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Title: The Youngest Camel

Author: Kay Boyle

Illustrator: Fritz Kredel

Release date: April 4, 2021 [eBook #64988]

Language: English

Credits: Tim Lindell, David E. Brown, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This book was produced from images made available by the HathiTrust Digital Library.)


The Youngest Camel

Now we have brought you to the pathway between the winds.


By Kay Boyle

With illustrations by





Published August 1939



For Pegeen, Bobby, Apple-Joan,
Kathe, and Clover Vail


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



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.

[4]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[5] 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[6] 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[7] 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[8] 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.



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[10] 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.

[11]“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.[12] 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[13] 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[14] 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—”

[15]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[16] 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[17] 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.[18]’ 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[19] 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—”

[20]“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.”

[21]“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[22] 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.

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[23] 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—”

[24]“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,
“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.”

[26]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!”



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.

[28]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.

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[29] 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,[30] 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[31] 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.

[32]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.

[33]“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[34] 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[35] 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[36] 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[37] 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[38] 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:—


“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[39] 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.



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[41] 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[42] 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[43] 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.

[44]“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.

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[45] 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!”

[46]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.

[47]“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.

[48]“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:—

[49]“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[50] 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[51] 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.”



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[53] 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[54] 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.

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.[55] “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.

[56]“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[57] 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—”

[58]“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[59] 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.”

[61]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[62] 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[63] 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[64] 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[65] 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[66] 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[67] 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[68] 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.”

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![69] 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[70] 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[71] 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[72] 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[73] 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.”

[74]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[75] 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.”



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[77] 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.

[78]“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[79] 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[80] 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[81] 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.”

[82]“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[83] 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.”

[84]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[85] 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[86] 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[87] 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,[88] 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[89] 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[90] 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.[91] “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.

[92]“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.”

[93]“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[94] 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[95] 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[96] 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.


Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.