THE RIDING CAMEL
by Will H. Ogilvie
I was Junda’s riding camel. I went in front of the train.
I was hung with shells of the orient, from saddle and cinch and rein.
I was sour as a snake to handle, and rough as a rock to ride,
But I could keep up with the West Wind, and my pace was Junda’s pride.
I was Junda’s riding camel. When first we left our land
Camels were rare on the Queensland tracks as ropes made out of sand;
But slowly we conquered a kingdom till down through the dust and heat
Not a road from the Gulf to the Border but carried the print of our feet.
And I was the riding camel. I carried him --- Junda Khan ---
The dark-skinned Afghan devil made in the mould of a man!
I gave no service to others, yellow, or white, or brown,
But Junda Khan was my master; and I knelt when he “Hooshed!” me down.
When the gloom on his forehead gathered, when he fingered the blade at his belt,
The men who handled the nose-rings knelt low as the camels knelt:
For each of them – beast and driver – from Koot to the camel-foal,
Knew that the man who led them owned them body and soul.
Northward I carried my master. The creek by the road was dry;
The sun like a burning wagon-wheel rolled down in the western sky.
The dust was white on the saltbush, the ruts were deep in the road,
And the camel behind me grunted at every lurch of his load.
A dust-whirl rose in the bushes and circled into the sky,
The shells on my harness rattled as its burning breath went by.
And out of the endless distance clear-cut on the world’s edge lone
Like a silver sail on the ocean the roof of a home-stead shone.
The white man stood at my shoulder, sunburnt, lissome and straight,
In the deep of his eyes was anger to match with the Afghan’s hate.
I know no word of the quarrel. the “Hoosh-ta!” came and I knelt;
And Junda sprang from the saddle; and the knife leapt out of his belt.
There was a cry in the sunset, an echo that rang at the ford,
Then silence fell on the roadway till a scared bull-camel roared.
My master turned and mounted. I felt the sting of his goad;
And we swept away through the saltbush; and the rest stood still on the road.
The night came up from the river, darksome and deep and drear.
Swift were my feet on the sandhill; but swifter followed his fear.
When the stars were dim in the daylight and the moon on the mulga low
A hundred miles of desert lay between the blade and the blow.
We were far from the fetter of fences and far from the dwellings of men,
Yet for less than an hour he rested, then mounted and rode again.
I was sore and weary and thirsty when out of the blaze of noon
We camped in the shade of a wilga clump and drank at a long lagoon.
Ah! Never was life-blood taken of white, or yellow, or brown
But the keen-eyed men in the helmets have ridden the taker down!
Never a trail on the sandhill of camel, or horse, or shoe
Crossed by a hundred others, but the trackers have tracked it through!
Sore of the saddle and weary, Junda, the killer, slept;
But I, I watched from the bushes while the armed avenger crept.
Sharp came the call in the English tongue; and my master sprang from his sleep,
Hand to the hilt of his Khyber knife, crouched for one swift leap.
Brave are those outpost English; but simple as children be.
The pistol-barrell that held his life hung loose at the Trooper’s knee.
There was a flash in the sunlight, the gleam of a long blue blade,
A cry in the noontide stillness, a corpse on the sandhill laid.
I was his riding camel; but deep in my heart there stirred
Something of lust and anger I could not name in a word.
When he came to me swift and sudden, the blood-red knife in his belt,
I could not kneel at his bidding as I and my sires had knelt.
Wrath at his long-time goading, fear of his cruel hand,
Made me a raging devil that heard no man’s command.
And when he struck at my nostrils, mad with his human fear,
I clenched my teeth in his shoulder; and clung till the blood ran clear.
I knelt with my weight and crushed him. He died, and at Allah’s Gate
The soul of him sobs and trembles where the grim Black Camels wait.
Could I do else, my brothers, I who remembered then
The moan of the laden pack-beasts and the mutter of Junda’s men?
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