Meade’s New Suit
Illustrations by Rachel Finnegan
(Please check out her work at: http://www.rachelfineganillustration.blogspot.co.uk )
There was once a boarding school that squatted on a rock off the coast of Kent. During its many years it had many head masters, one of the more notable ones was a man named Meade Backus. He was a small man with a large belly and a taste for fine food, drink and clothes. If he had the chance he would happily spend the school’s funds on large feasts, hundreds of barrels of the tastiest mead and clothes of comfortable material and elaborate design. Although he was only able to get away with embezzling half the finances, the sum was still considerable. His speech continued to be slurred, his belly grew wider and his collection of fine clothes grew. Repairs to the school were neglected, books for the library weren’t updated and the grounds never saw a gardener during Meade’s time.
However, those who lived in the school were happy. Meade was generous with his food and drink, strict where he needed to be and friendly to those who needed someone who cared. The gates to the boarding school were always open and talented musicians, artists and chefs came to further improve the life of those there. One day, two crooks came masquerading as tailors. With a quiet confidence, they stated that they would be able to make the headmaster the finest suit from the most magnificent materials. The trousers would be so light they would feel like air stroking his thighs, the waistcoat and shirt wouldn’t cling to him on warm days but remain cool to the touch. Not only that, but the suit would be invisible to those who were unfit to teach or too stupid to learn. As the school taught magic, the fact the cloth could do this didn’t come as a surprise and the headmaster thought, ‘That sounds like a suit for me. I’d be able to know which teachers shouldn’t be here and which students really are wasting their time trying to learn. Yes, I must certainly have one of these suits made.’
He smiled widely as he gave the two crooks a large sum of money up front so they could start work on the suit.
They set themselves up in one of the class rooms and pretended they were working away on the sewing machines and snipping away with the scissors, though they had absolutely no cloth to stitch. It wasn’t long until they asked the headmaster for more fine thread and silk. As soon as they received the silk and thread they carefully placed it in their battered and well-travelled suitcases, and worked on with no cloth till late into the night.
‘I’d like to know how the tailors are getting on,’ thought Meade; but he felt anxious that the suit would be invisible to him. So, deciding it wasn’t worth getting too worried about, he sent the deputy head in his place. He was a trust worthy man who had never tried to act above his role.
‘Bother!’ The deputy thought as he entered the room where the crooks were working, and opened his eyes very wide. ‘I can’t see anything.’
He made sure he didn’t say that out loud.
The two crooks begged him to draw nearer, and asked him if the pattern was not a pretty one, and whether the colours could be any more beautiful. Then they pointed at the work tables, covered in measuring tapes, a couple of sewing machines, numerous pins but no cloth. The unfortunate deputy opened his eyes wider and wider but he could see nothing as, well, there was nothing to see.
‘I’m not stupid, surely? My students always receive good grades and I never oppose Meade unless he’s completely off his rocker. Still, this material wouldn’t lie. Would it? Either way, it will never do for me to say I can’t see the cloth!’
‘You seem lost for words,’ said one of the tailors.
‘Oh, it’s beautif1ul. Absolutely lovely,’ said the deputy, and he took out his spectacles. ‘What a stitch! And those colours, too! Yes, I’ll tell Meade that it’s a fine suit.’
‘Well, we’re happy with it too,’ said the other tailor; and then the two crooks began to rattle on about the colours, and to describe the pattern, cut and stitch. The deputy carefully listened to all they said, so as to repeat it word for word to Meade, which he did as soon as he left the room.
And now the tailors demanded more money, more silk, and more gold for the weaving. They stuck everything into their pockets; not so much as a thread was stitched onto the invisible suit.
In a short time Meade sent the very able head of the governor’s board to see how the suit was progressing, and if it was nearly ready to wear. It fared with him as with the deputy. He gazed but as there was no cloth on the bench, he couldn’t see the suit.
‘A pretty piece of cloth isn’t it?’ Said the two crooks, and pretended to point out the patterns.
‘Surely I’m not stupid!’ Thought the man. ‘Not fit to be head of the governors, eh! Even if that is true, I can’t let anyone know!’ So he praised the suit he did not see, and congratulated them on the invisible colours and the fictional patterns.
‘Yes, it’s perfectly enchanting,’ said he to Meade.
Soon all the teachers and students in the school were talking about the splendid suit.
And now Meade had a mind to see the suit himself while it was still in the tailor’s work room. With a host of the heads of years, houses and subjects, among whom were the two who had already seen the suit, he went to the crooks now working with all their might though still without a needle or thread.
‘Now, is it not magnificent?’ Said the deputy and chief governor, ‘Will you deign to observe what patterns, what colours are here?’ And they pointed towards where the suit should have hung, taking it for granted that the others could see the cloth.
‘Why, what is this?’ Thought Meade. ‘I don’t see anything! Am I stupid then? Am I unfit to be headmaster? That would be the most frightful thing that could happen!’
‘Oh, it is very fine!’ Said Meade aloud. ‘I am looking forward to wearing it!’
He nodded approvingly, and gazed at where the deputy and head governor had indicated the suit was hanging. The fellow senior members of staff stared; they could make no more of it than the rest, but they repeated after the Head Teacher, ‘Oh, it is very fine!’
They advised him to wear this gorgeous suit for the first time on the occasion of the leavers’ assembly. Although it might dishearten some of the less able students, it would encourage the rest who could see something. Well, that was the logic agreed on by everyone in that room. Everybody seemed so mightily pleased with the suit that the headmaster gave the crooks both a large tip and the job of designing a new school uniform.
On the eve of the leavers’ assembly, the crooks sat up all night with their lights on so everyone could see they were busy getting ready Meade’s new suit. They clipped the air with large scissors and sewed with threadless needles, and at last declared, ‘There, the suit is now quite ready!’
Next morning, Meade arrived with his deputy and head governor. The crooks raised their arms as if holding something up, saying, ‘Look, here are the trousers, and here is the blazer, and here is the waist coat. They are as light as feathers,’ they continued, ‘You would fancy you were naked, but that is just how light and fitting the suit is.’
‘Of course,’ said the deputy, but he still couldn’t see anything.
‘And now, sir, if you would kindly strip,’ said the crooks, ‘we will put the new suit on you. In front of the large mirror, please.’
Meade blushed but swiftly removed his clothes. The crooks pretended to give him the newly made suit. Meade, with hands on his hips and a sagging belly, stood in front of the mirror. The only thing he could see he was wearing were a pair of smart shoes. After all, the crooks weren’t shoemakers.
‘What a capital suit it is! How nicely it fits!’ The deputy and the head governor said. ‘What a pattern! What colours! It’s splendid!’
‘Does it fit well?’ Asked Meade.
He tried to see his invisible suit once more in the mirror.
The time for morning assembly approached and Meade waited outside the main hall for the students and teachers to arrive. He waited, dressed in his new suit and ready to impress. He waited, his black shoes shone with polish. Then, quietly, the deputy informed him the hall was packed with students and teachers ready for his entrance. He coughed once, straightened his back and strode into the hall. The room filled with the sound of chairs scraping as everyone stood. Meade reached the lectern, turned to those gathered and smiled, lifting his hands, ‘Please, be seated.’
The students and teachers sat back down with various expressions. Some were relieved to have the opportunity to look away; others were smirking and muttering to their friends. Some students were blushing; others looked slightly paler than normal. Eventually, Meade cleared his throat and started talking. His booming voice was audible at the back of the hall; his arm gestures were as vibrant as usual. As he gave the leavers’ speech, one he had given numerous times, some students started speaking quietly. Unused to this rudeness, Meade stopped in his speech and said, ‘Why are people talking? I expect silence as I speak!’
There were a few awkward glances towards the headmaster, but no one was forthcoming. That changed as the head boy, chosen for his intelligence, honesty and kindness, rose to feet. ‘Sir, I mean no offence but there’s something I think you should know…’
Meade’s eyes locked on the boy, ‘Yes?’
‘Sir, I am sorry. But you are naked.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ Meade glanced down. This time he didn’t bother pretending to see anything. His cheeks reddened and he looked back up.
Not knowing what to do, he cleared his throat. The hall erupted into laughter. His neck and cheeks started to prickle with embarrassment. Gritting his teeth, he raised his hands for silence. The laughter rose in a crescendo. He beckoned the deputy head onto stage with a wave and asked him to continue the leavers’ speech. Once freed, he left the stage to a round of applause and dashed to his office where there’d be a spare change of clothes.
Based on Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes