Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/273

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PROGRESS

239

Childless Mrs. Smith nodded and wistfully voiced an old wonderment: “How come such a triflin’ woman to have such a good child?”

She wondered it again on this morning when, with the rest of the townsfolk, she awaited the arrival of the first camel train. Jem had sidled shyly over to her, slipping a small grimy hand into hers. His mother, lost in the enjoyment of vociferous argument concerning the camels’ origin, had completely forgotten his existence.

‘Bill Smith told me they come to America on a navy ship from foreign parts, an’ they got a parcel o’ black drivers with ’em!” Meg Brown quoted, shrilly. “Bill says as how they couldn’t never build a railroad ’cross the country, ’count of the desert, an’ it bein’ too far between waterin’ places—but camels don’t need no water!”

“There ain’t nuthin’ livin’ that don’t need some water!” commented Mrs. Bill Smith with an emphasis entirely disproportionate to the subject under discussion.

Meg Brown instantly agreed with her adversary: “‘That’s what I told Bill—but you know how he is!”

Ensued a silence, broken by someone’s discovery of the first glimpse of the approaching camels; and as they came slowly nearer silence again descended. There was about the strange beasts nothing American—nothing to strike an answering chord of real or fancied resemblance. Only the brand of the United States upon their sides linked them up with any vestige of usualness—even the copper bells on the straps about their necks gave out an alien unfamiliar tinkle. . . Jem Brown, observing four dark-skinned Arab drivers, strengthened his grasp upon the hand of his friend, the store-keeper’s wife, as he watched the cameleers dismount.

Meg Brown boldly approached the blond Texan in charge: “Helloa! Glad to see youl! . . . Say, what’re they a-chewin’? . . . Ain’t they proud-lookin’?” She smiled with ingratiating friendliness.

The man in charge recognized her type. “Sure, sister! They’ve been haughty an’ set-up ever since we branded ’em!” She welcomed his pleasantry with loud laughter. “Say, wasn’t there no new camels where them came from? These look so kinda rough an’ ragged—didn’t they have no sleek ones?”’