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Jonathan, the Fastest Snail in the Meadow
by
Jan Luthman
Jonathan was looking dismal.

Robbit had never seen his friend looking quite so forlorn, not even on that rainy wet day when Jonathan had fallen over on a slippery corner and got mud on his nice shiny shell.

"What's up?" Asked Robbit.

"Oh, nothing," Said Jonathan, and carried on sliding glumly along the little snailtrail that led to his house.

Robbit stared after his friend anxiously: whatever it was, it must be really bothering him if he wouldn't even talk about it. Robbit hopped thoughtfully after the retreating shell, trying to think what to say.

"Bad day at school?" He ventured, "Get your sums wrong?"

Robbit almost always got his sums wrong; and his spelling. Getting things wrong at school was just the way things were for Robbit. Maybe, he thought, if you were extremely clever like Jonathan, then getting a sum wrong might make you unhappy.

But Jonathan just shook his head glumly; it wasn't anything to do with sums.

"So, why are you so gloomy, then?" Demanded Robbit.

"Bullies," Mumbled Jonathan at last.

"Bullies?" Asked Robbit, "What bullies?"

Jonathan hung his head. " At school," He muttered, "They tease me."

"Who tease you?" Demanded Robbit.

Jonathan hesitated.

"The beetle boys," He said at last.

"Oh, them," Robbit snorted, "Nobody likes them. They bully anybody who's smaller than they are."

Robbit thought for a bit. "How do they tease you?" He asked eventually.

"Oh," Jonathan sighed, "They call me names and...."

"And what?" Asked Robbit sympathetically.

"They write things on my shell."

"On your shell?"

"M'mmm"

Robbit was amazed. Everybody in the meadow knew that Jonathan always took such care of his shell; it was always beautifully polished, with never a speck of dust on it.

"What did they write on it?" He asked.

Jonathan turned sideways. "Look," He said.

There, all across Jonathan's gleaming shell was scrawled the word "SWOT".
"They say I'm just a swot," Sighed Jonathan, close to tears, "A boring, boring swot."

Robbit hopped up and down in agitation, "But you're not," He cried, "You know lots and lots of things. That's not boring at all."

Jonathan cheered up, just a little bit. It had helped him feel a little better already, just telling a friend.  "Thank you," He tried a watery smile, and fished around inside his shell for a handkerchief, "You're a good friend, Robbit."

Robbit was angry on his friend's behalf.

"Why didn't you just chase the beetles away?" He demanded, "I would have."

Jonathan blew his nose. "Dad's bedos you're a rabbid," He said thickly through his hanky, "I'm only a snail. A swotty, slow snail. The only thing I can catch is a cold."

Jonathan blew his nose loudly and tucked his hanky away in his shell and began to slide off up the hill again. Robbit hopped after him.

"Let's go home together," He said, "Maybe we'll think of an idea."

So they did. On the way, they overtook Old Mrs Spider, struggling along the path with her bags of shopping. She looked very tired.

"Good morning, Mrs Spider," Called Robbit and Jonathan together.

"And good morning to you both, young Robbit and Jonathan," Replied Old Mrs Spider,
"How nice to see you on this lovely morning."

Jonathan and Robbit were both very polite, and asked Old Mrs Spider if they could help carry her shopping for her.

"Why, thank you," She said, "What a kind thing to do."

Robbit took one bag and Jonathan took the other, and the three of them went on along the path towards Mrs Spider's house. As they walked, Old Mrs Spider noticed how quiet Jonathan was. "Is there anything the matter?" She asked, for she was really a kindly old lady.
Before Jonathan could say anything, Robbit blurted out. "Yes," He said indignantly, "There jolly well is: Jonathan's being bullied at school."

"Bullied?" Said Old Mrs Spider, "But why?"

So they told old Mrs Spider the whole story, and at the end of it Jonathan added.

"There's nothing I can do about it," He explained, "I'm just a snail; I'm far too slow to chase anybody away."

"Just a snail, indeed!" Snorted Old Mrs Spider, "Too slow to chase anybody, eh? We'll soon see about that."

With a twinkle in her eye, old Mrs Spider's weaved off to a cupboard in the corner of her kitchen. She opened it and held up a small, dark green bottle.

"See this?" She asked.

"Yes," They chorused, "What is it?"

"A secret," She replied, "A special old spider secret. Mind, though," She eyed them sternly, "it only works when somebody's in trouble and needs help."

"What does it do?"

"Makes you stronger," She replied, "And faster."

"How?"

Old Mrs Spider smiled and headed for the door. " Let's go outside," She suggested, "There's not enough space in here for you to go rushing around."

Jonathan had never rushed around anywhere in his life, but, with a shrug, he slid out to Old Mrs Spider's front gate, Robbit beside him, bouncing with curiosity.

"What do I do now?" Asked Jonathan uncertaintly, once they got there.

Old Mrs Spider uncorked the little green bottle  "Take a spoonful," She instructed.

Cautiously, Jonathan took a sip. "Well?" He said. "Now what?"

Old Mrs Spider smiled, and pointed to a tree on the other side of the clearing. "See how fast you can run over there."

Jonathan was just about to say that he couldn't run anywhere when, all of a sudden, he felt like he really could. He gave a little hop of excitement then, with a puff of dust, shot off across the clearing in a blur of speed, straight towards the tree.

Robbit couldn't believe his eyes.

"Wow!" He breathed. Robbit had never, ever seen anybody move that fast.

"Wow!" He breathed again, " Jonathan the high speed snail!"

Away across on the other side of the clearing, Jonathan slithered to a halt beside the tree, breathing deeply. He felt wonderful.

"Now run back here again," Called old Mrs Spider.

Jonathan took a deep breath and, in a cloud of leaves and twigs and dust, zipped back across the clearing towards Robbit and old Mrs Spider.

"Watch out, Jonathan!" Yelled Robbit.

It was too late. With a tremendous crash, Jonathan piled headfirst into a huge bush. There was a moment of silence, then Jonathan slid slowly and unsteadily out from under
the branches.

"Oooh, my goodness," He breathed, "Things do rather rush at you, don't they?"

"Ahem," Coughed Robbit, "That bush didn't rush at you: you rushed at it."

Jonathan looked rather proud of himself. "Yes, I did rather, didn't I?" He smiled happily. He took off his spectacles and began wiping blobs of mud off them.

Robbit gazed at his friend with new-found admiration.

Jonathan put his glasses back on again, "That was exciting," He said, peering up at Robbit through mud-smeered lenses, "I think I'll do it again."

"Hang on a mo," Called Robbit, "You need some practice first."

But Jonathan wasn't listening. He gave a quick little hop and roared off round the clearing, his shell glinting in the sunlight as he sped across the grass.

"Oh, no," Robbit sighed, and put his paws over his eyes, "I can't watch."

There was a despairing wail and a skidding noise followed by a loud thump.
Robbit uncovered his eyes and looked. There, on the far side of the clearing, lay Jonathan, his shell on one side in the mud. Old Mrs Spider chortled with delight. Robbit ran over and began to hoist his friend back upright again.

"What happened?" Asked Robbit, wiping the worst of the mud and leaves off Jonathan's shell.

"I fell over," Said Jonathan indignantly, "When I tried to turn, I fell over."

Robbit tapped his feet impatiently. "If you really want to run fast, and chase those bullies," He said, his paws on his hips, "You're going to have to learn how to steer properly."

Jonathan scratched his head. "That's easy for you to say," He answered, "You've always been a rabbit. But I've always been a snail. Besides, I wear glasses, so things sometimes arrive before I see them."

Robbit thought for a bit. Suddenly, he snapped his fingers. "I've got it!" He exclaimed.

"Got what?" Jonathan was puzzled.

"The answer!" Robbit was hopping up and down with excitement, "We could use Andrew!"

"Andrew?" Queried Old Mrs Spider.

"Andy," Explained Robbit, "Andy the ant."

"How could he help?" Asked Jonathan.

"Easy," Said Robbit, "Andy's got the sharpest eyes of anybody in the meadow, and he's tiny: he could sit on your shell and tell you which direction to go."

It seemed like a brilliant idea.

"Come on," Robbit bounced off down the path, "Let's go find him."

Jonathan sped after him, Old Mrs Spider at his side, her dark green bottle clutched in one hand. She was so excited, she had quite forgotten her aches and pains. As she bowled along along between the two friends, Old Mrs Spider thought to herself that she hadn't run like this since she was a girl. This was fun.

They found Andy doing what he always seemed to be doing, working. Bustling around building another ant nest in one of the sunny corners of the meadow. Jonathan craned his neck and stared up at Andy's latest and greatest hill of twigs and leaves, towering above them: it seemed to reach the sky.

"Hi Andy," Robbit yelled up to the top of the pile of twigs.

Andy carried on doing what he was doing, dragging a large twig up to the top of his hill.

"Hi Andy," Robbit called again.

"Hi Robbit," Andy called back out of the corner of his mouth, his teeth clenched on his precious twig, "I'm busy."

"I can see that," Said Robbit, "But could we ask you something?"

"Sure, anything for you, old friend," Andy called back, his mouth full of stick, "What's on your mind?"

"We were wondering," Robbit began, "if you could steer Jonathan."

"If I could do what?" Andy's mouth dropped open in amazement, and his twig fell out, tumbling down the hill.

"Steer Jonathan," Said Robbit.

Andy stood at the top of his heap, staring in dismay as his twig slithered and slipped all the way to the bottom.

"Steer Jonathan?" He called in disbelief, "Me, steer a snail?"

Andy bustled back down his hill, grabbed his stick and bustled furiously back up again.
"You crazy or something?" He called out behind him, "You think I've got time to fall asleep on the back of a dozy snail?"

Jonathan bristled indignantly

"I'm not dozy," He declared, "You just watch me."

Andy pretended to yawn. " OK, snail," He challenged, "I'm watching: keep me awake."

Furious, Jonathan puffed out hs chest and got ready to run.

Vroooomm!!!

With a noise rather like a little jet plane taking off, Jonathan screeched off across the meadow and out of sight. All that could be seen was the tips of the long grass trembling as he sped along the ground underneath like a tiny, invisible express train.

"Wow!" Exclaimed Andy from the top of his hill.

They watched, fascinated, as Jonathan's trail curved round in the distance and began to head back towards them.

"Oh, oh," Said Robbit.

"Jump, Ant!" Yelled Old Mrs Spider.

But it was too late. There was a huge crunch and Andy's carefully built pile of twigs and little sticks exploded in a cloud of dust. Andy came hurtling down and landed at Jonathan's feet.

"Ooooph!" He gasped.

"Hah!" Said Jonathan triumphantly, "You still awake?"

Andy picked himself up, brushing off bits of twigs and dried leaves.

"Jeewhizz," He exclaimed, trying to lift a corner of Jonathan's shell, "What you got under there, snail, rockets?"

Old Mrs Spider clattered forwards.

"There's nothing under there, ant," She told him, "Except spider juice."

"Spider juice?" Andy looked disbelieving, "What's that?"

"Secret," Said Old Mrs Spider firmly.

"Works, though, doesn't it," Said Jonathan proudly.

Andy stroked his chin thoughtfully.

"And you want me to steer this thing?" He asked Robbit, pointing at Jonathan, "Why?"
Robbit explained the whole story: Andy listened carefully.

"H'mmm," He said when Robbit had finished, "Never did like the beetle boys; in fact, nobody I know likes them: nasty creatures. Would be nice to chase them off the meadow."

"Does that mean you'll do it?"

"Why not," Andy climbed up on the front of Jonathan's shell, "Never driven a racing snail before. Might be fun."

Jonathan was itching to get going. "Come on," He said impatiently, "We've got to get practising."

Robbit and Old Mrs Spider decided they would leave Jonathan and Andy to practise in peace, and set off home across the meadow. Andy waved to them from his perch on Jonathan`s shell, then lent forward.

"OK, my friend," He whispered in Jonathan's ear, "Here's what we're going to do."

The two Beetle Boys were skulking around in the prickly bramble bushes that grew at the bottom of the meadow. They looked up scornfully as they saw Jonathan slide slowly into view.

"Well, well, well," Sneered one of them, "Look what we've got here."

"Why, if it isn't a snail," Leered the other, "A boring, slow snail."

"And what's that little thing stuck on the front of his shell?"

"Looks like it's an ant: Andrew the ever-busy Ant."

Jonathan and Andy said nothing; they just glided quietly up to where the beetle boys stood.

"What's that on the side of his shell?" One of the beetles pointed at Jonathan.

"It looks like writing," Said the other, "What could it say?"

They scuttled round to peer at Jonathan's shell.

"Ooh, look," Tittered one, pretending to be surprised, "It says SWOT." "Swotty, swotty snail," They mocked.

Jonathan spoke at last. "I'd like you to clean the writing off, please," He said, quietly.

The two beetle boys almost fell over with surprise.

"You'd like us to do what?" They chorused.

"Clean it off," Replied Jonathan, "After all, you put it on."

The two beetle boys hooted in derision.

"Hooo, listen to him," They jeered.

Jonathan stood still calmly.

"And," He added, "I'd like you to promise never to bully anybody in the meadow again."

The two beetles stopped laughing. "And if we don't promise?" Said one of them menacingly, "What will you do then?"

The beetle boys looked very ferocious; Jonathan plucked up all his courage.

"I'll chase you," He said bravely, "So fast you fall over. Then you wouldn't be able to get up."

The two beetle boys doubled up with laughter: nasty, unfriendly laughter. "Hooo, hooo, hoooo," They hooted derisively.

They dashed round to one side of Jonathan. "Yoo hoo!" They called, "Catch us if you can."

They rushed back to the other side. "Yoo hoo!" They called again, "We're over here."

The two beetles scampered off up the hill. "Come and get us!" They jeered.

The beetles cackled gleefully to each other, delighted with themselves.

"I'll give you one more chance," Declared Jonathan, "I'd like you to clean my shell, then I'd like you to promise not to be bullies ever again."

But the beetles just swaggered around and around, taunting Jonathan.

Silently and slowly, Andy lent forward. "Hey, my friend," He whispered in Jonathan's ear, "You all fuelled up?"

Jonathan nodded quietly: Old Mrs Spider had given him a fresh spoonful of her brew that morning.

Andy pushed forward gently on Jonathan's feelers. " Let's go, my friend," He whispered in Jonathan's ear, " It's time to show them who's boss."

Jonathan began to cruise forward, slowly at first, Andy astride his shell.

The two beetle boys watched them, smirking. "My, oh my," Jeered one of them, "The snail's chasing us."

"Oh, help, help," Sneered the other, "He's going so fast."

Suddenly, Andy pushed Jonathan's feelers right to the front of his head  "Go get 'em," He yelled.

Vrrroooooom!

Jonathan leapt forward like a rocket, his head down, straight at the two beetles.

Dumbfounded, they stood rooted to the spot. Jonathan zoomed between them.

"Yikes!" Screeched one of them.

"I don't believe it!" Gasped the other.

Andy hauled hard on one of Jonathan's feelers. "Turn, Jonathan!" He yelled, "Let's go back and run 'em over."

Jonathan veered round and screeched back towards the two beetles.

Pheeeeeoonnnnngggg!!

"Watch out," Yelled one, "He's coming back!"

The two of them scrabbled desperately to get out of the way. Jonathan streaked between them, Andy bouncing up and down on his shell in excitement.

"Wheeeeee!" Yelled Andy, "Go get'em , Jonathan!"

The two beetle boys went scuttling off down the hill as fast as they could. Andy and Jonathan hurtled after them.

Vvvvvveeeeoooowwwwwww!!

"Help! Help!" The beetles yelled in fright.

Panic-stricken, they looked round over their shoulders to see where Jonathan was. Not looking where they were going, they didn't see Old Mrs Spider's fresh new web lying
right across their path.

Crash!

The two beetle boys tripped and fell headlong, rolling over and over down the hill.
Thump! Thump!! Thump!!!

The pair landed at the bottom of the hill, upside down, their legs waving in the air. Jonathan and Andy slid to a halt beside them.

"Help," Called out one of the beetles.

"Turn us back upright, again," Pleaded the other.

"Not 'til you've said sorry and promised to clean my shell," Said Jonathan firmly.

The two beetle boys were silent, their legs still waving helplessly in the air.

"Well?" Asked Jonathan, "I'm listening."

"Dohhh!" Said one of the beetles angrily.

"That didn't sound like 'Sorry' to me," Said Jonathan.

The two beetles gritted their teeth angrily and said nothing.

"Oh, well," Said Jonathan, "We'll go home for tea, now. We might pop round tomorrow to see how you two are getting on."

He turned and began to slide off up the hill.

"Wait!" Called the beetles. The thought of being left alone and upside down all night was more than they could bear.

"Yes?" Answered Jonathan, "Did you want to say something?"

There was a pause, then. "Oh, all right then," One of them called out crossly, "Sorry."

"And how about your friend?" Asked Jonathan.

"OK," Said the other beetle grumpily at last, "I'm sorry too."

Jonathan and Andy slid back down the hill again and hoisted the beetles back on to their feet.

"Right," Jonathan instructed them, "Off you go and fetch a bucket of water and two sponges."

As the pair scuttled off, one of them turned to Jonathan.

"Where did you learn to run like that?" He asked. There was new-found respect in his voice.

"That," Declared Jonathan "Is a secret"

The two beetles scrubbed and scrubbed, then dried and polished Jonathan's shell until it gleamed.

"Thank you," Said Jonathan. He meant it; he couldn't remember his shell looking so nice before.

The beetles were silent: nobody had ever said thank you to them.

" My shell looks like new," Jonathan peered over his shoulder, "You worked very hard."

The beetles shuffled their feet: nobody had ever praised them before either: they looked almost shy.

" That's OK," Said one of them gruffly, "Glad you like it."

"Yeah," Added the other, "We could polish your friends' shells as well if you like."

Andy was so surprised, he almost fell off Jonathan's shell. "There are hundreds of snails in the meadow, " He exclaimed.

"Hundreds?" Gulped the two beetles.

"And they'd all love to have their shells polished," Said Jonathan.

And so it was that, for the rest of the week, the two beetle boys spent every day busily washing and polishing the shells of every snail in the meadow. There were big ones and small ones, and round ones and wobbly ones, and some were flat and some were tall, and some were brown and some were grey and some were all kinds of colours. But all of the snails were thrilled, and every one of them said thankyou and what a nice job the two beetles had done.

And, do you know, by the end of the week, what with all the smiles and thankyou's, the beetles felt quite different. In fact, they felt so good about the way everybody else was pleased with them, they didn't feel like bullying at all.

Instead, they discovered that they had made hundreds of new snail friends, from all over the meadow.

"And it was all thanks to Jonathan," Declared one of the beetles.

"You see," Explained the other, "People thought that because we looked nasty and tough, we really were nasty and tough."

"And that made us become nasty and tough," Added the other.

"But now everyone knows that we're not," They said together, "So we don't have to be bullies any more. We can just be friends: it's much nicer."

Andy and Jonathan thought so too. They waved goodbye to the two beetles, and wended their way off across the meadow towards Andy's new anthill.

"Bye, Andy," Said Jonathan, "Thanks for all your help."

"Bye Jonathan," Replied Andy, "See you in the morning."

Andy bustled off to find some more twigs and start building again. Jonathan slid slowly up the hill to his little home in amongst the leaves that lay under the old oak tree; it had been a good week, he thought, he would sleep soundly tonight.

The End


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