Socks for the President

Socks for the President

In the Spring of 1857, a little over one hundred years ago, a very strange expedition was starting out from Texas for California. It was a herd of seventy camels which had been brought from Arabia. Major Wayne of the United States Army wanted to find out if camels might not be useful in helping to open up America's own great desert in the Southwest.

And now Pauline Shirkey was riding on the back of a big, bumpy-backed dromedary, and she seemed to bob in all four directions at once as the funny animal lifted and plunked down each big, soft foot in turn.

"Barrak!" shouted Hadji Ali. This was the command for the camel to lie down.

"But camels walk so slowly," said Pauline's cousin, John. "It will take them ever so long to reach Los Angeles. I should think horses would be much better."

Hadji Ali shook his turbaned head. "No, my young friend. This lesson you Americans have yet to learn. In the desert it is not speed, but persistence, which finishes the journey. Camels keep going when horses give up. Camels eat thistles and cactus and live without water, when horses would die of starvation and thirst."

Just then Pauline's mother called. "It's time for your knitting lesson. You're ready to turn the heel of the sock you are making for Grandpa. Watch me carefully. Then you may try a few stitches yourself."

Pauline sighed. It was so much more fun riding a camel than counting, "Knit two, purl two." It was fortunate that Grandpa wasn't depending on Pauline for the pair of socks. She had started them for his Christmas gift last year, and now it was June.

The next morning Hadji Ali picked up a handful of camel's hair and dropped it in Pauline's lap. "Camels shed just like kittens," he said. "In my country, young ladies like you weave fine cloth from camel's hair."

"Couldn't camel's hair be knitted into socks and such things?" asked John. And the Major nodded.

"You can knit, Pauline," said the Major. "And your mother brought her spinning wheel all the way from Virginia. Why don't you try something that never has been attempted before. I shall want to see the results of your experiment, Pauline."

Snorting and complaining, the herd of camels started for San Antonio, the first stop on their westward journey. The children watched until the tinkle of the camel bells could no longer be heard. Then Pauline turned to her cousin John and said, "Now see what you got me in for! You know very well how I hate knitting!"

Mrs. Shirkey showed the children how to spin the camel's hair into yarn. "I'm not sure how thick to make it," she said. "Knitting socks from camel's hair is as new to me as sending camels to California."

"Knit two, purl two." Pauline was counting again. "Oh, dear," she sighed. "Something is wrong. I must have dropped a stitch somewhere. I'm afraid only a camel could wear this funny sock I'm making."

Her mother came to look. She felt the thickness between her fingers and shook her head. "We made the yarn too coarse. We'll have to spin it finer and try again."

"But, Mother, why do we have to go to so much trouble? Wool yarn is all right, and we have lots of that."

"But you promised to make the socks of camel's hair," said her mother.

So back to the spinning wheel they went, and Pauline pulled and twisted yarn much finer this time. Then back to the knitting needles. Knit two, purl two, rip out stitches, try again.

One day a letter came from Major Wayne. He said the camels had kept going patiently and persistently, despite many hardships. He was sure that in the end they would reach Los Angeles safely.

"Wouldn't it be fun to have a pair of camel's hair socks waiting for him when he gets there?" suggested Mother.

"We could send them by fast, cross-country stage," Cousin John added.

So Pauline picked up her knitting needles again and worked along, slowly at first, then faster and faster, as she became more expert. At last the two socks were finished and on their way to Major Wayne.

Weeks passed and then a letter came from California. It was addressed to Pauline.

"My dear young friend:

Imagine my surprise and delight, at the end of my journey, to find a fine pair of genuine camel's hair socks in the post for me. They prove that you have the same determination that has brought my helpers and our patient beasts through mountains and deserts to our destination. I shall have much to include in my report to President Pierce. Your grateful friend, Major Wayne"

More weeks passed. The camel's hair socks were almost forgotten. Then one chilly autumn morning, the big iron knocker on the plantation house door pounded importantly. Pauline's cousin John opened the door. A messenger handed him a small, square package.

"It's from Washington!" John shouted. "And it bears the official seal of the President of the United States!"

Mrs. Shirkey examined the package. "There must be some mistake," she said. But no. The label and the address were quite correct.

"Open it! Open it!" the children shouted. Off came the wrappings, off came the lid of the cardboard box. Inside they found a beautiful silver goblet. On its side was engraved the name of Franklin Pierce, fourteenth President of the United States.

A note in the package explained that this was in appreciation of the gift of the first pair of camel's hair socks ever made in America. Major Wayne had sent them on with his report to the President.

"Little did I think I was making socks for the President!" gasped Pauline.

The Civil War ended the experiment and camels were never used again for transportation in America. But long after they were forgotten, a pretty silver goblet and a note from the President reminded Pauline of the day when she had tackled a difficult task and had seen it through.—Adapted from a story by Seth Harmon, in Juniors.

| More