H OW many of you, little folks, ever heard of a great desert of sand so hot that if we should try to walk in it bare-foot, we would burn our feet to blisters? Away down South, where it is always summer, and where the sun shines so very warm, is one of these great seas of hot sand, with no trees, or flowers, or brooks to be seen; only in a few places are green spots, green with grass and palm trees with springs of water, but these are few and far between.
Now you must know, that a horse cannot travel in this hot sand; it would burn his feet, to be sure, but then his feet are so heavy that he would sink away down into it, and he would have to pull his feet out of it, which would make him very tired indeed.
But the good God has made an animal for the people who have to cross this desert, whose feet will not sink into the sand, nor burn in it either. This animal is the camel, the brown, shaggy camel, with its large hump of fat upon its back.
Have you ever seen a sponge? Is it not soft and light, and if you press it with anything, does it not always spring up again? The camel's feet are like a sponge, and never sink into the sand; he can run over it as fast as a horse on our streets.
I told you before this, that one could find nothing to eat on a desert, for nothing can grow on hot sand, and there is no water to be had either.
Well, you all know that a horse drinks water every day, does it not? If you should forget to give your pet horse water every day, it would neigh and neigh until it got it, one or two bucketfuls.
Not so with the good old camel. He can do without water for a long time, because God gave him nine stomachs. When he does drink water, he needs almost a barrel, or even more than that. Besides, he does not need to eat every day as we need to. That hump is composed of fat, and when he gets nothing to eat, he feeds off of that hump—not by chewing it off from the outside, but by letting the fat down into his stomach.
Because he is so useful in crossing the desert, in fact because men could not cross the desert at all if they did not have the camel, he is called the ship of the desert.
Not long ago, a papa, mamma, and their little children lived in one of these green spots I told you of (called Oasis). They did not live in a house, but in a tent made of cloth and tied to poles, such as our soldiers live in. They had no beds or chairs, but slept and sat on pretty bright rugs, such as your mamma has before the hearth.
This papa and mamma had a little boy whose name was Dido. Is not that a funny name for a little boy? A funny, but a good little boy he was. His face was brown like a nut, not from the sun, because his papa's and mamma's and little brother's and sister's faces were brown, also; his hair was as black as could be and very long, his eyes were black as coal.
The little children could not go to the Kindergarten, or play on the street, or go to the store for mamma, because there were no such things as these on the oasis. They had sand enough to play in, more than they could use. What pretty mounds and sand tents they would make!
One day while at play in the sand, they heard something bleating close by, and when they looked up, what do you think they saw? Why, it was a tiny baby camel, which must have lost its mamma, and did not know where to go.
They called it, and sure enough it came up to them and was as tame as could be. They took it home, and papa said, "If no one comes to claim it, you may keep it." He gave it milk to drink and put it in the tent.
It grew larger and tamer day by day; it would play with the children like a dog does, but of all the children, it liked Dido best, because he fed it, and hugged and kissed it before it went to sleep on his rug at night. He loved it so dearly.
After it had been with them for a month, papa said, one day, "I think no one will come to claim the camel, so we can keep it as our own, and now it must have a name, and what shall it be? Suppose we call him David, that will be a good name, for he is a very fine camel."
"O papa, you say he is such a fine camel, and I tell you, he is a very wise camel, also, let us call him Solomon, because he is fine and wise like the king Solomon."
Papa said, "Yes, we will call him Solomon."
He then put a silver chain, with a little silver bell hanging to it, around his neck. How proud he was of it, and how soon he learned his new name! When the children called, "Solomon, Solomon, come here quick," he would run to them as fast as he could.
He grew and grew until he was so large that if you wanted to climb upon his hump, you would need a ladder to do so.
One day, mamma said to papa, "papa, all the coffee is used, and so are the spices; you will have to cross the desert and get us some from the city."
"Yes, mamma, I will," said papa, "I suppose I can ride Solomon, he is large and strong enough. I will go in a few days, for I will have to feed him well and give him a great deal of water first."
Several days had passed, and one evening as the sun was setting, papa
How happy Dido was to go, you can imagine, as he had never been over the desert on a camel's back before.
They went to sleep early that night, for they had to be up before the sun in the morning.
Papa gave Solomon a whole barrel of water to drink; then he motioned to him to get down upon his knees, which he did; then Dido and his papa got upon the hump, Dido in front of his papa, and as soon as they were safely on, Solomon got up and started to run. He hardly gave them time to say good-bye to mamma and the children. He ran so fast over the sand, that in a little while they were quite far away from home.
They rode all day and all the night, Solomon running all the time over the hot, dry sand, and the next morning, papa said, "If Solomon keeps on going as fast as he does now, we will be near the city before the sun sets."
Papa had scarcely finished speaking, when they saw some more camels with men on their backs. They were very glad to meet some people to talk to, and ride with over the lonesome desert.
But, alas! when they came nearer, Dido said, "O papa, hurry up and run Solomon as fast as he can, don't you see what bad faces those men have?" and then papa saw that they were robbers who would hurt men.
But up they came as fast as they could, and cried to Dido's papa, "stop, and give us your money or we will hurt you."
When papa said they had just a little money with them to buy groceries, they took a large club and hit papa and little Dido over the head, so that they both fell in the hot dry sand like dead, and then they took Solomon, for they saw that he was a valuable camel, and rode off in great haste.
Well, how long Dido and his papa lay there unconscious, I cannot tell, but it was a very long time indeed. The first one to open his eyes was Dido. At first he did not remember what had happened, but when he saw his papa with a great hole in his head, and the blood coming out of it, he remembered the robbers.
He called his papa until he also opened his eyes, but he felt so weak and sick that he could scarcely speak to him.
"Where is Solomon?" was the first thing he said.
"The robbers have taken him," said Dido.
"O dear!" said papa. "Then we will have to die here in the desert, because we are miles away from an oasis, and I am so thirsty; what shall we do for water? We will never see mamma and the children again."
Papa had scarcely spoken when Dido said, "Papa, listen, listen! don't you hear something that sounds like a bell away off in the distance?"
Sure enough, it came nearer and nearer, and who do you think it was? Why, Solomon, of course. He had run away from the robbers and come back to them.
When he got to where they lay, he sunk down on his knees, as much as to say, "Get on my back and I will take you to where water is to be had." They got on, and he ran and ran, and before long they reached an oasis, found water and felt better, and proceeded to the city to buy what they needed.