Stories of Arabian Nights -
One thousand one Arabian Nights
The Story of the Little Hunchback
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In the kingdom of Kashgar, which is, as
everybody knows, situated on the frontiers of Great Tartary, there lived long
ago a tailor and his wife who loved each other very much. One day, when the
tailor was hard at work, a little hunchback came and sat at the entrance of the
shop, and began to sing and play his tambourine. The tailor was amused with the
antics of the fellow, and thought he would take him home to divert his wife. The
hunchback having agreed to his proposal, the tailor closed his shop and they set
When they reached the house they found the table ready laid for supper, and in a
very few minutes all three were sitting before a beautiful fish which the
tailor's wife had cooked with her own hands. But unluckily, the hunchback
happened to swallow a large bone, and, in spite of all the tailor and his wife
could do to help him, died of suffocation in an instant. Besides being very
sorry for the poor man, the tailor and his wife were very much frightened on
their own account, for if the police came to hear of it the worthy couple ran
the risk of being thrown into prison for wilful murder. In order to prevent this
dreadful calamity they both set about inventing some plan which would throw
suspicion on some one else, and at last they made up their minds that they could
do no better than select a Jewish doctor who lived close by as the author of the
crime. So the tailor picked up the hunchback by his head while his wife took his
feet and carried him to the doctor's house. Then they knocked at the door, which
opened straight on to a steep staircase. A servant soon appeared, feeling her
way down the dark staircase and inquired what they wanted.
"Tell your master," said the tailor, "that we have brought a very sick man for
him to cure; and," he added, holding out some money, "give him this in advance,
so that he may not feel he is wasting his time." The servant remounted the
stairs to give the message to the doctor, and the moment she was out of sight
the tailor and his wife carried the body swiftly after her, propped it up at the
top of the staircase, and ran home as fast as their legs could carry them.
Now the doctor was so delighted at the news of a patient (for he was young, and
had not many of them), that he was transported with joy.
"Get a light," he called to the servant, "and follow me as fast as you can!" and
rushing out of his room he ran towards the staircase. There he nearly fell over
the body of the hunchback, and without knowing what it was gave it such a kick
that it rolled right to the bottom, and very nearly dragged the doctor after it.
"A light! a light!" he cried again, and when it was brought and he saw what he
had done he was almost beside himself with terror.
"Holy Moses!" he exclaimed, "why did I not wait for the light? I have killed the
sick man whom they brought me; and if the sacred Ass of Esdras does not come to
my aid I am lost! It will not be long before I am led to jail as a murderer."
Agitated though he was, and with reason, the doctor did not forget to shut the
house door, lest some passers-by might chance to see what had happened. He then
took up the corpse and carried it into his wife's room, nearly driving her crazy
"It is all over with us!" she wailed, "if we cannot find some means of getting
the body out of the house. Once let the sun rise and we can hide it no longer!
How were you driven to commit such a terrible crime?"
"Never mind that," returned the doctor, "the thing is to find a way out of it."
For a long while the doctor and his wife continued to turn over in their minds a
way of escape, but could not find any that seemed good enough. At last the
doctor gave it up altogether and resigned himself to bear the penalty of his
But his wife, who had twice his brains, suddenly exclaimed, "I have thought of
something! Let us carry the body on the roof of the house and lower it down the
chimney of our neighbour the Mussulman." Now this Mussulman was employed by the
Sultan, and furnished his table with oil and butter. Part of his house was
occupied by a great storeroom, where rats and mice held high revel.
The doctor jumped at his wife's plan, and they took up the hunchback, and
passing cords under his armpits they let him down into the purveyor's bed-room
so gently that he really seemed to be leaning against the wall. When they felt
he was touching the ground they drew up the cords and left him.
Scarcely had they got back to their own house when the purveyor entered his
room. He had spent the evening at a wedding feast, and had a lantern in his
hand. In the dim light it cast he was astonished to see a man standing in his
chimney, but being naturally courageous he seized a stick and made straight for
the supposed thief. "Ah!" he cried, "so it is you, and not the rats and mice,
who steal my butter. I'll take care that you don't want to come back!"
So saying he struck him several hard blows. The corpse fell on the floor, but
the man only redoubled his blows, till at length it occurred to him it was odd
that the thief should lie so still and make no resistance. Then, finding he was
quite dead, a cold fear took possession of him. "Wretch that I am," said he, "I
have murdered a man. Ah, my revenge has gone too far. Without tho help of Allah
I am undone! Cursed be the goods which have led me to my ruin." And already he
felt the rope round his neck.
But when he had got over the first shock he began to think of some way out of
the difficulty, and seizing the hunchback in his arms he carried him out into
the street, and leaning him against the wall of a shop he stole back to his own
house, without once looking behind him.
A few minutes before the sun rose, a rich Christian merchant, who supplied the
palace with all sorts of necessaries, left his house, after a night of feasting,
to go to the bath. Though he was very drunk, he was yet sober enough to know
that the dawn was at hand, and that all good Mussulmen would shortly be going to
prayer. So he hastened his steps lest he should meet some one on his way to the
mosque, who, seeing his condition, would send him to prison as a drunkard. In
his haste he jostled against the hunchback, who fell heavily upon him, and the
merchant, thinking he was being attacked by a thief, knocked him down with one
blow of his fist. He then called loudly for help, beating the fallen man all the
The chief policeman of the quarter came running up, and found a Christian
ill-treating a Mussulman. "What are you doing?" he asked indignantly.
"He tried to rob me," replied the merchant, "and very nearly choked me."
"Well, you have had your revenge," said the man, catching hold of his arm.
"Come, be off with you!"
As he spoke he held out his hand to the hunchback to help him up, but the
hunchback never moved. "Oho!" he went on, looking closer, "so this is the way a
Christian has the impudence to treat a Mussulman!" and seizing the merchant in a
firm grasp he took him to the inspector of police, who threw him into prison
till the judge should be out of bed and ready to attend to his case. All this
brought the merchant to his senses, but the more he thought of it the less he
could understand how the hunchback could have died merely from the blows he had
The merchant was still pondering on this subject when he was summoned before the
chief of police and questioned about his crime, which he could not deny. As the
hunchback was one of the Sultan's private jesters, the chief of police resolved
to defer sentence of death until he had consulted his master. He went to the
palace to demand an audience, and told his story to the Sultan, who only
"There is no pardon for a Christian who kills a Mussulman. Do your duty."
So the chief of police ordered a gallows to be erected, and sent criers to
proclaim in every street in the city that a Christian was to be hanged that day
for having killed a Mussulman.
When all was ready the merchant was brought from prison and led to the foot of
the gallows. The executioner knotted the cord firmly round the unfortunate man's
neck and was just about to swing him into the air, when the Sultan's purveyor
dashed through the crowd, and cried, panting, to the hangman,
"Stop, stop, don't be in such a hurry. It was not he who did the murder, it was
The chief of police, who was present to see that everything was in order, put
several questions to the purveyor, who told him the whole story of the death of
the hunchback, and how he had carried the body to the place where it had been
found by the Christian merchant.
"You are going," he said to the chief of police, "to kill an innocent man, for
it is impossible that he should have murdered a creature who was dead already.
It is bad enough for me to have slain a Mussulman without having it on my
conscience that a Christian who is guiltless should suffer through my fault."
Now the purveyor's speech had been made in a loud voice, and was heard by all
the crowd, and even if he had wished it, the chief of police could not have
escaped setting the merchant free.
"Loose the cords from the Christian's neck," he commanded, turning to the
executioner, "and hang this man in his place, seeing that by his own confession
he is the murderer."
The hangman did as he was bid, and was tying the cord firmly, when he was
stopped by the voice of the Jewish doctor beseeching him to pause, for he had
something very important to say. When he had fought his way through the crowd
and reached the chief of police,
"Worshipful sir," he began, "this Mussulman whom you desire to hang is unworthy
of death; I alone am guilty. Last night a man and a woman who were strangers to
me knocked at my door, bringing with them a patient for me to cure. The servant
opened it, but having no light was hardly able to make out their faces, though
she readily agreed to wake me and to hand me the fee for my services. While she
was telling me her story they seem to have carried the sick man to the top of
the staircase and then left him there. I jumped up in a hurry without waiting
for a lantern, and in the darkness I fell against something, which tumbled
headlong down the stairs and never stopped till it reached the bottom. When I
examined the body I found it was quite dead, and the corpse was that of a
hunchback Mussulman. Terrified at what we had done, my wife and I took the body
on the roof and let it down the chimney of our neighbour the purveyor, whom you
were just about to hang. The purveyor, finding him in his room, naturally
thought he was a thief, and struck him such a blow that the man fell down and
lay motionless on the floor. Stooping to examine him, and finding him stone
dead, the purveyor supposed that the man had died from the blow he had received;
but of course this was a mistake, as you will see from my account, and I only am
the murderer; and although I am innocent of any wish to commit a crime, I must
suffer for it all the same, or else have the blood of two Musselmans on my
conscience. Therefore send away this man, I pray you, and let me take his place,
as it is I who am guilty."
On hearing the declaration of the Jewish doctor, the chief of police commanded
that he should be led to the gallows, and the Sultan's purveyor go free. The
cord was placed round the Jew's neck, and his feet had already ceased to touch
the ground when the voice of the tailor was heard beseeching the executioner to
pause one moment and to listen to what he had to say.
"Oh, my lord," he cried, turning to the chief of police, "how nearly have you
caused the death of three innocent people! But if you will only have the
patience to listen to my tale, you shall know who is the real culprit. If some
one has to suffer, it must be me! Yesterday, at dusk, I was working in my shop
with a light heart when the little hunchback, who was more than half drunk, came
and sat in the doorway. He sang me several songs, and then I invited him to
finish the evening at my house. He accepted my invitation, and we went away
together. At supper I helped him to a slice of fish, but in eating it a bone
stuck in his throat, and in spite of all we could do he died in a few minutes.
We felt deeply sorry for his death, but fearing lest we should be held
responsible, we carried the corpse to the house of the Jewish doctor. I knocked,
and desired the servant to beg her master to come down as fast as possible and
see a sick man whom we had brought for him to cure; and in order to hasten his
movements I placed a piece of money in her hand as the doctor's fee. Directly
she had disappeared I dragged the body to the top of the stairs, and then
hurried away with my wife back to our house. In descending the stairs the doctor
accidentally knocked over the corpse, and finding him dead believed that he
himself was the murderer. But now you know the truth set him free, and let me
die in his stead."
The chief of police and the crowd of spectators were lost in astonishment at the
strange events to which the death of the hunchback had given rise.
"Loosen the Jewish doctor," said he to the hangman, "and string up the tailor
instead, since he has made confession of his crime. Really, one cannot deny that
this is a very singular story, and it deserves to be written in letters of
The executioner speedily untied the knots which confined the doctor, and was
passing the cord round the neck of the tailor, when the Sultan of Kashgar, who
had missed his jester, happened to make inquiry of his officers as to what had
become of him.
"Sire," replied they, "the hunchback having drunk more than was good for him,
escaped from the palace and was seen wandering about the town, where this
morning he was found dead. A man was arrested for having caused his death, and
held in custody till a gallows was erected. At the moment that he was about to
suffer punishment, first one man arrived, and then another, each accusing
themselves of the murder, and this went on for a long time, and at the present
instant the chief of police is engaged in questioning a man who declares that he
alone is the true assassin."
The Sultan of Kashgar no sooner heard these words than he ordered an usher to go
to the chief of police and to bring all the persons concerned in the hunchback's
death, together with the corpse, that he wished to see once again. The usher
hastened on his errand, but was only just in time, for the tailor was positively
swinging in the air, when his voice fell upon the silence of the crowd,
commanding the hangman to cut down the body. The hangman, recognising the usher
as one of the king's servants, cut down the tailor, and the usher, seeing the
man was safe, sought the chief of police and gave him the Sultan's message.
Accordingly, the chief of police at once set out for the palace, taking with him
the tailor, the doctor, the purveyor, and the merchant, who bore the dead
hunchback on their shoulders.
When the procession reached the palace the chief of police prostrated himself at
the feet of the Sultan, and related all that he knew of the matter. The Sultan
was so much struck by the circumstances that he ordered his private historian to
write down an exact account of what had passed, so that in the years to come the
miraculous escape of the four men who had thought themselves murderers might
never be forgotten.
The Sultan asked everybody concerned in the hunchback's affair to tell him their
stories. Among others was a prating barber, whose tale of one of his brothers
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