The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, Volume 1

The Hunchback’s Tale

translated by

Richard F. Burton


IT HATH reached me, O auspicious King, that there dwelt during times of yore, and years and ages long gone before, in a certain city of China,1 a Tailor who was an open handed man that loved pleasuring and merry making; and who was wont, he and his wife, to solace themselves from time to time with public diversions and amusements. One day they went out with the first of the light and were returning in the evening when they fell in with a Hunchback, whose semblance would draw a laugh from care and dispel the horrors of despair. So they went up to enjoy looking at him and invited him to go home with them and converse and carouse with them that night. He consented and accompanied them afoot to their home; whereupon the Tailor fared forth to the bazaar (night having just set in) and bought a fried fish and bread and lemons and dry sweetmeats for dessert; and set the victuals before the Hunchback and they ate. Presently the Tailor’s wife took a great fid of fish and gave it in a gobbet to the Gobbo, stopping his mouth with her hand and saying, “By Allah, thou must down with it at a single gulp; and I will not give thee time to chew it.” So he bolted it; but therein was a stiff bone which stuck in his gullet and, his hour being come, he died.——And Shahrázád perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

 

When it was the Twenty-fifth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when the Tailor’s wife gave the Hunchback that mouthful of fish which ended his term of days he died on the instant. Seeing this the Tailor cried aloud, “There is no Majesty and there is no Might save in Allah! Alas, that this poor wretch should have died in so foolish fashion at our hands!” and the woman rejoined, “Why this idle talk? Hast thou not heard his saying who said:—

Why then waste I my time in grief, until I
            ⚪ find no friend to bear my weight of woe?
How sleep upon a fire that flames unquenched?
            ⚪ Upon the flames to rest were hard enow!”

Asked her husband, “And what shall I do with him?”; and she answered, “Rise and take him in thine arms and spread a silken kerchief over him; then I will fare forth, with thee following me this very night and if thou meet any one say, ‘This is my son, and his mother and I are carrying him to the doctor that he may look at him.’” So he rose and taking the Hunchback in his arms bore him along the streets, preceded by his wife who kept crying, “O my son, Allah keep thee! what part paineth thee and where hath this small-pox2 attacked thee?” So all who saw them said “’Tis a child sick of small-pox.”3 They went along asking for the physician’s house till folk directed them to that of a leach which was a Jew. They knocked at the door, and there came down to them a black slave girl who opened and, seeing a man bearing a babe, and a woman with him, said to them, “What is the matter?” “We have a little one with us,” answered the Tailor’s wife, “and we wish to show him to the physician: so take this quarter dinar and give it to thy master and let him come down and see my son who is sore sick.” The girl went up to tell her master, whereupon the Tailor’s wife walked into the vestibule and said to her husband, “Leave the Hunchback here and let us fly for our lives.” So the Tailor carried the dead man to the top of the stairs and propped him upright against the wall and ran away, he and his wife. Meanwhile the girl went in to the Jew and said to him, “At the door are a man and a woman with a sick child and they have given me a quarter dinar for thee, that thou mayest go down and look at the little one and prescribe for it.” As soon as the Jew saw the quarter dinar he rejoiced and rose quickly in his greed of gain and went forth hurriedly in the dark; but hardly had he made a step when he stumbled on the corpse and threw it over, when it rolled to the bottom of the staircase. So he cried out to the girl to hurry up with the light, and she brought it, whereupon he went down and examining the Hunchback found that he was stone dead. So he cried out, “O for Esdras!4 O for Moses! O for Aaron! O for Joshua, son of Nun! O the Ten Commandments! I have stumbled against the sick one and he hath fallen downstairs and he is dead! How shall I get this man I have killed out of my house? O by the hoofs of the ass of Esdras!” Then he took up the body and, carrying it into the house, told his wife what had happened and she said to him, “Why dost thou sit still? If thou keep him here till day break we shall both lose our lives. Let us two carry him to the terrace roof and throw him over into the house of our neighbour, the Moslem, for if he abide there a night the dogs will come down on him from the adjoining terraces and eat him up.” Now his neighbour was a Reeve, the controller of the Sultan’s kitchen, and was wont to bring back great store of oil and fat and broken meats; but the cats and rats used to eat it, or, if the dogs scented a fat sheep’s tail they would come down from the nearest roofs and tear at it; and on this wise the beasts had already damaged much of what he brought home. So the Jew and his wife carried the Hunchback up to the roof; and, letting him down by his hands and feet through the wind-shaft5 into the Reeve’s house, propped him up against the wall and went their ways. Hardly had they done this when the Reeve, who had been passing an evening with his friends hearing a recitation of the Koran, came home and opened the door and, going up with a lighted candle, found a son of Adam standing in the corner under the ventilator. When he saw this, he said, “Wah! by Allah, very good forsooth! He who robbeth my stuff is none other than a man.” Then he turned to the Hunchback and said, “So ’tis thou that stealest the meat and the fat! I thought it was the cats and dogs, and I kill the dogs and cats of the quarter and sin against them by killing them. And all the while ’tis thou comest down from the house terrace through the wind shaft. But I will avenge myself upon thee with my own hand!” So he snatched up a heavy hammer and set upon him and smote him full on the breast and he fell down. Then he examined him and, finding that he was dead, cried out in horror, thinking that he had killed him, and said, “There is no Majesty and there is no Might save in Allah, the Glorious, the Great!” And he feared for his life, and added “Allah curse the oil and the meat and the grease and the sheep’s tails to boot! How hath fate given this man his quietus at my hand!” Then he looked at the body and seeing it was that of a Gobbo, said, “Was it not enough for thee to be a hunchback,6 but thou must likewise be a thief and prig flesh and fat! O thou Veiler,7 deign to veil me with Thy curtain of concealment!” So he took him up on his shoulders and, going forth with him from his house about the latter end of the night, carried him to the nearest end of the bazaar, where he set him up on his feet against the wall of a shop at the head of a dark lane, and left him and went away. After a while up came a Nazarene,8 the Sultan’s broker who, much bemused with liquor, was purposing for the Hammam bath as his drunkenness whispered in his ear, “Verily the call to matins9 is nigh.” He came plodding along and staggering about till he drew near the Hunchback and squatted down to make water10 over against him; when he happened to glance around and saw a man standing against the wall. Now some person had snatched off the Christian’s turband11 in the first of the night; so when he saw the Hunchback hard by he fancied that he also meant to steal his headdress. Thereupon he clenched his fist and struck him on the neck, felling him to the ground, and called aloud to the watchman of the bazaar, and came down on the body in his drunken fury and kept on belabouring and throttling the corpse. Presently the Charley came up and, finding a Nazarene kneeling on a Moslem and frapping him, asked, “What harm hath this one done?”; and the Broker answered, “The fellow meant to snatch off my turband.” “Get up from him,” quoth the watch man. So he arose and the Charley went up to the Hunchback and finding him dead, exclaimed, “By Allah, good indeed! A Christian killing a Mahometan!” Then he seized the Broker and, tying his hands behind his back, carried him to the Governor’s house,12 and all the while the Nazarene kept saying to himself, “O Messiah! O Virgin! how came I to kill this fellow? And in what a hurry he must have been to depart this life when he died of a single blow!” Presently, as his drunkenness fled, came dolour in its stead. So the Broker and the body were kept in the Governor’s place till morning morrowed, when the Wali came out and gave order to hang the supposed murderer and commanded the executioner13 make proclamation of the sentence. Forthwith they set up a gallows under which they made the Nazarene stand and the torch bearer, who was hangman, threw the rope round his neck and passed one end through the pulley, and was about to hoist him up14 when lo! the Reeve, who was passing by, saw the Broker about to be hanged; and, making his way through the people, cried out to the executioner, “Hold! Hold! I am he who killed the Hunchback!” Asked the Governor, “What made thee kill him?”; and he answered, “I went home last night and there found this man who had come down the ventilator to steal my property; so I smote him with a hammer on the breast and he died forthright. Then I took him up and carried him to the bazaar and set him up against the wall in such a place near such a lane;” adding, “Is it not enough for me to have killed a Moslem without also killing a Christian? So hang none other but me.” When the Governor heard these words he released the Broker and said to the torch bearer, “Hang up this man on his own confession.” So he loosed the cord from the Nazarene’s neck and threw it round that of the Reeve and, making him stand under the gallows tree, was about to string him up when behold, the Jewish physician pushed through the people and shouted to the executioner, “Hold! Hold! It was I and none else killed the Hunchback! Last night I was sitting at home when a man and a woman knocked at the door carrying this Gobbo who was sick, and gave my handmaid a quarter dinar, bidding her hand me the fee and tell me to come down and see him. Whilst she was gone the man and the woman brought him into the house and, setting him on the stairs, went away; and presently I came down and not seeing him, for I was in the dark, stumbled over him and he fell to the foot of the staircase and died on the moment. Then we took him up, I and my wife, and carried him on to the top terrace; and, the house of this Reeve being next door to mine, we let the body down through the ventilator. When he came home and found the Hunchback in his house, he fancied he was a thief and struck him with a hammer, so that he fell to the ground, and our neighbour made certain that he had slain him. Now is it not enough for me to have killed one Moslem unwittingly, without burdening myself with taking the life of another Moslem wittingly?” When the Governor heard this he said to the hangman, “Set free the Reeve and hang the Jew.” Thereupon the torch bearer took him and slung the cord round his neck when behold, the Tailor pushed through the people, and shouted to the executioner, “Hold! Hold! It was I and none else killed the Hunchback; and this was the fashion thereof. I had been out a pleasuring yesterday and, coming back to supper, fell in with this Gobbo, who was drunk and drumming away and singing lustily to his tambourine. So I accosted him and carried him to my house and bought a fish, and we sat down to eat. Presently my wife took a fid of fish and, making a gobbet of it,15 crammed it into his mouth; but some of it went down the wrong way or stuck in his gullet and he died on the instant. So we lifted him up, I and my wife, and carried him to the Jew’s house where the slave girl came down and opened the door to us and I said to her, ‘Tell thy master that there are a man and a woman and a sick person for thee to see!’ I gave her a quarter dinar and she went up to tell her master; and, whilst she was gone, I carried the Hunchback to the head of the staircase and propped him up against the wall, and went off with my wife. When the Jew came down he stumbled over him and thought that he had killed him.” Then he asked the Jew, “Is this the truth?”; and the Jew answered, “Yes.” Thereupon the Tailor turned to the Governor, and said, “Leave go the Jew and hang me.” When the Governor heard the Tailor’s tale he marvelled at the matter of this Hunchback and exclaimed. “Verily this is an adventure which should be recorded in books!” Then he said to the hangman, “Let the Jew go and hang the Tailor on his own confession.” The executioner took the Tailor and put the rope around his neck and said, “I am tired of such slow work: we bring out this one and change him for that other, and no one is hanged after all!” Now the Hunchback in question was, they relate, jester to the Sultan of China who could not bear him out of his sight; so when the fellow got drunk and did not make his appearance that night or the next day till noon, the Sultan asked some of his courtiers about him and they answered, “O our lord, the Governor hath come upon him dead and hath ordered his murderer to be hanged; but, as the hangman was about to hoist him up there came a second and a third and a fourth and each one said, ‘It is I, and none else killed the Hunchback!’ and each gave a full and circumstantial account of the manner of the jester being killed.” When the King heard this he cried aloud to the Chamberlain in waiting, “Go down to the Governor and bring me all four of them.” So the Chamberlain went down at once to the place of execution, where he found the torch bearer on the point of hanging the Tailor and shouted to him, “Hold! Hold!” Then he gave the King’s command to the Governor who took the Tailor, the Jew, the Nazarene and the Reeve (the Hunchback’s body being borne on men’s shoulders) and went up with one and all of them to the King. When he came into the presence, he kissed the ground and acquainted the ruler with the whole story which it is needless to relate for, as they say, There is no avail in a thrice told tale. The Sultan hearing it marvelled and was moved to mirth and commanded the story to be written in letters of liquid gold, saying to those present, “Did ye ever hear a more wondrous tale than that of my Hunchback?” Thereupon the Nazarene broker came forward and said, “O King of the age, with thy leave I will tell thee a thing which happened to myself and which is still more wondrous and marvellous and pleasurable and delectable than the tale of the Hunchback.” Quoth the King “Tell us what thou hast to say!” So he began in these words

THE NAZARENE BROKER’S STORY.


1.    Other editions read, “at Bassorah” and the Bresl. (ii. 123) “at Bassorah and Kájkár” (Káshghár): somewhat like in Dover and Sebastopol. I prefer China because further off and making the improbabilities more notable.    [back]

2.    Arab. “Judri,” lit. “small stones” from the hard gravelly feeling of the pustules (Rodwell, p. 20). The disease is generally supposed to be the growth of Central Africa where it is still a plague and passed over to Arabia about the birth-time of Mohammed. Thus is usually explained the “war of the elephant” (Koran, chaps. cv.) when the Abyssinian army of Abrahah, the Christian, was destroyed by swallows (Abábíl which Major Price makes the plural of Abilah = a vesicle) which dropped upon them “stones of baked clay,” like vetches (Pilgrimage ii. 175). See for details Sale (in loco) who seems to accept the miraculous defence of the Ka’abah. For the horrors of small-pox in Central Intertropical Africa the inoculation, known also to the Badawin of Al-Hijáz and other details, readers will consult “The Lake Regions of Central Africa” (ii. 318). The Hindus “take the bull by the horns” and boldly make “Sítlá” (small-pox) a goddess, an incarnation of Bhawáni, deëss of destruction-reproduction. In China small-pox is believed to date from B.C. 1200; but the chronology of the Middle Kingdom still awaits the sceptic.    [back]

3.    In Europe we should add “and all fled, especially the women.” But the fatalism inherent in the Eastern mind makes the great difference.    [back]

4.    Arab. “Uzayr.” Esdras was a manner of Ripp van Winkle. He was riding over the ruins of Jerusalem when it had been destroyed by the Chaldeans and he doubted by what means Allah would restore it; whereupon he died and at the end of a hundred years he revived. He found his basket of figs and cruse of wine as they were; but of his ass only the bones remained. These were raised to life as Ezra looked on and the ass began at once to bray. Which was a lesson to Esdras. (Koran, chaps. ii.) The oath by the ass’s hoofs is to ridicule the Jew. Mohammed seems to have had an idée fixe that “the Jews say, Ezra is the son of God” (Koran ix.); it may have arisen from the heterodox Jewish belief that Ezra, when the Law was utterly lost, dictated the whole anew to the scribes of his own memory. His tomb with the huge green dome is still visited by the Jews of Baghdad.    [back]

5.    Arab. “Bádhanj,” the Pers. Bád. (wind) -gír (catcher): a wooden pent-house on the terrace-roof universal in the nearer East.    [back]

6.    The hunchback, in Arabia as in Southern Europe, is looked upon by the vulgar with fear and aversion. The reason is that he is usually sharper-witted than his neighbours.    [back]

7.    Arab. “Yá Sattár” = Thou who veilest the discreditable secrets of Thy creatures.    [back]

8.    Arab. “Nasráni,” a follower of Him of Nazareth and an older name than “Christian” which (Acts xi., 26) was first given at Antioch about A.D. 43. The cry in Alexandria used to be “Ya Nasráni, Kalb awáni!”= O Nazarene! O dog obscene! (Pilgrimage i., 160).). “Christian” in Arabic can be expressed only by “Masíhi” = follower of the Messiah.    [back]

9.    Arab. “Tasbíh,” = Saluting in the Subh (morning).    [back]

10.    In the East women stand on minor occasions while men squat on their hunkers in a way hardly possible to an untrained European. The custom is old. Herodotus (ii., 35) says, “The women stand up when they make water, but the men sit down.” Will it be believed that Canon Rawlinson was too modest to leave this passage in his translation? The custom was perpetuated by Al-Islam because the position prevents the ejection touching the clothes and making them ceremonially impure; possibly they borrowed it from the Guebres. Dabistan, Gate xvi. says, “It is improper, whilst in an erect posture, to make water, it is therefore necessary to sit at squat and force it to some distance, repeating the Avesta mentally.”    [back]

11.    This is still a popular form of the “Kinchin lay,” and as the turbands are often of fine stuff, the petite industrie pays well.    [back]

12.    Arab. “Wali” =Governor; the term still in use for the Governor General of a Province as opposed to the “Muháfiz,” or district-governor. In Eastern Arabia the Wali is the Civil Governor opposed to the Amir or Military Commandant. Under the Caliphate the Wali acted also as Prefect of Police (the Indian Fanjdár), who is now called “Zábit.” The older name for the latter was “Sáhib al-Shartah” (= chief of the watch) or “Mutawalli”; and it was his duty to go the rounds in person. The old “Charley,” with his lantern and cudgel, still guards the bazaars in Damascus.    [back]

13.    Arab. “Al-Mashá ilí” = the bearer of a cresses (Mash’al) who was also Jack Ketch. In Anglo-India the name is given to a lower body-servant. The “Mash’al” which Lane (M. E., chaps. vi.) calls “Mesh’al” and illustrates, must not be confounded with its congener the “Sha’ilah” or link (also lamp, wick, etc.).    [back]

14.    I need hardly say that the civilised “drop” is unknown to the East where men are strung up as to a yardarm. This greatly prolongs the suffering.    [back]

15.    Arab. “Lukmah”; = a mouthful. It is still the fashion amongst Easterns of primitive manners to take up a handful of rice, etc., ball it and put it into a friend’s mouth honoris causâ. When the friend is a European the expression of his face is generally a study.    [back]


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