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Gulliver's Travels by  John Lang

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[93] IT happened that the Queen, who liked to hear Gulliver talk about the sea, and about his voyages, one day asked him if he understood boat sailing, and if he did not think that a little rowing exercise would be good for his health. Gulliver replied that he understood boats very well, and that if such a thing were possible nothing would please him more than to take boating exercise.

But, he said, even if a boat small enough for him could be got, he did not think that she could live in the rushing rivers of Brobdingnag. The Queen replied that she could very easily find a place for him to sail [94] in, if he would give one of her workmen instructions how to build the boat.

In about ten days a most excellent skiff was finished, and fitted with mast and sail, and with everything necessary for a pleasure boat. The Queen was charmed when she saw it, and ran with it in her lap to the King, who ordered it to be tried in a big cistern of water. But the tank was much too small; Gulliver could not use his oars in it.

The Queen, however, had made her own plans. She had ordered a carpenter to make a wooden trough of over one hundred yards long, and nearly twenty broad. This was placed on the floor, along one of the walls of an outer room in the Palace, and two servants could fill it in less than half an hour. The trough had a tap at one end by which it could be quickly emptied, so that the water need never be allowed to grow dirty or stale.

In this Gulliver used to row about daily, to the great delight of the Queen and the ladies of the Court, who often came to watch [95] him. Sometimes they would get him to hoist his sail, and then with their fans they would make a breeze by means of which he could sail about very pleasantly.

But here, too, he was not free from accident. Once when one of the Court pages had put the boat in the water, Glumdalclitch's governess, who was rather a clumsy-handed woman, lifted him up to put him on board, and by accident dropped him. By the greatest good luck, as he fell, his waistband caught on a large-headed pin which stuck out from this lady's dress. Otherwise he must have fallen forty feet on to the floor, and would probably have been killed.

Another day, it chanced that one of the servants, when filling the trough, poured in with one of the buckets of water a large frog. The animal was not seen by any one till Gulliver was sailing about in his boat, when the beast, wanting something to rest on (after the manner of frogs), climbed up over one side of the boat, and would have certainly upset it if Gulliver had not thrown [96] all his weight on to the other side. The frog jumped backwards and forwards over Gulliver several times, nearly smothering him, but with an oar he banged it over the head till it jumped overboard.

But perhaps the very narrowest of all Gulliver's many escapes was from a tame monkey which had escaped from its master. Glumdalclitch had left him in her room, sitting in the big box in which he generally lived, and for greater safety she had locked the door of her room. The day was very hot, and the windows of the room were all open.

Gulliver was sitting thinking, when he heard a sound as if something had come through the window and was jumping about the room. Cautiously looking out of the door of his box, he saw the brute, a huge monkey almost as bulky as an elephant, pulling things about, tearing to pieces everything it could lay its paws on, and skipping over tables and chairs, chattering to itself the while.

[97] At last it spied Gulliver's box, and came and peeped in. Gulliver hid behind the table, but his fright when the monkey put in its hand caused him to move, and the animal saw him. Had he hid at first under the bed, and lain quite still, probably he would have escaped altogether. But now the monkey made repeated snatches at him as he darted from place to place in the room, at last catching him by the coat tails and dragging him out, struggling vainly to escape, and clinging to everything that he could grasp.

Evidently the monkey imagined that Gulliver was a young one of its own kind, for it began to nurse him quite tenderly, gently stroking his face. But Gulliver struggled, and then the monkey squeezed him so hard that he thought his ribs were breaking.

Whilst this was going on, there came a noise at the door as if some one were coming in; whereupon the monkey at once jumped out of the window, carrying Gulliver with it in one of its paws. The noise at the door was caused by Glumdalclitch coming in. No [98] sooner did she see what had happened than she set up such a screaming that soon the whole Palace was in an uproar.

Everybody rushed this way and that, bawling out directions how best to catch the monkey. Meanwhile the animal fled to the roof, where it sat on the very highest part, stuffing Gulliver's mouth full of nuts and all kinds of food which it took out of the bags inside its cheeks, patting him gently when it found that he did not eat. At this the people who were standing below in the court-yard watching, shrieked with laughter, though it was anything but funny for Gulliver, who was nearly choked with the rubbish that the brute crammed into his mouth.

Presently some men got ladders long enough to reach the roof, and as soon as the monkey saw that it was likely to be caught, it dropped Gulliver on the ridge tiles and fled, chattering.

Gulliver was now in a very terrifying position. The place to which he clung was not easy for the men to reach, and the height from the [99] ground was so great (almost nine hundred feet) that it made him giddy. The wind was blowing in strong gusts, and sometimes he feared that he must let go and come rolling over and over, to be dashed to pieces on the flags of the courtyard.

One of the footmen, however, managed to climb up, and putting Gulliver in his pocket, got him down in safety. But so badly bruised was he by the squeezing the monkey had given him that he was forced to lie in bed for some weeks. By the Queen's orders the animal was killed.

Great sympathy was shown to Gulliver by every one at Court, and many were the inquiries made during his illness. But when he was again well, the King was quite unable to keep from asking him sly questions:—how he liked the monkey's way of feeding; what he thought of the food that monkeys ate; and whether the fresh air on the roof had not given him a good appetite.

Gulliver did not take this kind of fun very well. Clapping his hand on the hilt of his [100] sword, and looking very fierce, and, as he imagined, very dignified, he answered that if he had had that sword by his side at the time, he would soon have taught the monkey a lesson that it would not readily have for-gotten. This he said in a very loud and determined tone, thinking to show how brave he really was, but with the sole result that everybody, from the King downward, roared with laughter.

The Royal Family of Brobdingnag were great patrons of music, and frequent concerts were given at court by the King's band. To Gulliver the noise was so great as to be quite deafening, and he found it impossible to follow the tunes. The only way in which he could listen with any degree of pleasure was to have his box placed at the far end of the great Concert Room, then to get inside, close the door and windows, and draw the curtains. In this way the noise was tolerable. But he often wished that he could treat the King and Queen to some real English music.

[101] It happened that in Glumdalclitch's room there was a spinet (which is a kind of old-fashioned piano), on which her governess used daily to give Glumdalclitch lessons. Gulliver had learned in his boyhood to play upon an English spinet, and it struck him that he might manage to knock out a tune on the instrument in Glumdalclitch's room.

But the difficulty was great, for the spinet was sixty feet in length, and each key was a foot wide, so that Gulliver could not, from one place cover more than five keys. Moreover, to get any sound out of them, it was necessary to give a hard bang with his fist. This meant much work, with little result, and he set about planning how he might get over the difficulty.

He made a couple of strong and very heavy drumsticks, the thick ends of which he covered with the skin of a mouse, so that he might thump the keys without damaging them. Then he had a bench fixed along the front of the spinet, about four feet below the keys. On this bench he was placed, and [102] by running as fast as he could from side to side, banging on the keys with his drumsticks, he was able after some practice to play something that he told the King was an English jig. The King and Queen were polite enough to say that they enjoyed it very much.

But Gulliver found that the exercise was too violent and exhausting, and he did not give many performances, which, perhaps, was fortunate. The King might have got tired if he had gone on too long.

The people of Brobdingnag were not great readers, though the art of printing was known to them. Even the King's library, which was the largest in the country, did not hold more than a thousand volumes. After Gulliver had learned the language, he used to go very often to this library, where a carpenter had made for him a wide kind of step-ladder, about twenty-five feet high, on which he could stand at any level he pleased, and on which there was room to walk backwards and forwards eight or ten paces.

[103] When Gulliver wished to read one of the books, the librarian had orders to prop it against the wall, and place the step-ladder so that the lowest step was about ten feet distant from the book. Then Gulliver would mount to the top of his ladder, and so, walking backwards and forwards and coming gradually down, he would read a page. With both hands he would then turn the leaf. This was easy to do even when the book was as high as twenty feet, for the paper was not much thicker than paste-board. Then he would again mount to the top step of his ladder, and so continue his studies. In this way he got through a great deal of reading.

Thus he learned much of the history of Brobdingnag, and made acquaintance with their traditions. Of these, one, he found, was that the present inhabitants of the country, big as they were in his eyes, were but pigmies compared to what they had been in former ages. This was proved, said the books by the huge bones and skulls [104] which were constantly being dug up in various parts of the kingdom.

About this time Gulliver had broken his pocket-comb, and he had nothing wherewith to comb his hair, nor could he find anything with which to repair the comb. At last he went to the King's barber one day after the man had shaved his Majesty, and he asked for some of the lather which the barber had scraped off the King's face.

From this he picked out about forty of the strongest bristles. These were both long and strong, for the King did not shave oftener than twice a week. Gulliver then took a bit of fine wood, and shaped it like the back of a comb. In this he bored holes with a needle that Glumdalclitch lent him, and in the holes he fixed the stumps of the King's beard. When they had been whittled and scraped to a point, this made a most useful comb, which he used during all the time he remained in Brobdingnag. Afterwards he took it back with him to England.

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