"It was 1960, but I can remember as if it were yesterday." Phillimore puffed at his pipe, but it had gone out. Another match flared and he held it to the bowl, sucking and gurgling interminably until a satisfying billow of smoke finally rose fragrantly past the rows of rusty leather books to the yellowed ceiling.
"1960. Arthur Saxby sent for me in his office. I was a junior in the Company then, and of course, all I could think was 'what have I done wrong this time?' But it seemed I had done nothing. 'Sit down, Phillimore, ' he said. 'Smoke?' Well, I didn't in those days, not even a pipe. But old Saxby lit up a cigar and he told me this story. It was a strange story; so strange that it has been with me ever since. Not just the story, but his instructions, and most of all ... the legacy."
"The legacy? Sir Arthur left you money?"
"Not money, no. Something, in its way, far richer. A secret, certainly. You know old Saxby's office? I remember the way it looked that morning: the sun coming in through the windows, beams of sunlight shining through the dust and cigar smoke. The old boy leaned back in his revolving chair and plonked his feet on the desk. I remember he asked me if I was comfortable, because it was going to be a long story."
Phillimore puffed harder on his pipe, which was now going like a bonfire, and smelling like one, as well. "You comfortable, boy? Let me tell you what he told me..."
Sir Arthur Saxby's Story
"You remember, Phillimore, back in '25, there was all that fuss in the Company about the expedition to Periguolo? I was on that expedition, although, mercifully, I wasn't there for the messy ending. I got away, clean away, on the penultimate boat to leave the island. The Cassowary it was, Captain Chivers, mixed cargo bound for Glasgow. No questions asked. I went on board with my boxes and my bearers. The bearers went ashore and we sailed within the hour on the last day of June, 1925. We docked at Glasgow six weeks later.
"Some arrangements must have been made to get me and my baggage ashore quietly. We never even saw a customs officer. A reserved carriage on the overnight sleeper to Euston, where there was a cabbie waiting to whisk me across to Paddington, and half an hour later I was enjoying breakfast on a Great Western train heading for Cornwall. Marvellous bit of arranging, boy! Like to shake that man's hand, whoever was responsible. But I digress.
"We fetched up in Falmouth, and there was a boat literally waiting at the quayside. Everything aboard, and away in ten minutes, no questions asked, not a word to a living soul. We disembarked on what was virtually a desert island in the river estuary. I thought, all those bloody thousands of miles across the seven seas, and here I am, back in dear old Blighty, on a bloody desert island!
"That was when I finally unpacked everything for the first time. I'd had the boxes opened secretly on the ship, of course, but this was the first time the lid had been off the big one, and the cargo unloaded. It was a bit unpleasant in there, after all that time, but I got it emptied, and cleaned everything up, then I just stood there and had a good look at her.
"She'd have been about sixteen, I suppose, although it was impossible to tell, as they had no idea of age on Periguolo. But she was a perfect example of everything I had discovered during my research on the expedition. Of course, that was all that did come off Periguolo, the rest of the party were thrown in the stewpot, cooked and eaten; at least, they never found hide nor hair.
"I called her Daisy, because the first thing she picked up when I took her outside was a daisy. Just as well she didn't pick up one of the dog's turds, I suppose! She was still dressed in her native clobber all the way home, but I'd had to burn all that stuff when I stripped her down for cleaning, so she was naked as a jaybird for the whole of that first day, until I sent for some clothes for her. And what a creature! All their women were like her, of course. All gone, now, after the army landed on Periguolo later that year. Wiped the lot out - or all they could find - so Daisy was the last of the line.
"I just sat and watched her walking around, feeling the strength of her legs slowly returning after the long weeks cooped up at sea. Her lovely face, little turned-up nose, those damned luscious lips, the long black hair, light brown skin, her legs - God, so powerful - her muscular body. And of course, those bloody tits!
"Around that time, the twenties, bosoms weren't in fashion. You'd think women'd never had any, the way they hid the damned things. But not young Daisy! She couldn't have hidden hers if she'd tried! They were enormous things. They must've bounced up and down about a foot when she was just walking, and when she ran, well! Stand well clear, what, what!
"I totally misjudged the size of the clothes she'd need - I hadn't much experience of that sort of thing - and I had to send out for something much bigger. But when I finally got her dressed after a couple of days, I found I couldn't look at her like a bloody native any more. She began to look wonderful, in her skirt and outsized shirt, blouse, whatever you call the damned things. And she was so helpful, loyal, devoted. She worshipped the very ground I trod on. She found out what I liked to eat, and she cooked it, but in such subtly different ways. I never found out what some of the things were she used in her cooking. Herbs and stuff like that; she must have found them on the seashore. Then after dinner, she would come and curl up at my feet like a dog, and stay there until bedtime.
"Well, I suppose it was just a matter of time. One evening - it was winter, and bloody cold. Wet snow sweeping in across the estuary. Oh, it wouldn't stay long once it fell - not that far South, and with the sea so close and everything - but it could be dashed unpleasant while it lasted. And of course, Daisy had never seen the like of it. She went outside to collect some of her herbs or what-not, and she was a long time coming back. It was getting dark when I went out to look for her, and she'd fallen on a slippery patch and turned her ankle over.
"Carried her back to the cottage, laid her down on her bed, and the tears pouring down her little cheeks and all because she wouldn't be able to get her master's meal. I took her a drink, made her a drop of soup, and she sat up in bed and cried her eyes out, and I cuddled her, the little mite. And one thing sort of led to another.
"What a night! I'd known some British girls before I went to Periguolo, and we'd had some wild times at parties. I ended up in one or two beds, I'll admit. But Daisy! Just as she'd been inventive with her cooking, she was inventive in bed as well. I learned more in that first night than in my first quarter of a bloody century!
"Needless to say, she never slept in her own bed again after that! The first baby was born in the following October. A little girl. We had more at regular intervals from then on. And even though I was travelling across three times a week to the office in Falmouth, Daisy and the children never left the island. Never occurred to them. Island people, don't y' know!
"When she died, she can only have been about forty years old. I was shattered by it, I can tell you. Ten years ago, and still it hits me. I still expect her to come around the corner of the woods with a couple of young 'uns trailing along behind her, and a baby at her breast. Her breast! They never got any smaller, you know. Bigger in fact! And the children, they took after their mother. It's as well I was a devotee of large bosoms by then! But they didn't survive. There were five children, three girls then two boys. They reached their twenties but they were weakening all the time.
"Oldest two daughters, River and Flower, she called them. She loved the sounds of those words. They fell pregnant. All mine, of course. And when Daisy died, I decided to uproot myself and get off this God-forsaken island, children and all. The Company looked after the arrangements again. We settled here, in the hills, River and Flower with their babies, and they looked after them. Both girls. They were only about five when their mothers died. That left just them ... and me. Nobody else!
"They're fourteen now. And it's time to hand over to a younger man. That's why I've sent for you, Phillimore. Time for you to take over..."
Back To 2002
Phillimore's pipe needed lighting again. It took a while.
"And with that, Sir Arthur rang a bell on his desk. The door opened behind me, and I heard someone come into the office. I didn't look over my shoulder, it seemed rude, somehow. So when these two girls came round and stood one each side of him, I was taken by surprise. No, it was more than that. I was flabbergasted. They were just ordinary girls, fourteen, Saxby had said they were. But from what he'd told me about their grandmother, I could see who they took after. Lovely, lovely girls. And their breasts were huge. Not just huge, I mean, what's the word? Bloody outrageous!" Phillimore shook his head at the memory of that first meeting.
"Those two kids just stood there next to old Saxby, and I was goggling at them. They wore simple, white dresses, thin cotton, and although they concealed everything pretty well, there was no way of concealing those breasts. My God, they were huge! And you know what Saxby said to me? 'They're yours, old boy, ' he said. That's all he said. 'They're yours, old boy! Take them with you. I won't see them again!'
"And he didn't. I took the girls away with me, after a few formalities about their clothes and things. Saxby was dead within three weeks."
The man's wretched pipe had gone out again. Phillimore stared at it sadly, then upturned the bowl and knocked it against the ashtray. He looked up into my eyes, his face melancholy.
"But you must be wondering why I called you in to see me. I want you to come down to my place this weekend. There's something I have to show you."
I parked the Audi at the front of Phillimore's house. Nice little place. Outbuildings, orchards, bit of land. He'd done all right. Had a good war, as they say. Made a bit of money in armaments. He came out, holding out his hand.
"Splendid, old chap. You made good time. I'll get Mrs Willson to go ahead with lunch, have a glass before we go in..."
Still rabbitting away, he led me into the study. We sank into leather armchairs. While he talked, my eyes were wandering around the room. Old Phillimore seemed to have a lot of photographs. Most of them showed the same few people, or some very similar people. Women, girls, very long dark hair. Amazing bodies, from what I could tell without getting up from my chair and looking closely. One doesn't like to be rude.
He'd seen me looking at the pictures anyway. "You've noticed the photos, then. You can hardly miss 'em. It's all I'll have soon. But more of that anon," he added as a gong sounded. He had quite a struggle getting out of his armchair. "Let's take a spot of lunch."