The Story Of Unt The Camel
Source: The Sa'-zada Tales
The clink of a loose chain; the complaining wail of a swinging iron
door; the squeak of a key turning an unwilling lock--a heavy-bolted
lock; a flutter of wings; the crunch of giant feet on the echoing
gravel; huge forms slipping through the moonlight, like prehistoric
monsters; a slim, ribbon-like body gliding noiselessly over the grass
cushion of the Park's sward; muffled laughter, bird calls and a
remonstrative grunt from Wild Boar; the merry chatter of Magh the
Orang; a guarded "Phrut-t-t, Phrut-t-t" from Hathi, the huge
Elephant--ah, yes, all these; surely it was the gathering of old
friends, who, like the listeners of the Arabian Night's tales, had for
many evenings talked of their Jungle life in front of Black Panther's
"You are all welcome," growled Pardus.
Magh hopped on the end of Hathi's trunk, and the latter lifted her
gracefully to a seat on his broad forehead. She had Blitz, the Fox
Terrier, with her. "You will hear some lies to-night, Pup," she
confided to him. "But who is to talk?" she asked suddenly; "Chee-he!
Sa'-zada, our good Keeper, who's to talk?"
"Camel is to tell us of his life," answered the Keeper.
"That stupid creature, who is too lazy to brace up and look spry, talk
to us? Next we know we'll have a tale from Turtle."
"That's it," sneered Boar, "if one is honest and a plodder like Unt,
bandy-legged creatures like Magh will call him stupid."
Unt, with a bubbling grunt, knelt down, doubled his hind legs under him
like a jack-knife, made himself comfortable, and commenced his personal
"Bul-lul-luh!" he muttered. "I was born in Baluchistan, on the nice
white sand plains of the Sibi Put (desert). As Mooswa has said, there
must be some great Animal who arranges things for us. Think of it,
Comrades, I had the good fortune to be born in just the loveliest spot
any animal could wish for. As far as I could see on every side was the
hot, dry sand of the beautiful Sibi desert."
"I know," interrupted Ostrich; "my home in Arabia was like that. I've
listened to Arna here, and Bagh, telling of the thick Jungles where one
could scarce see three lengths of his own body, and I must say that I
think it very bad taste."
"Yes, it was lovely there," bubbled Unt. "No wonder that Bagh, when he
was chased by the Beaters, fled to the sand damar and hid in the
korinda thorns. Such sweet eating they are, firm under one's teeth. The
green food is dreadful stuff. Once crossing the Sibi Put, when I was
three days without food, I remember coming to Jacobabad, a place where
the foolish ones of the Men-kind had planted trees, and bushes, and
grass, and kept them green with water. I ate of these three green
things, and nearly died from a swelling in my stomach.
"Well, as I have said, I was born in that nice sand place, and for
three or four years did nothing but follow mother Unt about. Then they
put a button in my nose, and tied me with a cord to the tail of another
Unt, and put merchandise on my back for me to carry. There was a long
line of us, and in front walked Dera Khan, the Master. We seemed to be
always working, always carrying something; our only rest was when we
were being loaded or unloaded. We were made to lie down when the packs
were put on our backs, and many a time I have got up suddenly when the
boxes were nearly all on, rose up first from behind, you know, and sent
the things flying over my head. I would get a longer rest that way, but
also I got much abuse, though I didn't mind it, to be sure; for, as
Mooswa has said, our way of life is all arranged for us, and the abuse
that was thrust upon me was a part of my way.
"But one year there came to Sibi many Men of the war-kind, and with
them were the black ones from Bengal. It was a fat one of this kind,
one of little knowledge of the ways of an Unt, a 'Baboo,' Dera Khan
called him, who caused me much misery. It was my lot to take him and
his goods to the Bolan Pass, so Dera said, for the One-in-Charge, a
Sahib, had so ordered it. When I sought to rise, as usual, when the
load was but half in place, he got angry and beat me with a big-leafed
stick he carried to keep the heat from his head. But in the end I
brought to his knowledge the method of an Unt who has been beaten
"When all his pots and pans, and boxes of books, wherein was writing,
had been bound to my saddle, the Baboo clambered on top. I must say
that I could understand little of his speech, for my Master, Dera Khan,
was a Man of not many words, but the Baboo was as full of talk as even
Magh is; and of very much the same intent, too--of little value."
"Big lip! Crooked neck! Frightener of Young!" screamed Magh, hurling
the epithets at Camel with vindictive fury.
"Unt's tale is truly a most interesting one; there is much wit in his
long head," commented Pardus. Camel rolled the cud in his mouth three
or four times, dropped his heavy eyelids reflectively, bubbled a sigh
of meek resignation and proceeded:
"When I rose from behind, the Baboo nearly fell over my neck; when I
came sharply to my forefeet (for I was always a very spry, active Unt),
he declared to Dera Khan that I had broken his back. But I knew this
couldn't be true, for I was always a most unlucky Unt. Of course, this
time I was not tied to the tail of a mate, but my leading line was with
the Baboo. He shouted 'Jao' to me, and in addition called me the Son of
an Evil Pig.
"Have any of you ever seen one of my kind run away?" Camel asked,
swinging his big head inquiringly about the circle.
"I have," answered Black Panther. "Once, being hungry, I crept close to
an Unt to ask him if he could tell me where I might find a Chinkara or
other Jungle Dweller for my dinner. I saw that Camel run. For a small
part of the journey I was on his back; but though I can cling to
anything pretty well, yet the twists of his long legs were too much for
me, and I landed on my head in the sand, nearly breaking my back."
"Well," resumed Camel, "you will understand how the Baboo and his pots
and pans fared when I ran away with him, which I did as soon as Dera
Khan moved a little to one side. At first I couldn't get well into my
stride, for the Baboo pulled at the nose rope, and called to Dera in
great fear. Dera also ran beside me, holding to the ropes that were on
the boxes; many things fell, coming away like cocoanuts from a tree. An
iron pot going down with much speed struck my Master on his head, and
he said the same fierce words that he always used when I caused him
trouble of any kind.
"You know, though I ran fast, yet by tipping my head a little to one
side I could see what was doing behind, and I saw a basket in which
were many round, white things----"
"Eggs," suggested Cockatoo. "Those were the round white things Potai
brought from bazaar in a basket."
"Yes, they were in a basket," repeated Camel, solemnly; "so, as you
say, Cocky, I suppose they were eggs; but, however, they came down all
at once on the face and shoulders of my loved Master."
"And broke, Cah-cah-cah!" laughed Kauwa the Crow; "I know. More than
once I've seen relatives of mine have their eggs broken through being
thrown out of the nest by Cuckoo Bird."
"As I have said," continued Camel, "my Master was a Man of few words,
but at this he let go of the rope, and the language he used still rings
in my ears. Dry chewing! how I fled. And behind chased Dera Khan, a big
knife in his hand--in spite of his violence I had to laugh at the color
the eggs had left on his long beard--a knife in his hand, and crying
aloud that he would cut the Baboo's throat.
"As I swung first one side of my legs, and then the other over the
sweet sand desert, I could feel the Baboo thumping up and down on my
back, for he was clinging to the saddle with both hands. Sometimes he
abused me, and sometimes he begged me to stop; that I was a good
Unt--his Father and Mother, and his greatest friend. As he would not be
shaken off because of his fear of Dera Khan's knife, I carried him into
a jhil of much water; there he was forced to let go, and when he got
to the bank, if it had not been for a Sahib he would most surely have
been killed by my Master. Hathi has told us of the fear-look he has
seen in the faces of the Men-kind, and there was much of this in the
eyes of that Baboo. I remained in the jhil until my Master had lost
the fierce kill-look, then I came out, and save for some of the old
abuse there was nothing done to me.
"But we all went to the Bolan Pass, carrying food for those that
labored there making a path for the Fire Caravan, the bearer of burdens
that is neither Bullock, nor Unt, nor aught that I know of."
"It was a railroad," Sa'-zada, the Keeper, explained.
"Perhaps," grunted Unt, licking his pendulous upper lip; "perhaps, but
we Unts spoke of it as the Fire Caravan. Still it was an evil thing, a
destroyer of lives, many lives, for never in that whole land of
sand-hills and desert was there so much heat and so much death.
"First the Bail (Bullocks) died as though Bagh the Killer had taken
each one by the throat; then those of my kind fell down by the
fire-path and could not rise again. And the air, that is always so
sweet on the hot sand plains, became like the evil breath of the place
wherein nests Boar."
"Ugh, ugh!" grunted Wild Boar, "even there, by this stupid tale of
Unt's, there was something evil to be likened to my kind."
"The water that had been sweet ran full of a sickness because of all
this, and the Men that drank of it were stricken with the Black Death.
At first it was those of the Black-kind, and then the others, the
Sahibs, became possessed of it. And then the Burra-Sahib, Huzoor the
Governor, was taken with it; so said one of the Sahibs who came to Dera
Khan just as he was tying a rope about my foreleg so that I could not
rise and wander in the night.
"'It is sixty miles to Sibi,' this Sahib, who was but young, said to my
"'By the Grace of Allah, it is more,' Dera answered him.
"'The Big Sahib, who is my friend, is stricken with the Black Death,'
said the young Sahib, 'and also the Baboo Doctor is the same, being
close to his death; and unless I get a Healer from Sibi to-morrow, the
Sahib who is my friend will surely die.'
"'If Allah wills it so, Kismet,' answered my Master.
"'Have you a fast Camel?' asked the young Sahib.
"'This is Moti,' replied my Master, putting his hand on my hump, 'and
when he paces, the wind remains behind.'
"Then the young Sahib promised my Master many rupees and much work for
the other Unts, so be it he might ride me to Sibi for a Doctor.
"By a meal of brown paper such as one picks up in a bazaar, I swear
that I understood more of what that meant to my Master than many a
Camel would have known, for had I not seen it all, this that I am about
to tell? You know, Comrades, that the Burra-Sahib was a Man of a dry
temper, and it so happened that one day Dera Khan had displeased him,
which I just say was a way my Master had often. That was a full moon
before the coming of the Black Sickness. Oh, Friends, but I had seen it
all; it made me tremble, knowing of the readiness with which Dera Khan
argued with his knife, like unto the manner of Pathans.
"The Big Sahib would have struck my Master but for this same young
Sahib who had now come with his offer of many rupees--this Sahib who
had been there at that time. So, Comrades, there was good hate for
the sick man in Dera's heart.
"'Will you send the Camel?' said the young Sahib; and Dera, drawing
himself up straight, even as I do under a heavy load, held out his hand
and said, 'Allah! thou art a Man. My goods are your goods, but for the
other, the one who is your friend and my enemy, the wrath of Allah upon
"The Sahib was on my back in a little.
"I have said before that with the Baboo and many kettles on my back I
ran fast, but think you, Comrades, of the weight, and also of the poor
rider, for there is nothing an Unt dislikes so much as the knock,
knock, against his hump of one having no knowledge of proper pace. How
the Sahib sat! Close as a pad that had been tied on; and he coaxed and
urged--even swore a little at times, but not after an unreasoning
manner as had the Baboo. He called me a Bikaneer, even his Dromedary,
which means one of great speed; and begged me, if I wished food for all
time, to hasten. How we fled in the long night, down the hot paths,
splashing many times through the cool water that crossed our
path--Bolan River, it is called, the water that comes from the
high-reaching sand lands that are all white on their tops."
"The snow mountains," explained Sa'-zada, for Camel's description was
more or less vague.
"As I have said," continued Camel, "the water was cool. Never once did
I fall, though the round stones were like evil things that twist at
one's feet to bring him down. 'Hurry, hurry, hurry!' the young Sahib
called to me, and I laughed, thinking he would tire before I should.
"On we went, passing little fires where those of the Cooly kind rested
as they fled from the Black Death. Just as we came out on the flat sand
which is the Sibi Desert, there were gathered in one place many Men.
For a space we stopped, and my Rider asked if there was a Healer with
them. They answered that they were Men of the war-kind going up to keep
the workers from running away from the Black Death; even those at the
little fires would be turned back, they said.
"Then on again I raced. I could hear my Rider talking back to his
friend, the Burra-Sahib, who lay stricken with the evil sickness,
though I know not how he could hear him, for we were full half way to
"'Keep up your courage, Jack,' he would say, speaking to his Friend.
'Please God, I'll have a Surgeon there in time to save you yet.'
"Then he would fall to abusing some other of the Men-kind, perhaps he
was not a friend, whom he blamed for all that was wrong. 'You puffed-up
beast,' he would say, speaking to this other, 'to send a lot of Men to
such a death hole with a brute of a Bengali-Baboo to doctor
them--murder them, and a medicine chest that was emptied in a day. It's
a bit of luck that Baboo died, but it doesn't help matters much.'
"That was the Baboo I had run away with; perhaps even the medicine
chest had lost much through its fall from my back.
"Then to me, 'Hurry, hurry, hurry! Shabaz!' (push on); then to his
Friend, 'Poor old Man, Jack! what will She say if I don't pull you
out of this? I'll never go back to England as long as I live if this
beastly thing snuffs you out.'
"Then to the other, the one who had done this evil: 'Curse you, with
your red tape economy! You're a C. I. E.'--whatever that meant I don't
know--'but you've murdered old Jack, who is a Man. You're out of this
trouble up at Simla, but you'll roast for this yet.'
"You know, Comrades," said Unt, plaintively, "I didn't know all about
this thing--I couldn't understand it, you see, being an Unt, and, as
Magh says, stupid; but someway I felt like doing my best for the young
Sahib who did not make me cross by beating me, but only cried 'Hurry!
Shabaz! my swift runner,' and shook a little at the nose line in his
"I have often felt that way," encouraged Hathi; "once I remember, it
was in Rangoon, that time I was working in the timber yards. I had a
Mahout who never stuck the sharp iron goad in my head at all. He always
told me everything I was to do by different little knocks on my ears
with his knees as he sat on my neck. And also by soft speech, of
course, for, as you say, Unt, it keeps one from getting cross, or
filled with fear, and so one has only to think of what the Master
requires. You were right to run fast with such a rider."
"This is Camel's story," pleaded Sa'-zada.
"Never mind," bubbled Unt; "I was just trying to remember what time we
got to Sibi--I know it was before the sands grew hot from the sun.
Straight to the Teshil (Government office) the young Sahib rode me.
Here he made an orderly bring me food and drink while he went quick to
bring a Healer for his Friend. I had scarce time to store half the
raji away for future cud-chewing, when back he came with a Healer of
the White Kind.
"Now, the Teshildar, who was Chief of Sibi, was a slow-motioned Man,
not given to hurry; that was because the hump on his stomach was large
with the fat of great eating; and when the Sahib asked for another Unt
to carry the Healer, this Man who was Chief made no haste--not at
first; but when the young Sahib, no doubt thinking of his friend Jack,
threatened him with the wrath of the Governor, also the smaller anger
of his own fists, the Teshildar had an Unt of great speed quickly
brought forth. Then the young Sahib, speaking to me, said, 'My
heavy-eyed Friend, also one of much strength, can you go straight back
the sixty miles?'
"Of course, at that time I couldn't speak in his words, though I could
understand, so I just shook myself, and stretched out my long hind
legs, as much as to say, 'Mount to my back, and I will try.'
"We started, the Healer on the other Unt, and the Sahib on my back. I
shall never forget that ride. Sore legs! but at first it was not easy
to keep up with my Comrade, who was fresh; but also was he a trifle
like the Teshildar, fat in the hump, so in the end that had its
effect, and I managed to keep pace with him.
"We reached back in the Bolan just as the sun was straight over our
heads. By the raji that was still in my gullet I was tired; so was
the young Sahib, for when I knelt down, and he slipped quickly from my
back, he spun round and round like a box that has broken loose, and
came to the ground in haste. Just as he fell, Dera Khan caught him, and
lifted him up; then he and the Healer went to the tent where was his
friend Jack. And I heard my Master, Dera, say afterward, that the
little Sahib never slept while it was twice dark and twice light; that
was until the Healer said the stricken one, Jack, the Burra-Sahib, was
again free of the Black Death."
"I think it is a true tale," remarked Adjutant, putting down his left
leg and taking up his right. "I have seen much of this Black Death in
my forty years of life, and the Men of the White-kind take great care
of each other. Now, those of the Black-kind get the Man-fear which
Hathi has spoken of, in their eyes, and flee fast from this terrible
sickness, crying aloud that their livers have turned to water. I,
myself, though I am a bird of little speech, could tell tales of both
"But what became of you, Unt?" queried Magh; "did you catch this
sickness and die?"
"No," replied Camel, solemnly, not noticing the sarcasm; "the little
Sahib took me from Dera Khan by a present of silver, and kept me to
ride on, and in the end I was sent here to Sa'-zada."
"It's bed-time," broke in the Keeper; "let each one go quickly to his
cage or corral."
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