THE CAMEL'S BACK
BY F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
The restless, wearied eye of the tired magazine reader resting for a
critical second on the above title will judge it to be merely
metaphorical. Stories about the cup and the lip and the bad penny
and the new broom rarely have anything to do with cups and lips and
pennies and brooms. This story is the great exception. It has to do
with an actual, material, visible and large-as-life camel's back.
Starting from the neck we shall work tailward. Meet Mr. Perry
Parkhurst, twenty-eight, lawyer, native of Toledo. Perry has nice
teeth, a Harvard education, and parts his hair in the middle. You
have met him before—in Cleveland, Portland, St. Paul, Indianapolis,
Kansas City and elsewhere. Baker Brothers, New York, pause on their
semi-annual trip through the West to clothe him; Montmorency & Co.,
dispatch a young man posthaste every three months to see that he has
the correct number of little punctures on his shoes. He has a
domestic roadster now, will have a French roadster if he lives long
enough, and doubtless a Chinese one if it comes into fashion. He
looks like the advertisement of the young man rubbing his
sunset-coloured chest with liniment, goes East every year to the
Harvard reunion—does everything—smokes a little too much—Oh,
you've seen him.
Meet his girl. Her name is Betty Medill, and she would take well in
the movies. Her father gives her two hundred a month to dress on and
she has tawny eyes and hair, and feather fans of three colours. Meet
her father, Cyrus Medill. Though he is to all appearances flesh and
blood he is, strange to say, commonly known in Toledo as the
Aluminum Man. But when he sits in his club window with two or three
Iron Men and the White Pine Man and the Brass Man they look very
much as you and I do, only more so, if you know what I mean.
Meet the camel's back—or no—don't meet the camel's back yet. Meet
During the Christmas holidays of 1919, the first real Christmas
holidays since the war, there took place in Toledo, counting only
the people with the italicized the, forty-one dinner parties,
sixteen dances, six luncheons male and female, eleven luncheons
female, twelve teas, four stag dinners, two weddings and thirteen
bridge parties. It was the cumulative effect of all this that moved
Perry Parkhurst on the twenty-ninth day of December to a desperate
Betty Medill would marry him and she wouldn't marry him. She was
having such a good time that she hated to take such a definite step.
Meanwhile, their secret engagement had got so long that it seemed as
if any day it might break off of its own weight. A little man named
Warburton, who knew it all, persuaded Perry to superman her, to get
a marriage license and go up to the Medill house and tell her she'd
have to marry him at once or call it off forever. This is some
stunt—but Perry tried it on December the twenty-ninth. He presented
self, heart, license, and ultimatum, and within five minutes they
were in the midst of a violent quarrel, a burst of sporadic open
fighting such as occurs near the end of all long wars and engagements.
It brought about one of those ghastly lapses in which two people who
are in love pull up sharp, look at each other coolly and think it's
all been a mistake. Afterward they usually kiss wholesomely and
assure the other person it was all their fault. Say it all was my
fault! Say it was! I want to hear you say it!
But while reconciliation was trembling in the air, while each was,
in a measure, stalling it off, so that they might the more
voluptuously and sentimentally enjoy it when it came, they were
permanently interrupted by a twenty-minute phone call for Betty from
a garrulous aunt who lived in the country. At the end of eighteen
minutes Perry Parkhurst, torn by pride and suspicion and urged on by
injured dignity, put on his long fur coat, picked up his light brown
soft hat and stalked out the door.
"It's all over," he muttered brokenly as he tried to jam his car
into first. "It's all over—if I have to choke you for an hour, darn
you!" This last to the car, which had been standing some time and
was quite cold.
He drove downtown—that is, he got into a snow rut that led him
He sat slouched down very low in his seat, much too dispirited to
care where he went. He was living over the next twenty years without
In front of the Clarendon Hotel he was hailed from the sidewalk by a
bad man named Baily, who had big huge teeth and lived at the hotel
and had never been in love.
"Perry," said the bad man softly when the roadster drew up beside
him at the curb, "I've got six quarts of the dog-gonedest champagne
you ever tasted. A third of it's yours, Perry, if you'll come
upstairs and help Martin Macy and me drink it."
"Baily," said Perry tensely. "I'll drink your champagne. I'll drink
every drop of it. I don't care if it kills me. I don't care if it's
fifty-proof wood alcohol."
"Shut up, you nut!" said the bad man gently. "They don't put wood
alcohol in champagne. This is the stuff that proves the world is
more than six thousand years old. It's so ancient that the cork is
petrified. You have to pull it with a stone drill."
"Take me upstairs," said Perry moodily. "If that cork sees my heart
it'll fall out from pure mortification."
The room upstairs was full of those innocent hotel pictures of
little girls eating apples and sitting in swings and talking to dogs.
The other decorations were neckties and a pink man reading a pink
paper devoted to ladies in pink tights.
"When you have to go into the highways and byways—" said the pink
man, looking reproachfully at Baily and Perry.
"Hello, Martin Macy," said Perry shortly, "where's this stone-age
"What's the rush? This isn't an operation, understand. This is a
Perry sat down dully and looked disapprovingly at all the neckties.
Baily leisurely opened the door of a wardrobe and brought out six
wicked-looking bottles and three glasses.
"Take off that darn fur coat!" said Martin Macy to Perry. "Or maybe
you'd like to have us open all the windows." "Give me champagne,"
"Going to the Townsends' circus ball to-night?"
"Why not go?"
"Oh, I'm sick of parties," exclaimed Perry, "I'm sick of 'em. I've
been to so many that I'm sick of 'em."
"Maybe you're going to the Howard Tates' party?"
"No, I tell you; I'm sick of 'em."
"Well," said Macy consolingly, "the Tates' is just for college kids
"I tell you—"
"I thought you'd be going to one of 'em anyways. I see by the papers
you haven't missed a one this Christmas."
"Hm," grunted Perry morosely.
He would never go to any more parties. Classical phrases played in
his mind—that side of his life was closed, closed. Now when a man
says "closed, closed" like that, you can be pretty sure that some
woman has double-closed him, so to speak. Perry was also thinking
that other classical thought, about how cowardly suicide is. A noble
thought that one—warm and uplifting. Think of all the fine men we
should lose if suicide were not so cowardly!
An hour later was six o'clock, and Perry had lost all resemblance to
the young man in the liniment advertisement. He looked like a rough
draft fur a riotous cartoon. They were singing—an impromptu song of
One Lump Perry, the parlour snake,
Famous through the city for the way he drinks his tea;
Plays with it, toys with it,
Makes no noise with it,
Balanced on a napkin on his well-trained knee.
"Trouble is," said Perry, who had just banged his hair with Bailey's
comb and was tying an orange tie round it to get the effect of
Julius Caesar, "that you fellas can't sing worth a damn. Soon's I
leave th' air an' start singin' tenor you start singin' tenor too."
"'M a natural tenor," said Macy gravely. "Voice lacks cultivation,
tha's all. Gotta natural voice, m'aunt used say. Naturally good
"Singers, singers, all good singers," remarked Baily, who was at the
telephone. "No, not the cabaret; I want night clerk. I mean
refreshment clerk or some dog-gone clerk 'at's got food—food! I
"Julius Caesar," announced Perry, turning round from the mirror.
"Man of iron will and stern 'termination."
"Shut up!" yelled Baily. "Say, iss Mr. Baily. Sen' up enormous supper.
Use y'own judgment. Right away."
He connected the receiver and the hook with some difficulty and then
with his lips closed and an air of solemn intensity in his eyes went
to the lower drawer of his dresser and pulled it open.
"Lookit!" he commanded. In his hands he held a truncated garment of
"Pants," he explained gravely. "Lookit!" This was a pink blouse, a
red tie and a Buster Brown collar.
"Lookit!" he repeated. "Costume for the Townsends' circus ball. I'm
li'l' boy carries water for the elephants."
Perry was impressed in spite of himself.
"I'm going to be Julius Caesar," he announced after a moment of
"Thought you weren't going!" said Macy.
"Me? Sure, I'm goin'. Never miss a party. Good for the nerves—like
"Caesar!" scoffed Baily. "Can't be Caesar! He's not about a circus.
Caesar's Shakespeare. Go as a clown."
Perry shook his head.
Light dawned on Baily.
"That's right. Good idea."
Perry looked round the room searchingly.
"You lend me a bathrobe and this tie," he said finally.
"Sure, tha's all I need. Caesar was a savage. They can't kick if I
come as Caesar if he was a savage."
"No," said Baily, shaking his head slowly. "Get a costume over at a
costumer's. Over at Nolak's."
After a puzzling five minutes at the phone a small, weary voice
managed to convince Perry that it was Mr. Nolak speaking, and that
they would remain open until eight because of the Townsends' ball.
Thus assured, Perry ate a great amount of filet mignon and drank his
third of the last bottle of champagne. At eight-fifteen the man in
the tall hat who stands in front of the Clarendon found him trying
to start his roadster.
"Froze up," said Perry wisely. "The cold froze it. The cold air."
"Yes. Cold air froze it."
"Can't start it?"
"Nope. Let it stand here till summer. One those hot ole August
days'll thaw it out awright."
"Goin' let it stand?"
"Sure. Let 'er stand. Take a hot thief to steal it. Gemme taxi."
The man in the tall hat summoned a taxi.
"Where to, mister?"
"Go to Nolak's—costume fella."
Mrs. Nolak was short and ineffectual looking, and on the cessation
of the world war had belonged for a while to one of the new
nationalities. Owing to the unsettled European conditions she had
never since been quite sure what she was. The shop in which she and
her husband performed their daily stint was dim and ghostly and
peopled with suits of armour and Chinese mandarins and enormous
papier-mâché birds suspended from the ceiling. In a vague background
many rows of masks glared eyelessly at the visitor, and there were
glass cases full of crowns and scepters and jewels and enormous
stomachers and paints and powders and crape hair and face creams and
wigs of all colours.
When Perry ambled into the shop Mrs. Nolak was folding up the last
troubles of a strenuous day, so she thought, in a drawer full of
pink silk stockings.
"Something for you?" she queried pessimistically.
"Want costume of Julius Hur, the charioteer."
Mrs. Nolak was sorry, but every stitch of charioteer had been rented
long ago. Was it for the Townsends' circus ball?
"Sorry," she said, "but I don't think there's anything left that's
This was an obstacle.
"Hm," said Perry. An idea struck him suddenly. "If you've got a piece
of canvas I could go's a tent."
"Sorry, but we haven't anything like that. A hardware store is where
you'd have to go to. We have some very nice Confederate soldiers."
"No, no soldiers."
"And I have a very handsome king."
He shook his head.
"Several of the gentlemen," she continued hopefully, "are wearing
stovepipe hats and swallow-tail coats and going as ringmasters—but
we're all out of tall hats. I can let you have some crape hair for a
"Something—let's see. Well, we have a lion's head, and a goose, and
"Camel?" The idea seized Perry's imagination, gripped it fiercely.
"Yes, but it needs two people."
"Camel. That's an idea. Lemme see it."
The camel was produced from his resting place on a top shelf. At
first glance he appeared to consist entirely of a very gaunt,
cadaverous head and a sizable hump, but on being spread out he was
found to possess a dark brown, unwholesome-looking body made of thick,
"You see it takes two people," explained Mrs. Nolak, holding the
camel up in frank admiration. "If you have a friend he could be part
of it. You see there's sorta pants for two people. One pair is for
the fella in front and the other pair for the fella in back. The
fella in front does the lookin' out through these here eyes an' the
fella in back he's just gotta stoop over an' folla the front fella
"Put it on," commanded Perry.
Obediently Mrs. Nolak put her tabby-cat face inside the camel's head
and turned it from side to side ferociously.
Perry was fascinated.
"What noise does a camel make?"
"What?" asked Mrs. Nolak as her face emerged, somewhat smudgy.
"Oh, what noise? Why, he sorta brays."
"Lemme see it in a mirror."
Before a wide mirror Perry tried on the head and turned from side to
side appraisingly. In the dim light the effect was distinctly
pleasing. The camel's face was a study in pessimism, decorated with
numerous abrasions, and it must be admitted that his coat was in
that state of general negligence peculiar to camels—in fact, he
needed to be cleaned and pressed—but distinctive he certainly was.
He was majestic. He would have attracted attention in any gathering
if only by his melancholy cast of feature and the look of pensive
hunger lurking round his shadowy eyes.
"You see you have to have two people," said Mrs. Nolak again.
Perry tentatively gathered up the body and legs and wrapped them
about him, tying the hind legs as a girdle round his waist. The
effect on the whole was bad. It was even irreverent—like one of
those medieval pictures of a monk changed into a beast by the
ministrations of Satan. At the very best the ensemble resembled a
humpbacked cow sitting on her haunches among blankets.
"Don't look like anything at all," objected Perry gloomily.
"No," said Mrs. Nolak; "you see you got to have two people."
A solution flashed upon Perry.
"You got a date to-night?"
"Oh, I couldn't possibly—"
"Oh, come on," said Perry encouragingly. "Sure you can! Here! Be a
good sport and climb into these hind legs."
With difficulty he located them and extended their yawning depths
ingratiatingly. But Mrs. Nolak seemed loath. She backed perversely
"C'm on! Why, you can be the front if you want to. Or we'll flip a
"Make it worth your while."
Mrs. Nolak set her lips firmly together.
"Now you just stop!" she said with no coyness implied. "None of the
gentlemen ever acted up this way before. My husband—"
"You got a husband?" demanded Perry. "Where is he?"
"Wha's telephone number?"
After considerable parley he obtained the telephone number
pertaining to the Nolak penates and got into communication with that
small, weary voice he had heard once before that day. But Mr. Nolak,
though taken off his guard and somewhat confused by Perry's
brilliant flow of logic, stuck staunchly to his point. He refused
firmly but with dignity to help out Mr. Parkhurst in the capacity of
back part of a camel.
Having rung off, or rather having been rung off on, Perry sat down
on a three-legged stool to think it over. He named over to himself
those friends on whom he might call, and then his mind paused as
Betty Medill's name hazily and sorrowfully occurred to him. He had a
sentimental thought. He would ask her. Their love affair was over,
but she could not refuse this last request. Surely it was not much
to ask—to help him keep up his end of social obligation for one
short night. And if she insisted she could be the front part of the
camel and he would go as the back. His magnanimity pleased him. His
mind even turned to rosy-coloured dreams of a tender reconciliation
inside the camel—there hidden away from all the world.
"Now you'd better decide right off."
The bourgeois voice of Mrs. Nolak broke in upon his mellow fancies
and roused him to action. He went to the phone and called up the
Medill house. Miss Betty was out; had gone out to dinner.
Then, when all seemed lost, the camel's back wandered curiously into
the store. He was a dilapidated individual with a cold in his head
and a general trend about him of downwardness. His cap was pulled
down low on his head, and his chin was pulled down low on his chest,
his coat hung down to his shoes, he looked run-down, down at the
heels, and—Salvation Army to the contrary—down and out. He said
that he was the taxicab driver that the gentleman had hired at the
Clarendon Hotel. He had been instructed to wait outside, but he had
waited some time and a suspicion had grown upon him that the
gentleman had gone out the back way with purpose to defraud
him—gentlemen sometimes did—so he had come in. He sank down on to
the three-legged stool.
"Wanta go to a party?" demanded Perry sternly.
"I gotta work," answered the taxi driver lugubriously. "I gotta keep
"It's a very good party."
"'S a very good job."
"Come on!" urged Perry. "Be a good fella. See—it's pretty!" He held
the camel up and the taxi driver looked at it cynically.
Perry searched feverishly among the folds of the cloth.
"See!" he cried enthusiastically, holding up a selection of folds.
"This is your part. You don't even have to talk. All you have to do
is to walk—and sit down occasionally. You do all the sitting down.
Think of it. I'm on my feet all the time and you can sit down some
of the time. The only time I can sit down is when we're lying down,
and you can sit down when—oh, any time. See?"
"What's 'at thing?" demanded the individual dubiously "A shroud?"
"Not at all," said Perry hurriedly. "It's a camel."
Then Perry mentioned a sum of money, and the conversation left the
land of grunts and assumed a practical tinge. Perry and the taxi
driver tried on the camel in front of the mirror.
"You can't see it," explained Perry, peering anxiously out through
the eyeholes, "but honestly, ole man, you look sim'ly great! Honestly!"
A grunt from the hump acknowledged this somewhat dubious compliment.
"Honestly, you look great!" repeated Perry enthusiastically.
"Move round a little."
The hind legs moved forward, giving the effect of a huge cat-camel
hunching his back preparatory to a spring.
"No; move sideways."
The camel's hips went neatly out of joint; a hula dancer would have
writhed in envy.
"Good, isn't it?" demanded Perry, turning to Mrs. Nolak for approval.
"It looks lovely," agreed Mrs. Nolak.
"We'll take it," said Perry.
The bundle was safely stowed under Perry's arm and they left the shop.
"Go to the party!" he commanded as he took his seat in the back.
"Where 'bouts is it?"
This presented a new problem. Perry tried to remember, but the names
of all those who had given parties during the holidays danced
confusedly before his eyes. He could ask Mrs. Nolak, but on looking
out the window he saw that the shop was dark. Mrs. Nolak had already
faded out, a little black smudge far down the snowy street.
"Drive uptown," directed Perry with fine confidence. "If you see a
party, stop. Otherwise I'll tell you when we get there."
He fell into a hazy daydream and his thoughts wandered again to
Betty—he imagined vaguely that they had had a disagreement because
she refused to go to the party as the back part of the camel. He was
just slipping off into a chilly doze when he was wakened by the taxi
driver opening the door and shaking him by the arm.
"Here we are, maybe."
Perry looked out sleepily. A striped awning led from the curb up to
a spreading gray stone house, from inside which issued the low
drummy whine of expensive jazz. He recognized the Howard Tate house.
"Sure," he said emphatically; "'at's it! Tate's party to-night. Sure,
"Say," said the individual anxiously after another look at the awning,
"you sure these people ain't gonna romp on me for comin' here?"
Perry drew himself up with dignity.
"'F anybody says anything to you, just tell 'em you're part of my
The visualization of himself as a thing rather than a person seemed
to reassure the individual,
"All right," he said reluctantly.
Perry stepped out under the shelter of the awning and began
unrolling the camel.
"Let's go," he commanded.
Several minutes later a melancholy, hungry-looking camel, emitting
clouds of smoke from his mouth and from the tip of his noble hump,
might have been seen crossing the threshold of the Howard Tate
residence, passing a startled footman without so much as a snort,
and leading directly for the main stairs that led up to the ballroom.
The beast walked with a peculiar gait which varied between an
uncertain lockstep and a stampede—but can best be described by the
word "halting." The camel had a halting gait—and as he walked he
alternately elongated and contracted like a gigantic concertina.
The Howard Tates are, as everyone who lives in Toledo knows, the
most formidable people in town. Mrs. Howard Tate was a Chicago Todd
before she became a Toledo Tate, and the family generally affect
that conscious simplicity which has begun to be the earmark of
American aristocracy. The Tates have reached the stage where they
talk about pigs and farms and look at you icy-eyed if you are not
amused. They have begun to prefer retainers rather than friends as
dinner guests, spend a lot of money in a quiet way and, having lost
all sense of competition, are in process of growing quite dull.
The dance this evening was for little Millicent Tate, and though
there was a scattering of people of all ages present the dancers
were mostly from school and college—the younger married crowd was
at the Townsends' circus ball up at the Tallyho Club. Mrs. Tate was
standing just inside the ballroom, following Millicent round with
her eyes and beaming whenever she caught her eye. Beside her were
two middle-aged sycophants who were saying what a perfectly exquisite
child Millicent was. It was at this moment that Mrs. Tate was
grasped firmly by the skirt and her youngest daughter, Emily, aged
eleven, hurled herself with an "Oof—!" into her mother's arms.
"Why, Emily, what's the trouble?"
"Mamma," said Emily, wild-eyed but voluble, "there's something out
on the stairs."
"There's a thing out on the stairs, mamma. I think it's a big dog,
mamma, but it doesn't look like a dog."
"What do you mean, Emily?"
The sycophants waved their heads and hemmed sympathetically.
"Mamma, it looks like a—like a camel."
Mrs. Tate laughed.
"You saw a mean old shadow, dear, that's all."
"No, I didn't. No, it was some kind of thing, mamma—big. I was
downstairs going to see if there were any more people and this dog
or something, he was coming upstairs. Kinda funny, mamma, like he
was lame. And then he saw me and gave a sort of growl and then he
slipped at the top of the landing and I ran."
Mrs. Tate's laugh faded.
"The child must have seen something," she said.
The sycophants agreed that the child must have seen something—and
suddenly all three women took an instinctive step away from the door
as the sounds of muffled footsteps were audible just outside.
And then three startled gasps rang out as a dark brown form rounded
the corner and they saw what was apparently a huge beast looking
down at them hungrily.
"Oof!" cried Mrs. Tate.
"O-o-oh!" cried the ladies in a chorus.
The camel suddenly humped his back, and the gasps turned to shrieks.
"What is it?"
The dancing stopped, but the dancers hurrying over got quite a
different impression of the invader from that of the ladies by the
door; in fact, the young people immediately suspected that it was a
stunt, a hired entertainer come to amuse the party. The boys in long
trousers looked at it rather disdainfully and sauntered over with
their hands in their pockets, feeling that their intelligence was
being insulted. But the girls ran over with much handclapping and
many little shouts of glee.
"It's a camel!"
"Well, if he isn't the funniest!"
The camel stood there uncertainly, swaying slightly from side to
side and seeming to take in the room in a careful, appraising glance;
then as if he had come to an abrupt decision he turned and ambled
swiftly out the door.
Mr. Howard Tate had just come out of his den on the lower floor and
was standing chatting with a good-looking young man in the hall.
Suddenly they heard the noise of shouting upstairs and almost
immediately a succession of bumping sounds, followed by the
precipitous appearance at the foot of the stairway of a large brown
beast who seemed to be going somewhere in a great hurry.
"Now what the devil!" said Mr. Tate, starting.
The beast picked itself up with some dignity and affecting an air of
extreme nonchalance, as if he had just remembered an important
engagement, started at a mixed gait toward the front door. In fact,
his front legs began casually to run.
"See here now," said Mr. Tate sternly. "Here! Grab it, Butterfield!
The young man enveloped the rear of the camel in a pair of brawny
arms, and evidently realizing that further locomotion was quite
impossible the front end submitted to capture and stood resignedly
in a state of some agitation. By this time a flood of young people
was pouring downstairs, and Mr. Tate, suspecting everything from an
ingenious burglar to an escaped lunatic, gave crisp directions to
the good-looking young man:
"Hold him! Lead him in here; we'll soon see."
The camel consented to be led into the den, and Mr. Tate, after
locking the door, took a revolver from a table drawer and instructed
the young man to take the thing's head off. Then he gasped and
returned the revolver to its hiding place.
"Well, Perry Parkhurst!" he exclaimed in amazement.
"'M in the wrong pew," said Perry sheepishly. "Got the wrong party,
Mr. Tate. Hope I didn't scare you."
"Well—you gave us a thrill, Perry." Realization dawned on him.
"Why, of course; you're bound for the Townsends' circus ball."
"That's the general idea."
"Let me introduce Mr. Butterfield, Mr. Parkhurst. Parkhurst is our
most famous young bachelor here." Then turning to Perry:
"Butterfield is staying with us for a few days."
"I got a little mixed up," mumbled Perry. "I'm very sorry."
"Heavens, it's perfectly all right; most natural mistake in the world.
I've got a clown costume and I'm going down there myself after a
while. Silly idea for a man of my age." He turned to Butterfield.
"Better change your mind and come down with us."
The good-looking young man demurred. He was going to bed.
"Have a drink, Perry?" suggested Mr. Tate.
"Thanks, I will."
"And, say," continued Tate quickly, "I'd forgotten all about
your—friend here." He indicated the rear part of the camel.
"I didn't mean to seem discourteous. Is it any one I know? Bring him
"It's not a friend," explained Perry hurriedly. "I just rented him."
"Does he drink?"
"Do you?" demanded Perry, twisting himself tortuously round.
There was a faint sound of assent.
"Sure he does!" said Mr. Tate heartily. "A really efficient camel
ought to be able to drink enough so it'd last him three days."
"Tell you, sir," said Perry anxiously, "he isn't exactly dressed up
enough to come out. If you give me the bottle I can hand it back to
him and he can take his inside."
From under the cloth was audible the enthusiastic smacking sound
inspired by this suggestion. When a butler had appeared with bottles,
glasses, and siphon one of the bottles was handed back, and
thereafter the silent partner could be heard imbibing long potations
at frequent intervals.
Thus passed a peaceful hour. At ten o'clock Mr. Tate decided that
they'd better be starting. He donned his clown's costume; Perry
replaced the camel's head with a sigh; side by side they progressed
on foot the single block between the Tate house and the Tallyho Club.
The circus ball was in full swing. A great tent fly had been put up
inside the ballroom and round the walls had been built rows of
booths representing the various attractions of a circus side show,
but these were now vacated and on the floor swarmed a shouting,
laughing medley of youth and colour—clowns, bearded ladies, acrobats,
bareback riders, ringmasters, tattooed men and charioteers. The
Townsends had determined to assure their party of success, so a
great quantity of liquor had been surreptitiously brought over from
their house in automobiles and it was flowing freely. A green ribbon
ran along the wall completely round the ballroom, with pointing
arrows alongside of it and signs which instructed the uninitiated to
"Follow the green line'" The green line led down to the bar, where
waited pure punch and wicked punch and plain dark-green bottles.
On the wall above the bar was another arrow, red and very wavy, and
under it the slogan: "Now follow this!"
But even amid the luxury of costume and high spirits represented
there the entrance of the camel created something of a stir, and
Perry was immediately surrounded by a curious, laughing crowd who
were anxious to penetrate the identity of this beast who stood by
the wide doorway eyeing the dancers with his hungry, melancholy gaze.
And then Perry saw Betty. She was standing in front of a booth
talking to a group of clowns, comic policemen and ringmasters. She
was dressed in the costume of an Egyptian snake charmer, a costume
carried out to the smallest detail. Her tawny hair was braided and
drawn through brass rings, the effect crowned with a glittering
Oriental tiara. Her fair face was stained to a warm olive glow and
on her bare arms and the half moon of her back writhed painted
serpents with single eyes of venomous green. Her feet were in
sandals and her skirt was slit to the knees, so that when she walked
one caught a glimpse of other slim serpents painted just above her
bare ankles. Wound about her neck was a huge, glittering,
cotton-stuffed cobra, and her bracelets were in the form of tiny
garter snakes. Altogether a very charming and beautiful costume—one
that made the more nervous among the older women shrink away from
her when she passed, and the more troublesome ones to make great
talk about "shouldn't be allowed" and "perfectly disgraceful."
But Perry, peering through the uncertain eyes of the camel, saw only
her face, radiant, animated and glowing with excitement, and her arms
and shoulders, whose mobile, expressive gestures made her always the
outstanding figure in any gathering. He was fascinated and his
fascination exercised a strangely sobering effect on him. With a
growing clarity the events of the day came back—he had lost forever
this shimmering princess in emerald green and black. Rage rose
within him, and with a half-formed intention of taking her away from
the crowd he started toward her—or rather he elongated slightly,
for he had neglected to issue the preparatory command necessary to
But at this point fickle Kismet, who for a day had played with him
bitterly and sardonically, decided to reward him in full for the
amusement he had afforded her. Kismet turned the tawny eyes of the
snake charmer to the camel. Kismet led her to lean toward the man
beside her and say, "Who's that? That camel?"
They all gazed.
"Darned if I know."
But a little man named Warburton, who knew it all, found it
necessary to hazard an opinion:
"It came in with Mr. Tate. I think it's probably Warren Butterfield,
the architect, who's visiting the Tates."
Something stirred in Betty Medill—that age-old interest of the
provincial girl in the visiting man.
"Oh," she said casually after a slight pause.
At the end of the next dance Betty and her partner finished up
within a few feet of the camel. With the informal audacity that was
the keynote of the evening she reached out and gently rubbed the
"Hello, old camel."
The camel stirred uneasily.
"You 'fraid of me?" said Betty, lifting her eyebrows in mock reproof.
"Don't be. You see I'm a snake charmer, but I'm pretty good at
The camel bowed very low and the groups round laughed and made the
obvious remark about the beauty and the beast.
Mrs. Townsend came bustling up.
"Well, Mr. Butterfield," she beamed, "I wouldn't have recognized you."
Perry bowed again and smiled gleefully behind his mask.
"And who is this with you?" she inquired.
"Oh," said Perry in a disguised voice, muffled by the thick
cloth and quite unrecognizable, "he isn't a fellow, Mrs. Townsend.
He's just part of my costume."
This seemed to get by, for Mrs. Townsend laughed and bustled away.
Perry turned again to Betty.
"So," he thought, "this is how much she cares! On the very day of
our final rupture she starts a flirtation with another man—an
On an impulse he gave her a soft nudge with his shoulder and waved
his head suggestively toward the hall, making it clear that he
desired her to leave her partner and accompany him. Betty seemed
"By-by, Bobby," she called laughingly to her partner. "This old
camel's got me. Where are we going, Prince of Beasts?"
The noble animal made no rejoinder, but stalked gravely along in the
direction of a secluded nook on the side stairs.
There Betty seated herself, and the camel, after some seconds of
confusion which included gruff orders and sounds of a heated dispute
going on in his interior, placed himself beside her, his hind legs
stretching out uncomfortably across two steps.
"Well, camel," said Betty cheerfully, "how do you like our happy
The camel indicated that he liked it by rolling his head
ecstatically and executing a gleeful kick with his hoofs.
"This is the first time that I ever had a tête-à-tête with a man's
valet round"—she pointed to the hind legs—"or whatever that is."
"Oh," said Perry, "he's deaf and blind. Forget about him."
"That sure is some costume! But I should think you'd feel rather
handicapped—you can't very well shimmy, even if you want to."
The camel hung his head lugubriously.
"I wish you'd say something," continued Betty sweetly. "Say you like
me, camel. Say you think I'm pretty. Say you'd like to belong to a
pretty snake charmer."
The camel would.
"Will you dance with me, camel?"
The camel would try.
Betty devoted half an hour to the camel. She devoted at least half
an hour to all visiting men. It was usually sufficient. When she
approached a new man the current débutantes were accustomed to
scatter right and left like a close column deploying before a
machine gun. And so to Perry Parkhurst was awarded the unique
privilege of seeing his love as others saw her. He was flirted with
This paradise of frail foundation was broken into by the sound of a
general ingress to the ballroom; the cotillion was beginning. Betty
and the camel joined the crowd, her brown hand resting lightly on
his shoulder, defiantly symbolizing her complete adoption of him.
When they entered, the couples were already seating themselves at
tables round the walls, and Mrs. Townsend, resplendent as a super
bareback rider with rather too rotund calves, was standing in the
centre with the ringmaster who was in charge of arrangements. At a
signal to the band everyone rose and began to dance.
"Isn't it just slick!" breathed Betty.
"You bet!" said the camel.
"Do you think you can possibly dance?"
Perry nodded enthusiastically. He felt suddenly exuberant. After all,
he was here incognito talking to his girl—he felt like winking
patronizingly at the world.
"I think it's the best idea," cried Betty, "to give a party like this!
I don't see how they ever thought of it. Come on, let's dance!"
So Perry danced the cotillion. I say danced, but that is stretching
the word far beyond the wildest dreams of the jazziest terpsichorean.
He suffered his partner to put her hands on his helpless shoulders
and pull him here and there gently over the floor while he hung his
huge head docilely over her shoulder and made futile dummy motions
with his feet. His hind legs danced in a manner all their own,
chiefly by hopping first on one foot and then on the other. Never
being sure whether dancing was going on or not, the hind legs played
safe by going through a series of steps whenever the music started
playing. So the spectacle was frequently presented of the front part
of the camel standing at ease and the rear keeping up a constant
energetic motion calculated to rouse a sympathetic perspiration in
any soft-hearted observer.
He was frequently favoured. He danced first with a tall lady covered
with straw who announced jovially that she was a bale of hay and
coyly begged him not to eat her.
"I'd like to; you're so sweet," said the camel gallantly.
Each time the ringmaster shouted his call of "Men up!" he lumbered
ferociously for Betty with the cardboard wiener-wurst or the
photograph of the bearded lady or whatever the favour chanced to be.
Sometimes he reached her first, but usually his rushes were
unsuccessful and resulted in intense interior arguments.
"For heaven's sake," Perry would snarl fiercely between his clenched
teeth, "get a little pep! I could have gotten her that time if you'd
picked your feet up."
"Well, gimme a little warnin'!"
"I did, darn you."
"I can't see a dog-gone thing in here."
"All you have to do is follow me. It's just like dragging a load of
sand round to walk with you."
"Maybe you wanta try back here."
"You shut up! If these people found you in this room they'd give you
the worst beating you ever had. They'd take your taxi license away
Perry surprised himself by the ease with which he made this
monstrous threat, but it seemed to have a soporific influence on his
companion, for he muttered an "aw gwan" and subsided into abashed
The ringmaster mounted to the top of the piano and waved his hand
"Prizes!" he cried. "Gather round!"
Self-consciously the circle swayed forward. The rather pretty girl
who had mustered the nerve to come as a bearded lady trembled with
excitement, hoping to be rewarded for an evening's hideousness. The
man who had spent the afternoon having tattoo marks painted on him
by a sign painter skulked on the edge of the crowd, blushing
furiously when any one told him he was sure to get it.
"Lady and gent performers of the circus," announced the ringmaster
jovially, "I am sure we will all agree that a good time has been had
by all. We will now bestow honour where honour is due by bestowing
the prizes. Mrs. Townsend has asked me to bestow the prizes. Now,
fellow performers, the first prize is for that lady who has
displayed this evening the most striking, becoming"—at this point
the bearded lady sighed resignedly—"and original costume." Here the
bale of hay pricked up her ears. "Now I am sure that the decision
which has been decided upon will be unanimous with all here present.
The first prize goes to Miss Betty Medill, the charming Egyptian
There was a great burst of applause, chiefly masculine, and
Miss Betty Medill, blushing beautifully through her olive paint,
was passed up to receive her award. With a tender glance the
ringmaster handed down to her a huge bouquet of orchids.
"And now," he continued, looking round him, "the other prize is for
that man who has the most amusing and original costume. This prize
goes without dispute to a guest in our midst, a gentleman who is
visiting here but whose stay we will hope will be long and merry—in
short to the noble camel who has entertained us all by his hungry
look and his brilliant dancing throughout the evening."
He ceased and there was a hearty burst of applause, for it was a
popular choice. The prize, a huge box of cigars, was put aside for
the camel, as he was anatomically unable to accept it in person.
"And now," continued the ringmaster, "we will wind up the cotillion
with the marriage of Mirth to Folly!
"Form for the grand wedding march, the beautiful snake charmer and
the noble camel in front!"
Betty skipped forward cheerily and wound an olive arm round the
camel's neck. Behind them formed the procession of little boys,
little girls, country Jakes, policemen, fat ladies, thin men, sword
swallowers, wild men of Borneo, armless wonders and charioteers,
some of them well in their cups, all of them excited and happy and
dazzled by the flow of light and colour round them and by the
familiar faces strangely unfamiliar under bizarre wigs and barbaric
paint. The voluminous chords of the wedding march done in mad
syncopation issued in a delirious blend from the saxophones and
trombones—and the march began.
"Aren't you glad, camel?" demanded Betty sweetly as they stepped off.
"Aren't you glad we're going to be married and you're going to
belong to the nice snake charmer ever afterward?"
The camel's front legs pranced, expressing exceeding joy.
"Minister, minister! Where's the minister?" cried voices out of the
revel. "Who's going to be the cler-gy-man?"
The head of Jumbo, rotund negro waiter at the Tallyho Club for many
years, appeared rashly through a half-opened pantry door.
"Get old Jumbo. He's the fella!"
"Come on, Jumbo. How 'bout marrying us a couple?"
Jumbo despite his protestations was seized by four brawny clowns,
stripped of his apron and escorted to a raised dais at the head of
the ball. There his collar was removed and replaced back side
forward to give him a sanctimonious effect. He stood there grinning
from ear to ear, evidently not a little pleased, while the parade
separated into two lines leaving an aisle for the bride and groom.
"Lawdy, man," chuckled Jumbo, "Ah got ole Bible 'n' ev'ythin', sho
He produced a battered Bible from a mysterious interior
"Yea. Old Jumbo's got a Bible!"
"Razor, too, I'll bet!"
"Marry 'em off, Jumbo!"
Together the snake charmer and the camel ascended the cheering aisle
and stopped in front of Jumbo, who adopted a grave pontifical air.
"Where's your license, camel?"
"Make it legal, camel."
A man near by prodded Perry.
"Give him a piece of paper, camel. Anything'll do."
Perry fumbled confusedly in his pocket, found a folded paper and
pushed it out through the camel's mouth. Holding it upside down
Jumbo pretended to scan it earnestly.
"Dis yeah's a special camel's license," he said. "Get you ring ready,
Inside the camel Perry turned round and addressed his latter half.
"Gimme a ring, for Pete's sake!"
"I ain't got none," protested a weary voice.
"You have. I saw it."
"I ain't goin' to take it offen my hand."
"If you don't I'll kill you."
There was a gasp and Perry felt a huge affair of rhinestone and
brass inserted into his hand.
Again he was nudged from the outside.
"I do!" cried Perry quickly.
He heard Betty's responses given in a laughing debonair tone, and
the sound of them even in this burlesque thrilled him.
If it was only real! he thought. If it only was!
Then he had pushed the rhinestone through a tear in the camel's coat
and was slipping it on her finger, muttering ancient and historic
words after Jumbo. He didn't want any one to know about this ever.
His one idea was to slip away without having to disclose his identity,
for Mr. Tate had so far kept his secret well. A dignified young man,
Perry—and this might injure his infant law practice.
"Kiss her, camel!"
"Embrace the bride!"
"Unmask, camel, and kiss her!"
Instinctively his heart beat high as Betty turned to him laughingly
and began playfully to stroke the cardboard muzzle. He felt his
self-control giving away, he longed to seize her in his arms and
declare his identity and kiss those scarlet lips that smiled
teasingly at him from only a foot away—when suddenly the laughter
and applause round them died away and a curious hush fell over the
hall. Perry and Betty looked up in surprise. Jumbo had given vent to
a huge "Hello!" in such a startled and amazed voice that all eyes
were bent on him.
"Hello!" he said again. He had turned round the camel's marriage
license, which he had been holding upside down, produced spectacles
and was studying it intently.
"Why," he exclaimed, and in the pervading silence his words were
heard plainly by everyone in the room, "this yeah's a sho-nuff
"Say it again, Jumbo!"
"Sure you can read?"
Jumbo waved them to silence and Perry's blood burned to fire in his
veins as he realized the break he had made.
"Yassuh!" repeated Jumbo. "This yeah's a sho-nuff license, and the
pa'ties concerned one of 'em is dis yeah young lady, Miz Betty Medill,
and th' other's Mistah Perry Pa'khurst."
There was a general gasp, and a low rumble broke out as all eyes
fell on the camel. Betty shrank away from him quickly, her tawny
eyes giving out sparks of fury.
"Is you Mistah Pa'khurst, you camel?"
Perry made no answer. The crowd pressed up closer and stared at him
as he stood frozen rigid with embarrassment, his cardboard face
still hungry and sardonic, regarding the ominous Jumbo.
"You-all bettah speak up!" said Jumbo slowly, "this yeah's a mighty
serous mattah. Outside mah duties at this club ah happens to be a
sho-nuff minister in the Firs' Cullud Baptis' Church. It done look
to me as though you-all is gone an' got married."
The scene that followed will go down forever in the annals of the
Tallyho Club. Stout matrons fainted, strong men swore, wild-eyed
débutantes babbled in lightning groups instantly formed and instantly
dissolved, and a great buzz of chatter, virulent yet oddly subdued,
hummed through the chaotic ballroom. Feverish youths swore they
would kill Perry or Jumbo or themselves or someone and the Baptis'
preacheh was besieged by a tempestuous covey of clamorous amateur
lawyers, asking questions, making threats, demanding precedents,
ordering the bonds annulled, and especially trying to ferret out any
hint or suspicion of prearrangement in what had occurred.
On the corner Mrs. Townsend was crying softly on the shoulder of
Mr. Howard Tate, who was trying vainly to comfort her; they were
exchanging "all my fault's" volubly and voluminously. Outside on a
snow covered walk Mr. Cyrus Medill, the Aluminum Man, was being
paced slowly up and down between two brawny charioteers, giving vent
now to a grunt, now to a string of unrepeatables, now to wild
pleadings that they'd just let him get at Jumbo. He was facetiously
attired for the evening as a wild man of Borneo, and the most
exacting stage manager after one look at his face would have
acknowledged that any improvement in casting the part would have
been quite impossible.
Meanwhile the two principals held the real centre of the stage.
Betty Medill—or was it Betty Parkhurst?—weeping furiously, was
surrounded by the plainer girls—the prettier ones were too busy
talking about her to pay much attention to her—and over on the
other side of the hall stood the camel, still intact except for his
head-piece, which dangled pathetically on his chest. Perry was
earnestly engaged in making protestations of his innocence to a ring
of angry, puzzled men. Every few minutes just as he had apparently
proved his case someone would mention the marriage certificate, and
the inquisition would begin again.
A girl named Marion Cloud, considered the second best belle of Toledo,
changed the gist of the situation by a remark she made to Betty.
"Well," she said maliciously, "it'll all blow over, dear. The courts
will annul it without question."
Betty's tears dried miraculously in her eyes, her lips shut tightly
together, and she flashed a withering glance at Marion. Then she
rose and scattering her sympathizers right and left walked directly
across the room to Perry, who also rose and stood looking at her in
terror. Again silence crept down upon the room.
"Will you have the decency," she said, "to grant me five minutes'
conversation—or wasn't that included in your plans?"
He nodded, his mouth unable to form words.
Indicating coldly that he was to follow her she walked out into the
hall with her chin uptilted and headed for the privacy of one of the
little card rooms.
Perry started after her, but was brought to a jerky halt by the
failure of his hind legs to function.
"You stay here!" he commanded savagely.
"I can't," whined a voice from the hump, "unless you get out first
and let me get out."
Perry hesitated, but the curious crowd was unbearable, and unable
any longer to tolerate eyes he muttered a command and with as much
dignity as possible the camel moved carefully out on its four legs.
Betty was waiting for him.
"Well," she began furiously, "you see what you've done! You and that
crazy license! I told you, you shouldn't have gotten it! I told you!"
"My dear girl, I——"
"Don't dear-girl me! Save that for your real wife if you ever get
one after this disgraceful performance."
"And don't try to pretend it wasn't all arranged. You know you gave
that coloured waiter money! You know you did! Do you mean to say you
didn't try to marry me?"
"No—I mean, yes—of course——"
"Yes, you'd better admit it! You tried it, and now what are you
going to do? Do you know my father's nearly crazy? It'll serve you
right if he tries to kill you. He'll take his gun and put some cold
steel in you. O-o-oh! Even if this marr—this thing can be annulled
it'll hang over me all the rest of my life!"
Perry could not resist quoting softly: "'Oh, camel, wouldn't you
like to belong to the pretty snake charmer for all your——'"
"Shut up!" cried Betty.
There was a pause.
"Betty," said Perry finally with a very faint hopefulness, "there's
only one thing to do that will really get us out clear. That's for
you to marry me."
"Yes. Really it's the only——"
"You shut up! I wouldn't marry you if—if——"
"I know. If I were the last man on earth. But if you care anything
about your reputation——"
"Reputation!" she cried. "You're a nice one to think about my
reputation now. Why didn't you think about my reputation before
you hired that horrible Jumbo to—to——"
Perry tossed up his hands hopelessly.
"Very well. I'll do anything you want. Lord knows I renounce all
"But," said a new voice, "I don't."
Perry and Betty started, and she put her hand to her heart.
"For heaven's sake, what was that?"
"It's me," said the camel's back.
In a minute Perry had whipped off the camel's skin, and a lax, limp
object, his clothes hanging on him damply, his hand clenched tightly
on an almost empty bottle, stood defiantly before them.
"Oh," cried Betty, tears starting again to her eyes, "you brought
that object in here to frighten me! You told me he was deaf—that
The ex-camel's back sat down on a chair with a sigh of satisfaction.
"Don't talk 'at way about me, lady. I ain't no person. I'm your
The cry was wrung simultaneously from Betty and Perry.
"Why, sure. I'm as much your husband as that gink is. The smoke
didn't marry you to the camel's front. He married you to the whole
camel. Why, that's my ring you got on your finger!"
With a little cry she snatched the ring from her finger and flung it
passionately at the floor.
"What's all this?" demanded Perry dazedly.
"Jes' that you better fix me an' fix me right. If you don't I'm
a-gonna have the same claim you got to bein' married to her!"
"That's bigamy," said Perry, turning gravely to Betty.
Then came the supreme moment of Perry's early life, the ultimate
chance on which he risked his fortunes. He rose and looked first at
Betty, where she sat weakly, her face aghast at this new complication,
and then at the individual who swayed from side to side on his chair,
uncertainly yet menacingly.
"Very well," said Perry slowly to the individual, "you can have her.
Betty, I'm going to prove to you that as far as I'm concerned our
marriage was entirely accidental. I'm going to renounce utterly my
rights to have you as my wife, and give you to—to the man whose
ring you wear—your lawful husband."
There was a pause and four horror-stricken eyes were turned on him.
"Good-by, Betty," he said brokenly. "Don't forget me in your
new-found happiness. I'm going to leave for the Far West on the
morning train. Think of me kindly, Betty."
With a last glance at them he turned on his heel and his head bowed
on his chest as his hand touched the door knob.
"Good-by," he repeated. He turned the door knob.
But at these words a flying bundle of snakes and silk and tawny hair
hurled itself at him.
"Oh, Perry, don't leave me! I can't face it alone! Perry, Perry,
take me with you!"
Her tears rained down in a torrent and flowed damply on his neck.
Calmly he folded his arms about her.
"I don't care," she cried tearfully. "I love you and if you can wake
up a minister at this hour and have it done over again I'll go West
Over her shoulder the front part of the camel looked at the back
part of the camel—and they exchanged a particularly subtle,
esoteric sort of wink that only true camels can understand.