ILLITERATE WHO SET UP FOR A SCHOOLMASTER
There was once, among the menials [FN#171] of a certain mosque, a man who knew not how to write or even to read and who gained his bread by gulling folk. One day, it occurred to him to open a school and teach children; so he got together writing-tablets and written papers and hung them up in a high place. Then he greatened his turband [FN#172] and sat down at the door of the school; and when the people, who passed by, saw his huge head-gear and tablets and scrolls, they thought he must be a very learned pedagogue; so they brought him their children; and he would say to this, Write, and to that Read; and thus the little ones taught each other. Now one day, as he sat as of wont, at the door of the school, behold, up came a woman letter in hand, and he said in his mind, This woman doubtless seeketh me, that I may read her the missive she hath 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 noon-prayer and return. Quoth she, Noon is yet distant, so read me this letter. He took the letter and turning it upside down, fell to looking at it, now shaking his head till his turband quivered, then dancing his eyebrows and anon showing anger and concern. Now the letter came from the womans husband, who was absent; and when she saw the dominie do on this wise, she said to herself, Doubtless my husband is dead, and this learned doctor of law and religion 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 rend my raiment? Rend! replied he. Shall I beat my face? asked she; and he answered, Beat! So she took the letter from his hand and returned home fell a-weeping, she and her children. Presently, one of her neighbours heard her sobbing and asking what aileth her, was answered, Of a truth she hath gotten a letter, telling her that her husband is dead. Quoth the man, This is a falsehood; for I had a letter from him but yesterday, advising me that he is whole and in good health and will be with her after ten days. So he rose forthright and going in to her, said, Where is the letter which came to thee? She brought it to him, and he took it and read it; and lo! it ran as follows, After the usual salutations, I am well and in good health and whole and will be with you all after ten days. Meanwhile, I send you a quilt and an extinguisher. [FN#173] So she took the letter and, returning to the schoolmaster, said to him, What induced thee to deal thus with me? And she repeated to him what her neighbour had told her of her husbands well-being and of his having sent her a quilt and an extinguisher. Answered he, Thou art in the right, O good woman; for I was, at the time -- And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
When it was the Four Hundred and Fourth Night,
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the pedagogue replied, Verily I was at that time fashed and absent-minded and, seeing the extinguisher wrapped up in the quilt, I 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 her ways. [FN#174] And they relate a story of