A dishonest employee is given another chance

By Jane Fairweather

“Miss Croft would like to see you, Mr Graves, if at all possible,” Miss Thornycroft, secretary to Mr John Graves of Graves and son Ltd, stated in a neutral tone.

She said it very tentatively, knowing full well that Mr Graves was rather less than fond of his book-keeper, who he had hired only because she had experience of dealing with the Tax Office, and his affairs in that regard had got slightly tangled. There was an awful lot of tax having to be paid as the 1950s ground on their dull way, and obviously a good book-keeper was an essential.

“Is it really urgent?” Mr Graves inquired, rather wearily.

“She says so,” Miss Thornycroft responded, studiously maintaining her neutrality.

“Oh, I suppose you had better send her in, though it is bound to be about some minutiae of the accounts that I don’t really need to be bothered with. She is always raising questions that barely need to be answered,” Mr Graves said wearily.

“I could tell her to come back later, or tomorrow,” Miss Thornycroft observed dryly.

“No, let us get it out of the way, but a fresh cup of tea to quench the dragon’s fire straight after she leaves would be very welcome, Miss Thornycroft,” Mr Graves replied whimsically, thinking he might well add a taste of whiskey in the tea from the bottle he kept in the bottom drawer of his desk.

Miss Thornycroft went out of the door, smiling sardonically.

Personally, she thought it would not be long before Miss Lester, who was young and competent and should have had the job in the first place, was elevated to chief book-keeper of Graves and Son Ltd. It was ridiculous that she had been passed over for the thoroughly silly Miss Croft.

Mr Graves pretended to be reading a letter from one of his principal suppliers, giving notice of an irritating price increase, though he had already read it several times. Miss Croft entered in her all-encasing grey skirt suit, white blouse and decidedly nondescript stockings. The fact that she was stout and rather too obviously wearing a too tight girdle did not improve the impression. It was not, of course, the woman’s fault that she was forty-five and aging, but the contrast with the pretty and always stylishly dressed Miss Lester was all too striking.

“What can I do for you, Miss Croft?” He inquired, vaguely indicating with his hand that she should sit down in the chair that was always kept by his desk for visitors.

She knew the routine and sat down.

“Well?” Mr Graves inquired again.

“Mr Graves, there seems to be evidence that we have a thief in the firm,” Miss Croft said, looking slightly down as if she knew this announcement was not going to be popular.

“I doubt it. Most of my people are honest and have been with me for years,” Mr Graves observed, going over in his mind the records of the employees of his three shops and the bakery that supplied them with the best bread and cakes in town. Several of them had been taken on after a small brush with the law, which had brought them in front of him as a Justice of the Peace, but he had never had any trouble with any of them.

“I am afraid the problem is Miss Lester,” Miss Croft said awkwardly.

“What? You mean that she disagrees with this nonsense?” Mr Graves asked irritably.

“Well no, not at all. I am afraid she is almost certainly the thief.”

“Miss Lester, I doubt it very much! What is your evidence?” Mr Graves snapped, deciding this interview was going to end in Miss Croft leaving the firm rather abruptly, unless she had very good evidence indeed, which he doubted.

“I am afraid the evidence is quite good, and it is probably a matter for the police, though of course that is entirely up to you, Mr Graves,” Miss Croft said very nervously as if she also thought that her job was in jeopardy.

“Well, what evidence?”

“You know, of course, that part of Miss Lester’s job is to collect the cash from your three shops and deposit it into the bank?” Miss Croft said very edgily.

“Yes, she has done it for four or five years now, and I have never had cause to complain, though I worry sometimes about her safety, though this is not at all a rough town,” Mr Graves said, wondering where this was all leading.

“You see, there are of course the daily figures from the shops, and the figures for what is paid into the bank, and they simply do not match. There is always a discrepancy of around a couple of pounds a day. It is never the same discrepancy. Whoever is doing it is too clever for that, but overall there is a difference of seven, or eight or nine pounds every week for at least the last two years.”

He remembered that one of his reasons for liking Miss Lester was her immaculate appearance and her stylish, up to date, clothes. Not that those flowing skirts were the only reason for thinking her quite exceptionally dishy and desirable; Miss Lester had a genuinely lovely twenty-eight year old body, even when encased in the rather silly girdle that all young women seemed to feel they had to wear. But the money for those clothes had to come from somewhere. He had never really thought about it before.

“It could just be they are getting the sums wrong in the shops. Shop assistants and till rolls are not perfect when it comes to arithmetic,” Mr Graves said, half hoping to provide his miscreant employee with an alibi. “Miss Lester may just have been correcting the actual amounts against some incorrect paper from the shops. Maybe there is somebody in one of the shops who keeps getting it wrong. She may just have been kind to someone who cannot add up.”

“Yes, but then why are the errors always deficits?” Miss Croft was nattering on remorselessly. “The book that Miss Lester keeps is always, of course give or take, the same as the paying in slips for the bank. However, Mr Graves, I have to tell you that there is a real, ongoing discrepancy between what Miss Lester’s book says that the money from the shops should be and the actual paper from the shops, which normally is kept in the shops and not looked at outside them, which is a thoroughly bad practice. In the past, before I was appointed, nobody can have double-checked Miss Lester against the paperwork in the shops, with the result that she has got away with it, and I dread to think for how long.”

“So, how much money is involved, overall and in total?” Mr Graves asked with a sinking heart, thinking he really did not want to lose this very capable young woman and in many ways he would rather she had got away with it. She was always coming up with the most imaginative wheezes to improve the business, but still serious theft was of course serious theft and he could not really tolerate it.

“I have only looked at the last two years, Mr Graves, and Miss Lester has been with the firm somewhat longer than that. However, I can tell you that the deficit for the first year is over four hundred pounds and that for the second year is over five hundred,” Miss Croft said, then added remorselessly, “Close to a thousand pounds in fact, Mr Graves.”

Enough, in fact, Mr Graves reflected, to warrant a prison sentence with all the social implications that went with it. Miss Lester would be lucky to have a decent job ever again. There were, so far as he knew, no obvious mitigating factors. Indeed, if you added up the clothes and the fact that Miss Lester was living in a house rather than a flat, it was quite simply pure greed and would inevitably be viewed as such. Even if it was tried before the magistrates, they would have to send her to the Crown Court for sentencing. At least he would have to excuse himself from the bench, given his close connection. Surely she would not be stupid enough to take it to the Crown Court, when the case against her was so clear.

“You will be calling the Police of course, Mr Graves. No doubt you will want all the relevant paperwork?” Miss Croft was saying with an air of malicious glee.

“Yes, Miss Croft, you had better bring it all round to me straight away. I will of course go through it myself before taking further action, but I will be very surprised if I find out anything different to what you already found in your obviously very thorough investigation. And thank you for your keen eye.”

“I am glad to be of help, Mr Graves,” the woman was saying irritatingly. “I will be back shortly with the papers.”

“One thing, Miss Croft,” Mr Graves found himself adding. “I do regard this matter as highly confidential, and no details are to be let slip to anyone in the firm or outside it in any circumstances. It would of course be a matter for dismissal if I found I had been disobeyed. I hope I make myself clear?”

“Yes, quite clear, Mr Graves, but I do hope you are not thinking of brushing this very serious matter under the carpet,” Miss Croft exclaimed, clearly not that happy at the thought of her rival escaping justice, however improbable that seemed.

“Bring me the papers and I will decide what is to be done. It will sadly be almost certainly a matter for the police, but whatever happens it is my decision, Miss Croft, and I want to examine the evidence thoroughly first.”

“Yes, of course, Mr Graves,” Miss Croft said, and departed.

****

If you had suggested to Miss Thornycroft that her relationship with Mr Graves had some aspects, at least, of a marriage, she would have been genuinely shocked. However, she had worked for him as his secretary for all of the fifteen years since his father died and he had become sole owner of Graves and Son Ltd, and she had an almost telepathic awareness of his moods. This afternoon, all she knew was that Miss Croft, who she heartily disliked, had been to see Mr Graves twice, and on the second occasion left him a large quantity of paper, which was clearly important, for he had spent the afternoon reading it extremely closely. Moreover, on the two occasions that she had taken him a cup of tea it had been obvious to her that her employer was, for some reason, more than a little distressed. Not that he had said anything, or she had asked him, but she knew him well enough to realize that something was very wrong, even if the only visible sign was that he was definitely putting more than his usual half thimbleful of whiskey into his tea.

Miss Thornycroft glanced at the clock and realized it had reached twenty minutes to six. She knew Mr Graves was, on the whole, a kind and generous employer, who would not normally have dreamed of going on working after five-thirty without telling his secretary that she could go home.

Something, she decided, was very wrong, and the fault had to be Miss Croft’s. Should she just go and leave him to it, which she knew Mr Graves would not mind at all? Or should she politely enquire just what the problem was? After all, a problem shared is often a problem solved. She remembered that was one of her mother’s sayings from her childhood.

She twiddled her thumbs for a while longer, expecting every minute that Mr Graves’s office door would open and he would come out and say it was time to go home, but he did not; and in the end she got to her feet and knocked.

When Mr Graves very uncharacteristically did not answer, she opened the door, thinking he might well have had a seizure. However, he was still bent over those wretched papers and tears were now very definitely flowing down his cheeks.

“Mr Graves, whatever is the matter?” She asked.

Mr Graves sat upright, wiped his tears with his handkerchief, paused and asked, “If you had to choose between Miss Croft and Miss Lester, who would you choose, Miss Thornycroft?”

“Oh, Miss Lester beyond a shadow of doubt. She is very young and very bright and has a lot to give the firm in the coming years, assuming she does not take it in to her head to have children, of course,” Miss Thornycroft stated emphatically, realizing as she said it that she was engaging in the politics of the firm in a way she would normally never have allowed herself; normally she stayed as neutral as she humanly could.

“You really are sticking your neck out, Miss Thornycroft! That’s not like you at all!” Mr Graves said with something approaching a nervous laugh.

“Well, it is what I think, Mr Graves. If you have to choose between them, choose Miss Lester. She really is a much better bet for the future of your firm. And in case you are wondering, I have seen no sign of any interest at all in her having a husband, let alone children,” Miss Thornycroft said with surprising firmness.

“Which is what I would have said till two o’clock this afternoon,” Mr Graves said wearily. “But now I am faced by hard clear evidence that Miss Lester has been abusing her position of trust and stealing from the firm on a large scale.”

“Not just the odd pound, then? Taken to pay her rent and put back almost at once, or after a while, or not at all?” Miss Thornycroft mused aloud.

“Surely not something you would ever have done, I am sure,” Mr Graves remarked with a hysterical giggle. “I suppose that you knew somebody like that; it sounds a sad story. What happened?”

“Well in fact, I suppose I should not admit to it, but I did do it when I was eighteen, long before I worked for this firm. We all, rather foolishly on my employer’s part, had access to the petty cash and I took advantage. I was lucky. I could well have ended up in court with a black mark against my whole future, but my then employer said I had shown a surprising amount of initiative for a girl of my age and he found another way to deal with it.”

“I dread to think!” said Mr Graves. “I imagine you ended up without much money for food for the next few weeks at least. Still, I suppose it taught you a lesson.”

“No, in fact I had the spanking of my life. At least a quarter of an hour across his knee with a very hard hand descending from a considerable height on my poor bottom over and over again. Left, right! Left, right!. It was way beyond the half dozen sharp slaps I used to get as a girl. By the end, I was really wailing for mercy. Not that I am complaining, for I thoroughly deserved it and it taught me a lesson I have never forgotten.”

“One lives and learns,” observed Mr Graves. “You are the last person, Miss Thornycroft, that I would imagine being involved in theft, even to pay your rent. I suppose you had to pay it back, though, as well as the spanking?”

“Well, yes I did, but then he did something very odd. Yes, I had to pay him back at ten bob a week, but he also raised my wages by a pound a week and gave me a rather better position; I went from being a mere typist to a junior secretary,” Miss Thornycroft said, just a touch demurely, leaving Mr Graves, who was nobody’s fool, to wonder if there had been something a little more to this than he was being told.

“Very salutary!” observed Mr Graves aloud. “Though of course, if you had complained to the police it is an interesting question whether he would have ended up before the Magistrates for assault, or you would have been before them for theft, or both of you would have been in the dock.”

“Quite so,” said Miss Thornyscroft. “But not a bad precedent for this situation, I cannot help thinking, Mr Graves.”

“I am a Justice of the Peace. I really cannot do something like you seem to be suggesting, certainly not in this office, tempting though it is. Besides, the money she has stolen is quite a lot, at least a thousand pounds, quite enough to get our Miss Lester a prison sentence, if it went to court. It is a far cry, quite honestly, from an eighteen-year-old taking the odd few bob for her rent and meaning to pay it back. Miss Lester is twenty-eight and a grown woman, and this is a lot of money. But damn it, I really do not want to lose her! She is so bright and so useful.”

“At least put off making any decisions till tomorrow,” Miss Thornycroft observed briskly.

“That at least, I can do,” Mr Graves said almost eagerly. “Though how it will make any difference I do not know. Still, I will think about it overnight.”

“You know, my little cottage is rather isolated, and I do still have my father’s cane. Somehow, you cannot bear to throw things away when people close to you depart this earth. Miss Lester has the sort of bottom that I suspect would feel it a lot and I would have very little compunction about punishing the little minx,” Miss Thornycroft observed, thinking on her feet.

“Well, that’s a thought,” Mr Graves observed. “But I could not take any responsibility. I am a Justice of the Peace, after all, and you would be entirely on your own if it went wrong, Miss Thornycroft. She is a grown woman and you could be charged with assault. She could easily opt to take the punishment and then go to the police, show them her marks, and it would probably come back on me as well as you in the end. I am afraid the answer is no, tempting though your kind offer is, and much though I would like to find a way to keep the very useful and attractive Miss Lester in this firm, and I hate attractive, capable women going to prison, but I cannot see any alternative. No, it is definitely time to go home and grit my teeth and prepare for a very unpleasant tomorrow.”

They departed in their various directions with very little resolved, but later that evening Mr Graves called Miss Thornycroft at home and there were certain discussions on the phone, which led to the following events.

****

It was eleven-ten the next day, and Rebecca Lester had just been into the second shop on her round and pretended to note the shop’s takings from the previous day into the small notebook she was using because Miss Croft had got her usual book to audit. Miss Smith, the pretty young manageress with her shining black hair and black eyes, had suddenly said, “It seems so silly, when you are so careful to write it straight down, Miss Lester, but Miss Croft was wanting my actual paperwork, scrawls and all at the end of last week. Total waste of time!”

Of course, Rebecca had agreed with that entirely. But now Miss Rebecca Lester was feeling green about the gills.

She had quite a lot in cash at home and she had a passport, so she could take herself rapidly overseas, perhaps even today, perhaps Australia. But that would mean being perpetually on the run, and probably there would be prison at the end of it, sooner or later, though she might just get away with it.

But there again, Mr Graves was an old dear and there was just a chance that he would let her move on to some unsuspecting person with a reasonably good reference. That would probably mean having to pay it all back, but she had just about enough money to do it, though a good deal was in shares that would have to be sold. She found herself dithering between the two options. But was there a third?

Still, she had better do the third shop. Otherwise, they would miss her sooner than she wanted. Besides, if she opted for overseas any money would be useful. She would go there, she decided, and then home, and then get overseas as quickly as possible, perhaps even get on a ferry to France today.

Or would she? She was really not sure what her best course of action was. It did not help that her wretched conscience was pricking her abominably. If only there was some way out of this, short of confessing all and almost certainly ending up in some unpleasant prison, even if they took her confession into account. She felt extremely guilty about having betrayed dear old Mr Graves, who had been nothing but kind to her. But would his kindness extend to giving her a way out of this nightmare. That, she thought bitterly to herself, was too much to hope for, and anyway, said her conscience, which was uncomfortably active, ‘You deserve to be punished.’

She walked into the third shop, which was always dark inside, trembling and wondering if she was wise to go in at all. If Miss Croft had spoken to Mr Graves, there was every chance there could be a policeman waiting to arrest her. However, it was also perfectly possible that nothing of the sort was going to happen, and she would have at least half a day before anyone realized that she was missing. Quite possibly they would think she was ill or something, and not bother her for at least another day, if she behaved normally here. And it was quite possible that Miss Croft had not yet spoken to Mr Graves, for she was often ponderously slow.

However, when she entered the shadowy shop with its smell of new bread, Rebecca realized her employer’s secretary was standing behind the counter chatting to the manageress, Mrs Walker, who was middle-aged and stout.

Miss Thornycroft had often seemed friendly enough to her, and it seemed unlikely that she posed any threat, so Rebecca tried to relax and sound as if everything was normal. And indeed, the usual stilted conversation with Mrs Walker followed.

Then she had the bag with the shop’s takings in her hand and was about to exit with a sigh of relief and head for home to prepare her get away, though her conscience was saying, ‘You really ought not to be taking the easy way out. You deserve to be punished. Poor Mr Graves!’

But then, “Miss Lester, I am sorry to bother you. I have got another errand from Mr Graves besides this one, and it is on your way to the bank. Hope you don’t mind, but can I jump in with you?” Miss Thornycroft was saying.

It was, to say the least, awkward, Rebecca thought wryly, but there was no reason to suppose that Miss Thornycroft meant any more than she had said, so the two of them ended side by side in Miss Lester’s stylish green roadster, where they chatted pleasantly enough about nothing in particular.

“Damn! Damn! Damn!” Miss Thornycroft suddenly said. “I don’t believe it. I have left something really important in the cottage that Mr Graves needs this afternoon. Would you mind, Miss Lester? It isn’t that much of a diversion.”

“No, of course not,” Rebecca said, thinking that agreeing to the errand was probably the least of her evils, and hoping her silent curses were not audible.

Miss Thornycroft directed them a relatively short distance, but through some obscure lanes that Rebecca had never been down before, and eventually down a narrow cul-de-sac with tall hedges and only one very pretty cottage with roses over its front.

She would have to open the gate into the field by the cottage to turn round, unless she felt like reversing the roadster the quarter of a mile to what passed for a main road.

‘What a place for an arrest,’ Rebecca thought. ‘I would be completely trapped here.’

However, Miss Thornycroft seemed an unlikely partner for the police, and she smiled at herself rather hysterically.

“Very pleasant! You are lucky to live here, Miss Thornycroft,” Rebecca forced herself to say.

“It was my father’s. I take no credit for it. I just inherited the place, though I have kept it up. But yes, it is very pleasant,” Miss Thornycroft replied. “But, my dear, I really have dragged you out of the way. Do come in for a cup of tea. I am sure you are dying for one as much as I am.”

Rebecca decided that it would be much simpler to turn the roadster round with Miss Thornycroft’s help, using the gate into the field, and it would anyway look odd if she rushed off, so she reluctantly followed her boss’s secretary through the wooden gate and past the very various flowers of the cottage garden, through a small porch and hall into a surprisingly spacious front room with a very stylish couch and two well-worn armchairs.

Miss Thornycroft dived off to the kitchen to make the tea and Rebecca found herself glancing round the room. There were a number of paintings on the wall. They tended to be surprisingly recent in style and rather modern for a mere secretary, Rebecca thought. She sat down in one of the armchairs and contemplated a picture of a wood that was neatly divided by a rough track. It could not possibly look like that in real life, but as a pattern it was quite pleasing, she decided.

But she must get away as quickly and as soon as she could without seeming to do anything out of the ordinary. She would make the need to get to the bank her excuse. And she could drop Miss Thornycroft off at Graves and Son Ltd, which was at the opposite end of town to the bank, not that she was going to the bank, but she would imply that she was heading there. With luck, this strange interlude would not affect her plans. This did not, however, stop Rebecca from drumming slightly with her fingers on the arm of her chair, or feeling more than slightly shaky, for she felt incredibly churned up by this sudden twist in her life.

“Here we are,” Miss Thornycroft was saying, wheeling a tea trolley in with tea and hot water and milk and cups, and what looked a very nice fruit cake.

Rebecca did not need a lot of tempting, and she was soon eating fruit cake and sipping an excellent cup of tea, and quite genuinely praising her hostess’s skills as a baker of fruit cake.

“You really ought to sell the recipe to Mr Graves, you know, Miss Thornycroft. It is quite excellent,” she observed, at which Miss Thornycroft blushed and said the recipe was perhaps a little complex for a commercial bakery.

“Oh, I am sure that if I had a word with Mr Graves, something would happen. He usually listens to me,” Rebecca said pleasantly as she finished her cup of tea, thinking that in a minute they would be out of the cottage and on their way again.

It was at that point that Miss Thornycroft put down her own cup of tea, which was not quite finished, looked Rebecca straight in the eye and said, “I am afraid I have got you here on slightly false pretenses, Miss Lester. You see, Mr Graves has asked me to sound you out about something.”

Rebecca, at the mention of her boss’s name, nearly ran out of the door, but then thought it was probably best to act as if nothing was the matter.

“What’s all this about, Miss Thornycroft? I hope I am continuing to give Mr Graves satisfaction?” she asked, hoping she was saying what she would be expected to say.

“Oh, he is very pleased with you,” Miss Thornycroft said, with a rather ambiguous smile. “In fact, he is so pleased that he would like to make you a director, raise your salary from four guineas a week to ten, and possibly include a clause about a share in the profits, if they are above a certain level in any given year.

“You see, he has no children of his own and no relations that he trusts, and he thinks you would be by far the most suitable person to eventually take over from him. But of course, it is entirely up to you, Miss Lester, and there also some rather unusual conditions, which, if you are interested in the proposition, I will go through with you. I realize, of course that you are a very attractive young woman and you may have plans of marrying and having children, quite apart from these conditions I have yet to tell you about, which may well put you off anyway. But do you want to hear the rest?”

‘Oh god! What a fool I have been!’ Rebecca thought to herself. She did not say that, but instead smiled demurely and replied that she would be very interested to hear what Miss Thornycroft had to say. If there was some dreadful catch, she thought, then she could still run out of the door, reverse the roadster down that dreadful lane and get away, at least if the police were not blocking the exit; but she wanted to hear this first. Who knows, it might be the way out that she was longing for.

“Mr Graves is aware that you have been ‘borrowing’ quite substantial amounts of money from the firm,” Miss Thornycroft said very quietly but firmly. “This he puts down to the very real needs of your life-style, which is not in its way that unhelpful to the firm. That lovely car, for example. It gives a very good impression. However, now your salary has been raised to a more appropriate level, he will expect you to repay the firm at two guineas a week for the foreseeable future. So, your immediate salary will be eight guineas. Is that acceptable to you?”

“He is being so generous in the circumstances! Of course, I accept. I am so grateful. I had visions of prison. I feel so guilty,” Rebecca said and burst into tears, which it took her some minutes to recover from.

Miss Thornycroft waited patiently, wondering if the girl would simply run out of the door screaming when they got to the next bit, and the Police would have to be called after all, which Mr Graves had given her carte blanche to do, if it became necessary.

She realized Miss Lester was fiddling with a handkerchief, blowing her nose and rather determinedly putting an end to her tears.

“You implied there was something else, Miss Thornycroft, which I might not want to accept. What is it?” Rebecca asked tremulously.

“It is not very nice, I am afraid, and you may not want to accept. If you just want to do a runner when you hear what it is, then I think that I will give you twenty minutes before I call the police. It seems only fair. But, I am under quite explicit instructions to call them if you don’t accept Mr Graves’ offer, so be warned,” Miss Thornycroft said, not unkindly.

Rebecca thought for a second that Miss Thornycroft would have to walk to a phone box anyway, then realized that there was actually a phone on a small table by the window. Damn, she really did mean twenty minutes! Rebecca Lester’s heart began to beat most uncomfortably.

“We had better get it over with then, hadn’t we?” Rebecca said, gritting her teeth. “You had better tell me the worst.”

Was she going to have to spend the next couple of years as Mr Graves’ mistress? It did not seem at all improbable, and in fact he would probably be quite kind to her, but in her heart of hearts she did not fancy it at all.

However, Miss Thornycroft actually said, “Mr Graves would much prefer not to treat this as a criminal matter. He likes you and he thinks prison would be excessive in this case. But, some punishment is needed, for otherwise you might well think that you can get away with this sort of behaviour again. Besides, it is important that you are properly punished for what is a serious breach of the very considerable trust that has been placed in you. Mr Graves suggests eight strokes of the cane. Would you be agreeable to that, Miss Lester?”

“What? The cane?” Rebecca said, feeling in a daze. “I have never had the cane, or even been smacked.”

“Now is your opportunity to find out what it is like,” Miss Thornycroft said dryly.

“I suppose if I accepted I would have to go to Mr Graves’ office, or perhaps his house, to have it done, would I? Would you be there, Miss Thornycroft?” Rebecca said, realizing this was going to be desperately frightening and painful, and she would feel much happier with Miss Thornycroft there to ensure it did not get out of hand. Mr Graves would almost certainly be very angry with her.

“Well, no, Mr Graves has no intention of doing it himself, for I hope obvious reasons. He is a Justice of the Peace, after all. No, I have volunteered to do it now and get it out of the way. That way, nobody except the two of us need know just what happened, though obviously Mr Graves will have a pretty fair idea that his wishes have been carried out.”

Rebecca felt a great feeling of relief. With the kindly Miss Thornycroft punishing her, it would not hurt that much, she decided. Anyway, had this middle-aged secretary ever caned any one before? The chances were that she had not, and the whole thing was going to have a touch of farce. At least she would not have to wait for her punishment. But then her conscience said, ‘You really deserve this and you are luckier than you deserve getting off so lightly.’

Rebecca rose to her feet and said, “Could we please get it over, Miss Thornycroft. It is really nice of you to help. Do I have to bend over or something?”

“I am afraid we are going to have your pretty dress off. It is only going to get in the way of the cane, and if we pull it up it will probably fall down again. So, if you would not mind, Miss Lester?”

Rebecca gulped at the humiliation that was coming; she hated undressing in front of anyone else. “t was an odd effect of time spent in boarding school dormitories. However, there seemed little choice, and she reached with her arm behind her head and started to pull the zip down. This went a couple of inches and stuck.

“Oh, I will do it,” said Miss Thornycroft. “I struggle with zips myself.”

This seemed so humiliating to Rebecca, and tears started appearing in her eyes as she felt the zip being freed and then pulled down. She stepped out of the dress feeling extremely self-conscious in her scarlet slip. Was it going to be on her bare bottom? Were her slip and knickers coming off next?

“Very pretty too!” said Miss Thornycroft. “A lovely dress and a gorgeous slip. Now, if you would be kind enough to walk over to the sofa. No, not too close, Miss Lester. Step back a bit, would you? Now bend over and put your hands on the sofa.”

Rebecca bent, feeling very frightened all of a sudden. Her thin and all too see-through slip tightened across her bottom and she realized that her quite small panties, and suspenders and stockings, and the bottom of her girdle must be all too visible to her executioner. God, this was embarrassing! She found herself blushing red and her eyes were full of tears. She gritted her teeth and waited for the first stroke.

“You can stay in that position and think about your crimes for a moment. I am just going to get the cane, which is in my bedroom, in case you are wondering,” she heard Miss Thornycroft say in a rather sardonic voice.

Miss Thornycroft strolled out of the room, taking her time, and reflected on the lovely vision she had just glimpsed of a very shapely young woman’s bottom presented for punishment. It was just plump and round enough to be interesting. It was, she reflected, quite a few years since she had seen a female bottom as interesting as that.

She reached on top of the wardrobe and got the cane down, which was very swishy and rather over three feet long. She walked back into the front room and swished it experimentally a couple of times.

“Please don’t tease me! Can we please just get it over with,” Rebecca could hear herself pleading, though in her heart of hearts she thought it was very low to plead.

She felt the cane tap her thighs just below her panties and above the stockings where there was only the thin slip to protect her.

“Eight strokes, and you will stay exactly where you are or get extra,” the remorseless voice was saying, and Rebecca, with a shiver, realized that Miss Thornycroft, however nice she was in ordinary life, was not going to be nice about this. As to not being used to using the cane, this middle-aged secretary seemed all too sure of what she was doing, and Rebecca found herself wondering why. Had she been a teacher at some point perhaps?

Then, before she could think any more about it, the cane swished and cracked and caught Rebecca on the top of her thighs and really stung. Her left leg instinctively jerked off the ground. The second and third strokes followed in the same very delicate area, and Rebecca could feel both her legs going all over the place and the tears pouring down her cheeks and bruises rising.

Miss Thornycroft, meanwhile, was enjoying Rebecca’s contortions perhaps more than she should. Perhaps now, she decided, it was time for the main event. She paused, encouraged perhaps by her victim’s pleas to not keep her waiting. Then she began again concentrating her attention on that quite substantial bottom, which rose and fell at regular intervals as she lashed it hard and efficiently and very slowly five more times.

Rebecca felt as if the whole punishment was taking hours. Up to the fifth stroke, she had managed not to make too much noise, but at that point she opened her mouth and yelled and went on yelling till it was over. She had not been told to count, but she had been counting carefully, for she found it was almost a defence against the waves of pain, and she was very careful not to leap to her feet and clutch her injured behind till after the eighth stroke had penetrated to the very depth of her bottom. It was by far the worst stroke. But then she could restrain herself no longer and jumped to her feet and clutched her very inflamed behind and danced in the most undignified manner.

“That is quite a dance, one of the best I have ever seen,” She heard Miss Thornycroft’s slightly mocking voice. “Do stop, my dear, and I will find you some cream.”

What did she mean, cream?  It did seem to give hope of some relief to this unbearable agony. Rebecca allowed herself to be eased across Miss Thornycroft’s knee and to have her slip taken up and her panties down, which a quarter of an hour before she would have regarded as the height of humiliation. Then she felt large dollops of cold cream being applied and it took the edge off the pain, after which she lay face down on the couch and very gradually felt her bottom turn from total agony to something warm and throbbing and almost pleasant.

It was a good hour before Rebecca reached that interesting stage, but then she felt able to drink the cup of fresh tea that she was offered and put her dress back on.

“Borrow a cushion for use in your car, if you like,” Miss Thornycroft said solicitously. “I expect you would really like to get home and I doubt if you will really feel like sitting down for the next twenty-four hours, but you will probably just about manage the car with a cushion. I don’t suppose Mr Graves would mind too much if you have tomorrow off.”

“Oh, I shall be in, Miss Thornycroft. I shall just tell people I had a bad fall, if I am asked. Indeed, I am going to take yesterday’s takings to the bank before I go home,” Rebecca declared haughtily. “But I will be glad of that cushion.”

“As you like, my dear,” said Miss Thornycroft. “Anyway, take your time. You don’t have to leave immediately.”

“I shall be much happier if I go home,” said Rebecca firmly. “But, I am so grateful to you for pulling me out of this horrible jam I landed myself in. I behaved so dreadfully and I deserved to be punished; in an odd way it makes it a lot easier. Hopefully, I won’t do anything as bad again.”

“Glad to be of service, my dear. And if you feel yourself going to be bad again, come and see me if you like and we will sort it out,” Miss Thornycroft answered, wondering what it would be like to lightly cane the girl’s bare bottom for pleasure. That might be quite interesting, she decided, but probably it was not going to happen again.

“I doubt if that will be necessary!” Rebecca said with a grin, and rather to her own surprise burst into giggles, wondering if it might be a way to keep her darker instincts under control. Besides, there was something oddly pleasant about this throbbing aftermath that she was beginning to enjoy, rather to her surprise.

Then Rebecca added, “I am not the first girl you have caned, am I? You really knew what you were doing. Were you a teacher or something? Or have you helped out Mr Graves on other occasions?”

“You cheeky miss!” Miss Thornycroft answered, smiling. “I don’t know if I should tell you or not, but perhaps I will. I think I trust you, though the lord knows why.

“Way back in the awful 1920s, when youth ran amok after the Great War, my boss, who was in fact to put it crudely my sugar daddy, and who bought me this cottage incidentally, and educated me in quite a lot of things, introduced me to a little club with rather odd tastes. I have never had the least desire to find out what the cane is like, goodness knows, but we had around a dozen young ladies who were all too keen to find out, and I liked being the executioner.  There is something about bending a pretty woman over, especially if you don’t like them that much, and turning their skirts up. It varied quite a lot, of course. Some of them just wanted a light sting or two, some wanted to be really beaten, which I never much liked. Some wanted clothes on, some wanted them off. But it was an experience.”

“I would never have dreamed it of you, Miss Thornycroft,” Rebecca giggled. “That really is a turn up for the book. Does Mr Graves know?”

“No, and I would much rather he didn’t. Incidentally, there is some news that may please you, my dear. Miss Croft is going to be given a month’s notice on the grounds that she does not really fit in with the firm. No, you are not going to be her replacement. Mr Graves is thinking of getting in another, younger book-keeper and you are going to concentrate on marketing and promotion and generally expanding the firm. At least, that is what I am told, and I usually get told most things.”

“Let’s hope it is all true, but I’d better go and get the takings in the bank,” Rebecca said almost reluctantly.

She reached out and gave her executioner a real hug, feeling intensely grateful, not least because her conscience had stopped complaining, even if her bottom was still feeling more than a little uncomfortable. Then, almost reluctantly, she said she had to go if she was to get yesterday’s takings in the bank before it closed.

Miss Thornycroft watched the pretty bottom in that lovely dress go through her door, swaying rather awkwardly as it walked, and wondered if she and Miss Lester were going to make a habit of this sort of thing.

The End

© Jane Fairweather 2021

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