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
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 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
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.