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The Children's Book by  Horace E. Scudder
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THE STORY OF THE LITTLE HUNCHBACK

THERE was in former times at Casgar, on the extreme boundaries of Tartary, a tailor, who was married to a wife to whom he was tenderly attached. One day while he was at work, a little hunchback 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. Immediately after their arrival, the tailor's wife placed before them a 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, lest they should be punished as murderers. Now, it so happened that a doctor, a Jew, lived close by, and the tailor and his wife devised a scheme for placing the body of the dwarf in his house. On their knocking at the door, the servant-maid came down without any light, and asked what they wanted. "Go and tell your master," said the tailor, putting a piece of money in her hand, "we have brought him a man who is ill, and want his advice." While the servant was gone up to inform her master, the tailor and his wife hastily conveyed the body of the hunchback, supposed to be dead, to the head of the stairs, and leaving it there, hurried away.


[Illustration]

In the mean time the doctor, transported with [305] joy at being paid beforehand, hastily ran towards the head of the stairs without waiting for a light, and came against the body of the hunchback with so much violence, that he precipitated it to the bottom. "Bring me a light!" cried he to the maid; "quick, quick!" At last she brought a light, and he went down-stairs with her; but when he saw what he had done, "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; and unless Esdra's ass come to assist me, the authorities will be here, and drag me out of my house for a murderer."

The doctor then called his wife, and consulted with her how to dispose of the dead body during the night. The doctor racked bis 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 has just come into my head; carry the dead body to the terrace of our house, and let it down the chimney of our Mussulman neighbor."

This Mussulman 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, his wife and he took the little dwarf up to the roof of the house, and placing ropes under his armpits, 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.

They were scarcely got back into their own chamber, when the purveyor, who had returned late from a wedding-feast, -went into his room, with a lantern in his hand. He was not a little surprised to discover a human figure standing in his chimney; but being a stout fellow, and apprehending him to be a thief, he took up a stick, and, "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 the hunchback, and struck him several times with his stick. The body 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, fear succeeding 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." He stood pale and thunderstruck, and could not tell what resolution [306] to take, when on a sudden he took up the body supposed to be dead, 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 daybreak, a wealthy Christian merchant, coming home from a night's festivity, passed by the spot where the sultan's purveyor had put the dead body, 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 Mussulman, "What reason have you," said he, "to abuse a Mussulman 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 perceiving the little man to be dead, he said, "Is it thus that a Christian dares to assassinate a Mussulman? "So saying, he laid hold of the Christian, and carried him to the house of the cadi.

In the mean time the Christian merchant, reflecting upon his adventure, could not 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 body, which they had brought to his house, interrogated the Christian merchant, who could not deny the death, though he had not caused it. But the judga considering that the little dwarf 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 Mussulman." Upon this the cadi 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 Mussulman.

At length the merchant was brought to the place of execution; and the executioner was about to fasten him to the stake, 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, and related how he had attacked him, under the impression that he was a thief. "Let the Christian go," said the cadi 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 entreating him to suspend the execution, and make room for him to approach, as he was the real criminal, and stating how he had by his hasty imprudence caused his death. The chief justice being now 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, in his turn, to the executioner to hold his hand, and make room for him, that he might come and make his confession to the cadi, as, after all, he was the person really answerable for the death of the hunchback, and he could not bear that an innocent man should suffer for his crime. The cadi being now fairly perplexed to decide who was the real culprit amongst so many self-accusing criminals, determined to refer the matter to the sultan himself, and proceeded to the palace, accompanied by the tailor, the Jewish doctor, and the Christian merchant, -while four of his men carried on a bier the body of the dwarf, supposed to be dead.

When they appeared in the sultan's presence, the cadi prostrated himself at his feet; and on rising, gave him a faithful relation of all he knew of the story of the dwarf, and of the three men who, one after the other, accused themselves of his involuntary murder. The story appeared so extraordinary to the sultan, that he ordered his own historian to write it down with all its circumstances.


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