“You there! Jones! How are the preparations coming along? We don’t have much time!” he barked, pointing at a young man in safari wear.
“They’re doing well, Sir. Don’t worry, we won’t be long now,” replied Jones.
Sir Charles marched around the room, hands clasped behind his back. He peered over shoulders and prodded knapsacks on his tour of the study. Satisfied with the progress of his team, he paused in front of the large portrait of his father. The painting hung opposite the door, dominating the room. Severe eyes hid beneath bushy eyebrows, and a handlebar moustache disguised a cruel sneer. The famous explorer posed on a beach, surrounded by the natives of the island he once discovered.
“I will do the family proud, Papa. You may have my word,” muttered Sir Charles.
“Sir? Sir? I think we’re ready.”
Sir Charles turned around to face his team. None of his father’s band of explorers wanted anything to do with Sir Charles, a man they claimed could not discover his own lavatory. Instead, he’d hired enthusiastic youths from the nearest village. The farmhands and shop boys would do nicely. He consulted his pocket watch. It wouldn’t be long.
“Team, I’ve assembled you all here to make ready our expedition into the final frontier!”
“Yorkshire?” asked a buck-toothed lad at the front.
“No, you simpleton. We shall venture into a land that no living man has as yet seen!”
“So Yorkshire then.”
Some of the lads snickered, but fell silent beneath Sir Charles’ withering gaze. At least, Sir Charles liked to think it was his withering gaze, but he knew it was more likely the prospect of the loss of a few shillings that would hush the boys.
“Girl I used to know, she said one day man would go to the moon. All the way up into the sky! Is that right, Sir Charles? Are we going to the moon?” asked a blond youth at the back.
“Don’t be silly, man was never intended to leave solid ground. No, we shall be crossing the Styx to explore the land beyond!”
“What land is beyond some sticks? Is that the county on the other side of the woods?” asked the buck-toothed lad.
Sir Charles rolled his eyes, regretting his choice of that particular youth. Time was running out and he wanted to explain his plan first. He flicked open the pocket watch again.
“No. We shan’t be travelling to Yorkshire, or the next county. Instead, we shall venture across the river Styx, to chart the land of the dead!” boomed Sir Charles. He rocked back on his heels, a satisfied smirk on his ruddy face.
“How will we do that, Sir?” asked Jones.
“Well, we will have to die first, but once that necessity is out of the way, we shall journey into the land of the dead and make our discoveries! We may encounter any manner of things, but I propose that we shall be the first to do so with a firm agenda!”
“I don’t want no part of that. I’ve got to milk the cows tomorrow, my dad’ll kill me if I’m dead,” said the blond youth.
“Unfortunately, you have little choice in the matter any longer. I dispensed a slow-acting poison into your refreshments earlier, so that we may all go together. We don’t want to get to the other side and be separated,” replied Sir Charles.
“Sir, I do have one question,” said Jones.
“Very well.” Sir Charles consulted the pocket watch again. Only a few moments more.
“How are we going to come back to tell everyone what we’ve found?” asked Jones.
Sir Charles’ face fell.
“Oh. I hadn’t thought of-”
* * *