Harriet woke up with a start. Her neck was aching and she was cold. For a few moments she did not know where she was; then she remembered. She shook Hazel awake and looked round for the coconut, relieved to see it lying beside them, as splendid as ever. They admired it for a few more moments before a dreadful thought struck them both. They were late for school!
They dragged the coconut along muddy paths, crossed by gnarled tree roots, through beds of damp leaves, past clumps of stinging nettles and rotting crab apples, until at last they reached the sloping bank above the school. Almost there… almost there…
The familiar ring of the school bell made them more desperate, and seemed to give life to the coconut, which slipped from their grip, slid down the bank, and with a final flourish, piled through two of the school chairs, and with sickening accuracy, knocked over Mrs Screech.
Hazel and Harriet watched in horrified amazement as Sir Owl, Sir gallantly helped her to her feet, asking with gentle consideration, “Dear lady, are you hurt?” rearranging her muddy shawl around her.
Hazel and Harriet, frozen on the bank, were in plain view; there was nothing to be done but go down to the classroom. Hazel, as she stumbled down the bank, struggled with a curious mixture of emotions. She had hated school and all it stood for; she had blamed the two irritating owls for the boring lessons, the moral stories, and the unmotivating assemblies; but as she watched them bring the school to order, she started to realise that all this was done with the very best intentions. The more she watched, the worse she felt. Ashamed, she watched as Sir, Owl, Sir asked some of the students to stack the damaged chairs at the side of the classroom, reassuring her that they could be mended. Then, even worse, three of the biggest animals carefully carried the coconut and placed it in the middle of the nature table.
With a gracious wing, Sir, Owl, Sir waved Harriet and Hazel to their desk, brushing aside their attempts to explain and apologise.
All the animals took their places, and Sir, Owl, Sir read the day’s improving story.
“Mrs Screech,” he asked politely, “I would be grateful if you could come forward and present this week’s prize.”
A dreadful feeling of panic swept over Hazel, as she realised what was about to happen.
The little owl, still wearing her muddy shawl, came forward with, not one, but two school medals in her beak, and declared, “I spoke yesterday about the importance of Making a Contribution, and no-one has contributed more to the Nature Table than Hazel and Harriet. I would be honoured if they could come forward and accept these specially awarded medals, with my compliments.”
The two squirrels came forward, and Harriet humbly took the two medals from Mrs Screech and hung one round her neck, and one round her sister’s.
“Congratulations!” hooted Sir, Owl Sir, and the whole school cheered.
“Sir,” whispered Hazel, “may I say something to Mrs Screech?”
Taking her medal from her neck, Hazel turned to Mrs Screech, and made a short speech:
“Mrs Screech, I would like to present you with my medal. I am very sorry that the coconut knocked you down. Thank you for being so nice about it. I do not deserve it.”
Mrs Screech lowered her head and Hazel gently hung the medal around her neck. As she lifted her head, for a brief moment, their eyes met and they looked at each other. Then Mrs Screech gently stretched out her wing and touched Hazel’s paw, and Hazel’s tail curled up in a splendid bushy mass behind her head as she went back to her desk.
And so another school day began. The animals went to their seats, opened their books, and another day of copying began, things appearing to be much the same as usual.
Except for one small detail. After that, Mrs Screech always wore Hazel’s medal on top of her shawl.