"Now is it bihovely thyng to telle
whiche been the sevene deedly synnes, this is to seyn, chiefaynes of synnes.
Alle they renne in o lees, but in diverse manneres. Now been they cleped
chieftaynes, for as muche as they been chief and spryng of alle othere synnes."
We deal, in this profoundly moral tale, with the sin of Avarice. (Moral or not, clothes will be shed, eager young bodies will be passionately fondled , tongue will seek out tongue and silky smooth SKIN will be exposed to view.)
Veronica Harmsworth was not as happy as she would wish. She had a two bedroom flat in Hampstead High Street, the result of a legacy consequent upon the death of a rich aunt, and a good job in the City. BUT... Times were hard nowadays. Working in the Square Mile was rather like being in the trenches on the Western Front. People all round her were falling. Of course, they did not die when they fell - merely collected handsome redundancy packages, but it was still a sort of death.† Her own time might come sooner than she thought.
A year ago her life had been hectic but carefree, a daily round of frenzied dealing and lunchtime and evening conviviality. Now it was different. There was less to do, but no one wanted to look idle. Liquid lunches had been eschewed and all stayed late at the office, despite having so little to do. It was not a nice life. How she longed to be out of it all!
That was why the little notice in the local free newspaper caught her eye.† "Independence! Freedom! No more nine-to-five! Be a millionairess!"
There was a telephone number to ring. Veronica picked up the phone and keyed in the number. Engaged. Well, it bloody would be, wouldnít it! She tried three more times with the same result. Oh, well! Probably a hoax anyway! One more go! "Brr Brrrng Brrrng Hello, how can I help?"
"Oh!" Veronica had hardly expected to be successful and was temporarily at a loss.
"Iím phoning about the ad in the Camden News. About being a millionairess! I think it might suit me, actually! I suppose itĎs all a joke, but IĎm so bloody fed up with life right now, IĎm game for anything!"
"Game for anything, eh?" replied the thin reedy voice on the other end of the line. It was the kind of antediluvian tone that could be coming from another age.
"Well - Iíve spoken to a few people already, but I didnít much like the sound of any of them. You sound like a breath of fresh air. Half of those other buggers were bloody foreigners - cheeky sods! May I have your address and phone number? IĎll be in touch in the next few days."
She did as the old gentleman requested, giving him her details, and replaced the telephone, her heart aflutter with a strange excitement. She told herself it was all nonsense. But there was something in the back of her mind that KNEW she was on the brink of opportunity and great adventure.
She looked at her antique grandfather clock. It was ten-thirty. Time for a quick one at the "Flask". She pulled on a sweater. It was early in the month of April and the evenings were still a little on the chilly side. In a few minutes she was at her destination.
She pushed her way through the door of her favourite pub. Somehow, as she looked around the familiar bar, the place seemed pregnant with life. The very smoke-filled air around her reeked not only of stale beer and tobacco, but of adventure. Even the ever drunken and ever aggressive Bertha, that raddled blonde with the chip on her shoulder, was unable to jolt her out of the euphoria which she had experienced ever since speaking to the old man on the phone.
As luck would have it, there were none of her usual friends here tonight. She took her drink over to the large round table in the corner and a man asked politely if he might join her. She smilingly assented and he sat in one corner, immediately taking out a book, into which he buried himself, leaving Veronica alone with her thoughts.
Of course this thing was just a hoax of some kind! People just donít go around handing out one million pounds to perfect strangers. She had met a few millionaires in her time and they were as tight-fisted a bunch of skinflints as ever walked the earth! Of course, there were exceptions to every rule. Maybe someone with more money than he/she knew what to do with; or someone with a stricken conscience was finding a way to do a bit of good to someone.
As she continued to muse about the future, she noticed that the man opposite was casting surreptitious glances at her. She began to feel awkward; finished her drink and left, noting that the fellow had returned to his book. Funny. She hadnít seen him before and at this time of night most of the customers were regulars.
That night she was tormented by strange dreams. In one of them, she found herself in the middle of a huge field and running for her life to escape from mortal danger.† If only she could reach the fence and jump over in time she might escape, but fast as she ran, the sound of pursuit grew louder and the refuge seemed to be no closer. When she woke up she was sweating and the bedclothes had fallen in a heap onto the floor. She had awakened late and would have to forgo her morning jog. This put her in a bad mood for the day.
As her day wore on, events did nothing to improve her spirits. Work was as flat as ever. Business was dead as the dodo and she knew that she would be sitting around trying to look busy for very little longer. Almost certainly she would figure in the next round of redundancies and the soul destroying task of finding another and almost certainly less remunerative job would begin.
When she returned home, there was a letter waiting for her. She did not recognise the writing and opened it wondering who it was from. It was on Savoy Hotel notepaper. After reading the first few words, she had to sit down.† It was from the mysterious would-be benefactor!
"Dear Miss Harmsworth" it started. "With regard to my recent advertisement and your kind expression of interest, I wonder if you would be good enough to visit me at the above address on Wednesday week. I look forward greatly to meeting you.
Andrew Vane-Clatworthy! Veronica knew all about him! Did she ever know all about him! The grandson of a Victorian entrepreneur who had turned on its head the old dictum about rags to riches to rags in three generations!† He had come into control of the family businesses in his twenties and massively increased their turnover. Golly! He must be pretty ancient by now! Hadnít been seen in public for years, but was still rumoured to control his multifarious business empire with a rod of iron! And HE was the man who was giving away money by the million! Wonders never cease!
She got onto the phone immediately to James Clarkson, a contact of hers, reputed to have forgotten more about the world of business and finance than any ten others knew between them. Thank goodness he was in tonight!
"Hi there James, Veronica here!† Yes I know itís been a long time... e really must get together sometime... Left it too long. Actually I had a reason for phoning (when did she ever NOT have a hard practical reason for phoning her friends!). Itís about Andrew V-Clatworthy. Whatís he been up to lately and what sort of a guy is he? I know heís a legend, but a recluse. Anything you could tell me to put flesh on the bones, so to speak? It really would be appreciated old sport!"
Several minutes later she put down the phone, very little the wiser than when she had picked it up. The old man had been rumoured to be in poor health and depressed that he had no suitable heir to pass his empire on to after his death. It seemed that one of the largest major concerns to be in family hands would soon pass into the control of the faceless men. But - added James, he was not thought to be about to pop off just yet! One thing did worry her. Although par excellence a man of his word who had never been known to go back on any agreement whether written or verbal, he was thought to have a mischievous and almost sadistic streak in him, showing itself in a love of practical joking. Just what I thought, mused Veronica.
Five days remained before her appointment. She tried to contain her impatience and concentrate on the ever more dreary round of work and leisure, aching to know how her meeting would turn out.
At long last Wednesday dawned and Veronica was standing in the foyer of the Savoy Hotel. A flunkey appeared and escorted her to Vane-Clatworthyís suite. He ushered her in and left, closing the door silently behind him.† The old man was sitting in a very comfortable looking armchair and motioned Veronica to sit opposite him on a rather less comfortable chair.
"A young woman like you doesnít need too much ease, not like arthritic old me!" he chuckled wheezily.
She looked at this living legend closely, although at the same time trying not to stare rudely. She was a good mannered girl - always had been. He was certainly old and she could see that his reference to arthritis was no passing quip. The poor man was obviously crippled by this most distressing of maladies.† But, old and infirm though he was, there was nothing feeble about the way he looked at her out of those pale blue eyes. He was obviously a man who missed nothing and was used to being obeyed. He motioned again, this time towards a drinks cabinet, and she saw again how terribly deformed his fingers were.
"Get us both a drink, my dear. If you wouldnít mind, that is. Itís such a devil of an effort to move an inch some days. Sorry not to be doing my duty as a host!"
Veronica murmured that she was delighted to help and did as requested. The old financier opted for a gin and tonic and Veronica for a mineral water. She was not a great imbiber, and despite her necessary conviviality, she never indulged in the way so many of her male (and female) colleagues were wont to do.
She sat down again, sipping occasionally and waited for him to come to the point. This he did with no further ado.
"Well, young lady. I am a busy man and you are a busy woman. I am willing to give you the sum of one million pounds on condition you perform a series of tasks for me a week from today. I will send you instructions in good time. I never go back on a bargain and I think I can say the same of you. Straight as a die - saw it the minute you walked through the door. Shake hands and weíll meet again after your task is done.† Remember to make the whole day free a week from now!"
Veronica grasped his deformed hand as gently as she could by way of sealing their bargain and her strange host rang a bell by his side. She soon found herself back in the Strand, at last believing that a fortune was soon to be hers!† One worry at the back of her mind was about the nature of the tasks she would be asked to perform. She hoped they would not be too hard, but she was a resourceful young lady and felt quietly confident, if slightly nervous.
She went back to work and applied herself to her duties, with half her mind on the future. Soon she would be leaving all the uncertainties of this world of economic down-turn and redundancy threats. What would she do with the money? She would certainly not be content with investing it and living on the interest. Not likely! This would be the springboard to some kind of business enterprise of her own! She spent the six days before her appointment with destiny going over a variety of options. On the whole she was inclined to leave England and invest in some kind of tourist/leisure enterprise in Spain or Portugal. The fact that she had a task to perform before all this could be realised was increasingly irrelevant as far as she was concerned. She would be up to whatever he wanted her to do!
And finally, the great day was here! She woke that morning feeling sick with fear. What if she blew it and ended up at the end of the day in the same hole as at the beginning? She was shaking so much that it took her twice as long to get ready as usual. She decided not to go for customary morning exercise run today. Her instructions might arrive while she was still out of the flat.
At six-fifteen the doorbell rang. She answered the bell and was handed a package by a uniformed representative of one of the more superior kind of delivery firm. She had to sign for the package. She took the parcel inside and opened it. Inside there was a letter which she opened and read. The rest of the package consisted of shoes and clothes and one small packet. The letter told her that she was to dress in these clothes and no other.
SO! Off came the clothes she had so recently put on. Off came the tights and the smart business suit and the sensible shoes and even more sensible underwear. On went the most awful clothes she had ever worn in her life!
Instead of ordinary underwear, nice navy blue comfortable passion killers, she was supposed to don some form of swimwear. Totally unlike any swimming costume she had ever worn before! Usually she favoured one-piece swimsuits of a conservative cut which failed to accentuate those fine thighs of hers - or any other of her not inconsiderable charms. This two piece bit of exiguousness was something she would not as a rule be seen dead wearing! The top was not too bad, although it did fail to cover her breasts in the way she would have liked and in some mysterious way accentuated her cleavage in a manner completely new to her. None of her previous clothes had ever done this for her!
Her twin mammary glories were more glorious than she could ever remember them as she contemplated the effect in her bathroom mirror. The two bosoms seemed about to burst out of the restraining fabric at any second and as she moved she saw them almost ripple. How could she go out like that? Looking like a tart?
It seemed that her day was about to include a visit to some swimming facility. If this were indeed so then she would probably cause a near riot! The colour was not to her liking either. Such a bright - almost fluorescent - shade of red. As for the bikini bottom, once she had worked out how to put it on, she realised, as she stroked her posterior, that it was what is called a "thong". She had heard of these things before and even seen, to her disgust, a woman wearing one once. And now she was wearing one herself and probably going to be seen in public so doing! And the same shade of red - what there was of it. Ghastly!
She continued to gaze at herself with increasing horror. The material was strong enough, but of an amazing delicacy and subtlety of texture. Each individual curl of her pubic hair seemed to be bursting through the material and announcing its presence to the world with shameless, brazen pride.
Having put on her underwear for the day, she turned her attention to the remainder of her clothing, but before she could put them on she noticed the other smaller package and opened it. It was a make up kit. Veronica did not habitually wear a lot of make-up and certainly nothing like the lipstick and nail varnish that this kit contained. Red was obviously to be the theme of the day - and how!!
She carefully put on the lipstick and stepped back a step to look at the effect. She almost fell through the floor. The natural pallor of her face showed up the bright red lipstick to great effect. No chance of passing virtually unnoticed today!†
She had not worn eye make up for years - not since she had been a slightly giddy teenager, and so had to take more care over this.
It was the toe and fingernails that caused her particular distress. She was not one to adorn these particular parts and certainly not with the garish tints that now bedecked them.
She looked at the letter again. Oh dear. She had a horror of having her hair cut, (culdnít stand people touching her) but she never wore it long - always tightly done up. Now she was bidden to let it fall down about her shoulders and half way down her back, almost to her posterior. Some girls would have loved to have such a profusion of golden hair, but Veronica, the undemonstrative and perennially understated Veronica, was not keen to advertise her charms so blatantly. As she stared at herself, she hardly recognised what she saw. Something inside her stirred and it was mainly, but not entirely, shame.
Well! So much for the make-up and underwear. Now to don the outer garments. Such as they were!
Veronica Harmsworth had just been given a parcel of clothes to put on, before embarking on a day of trial which, she hoped, would see her at the end, a rich and independent woman. A woman of substance.
The underwear had pained her greatly. It was swimwear - of a somewhat unusual sort. The kind of thing some bimbo on the make might wear in order to entice some sad bastard of a rich, but not very attractive, man. Her flesh had literally crept as she had put these items on. With loathing and disgust she had looked in the mirror at her obscenely attired body, seeing some caricature of herself staring back at her. What people will do to be rich!
After making herself up, she then turned to the three remaining items (shoes count as one item).
The skirt was a lulu! Bloody hell, I canít go out wearing this, she thought! (But then the £ signs flashed up before her eyes!)
She had heard about slit skirts before now. But this one had TWO slits! And they went a very long way up.† It reached on her to just below the knee. And it also was a very aggressive shade of red.
And then! The TOP! Sleeveless and white with broad horizontal red stripes, it buttoned up not far enough to cover her cleavage. Veronica was never one for bare arms, even in the height of summer - which this was not, it being early April at the time. It also left her midriff exposed, as was the fashion nowadays. She resigned herself to feeling quite a breeze in that area when she finally came to venture forth later on in the morning.
No tights or stockings had been provided and this was another source of distress, for our heroine was most fastidious in this regard, refusing ever to be publicly bare-legged.
The outfit was completed firstly by a pair of open toed and very high heeled shoes of the most incredibly impractical nature. The sort of thing one could not walk in, but merely totter. The final item was a shoulder bag.
She surveyed the overall effect and sighed sadly. She was certainly going to earn her million in a most embarrassing way!
She read the letter again. It instructed her to be at the Cafť Rouge at 9.30 am, where she was to order coffee and toast and await further instructions. She still had over an hour to wait and spent it reading the paper, which had just arrived.
Finally she realised that the time was nearly up. She must venture forth and go to the Cafť Rouge. This early in the morning she was almost the only customer as she tottered precariously into the place on her impossibly high heels.† She sat in the furthest corner, hoping to avoid being seen from the street and ordered coffee and two slices of anchovy toast. By keeping her legs together, she was able to avoid exposing too much of her thighs, but there was nothing she could do to hide her brightly painted toes from view.
On her way here she had indeed felt the chill against her stomach as well as her unprotected legs. The breeze had blown her long blonde hair and flimsy red skirt about a fair bit and many a passing male pedestrian had experienced a welcome boost to his morale as he spied her handsome lily white legs shown up to such effect by her unaccustomed and eye-catching footwear. The red shoulder bag only served to enhance the general tartiness of her appearance on this memorable day.
As she waited for her breakfast to arrive, she rubbed her bare arms and shivered slightly, feeling the goose bumps as she did so. With a cup of coffee and some warm toast inside her she began to feel better. She waited and looked anew at the morning paper. She had been there for twenty minutes when a young boy, no more than thirteen or fourteen, came in and started to distribute flyers to the few customers. Veronica was about to wave him away when the youth winked broadly at her, fished an envelope out of his pocket and handed it over.† She recognised the handwriting and her heart began to work overtime as she hastened to open it.
The letter read as follows: "Before you leave here, remove one of your shoes and leave it on the table at which you are sitting. You will go the "The George" and catch the 10.18 168 bus to The Elephant and Castle."
There was more, relating to her conduct when on the bus. This made her heart sink. But, first she must catch the bus. If she missed it, her dream of wealth would have come to an early end.
"The George!"† She had never heard of the George! And she had only a vague idea of the 168ís route in any case. She always caught the tube of a morning and rarely traveled by bus.
"Excuse me, but where is The George," she asked a man sitting at the next table.
"Never heard of it" he replied. "Nowhere near here, I donít think."
She looked at her watch. Only just over fifteen minutes to find out where to go and then get there! Oh, shit!
Just as she about to surrender to despair, another man, sitting near the door chimed in.
"There is a pub that used to be called the George - but not for years, now! Itís called "The Rat and Parrot" nowadays. Bloody stupid name! I call it cultural vandalism changing the names of long established inns like that! Absolute disgrace!"
He looked as if he was going to continue in this vein and Veronica interrupted.
"Is it near here and can I get a 168 there?"
"Oh, yes. Just go down the hill and itís just after the junction with Pond Street. The 168 comes up Pond Street and turns left. Stops just outside the George - I mean Rat and Parrot!"
Realising that she might need to hurry, she thanked the man and prepared to leave, paying her bill and making for the door. Then she remembered her shoe and went back to her table, removing it and putting it on the table as directed. The half-dozen or so customers stared open-mouthed as she walked lop-sidedly to the door and left.
As soon as she left the cafť, the breeze caught again at her hair and skirt, one particularly nasty gust lifting the red garment almost waist high for a second, revealing her legs in all their majesty. It was possible, at that moment, for the discerning observer to spot that she wearing a thong.† A workman, toiling away at some roadwork or other, whistled appreciatively. Veronica blushed.
She looked down the hill and at her watch. Not much time if she were not to miss the bus! She put her best foot forward and this was no easy matter. Normally shod, she would have made the short distance to the George in minutes, but with one foot bare and the other clad in the high heeled monstrosity that she was forbidden to remove, it was a nightmare.
As she struggled, cold no longer, but perspiring freely, she saw to her horror that a bus was toiling up Pond Street and she still had a little way to go. Running was an imperative if she were not to miss out on the dream of a lifetime! Those who had the privilege to witness her hurried progress were to remember to their dying day the sight of a pretty young woman, her golden hair streaming behind her and her fine young legs revealed for all to see. They would relive in their mindsí eye the lurching and gyrating gait of this unlikely vision as she ran towards the bus as well as the look of relief on her face as she made it with only a split second to spare.
She paid her £1 fare to the driver. This gentleman was a middle-aged West Indian, whose impassive features betrayed no sign of any inner surprise the sight of this lady might have occasioned. She walked or limped to the back seat as the letter had instructed and sat in the middle of it. The next bit was very hard for her to do and it was only with a massive effort of will power that she obeyed the instruction.
She had been told to sit with her legs crossed and so she crossed her legs as detailed by her mischievous benefactor! The unshod leg was to be crossed over the other and this she accordingly did. Of course, her skirt slid sideways to reveal her thighs in their entirety.
I should mention at this point that Veronica was tall for a woman, some five feet eleven inches in fact.† It might be of further interest to the reader to know that her legs formed a proportionately above average part of her height. In other words, she had lovely legs and plenty of them! Although the sun had not touched these milky white thighs at all this year so far, the lack of a tan was more than made up for by the delicate tracery of blue veins which adorned that satin smooth and warm surface.
I should further add that Miss Harmsworth was an active and fit young lady who ran, swam and worked out as frequently as her work permitted. The fruits of all this exercise were plain for all to see, as, with her calf muscle pressed against her knee, the fine long shin bone on her raised leg was accentuated in the most appetizing fashion.† Add to this the sight of her bare foot - a foot unblemished by callouses or deformity thanks to a childhood and early youth spent going for ever barefoot in rural South Africa - with its red painted toenails as it bobbed about in keeping with the busís movement along the pothole covered streets, and it will become clear to the reader that the other passengers had a visual treat of the utmost richness as they glanced up the aisle at the seated lovely and her deliciously displayed wares.
It was only by incessantly and silently repeating, mantra like, the words "One million Pounds, One million Pounds," that the embarrassed Veronica was able to keep her composure and steel herself to continue with her ordeal.
She had only just begun to master her emotions and forget her embarrassment when at Chalk Farm a large Afro Caribbean youth boarded the bus.† This young man wore jeans and trainers which would have cost a Third World peasant two years wages and a spotlessly clean white vest, despite the coldness of the day.
"At least Iím no longer the only one around herewith bare arms!" thought our avaricious heroine. "I suppose the vain man is anxious to show off his muscles." Whether or not this was the case, the fellow certainly had some pretty impressive muscles to show off! He was well over six feet tall - probably six-four, she estimated, and big with it, although without an ounce of fat on any part of his magnificent body. And this black Adonis came and sat next to her!
It was now that Veronica remembered the rest of the instructions relating to her bus ride. She was to speak to nobody and not react in any way to anything that was said or done to her. She sat impassively, staring straight ahead, by a gargantuan effort of will not looking at the magnificent masculinity beside her.
Ignoring this gentleman became more difficult as he flashed a brilliant white smile at her and said, "Hi, Missy! Sure has turned out nice!"
Her discomposure was further accentuated when a large black hand descended on to her thigh and began to caress it in a methodical and expert manner. ĎNo reaction - thatís what the orders said,í she thought despairingly. Still she sat still and stared ahead, unsure what her reaction would be if she were allowed to make one! At first she had been inclined to slap the impertinent hand, as well as the grinning face to which it was attached. As the massage went on, however, a small part of her was slightly inclined to enjoy the experience and regret that she was unable to show her appreciation!
The bus arrived at Camden Town and she hoped that this still largely unwelcome fellow passenger would disembark, but was disappointed. The groping did not cease, but rather increased in intensity and she finally became utterly enraged both at this manís insolence and her own inability to do anything about it. Just as her patience was being tested to destruction the bus reached Euston. Still this awful person did not get off and persisted in his attentions.† She could smell his musky body odour next to her and funny things were happening in the area sheltered by her thong!
Just as she was sure she could take no more a large white man boarded. He ambled along the aisle and stood looking down at the mortified Veronica and her tormentor. After a few seconds he spoke - if his coarse tones could be properly described as speech, that is!
"'Ere you - tike yer bleediní Ďands orff the lidy - you bloody coon! †Filthy bastard! You want that dirty black nose spread all over that ugly face?"
Veronicaís companion replied with a wealth of obscene inventiveness, that the other fellow could go and get f*cked (among other things).
She cowered inwardly while remaining outwardly calm. She had never had two men fight each other over her before and was half hoping that this situation would soon be remedied! Her money was on the guy in the white singlet!
But the appearance of the newcomer apparently persuaded the other man to back down. He was also a huge fellow and very muscular, although less athletically built. Whatever the reason, Veronicaís tormentor soon got to his feet and went to sit upstairs. Her rescuer sat down next to her and made no effort to speak - to her immense relief.
At Waterloo, the first man came downstairs and got off, followed closely by the second. Veronica saw with surprise that they were both walking away laughing and chatting like old friends. A put up job, obviously! She wondered what further surprises the old practical joker had in store for her!