In the hot, dry desert regions the camel is the horse, the cow and the sheep of the Arabian herders and traders. He carries all the burdens, he furnishes flesh and milk for food, and hair for weaving cloth. To the children of America the camel is as strange and interesting as many of the fiercest wild animals. We know less about him than we do about bears. He tells you very little about himself, and he shows no curiosity about the crowds that visit his pen at the zoo. He gazes over people's heads in a dreamy way, just like that old stone sphynx head that stares across the desert in Egypt, One bright little boy once said: "A camel is a great, big, ugly puzzle." Let us see if we can work out a little of this living puzzle.

Don't go too near a camel's head. Sometimes, for no cause at all, he has a terrible fit of rage. Then he tries to bite and to kick the person nearest. The first thing you are sure to notice, and to laugh at, is the queer way in which he chews his food. His lower jaw swings from side to side like a hammock. His upper lip is cleft up the middle. It is what is called a hare-lip. The camel stretches and twists and feels its food with this thick, split lip as if it were two fingers. He doesn't seem to look at his food at all. So you are quite ready to believe he has never learned not to eat poisonous plants that grow on the desert. A herd of browsing camels has to be watched as close as a flock of silly sheep.

Everything about a camel is as queer as if you had dreamed him in a nightmare. His neck and legs look too long and sprawling for his body. His feet are split into two hoofed toes almost up to the ankle. His head is too small, and is tipped up and poked out in a foolish sort of way. His long brown eyes fairly pop out of his head like agate marbles, from sockets too small for them. His nostrils are bias slits. He can open them wide or close them almost shut. His rough, red-brown hair looks as if it never had been combed. On his knobby knees and elbows and arched breast-bone he wears bare, leathery pads like a football player. Finally, his hump makes him look as if he had his back up against an unfriendly world.

One of the few things the camel has learned to do is to kneel when he is ordered to do so. At a word he drops. The pads protect his joints from the hard ground. He moans and groans as if in terrible pain. He knows some kind of a load is to be put on, and complains aloud. He doesn't wait to find out if the load is to be heavy or light. He carries half a ton of goods for hundreds of miles across wide deserts, with ease. But he groans just as loud when he is asked to carry two little children about his track in the zoo. With more groans he heaves his big body up and starts to run, or rather to rock.

If you get sea-sick on a boat you would better not try to ride a camel. He lifts both feet on one side at the same time, tilting his body sideways. Then he lifts the two feet on the other side. So you roll over and back. Tossing and pitching, heaving and rolling you go, as if you were in a sail-boat on rough water. In a minute you are sick at the stomach. Very soon your back aches from the jolting, and you get a sharp pain at the waist line. Maybe you think this is why the camel is called "the ship of the desert." It isn't. It is because he carries people and goods across wide seas of sand.

Haven't you heard people say: "Handsome is as handsome does?" If you could see the camel at home where he "does handsome," you would forget what an ugly, ungainly beast he is. You would think how wonderfully he is made for the work he has to do. No other animal can live and carry great burdens in such a climate, on such scant supplies of food and water.