SAINT FRONTO'S CAMELS
HIS is a story of Egypt. In the
midst of a great yellow sea of sand
was a tiny green island of an oasis.
Everywhere else the sunlight burned on sand
and rocks and low, bare hills to the west.
But here there was shade under the palm-trees,
and a spring of cool, clear water. It
seemed a pleasant place, but the men who
were living here were far from happy. There
was grumbling and discontent; there were
sulky looks and frowns. Yet these men were
trying to be holy hermits, to live beautiful
lives and forget how to be selfish. But it is
hard to be good when one is starving.
There were seventy of them in this lonely
camp in the desert,—seventy hungry monks,
who for many days had had only a few olives
to eat. And they blamed one man for all
their suffering. It was Fronto who had induced
them to leave the pleasant monastery
at Nitria, where the rest of their brethren
were living in peace and plenty. It was
Fronto who had led them into this miserable
 desert to serve God in solitude, as holy men
loved to do in the early days of Christendom.
Fronto was a holy man, full of faith and
courage. He had promised that they should
be fed and cared for in the desert even though
they took no care for themselves, and they
had believed him. So each monk took a few
olives in his pouch and a double-pronged
hoe to dig and plant corn with, and followed
Fronto into the desert.
After trudging many days they found
this spot, far to the east, where no caravans
would come to interrupt them, for it was out
of the way of travel. But soon also they
found their provisions gone and no others
forthcoming. What were they to do? They
asked Fronto, but he only bade them be
patient. It was when they had borne the
pangs of hunger for several days that they
began to grumble and talk of returning
home. But Fronto was indignant. "The
Lord will provide," he said, "O ye of little
faith!" And he bade them go to work and
try to forget their hunger. The monks drew
the cords tighter about their waists. But that
did little good. They had never fasted like
 this before! Day by day they grew more
pale and thin, and their long robes flapped
about their lean limbs. The few dates which
grew on the palm-trees of their oasis were
long since eaten, and the poor monks went
about chewing the knotted ends of their rope
girdles, trying to pretend that it was bread.
Oh, how they longed for even a bit of the
hard black bread which was Lenten fare at
the monastery beyond the hills!
Day by day they grew more hollow-checked
and despairing. At last one evening
they came to Fronto in a body—such a
weak, pale body. "Take us back to Nitria,
or we starve!" they cried. "We can endure
this no longer!"
Fronto stood before them even more pale
and worn than the rest, but with the light of
beautiful trust in his eyes. "Wait yet a little
longer, brothers," he begged. "We are bidden
to take no thought to the morrow, what
we shall eat and drink"—
"Nay, 't is to-day we think of," interrupted
the monks. "If we could eat to-day we would
indeed take no thought of the morrow. But
 "Patience, brothers," continued the Saint
wearily. "If we return now we shall show
that we distrust God's promise. Wait till
to-morrow. If help come not then, I give ye
leave to go, without me. I shall not return."
The monks withdrew, still grumbling and
unhappy. But the words of the Saint had
made some impression, and they agreed to
wait until morning. Each monk stretched
himself on his goatskin mat on the floor of
the little cell which he had dug in the sand.
And with groans of hunger mingled in their
prayers they tried to go to sleep and forget
how long it was since their last breakfast.
But Fronto could not sleep. He was sad
and disappointed because his brothers had
lost their faith, and because he felt alone,
deserted in this desert by the friends who
should have helped him with their sympathy
and trust. All night he knelt on his goatskin
mat praying that the Lord would fulfill His
promise now, and prove to the doubting
monks how mistaken their lack of faith had
been. The other monks slept a hungry sleep
about him, dreaming of delicious things to
eat. Now and then one of them would cry
 out: "Another help of pudding, please;" or
"Brother, will you pass the toast?" or "Thank
you, I will have an egg, brother." And
Fronto wept as he heard how faint their
At last the pink fingers of morning began
to spread themselves over the face of the sky,
pinching its cheeks into a rosy red. Suddenly
Fronto, who was on his knees with his
back to the door of his cell, started. Hark!
what sound was that which came floating on
the fresh morning air? Surely, the tinkle of
a bell. The good Saint rose from his mat and
went hastily to the door, his sure hope sending
a smile to his pale lips and color to his
hollow cheek. He knew that his prayer was
answered. And lo! away in the northwest
he saw a thread of black, crawling like a
caterpillar over the sand toward his oasis.
Nearer and nearer it came; and now he
could see plainly what it was,—a line of
great rocking camels, the little tinkling bells
on whose harness gave the signal that hope
was at hand.
But the sound had waked the other monks.
With a cry of joy they came tumbling out
 of their cells and rushed toward the camels,
which were now close to the camp. How the
poor monks ran, to be sure, many of them
tripping over the skirts of their long robes
and falling flat in the sand from their weakness
and excitement. They were like men
on a sinking ship who had just caught sight
of a rescuing sail. Some of them jumped up
and down and clapped their hands like children,
they were so glad. And tears stood in
the eyes of nearly all.
There were seventy camels, soft-eyed gentle
creatures, whose flat feet held them up
on the soft sand like snowshoes. They bore
packs upon their backs which promised good
things, and they came straight to the cell of
Fronto, where they stopped. And what a welcome
they received! The monks threw their
arms about the beasts' necks, as they knelt
on the sand, and kissed the soft noses as
though they were greeting long-lost brothers.
They were so glad to see the camels themselves
that they almost forgot to wonder
whence they came, or what they were bringing.
But Fronto was looking for their owner,
for the man who drove them. There was no
 one to be found. They had come all alone
across the desert, without any one to guide
them. Fronto's face was full of joy. "The
Lord has sent them!" he said. And the other
monks bowed their heads, and were ashamed
because they had doubted.
Hungry though they were, first of all the
good monks tended the tired beasts who had
come so far to save them. They relieved
them from their heavy loads, and tenderly
washed their hot, weary feet, and gave them
draughts of the spring water. Some of the
starving monks skurried away to gather the
green grass of the oasis for their hungry
friends, and others unfastened the bales of
hay which some of the camels had brought,
and made beds for the animals to lie on.
Then they all fell to and built a fold for the
seventy camels in the shade of the palm-trees.
And here they left the patient creatures to
rest and chew their cud with a sigh of relief
that the long, hot journey was over.
Then the monks hurried back to Fronto,
wondering if it were not now almost time
for their breakfast. They came upon him
reading a letter which he had found on the
 harness of the foremost camel. It was written
from the city of Alexandria, and it explained
how the camels had been sent.
Four nights before this, Glaucus, the rich
merchant, had been resting on a couch in his
summer house. He had just finished an excellent
dinner, with all his favorite fishes and
meats and fruits and sweets, and he was feeling
very happy. When suddenly he thought
of the seventy monks who had gone out from
Nitria many days before to live in the desert
with the help which the Lord should send.
And a pang smote him. Perhaps they were
starving now, while he was feasting. And
he wished he could help them to a dinner
as good as his. Ha! an idea came to him.
Why should he not indeed send them a dinner—many
dinners? It should be done.
So the next morning he had loaded seventy
camels with provisions, five of them with
bales of hay for the camels themselves. And
taking them to the border of the desert, without
driver or any one to guide them, he had
sent them out into the sea of sand, the great
ships of the desert, to find the right harbor by
themselves. For somehow he felt sure that
 the Lord would guide them safely to the
monks. Here the letter of Glaucus ended.
Oh, how good that breakfast tasted to the
poor, famished monks! There were all kinds
of fruit,—fresh figs and olives and dates,
citrons and juicy grapes and yellow pomegranates.
There were bread and oil which
the monks loved, and nuts and combs of the
most delicious golden honey such as it makes
one's mouth water to think of. Glaucus had
sent them a breakfast fit for a king. And they
all sat down on the sand in a happy circle
and had the finest picnic that was ever seen
in that desert.
When they had eaten they went out once
more to visit the camels who had saved their
lives, and to thank them with caressing
words. The camels seemed to understand,
and looked at them with gentle eyes, chewing
their cud earnestly as if thinking: "You
see, the Lord was looking out for you all the
time. We are only poor, dumb beasts; but
we came straight to you across the desert
without any fear or wandering, because we
trusted. Why were you not trustful, too?"
And again the monks were very much
 ashamed, and went back to Fronto to beg
his forgiveness, promising never again to be
faint-hearted nor to lose faith.
The next morning they made ready to
send back the camels to Alexandria. For
they knew Glaucus would be anxious to
hear how his ships of the desert had fared
on their errand. And half the provisions they
returned, for they had more than enough to
last them a year, according to their simple
meals. Then, with tears in their eyes, the
monks sent the great beasts forth again into
the desert, confident that as they had come so
they would find their way back to Alexandria,
safe and sound. Each in his cell door the
monks stood and watched them slowly winding
away over the yellow sand, disappearing
at last behind the hills which rose like great
waves between them and the world of cities.
Now it was eight days since Glaucus had
sent out the camels, and he was growing
uneasy. Seventy camels are a valuable property,
which even a rich man could not afford
to lose. Glaucus feared that he had been
foolish; the desert was full of robbers, and
there was no one to protect this leaderless
 caravan. Would the Lord take care of affairs
which were left wholly to His direction?
Glaucus was sitting with his family in the
garden, silent and gloomy. His family felt
that he had been rash, and they did not hesitate
to tell him so, which made him still more
unhappy. The leader-camel was the favorite
of Glaucus's daughter, Æmilia. She was crying
in a corner of the garden, thinking about
her dear Humpo, whom she never expected
to see again. When, just as Fronto had done,
she heard a far-away tinkle. She jumped up
and ran out to the road.
"What is it, Æmilia, my child?" called
out her father, startled by her sudden movement.
"Oh, Father, Father!" she cried. "I think
I hear the tinkle of a camel bell among the
mountains!" And sure enough. As they all
hurried down to the garden gate the sound
of little bells drew nearer and nearer. And
presently came in sight the line of seventy
camels, Humpo at the head, half of them
loaded with the provisions which the monks
were too unselfish to keep. And soon Æmilia
had her arms about the neck of her dear
 Humpo, and was whispering nice things into
his floppy ears as he knelt before her, looking
lovingly at her with his big brown eyes.
Thus it was that Glaucus, the good rich
man, knew that the Lord was pleased with
him for his kindness, and had helped him to
do his duty. And every year after that he
sent the seventy camels forth into the desert
on their unguided errand to the far-off oasis.
So they grew to be dear friends of Saint
Fronto and his monks, looked for as eagerly
as Santa Claus is at Christmas time.
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