ONCE upon a time there was a very religious Camel; at least, he was religious after the fashion of his country, that is, he used to mortify his flesh by fasting, and scratch himself with thorns, and lie awake all night meditating upon the emptiness of the world. That is what men used to do in that country, in order to please their gods. One of these gods was very much pleased with the piety of the Camel; so one night, as the Camel was fasting, and saying over and over to himself, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” the god appeared before him. He was a curious-looking god, and he had four hands instead of two; but the Camel did not mind that, nor did he laugh; on the contrary, he went down on his knees and bowed before him.
“O Camel,” said this god, “I have seen your fasting and heard your prayers, and I have come to reward you. Choose what boon you like, and it shall be yours.”
“O mighty God, I should like to have a neck eight miles long.”
The god answered, “Be it so!” and immediately the Camel felt his neck shooting out like a telescope until it was eight miles long. It shot out so fast, that the Camel found it hard to escape running his head against the trees. However, he steered it successfully, barring a bump or two; and as by the time his neck stopped growing he was far out of sight of the god, he could not even say thank you.
Now perhaps you will wonder why this Camel wanted a neck so long as eight miles? I will tell you. The reason was, that for all his fastings and penances, he was a lazy Camel, and he wanted to graze without the trouble of walking about. And now he could easily graze for a distance of eight miles all round in a circle, without moving from the spot where he lay. But it was rather dangerous, though he thought nothing of that; for when his head was grazing a few miles away, the hunters might stick a spear into his body, or tie his legs together, without his seeing them.
All the summer the Camel had a fine time of it; he lay still and comfortable and sent his head foraging around, and strange to say, no harm happened to him. But before long the rainy season began. In the rainy season there are storms every day, and it rains cats and dogs. So when the rain began, the Camel wanted to keep dry, but he could not at first find a shed or a shelter eight miles long, or anything like it. At last he lit on a long winding cave that held most of his long neck. So he ran his neck into the cave, and lay still, with the rain pouring upon his body.
This was bad enough, but worse was to come. For it happened that in this cave lived a He-jackal and a She-jackal.
When the Jackals saw this extraordinary neck winding along their cave, they were frightened, and hid away.
“What is this snake?” said the He-jackal to his wife.
“Oh dear, I don’t know!” whimpered his wife, “I never saw a snake like this.”
They kept quiet, the head passed out of view into the inner part of the cave; then after a while, the creature lay still.
“Let us smell him!” said the He-jackal.
They smelt him. “He smells nice,” said the She-jackal; “not a bit like a snake.”
“Let us taste him!” said the He-jackal.
They took a bite; the Camel stirred restlessly. They took another bite, and liked that better still. They went on biting. The Camel curled round his head to see what was going on; but before the Camel’s head could get back more than a mile or two, he grew so weak from loss of blood, that he could move no more, and he died.
So died the idle Camel, because the god granted him his foolish wish. Perhaps our wishes are often just as foolish, if we only knew it; and perhaps if they were fulfilled they would be the bane of us, as happened to the lazy and religious Camel.