90 THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES
stuff any one could imagine. Not only were their colours and patterns, they said, uncommonly beautiful, but the clothes made of the stuff possessed the wonderful quality that they became invisible to any one who was unfit for the office he held, or was incorrigibly stupid.
1 Those would be capital clothes ! ' thought the emperor. ' If I wore those, I should be able to find out what men in my empire are not fit for the places they have ; I could distinguish the clever from the stupid. Yes, the stuff must be woven for me directly ! '
And he gave the two cheats a great deal of cash in hand, that they might begin their work at once.
As for them, they put up two looms, and pretended to be working ; but they had nothing at all on their looms. They at once demanded the finest silk and the costliest gold ; this they put into their own pockets, and worked at the empty looms till late into the night.
* I should like to know how far they have got on with the stuff,' thought the emperor. But he felt quite uncomfortable when he thought that those who were not fit for their offices could not see it. He believed, indeed, that he had nothing to fear for himself, but yet he preferred first to send some one else to see how matters stood. All the people in the whole city knew what peculiar power the stuff possessed, and all were anxious to see how bad or how stupid their neighbours were.
'1 will send my honest old minister to the weavers,' thought the emperor. ' He can judge best how the stuff looks, for he has sense, and no one discharges his office better than he.'
Now the good old minister went out into the hall where the two cheats sat working at the empty looms.
* Mercy preserve us ! ' thought the old minister, and he opened his eyes wide. ' I cannot see anything at all! ' But he did not say this.
Both the cheats begged him to be kind enough to come nearer, and asked if he did not approve of the colours and the pattern. Then they pointed to the empty loom, and the poor old minister went on opening his eyes ; but he could see nothing, for there was nothing to see.
' Mercy ! ' thought he, ' can I indeed be so stupid ?