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Title: The Youngest Camel
Author: Boyle, Kay
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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_The Youngest Camel_


[Illustration: “_Now we have brought you to the pathway between the
winds._”]



  THE YOUNGEST CAMEL

  By Kay Boyle

  [Illustration]

  With illustrations by
  FRITZ KREDEL

  BOSTON
  LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY
  1939



  COPYRIGHT 1939, BY KAY BOYLE

  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THE RIGHT
  TO REPRODUCE THIS BOOK OR PORTIONS
  THEREOF IN ANY FORM

  FIRST EDITION

  _Published August 1939_

  THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY PRESS BOOKS
  ARE PUBLISHED BY
  LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY
  IN ASSOCIATION WITH
  THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY COMPANY

  PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



  _For Pegeen, Bobby, Apple-Joan,
  Kathe, and Clover Vail_



ILLUSTRATIONS


  “_Now we have brought you to the pathway between the
     winds._”                                               Frontispiece

  _The little camel said nothing at all, but simply
     followed in her footsteps_                                       22

  _He lay there very meekly on one side_                              28

  _And then they flew off, their legs floating on the air behind
     them_                                                            44

  “_It’s much wiser to be polite to everyone I meet, because one
     never knows._”                                                   54

  _The little camel took another uncertain step towards the tent_     68



_The Youngest Camel_



[Illustration]

_I_


The beginning of the caravan’s trip was made through lovely country,
through regions in which flowers such as tea roses and white and purple
iris bloomed. When the caravan came through villages, boys ran out
barefoot and half-naked to sell fruit to the travelers: baskets of
peaches, pears, and melons. All the forty camels wore bells, each one
several little silver-tongued bells attached to the harness he wore
around his neck. The youngest camel was the only one who did not carry
a bell, nor a load on his back. This was the first trip he had ever
made across the desert and he followed close behind his mother. As long
as she was there before him, he felt quite pleased with himself and not
at all fearful of all the sights he saw.

After several days the caravan, like every other caravan that took this
route, entered the badlands. Here the older camels fell into sudden
rages and spat if anyone approached them. If the camel drivers jerked
their nose cords, they flung their legs about and tottered as if they
were about to faint. Now and then, towards sundown, when the hour to
halt seemed near, they screamed aloud like humans. But the camels grew
quieter as soon as the desert began and they felt their feet deep in
the hot slipping sand.

The early mornings were now a clear icy blue, but as the day advanced
the heat blazed up as if a fire were sweeping across the heavens
towards them. The youngest camel didn’t mind how hot it was and he
had such a good opinion of his own strength that he thought he could
never possibly get tired. He came skipping and jumping along behind
his mother, playing games with himself and laughing out loud when the
dry sand ran swift as water between his toes. But when his mother
complained of the terrible heat and the long way they had to go, he
lifted his soft dark eyes and looked at her long legs before him, and
her tail, and he thought: I love her. I love her elbows with the hair
worn off them, like the old carpet the snake charmer sits on in the
market place; I love the way her hump slumps when she has no more water
in it, and I love the way her tail is eaten by the moths because she
forgot to put it in camphor once about fifty years ago.

He was a very poetic young camel and rather musical besides. He had a
beautiful singing voice, and in the evenings when they halted at an
oasis he liked to play the harp and sing to her. Most of his songs were
about himself and his own beauty and grace, but sometimes at night his
songs were so tender in his love for her that she had to rise from her
knees and break off great leaves from the banana trees and dry the
tears from her aging face.

On the fifteenth night they halted at an oasis where the poplars and
mimosas grew in great profusion, and where hares and antelope moved
shyly in the cool green gorges. The stars were sprinkled out as fine as
salt across the bluish night sky. The youngest camel lay close beside
his mother in the moist grasses, and she said to him:--

“Flower of my heart, this trip you have followed close beside me, for
you are my baby still, but soon you must prepare yourself for what will
surely come. Perhaps when we reach the end of our journey you will be
taken from me, and from then on you will travel with strange camels,
carrying a load of your own.”

“A baby?” said the youngest camel in surprise, feeling a little
annoyed. “Me, a baby?”

“Yes,” said his mother sadly, “and so, my earliest leaf, you will have
to undergo the ordeal of loneliness.”

“What in the world is that?” asked the young camel, and he reached out
for his harp and lightly touched its strings.

“The ordeal of loneliness is the thing we camels fear the most,” said
his mother, and he sat listening to her rather impatiently, swinging
his little golden chin back and forth as he chewed on a bit of grass.
“Men have found out,” she went on, lowering her voice, “that what we
fear above everything else is being left alone. So they take us one by
one when we are very young like you, and they tie us fast and leave
us in solitude three days and three nights in the desert. If we live
through that and keep our reason, then we’re cured. After that we no
longer fear the terrible sight of nothingness around us. But sometimes
we do not live through it. You must be prepared for that.”

“What, me?” said the youngest camel with a laugh. “Do you think I’ll
mind? Why, not at all. I’m a little bit afraid of fire, and I don’t
quite like things that lie still and refuse to move any more. But
generally I’m much more brave than other young camels, and I couldn’t
possibly be afraid of being alone!”

He was so close to his mother’s side that this seemed like a fairy
story she told him. And all around them the oasis was filled with
sleeping life. Near the trees, the mules stood tethered, their tails
swinging back and forth in the warm night air. Against the starry sky,
the necks and heads of the forty kneeling camels stood out, peaceful as
statues. Danger seemed a thing too far away to think of, even.

“Yes,” his mother went on as she smoothed his hair back from his brow.
“At first you will be very much afraid, but you must try to remember
there is nothing really to fear. Remember, it is only the beating of
our own hearts that makes us tremble.”

The young camel laughed a little in contempt at the idea of being
afraid of anything at all, and then he began to draw music from his
harp. No one moved, nothing stirred except the mules’ tails slowly
waving in the tall grass, but his mother began to cry silently while he
sang.


_The Youngest Camel’s Song_

  When I am fourteen I shall wear tassels on my cheeks,
  And I shall dance for the Shah and the Lamas and the Raj
  With a tambourine tied to my tail.
  When they sprinkle coins before me and wash my hoofs in milk,
  I shall return to you rich from their palaces,
  Running fast as a king deer to you with jewels in his antlers.

  I shall know you at once, no matter how many years have passed over,
  Because you have no upper teeth any more
  And because you have sores on your shoulders.
  I shall bring you patches to wear on your old knees, Mother,
  And ivory and basalt stronger than teeth
  To fill up your naked mouth.



[Illustration]

_II_


The next morning the youngest camel awoke in high spirits and ran
quickly to brush his teeth in the oasis pool. He felt so reckless that
he swallowed all his toothbrush water on purpose, a thing his mother
had told him particularly he should never do. Then he gargled so loud
that nobody could hear the waterfall any more; so loud, in fact, that
the mules craned their heads around and looked critically over their
shoulders at him. Next he caught sight of a group of melancholy waders,
some of them looking in the water for frogs and some of them standing
mournfully on one leg in the shallows. So he crept along behind the
bushes and then jumped out at them with such a shout that he scared
them into fits before they collected themselves enough to spread their
wings and fly away.

His mother was not at all pleased at the way he was going on. The sun
was rising beyond the tamarisk trees and a day’s travel lay before
them, so naturally she was not feeling in quite such a sentimental mood
as on the night before. She kept darting black looks at him all the
time she was being saddled and packed, but she couldn’t get near enough
to him to say a word. He was dancing foolishly around with his harp and
making a spectacle of himself before the mules, who, although they did
not usually see anything funny in anything, had begun to show their
teeth in quick unhappy smiles.

And now the caravan started off again across the sand, accompanied by
the music of the camels’ silver bells. The young camel ran lightly
along beside his mother, humming under his breath something about
“love” and “the afternoon I met you” and “a love nest for two,” which
were words from a song everybody was singing that year.

“The trouble with you is that you just can’t see things as they really
are,” his mother said severely to him.

She reached out and tried to nip his ear, but he skipped quickly behind
her and there he began to play with her tail, leaping and skidding, the
way a kitten will bound after his mother’s tail if he is feeling full
of milk and bold as brass.

“Whoops!” he cried, making another flying leap after her tail as she
tossed it in irritation into the air. “And, anyhow, how _are_ things
_really_?”

“Don’t be absurd,” snapped his mother as she ambled along behind the
next camel’s hind legs and tail. “Things _are_ exactly as they _are_.”

The sun was rising higher above them, and every instant it grew hotter
until the heat seemed to have bleached all the color out of the sky.

“For instance, this sand is getting unbearably hot,” his mother went
on, “and there is no stopping place until we reach the oasis, which
will be about sundown. Also, there is a sore on my right hip which is
being rubbed at every step by my haunch strap. And, last but not least,
you are behaving like a perfect ninny. Such things _are_. Whether you
like it or not, you have to admit they’re _there_.”

“Where is _there_?” asked the youngest camel smartly, and his mother
answered:--

“_There_, of course, means _here_.”

“I don’t see how _there_ can be _here_ when _there_’s over there
somewhere,” said her son, and she answered shortly:--

“Don’t waste your time talking so ridiculously. One of the things that
doesn’t exist is the green vale I had always hoped to settle in. At my
time of life I ought to have a place like that where I could stretch
out and eat all the fresh vegetation I wanted and drink as much cool
water as I wanted--” The camel driver gave her mouth such a jerk that
she had to stop speaking for a moment, and then she added bitterly:
“That’s just one of the things that can never possibly be.”

“Why can’t it?” asked the youngest camel.

“Because it can’t,” snapped his mother. “Because your father didn’t
take out any life insurance. Because things _are_ or else they _are
not_.”

“What about the caravan of white camels with solid gold hoofs that goes
right around the earth like a belt?” asked the little camel, shifting
his harp on his shoulder.

“Hooey,” said his mother. “A lot of hooey.”

“But a llama told me that back in Hindustan,” her son insisted. “They
go right around the world through everything--cities, oceans, railway
carriages, skyscrapers. They keep on going all the time and nothing can
stop them and nobody except camels can see them. And whenever a camel
is lost anywhere in the world he only has to join the caravan of white
camels and in the end he’s bound to pass through his own country and
find his family again--”

“Don’t be an ass,” said his mother. Her feet were beginning to hurt her
very much. “You can be sure that’s one of the things that decidedly _is
not_.”

“The llama said he knew a camel who--” he began, but his mother
interrupted:--

“Llamas are notoriously untruthful.”

They went on in silence for a while, but presently the little camel
began asking questions again.

“What about the two sides of the weather that Mohammed has for a fan?”
he said to his mother. “The light blue side is turned towards him when
he feels like dancing and singing, and then the dark side is turned out
to us. And when he is in thought he fans himself with the dark side so
the light won’t disturb him. That’s how we have good and bad weather.”

“Absurd!” snapped his mother. “Sometimes the sun shines and sometimes
it doesn’t. That’s all there is to that story.”

“What about the sun being a pineapple with its skin taken off?” said
the youngest camel rather sadly.

“Bunkum!” said his mother as she ambled along before him.

“The peacock I met in Kerbela said bad weather came when the wind
blew hard and broke the pineapple off the branch and split it in five
hundred pieces,” the little camel said.

“There’s not a word of truth in that story either,” his mother said.
“You’re old enough now,” she added as the camel driver jerked up her
nose, “to begin recognizing the truth when you see it--”

But before she could say any more, the little camel cried out:--

“Oh, I’ve found the most wonderful thing you’ve ever seen! Oh, it’s so
marvelous! I found it--lying--right--here--in--the--sand--”

Because his voice grew fainter and fainter, she knew he must have
stopped behind her to pick up whatever it was, but when she tried
walking slower to give him time to catch up with her again, the camel
driver pulled fiercely at her reins. She could not so much as turn her
head to see what had become of the youngest camel, but she had to go
loping on with that queer human-looking smile on her lips which camels
usually wear.

But they had not gone very far before she heard her child panting
behind her, and in another moment he called out:--

“This time I’ve found a fortune! We’re going to be rich and happy
forever and you’ll never have to work again! It’s a string of wonderful
beads,” he said, dropping into step behind her. “Some of them are
carved and they’re all different colors, and they’re strung together on
a solid-silver chain. It must have been a prince who lost them on his
way to his wedding,” his excited voice went on. “I’m sure they must be
very valuable indeed.”

The sun was growing hotter and hotter in the heavens, and now his
mother, who was much older than anyone would have believed, was feeling
more than a little impatient. She couldn’t crane her neck around and
see what the youngest camel was up to, and her feet hurt her, and her
hip was rubbed quite raw.

“In the first place, they don’t belong to you,” she said to him in
annoyance. “You’ll have to turn them over to the police as soon as we
reach civilization.”

“Oh, but look!” cried the little camel, just as if it were possible for
her to turn her head and see. “There’s a bit of paper tied to them.
It says--let me see a minute,” he said, as if trying hard to make the
letters out--“it says, ‘Whoever finds these magic beads may keep them.’
So you see!” he cried out joyfully. “Now they belong to us and we can
sell them in the next city and you can have everything you want to
make you happy. You can have a parasol to keep the sun off you, and a
litter with curtains at the sides to be carried in by slaves, and you
can wear a solid gold ring in your nose every day, and I can have a big
mirror to watch myself in while I’m dancing, and--”

“Tell me what they look like,” said his mother, beginning to be a
little curious. “This brute is holding the cord so tight that I can’t
look around, but describe them to me.”

“Well, one is bright red,” said her son, following quickly behind her.
“The one next to it is green, and the next after that shines like a
diamond.” He talked very slowly, as if he were examining the necklace
closely as he came along. “And now I see something else!” he cried out
in fresh excitement. “Each one has a sort of message written in it,
carved right inside it in beautiful tiny lettering.”

“Ho, ho,” said his mother. “That’s probably why they’re called magic
beads.”

“Oh, yes, that must be it. I hadn’t thought of that,” said the youngest
camel in an innocent-sounding voice. “The jade one has written inside
it,” he went on slowly, as if he were having difficulty in making out
the words, “‘I am the green valley you long for. You may live in me
forever.’ And the topaz bead says, ‘I am a silk tent to protect you
from sandstorms and from winter and from the midday sun.’ And the ruby
one says, ‘I am blood to flow in your veins and the veins of those you
love. Thus you may live forever.’ And the--”

“Do any of them say anything about bones?” asked his mother, and the
little camel looked up with surprise.

“Bones?” he repeated.

“Yes, bones,” said his mother. “Perhaps I haven’t told you about that
yet, but if you don’t know it’s certainly high time you did. Although
we camels dread the smell or sight of death, there’s really nothing
nicer than being able to crunch the bones of a fallen relative later,
say three or four months after his demise when the flesh has fallen
quite off his bones. They taste very good,” she continued, almost
smacking her lips. “Like pretzels or salted almonds. It’s a great
comfort if you’ve lost someone dear to you to be able to munch him up
like that, and very good for the teeth and hoofs.”

“Oh, yes,” said the youngest camel, as if he had been searching
all this time for it and just found it in the string. “Here is a
pure-white bead, like ivory, and all around it there is written
something in gold. Yes--bones,” he murmured. “I do think it says
something about bones.”

“Read it quickly!” said his mother, and after a moment of hesitation
the little camel began reading aloud very slowly and uncertainly:--

  “If it’s bones you want,
  No longer hunt.
  Just rub my--rub my cheek
  And bones will creak.”

“Well, that’s really wonderful,” said his mother, and now she had
entirely forgotten about the heat and how sore her hip was and how long
a way they had still to go. “I’m half tempted to have you try it here,
only it might be a bit embarrassing--”

“Oh, I wouldn’t try it now, would you?” cried the little camel. “I
think it would be much better if we waited until this evening, because
if bones suddenly started creaking now the whole caravan would stop and
then they’d all see the beads around my neck--”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” said his mother. “But I can scarcely
wait to try. Now, tell me what’s written inside the diamond, darling.”

“Oh, the diamond,” said her son slowly and thoughtfully, exactly as if
he were having a good look for it among the other beads. “Well, it’s
rather difficult to make it out.”

“I should think it would be very easy,” said the mother camel. “It
must be as clear as water, if it’s a real diamond, so that you can see
what’s written in it without any trouble at all.”

“Well, you see, the diamond takes the rays of the sun on every one of
its points,” said the little camel, “and so it practically blinds me,
it dazzles so. But I think I can see something about ‘drink’ or ‘water’
written in it. Oh, yes,” he went on presently, during which time his
mother concluded he had been studying the jewel. “Oh, yes. Now I can
see. I’ve got in the shadow of your tail and I can make out the words
quite well. It says--let me see--yes, it says:--

  “When you would drink
  Just cease to think
  And bend your knee at my brink.”

“Wonderful!” exclaimed his mother, joyfully, and he could see by the
way she ran youthfully over the sand that she had completely forgotten
all her troubles and discomforts. So through the entire blazing hot
day, as they crossed the desert, he told her one by one the endless
colors and verses of the beads. His little throat grew hoarser and
hoarser, and his tongue drier and drier from talking so much, but the
excited jerk of her shabby tail before him was enough to urge him on
and on. The amethyst was the jewel of memory, he told her, and you
only had to hold it for a minute in your ear for all the nice things
that had happened in the past to become the present. The moonstone was
the bead of the future, and after you had rubbed it hard you could see
reflected in it all that was going to happen, and so you could avoid
any coming danger. The sapphire was the bead of purity, and when you
were old you need only press it for an instant against your forehead to
have all your years drop from you like the petals from a flower.

“And the opal,” he ended, as the blue light of evening began to fall.
“It is the bead for those who have told a lie. All you have to do is to
hold it under your tongue for half an hour and the lie you have told
becomes the truth.”

“Ah, there’s the oasis at last!” his mother cried out. The youngest
camel lowered his head and peered through her legs, and there on the
horizon, which had not altered the entire day, he saw the distant dark
points which must be the oasis trees growing. “The time passed very
quickly, although I was so impatient to see the necklace every minute,”
his mother said. “But now in no time at all we can settle down and undo
our packs and then we can try the magic beads. The first one I’m going
to try is the sapphire, so I need not be old any longer, and then the
amethyst, so that all the nice things that happened to me before will
come true again, and your father will be alive with us, and then--”

Strangely enough, the little camel said nothing at all, but simply
followed in her footsteps, and once they had reached the green island
in the vast white sea of sand, the mother camel turned eagerly to her
son.

[Illustration: _The little camel said nothing at all, but simply
followed in her footsteps_]

“Quickly now, darling, come with me behind the trees here and show me
the necklace,” she whispered, and she hurried him off out of sight
of the others. But now that they were quite alone, the youngest camel
only hung his head. “Quickly, quickly, where is it? I’ve never been so
anxious to see anything in my life--”

“Mother,” said her child miserably, “there is no necklace.”

“What?” she cried, tottering back under the tamarisk trees. “Do you
mean to say--oh, can it be possible--oh, good heavens, it can’t be all
a lie?”

“I don’t know if it’s a lie or not,” said the little camel, and he
turned unhappily away from the sight of her grief and fingered the
tall grasses absent-mindedly. “I made it up so you would forget about
the heat, so perhaps that isn’t quite so bad as lying. I kept thinking
perhaps the necklace was really there, although I couldn’t see it, like
the caravan of white camels that girdles the earth, and like Mohammed--”

“Oh, this is too much!” moaned his mother, covering her face with her
arms. “I never would have thought you could--I never dreamed--oh dear,
oh dear--”

“But music’s invisible, isn’t it?” said the little camel in a gentle
voice. “I kept on saying things like that to myself to make the
necklace seem all right. I said, ‘Music’s invisible and history’s
invisible and memory’s invisible and love’s invisible and still they’re
all really there.’”

His mother had now sunk down on the ground in despair, and realizing
she was on the verge of tears, her son took his harp off his shoulder
and shyly touched the strings.

“I wasn’t sure if you’d feel like singing me to sleep tonight,” he said
in a low voice. “After all that happened, I thought you might rather
not. So I made up the words of a lullaby myself, and if you feel too
badly I’ll sing them instead.”

His mother was weeping now and she did not answer, so he ran his
fingers lightly over the strings and began singing in a sad beautiful
voice through the night.

  “We have seen many colors together,
  The color of the dying moon, the turquoise of men’s lips in death,
  So we need wear no colors;
  We can draw our shaggy coats around us
  And sleepily,
    sle-e-e-e-e-pily, sleep-i-i-i-i-i-ly,
      dr-o-w-s-i-l-y, _d-r-o-w_-sily,
        s-m-i-i-i-i-i-le.

  “At the halting places
  We drink at bright pools by the trees;
  Our coats are the color of drought and sand.
  Does it matter? Oh, child, does it matter?
  In our humps we carry a treasure of crystal and diamond-white water;
  Jewel box of the desert, my son, you hold dreams
  Of topaz and emerald, ruby and pearl,
  Like nothing at all in your h-e-a-r-t, in your _h-e-a-r-t_.”

No sooner had he finished than two camel drivers came to where they
were seated under the trees, and without speaking a word one of them
put a rope around the youngest camel’s neck. He was so surprised that
he simply stood there looking at them in amazement, but his mother
understood at once what was taking place, and she raised herself
quickly from her knees and said to him in a soft voice:--

“Do not resist them. Go quietly.”

As they led him away, she hurried after him, calling:--

“Be brave, my son. Think of me and remember all I have told you.”

To stop the noise she was making, one of the men turned and raised his
whip and struck her sharply on the soft part of her nose. She jumped
back with a little cry of pain, but long after they had started out
across the dark desert, the bewildered little camel could hear her
voice calling and calling to him:--

“Go quietly! Do not struggle! Do not forget me! Perhaps one day we
shall find each other again!”



[Illustration]

_III_


The two men led the youngest camel far, far out into the desert, and
after a long time, when they seemed to be out of sight and hearing of
any living thing, they gave him the command to lie down. He kneeled
obediently before them, and then they unwound the ropes from around
their waists and pushed him over on his side, and while one camel
driver sat on him, the other began hastily to bind him. They drew his
hind legs roughly forward and knotted them tightly to his forelegs, and
he never dreamed of kicking or protesting. He had been brought up to
look on man as master, for his mother had always told him this was one
of the unalterable truths.

So he lay there very meekly on one side and allowed them to pass the
ropes around his body and draw them fast. He did not utter a sound,
but his heart was filled with fear. He was fastened so firmly that
he could scarcely breathe, and his ankles seemed almost cut in half,
but still he did not think to struggle. When their work was done, the
camel drivers each gave him a parting kick or two and then went off
in the direction from which they had come. He tried to raise his head
a little from the sand and with his eyes follow their retreat through
the starlit night. But after a moment the two shapes muffled in their
flowing robes were lost in the darkness, and as the little camel
realized he was alone, he uttered one sudden terrible scream.

[Illustration: _He lay there very meekly on one side_]

He had no intention of making a fuss or calling a lot of attention to
himself, but now he knew beyond any doubt that this was the ordeal of
loneliness at last and he could not control the shaking and the quaking
and the sobs which shook his frame. All about him lay the warm desert
silence, and there was no smell anywhere of other camels or of man. He
strained his ears until he thought they would fall from his head for
some sound of bells or perhaps the faintest echo of his mother’s voice
still calling out to him, but everything was as quiet as the tomb.

After some time had passed like this, he began kicking with all his
strength. This was not such an easy matter, either, because his feet
were very firmly tied. But he doubled up his legs as best he could
and then shot them savagely out. All this served no purpose, however.
In fact, it seemed to draw the cords tighter and tighter around his
neck and shoulders and it certainly made the knots cut deeper into his
anklebones. So presently he gave that up and tried lifting himself by
pushing one shoulder and one hip hard against the ground. But this got
him no further, and added to everything else he had now got sand into
both his eyes, and his mouth was filled as well. In his misery, he
tried to remember all the things his mother had told him as they lay
under the oasis trees at night. Once she had said to him:--

“If a camel falls ill or is overcome with old age while crossing the
desert, the men unsaddle and unload him and divide his pack among the
others, and then he is abandoned. They leave him alone there to die,
kicking hour after hour against death, while his friends are forced on,
screaming aloud with terror and despair and trying to look back over
their shoulders at him as they go.”

“If the truth is so terrible as all that,” he had said to his mother,
“I don’t see why anyone pays any attention to it. I think it would be
much better to make up something else instead.”

And another night his mother had said to him--

“If a camel does not have the smell of his own kind about him, he is
horribly frightened. But this is such a foolish thing, if you really
stop and think about it, that wise camels have taught themselves to
master their fear.” And another time his mother had said: “If we camels
have silence in our ears, that is another thing that drives us out
of our minds with fright. Perhaps that is the reason they hang bells
around our necks or perhaps that is why you like to sing so loud at
night when everything is still.”

Remembering her words, the little camel began to sing in a high
quavering voice. He was in such a state of nerves that he didn’t know
what words he sang, and the tune kept changing from one thing to
another, and he couldn’t manage to keep on the right key. But still
he went on singing and singing, making up songs about nothing lasting
forever, and about the swiftness of time passing.

  “All the time I am singing [was what he sang],
  Time is passing, passing, passing.
  The ordeal of loneliness will be over before I know it.
  The camel drivers will come back and fetch me
  And I’ll run as fast as I can to Aqsu and find my mother--”

But when he reached the word “mother” his voice rose to a high wail and
the tears rushed into his eyes and down his cheeks. Very soon after
this, he must have cried himself to sleep, and when he awoke the sun
was already rising. He rolled his eyes around in bewilderment a moment,
and then he felt the ropes fast on his legs and neck still and the sand
gritting in his teeth, and he knew where he was and why he was there.
As the sun rose, it beat hotter and hotter on him and the sky seemed
to be on fire above him and the sand on fire underneath him, and it is
very probable that he became delirious as noon approached.

At one moment he thought he heard the faraway tinkling of camel bells
and he tried to call out, but he could not. A little later, he thought
he saw pomegranate flowers and fruit hanging on cool leafy branches
before his eyes. Hour after hour passed and he lay there gasping under
the sun, and at times he believed that icy pools of water were just
within reach, and at other times he thought that fresh ripe figs were
just about to melt on his tongue. His eyes were glazing as his fever
rose, and his mind was filled with visions of strange and beautiful
things. With his parched black lips he kept repeating:--

“Music’s invisible, memory’s invisible, love’s invisible,” and in the
same faint voice he whispered: “Even hope’s invisible, but it must be
there just the same--”

As he uttered these words, he heard a gentle sigh like a breeze
stirring the air, and the next instant a hand was laid on his forehead.
He looked up through the blinding waves of heat and he saw a man
standing beside him and leaning over to stroke him, but strangely
enough there was no smell of man in his nostrils.

“This must be another vision,” he said to himself, but at once the man
began speaking to him in a sweet musical voice.

“I’ve been waiting around for seventeen hours for you to say that,”
said the man, and for some inexplicable reason he spoke a language
which the youngest camel understood with ease.

“Say what?” he murmured, and the man crossed his legs under him and sat
down on the sand. Then he lifted the little camel’s head and laid it on
his silk-clad knees and stroked back his hair as a mother might have
done.

“I’ve been waiting for you to say the word ‘hope,’” he answered,
“because as soon as you said that you proved you hadn’t given up, and
then I was able to become visible and rescue you.”

“Who are you?” asked the little camel. He was almost too weak to keep
his eyes open now, but he felt the man loosening the ropes that bound
him and this gave him courage to speak.

“Oh, I’m one of Mohammed’s sons,” the man said casually. “I’m one of
the youngest and not one of the important ones. This year I’ve been
given all the camels to keep an eye on. That’s why I’m here.” All the
time he talked he kept undoing the ropes and drawing them from under
the little camel’s hot body and shaking them off his ankles. “If only
you’d mentioned the word ‘hope’ sooner I could have let you free hours
and hours ago. You see, ‘hope’ is the one word that lets me become
human for a little while and help camels when they have been bound up
like this by men. I had to stick around here quite invisible until you
said that one particular word. One of the laws is that I’m not allowed
to make any suggestions, no matter how much else I have to do. So you
can see what a lot of time I have to waste just waiting.”

“Why is the word ‘hope’ magic?” asked the youngest camel, stretching
out one stiff leg to see if it still could move. And now Mohammed’s
son lifted the little camel’s head up again and laid it against his
shoulder while he shook the remaining cords away. When he did this, the
little camel saw that he was young and very handsome. He was wearing a
silk turban with pearls and turquoises embroidered on it, and carved
gold ornaments hung from his ears, and there was a look of great
gentleness in his face.

“Well, you see, _h_ stands for ‘help,’ and _o_ stands for ‘O,’ and _p_
stands for ‘power,’ and _e_ stands for ‘eternal,’” he said so lightly
and merrily that he seemed to be making fun of something. He took out
a little ivory flask from his garments and poured some fresh water
between the little camel’s burning lips. “So when you say ‘hope’ like
that, you’re really saying ‘Help, O power eternal!’ And that means me
because I’ve been appointed your patron saint this year.”

The youngest camel was feeling so much better by this time that,
assisted by Mohammed’s son, he was able to get to his knees and look
around him. But there was nothing at all to see as far as the eye could
reach but the empty sky and the wastes of sand. Feeling a bit dizzy
still, the little camel looked up into the young man’s face and tried
to smile.

“I’m sorry I can’t give you anything to eat,” Mohammed’s son went on
as he patted the little camel’s cheek affectionately. “But it’s really
too difficult to travel around invisible with a lot of mimosa branches
and bones and things hanging on me. But if you feel strong enough now,
I can start you off in the direction for Aqsu. I’m sure you won’t have
any trouble at all in finding your way.”

“Oh, please, don’t leave me alone! Please stay with me until I find
my mother and the caravan again!” the youngest camel pleaded. But
Mohammed’s son shook his head at him and gently smiled.

“I can’t run around after you like a nursemaid,” he said. “You see,
there are lots and lots of other young camels in just the same
situation as you were in when I came along, and I have to rescue them
too if it’s not too late. Only most of them are so stupid or have been
so obstinate about not listening to what older camels say that I can’t
do anything for them. They just won’t use the word ‘hope,’ so I usually
have to leave them there bound up.” The little camel thought to himself
that certainly no one had ever been able to call him stupid in his
whole life, and he began to feel rather pleased with himself again. “My
father made a rule,” Mohammed’s son went on, “that the guardian of the
camels could only bring help to those whom men had tied up in knots;
therefore, no matter what happens to you, I won’t be able to help you
any further. But I’m sure nothing can possibly happen to you now if you
listen carefully to my directions and do exactly what I say.”

The little camel was able to stand now and even to walk without too
much difficulty, and Mohammed’s son led him a little farther into the
desert. All the time he talked lightly and happily to him as they went.

“Now, the thing to keep in mind is that you must follow the sun,” he
said. “If you do that, and run very fast, you will be in Aqsu just as
night is beginning to fall. Remember not to let the sun show either
over your right shoulder or over your left, and don’t let the heat
of the sun fall warm on your tail. That will mean you are going in
quite the wrong direction. About twenty miles from Aqsu you’ll come
to a lovely oasis with hundreds of herons bathing in the waters and
flamingos flying through the luxuriant glades. When you reach that
oasis, you will know for certain that you haven’t much farther to go.
If you do as I say,” said the young man, stopping and putting one arm
around the youngest camel’s neck, “you can’t possibly make a mistake.”

The little camel began to wonder if he had ever in his entire life
made a mistake, and he really couldn’t think of a single time he had.
But now Mohammed’s son was saying farewell, and the little camel cried
out:--

“Oh, thank you a thousand times! Thank you, thank you!”

“Now you must repeat after me the word which restores me to godhead,”
the young man said. “For it is past time for me to go.”

“What is the word?” the youngest camel asked, and the other replied:--

“Pernod.”

“What does it mean? What does per--” the little camel began, curiously,
but Mohammed’s son interrupted him:--

“Don’t say it or I’ll disappear at once and then I won’t be able to
tell you! _Pe_ stands for ‘power eternal’ just as before, and _rnod_
stands for ‘reign near our dreams.’ I never liked the word ‘reign’
much, but my father thought it added dignity to the formula so we let
him have his way. So now repeat it after me--_P-e-r-n-o-d_.”

“Oh, please let me thank you again,” the little camel said, “and,
please, wouldn’t it be possible for you to let my mother know that
I’m--”

“Good gracious,” said the young man, “you mustn’t think about yourself
all the time the way you do! I have so much work to do I really haven’t
the time to rush around with personal messages to camels’ mothers--”

“I’m sorry,” said the youngest camel, and this time when Mohammed’s son
smiled at him and said the word he repeated it at once: “Pernod!”

As soon as the syllables had passed his lips, the handsome youth waved
his hand in farewell and vanished from sight. Without wasting another
instant, the little camel turned his head towards the sun and, his
heart singing with hope in him, began to run as fast as he possibly
could across the stretches of white desert in the direction of Aqsu.



[Illustration]

_IV_


By four o’clock in the afternoon the little camel was still running
hard, but now he had begun to slacken his pace a little, for it seemed
to him that some sort of object was appearing on the horizon far, far
away. Whatever it was, it was decidedly to one side and not at all in
the direction of the sun where the handsome youth had told him the
oasis would be. As he ran he kept glancing out of the corner of one eye
at the dark object that seemed to be growing bigger and bigger over his
left shoulder, and he kept asking himself what in the world it could be.

After a while his curiosity got the best of him and he stopped running
entirely and turned halfway around and gave the dark thing a good long
stare. And then he really began to suspect it was the oasis. It looked
exactly like an oasis. He was sure he could make out the tops of the
trees against the sky. It was certainly the oasis. In another minute he
had turned all the way around, and even though he felt the light of the
sun falling warm on his tail, he was convinced it was the oasis.

He thought he could even make out tiny black specks hovering above it.

“Those are probably the herons and the flamingos,” he said to himself.
“Mohammed’s son said there were hundreds of them there.”

So without any further hesitation he started running again, but
this time in an entirely different direction from the one in which
Mohammed’s son had told him he should go. Faster and faster he sped
towards the perfectly clear oasis ahead, and now the sun was shining
well over his right shoulder.

“Mohammed’s son certainly didn’t know what he was talking about,” he
said with a little snort of laughter. “It’s evident even to an idiot
that the oasis is over there right in front of me and not in the
direction of the sun in the slightest.”

In half an hour at the most, he thought, he would be snuggling down
against his mother among the fresh grasses of the oasis twenty miles
this side of Aqsu. He knew he was absolutely right and he began
complimenting himself on his quick eyes and wits. Most young camels
would have gone right on and never noticed what fools they were making
of themselves, he thought with satisfaction.

“It just shows,” he said to himself, “that it doesn’t pay to believe
everything you’re told.”

He was so pleased with himself that he began to whistle as he ran. He
whistled treble and bass and, by curling his tongue up against his
lower teeth, managed to do some double-stops. And now that he made out
what looked exactly like branches of palm trees waving against the sky
ahead, he gave a few little hops and skips of joy.

Before he had gone much farther a flock of herons came flying across
the heavens towards him, and as they came near to him they circled
lower, so low in fact that he could see their long legs dangling in the
air behind them as they flew. The sight of such a baby camel running
so fast and quite alone across the sands made them circle closer and
closer above him in wonder, and at last the leader of the herons called
down:--

“Where are you going so fast, four-footed child?”

The youngest camel was a bit annoyed at being called a child by birds
he had never laid eyes on before, and he tossed his head rather
insolently as he answered:--

“I’m going to the oasis which my mother is passing through with her
caravan. If they’ve started on by the time I get there, I’ll run
straight on to Aqsu.”

“You’ve lost your way, four-footed child!” the herons called down in
chorus. “We’re going to the oasis for the night. Watch us and follow
where we go.”

“But I can see the oasis as clear as day ahead!” the little camel cried
out impatiently. “You must be blind as bats, old birds! Can’t you see
the palms and the--”

“You’ve lost your way!” the leader of the herons called down to him
again as she swept above him and beckoned with one wing. But the
youngest camel went running on in his own direction as fast as he could
go.

“They’re just as stupid as I always thought,” said the little camel to
himself. “They can’t see two inches in front of their big beaks, the
silly-looking creatures!”

The flock of them swerved over him once more, calling to him to come,
and then they flew off, their legs floating on the air behind them.
He glanced around to watch them go, and in a few moments they were
nothing but tiny specks against the sky, and presently they were lost
completely in the sun’s dying light. When the little camel looked
back at the oasis again, he saw to his surprise that for some reason
it was not a bit nearer than it had been before. He could see the
palms clearly enough, and the birdlike shapes hovering above, but he
certainly was no closer to it, though all the time he had been running
fast.

[Illustration: _And then they flew off, their legs floating on the air
behind them_]

His legs were beginning to feel tired now, and his feet hot and sore,
and he suddenly felt angry with everyone and everything. He kicked
viciously at the sand as he ran, and after another little while, as
if he must put the blame on someone, he looked back over his right
shoulder and stuck out his tongue and wrinkled his nose up at the sun.
The whole world was turning pink now at the end of day, and the
wide desert was glowing with the sun’s last light. There was the oasis
still, not so very far away, and yet mysteriously just as far as it had
ever been.

As the youngest camel went running on in discouragement, a flock of
flamingos came winging towards him, their feathers and their legs
colored like the petals of a rose. When they saw such a baby camel
running so desperately across the wastes of sand, they circled several
times above him, their legs hanging down like brilliant satin ribbons,
and the leader called down:--

“Where are you going so fast, four-footed child?” and he answered in
irritation:--

“I don’t see why you have to ask such a stupid question! Can’t you see
I’m going to the oasis?”

But he was so tired now that he stopped running while he talked to
them, and stood stamping his foot in the sand.

“You have lost your way, four-footed child!” the flamingos all called
out to him in chorus. “We are going to the oasis! Follow us and we will
show you!”

They wheeled once above him, calling out to him to follow, and then
they flapped slowly off in the direction of the setting sun. He stood
looking after them rather wistfully for a moment, and then he tossed
his head and turned back towards the oasis. It seemed to him now to be
even farther away than ever, and tears came into his eyes.

“I’m _sure_ I couldn’t have made a mistake,” he said stubbornly. “I’m
sure I couldn’t be wrong. It’s absolutely impossible.”

“Why in the world should that be impossible?” asked a clear little
trilling voice very close to his ear, and when he looked quickly around
him he saw that scores of brightly feathered little birds were flying
and darting in the air about his head. From the feeling of it, some
of them had certainly alighted on his hump and some on the back of
his neck, and there they were all chattering and chirping together.
The bird who had spoken to him was no bigger than a pear leaf, but
its feathers were brighter than a peacock’s. In company with others
just like it, it spun and darted on the air before him, humming and
whistling and eying him sharply and curiously.

“I haven’t made any mistakes yet in my life,” he said boldly. “I can’t
think of a single time I’ve been wrong.”

At this, all the little birds uttered tiny shrieks of laughter and
swayed back and forth on their perches on his spinal column and on his
neck and on the top of his head. To his annoyance he realized that some
of them were swinging and shrieking with laughter on his tail, and he
thrashed it angrily from side to side.

“Well, if you’re so smart and know so much about me,” he said
furiously, “tell me once when I’ve done something I shouldn’t! I’m sure
you can’t think of a single time. I know I’m a very good singer because
everyone I ever met said I was, and I’m a very good poet and I’m--”

“Oh, good heavens!” screamed the dozens and dozens of little birds all
together, and their shrill laughter trilled and whistled all around him.

“There’s nothing at all to laugh at!” the youngest camel cried out,
stamping his foot. “I’m simply telling you the truth--”

“Oh, my goodness!” shrieked all the birds again.

“You speaking the truth!” cried the first little bird as she cavorted
on the air before him, and all the birds’ tongues tinkled like little
bells with laughter. “Do you remember the terrible lie you told your
mother about finding the necklace?”

Either the very last crimson rays of the sun on him or his own
conscience turned the little camel’s face bright red and he hung his
head between his legs and looked hard at the sand.

“You’ve always made the mistake of being conceited,” one clear sweet
bird’s voice sang to him, and immediately the other voices went on with
it, one by one, as if it were so many verses of the same song they were
singing as they fluttered about him in the evening air.

“You always made the mistake of not believing what your mother told
you,” rippled the notes from one feathered throat, and the next one
sang:--

“You always bullied creatures smaller than yourself.”

“You were wrong not to do what Mohammed’s son told you,” whistled
another, and still another trilled:--

“You were always a coward except when you were with your mother.”

“You were so pleased with yourself you wouldn’t listen to the herons,”
sang the next, and one, swinging far back on the youngest camel’s tail,
chirped:--

“You have always been the most conceited camel on the desert,” and
another sang clearly to him:--

“You made the mistake of insulting the flamingos when they tried to
help you! Now they’re your enemies for life!”

“But I could see the oasis right before me all the time!” the little
camel cried out, by this time very near to tears. “It’s so plain
anybody can see it if they simply look--” He swung around to point out
to them the far waving palms and the birds hovering over the trees
against the horizon ahead, and then he stopped short and stared in
amazement, for nowhere in sight was there any sign of anything at all.
“But--but--what’s happened--but--there was--but--I don’t understand--”
he stammered, and with a loud sweet trill of laughter the scores of
bright small birds took wing from his back and his tail and from the
crown of his head and the tips of his ears and paused a moment with a
rush of wings above him.

“There wasn’t any oasis!” one shrill musical bird voice called down to
him, and all the other voices sang in chorus together:--

“You saw a mirage! A mirage! You saw a mirage!”

“You’re lost!” cried the first bird’s clear little voice. “You thought
you knew better than anyone else, and now you’re lost!”

They all gave another burst of laughter, and then they called out:--

“A mirage, a mirage! You saw a mirage!”

In another instant, the flock of them had risen straight above him and
vanished into nothing in the graying sky.

Now that the youngest camel found himself alone in the falling night,
he sank down upon his knees in despair. He laid his quivering chin upon
his forelegs and sobs shook his bowed little shoulders. He was alone,
he was lost, with nothing to eat or drink and not even his harp to
comfort him. Which way Aqsu lay he no longer knew, and in his grief he
believed that he would never find his mother or any other living thing
again.

“Hope, hope, where are you?” he cried out in desperation. But he knew
that magic word was powerless now to bring Mohammed’s son to his side.
As complete darkness fell around him, his terror grew and he rose to
his feet again and stumbled blindly on. “Oh, why, why did I let the sun
fall warm on my tail?” he wept aloud. “It was just what he told me not
to do.”



[Illustration]

_V_


During that night the youngest camel must have dropped in his tracks
and fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion, for the next thing he knew the
sun was shining on his face again. He jumped to his feet quickly in the
early day and, as if his life depended on it, he began running towards
the rising sun. But in a moment he stopped short, saying to himself:--

“But it wasn’t in the morning when Mohammed’s son said I should run
straight in the direction of the sun’s face. Perhaps that makes a
difference. Perhaps I should run with the sun behind me now if I want
to find my way to the oasis.”

So he turned around and began running as fast as he could in the
opposite direction, thinking to himself that everything would surely be
all right now. All he need do was to run away from the sun until the
noon hour came and it was exactly in the middle of the sky, and then
as it came down the other side he would race straight towards it, and
perhaps he wouldn’t be too late to catch up his mother and the caravan
if they had taken their time about setting out from Aqsu. He was
feeling quite comforted by these thoughts, and at the same time he was
trying very hard not to feel too self-satisfied because he had worked
out the movements of the sun without any help from anyone older and
wiser than himself. He was hungry and he wanted a drink very badly, but
somehow he was filled with new hope and courage now that another day
had dawned.

He kept up his pace for an hour or more without seeing any sign of life
either on earth or in the sky, and there was no doubt that he did not
mind the nothingness and the loneliness nearly as much as he had the
day before. With every step he took, he felt a little bit braver and
a little bit surer that he was going in the right direction at last.
So when he saw two black shapes on the desert far ahead, he said to
himself:--

“I’m certain they’re nice friendly sort of creatures who will tell me
how many miles the oasis lies ahead.”

On he went with eager, flying feet, and soon he saw that the two black
forms were those of birds. Two enormous birds were apparently seated on
the sand having a conversation together, their backs turned to him and
their heads nodding and shaking as they talked. But as he came nearer,
he ran less quickly towards them, for he saw their heads were bald as
ostrich eggs and reddish in color, and that they were not conversing at
all but tearing fiercely with their curved beaks and their great claws
at something they held between them on the sand.

[Illustration: “_It’s much wiser to be polite to everyone I meet,
because one never knows._”]

“Vultures!” thought the youngest camel, and a little tremor of
fear went through him, for his mother had told him stories enough
of how these creatures lived. He was about to turn to one side and
make a curve to avoid them, but then he remembered all that the
bright-feathered, sharp-tongued little birds had said to him the night
before. “It’s much wiser to be polite to everyone I meet, because
one never knows,” he said to himself, and he stepped a little closer to
them. “Please,” he began in a timid voice, and both vultures were so
startled by the sound that they each gave a squawk and jumped a full
yard into the air.

“Snakes alive!” cried one bird as she came down on the sand again and
with the claws of one foot seized upon the thing they had been eating.
“You ought to give some warning instead of creeping up on people like
that!”

“I thought you must have seen me long ago,” said the youngest camel
apologetically.

“Not at all,” said the second vulture. “We came down to finish eating
this hare in peace and quiet and we had no idea anyone was spying on
us.”

As she said this, she snatched up in her vicious claws the other end of
what was left of the hare and started tearing at it with her beak.

“I didn’t mean to spy,” said the little camel. “I just wanted to ask
you if I am going in the right direction for the oasis and Aqsu.”

When he said this, both birds stopped fighting over their prey and
looked at him with interest.

“Are you lost?” asked the first one in a sharp, rather eager voice.

“Yes, I’m afraid I am,” said the little camel. “But I think by running
ahead of the sun until noon and then running towards it all afternoon
I’m sure to come to the oasis in the end. At least, Mohammed’s son told
me yesterday to keep the sun straight before me--”

“Ah, but yesterday was yesterday,” said the first vulture with a giggle
as she gave her sister a sly glance. “Today is today, so of course
everything is quite different.”

“I don’t see how the sun can be any different,” said the youngest
camel. “The sun always follows exactly the same course, so all I have
to do is follow the sun as soon as it is past the noon hour--”

“Where in the world did you learn that the sun always follows the same
course?” cried the second vulture. “There’s an idea for you!”

“Why, it never does the same thing twice,” said the other vulture,
still giggling behind her wing. “Some days it runs all over the place,
getting behind clouds and hiding behind mountains. Yesterday it was
going from north to south, just for the fun of it, and today, as you
can see for yourself, it’s going from east to west.”

“Don’t imagine you can count on the sun!” said the second sister with
great contempt, and she went back to pulling and tugging at the remains
of the hare.

“You might just as well become acquainted with us now,” said the first
vulture, seizing on one of the best bits for herself. “My name’s Annie
and my sister’s name is Mabel, and if you’re really lost you’ll come to
know us very well indeed in the end.”

“Yes, I am lost,” said the youngest camel, looking from one to the
other of their faces. “I thought perhaps you’d be kind enough to tell
me which way the oasis lies.”

“I must say he’s quite truthful,” said Annie with a gulp as she
swallowed the dead hare’s fuzzy tail.

“I haven’t always been,” said the youngest camel, “but I think I’ve
learned my lesson now and I’m trying very hard not to lie any more. But
now that you tell me the sun isn’t going the same way today as it did
yesterday, I simply don’t know what to do--”

“It would have been better for your sake if you hadn’t told the truth
this time,” said Mabel, ignoring his last remark. Then she turned back
to the business before them and began slicing the hare’s heart into
neat roast-beef-like portions with her beak.

“But why?” asked the youngest camel, rather disgusted at the way the
two sisters grabbed and squawked over their meal.

“Well, as long as you’re lost,” said Annie, “then you can’t find the
oasis, and if you can’t find the oasis then you’re sure to die in
another two or three days--” She paused to pick her teeth reflectively
with the yellow claw of one foot. “You’re small but you’re rather well
covered with meat,” she said in a moment, and at this the two sisters
looked at each other and cackled out loud.

Suddenly, the poor little camel realized what their conversation was
all about and he gave a scream of terror. He reared up on his hind legs
with fright and spun around, and set off as fast as he could across the
desert. He had no idea which way he was going and it didn’t matter much
any more whether he was lost or not. He only knew he must get out of
sight of the two bald sisters, and out of the sound of their chortling
laughter. So he ran at full speed until the midday sun beat down on his
head like fire, and then he slowed into a walk. He hoped that walking
quietly along would make his heart stop beating so fast and loud with
fear, and he tried making up some rhymed poetry so as to steady his
nerves. But nothing sounded right to him, neither the sonnet form, nor
rondos, nor madrigals, nor pastorals, nor odes. The laments and ballads
and elegies were even less successful, so in despair he decided on just
trying to write a letter to his mother in verse, but he couldn’t think
of a single original or even beautiful line.

  “Dear Mother [he began], how in the world am I going to get on without
     you?
  I miss your hump and your sore hip and everything about you.

“That’s just plain statement of fact. That isn’t poetry,” he
interrupted himself severely. “Now see if you can’t think of something
really lyrical the way you used to at the oasis at night.”

But the silly, everyday sort of letter went on:--

  “I’ve made a fool of myself with every bird that flies
  And with Mohammed’s son, and I’ve told so many lies.”

But he couldn’t help adding at the end:--

  “One or two things I’ve said are true:
  History, Music, Memory,
  Are still the invisible three,
  And Love, invisible it’s true,
  Still has the shape and smell of you.”

He wasn’t at all satisfied with this, and even when he had repeated
it over two or three times to himself and once out loud he did not
feel the glow of pride which usually suffused his being after he had
composed a poem.

“Perhaps it might be better if I tried putting it to music,” he said.
But the fact that he did not have his harp with him made the biggest
difference, and now when he opened his lips to sing, nothing but a
hoarse whisper came from his mouth. By this time, he knew beyond
any shadow of doubt that he was neither a poet nor a singer, and he
swallowed his pride and said bravely to himself: “Very well, then. Now
I have found out the truth about myself. It’s time I did. I cannot
write poetry and I cannot sing, but perhaps I can dance.”

He remembered the foolish poem he had made up about dancing for the
Shah and the Lamas and the Raj with a tambourine tied to his tail, and
now he tried to execute a few dance steps across the burning sand. But
he only tottered awkwardly from side to side, and if he hadn’t stopped
at once he would certainly have toppled over.

“I am a camel without any gifts of any kind,” he told himself in a
stern voice. “Everything I have believed about myself has been blind,
empty vanity. I have no talent as a poet, nor as a singer, nor as a
dancer, and now that I am much too weak to carry a load and walk in a
caravan with other camels, I am no good to anyone on earth and I might
as well be dead.”

Indeed this might very easily have been the end of the youngest camel,
for there seemed no reason at all why he should not have sunk down
there under the blistering heat and quietly breathed his last. And in
another day or two Annie and Mabel would have come flapping along and
smiled sideways at each other as they wheeled above him, and after
circling over him a few times they would have descended and begun their
meal. Only this isn’t at all what happened, for now that the little
camel admitted that he no longer thought his own voice so beautiful and
his own poetry so fine, and no longer longed for a full-length mirror
so that he could see how lovely he looked while he danced, he seemed to
be able to hear other voices which he had never dreamed existed. The
air that passed his ears seemed now to have the power of speech, and as
he walked he listened.

“There is an oasis in every camel’s desert of despair,” said one
particle of air to him, and another murmured:--

“It cannot be far now, for you have come a long way.”

“Keep a stiff upper hump,” said the soft warm air in his ears. “Be
armed with patience, lamblike, quiet as a mouse, cool as a cucumber.”

“I’ll try,” said the youngest camel meekly, although he was feeling
very hot.

Even the sand under his feet seemed to be endowed with speech now, for
as it ran through his hoofs he heard it whispering:--

“The wind is coming, the wind is coming.”

“The wind is coming,” murmured one grain of sand to another all over
the desert, and the others whispered:--

“In a little while we shall have to rise and dance.”

Before the little camel had gone much farther, he saw a white cloud of
wind advancing rapidly across the clear blue sky, and in another minute
he heard it wailing:--

“Here I am, ow-oooo-ow--oooooo! Here is your master, ow-ooo! Arise,
slaves! A-r-i-i-i-i-se!”

Here and there across the desert the sand began to rise in spirals,
whirling and turning and swaying its arms in the frantic dance. Wild,
ghost-like figures of sand spun up around the youngest camel, reaching
taller and taller above him.

“Dance! Dance!” screamed the wind as he lashed them, and in an instant
the little camel was almost blinded by the gritty veils which were
flung into his eyes. Nothing could he see to the east or the west or
the north or the south except the dervish-like white figures which
spun around him. The sun seemed to have been blown from the sky, and
the gray of twilight closed upon them. As the little camel staggered
blindly on through the swirling skirts of flying sand, he heard the
voices speaking secretly in his ears.

“Close your eyes,” whispered one sand dervish as the wind thrust her
fiercely upon him.

“Close your lips,” said another as the wind blew her savagely against
the little camel’s tender nose.

“Do not breathe deeply,” whispered a third, and still another
murmured:--

“Do not struggle. You will only wear yourself out.”

The force of the wind had blown every thought from his head, and now he
closed his eyes and his lips as the sand dervishes had bade him and he
let himself be guided by their gentle hands. How many hours passed like
this he never knew. All around him spun the tireless dancers, torn this
way and that by the wind’s screaming fury, and when they came near they
whispered words of hope and courage to him.

“When you find the pathway between the winds, you will be saved,” one
sand dervish murmured in his ear, and another one whispered:--

“Believe in us. We will show you the way.”

All through that afternoon, perhaps, and through the night that
followed, the youngest camel staggered blind and spent through the
storm. But now there seemed to be no longer any division of time, no
night or day, no sun or moon, no heat or cold. But finally, when he
thought he could go no farther, the voice of a sand dervish whispered
to him:--

“Now we have brought you to the pathway between the winds. Go quietly
ahead. Farewell.”

Almost at once the gale’s force grew less and less about him and the
screams of the wind grew fainter and fainter until there was nothing
to be heard except a last long parting wail. Then a perfect calmness
fell upon the earth and air around the little camel, and in another
moment he ventured to open his eyes. And there he stood blinking in
bewilderment, for he saw he was no longer on the desert, nor was there
any sign of sand or a distant horizon to be seen. His feet lay on a
carpet of fresh green grasses, and a little rivulet ran chattering
through the rocks beside him. All about stood luxuriant fruit trees
with their boughs laden, and through their thick foliage he saw the
sun was rising. Delicate birds with bright exotic plumage winged from
branch to branch above his head, and shy wood animals moved swiftly in
the glades.

Now that his eyes grew accustomed to these unexpected wonders, he saw
that a few steps before him, just at the edge of the wood, a silk tent
was pitched. Its brocaded doors were caught back with brooches of
shining stones and a thin thread of incense smoke was drawn languidly
upward from its opening onto the quiet air. The youngest camel looked
in amazement about him, and then he fell joyfully on his knees at the
stream’s brink and lowered his head toward the cool running water. But
before he had time to drink, a rather lazy, indolent voice called out
to him from inside the tent.

“Not so fast, not so fast, young camel. Listen first to what I have to
say. You have passed through the third and last night of your ordeal of
loneliness,” it said, “but the third day is just dawning. Twelve hours
lie ahead of you before you may safely eat or drink. The day which is
just being born is the Day of Temptation. Some camels consider it the
most difficult day of all.”

If anyone had said this to the little camel the week before, he would
have paid no attention at all, but would have gone right ahead and
drunk his fill at the brook. Then he would have jumped up and run to
the big trees and started pulling the fruit hungrily down from the
heavily laden boughs. But so much had happened to him in the past two
days that now he rose obediently without so much as wetting his parched
lips, and turned respectfully towards the beautiful silk tent.

“Well, I must say you’ve saved yourself a lot of trouble,” the voice
went on, and the youngest camel stood listening to it with lowered
head. “If you hadn’t done what I told you, all this would have vanished
in the twinkling of an eye and you would be right back in the middle of
the sandstorm again and this time the sand dervishes would never have
helped you to get out.”

“I thought the storm was over, master,” said the little camel, not
daring to lift his eyes towards the tent.

“Oh, it never stops,” the lazy voice went on. “It’s always there for
other camels to get lost in the way you did. It’s always blowing just
as hard as when you were in it, only you can’t hear it any more
because the sand dervishes showed you the pathway between the winds.”

“Why were they so kind as to help me, O master?” asked the little camel
respectfully, and the sleepy voice answered:--

“Probably because you admitted in that poem you made up yesterday that
you were really very conceited and had made a fool of yourself with
everybody you met. The herons and the flamingos gave a very bad report
on you, but apparently you got a little more sensible later. If you
manage to get through today without being childish, you ought to be
having a nice champagne supper somewhere with your mother this evening.”

[Illustration: _The little camel took another uncertain step towards
the tent_]

The youngest camel felt a tremor of joy go through him at these words,
and he felt himself strong enough now to resist any temptation that
might come along. He almost jumped straight up into the air with
delight, but his knees were so weak under him from lack of food and
weariness that he decided not to make any unnecessary movements.
Instead he called out in an enraptured voice:--

“Oh, I know I can get through today all right! I’m absolutely certain
I’ll do everything the way I should!”

“You don’t know anything about it,” said the voice, and it sounded now
as if its owner were stifling a yawn. “You mustn’t start out by being
so sure of anything. Come in and pay reverence to me and I’ll explain
things to you more fully. Come along in, don’t be bashful,” it said as
the little camel hesitated and teetered on one foot near the open door.
“All you have to do is pay homage to me and then you have nothing to
fear.”

The little camel took another uncertain step towards the tent, and then
he halted again and said:--

“Please, I’m afraid I don’t know how to pay homage. You see, nobody
ever taught me how.”

“Oh, just bow down a few times and strike your forehead once or twice
on the floor, and kiss my big toe if you feel like it,” said the
sleepy voice. “It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you
feel inferior to me inside. It’s just part of the rigamarole and the
sooner you get it over with the better. Some camels are so arrogant
they absolutely refuse to do it, and then it’s really such a bore for
everybody. They have to go right back to Annie and Mabel and be torn to
pieces for dinner.”

When he heard this, the little camel made haste to enter the tent,
and there he fell promptly on his knees and struck his forehead three
times on the richly carpeted floor. After he had done this, he advanced
with lowered head to embrace the unknown person’s toe. The smell of
incense was strong and sweet on the air, and when his eyes had become
accustomed to the dim light he saw that it was a spotlessly clean gold
hoof he kissed. He glanced quickly up and looked shyly and curiously
at the owner of it, and lo! it was an enormously fat and incredibly
ancient camel with a coat as white as snow.

The great kingly camel was lolling back on a divan covered with silk
cushions of every color of the rainbow, and with one hand he lazily
fanned himself with a soft peacock-feather fan. A necklace of opals as
big as alligator eggs hung around his shoulders, and elaborate earrings
of opals and tiny bright diamonds studded his hairy ears. But it was
his eyes which held the youngest camel entranced--they were big and
brown, and heavy lids hung over them like white velvet curtains. Every
time the white velvet curtains seemed about to close completely over
his eyes, the old camel would snap them up again, and then slowly,
sleepily, they again began falling, until the final moment when he
jerked them back. This happened several times before he spoke.

“Stand up,” he said with a yawn. “You don’t have to overdo it. It’s
just as bad to be too humble as it is to be too self-satisfied. There’s
certainly no need to call me master, although I don’t mind at all your
revering and worshiping me.” He leaned up on one elbow, slowly fanning
himself, and examined the youngest camel. “You wouldn’t be bad-looking
if you learned how to carry yourself better,” he said at last. “You let
your head hang down as if you were ashamed of something, and you have a
rather silly smile.”

“I’m sorry,” said the little camel, standing contritely before him.

“Oh, it doesn’t really make any difference,” said the white camel
dreamily, and he raised his fan to hide his yawn behind the peacock
feathers. “Everyone has different ideas about things. Men try to
make their children sit up straight so they won’t have humps on their
backs and mother camels do all they can to make their children hump
themselves for fear their backs will turn out straight. It’s just a
matter of preference. But now you mustn’t keep us dawdling here any
longer, for it’s getting late and we must set out on our journey. Oh,
in case you didn’t recognize me,” he added, “I’m the leader of the
caravan of white camels that circles the earth and we must be getting
started.”

“But my mother told me the caravan of white camels didn’t exist!”
exclaimed the youngest camel in surprise.

“Of course we exist,” said the white leader, and instead of making any
move towards rising he sank farther back into his cushions and gave a
tremendous yawn. “Everything exists somehow, either in the imagination
or really or only at night or simply in the daytime.” His lids sank so
low over his eyes now that the little camel thought the great white
leader had finally fallen asleep. But just at the last moment he jerked
them up again and went on talking. “What was I saying? Oh, yes. Now,
you mustn’t hold us up any longer, for we really have to get started.”

“Where are we going?” asked the young camel respectfully when he saw
the white leader was making no move to rise.

“Oh, nowhere in particular,” the old camel answered. “We just go round
and round and try to make you give in to one temptation after another.
It’s not at all amusing for us because we have to go through it so
often. You’re the only one who gets any fun out of it because it’s all
new to you. Only if you give in to a single temptation, that’s the
end. You have to go all the way back to the first night when the camel
drivers tied you out in the desert, and once you’re out there bound up
again you die of fright.”

The old camel gave such a terrific yawn at this that his servants must
have thought they were being called, for at the sound of it two sleek
white camels with brocaded bands around their shoulders came in through
the door of the tent and kneeled before their leader.

“Very well,” he said, closing his fan. “Let’s get going.”

Immediately the two servants rose and slipped their bands under the two
ends of the old camel’s divan and lifted him, cushions and all, and
bore him out of the tent into the light of the softly dawning day.

“I hate getting up so early,” said the old white camel as he adjusted
the cushions behind his head with one lifted arm. The youngest camel
trotted along beside him and respectfully nodded his head. “Why don’t
you speak frankly to me?” the old camel asked him dreamily. “You were
thinking I wasn’t at all up, weren’t you? You felt like saying that I
was really more down, I’m sure.”

“Yes,” admitted the little camel. “I was thinking that.”

As soon as he had said this, he saw that a beautiful pure-white camel
had suddenly appeared behind them and was following close behind the
litter on which the drowsy leader stretched at his ease. His hoofs,
too, were of finest gold and he wore a halter of spun gold. When the
old camel saw the youngest camel staring with admiration at the new
arrival, he said:--

“That’s Fourteen Carat. He’s the first always to join the caravan
and that means you’ve passed safely through one temptation.” They
were moving out from under the green trees now onto the desert sands.
“Of course, you were tempted to lie when I asked you what you were
thinking.”

“Just for politeness’ sake,” said the youngest camel, contritely.

“Well, most camels do lie when I ask them that, so as not to hurt my
feelings,” the old white leader said. “And then it’s the end of them.
They simply vanish into thin air, like a puff of smoke. Every time you
resist a temptation,” he went on, trying hard not to yawn, “you’ll
notice that another camel joins our caravan.”



[Illustration]

_VI_


So, hour after hour as they traveled across the desert, the ordeal of
temptation went on.

After the temptation to tell a lie for politeness’ sake came the
temptation to rest by reclining on the beautiful litter which camels
brought and set down before him.

“You might as well take it easy the way I’m doing,” said the old white
camel. “My servants are quite used to carrying people, and if you rest
now you won’t be nearly so tired at the end of the day. We have a long,
long journey before us and--”

“Oh, no, thank you!” said the youngest camel. “I’m quite used to
walking by this time.”

And no sooner were the words out of his mouth than he saw a second
white camel spring up behind Fourteen Carat and join the caravan. Then
came the temptation to crunch the bones which were served on platters
within an inch of his nose; and then the temptation to drink from the
copper basins which they carried to him filled with sparkling water
and lemonade, but all this he resisted. Then the white leader reached
indolently up from his litter as they jogged along, and drew down the
weather and showed the little camel that it was actually a fan with two
sides to it. One side was good weather and the other was bad, and he
strongly advised the little camel to accept it as a gift.

“No,” said the little camel. “Thank you very much, but I think I’d
better not.”

“You’re very silly if you don’t,” said the old white leader, opening
the fan to show him how nice it was. “Think how useful it would be to
your mother. You could take it to her as a present this evening, and
from then on she could always have exactly the kind of weather she
wanted.”

The little camel considered seriously for a moment, and the desire to
take it grew stronger and stronger as the white leader went on talking
to him in a slow, dreamy voice.

“Your mother would never be too cold or too hot ever again,” he was
saying to him. “She wouldn’t have to get drenched by storms any more or
covered with snow on the steppes during the bad season. I can’t imagine
why you hesitate like this.”

But at last the little camel made a great effort and he set his fuzzy
chin firmly and replied:--

“No, thank you, I don’t think I will after all. But thank you just the
same.”

And as soon as he had said this, another snow-white camel sprang up in
the caravan.

Next came the temptation to flee before a great wall of fire which
rose suddenly before them, but this too he resisted, and as he passed
through it with his eyes tightly closed he did not even feel its heat;
and then the temptation to cry out with fright and swoon at the sight
of three dead llamas stretched out on the lonely sands; and then the
temptation to sob aloud when the old camel spoke for a long time to
him about his mother, and how hard she had worked all her life, and
how tired she was of carrying the burdens of men. But all these he
resisted, and each time he did so he saw to his joy that another
beautiful white camel joined the growing caravan.

Then came the temptation of the sun, which the white leader plucked
lazily out of the sky and smashed in pieces like a ripe melon on a
salver which camel servants held before him.

“You see it’s a pineapple with its skin taken off,” the old camel
remarked dreamily, as if it were of no importance at all. “It has a
wonderful flavor--not like real fruit, of course, because it comes from
heaven.”

“It looks awfully good,” said the youngest camel, and he felt his mouth
watering.

“Well, there’s no earthly reason why you shouldn’t have a piece. I’m
going to,” said the old white camel, and he indolently chose the
biggest, juiciest bit and put it in his mouth. The little camel stood
watching him enviously as he chewed, and licked his own parched lips
thirstily.

“I don’t think I’d better,” he said. “My mother told me it wasn’t true
about the sun being a pineapple, so perhaps there’s something queer
about it.”

“Oh, mothers have so much on their minds that they can’t remember any
more what things are real and what aren’t,” said the old camel while
the juices dribbled down his chin. “If you just take a piece you’ll see
it’s true enough. It’s very refreshing and much better than anything
you’ve ever tasted before. It’s rather like ice cream, only a great
deal nicer.”

He selected another ripe, golden piece and conveyed it lazily to his
lips, and the little camel turned his head away.

“I don’t think my mother would want me to,” he said, and immediately
another white camel joined the procession which was beginning to reach
almost out of sight across the sands.

Then came the temptation to run like a coward from a flock of vultures
which swarmed about him, the blood still bright on their beaks; and
then the temptation to gather up some of the fine false teeth which
appeared like shells by the dunes, and put them in his pocket for his
mother; and then the temptation to take the way through the grassy,
fertile valley under the shade of trees, as the old leader advised
him to do, instead of stumbling across the barren badlands. All these
and many more temptations he resisted, and now the caravan of white,
golden-hoofed camels stretched far beyond the horizon.

As they went slowly on, he caught sight of a group of young camels like
himself who were romping and playing together on the edge of an oasis
not far away. He could hear their happy shouts of laughter, and his
sad, weary heart was suddenly made glad.

“Oh, look!” he cried out, and the old white camel seemed to start from
sleep at the sound of his voice.

“Eh, what?” he mumbled, leaning up on his cushions and rapidly blinking
his eyes. “What did you say?”

“Look at those other children over there!” the youngest camel cried out
in excitement. “Do you see them? They seem to be having such a good
time!”

“Oh, well, run along and join them for a bit,” said the old white
camel, lolling back on his cushions and stifling a yawn. “We can’t stop
long, but we’ll excuse you for a few minutes while you get acquainted.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you!” cried the little camel, and with a skip and
a jump he was off towards the green oasis where the other young camels
were playing leapfrog in the shade. He felt like a brand-new, happy,
well-fed little camel just from seeing such happiness and such carefree
antics after all the experiences he had been through.

So as fast as his legs would go he trotted towards them over the sand,
thinking of nothing but how wonderful it would be to play with children
like himself again. But suddenly the wind began to rise, and its
wailing filled his ears. And now he saw a white cloud coming swiftly
across the sky. In another instant, the sand dervishes sprang up in
spirals before him, and whirled and spun wildly in his path.

“Go back, go back!” whispered one as the wind flung her against him.

“Turn around, turn around before it’s too late!” murmured another, and
the little camel stopped short in surprise.

“Go back to the caravan!” another breathed in a hushed voice in his
ear as she threw her sandy arms around his neck. “This is one of the
temptations! Run back to the white leader as quickly as you can!”

The youngest camel’s knees went weak beneath him as he realized
the terrible thing he had almost done, and now he turned and began
tottering back to the caravan. No sooner had he taken the first step
than the wind’s voice died away and the sand dervishes sank down
motionless about him on the desert. In another moment he was back
beside the litter on which the old white camel lay.

“Well, you changed your mind in time,” said the leader with a yawn.

“Yes, I did,” said the little camel in a trembling voice, and although
he could not see it, another snow-white camel took its place at the end
of the caravan miles and miles away.

“Time’s getting on,” said the old white leader as the litter began to
move forward again. “Nearly all our companions are with us now. After
another few temptations, the circle around the earth will be complete
and then you will join your mother. But, of course, the hardest things
have been saved up till the end.”

Next came the temptations of salt and tobacco, and the little camel
looked at them with longing eyes. For a moment he could not make up
his mind what to do, because his mother had always told him since his
earliest days that salt and tobacco were so rare and so tasty that
never, under any conditions, must he dream of refusing them. She said
they were part of the daily fare of rajahs and pashas and kings, and if
a poor camel ever had the luck to get near them, he should snatch them
up as quickly as he could.

“This is just a little pick-me-up to give you the strength to keep on
going until evening,” said the white leader casually, and he held the
nice assortment out under the youngest camel’s sensitively quivering
nose. “They’re something like Turkish delight, only ever so much
better. Anyway, they’re not a real meal in any sense of the word, and
it can’t possibly do any harm if you try a little. Just lick a bit of
the salt to see.”

But the little camel set his chin firmly and shook his head.

“Thank you very much, but I think I’d rather not,” he said, and
instantly another white camel with golden hoofs joined the end of the
caravan almost twenty thousand miles away.

Temptation after temptation followed this, and the little camel bravely
resisted them all. There was the temptation to pick up his harp when
he saw it lying before him on the sand, and the temptation to send a
message to his mother by a bird of paradise who flew down close to him
and said he knew just where she was and that he could take it to her
without any trouble. And then, just as the sun was sinking beyond the
desert’s horizon and the little camel believed he had really come to
the end of his strength at last, he saw something so marvelous just
ahead that he thought he must be dreaming. Yes, it was. No, it couldn’t
possibly be. But still it _was_. Yes, surely, it was. The more he
looked the more convinced he became, and suddenly he jumped straight up
into the air with joy.

“My mother! I can see my mother over there!” he cried out, and the old
white camel lifted himself lazily on one elbow on his cushions to see.

“Well, I must say it rather looks like her,” he said, stifling a
yawn. “I wonder what she’s doing wandering about like that alone?” He
sank back on his litter again and picked up his peacock-feather fan.
“Perhaps she’s strayed from her caravan and is wandering around in
despair.”

“Perhaps she’s looking for me!” cried the little camel in great
excitement, but the white leader only yawned again. She was jogging
along just ahead of them with her moth-eaten tail hanging down behind,
and the youngest camel cried out: “It must be my mother! I know it’s my
mother!”

“No one ever said it wasn’t,” said the old camel, and this time it
really sounded as if he were falling asleep. “But you can’t possibly
be sure at this distance whether it’s your mother or just a striking
likeness--”

“But I couldn’t mistake my own mother, could I?” asked the youngest
camel, almost tearfully. “I know the way her elbows look from the back,
and the way her hump humps--”

“Well, there’s only one way of finding out for certain,” said the white
leader, with his heavy head nodding drowsily. “You’d better skip along
and catch her up.”

“Oh, would you excuse me for a minute while I do?” asked the little
camel, so excited that he could scarcely wait.

“Run along,” said the old white camel. “Anything’s better than having
you hemming and hawing like this, but please don’t loiter on the way.”

The old leader gave a terrific yawn at this and stretched himself out
as if for a long sweet sleep, and without waiting another minute the
youngest camel started off in a gallop across the hot stretches of
sand. Faster and faster he went, stumbling over his own feet, gasping
and choking for breath, and still he seemed to come no nearer to her.

“Mother!” he cried out. “Mother! Wait, I’m coming.”

At the sound of his voice, she turned her head over her shoulder and
looked back at him and smiled.

But just as it seemed he must reach her side at last, a sudden burst of
bright-feathered little birds descended between them and set about his
eyes and ears like a swarm of bees. They were all chattering wildly,
and try as he would he could no longer see to pass them.

“Oh, let me go! Please let me go,” he pleaded, but his words were
drowned out by the whistling and scolding of the scores and scores of
birds.

Now that he had stopped, they settled at once on his head and on his
hump, while others flew furiously before his eyes. If he turned in
desperation to the right or to the left, they pursued him, chattering,
while still others swung like tiny sharp-clawed monkeys on his tail.
He spun around, but they were everywhere, increasing in numbers and in
fury with every instant that passed. Finally one single brilliant bird
poised herself before him on the air and spoke these words:--

“Listen to us once again. You have lost a great deal of your conceit
since we last met, and you have almost entirely ceased to lie.
Moreover, you have learned to be polite to everyone you meet.”

“Yes, yes, yes!” trilled all the birds in chorus.

“You are much braver now, as well,” the single bird’s voice went on,
“and much humbler than you ever were before.”

“Yes, yes, yes!” cried all the shrill little voices again.

“So now, go back,” warbled the bird as she dipped and winged before him
on the air. “Go back, go back before the white leader wakes up and
sees.”

“Yes, yes, yes!” cried all the little birds at once, and suddenly the
youngest camel’s knees began to shake under him as he asked himself if
it was true that this was just one more temptation which had been put
to him.

“But--but--but I’m sure--I’m sure--I’m sure I saw my mother,” he
protested, and as he said this all the birds rose up from his back and
from his head and from his tail with a great rush of tiny wings.

“Look, four-footed child!” sang the single bird’s voice to him. “Look
ahead and look well at her. She’s nothing. She’s just a reflection on
the mists of evening. Can’t you see she’s a mirage like the oasis you
followed?”

“Yes, a mirage, a mirage, a mirage!” trilled the hundreds of birds
around him.

The youngest camel looked very hard at the figure of his mother jogging
along ahead, and now it seemed to him indeed that there was something
rather hazy and misty about her such as he had never noticed before.
He turned in his tracks, with just enough breath left to call out
his thanks to the birds, and then he made his way back to the caravan
as quickly as he could. His knees were still quaking under him when
he reached the litter’s side, and from there he saw the flock of tiny
bright birds disappear like a sunset cloud into the sky.

“So here you are after all!” exclaimed the old white camel as he woke
up with a start. “So you came around to my way of thinking in the end?”

“Yes, I did,” said the little camel, so tired by this time that he
could hardly stand. And as soon as these words had passed his lips, the
last pure-white camel with golden hoofs joined the caravan and the sun
set with a jerk and a thousand torches suddenly sprang alight the whole
length of the magic caravan. He could see the endless line of camels
girdling the earth with the torches carried flaming on their heads and
their gold hoofs shining wondrously across the sand.

“It’s rather effective, isn’t it?” said the old white leader, looking
rather pleased at the whole display. There were four tall torches lit
about him now, two at his head and two at his feet, and the diamonds in
his ornaments glittered in their light. “This is the part I like the
best of the whole business because it’s so near the end,” he said.

The old white camel put his peacock-feather fan aside and fumbled in
his cushions for a moment, and then he drew forth the most beautiful
necklace the youngest camel had ever seen. All the beads of it were
of different colors and they were strung together on a solid-silver
string. There was the bright red one, and the clear green one, and
the moonstone, and the diamond, and looking closer he could make out
the tiny lettering which was carved in the center of each one. The
little camel could scarcely believe his eyes, and he stepped closer to
the litter and peered into the brilliance of the torches’ and jewels’
light. And now he saw that the jade bead had written inside it: “I am
the green valley you long for. You may live in me forever.” And the
topaz had written within it: “I am a silk tent to protect you from
sandstorms and from winter and from the midday sun.” And the ruby came
next, and then the ivory bead, and the amethyst, and the sapphire, and
all the others, exactly like the story he had told his mother.

“These are magic beads,” the old camel said, holding them up to the
light. “They’re the most valuable possession anyone can possibly have,
because they’re practically impossible. You see, if they belong to you,
then you can always have everything you want.”

“Oh, yes, I know, I know!” cried the little camel, clapping his hands
together.

“How could you know about them?” asked the white leader, just managing
to swallow his yawn. “I’m the only person in the world who knows about
them.”

“Have you ever tried them? Do they work?” asked the youngest camel
eagerly, and the old white camel answered:--

“Of course they do.”

“Well, then, excuse me,” said the little camel, “but why don’t you live
in a green valley forever the way the jade bead says you can do?”

“Because I prefer to travel on a litter,” said the white leader. “It’s
much more restful and I see more of the world this way, too. There’s
nothing I dread so much as being bored, and I know I’d be awfully bored
lying in a valley without any change of scenery.”

“Yes, of course,” said the youngest camel, doubtfully, and after a
moment he said: “If you’ll excuse me again, I hope you won’t think
I’m rude, but I should like to know why you don’t press the sapphire
against your forehead for an instant and have all your years drop from
you?”

“You mean turn myself young again?” asked the big white camel in
amazement. “Do you really imagine I’d like to start way back at the
beginning again and do all the silly things I did over, and not have
people in every country of the world paying me homage, and not be the
leader of the caravan of white camels any more?” He sank back in his
pillows again and gave a weary sigh. “I never heard anything quite so
silly in all my life,” he murmured, lifting one hand to hide his gaping
mouth. “I can’t imagine anything more stupid.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” said the youngest camel, and he stood
looking with longing eyes at the necklace he had never dreamed could
really be. “But then I should think if you have no more use for the
necklace you wouldn’t mind giving it away, or at least lending it to
people sometimes?”

“Naturally, as long as I have everything I want, I haven’t the
slightest use for it,” said the old white camel. “But so many people
wanting it makes it very valuable indeed. That’s why it’s kept till
the very end like this. Now that you’ve resisted all the temptations,
you’re allowed to have a choice.”

He held the necklace up towards the flaming torchlight again, and the
little camel clasped his hands together.

“Do you mean to say--do you mean I can choose--” he stammered.

“Now don’t get excited,” said the old leader, with a yawn. “This is the
final test, remember. You are allowed to choose between this string of
magic beads and--” he made a gesture towards a great bulging sack which
servants had just placed on the sand beside his litter--“and this bag,”
he said. “I do hope you’re not going to make a mistake at the last
minute,” he added dreamily.

“What’s in the bag?” asked the little camel in a cautious voice, and
the old leader answered:--

“Ashes. Nothing but ashes.”

“But I can’t see there’s any choice at all!” the little camel cried
out. “Of course, I’ll take the--”

“Now, don’t be in too much of a hurry to make up your mind,” said the
old white camel. “Remember greed never got anybody anywhere at all.
Don’t forget that things are never what they seem, and appearances
are frequently deceiving. Keep in mind that there are always a lot of
wolves in sheep’s clothing about, even right here on the desert. If
you’ll take my advice, you’ll consider long and carefully before you--”
The youngest camel stood reflecting deeply while the old white leader
went on: “I’m sure your dear mother must have told you all about fair
faces hiding false hearts, and I’m absolutely certain you don’t want to
act like a greedy little pig just when everything seems to be turning
out so nicely for you.”

“No,” said the little camel gravely, “but I want the necklace. I don’t
want the sack of ashes. I want the necklace more than anything else in
the world.”

“Of course,” said the old camel, and in spite of the fact that he was
very much interested in the conversation, his lids kept slipping down
over his eyes. “Naturally, we all want what isn’t good for us. But that
doesn’t mean you’re going to be a silly, piggish little camel and--”

“Please,” said the youngest camel in a small but firm voice. “I choose
the necklace. That’s what I want.”

“Well, I must say that’s very unkind of you,” said the old white
leader, and he tossed it around the little camel’s neck with rather
a nasty jerk. “No one’s ever chosen the necklace before and so I was
always able to keep it. Everyone’s _always_ chosen the bag of ashes
because it was the politest and nicest thing to do.”

The youngest camel now fell down on his knees and thanked the ancient
leader for all the kindness he had shown him, and as soon as he had
paid him enough homage to restore him to a good humor, he turned the
necklace around and around his neck until he came to the bead which was
shaped like a heart and red as a cherry and he read the inscription
inside:--

  Oh, heart, on music let me ride
  This instant to my mother’s side.

But first he slipped the magic opal under his tongue, so that by the
time he reached his mother and was clasped in her arms, all the lies he
had ever told her had been transformed to truth.



TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES:


  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.



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