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Costly overheads

Albert Rowe revives a correspondence with a gruesome end that has entered Spanish folklore.

* From Senor Schoolmaster, Ohanes, Spain, 1734.

I have the honour to inform you of my anxiety to see the beam that divides my classroom in two split in the middle.

The roof has given way and formed a type of funnel, allowing the rains to stream down on my work table, soaking my papers and causing me rheumatic pains so that I cannot stand upright.

I hope, Senor Mayor, that you will in your kindness remedy this so that no mishap overtakes the pupils or me, your faithful servant.

God preserve you many years.

* From Senor Mayor Bartolome, Zancajo, 28 November, 1734.

I received with amazement your note. It is unheard of that my agents have not noticed the state of the beam.

Moreover, I doubt that you, not yet 70, find yourself in these conditions, I do now believe your explanation solely excuses to annoy me.

As for the papers and the rheumatics, keep the papers in a box, and go to school in a cloak. Notwithstanding, I will send you one of my subordinates.

If he finds you are tricking me, you will have no salary for six years.

God keep you many more years.

* From Senor Schoolmaster, 29 November, 1734.

I acknowledge receipt of your communication. Since my last letter, for eight months I have watched with increasing anxiety the state of the beam while the winter rains swept by. Will it fall, or will it not fall? If so, instead of a beam there will be a wreath.

If you do not believe me, send two skilled workmen or come for a little walk, if it is not too much trouble, to see I do not deceive you.

As for my salary, I do not believe that you will dare touch my 500 reales.

God keep you many years from the effects of the beam.

* From Senor Mayor

I acknowledge receipt of your letter of last year. It is excessive this to-do about the beam. If the school does not suit, depart to another. Here there is no real need of you on what you teach.

Nevertheless, I am a lover of culture, so I do not wish it thought that I have abused you. I will now set up a commission.

If it turns out you have deceived me, you will fall.

God keep you many years.

* Two skilled men's report, 15 May, 1736.

We, graduated master masons, on the site denominated or called, pardon us for so saying, the school, accompanied by the Se$or Town Clerk and ordered by the Senor Mayor, state, think, believe and opine that the beam which is above the classroom, lecture room or large room, that by these three names is denominated or circumscribed, has not moved, but only lowered itself 10 or 12 fingers' width, threatening to fall, but never to join with the floor squashing those who shelter below.

Wood is a splintery body, it has to squeak before giving the blow, allowing time for those below to save themselves, at least seven or eight minutes.

We have no wax to seal our report.

* Town clerk's report, 15 May, 1736

I, notary here, declare and swear concerning a beam complained of by the schoolmaster, which he says has split.

My report, impartial, dispassionate and truthful as befits my profession, is as follows. If the beam falls, it could happen: a) it kills the master, then this corporation would save the 500 reales salary.

b) it kills the pupils, not the master, and then the master becomes redundant.

c) it kills the pupils and the master, then, as the saying has it, they kill two birds with one shot.

d) it kills none; then that ends the matter.

* Document discovered in the Ohanes archives, dated 1740

I, official chronicler, declare by my honour to be certain of the facts described below for permanent record in the archives.

On 14 October, 1740, at midday the roof of the classroom of the school fell, perishing in the disaster the schoolmaster and the 14 pupils.

The corpses were extracted and conveyed to the lying-in room of the municipal cemetery, accompanied by the villagers, all grieving, seeing that all were involved with those immolated on the alter of culture.

The papers being examined, it was ascertained that on the part of the competent authority and the Se$or Mayor, all the appropriate means to watch over the proper functioning of the sacred precinct were taken.

As conclusive proof is the report of the two skilled masons and the illustrious notary, testifying to the satisfactory state of the school at a date very close to the accident, 15 May, 1736.

This demonstrates that uniquely a fortuitous accident was responsible for the collapse.

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