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Scott: The Little Hunchback

[Go back to Ganem, Son of Abou Ayoub, and Known By the Surname of Love's Slave]

There was in former times at Casgar, on the extreme boundaries of Tartary, a tailor who had a pretty wife, whom he affectionately loved, and by whom he was beloved with reciprocal tenderness. One day while he was at work, a little hunch-back seated himself at the shop door and began to sing, and play upon a tabor. The tailor was pleased with his performance, and resolved to take him to his house to entertain his wife: "This little fellow," said he, "will divert us both this evening." He accordingly invited him, and the other readily accepted the invitation: so the tailor shut up his shop, and carried him home. Immediately after their arrival the tailor's wife placed before them a good dish of fish; but as the little man was eating, he unluckily swallowed a bone, which, notwithstanding all that the tailor and his wife could do, choked him. This accident greatly alarmed them both, dreading, if the magistrates should hear of it, that they would be punished as murderers. However, the husband devised a scheme to get rid of the corpse. He reflected that a Jewish doctor lived just by, and having formed his plan, his wife and he took the corpse, the one by the feet and the other by the head, and carried it to the physician's house. They knocked at the door, from which a steep flight of stairs led to his chamber. The servant maid came down without any light, and opening the door, asked what they wanted. "Have the goodness," said the tailor, "to go up again, and tell your master we have brought him a man who is very ill, and wants his advice. Here," continued he, putting a piece of money into her hand, "give him that beforehand, to convince him that we do not mean to impose." While the servant was gone up to inform her master, the tailor and his wife hastily conveyed the hunchbacked corpse to the head of the stairs, and leaving it there, hurried away.

In the mean time, the maid told the doctor, that a man and woman waited for him at the door, desiring he would come down and look at a sick man whom they had brought with them, and clapped into his hand the money she had received. The doctor was transported with joy; being paid beforehand, he thought it must needs be a good patient, and should not be neglected. "Light, light," cried he to the maid; "follow me quickly." As he spoke, he hastily ran towards the head of the stairs without waiting for a light, and came against the corpse with so much violence that he precipitated it to the bottom, and had nearly fallen with it. "Bring me a light," cried he to the maid; "quick, quick." At last she brought one, and he went down stairs with her; but when he saw that what he had kicked down was a dead man, he was so frightened, that he invoked Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Esdras, and all the other prophets of his nation. "Unhappy man that I am," said he, "why did I attempt to come without a light! I have killed the poor fellow who was brought to me to be cured: doubtless I am the cause of his death, and unless Esdras's ass come to assist me, I am ruined: Mercy on me, they will be here out of hand, and drag me out of my house for a murderer."

Notwithstanding the perplexity and confusion into which he was thrown, he had the precaution to shut his door, for fear any one passing by should observe the accident of which he reckoned himself to be the author. He then took the corpse into his wife's chamber, who was ready to swoon at the sight. "Alas," cried she, "we are utterly ruined and undone, unless we can devise some expedient to get the corpse out of our house this night. If we harbour it till morning we are lost. What a deplorable misfortune is this! What have you done to kill this man?" "That is not now the question," replied the Jew; "our business at present is, to find a remedy for the evil which threatens us."

The doctor and his wife consulted how to dispose of the corpse that night. The doctor racked his brain in vain, he could not think of any stratagem to relieve his embarrassment; but his wife, who was more fertile in invention, said, "A thought is just come into my head; let us carry the corpse to the terrace of our house, and throw it down the chimney of our Mussulmaun neighbour."

This Mussulmaun was one of the sultan's purveyors for furnishing oil, butter, and articles of a similar nature, and had a magazine in his house, where the rats and mice made prodigious havoc.

The Jewish doctor approving the proposed expedient, the wife and he took the little hunch-back up to the roof of the house; and clapping ropes under his arm-pits, let him down the chimney into the purveyor's chamber so dexterously that he stood upright against the wall, as if he had been alive. When they found he had reached the bottom, they pulled up the ropes, and left the corpse in that posture. They were scarcely got down into their chamber, when the purveyor, who had just returned from a wedding feast, went into his room, with a lanthorn in his hand. He was not a little surprised to discover a man standing in his chimney; but being a stout fellow, and apprehending him to be a thief, he took up a stick, and making straight up to the hunch-back, "Ah!" said he, "I thought the rats and mice ate my butter and tallow; but it is you who come down the chimney to rob me? However, I think you will have no wish to come here again." Upon this he attacked hunch-back, and struck him several times with his stick. The corpse fell down flat on the ground, and the purveyor redoubled his blows. But, observing that the body did not move, he stood a little time to regard it; and then, perceiving it to be dead, fear succeeded his anger. "Wretched man that I am," said he, "what have I done! I have killed a man; alas, I have carried my revenge too far. Good God, unless thou pity me my life is gone! Cursed, ten thousand times accursed, be the fat and the oil that occasioned me to commit so criminal an action." He stood pale and thunderstruck; he fancied he already saw the officers come to drag him to condign punishment, and could not tell what resolution to take.

The sultan of Casgar's purveyor had never noticed the little man's hump-back when he was beating him, but as soon as he perceived it, he uttered a thousand imprecations against him. "Ah, thou cursed hunch-back," cried he, "thou crooked wretch, would to God thou hadst robbed me of all my fat, and I had not found thee here. I then should not have been thrown into this perplexity on account of this and thy vile hunch. Ye stars that twinkle in the heavens, give your light to none but me in this dangerous juncture." As soon as he had uttered these words, he took the crooked corpse upon his shoulders, and carried it to the end of the street, where he placed it in an upright posture against a shop; he then returned without once looking behind him.

A few minutes before day-break, a Christian merchant, who was very rich, and furnished the sultan's palace with various articles, having sat up all night at a debauch, happened to come from his house in this direction on his way to the bath. Though he was intoxicated, he was sensible that the night was far spent, and that the people would soon be called to morning prayers; he therefore quickened his pace to get to the bath in time, lest some Mussulmaun, in his way to the mosque, should meet him and carry him to prison for a drunkard. When he came to the end of the street, he had occasion to stop by the shop where the sultan's purveyor had put the hunch-backed corpse; which being jostled by him, tumbled upon the merchant's back. The merchant thinking he was attacked by a robber, knocked it down, and after redoubling his blows, cried out "Thieves!"

The outcry alarmed the watch, who came up immediately, and finding a Christian beating a Mussulmaun (for hump-back was of our religion), "What reason have you," said he, "to abuse a Mussulmaun in this manner?" "He would have robbed me," replied the merchant, "and jumped upon my back in order to take me by the throat." "If he did," said the watch, "you have revenged yourself sufficiently; come, get off him." At the same time he stretched out his hand to help little hump-back up, but observing he was dead, "Oh!" said he, "is it thus that a Christian dares to assassinate a Mussulmaun?" So saying, he laid hold of the Christian, and carried him to the house of the officer of the police, where he was kept till the judge was stirring, and ready to examine him. In the mean time, the Christian merchant became sober, and the more he reflected upon his adventure, the less could he conceive how such slight blows of his fist could have killed the man.

The judge having heard the report of the watch, and viewed the corpse, which they had taken care to bring to his house, interrogated the Christian merchant, who could not deny the crime, though he had not committed it. But the judge considering that little hump-back belonged to the sultan, for he was one of his buffoons, would not put the Christian to death till he knew the sultan's pleasure. For this end he went to the palace, and acquainted the sultan with what had happened; and received this answer: "I have no mercy to show to a Christian who kills a Mussulmaun." Upon this the judge ordered a stake to be prepared, and sent criers all over the city to proclaim that they were about to impale a Christian for killing a Mussulmaun.

At length the merchant was brought to the place of execution; and the executioner was about to do his duty, when the sultan's purveyor pushed through the crowd, calling to him to stop for that the Christian had not committed the murder, but he himself had done it. Upon that, the officer who attended the execution began to question the purveyor, who told him every circumstance of his having killed the little hunchback, and how he had conveyed his corpse to the place where the Christian merchant had found it. "You were about," added he, "to put to death an innocent person; for how can he be guilty of the death of a man who was dead before he touched him? It is enough for me to have killed a Mussulmaun without loading my conscience with the death of a Christian who is not guilty."

The sultan of Casgar's purveyor having publicly charged himself with the death of the little hunchbacked man, the officer could do no less than execute justice on the merchant. "Let the Christian go," said he to the executioner, "and impale this man in his stead, since it appears by his own confession that he is guilty." Thereupon the executioner released the merchant, and seized the purveyor; but just as he was going to impale him, he heard the voice of the Jewish doctor, earnestly intreating him to suspend the execution, and make room for him to approach.

When he appeared before the judge, "My lord," said he, "this Mussulmaun you are going to execute is not guilty. I am the criminal. Last night a man and a woman, unknown to me, came to my door with a sick man; my maid went and opened it without a light, and received from them a piece of money with a commission to come and desire me, in their name, to step down and look at the patient. While she was delivering her message, they conveyed the sick person to the stair-head, and disappeared. I went, without staying till my servant had lighted a candle, and in the dark happened to stumble upon the sick person, and kick him down stairs. At length I saw he was dead, and that it was the crooked Mussulmaun whose death you are now about to avenge. My wife and I took the corpse, and, after conveying it up to the roof of the purveyor, our next neighbour, whom you were going to put to death unjustly, let it down the chimney into his chamber. The purveyor finding it in his house, took the little man for a thief, and after beating him concluded he had killed him. But that it was not so you will be convinced by this my deposition; I am the sole author of the murder; and though it was committed undesignedly, I am resolved to expiate my crime, that I may not have to charge myself with the death of two Mussulmauns."

The chief justice being persuaded that the Jewish doctor was the murderer, gave orders to the executioner to seize him and release the purveyor. Accordingly the doctor was just going to be impaled, when the tailor appeared, crying to the executioner to hold his hand, and make room for him, that he might come and make his confession to the chief judge. Room being made, "My lord," said he, "you have narrowly escaped taking away the lives of three innocent persons; but if you will have the patience to hear me, I will discover to you the real murderer of the crook backed man. If his death is to be expiated by another, that must be mine. Yesterday, towards the evening, as I was at work in my shop, and was disposed to be merry, the little hunch-back came to my door half-drunk, and sat down. He sung a little, and so I invited him to pass the evening at my house. He accepted the invitation and went in with me. We sat down to supper and I gave him a plate of fish; but in eating, a bone stuck in his throat, and though my wife and I did our utmost to relieve him, he died in a few minutes. His death afflicted us extremely, and for fear of being charged with it, we carried the corpse to the Jewish doctor's house and knocked. The maid came. and opened the door; I desired her to go up again and ask her master to come down and give his advice to a sick person whom we had brought along with us; and withal, to encourage him, I charged her to give him a piece of money, which I put into her hand. When she was gone, I carried the hunch-back up stairs, and laid him upon the uppermost step, and then my wife and I made the best of our way home. The doctor coming, threw the corpse down stairs, and concluded himself to be the author of his death. This being the case," continued he, "release the doctor, and let me die in his stead."

The chief justice, and all the spectators, wondered at the strange events which had ensued upon the death of the little hunch-back. "Let the Jewish doctor go," said the judge, "and seize the tailor, since he confesses the crime. It is certain this history is very uncommon, and deserves to be recorded in letters of gold." The executioner having dismissed the doctor prepared to impale the tailor.

While the executioner was making ready to impale the tailor, the sultan of Casgar, wanting the company of his crooked jester, asked where he was; and one of his officers told him; "The hunch- back, Sir, whom you inquire after, got drunk last night, and contrary to his custom slipped out of the palace, and went strolling about the city, and this morning was found dead. A man was brought before the chief justice, and charged with the murder of him; but when he was going to be impaled, up came a man, and after him another, who took the charge upon themselves and cleared one another, and the judge is now examining a third, who gives himself out for the real author of the murder."

Upon this intelligence the sultan of Casgar sent an officer to the place of execution. "Go," said he, "with all expedition, and tell the judge to bring the accused persons before me immediately and bring also the corpse of poor hunch-back, that I may see him once more." Accordingly the officer went, and happened to arrive at the place of execution at the very time that the executioner had laid his hands upon the tailor. He called aloud to him to suspend the execution. The executioner knowing the officer, did not dare to proceed, but released the tailor; and then the officer acquainted the judge with the sultan's pleasure. The judge obeyed, and went directly to the palace accompanied by the tailor, the Jewish doctor, and the Christian merchant; and made four of his men carry the hunch-backed corpse along with him.

When they appeared in the sultan's presence, the judge threw himself at the prince's feet and after recovering himself, gave him a faithful relation of what he knew of the story of the hunch-backed man. The story appeared so extraordinary to the sultan, that he ordered his own historian to write it down with all its circumstances. Then addressing himself to the audience; "Did you ever hear," said he, "such a surprising event as has happened on the account of my little crooked buffoon?" The Christian merchant, after falling down, and touching the earth with his forehead, spoke as follows: "Most puissant monarch, I know a story yet more astonishing than this; if your majesty will give me leave, I will relate it. The circumstances are such, that no one can hear them without emotion." "Well," said the sultan, "you have my permission:" and the merchant went on as follows:

[Go to The Story Told By the Christian Merchant]


Scott, Jonathan (1754-1829). The Arabian Nights Entertainments. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1890. 4 Volumes. Project Gutenberg.


1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM


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