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Cara, the Camel by Ellen Velvin

The hot, red sun was sinking behind the hard, straight outline of one of the sandy deserts of Arabia. The Arabs had pitched their tents, unloaded and fed their camels, and were now making their evening meal from dried meat and a preparation of camel's milk, which had been mixed with meal and then allowed to become sour.

Many of the camels were lying down—not that they were tired, for they had been taking their journey by easy stages, and among them were several with baby camels.

Cara was one of the babies, and an extremely ugly baby he was, for a thin body, long, spidery limbs, homely head and funny little tail gave him a curious, unfinished look.

Another baby was Camer. But she was as yet only an hour old, while Cara was a week and a day old, and stood three feet high on his thin legs. He was a sturdy little fellow in spite of his thinness, and had already given proof that he inherited the irritable, morose and grumbling nature of his race to a very marked degree; for from the first hour of his birth Cara had grumbled. Grumbled when his mother rested—as her kind master allowed her to do, for a few days after Cara's birth; grumbled when the Arabs and camels moved on; grumbled when any one touched him with a pat or caress, and grumbled when let alone. In fact, the only time when Cara did not grumble was when he took his meals, and this was simply because his mouth and tongue were occupied with getting his food.

At the present moment he was feeling very discontented indeed. He had rather enjoyed following the caravan, trotting by his mother's side, and, except that he had been getting hungry, would have kept on trotting for some time longer, but they had all stopped quite suddenly, and Cara's mother, instead of giving her baby his evening meal, had sunk down instantly on the sand, and with a series of grunts and groans settled herself comfortably for a good rest.

The Arabs had been very busy with their camels, and it was not until they had pitched their tents and settled to their supper that Cara had noticed with great astonishment that there was another baby camel a little way off. He began to wonder how it was they had not met before, and in his funny, camel-baby talk tried to speak to the newcomer; but Camer did not seem inclined for conversation. Her mother was lying down, and Camer was nestling as closely as possible to her with her odd-shaped little head almost hidden in the shaggy masses of woolly hair which grew on her mother's forelegs.

This annoyed Cara, and he pranced awkwardly about, making queer, discontented noises, until his mother, noting his restlessness, rose up, felt and caressed him with her long, cleft, upper lip, and allowed him to have the meal he longed for.

After the meal he found that Camer had risen up and was moving with feeble steps towards him. Cara at once went forward, and, after examining her with a superior air, gave a curious little grunt, which meant that he wished to be friends. Camer said she should like it, too, but here her mother, who was feeling irritable and nervous, thinking Cara was going to hurt her beloved one, came forward and gave him a good bite, to which Cara responded in true camel fashion by groaning and grumbling and making as much fuss as he possibly could.

But Camer comforted him in baby fashion by caressing him, and then went to her mother, who had lain down again. And this is how the friendship between Cara and Camer began.

The next day the Arabs once more packed up their tents, loaded their camels and continued their journey; very slowly and carefully, though, for the Arabs are invariably kind, thoughtful and fond of their camels; not like the Indian camel-owners, who, because they know they will receive payment for every camel that dies, sometimes purposely overload and ill-treat them.

Away they went over the desert, the camels swinging slowly, clumsily, and yet easily along, although many of them carried from five to eight hundred pounds on their backs, and had already been traveling for three days without water. But their backs were made for burdens, and their feet specially adapted to walking on the loose sand; for each of the broad toes had a soft, wide cushion, and this cushion enabled them to have a grasp on the sand, and at the same time kept them from sinking into it.

In his clumsy way, Cara trotted beside his mother, continually bumping against her as she walked slowly and heavily along, and having almost miraculous escapes from being kicked by the other camels. But he was getting stronger each day, and looked in amazement, not unmixed with contempt, at the new calf who had appeared the night before, and who was straggling feebly along, doing its best to keep up with the others. But the journey that day was a short one, for, as the sun grew hotter and hotter, Camer, the new calf, grew more and more feeble, and once more the Arabs dismounted and rested in the desert.

But as the days went on Camer gained strength, and in a week's time was as lively as Cara himself. They were great friends by this time, and played together in a most awkward and ungainly manner, but one which their mothers greatly admired. Their friendship and gambols continued for many happy months, and then the Arabs prepared for a long journey across the desert in another direction.

It took some time to prepare the camels. In the first place, their masters fed them until the humps on the camels' backs grew large, plump and fat. Then each camel was made to store as much water as its stomachs would hold, for a camel, like all ruminants, has four stomachs. Most of them could store as much as five or six quarts of water, which would last several days.

After this the camels were loaded, and this was what Cara and Camer enjoyed most of all. It was such fun to watch some camel, who was particularly ill-natured, kneel down with a series of groans and grumbles in deep, bubbling tones, open his mouth savagely whenever his master came near him, and do his best with his big teeth and flexible, cleft lips to catch hold of some part of his master's body. But grumbling was of no use. The loads were strapped on in spite of it, and when all the camels were carefully loaded the caravan started on its long, wearisome journey across the desert.

Cara and Camer rather enjoyed it at first. They had no loads to carry; had their usual good, warm food, and, what was better than all besides, youth and strength. But, on the second day, the heat grew appalling; not for the camels, for they love the broad glare of the sun, but for the Arabs, who, in spite of their hardihood, grew faint and weak as the sun, like a ball of fire, poured its scorching rays on the white, glistening sand.

Then came a curious silence: a silence in the midst of silence; so deep and intense that it could almost be felt, while the air grew red like blood, and in a moment, with one accord, masters, servants and animals threw themselves on the sand. The Arabs lay with their faces downwards and their cloaks thrown over their heads; the camels, not even stopping to grumble, stretched their necks straight out along the sand, closed their curious, oblique nostrils and lay absolutely motionless.

Cara's mother had often told him about this, and taught him how to close his nostrils when caught in a simoom. At first Cara wondered what had happened, and even when he saw his mother lay down and stretch her neck along the sand did not realize what it meant; but in another instant his mother had warned him, and as he lay down and closed his little nostrils he noticed a huge, curious cloud sweeping across the desert.

And that was all he did notice, for the next instant he felt scorched and suffocated, while a heavy weight was on his limbs and body and head. How long he lay there quivering all over with fright and gasping for breath he never knew, but he was aroused by the groans and grumbles of the camels and the cries of the Arabs. He struggled up at last, and for a moment thought he too had been loaded for a journey, for the simoom had covered him with a small mountain of sand.

After a few snorts and groans, Cara shook himself and looked round. Most of the camels were on their feet by this time, and their masters were preparing to go forward again. At last they started, but before they had gone many yards the caravan stopped to wait for a camel who had lingered behind and was making cries of distress.

It was Camer's mother. On the sand, lying in a limp, unnatural position, was Camer. No longer the bright, little baby-camel that Cara had known, but a quiet, inanimate thing, which neither answered nor moved in response to its mother's pitiful entreaties.

One of the Arabs, seeing that Camer was dead, tried to lead the mother away with gentle pats and caresses, but the mother-camel would not leave the little one. It was true that she had been thinking for the last few weeks of relaxing some of her motherly duties, and insisting on her baby getting its own food with the other camels, for Camer was then ten months old, and no mother-camel cares to keep her babies trotting after her for a much longer time than that.

But the sight of the little, dead body aroused all her motherly feelings, and she yearned after her baby as though it had just been born. In vain she fondled and caressed it; in vain she felt its head, its limbs, and the small body which was fast growing cold, but no response came to her motherly cries and no notice was taken of her tempting offers of food. The little camel lay limp and still, and when the Arab, finding that coaxing and caressing were of no use, tried harsh words, Camer's mother turned savagely on him and bit him through the arm.

The Arab knew camels too well to attempt further persuasion, and, with angry words, for his arm burned and smarted, walked off and left mother and baby in the desert. There was every probability that the mother-camel would starve to death, for, although able to eat the hard, sharp thorns which are found in the desert, and even pieces of dry wood or other hard substances which are found occasionally, the camel cannot live long on this sort of food. But there was nothing to do but leave the camel behind, and this the Arab did with much regret, not only for the loss, but because he loved the animal more than any other that he owned.

Cara grieved and fretted over the loss of his little companion, but his mother told him, in camel language, that had Camer's mother taught her to close her nostrils in a proper manner during a simoom, she would not have died. As it was, the hot, acrid sand had suffocated the poor little thing.

Cara listened to all this, but made the most of the opportunity for grumbling, and fretted, fumed and fidgeted until his mother gave him a sharp bite as a reproof. This was the first time Cara had ever been punished, but his mother was beginning to tire of him now, and, instead of liking him always near her, seemed much more satisfied when he wandered off with the other camels.

Then came an eventful day in Cara's life. This was when they reached the end of their long journey, and very thankful Cara was to get to it; for all the camels, in spite of their endurance, were weak and haggard for want of food and water. Five long, weary days had the poor animals carried their loads, going sometimes twenty-five to thirty miles a day, and all that time not one drop of water had they been able to get. Moreover, they scarcely looked like camels, for their nice, plump humps had almost entirely disappeared, and this was something that the Arabs noted with anxiety.

But, oh, how they grumbled and groaned! And how savagely their mouths opened at the least provocation! But their poor mouths and tongues were dry and cracked with the heat, and they extended and retracted their flexible lips in the vain effort to get a little moisture.

But the journey was over at last. Arrived at their destination, the camels sank wearily down, and once relieved of their burdens lay at full length, while the Arabs were bringing them food and drink.

Cara looked round in surprise; there were strange men and women about, and strange animals that he had not seen before. There was a great deal of noise, too, which he did not approve of, and he, himself, appeared to attract a good deal of attention. He was made to turn round and show himself so many times that at last he lost his temper completely, and snapped and snarled in the most savage manner. But finally a rope was thrown over his head, and he was led away, much against his will, by a strange man. Cara would not have gone at all, only that the cord around his neck hurt so much when the man pulled it, that he found that it was much better to follow him.

From that day Cara never saw his mother again. But as he had plenty of food in the shape of green vegetables and roots, and had a nice, comfortable place in which to lie down, Cara—I grieve to say—soon forgot all about his mother, and made himself perfectly at home in his new surroundings. He was quite happy—although he never forgot to grumble—as there were many young camels with him, and fine times they had together. But he often thought of Camer and her nice little ways.

So things went on until Cara was four years old, and then his troubles began, for he was no longer to be an idle animal, spending all his time in gamboling about, but was taught to wear first, a halter, then a bridle, and finally a thing was put on his back, which nearly frightened him to death. Not that it was so very heavy, but because he had never had anything on his back before, and he did not like the feeling of it. He made as much trouble as he possibly could, and grumbled to his heart's content, but it was of no use. The horrible thing turned out to be a saddle, which was strapped on in spite of kicks and groans and snappings of his strong, white teeth, and finally, finding that it was of no use, Cara gave in and carried his burden patiently, as all other camels do.

But all this training took some time, and it was not for another year or two that Cara was really of much use. But he was a particularly strong, well-grown young animal, and, in spite of his grumbling, was a valuable animal.

He reached his full growth when he was sixteen years old, and was then a fine specimen of an Arabian camel. He had good, broad feet, with well-developed cushions; sinewy limbs; a strong body, and a very fine hump, of which he was extremely proud.

He changed masters again at this time, and, to his astonishment, found that he was the chief camel, and was to carry the master of the tribe, preceding the others, attended by horses and servants. Cara now had a fine time of it. He had very little to do except to carry his master and a very handsome saddle. His journeys were short, and altogether he had about as easy a time of it as it is possible for a camel to have. His master was fond and proud of him, for he was wonderfully handsome for a camel and of abnormal size.

At one time he rendered his master a great service, for there had been a long drought, and no water could be found anywhere. Cara, however, had the acute sense of smell which all camels have, and one day when very thirsty broke out of his stable, and, smelling water about a mile off, set forth to get some. He was followed by some of the servants, who guessed what had happened, and, to their great joy, Cara led them to a spring of fresh water.

No doubt he would have lived to a good old age—say forty or fifty years—but that one day, breaking out of his stable again—a thing Cara was rather fond of doing—he wandered about, and, coming across a nice-looking, green plant, he promptly proceeded to eat it. But, alas! the nice-looking plant was a deadly poison called by the Arabs "camel poison," and, soon after eating it, Cara became very ill, and was scarcely able to get back with slow and weary steps to his comfortable stable, where, after a few short groans, he lay down and died.

And this was the end of Cara.

It was very sad, and his master shed bitter tears over his handsome camel. But, you see, it was Cara's own stupidity, for, like the rest of his tribe, he would always eat anything that was green, no matter where it grew or what it looked like.