This section is from the "The New Student's Reference Work Volume 5: How And Why Stories" by Elinor Atkinson.
You have taken a long journey since you sailed through the Golden Gate at San Francisco. Now it is time to go home. There is more than one way of going home from school, and a lot of things to see on the way. So, when you are in far away lands, there is more than one way of going home to America. Don't you want to stop, on the way, to see some children who live in a desert? They live very differently from any people that you could find anywhere else in the world. They have two things you like very much—no, three. They have sugary dates to eat, and big humpy camels and dromedaries to ride. What is the difference between a camel and a dromedary? And they have Arabian night's stories.
If you want to see Mehemet and Zaidee in their tent home in Arabia, you must call upon them very early in the morning, or after the sun goes down. From noon until four or five o'clock, when the burning sun blazes on the yellow desert sand, there seems to be no one living in the big tent. The tent is quite forty feet long, because the father of these children is a Sheik, or Arab chief. It is covered with brown camel's hair cloth, or with black and white goat skins.
It stands on a few acres of grass, under some tall date palm trees, beside a spring. The spring makes a green spot in the desert. All around that green place are miles and miles of dry sand. The sand dazzles your eyes, so you think you see other green places and palm trees and blue water. But these are only air pictures that fade away. The sand is blown up by the wind in great drifts, like yellow snow. In the shadows of these drifts and of big rocks, camels and sheep and goats lie asleep. The herders and sheep dogs are asleep among them.
If you should lift the door flap of the tent you would see a white curtain hung across the middle. This divides the big tent into two rooms. The men and boys are in one room, the women and little girls in the other. It is dark and cooler inside the tent. You must step softly, for everyone is asleep. They lie on colored mats and saddle-bag cushions. These are made of O-ri-en'tal or Eastern rugs. American people buy these rugs for their very best rooms, if they have enough money. The Arab chief buys them in the Turkish city where he goes to sell his camels and his wool. He has had to pay a good deal for them, but they will wear several life times. Besides, they are the only kind of beds and seats he can carry with him. He has to move about a good deal to find food and water for his animals. He loves the rugs for their beautiful colors and patterns. Can you guess why?
Every one is asleep but Sal'adin, the master's Arabian horse. Saladin stands beside his sleeping master in the tent. He is small and dainty. His coat is like black satin. He holds up his proud head on his arched neck. He stamps his little polished hoofs on the sand. Saladin is the family pet. He is very gentle. He skims over the desert like a bird, with his master on his back. Mehemet gave him some dates to eat before he went to sleep. Zaidee kissed his black nose.
At sunset, a cool breeze blows across the desert. Everybody wakes up and sits on the mats outside the tent. Mother brings her loom to weave camel's hair cloth. The herdsmen milk the camels and goats. A servant woman makes mocha coffee. It is the best coffee in the world. The children drink goat's milk. They all eat crisp bread cakes like our crackers. They are made of wheat, barley or millet seed flour, and baked on hot stones. They eat a stew of goat's flesh or mutton. For dessert they eat dates and almonds.
Zaidee is very pretty. She would not be so very dark, but the hot sun has burned her as brown as a gypsy. Her hair is black and straight. Her soft, almond-shaped eyes are the color of brown velvet. She wears wide trousers and a loose gown of blue cotton. On her head is a blue cloth, bound into a long-tailed bonnet-cap with a band of goat's hair. She has copper and silver bracelets on her arms and ankles, and strings of glass beads. Her brother wears a long white shirt with a leather girdle, and a white cotton bonnet bound with goat's hair. When they walk on the sharp, hot sand, they both put on leather sandals. The father wears a white turban made of many folds of thin stuff wound around his head. He smokes a pipe.
Sometimes, as the family sits m the starlight, the father or mother tells stories like those you read in the Arabian Nights. Perhaps, because of. their dull lives in the dry and barren desert, the Arabs have made up the most wonderfully colored and fanciful stories of any people in the world. Their stories are full of the splendors of palaces and princes. They sparkle with jewels and are woven of magic. The children of every people in the world listen to these stories with wide, wondering eyes. Perhaps, too, that is why the desert people love the many-colored, gaily-patterned rugs. Spread on the sand they look like flower beds.
As soon as the moon is up, the herders take down the big tent. The water is dwindling in the spring, the grass is almost gone. The family must move to a better pasture. They must go at night, when it is cool. Everything is packed on the kneeling camels. Skin bags are filled with water and bread and dates, for the journey. One by one the animals take a last drink at the spring. The camels fill the little water pockets in their stomachs, to last for several days.
Saladin, the proud bearer of his long-bearded, white-turbaned master, leads the procession. Then come the women and children on the riding dromedaries. The freight camels follow with their drivers ; the brown herders and dogs drive the sheep and goats. The moon is a silver crescent in the dark blue sky. The stars are little high, white lamps. The padded feet of the camels make no sound. Camels are called ships of the desert. They swing and rock like ships across the sea of sand.
The procession grows smaller and dimmer in the distance. Now it goes over a great ridge of drifted sand and disappears. Mehemet and Zaidee are gone. But you will never forget this vast plain of white sand under the dark blue sky. It lies there so wide and silent and lonely, under the silver light of the moon and stars. See Camel, Arabia, Arabian Stories in article on Literature, " What is a Mirage? " in Wonder Items, and "The Ship of the Desert" in Wild Animals,