5.5 Letters of London

Duncan Robbins walked, floppy blonde curls shaking. His gaunt stature was a regular sight to those around Islington or Camden at five in the morning. He crossed the old prison grounds into The Mount. Mount Pleasant sorting office, formally often. Once under darkness he looked older than his twenty-five years. Duncan signed in: Robbins, July 15, 1904. He nodded over to Miguel Duffield, loitering, and knifed the binds on his first bag. Robbins pulled out a stack sandwich of letters onto the table. There were white envelopes for Clement McBean of Newbridge, for Martha Salter of Wigan; inside each, congratulations on the birth of a son. There were several addressed to Sir Joseph Pease, Famouth and Darlington, wishes for a swift recovery. Robbins rolled his eyes, then checked no-one saw him. Four or five envelopes bore the palace’s official seal. They were made out to Ireland, detailing preparation for King Edward VII’s first visit.

There were fourteen envelopes for the London Jews Society: five different locations overseas; more than half of them local. One Reverend C. Lypshytz of Whitechapel, who in the days ahead would read a confession, an apology and a promise to return an item of personal value. At great length, the author detailed his course of self-redemption and ended wishing the Reverend well, with hopes they might work together in the future. The letter also promised the imminent return of stolen items.

In an instant Duncan had it placed in a box and the letter to Montreal in another. He didn’t notice they were inked by the same flamboyant, excited hand. The recipient, Reverend Frank Burt, was the author of the next one the sorter placed, from Montreal to London. Had he been troublesome to open it, he would have read the Society of Jews were required to pay Ignacz Trebitsch an owed wage, with Burt’s p.s. expressing his worries about, ‘that other business, that perhaps might be dealt with soon’. The thought of opening it never entered his freckled head.

Another mail to the Society headquarters, a London postmark, was from Trebitsch. He asked to be considered for work in the colonies. The postal worker had a letter for Reverend Moses Epstein too. Therein, was an enquiry as to whether he’d consider expanding Bristol’s outreach mission? In several days other London Society branches would find folded and salubrious C.V.s and notes of commendation.

Duncan Robbins noticed the same handwriting when he got to a letter for the Archbishop of Canterbury; but there was so much more sorting in front of him.

“For God’s sake,” Robbins said to himself.


Featured Image Attribution: Mount Pleasant Sorting Office, British History: Survey of London

Ignacz The Watch Thief is serialised five days a week. To donate go to patreon.com/andyluke and access four advance chapters, commentaries or bonus art.


5.4 The Synod

Hundreds upon hundreds filled the pews. Archbishop Bond held up a hand. The organs brought song. Troop led them in prayer, then spoke warmly of Trebitsch, his friend. He was a wonder; they would hear from him and feel the love he felt: a great witness for God.

Trebitsch flipped to the Acts of the Apostles. He introduced himself as born in Hungary where he’d a high record at Pressburg and the Budapesth Universities, the Royal Academy for Art and Literature.  He moved them with the achievements of the Mission.

“I have the utmost faith in the power of the cross to break the heart of the stubborn Jew. It’s a message not exclusive to any denomination. A Jew understands God as One, and we must meet them as One. I am eternally grateful to the London Society and the Anglican Church, though just one aspect of God’s work. However to begin with the Hebrews, or even the Muslims, atheists and agnostics we must appear to them without any division from God. That is why I propose a new Board of Missions: an independent body, here in Montreal. One which will conduct its own affairs, from the heart of our base in Lagaucetiere Street.”


Margarethe sat in floral spring dress. On the bed in the Mission House spare room she sat, still, like a hawk. Her hands were clasped with her mother beside, in purple. Neither flinched.

Downstairs, Trebitsch listened as he read Burt’s note; denial of a pay increase. Then he made his way up to his wife. The stairs creaked. He put his black sleeve on the door rail.

“Jozsef told me,” he said.

Margarethe’s right eye shifted. Her mother began to cry.

“I’m coming with you,” he said.

Margarethe’s face flushed.

“Better to be of use to my family in Hamburg!” he said.

“Mrs. Kahlor erupted. “Oh Kate, my beloved Kate…”


Ignacz The Watch Thief is serialised five days a week. To donate go to patreon.com/andyluke and access four advance chapters, commentaries or bonus art.

5.3 Halifax

The expansive railway lines pushed Halifax back from the sea, made islands of tiny cottages and the odd factory. Shattering chat, steel wheels heaving, chugging by the spires of the port and many shaped roofs, domes and parapets. The honeycomb of smaller windows locked in ten-storey brick Shaw Lodge Mills, smoke stacks blowing over the patches of mud-stone, a canal dehydrated. Burt and Trebitsch disembarked to carts in the pavilion of the Intercolonial Railway Station (booked through Weland), and made a steep walk up to North Street.

The journey to North End was lamps and canopies, The National Boot Store, Haig’s with its tiny windows of tiny things. Then commerce fell away to flickering trees on lawns in the North End, tall two-floor houses more and more stand-offish.  On Grand Parade the broad greens like a golf course and the town clock citadel on Grand Parade peeking above, as if buried in hill. Just beyond was St. Paul’s: oldest building in town; first church in Canada .

Trebitsch took the pulpit, on high.

The away crowd was a stranger’s respite, Burt noted, and the next day they went back to the canopies and shops; then came the familiar interruptions. The type of Jew known to clergy there, married to argument ‘til death do we. Trebitsch laughed it off and kept up with their changing tongues.

“At least they don’t have cudgels this time,” said Burt.

“They should be paying me more,” said Trebitsch.


He prepared a big report for London. London wanted to know everything, double stamp minor matters. Troop guided him to the press: Jewish Missionary Intelligence and The Canadian Churchman each learned he was averaging a hundred and fifty meetings a month. The harder he worked, the harder it got. More mission, more rail-fare. Margarethe was pregnant again, due in five months. The month’s stipend had to be subtracted. Captain Kahlor’s bursary had ended, yet here he was feeding the Captain’s wife.

Jozsef has no job, constant interruptions!


On December 6th, he took a day off, almost. The drop of mail in the hall brought him to open Bond’s invitation. He’d been invited him to speak to the Synod of the Diocese. He was at once honoured, and angered.

“The opportunity…” he said to himself, “but more work!”

He went back and forward in his emotions. A large audience respect my every word of struggle on the streets. Institutionally shielded in formalities, salaries, desk missionaries! The highest of the holiest and me, centre-stage! Explaining to them their mission, those conceited men! The thoughts made him uncomfortable. He thought of Burt and himself against Hebrews: stood leaning into his door, in love with the sound of their own voices. No ears. The Anglicans, all McCarter’s age, except Frank Burt: younger, yes, more energy for the city.  That’s when the idea came.


Featured Image Attribution: Halifax Town Hall from Corn Market, 1900, FrancisFirth.com

Ignacz The Watch Thief is serialised five days a week. To donate go to patreon.com/andyluke and access four advance chapters, commentaries or bonus art.

5.2 Tea with the Archbishop

“Yeah. Go on!”

Driver lashed stoking horse-hide: glop, gallop; clopping across Rue Lagaucetiere. Wind streaming the Archbishop’s cloak. Bond knock-knocked, the blue paint not worn:  no answer. Again the late Autumn breeze wafting white beard, he knock-knocked. Swarthy skin and black haired Jozsef answered.

“Yes. Hello?”

“Hello. I’m looking for the Deacon,” said Bond.

“Huh?” said Jozsef.

“Decon Trebitsch.”

“He’s not here.”

“Ah. Is Margarethe around?”

The lad brought Bond in out of the trees, closed the door on their shifting shades.

“Come this way,” he said, and they stepped up by the banister.

“I don’t believe we’ve met,” said Bond.

“My name’s Jozsef, Ign—Timothy’s brother, visiting…from out of town.”

“Oh, well. Welcome to Montreal, Joseph,” said Bond.

The door to the parlour opened and a toddler ran at them, missing intended Jozsef, embracing Bond’s cloak and taking a swim in it. Bond patted his head.

“Julius, come here,” said the old woman, German accent.

Margarethe, ran to the boy and scooped him up, despite the lack of flesh on her body. Her dress, bland brown, had a low neck-line. Her face sculpted in granite. “I’m sorry, Archbishop.”

“Quite alright. Unless, maybe I’m intruding?”

“No, sir. This is my mother, of Hamburg, and Jozsef…”

Mrs. Kahlor was impressed and fixed Bond with a full course of questions. Polite, she was but the cleric wanted to know about Timothy, who was out of town. He was concerned about Margarethe.

“Recovering,” she said, presenting tea and biscuits.

Mrs Kahlor drew him out on his time as a missionary to the Indians and the stories of Kate, Margarethe’s sister. Was he coping with the switch from Eastern to Atlantic time? Wasn’t the new Canadian Pacific Railway useful?

“A terrible business at that school in Altona: the Lord punish Henry Toews,” she said.

When young Julius swam in Bond’s robes it brought a pause to her witterings. Jozsef, who had hardly had chance for a word announced suddenly he’d come from South Africa. It was pure chance he’d run into his brother in Montreal.

“You must pass on my hearty congratulations,” said Bond. “He’ll achieve great things. In fact, I’d not be the least surprised to see him step into my shoes.”

“The next Archbishop of Montreal?” said Mrs. Kahlor. “Oh my, did you hear that! Margarethe, can you imagine it? Wait until Kate hears. Such a thing!”


Ignacz The Watch Thief is serialised five days a week. To donate go to patreon.com/andyluke and access four advance chapters, commentaries or bonus art.

5.1 Grief

May, 1902

Fast carriage splintered wheel on cobbles; Margarethe screaming in the haze. Robert’s effort: a cry, expelled some demon. Timotheus looked away, out to breathe the hospital turrets and crenels. White tiles stinking of carbolic acid gust through open door. She fainted, a sad sack on tiles.

She refused to leave the boy. Wailed in husband’s arms, smacked him. He had to look out, down to footpath chimney sweeps. That night he dreamed of the awards:  a hall with millions of bodies. Each push forward pushed back. Margarethe kicked the sheets. She clutched him tight, with nails. She destroyed the kitchen.

“Vaccinated for smallpox and anthrax.”

All those needles, blistering fear. “No,” she called as violent tide, going under.  Beyond limestone he waits with carriage. Unfinished children’s hospital: girders on soil, spade, a window plate on risen gravel. Towards Mount Royal’s trees a hawk makes a fuss, for warblers. Lovers and doggers cavort.

He had to go back to Burt. Trauma scratched his skin always. Margarethe didn’t talk. Benjamin and Deanna, who minded young Julius, sat in the parlour. It wasn’t tuberculosis or cholera. It was unknown. The mother in the same brown seat: melting, except when trembling carpet. So little Robert for them to speak of, sometimes she locked herself away.

The mother thrashed against the doors of the carriage banging horse along St. Lawrence River. That road, to Verdun, in countryside: a hive of brown bricked windows eager to impress. Nurse explained he’d leave her to recreation, nutrition, toiling soil. The accursed flat was empty and sick. Heckling Jews he sent into tears.

Deanna wasted spuds and mutton on him. Her stay, her parlour form: to comfort and block the spinning, swirling descent. He wanted to out-live, in some moment. She knew, and opened her way to his; threw her head back as he squeezed her firm breasts; sunk his head in hers; this grief rash on feeble brown carpet and old stove potatoes muted by sex.

Benjamin never knew, ignorant among the crowd at 374 Lagaucetiere Street. Trebitsch didn’t feel two months. Three storeys rising from well stared ground, Hebrew sign above the door: his life’s stage, a chasm with Bond, the Archbishop, Burt, Scrimger, Troop. “The top two for recuperation.”

The boxes of Griffintown gave up weary, into shelter of God, who is one.


Image Attribution: Verdun Protestant Insane Asylum, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World!, Genealogy: Beyond the BMD.

Ignacz The Watch Thief is serialised five days a week. To donate go to patreon.com/andyluke and access four advance chapters, commentaries or bonus art.