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by LSF Publications

The Apple Thieves

by Anthony Alba

"Are you sure about this?" Jill asked as she eyed the old stone wall looming before them. "I'm all for a bit of fun," she went on with a quick grin as her hands smoothed down her short school skirt. "But I'd rather not break a leg doing it."

"It will be fine," her friend Sabrina reassured her.

Like Jill, Sabrina wore the uniform of an upper sixth form girl of St Rodden's Academy, though she would hardly have passed a uniform inspection. Jill was the very picture of a student trying to make a good impression. Sabrina on the other hand was clearly staging a rebellion. She wore the collar button of her shirt open; her striped school tie was almost at half-mast. Even her white blouse hung out and loose against her dark blue skirt.

Sabrina cupped her hands together, palms up and nodded for Jill to mount up. "Come on, I'll lift you up."

Still not looking convinced about the wisdom of the venture, Jill nevertheless moved forward and lifted her right leg to put her foot into Sabrina's hands. Her friend heaved, and as she was lifted up Jill raised her arms and quickly grabbed onto the top of the old wall. A moment later she was able to pull herself onto the top of the wall. Once in place she reached down to help her friend up.

From the vantage point atop the wall they could see most of the sleepy village laid out around them. For years it had played host to St Rodden's Academy. The fact that it was so isolated was a selling point when it came to attracting boarders. Girls could get up to very little mischief so far away from the larger towns and cities; and if they did get into trouble, the school had a well-deserved reputation of strict corporal punishment to deal with such behaviour.

With so little to do the girls were forced to make what diversions they could. And for years Johnson's orchard had been a target once the apples started to blossom. It was not that they needed the food. Each girl received a good three square meals a day with the tuck shop supplying candy and sweets for any with pocket money. It was the fact that it was off limits that made it so enticing. A stonewall guarded the perimeter and the only entrance was near Mr Johnson's small office. He would notice any girl coming in that way. It was a mark of daring and boldness for any girl to sneak in and make it back out with a few apples. And if you really wanted recognition from the rest of the girls, you did it wearing your uniform.

Of course if you got caught, it would be obvious where you were from. A girl caught trying to pilfer could find herself hauled ignominiously before the Headmaster. Then it was bend over, skirt up, knickers down and at least six from his cane. On the other hand, if you managed to meet the challenge and actually get away, your reputation was made with the other girls for the rest of the year.

"See, I told you." Sabrina grinned as she pointed to the office in the distance.

Squinting, Jane could just make out a sign above the old cabin. Unlike the rest of the building the sign looked freshly painted. It read Johnson & Son. The addition of 'Son' was new.

"Jamie Johnson is back from college and working with his father," Sabrina went on. She winked at her friend. "He's really hot. I reckon he must work out."

Jill nodded then nervously looked around her. The top of the wall might have given them an excellent view but at the same time it made them easy to spot. This high the trees would provide little cover.

"Don't you think we should get down?" Jill asked.

Before Sabrina could respond Jill began to ease herself down into the orchard. A moment or two later Sabrina dropped down beside her. They did not have far to go to find row upon row of heavily laden apple trees. A few still had a bit of ripening left before their fruit could be picked but here and there they could see fresh juicy apples just waiting to be picked. More importantly, for the moment there was no one else in sight.

"Where are you going?" Jill hissed as she saw Sabrina edging away from the perimeter and towards where the office was located.

"Don't you want to see if Jamie is about?" Sabrina asked with a mischievous smile. "On a warm day like this I would not be surprised if he's working without any shirt on."

Jill rolled her eyes but a small smile crept over her face as she fell in behind Sabrina.

They kept low as they moved forward and tried to use the tree trunks as cover. It did not take long to get close to the office. In a week or two the orchard would be filled with activity as pickers were hired to harvest the bounty of the trees; today though, it was quiet. Always the more adventurous one, Sabrina stopped to pick two fresh apples. One she tossed to Jill and then as if it did not matter if anyone heard them, she bit loudly into her apple and started to eat.

Near the office they saw movement beside a small parked van. Kneeling down they peered around the trees and were able to see Jamie Johnson hard at work loading small crates into the open side door of the van. There was no sign of his father but neither of the two cared about that. Jamie was more than enough. As Sabrina had predicted, he was bare from the waist up, with a discarded shirt tied around his waist. It was a warm day and he was sweating freely from the heat and the work.

"Told you he was buff," Sabrina chuckled as she drank in the sight.

Jamie could not have been much more than twenty-one or two and it certainly appeared that he looked after himself. Glancing over at her more timid friend, Sabrina was able to see Jill's tongue licking her lips as she studied his rippling abs glistening with sweat and a healthy tan. Unlike old Mr Johnson with his weathered and craggy face, the son was easy on the eye.

"Now I wouldn't mind some of that," Jill murmured as she watched the young man work.

"Hey," Sabrina protested. "I saw him first."

Jill gave her a sly wicked grin. "We could share." Her smile widened as she saw the shocked look on Sabrina's face.

Engrossed as they were on the sight of Jamie, neither noticed the figure of an older man approaching from behind.

"And what do we have here?" he demanded.

"We weren't doing any harm," Jill protested as she was dragged from her hiding spot out into the open yard beside the office. Mr Johnson's grip was firm and unyielding as he held Sabrina with his left hand and Jill with the right.

"Honest, we weren't," Sabrina chipped in. Seeing Jamie stop his work to turn and study them she felt herself blushing but she tried to focus on the older man.

"And I suppose you bought that apple in the shop," the older Johnson growled as he nodded to the half-eaten apple still clutched in Sabrina's hand. She let it tumble to the ground but the damage was done.

"It's only an apple or two, Dad," Jamie said as he studied the two students. "No harm."

"No harm he says," the older man muttered. "I don't know what they've been filling your head full of at that fancy college, but theft's theft in my book."

He looked away from his more sympathetic son to glare at both girls in turn. "I'm taking you straight back to school and we'll see if you're sitting comfortable after the Headmaster sees to you. Just be glad I'm not taking you down to Constable Rawlings and pressing charges."

"Please don't," Jill cried out in alarm. "We'll be caned for sure."

"I damn well hope so," Mr Johnson snapped back. Seeing the worry on her face his dark expression softened just a bit. "Now don't be fretting too much lass. A dose of the cane ain't so bad. Used to get it myself when I was your age. Taught me right for wrong it did and I don't doubt you'll learn too."

"But the Headmaster said he would suspend any girl who got into trouble," Sabrina broke in. "If we're suspended and with the exams coming up there's no way we will be let into college."

Looking genuinely concerned, she looked at the older Johnson. "Please sir, we don't mind being punished but I want to go to college and make something of myself. Please don't tell the Headmaster."

Old Johnson's gruff nature was well known in the village but Sabrina knew that beneath that harsh craggy exterior he was not an unreasonable man.

"And what exactly are you suggesting that I do?" he demanded.

Sabrina cast around her and there near the front gate she saw an old willow tree. She nodded to the tree. "You could switch us and that way we will be punished but without the Headmaster getting involved."

"You don't want to stop them going to college," young Jamie spoke up for them. "You could let them off with a warning." He gave them a reassuring smile. "I'm sure they've both very sorry."

"Humm," Mr Johnson murmured as he eyed the willow tree himself then the girls. "I suppose I could keep quiet, this one time." Seeing the look of hope on their faces he let go his grip on their arms and held up a finger in warning. "But you ain't getting off scot-free. A switching it is."

Jill bowed her head and did her best to look like a contrite schoolgirl. "Yes Sir. Thank you."

"Thank you Sir," Sabrina said a moment later as she fought to hide the fear and anticipation she felt.

"Right girls, I want you both to cut a good willow switch each," Mr Johnston told them as he handed over a small penknife. "And if I'm not happy that they are sturdy enough you can do your explaining to the Headmaster and his cane."

Taking the small knife Sabrina dutifully started to walk over to the willow tree. With her back to the two men she no longer had to hide her smile. She looked over to her left and could see that Jill was almost bouncing on her toes. Like her, she naturally looked a tad worried about the pain they would both be feeling soon... but not everyone found corporal punishment entirely unwelcome. Turning her attention back to the tree Sabrina shivered in anticipation.

In full uniform she was being sent to cut her own willow switch. A switch that would soon be used to stripe her bottom good and proper. She would not sit comfortably for a good day or two but that was a small price to pay. It was the stuff of her dreams and she knew that if anyone looked they would see that her hands were trembling. Most would probably think it was from fear.

She ran her fingers along several rods before discarding them as too light or fragile. Then she saw a sturdier rod, one guaranteed to sting, and using the knife she cut it off and started to peel away the buds and twigs until it was fit to be used for discipline. Satisfied that it would do she handed over the knife to Jill who had already got her eye on a particular rod. If anything it was even thicker that the one Sabrina had picked out for herself.

© LSF Publications
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