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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison

The Expedition

Cruthers dropped, exhausted, to his knees. ‘I can’t go on. Leave me here to die.’

Shakleton looked down at the trembling figure. ‘Chin up, man. It’s only one more floor to my apartments. The rest of the team are already there waiting to plan the polar venture.’

Cruthers hauled himself up the remaining flight and entered Shakleton’s rooms.

‘May I introduce Ernest Cruthers.’ Shakleton addressed the assembled group. ‘He is joining the expedition at the request of his father, our sponsor.’

Mrs Perkins, Shakleton’s cook and housekeeper, had laid out a small buffet. It was this that immediately caught Cruthers’ attention. ‘It’s mine,’ he shouted as he rushed to the food and began to consume voraciously. ‘Sorry about that,’ he said self-consciously when the pangs of hunger had abated. ‘It’s been three hours since lunch at the Savoy. I feared I might be compelled to consider cannibalism.’ He tapped the holster of his revolver.

Blashford-Smythe spoke. ‘Have you done many expeditions?’

‘Outside Hampstead you mean?’


‘I went to Stepney once. Terrible place. Impossible to get decent foie gras.’ Cruthers paused to reflect on the experience. ‘Panicked a bit, I’m afraid. Ended up shooting four of the locals. Luckily, they were the poor. Nevertheless, if it hadn’t been for Father’s connections...’

‘Gentleman, shall we focus on our task?’ Shakleton laid a map of the Antarctic on the dining table. The others gathered round. ‘We land here at Icedeath Point and then it’s two hundred miles of walking to the Pole.’

Cruthers was the first to speak. ‘Where are the roads?’

‘There aren’t any.’

Cruthers was puzzled. ‘Then how do the hotels on the route get their deliveries?’

‘There aren’t any hotels,’ clarified Shakleton. ‘We carry all our tents and supplies.’

Cruthers looked pale. ‘Excuse me, I must go to the bathroom,’ he said, hurriedly leaving the room.

‘You know, Shakleton,’ said Blashford-Smythe when Cruthers had gone, ‘taking him will put the whole expedition at risk in the South West Passage.’

‘God, is he one of those too?’ questioned Frobisher in alarm.

Shakleton appeared solemn. ‘His father and I feared that he would endanger us all at some point and might need to be shot for the greater good of all.’ He sighed and continued. ‘To be honest, his father was rather hoping for it, as that would dispose of the idiot. Death on a polar expedition would also bring honour on his family.’ He drew his army revolver. ‘I was rather assuming, however, that such a grave decision would not be necessary so early in the expedition.’

‘You don’t have to bear this alone, Shakleton.’ Blashford-Smythe drew his revolver. ‘This is a joint responsibility.’

‘Aye,’ came the chorus. The other fifteen raised their weapons just as Cruthers re-entered the room.

He saw the guns but was barely able to say ‘Look chaps, I said I was sorry about the buffet...’ before the deafening fusillade. Then there was silence.

‘Will you tell his father?’ Blashford-Smythe asked Shakleton.

‘Yes, that’s no problem.’ He looked at Cruthers’ body and reflected that seventeen bullets made a lot more mess than one to clean up. ‘I am very anxious, however, about what Mrs Perkins will say.’