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HERE was in former times at Casgar, upon the utmost skirts of Tartary, a tailor that had a pretty wife, whom he doated on, and was reciprocally loved by her. One day, as he sat at work, a little hunch-back came and sat down at the shop-door, and fell to singing, and playing on a tabor. The tailor took pleasure to hear him, and resolved to take him into his house to please his wife. This little fellow,’ said he, to his wife, ‘will divert us both this evening.’ He invited him in, and the other readily accepted of the invitation; so the tailor shut up his shop, and carried him home. As soon as they came in, the tailor’s wife, having before laid the cloth, it being supper time, set before them a good dish of fish ; but as the little man was eating, he unluckily swallowed a large bone, of which he died in a few minutes, notwithstanding all that the tailor and his wife could do to prevent it. Both were heartily frightened at the accident, knowing it happened in their house; and there was reason to fear that if the magistrates happened to hear of it, they would be punished as murderers. However, the husband found an expedient to get rid of the corpse: he reflected there was a Jewish doctor that lived just by, and having presently contrived a scheme, 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 pair of stairs led to his chamber. The servant maid came down, without any light, and opening the door, asked what they wanted. ‘Go up again,’ said the tailor, ‘if you please, and tell your master we have brought him a man who is very ill, and wants his advice. Here,’ said he, putting a piece of money into her hand, ‘give him that beforehand, to convince him that we do not mean to impose on him.’ While the servant was gone up to acquaint her master with the unwelcome news, the tailor and his wife nimbly conveyed the hunch-back 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 a 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 clapping into his hand the money she had received, the doctor was transported with joy: being paid beforehand, he thought it was a good patient, and should not be neglected. ‘Light, light!’ cried he to the maid; ‘follow me nimbly.’ So saying, without staying for the light, he got to the stair-head in such haste, that, stumbling against the corpse, he gave him a kick that made him tumble down to the stair-foot; he had almost fallen himself along with him. ‘A light! a light!’ cried he to the maid; ‘quick, quick!’ At last the maid came with a light, and he went down stairs with her; but when he saw that what he had kicked down was a dead man, he was most dreadfully frightened. ‘Unhappy man that I am!’ said he, ‘why did I attempt to come down without a light? I have killed the poor fellow that was brought to me to be cured; questionless I am the cause of his death, I am ruined; they will be here out of hand, and drag me out of my house for a murderer.’ Notwithstanding the perplexity and jeopardy he was in, he had the precaution to shut his door, for fear any one passing by in the street should observe the mischance of which he reckoned himself to be the author. Then he 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 fall upon some expedient to get the corpse out of our house this night. Beyond all question, if we harbour it till morning, our lives must pay for it. What a sad mischance is this! What did you do to kill this man?’ ‘That is not the question,’ replied the Jew; ‘our business now is to find out a remedy for such a shocking accident.’
The doctor and his wife consulted together how to get rid of the dead corpse that night. The doctor racked his brains in vain; he could not think of any stratagem to get clear; but his wife who was more fertile in invention, said, ‘I have a thought just come into my head: let us carry the corpse to the leads of our house, and tumble him down the chimney into the house of the Mussulman, our next neighbor.’ This Mussulman was one of the Sultan’s purveyors for furnishing oil, butter, and all sorts of fat articles, 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 hunch-back up to the roof of the house; and, clapping ropes under his armpits, let him down the chimney into the purveyor’s chamber, so softly and so dexterously, that he stood upright against the wall, as if he had been alive. When they found that he had reached the bottom, they pulled up the ropes, and left the corpse in that posture. They were scarce got down into their chamber, when the purveyor went into his, being just come from a wedding-feast, with a lantern in his hand. He was greatly surprised when, by the light of his lantern, he descried a man standing upright in his chimney; but being naturally a stout man, and apprehending it was a thief, he took up a good stick, and making straight up to the hunch-back, ‘Ah,’ said he, ‘I thought it was the rats and mice that eat my butter and tallow, but it is you come down the chimney to rob me! I think you will not come here again upon this errand.’ This said, he falls upon the man, and gives him many strokes with his stick. The corpse fell down flat on the ground, and the purveyor redoubled his blows; but, observing the body not to move, he stood to consider a little, and then, perceiving it was a dead corpse, 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.’ He stood pale and thunderstruck: he thought he saw the officers already 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 threw out a thousand exclamations against him, wishing he had been robbed of all his tallow, rather than committed this murder. He took the crooked corpse upon his shoulders, and carried him out of doors to the end of the street, where he set him upright, resting against a. shop, and so trudged home again, without looking behind him. A few minutes before break of day, a Christian merchant, who was very rich, and furnished the sultan’s palace with various articles; this merchant I say, having sat up all night drinking, stepped at that instant out of his house to go to bathe. Though he was drunk, he was sensible the night was far spent, and that the people would quickly be called to their morning prayers, at break of day; therefore he quickened his pace to get in time to the bath, for fear any Mussulman meeting him on his way to the mosque should carry him to prison for a drunkard. As he came to the end of the street, he brushes up against the little hunch-back who was there leaning against the wall. The merchant thinking it was a robber that came to attack him, knocked him down with a swinging box on the ear, and after redoubling his blows, cried out ‘thieves.’ The outcry alarmed the watch, who came up immediately; and finding a Christian beating a Mussulman, (for humpback was of our religion), what reason have you’ said he, ‘to abuse a Mussulman after this rate?’ — ‘He would have robbed me,’ replied the merchant: ‘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 Mussulman?’ So saying, he laid hold of the Christian, and carried him to the house of the lieutenant of the police, where he was kept till the judge was stirring, and ready to examine him. In the meantime the Christian merchant grew sober, and the more he reflected upon his adventure, the less could he conceive how such single blows of his fist could kill 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 upon it, and he 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 from the sultan this answer: I have no mercy to show to a Christian that kills a Mussulman; go, do your office.’ Upon this the judge ordered a gibbet to be erected, and sent criers all over the city to proclaim, that they were about to hang a Christian for killing a Mussulman. At length the merchant was brought out of gaol to the foot of the gallows; and the hangman having put the rope about his neck, was going to give him a swing, when the sultan’s purveyor pushed through the crowd, made up to the gibbet, calling to the hangman to stop, for that the Christian had not committed the murder, but himself had done it. Upon that the officer who attended the execution began to question the purveyor, who told him every circumstance of his killing the little humpback, and how he conveyed his corpse to the place where the Christian merchant found him. ‘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 came to him? It is enough for me to have killed a Mussulman, 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 hunch-backed man, the officer could not avoid doing justice to the merchant. ‘Let the Christian go,’ said he to the executioner, ‘and hang this man in his room, since it appears by his own confession that he is guilty.’ Thereupon the hangman released the merchant, and clapped the rope round the purveyor’s neck; but just when he was going to pull him up, he heard the voice of the Jewish doctor, earnestly entreating him to suspend the execution, and make room for him to come to the foot of the gallows.
When he appeared before the judge, he honestly related all that had passed in his house, by which means he supposed he had killed hunch-back, and concluded by saying, ‘Pray dismiss him, and put me in his place, for I alone am the cause of the death of the little man.’ 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 hanged up, 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 before it. He sung a little, and so I invited him to pass the evening at my house. He accepted of 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 at the door. The maid coining down and opening the door, I desired her to go up again forthwith, and ask her master to come down and give his advice to a sick person that we had brought along with us; and withal, to encourage him, I charged her to give him a piece of money, which I had put into her hand. When she was gone up again, 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 down, made the corpse fall down stairs, and thereupon he took himself to be the author of his death. This being the case,’ continued he, ‘release the doctor, and let me die in his room.’ The chief justice, and all the spectators, could not sufficiently admire the strange events that ensued upon the death of the little crooked man. Let the Jewish doctor go, said the judge, and hang up 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, made every thing ready to tie up the tailor; which would certainly have been done, had not the sultan heard all the particulars, when he graciously sent a free pardon, as he sagaciously observed, that after all, the fish-bone was the chief offender.