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 off together.
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 with fright.
“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
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 misfortune.
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 the 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 while.
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
“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 received.
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
“Stop, stop, don’t be
in such a hurry. It was not he who did the murder,
it was I.”
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
“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
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
“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
“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 follows.