Chapter II

London 1890

In the office of The Daily Guardian Mitch Alpert hunched over his desk piecing together the scraps of telegraphs he collected from the home office over the past week. The information was displayed in front of him like a disorganized puzzle, each section held a few sentences he was attempting to reconstruct into a larger story he could formulate before his approaching deadline.
The office was covered in blackness except for Mitch’s desk illuminated by his personal oil lamp surrounded by his coworker’s shadowed desks.
The room was silent except for the random flash of lightening followed by the clap of thunder and continuous fall of rain against the building’s windows.
“Famed Explorer Missing in Free State of Congo” read the bold print at the top of the telegraph in Mitch’s hand, the smaller text bellow described in further detail the exploits of the infamous hunter and his last known whereabouts before he was reported missing by the contracted company that sent him into that region.
Mitch was currently tasked by his superiors to follow up with the ongoing European turmoil of the West African Colonies, the previous year he won a commendation and notoriety for writing a significant piece on the impact of the West African Conference specifically on the trade agreements arranged there after. Recent developments exposed a forthcoming feud between France and Her Majesties England regarding expansion into undeclared regions of the dark continent.
A gloved hand grasped his shoulder and Mitch quickly turned to find his sister’s husband Michael Allen standing behind him with a cheerful grin despite his apparent dampness from being outside in the rain.
“What news heralds form the Guardian at this hour Mitch?”
Michael removed his wet hat and took off his gloves placing both on the desk opposite from Mitch’s, he pulled out the chair belonging to the same desk and sat across from his old friend.
Michael and Mitch knew each other from childhood and both went to Cambridge to study. Mitch went into writing and journalistic studies while Michael concentrated on business though both stayed in constant contact throughout their years. After they left Cambridge they both subsequently returned to the outskirts of London where Michael was hired as the manager of a telegraph station which happened to be the same one that Mitch’s sister was working. Shortly after they began to court and then eventually  married, Michael would leave the telegraph business making connections by means of working as a telegrapher into futures trade and commodities, specifically oils.
“Nothing of interest, just piecing together a follow up from a previous article I had written.” replied Mitch who turned away from his friend to organize his papers preparing to leave for the night.
Michael stood up and looked over Mitch’s shoulder at the stack of papers, he leaned in and picked up the paper his friend was just holding reading every sentence. Mitch turned his head and watched Michael’s eyes dart left to right as he read the information on the telegraph.
“This fellow is missing in the Congo Free State?” asked Michael holding out the paper for Mitch to take back.
“It is believed so, telegraph was sent out by the insurer of the company in which he was employed, primarily to avoid any financial responsibility.”
“Do you think some savage man eater or beast was at hand?”
“I doubt it. Most logical explanation is a native army or warring faction. More likely is the man fell and suffered from a horrid infection, he is probably decomposing in some dark corner of Africa now.”
“Morbid Mitch.” Michael said with a disgusted grimace.
“Well Africa is full of the macabre and bleak.”
“And that is exactly why I stay in England, where the only cheerless quality one needs to worry about is terrible tea.”
“There is so much unknown about the region, much we need to understand.” Mitch said waiving his hands over his desk as a display of all of the papers on his before him.
Michael removed a folded paper from inside his coat pocket and handed it to Mitch who stared at it in puzzlement before taking it in his hands and carefully opening it up.
“What is this?” asked Mitch
“The Colonial office in Westminster has requested a meeting with you and I. It does not say much but coincidentally it explains that your political knowledge of the colonies and my experience in trade is needed in important matters to be discussed.” said Michael.
“When do they want our presence?”
“Three days from today. If you would like you could stay in the guest room and we could leave together by train.”
“You already agreed on my behalf?” said Mitch flatly.
“I am sorry my old friend but I do not imagine this is a optional request.” replied Michael.
“No, I can’t imagine either.” Mitch said looking over the paper.
They sat in silence as Mitch read the letter over a few times futilely attempting to reveal some secret message as to what the meeting could possibly pertain to,Michael stood up and picked his hat and gloves off the desk pushing the chair back in it’s original spot.
“Come along now, Margaret expects your company tonight and we both know she will have both or heads if you decline.” said Michael
Mitch stood up from his desk and walked over to the hanger on the wall removing his own coat and hat, while putting them on he waited by his desk until his friend opened the office door allowing light from gas fixtures in the hall to enhance visibility before turning off his own desk lamp.

They took a two person horse drawn carriage across town to the area of London where Michael and Margaret lived. The Allens afforded to reside in the upper middle class area in a terraced house “Regency style”, built with brick their home was two stories with a windowed attic under a slanted slate roof and during the summer displayed a beautiful garden under their sash windows.
The rain slowed to a steady drizzle by the time their carriage approached the house, as the men entered they could hear Margaret calling for their servant Nancy to help them remove their coats and make sure the “boys”- as she referred to them- did not get the floor too wet.
Nancy was a women in her mid 40’s and had been employed by Mitch’s sister and brother-in-law for the past 5 years, she had her own accommodations reserved for her towards the back of the house. Nancy came over to the two men with confidence yet with a standoffish approach for her respected employer, she helped remove Michael’s coat first followed by his hat and gloves. Mitch took off his own garments and handed them to Nancy who held the apparel steadily with both arms.
“Nancy will you start a fire for Mitch and I in the study?” asked Michael
“It is already set for you sir at the request of Mrs. Allen.” said Nancy.
“That is splendid, and where is Mrs. Allen now?”
“Upstairs getting ready for dinner Mr. Allen.”
“Wonderful.” said Michael “Come along Mitch let us have a drink before the feast, Nancy please inform us when dinner is prepared.”
“Of course sir.” Nancy replied with slight bend of the knee resembling a  bow before moving down the hall to hang the damp cloths in the closet.
Michael and Mitch were about to set off into the study to warm in front of the fire before Margaret presented herself at the top of the stairs.
“My boys will not be going any where without saying hello to their lady first.” she called down to them.
Margaret stood at the top of the carpeted steps, a women in her early 30’s with auburn hair curled down lightly over her shoulders wearing a radiant teal dress.
She elegantly made her way down to the entrance floor and smiled at both of them hugging each as well as giving them a kiss on the cheek.
“Mitch I am so glad you agreed to dinner.” she said embracing her brother.
“From what I was told it was a requirement.” Mitch answered teasing his sister on her reliable insistence. Margaret and Mitch were close in age Mitch being two years her senior. As children they were not inseparable but it was not strange to see Michael partaking in Margaret’s games or Mitch permitting her to tag along in his boyish adventures. When Michael approached Mitch on the subject of seeing his sister on a romantic level it gladdened his heart that Margaret found such an honorable man to care for her, not that Margaret needed a man. She was much like their mother, independent in style and class and was quick to brush off social standards of a obedient and submissive women. When Margaret finished with primary schooling she was eager to enter into the work force. With more and more telegraphic openings there was opportunity for young women to fill the need so Margaret jumped on the availability at once. Mitch always felt that was what attracted Michael to Margaret in the first place, her drive to be self sufficient and rejection of being perceived as a weak and helpless women.
After Mitch and Michael sat for a time in front of the fire place enjoying a pre-dinner cognac Nancy came to the study to announce that the first course was about to be served. The men entered the living room with the table set and a never used candelabra on top of the table cloth in the center. It was common now in many houses to have electrical lamps throughout the home, though sometimes they were said to be finicky and many households kept multiple candelabras around in case of an outage, though the Allens never experienced such a disruption.
They each had a glass of wine at dinner and the first course was sweat breads and peas. After Nancy cleared the plates she brought out the main course of Veal Cutlets, stuffed tomatoes and a dish of fried artichokes which Mitch couldn’t help but inhale in a ferocious manner.
“This is fantastic, what is this dish called?” asked Mitch in between a fork full of helpings
“It is called Gouffe, a creation by the brother of Queen Victoria’s Head Pastry Chef Alphonse.” said Margaret smiling at her brother’s enjoyment as well as a bit of gloating.
“Where did you get this recipe?” inquired Mitch.
“Nancy. She recounted for me a recent French cook book translated into English, it is the newest dish fancied by the Lords and Ladies of Upper class.” with an increased tone of boasting in her voice.
“The French! Their continuous naked expansion and aggression into Her Majesties colonial regions should be met with a swift hand.” scoffed Michael.
“You sound like one of my editors.” Mitch said picking up his wine glass and taking a sip.
“Their blatant attempts at linking the Nile and Niger interlope on our trade routes and completely go against the principles agreed upon in the West African Conference.”
“Michael I am astonished at your recounting for the rhetorical jargon being administered by Parliament.” said Mitch.
“Rhetorical Jargon? How is that Mitch?”
“The reports from military officials in the area say nothing of aggressive action on part of the French army, actually they are contrary to that and say the contact between armies are most civil.”
“Then why are the papers-such as The Guardian I may add-displaying a picture of oncoming dissension in the eastern area?” asked Michael.
“Perhaps our own expansive agenda to connect southern colonies to eastern colonies? The area in question is considered unclaimed and according to the principles founded in the conference are there for equally anyone’s to lay claim to.”
“You should be careful with talk outside of this house on that. One could accuse you of blasphemy against The Crown” Michael replied without any hint of anger or emotion.
“All I am insinuating my old friend is that everyone has a motive when it comes to political strife. Maybe your trade concern has more to do with your vestment in Palm oils and free trade routes than nationalistic ideals of French against England?”
“Again you once more display my hypocrisy for all to see, well done old boy.” Michael said lightly slamming his hand down on the table.
“Well I have had enough of watching you both displaying your manhood from across the table. Mitch will you be staying the night?” interrupted Margaret.
“I am sorry dear sister but I am unable to.”
“He will be staying the night Thursday. We have an important meeting in Westminster, Mitch agreed to accompany us the evening prior for dinner and perhaps some games.” Michael said looking at Mitch for agreement.
“Fantastic news. You will not be leaving tonight before desert will you? Nancy has prepared a berry toast that compliments the wine.”
“Sounds wonderful.” said Mitch smiling at his sister.
“And I have a cigar that compliments it all, as well as more prodding on your favoritism of French politics.” interrupted Michael.
“That sounds dreadful Michael, but as a dutiful guest I will oblige to your insistence.”
All three picked up their glasses in a silent toast and took a sip of the wine, the rain picked up again and a continuous clap of thunder filled the void of agreed silence while they waited for Nancy to serve desert.

The Office of Colonial Development was located in the Building of Foreign and Provincial Affairs in Westminster, it was a large gray stone building taking up most of Horse Guards Road and Chambers Street. Mitch and Michael arrived a half hour early and were directed into a large conference room with a table that was long enough to hold 9, after 15 minutes of waiting three men walked into the room and sat on the opposite side of the table. All three sported either black or grey blazers, vests and neck ties displaying a sense of respectability. Michael fancied himself as a man who knew how to dress appropriately but could not help but admire all three of their suits. The man in the middle had a full grown black beard while the other two men on either side of him donned mustaches and side burns.

“Good day gentleman, I am William Robert- Under Secretary of State. These men are Herman Rogers and Fredric Meade, members on the Board of Trade and Plantation.” said the bearded man in the middle.
“My name is Michael Allen and this is my long time compatriot and brother-in-law Mitch Alpert.” Michael responded standing up shaking each man’s hand, Mitch repeating the gesture when introduced.
“Gentleman we have asked you to come today specifically because of an international situation at hand that you both could assist us with.” said Mr. Robert
“What international situation?” asked Mitch.
“Well Mr. Alpert, for one we are very well versed on your coverage of the Berlin Conference. Displaying your understanding of current events in the colonial African regions.” said Mr. Roberts.
” It has also been brought to our attention that Mr. Allen has applied for permits for  imports of rubber productions originating from South America. Is that correct?” asked Mr. Meade.
” Are we under inquiry? I have broken no laws pertaining to my permits in past and future and Mitch’s work has been commended not only by peers at his paper but  Parliamentary officials as well.” Michael asked with a slight defensive tone.
“You are under no inquiry Mr. Allen I can assure you,”  Mr. Robert insisted.
” Mr. Alpert, you are familiar with the articles established in Berlin six years prior?” asked Mr. Rogers
“I am.” said Mitch.
“Then you are well aware of the agreed vote to abolish the slave trade and forced labor in the African colonial regions?” continued Mr. Rogers.
“It was established at the Berlin Conference that European public sentiment was to discontinue persecution of natives on the continent.” replied Mitch.
“That is correct.There is however one nation that is a concern for committing atrocities that go against our pact. It is believed King Leopold of Belgian still utilizes forced labor and practices mass executions in the Congo Free State.”
said Mr. Rogers
 “He originally agreed to end all further slavery in the region and cooperate with the eradication of Arabic slave trading. The added stipulation was an ample taxation on exports in defiance of the unconditional exchange settlement.” explained Mr. Robert
“Has this not been brought to the attention of the other nations at the conference?” asked Michael.
“Our growing tension with France has us in a political position to avoid any disagreements with alleged false accusations.” said Mr. Meade. “The Belgian government will defend their own Crown and without solid confirmation we are unable to raise objection to the illicit tariffs .”
“So you need substantial evidence before you can raise an international outcry, and I assume that is where our involvement originate?”
“Our proposition is to contract the both of you to posture as sovereign executives from a South American rubber company looking to expand operations into the African region.” answered Mr. Roberts “We believe that a major individual for  investigation is a Max Gaston Gerlache.”
 William Robert reached down between him and Mr. Meade and picked a rectangular briefcase off the floor, he opened up the case and took out 3  folders placing them on the desk. Mr. Robert opened the top folder taking out a sheet of paper and passed it to Michael and Mitch, the sheet held information with a black and white picture attached to one of the corners of Max Gerlache.
“He is an untitled Belgian noble and has been reported by sources to be a key figure placed in the Congo Basin by King Leopold himself.”
By the picture you would not be able to tell that the man was highborn,he sported a thick black mustache that curled at each side slightly up, and what hair could be seen under his safari style hat appeared white. His dress was appropriate for African temperatures wearing a thin white shirt, grey colored vest and black pants- ‘Of course it would be impossible to tell what color each article was since the picture of him was in black and white,’ thought Mitch.
“Gerlache owns multiple rubber plantations with deep connections in ivory trading. The real area of interest is his association with the International African Association and has close ties to a Captain Leon Roger of the Force Publique” said Mr. Robert.
Mitch’s eyes widened and everyone at the table could see recognition crossed his face, he looked directly at Meade then at Rogers and Roberts. Michael turned his head to face Mitch, waiting for him to shed some light on the information that everyone at the table held except for him.
“What is the Force Publique?” asked Michael.
” A private army. Infamous for their oppressive tactics in the region. Reports from foreign missionaries of rape and physical abuse are common as well as even more horrid acts I dare not mention.” said Mitch.
Mr. Robert turned  a page on the folder revealing another profile with a picture attached to the corner. It was without a doubt Captain Roger, he wore a white military suit without accommodations and a white brimmed hat with a gold emblem in the center. The most notable feature of Captain Roger’s clean shaven face was the deep anger in his eyes, it was clear even in the picture the man held a lot of hate and Mitch desired never to cross paths with him.
“The Force Publique was originally created to enforce rubber quotas, though  reports of their heinous actions are notorious. Of course the Belgian government denies all, King Leopold maintains that the Force Publique is the primary tool used for eradication of the slave trade contrary to notoriety.” Mr. Robert elaborated.
 “We believe that Captain Rogers has left the lax structure of the Force Publique and now provides his private service to Gerlache.”
“Our position is to engage Max Gerlache under the guise of South American Rubber Barons seeking to extend our operations into the African region. Then we are to somehow obtain incontestable proof of atrocious operations by Gerlache and this Captain Rogers?” clarified Michael.
“That is correct Mr. Allen. We will provide the finance necessary to make the trip there as well as your return journey home. Accounts will be set in an Amazonian bank account under the name Peruvian National Company for financial verification.”
“You will be allotted a third of the agreed upon consignment deposited into your accounts here in England prior to departure, the remaining balance will be dispensed upon return as providing us with the proof we require.” said Mr. Roberts.
“What standard of proof is required?” asked Mitch.
“Photographs would be of the most valuable though we understand would be the most problematic. A deposition from any individual willing to return back with you in exchange for asylum, preferably with close ties to Gerlache or Leopold. Of course with minimal risk of revealing your true nature. Both of your accounts accompanied by journal notes would be of prudent value is what we expect the better.” replied Mr. Rogers.
“Why is our account of such value?” asked Mitch
“Your eye for detail Mr. Alpert, also the factor that both of you are men are of admired stature and not connected with any government office. Of course a stipulation with the agreement is that in future circumstances you may be called upon to testify before an international committee on behalf of Parliament.” said Mr. Roberts.
“Mr. Allen’s knowledge of business men and rubber production combined with import trade is essential in creating believable facade for the true intentions of your visit.” spoke Mr. Meade.
 “Well you men do not look like the type to accept a refusal, I am game. Mitch what are your thoughts?”
 Mitch was motionless, he stared down at the picture of Captain Leon Rogers.
‘Mitch?” Michael repeated breaking Mitch’s deep concentration.
” Am I permitted to publish my own journal notes and anything of interest in The Daily Guardian ?” asked Mitch. The three men looked at each other and with out saying a word conferred with a nod of the head.
“Your account in the newspaper would help with the public outcry we would need to leverage against King Leopold. Mr. Allen’s permits will also be granted immediately for use when you return back.” said Mr. Roberts
“Well gentlemen it is settled then. Where do we go on from here?” asked Michael.
“Mr. Meade has the papers in the bottom file for you to look over and sign. You depart for Lagos Colony from Southhampton on the Royal Mail Service Dunbar. From there your liaison in Lagos will provide the information and equipment needed for your trek to Gerlache’s compound in the Congo Basin. Mr. Meade will make sure you have the proper information, and once in Lagos your contact will be assisting in the recruitment of help for your journey.” said Mr. Robert. “Get home safely men.”
“I guess your hopes for never stepping foot off England are dashed” said Mitch.
“How are your sea legs my friend?”asked Michael

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