting coming. At Berlin, his father puts them on the next train and goes back to Zurich. Mother laments the missed opportunity of visiting Julius who is stationed nearby.

I met Ignatius over the Summer. And his girl, Lily Morgan,” John says.

That’s good. You know not to call him ‘John’ around his father. It was fine when Ignatius was a boy, but his reasons–”

I can see the sea!” says Clifford, as he paws the windows.

Through the ages, Hamburg was decimated by Vikings, The Black Death, The Great Fire and a cholera epidemic, and each time she was rebuilt. The city was spared the worst of the hyperinflation punishing Germany, on account of her large port trade. Margarethe took her sons along the river Elbe where their grand-father once worked, and to the Jerusalem Mission House where their own father had studied. There were no extra items to pack or loose ends to tie. John suspected the only reason they were there was so they were not in Zurich. He would walk along the jetty at nights, thinking of taking a liner to Canada. Two weeks later, Father wanted them back with him.

They returned to a blazing row. Colonel Bauer had been asked to Russia as a guest of the state. Trebitsch said it couldn’t have been worse timed, that he was letting Wu Peifu down. Bauer put his hands up and told him to calm himself. Moscow was only temporary: he would likely be in Nanjing in two weeks. As he went, Bauer gave John a firm handshake, the sort that nearly breaks bones. Their own journey to the Italian port of Genoa took a long day by high speed tracks; a week’s sailing to Shanghai. Aboard the liner, John noticed Clifford was not like other boys his age: he was pensive and still. Their parents talk with the Chinese about schooling and the arts, and he wonders if they aren’t overlooking the kid. Wang Suez is telling the story of how Shanghai first opened to the West; where Christian missionaries physically forced the city gates. John tells Clifford they had to fight through dragons thirty feet tall. Their father begins to talk about the serious business of railways. Already there are services connecting Shanghai, Beijing and the North. John knows this, and that the expansion boom passed ten years ago. His skills, developed as an estate agent, trained him to read up and he has Nanjing facts stored away just for sharing with Clifford. The gardens there have enormous tortoises and elephants made from stone. There are old, old burial sites: the body of the Emperor’s brother, from the fifth century.

Shanghai is a bustling cosmopolitan port. There are many political and Jewish emigres from Russia. Father is constantly out meeting them all. Mother is at once uncomfortable. John recalls another Christmas, ten years past, when she lived in Bucharest. Lost as to the language and prices, she depends on her sons to help her shop and this is no different. Boldly, John corners Suez at the Oriental Hotel and explains she needs help. A guide is discretely arranged.

Several weeks later the train brings them to Nanjing. The weather is like London’s: cold damp rain every day. The street sellers tout lamb kebabs and salted duck, honey duck, duck oil blood, all duck, all the time. Also radishes, which locals are obsessed with. Neither John nor Clifford care for radishes.

Nanjing was once China’s capital and size is everything. The City Walls are fourteenth century granite, limestone packed layers of gravel, yellow earth and broken bricks, their joints coagulated by mixed lime, tung oil and cooked rice water. Mid January masses rclimb the walls as part of some festival which John never truly understands. He walks on the banks of Qinhuai, ‘Nanjing’s mother river’, tributary of the Yangtze, where there are barges, bazaars, lanterns and Fuzimino the old Confucius Temple, now a barracks, and the New Year’s fireworks whistle over, popping in showers of green and red. In the mornings he looks out at Purple Mountain, named for the ethereally covered clouds signalling his transportation to this alien world. Pink cherry blossom trees are in bloom.

All these spells distract John from the vaguest murmur that says he is unemployed. After all, he is taking Chinese lessons. They were arranged by his father so that John can act as translator. Yet Trebitsch is never around. Clifford attends Hillcrest American School, while their mother fusses over their spacious home, dusting its rectangles and ethnic baubles. There are silk screens and hanging scrolls, though the floor is covered with garish kitchen linoleum, one of many anomalies Wu Peifu had installed in the mistaken belief that the designs were ‘wordly’. Trebitsch briefs Marshal Wu and General Chi Hsien-Yuan, and ratifies the Knolls agreement; he tutors Wu’s son; goes to meetings with Bauer and his secretary; he writes articles for the local English paper and seems to have a new job every week.

The passport office in Nanjing is like most others: world maps on white walls and uninspiring plants; dour wood framed dusty glass kiosks. John finds this both mundane and reassuring. He hands over the Trautwein passport which his father needs endorsed for his trip to Zurich. The clerk asks why Trautwein is returning after only two months. If John is not Trautwein, then Trautwein must appear in person if he wants the privileges of an updated passport. John’s father sends him back. It takes a third visit for John to be successful. Trebitsch is gone a matter of weeks when Suez delivers the news he has been detained by police in Zurich. The charge is of carrying false papers though it is likely he has been released already. John enquires about the contract with Knolls and Suez says he is worried. Not a single dollar has been received.

Bathers are jumping in their number into the Qinhuai signalling the beginning of Spring. The rain is of the particularly wet kind that clings to John, and he wanders, and thinks of Thames embankment. He dreams of escape to Vancouver, not happy with the prospect of looking for work again. A letter from his father brings tears to his mother’s face. Everything is in ruin he says. Knolls turns out to be a small furniture business, a two-bit operation, in no way positioned to deliver the loan they agreed. It is surely Viktor’s fault, and that of Bauer, who has disappeared again. He has been betrayed, embarrassed, six months of his life wasted. There is no point to any of this. John suggests they should move on. His mother agrees but fights the words out through her tears. She has no passport, neither does Clifford. John tells her he will look after them.

Early April is the solar Qingming Festival: observing ancestors with the burning of joss paper and incense sticks. All the departed are similarly honoured on July 15th with Zhongyuan, the Ghost Festival, when the gates of Hell are said to open to let spirits eat and drink. This was the day when Trebitsch returned. On the way home he had learned Chi Hsien-Yuan and Wu Peifu were preparing for war. Suffice to say he was not in a good mood.

After all I have given you here, John, you try to slip away, like some snake! And to add insult to injury you try betray my location to the British government!”

I have a right to my passport, just as mother and Clifford do,” he says.

Oh, you may leave whenever you like,” said Trebitsch.

Well I can’t. He impounded my passport. The consul Harry Steptoe. He said he knew all about me, who my father was, what the passport was really for…”

Steptoe? Right then. We shall take it to his superior, and to the London Foreign Office. Marshal Wu will hear of it!”

He went on and on, making up stories about me using a fake name. Do you know him? This Steptoe seemed to think passport was for you. Now I am stuck here!”

I think I have heard enough back-talk, John. I have enough trouble from bloody furniture men without all this nonsense!! Go and get your writing pad.”

A month later, Eyre Crowe and Basil Thomson discuss the letter mailed through Nanjing consulate. Trebitsch Lincoln’s tone, in angry five point outline, sways them against the whole family. Eventually, after speaking with the Home Office, they grant Margarethe Lincoln and her sons a one-way emergency certificate. Crowe, and Steptoe, receive a response from John Lincoln. The conditions they have imposed upon him are humiliating. He will remain in China against his will until he has a passport like any other British citizen. When John has written as he is told to, Trebitsch instructs him to sign the letter. A few weeks later, Wu Peifu gets involved in the doomed Beijing Coup. Father is tired of the Generals’ cold callousness, the political corruption, and tells the family to pack their bags.

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