THE IGNORANT MAN WHO SET UP FOR A SCHOOLMASTER

There was once, among the hangers-on of the collegiate mosque, a man who knew not how to read and write and got his bread by gulling the folk. One day, he bethought him to open a school and teach children; so he got him tablets and written scrolls and hung them up in a [conspicuous] place. Then he enlarged his turban and sat down at the door of the school. The people, who passed by and saw his turban and the tablets and scrolls, thought he must be a very learned doctor; so they brought him their children; and he would say to this, 'Write,' and to that, 'Read;' and thus they taught one another.

One day, as he sat, as of wont, at the door of the school, he saw a woman coming up, with a letter in her hand, and said to himself, 'This woman doubtless seeks me, that I may read her the letter she has in her hand. How shall I do with her seeing I cannot read writing?' And he would fain have gone down and fled from her; but, before he could do this, she overtook him and said to him, 'Whither away?' Quoth he, 'I purpose to pray the noontide-prayer and return.' 'Noon is yet distant,' said she; 'so read me this letter.' He took the letter and turning it upside down, fell to looking at it, now shaking his head and anon knitting his eyebrows and showing concern. Now the letter came from the woman's husband, who was absent; and when she saw the schoolmaster do thus, she said, 'Doubtless my husband is dead, and this learned man is ashamed to tell me so.' So she said to him, 'O my lord, if he be dead, tell me.' But he shook his head and held his peace. Then said she, 'Shall I tear my clothes?' 'Tear,' answered he. 'Shall I buffet my face?' asked she; and he said, 'Buffet.' So she took the letter from his hand and returning home, fell a-weeping, she and her children.

One of her neighbours heard her weeping and asking what ailed her, was answered, 'She hath gotten a letter, telling her that her husband is dead.' Quoth the man, 'This is a lying saying; for I had a letter from him but yesterday, advising me that he is in good health and case and will be with her after ten days.' So he rose forthright and going in to her, said, 'Where is the letter thou hast received?' She brought it to him, and he took it and read it; and it ran as follows, after the usual salutations, 'I am well and in good health and case and will be with thee after ten days. Meanwhile, I send thee a quilt and an extinguisher.' (137) So she took the letter and returning with it to the schoolmaster, said to him, 'What moved thee to deal thus with me?' And she repeated to him what her neighbour had told her of her husband's well-being and of his having sent her a quilt and an extinguisher. 'Thou art in the right,' answered he. 'But excuse me, good woman; for I was, at the time, troubled and absent-minded and seeing the extinguisher wrapped in the quilt, thought that he was dead and they had shrouded him.' The woman, not smoking the cheat, said, 'Thou art excused.' and taking the letter, went away.




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