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Chapter 2 The Back Bedroom

  • The summer of 1842 was, historians tell us, not much different from othe_ummers, yet to Flush it was so different that he must have doubted if th_orld itself were the same. It was a summer spent in a bedroom; a summer spen_ith Miss Barrett. It was a summer spent in London, spent in the heart o_ivilisation. At first he saw nothing but the bedroom and its furniture, bu_hat alone was surprising enough. To identify, distinguish and call by thei_ight names all the different articles he saw there was confusing enough. An_e had scarcely accustomed himself to the tables, to the busts, to th_ashing-stands—the smell of eau de cologne still lacerated his nostrils, whe_here came one of those rare days which are fine but not windy, warm but no_aking, dry but not dusty, when an invalid can take the air. The day came whe_iss Barrett could safely risk the huge adventure of going shopping with he_ister.
  • The carriage was ordered; Miss Barrett rose from her sofa; veiled and muffled,
  • she descended the stairs. Flush of course went with her. He leapt into th_arriage by her side. Couched on her lap, the whole pomp of London at its mos_plendid burst on his astonished eyes. They drove along Oxford Street. He sa_ouses made almost entirely of glass. He saw windows laced across wit_littering streamers; heaped with gleaming mounds of pink, purple, yellow,
  • rose. The carriage stopped. He entered mysterious arcades filmed with cloud_nd webs of tinted gauze. A million airs from China, from Arabia, wafted thei_rail incense into the remotest fibres of his senses. Swiftly over th_ounters flashed yards of gleaming silk; more darkly, more slowly rolled th_onderous bombazine. Scissors snipped; coins sparkled. Paper was folded;
  • string tied. What with nodding plumes, waving streamers, tossing horses,
  • yellow liveries, passing faces, leaping, dancing up, down, Flush, satiate_ith the multiplicity of his sensations, slept, drowsed, dreamt and knew n_ore until he was lifted out of the carriage and the door of Wimpole Stree_hut on him again.
  • And next day, as the fine weather continued, Miss Barrett ventured upon a_ven more daring exploit—she had herself drawn up Wimpole Street in a bath-
  • chair. Again Flush went with her. For the first time he heard his nails clic_pon the hard paving-stones of London. For the first time the whole battery o_ London street on a hot summer's day assaulted his nostrils. He smelt th_wooning smells that lie in the gutters; the bitter smells that corrode iro_ailings; the fuming, heady smells that rise from basements—smells mor_omplex, corrupt, violently contrasted and compounded than any he had smelt i_he fields near Reading; smells that lay far beyond the range of the huma_ose; so that while the chair went on, he stopped, amazed; smelling,
  • savouring, until a jerk at his collar dragged him on. And also, as he trotte_p Wimpole Street behind Miss Barrett's chair he was dazed by the passage o_uman bodies. Petticoats swished at his head; trousers brushed his flanks;
  • sometimes a wheel whizzed an inch from his nose; the wind of destructio_oared in his ears and fanned the feathers of his paws as a van passed. The_e plunged in terror. Mercifully the chain tugged at his collar; Miss Barret_eld him tight, or he would have rushed to destruction.
  • At last, with every nerve throbbing and every sense singing, he reache_egent's Park. And then when he saw once more, after years of absence i_eemed, grass, flowers and trees, the old hunting cry of the fields hallooe_n his ears and he dashed forward to run as he had run in the fields at home.
  • But now a heavy weight jerked at his throat; he was thrown back on hi_aunches. Were there not trees and grass? he asked. Were these not the signal_f freedom? Had he not always leapt forward directly Miss Mitford started o_er walk? Why was he a prisoner here? He paused. Here, he observed, th_lowers were massed far more thickly than at home; they stood, plant by plant,
  • rigidly in narrow plots. The plots were intersected by hard black paths. Me_n shiny top-hats marched ominously up and down the paths. At the sight o_hem he shuddered closer to the chair. He gladly accepted the protection o_he chain. Thus before many of these walks were over a new conception ha_ntered his brain. Setting one thing beside another, he had arrived at _onclusion. Where there are flower-beds there are asphalt paths; where ther_re flower-beds and asphalt paths, there are men in shiny top-hats; wher_here are flower-beds and asphalt paths and men in shiny top-hats, dogs mus_e led on chains. Without being able to decipher a word of the placard at th_ate, he had learnt his lesson—in Regent's Park dogs must be led on chains.
  • And to this nucleus of knowledge, born from the strange experiences of th_ummer of 1842, soon adhered another: dogs are not equal, but different. A_hree Mile Cross Flush had mixed impartially with tap-room dogs and th_quire's greyhounds; he had known no difference between the tinker's dog an_imself. Indeed it is probable that the mother of his child, though b_ourtesy called Spaniel, was nothing but a mongrel, eared in one way, taile_n another. But the dogs of London, Flush soon discovered, are strictl_ivided into different classes. Some are chained dogs; some run wild. Som_ake their airings in carriages and drink from purple jars; others are unkemp_nd uncollared and pick up a living in the gutter. Dogs therefore, Flush bega_o suspect, differ; some are high, others low; and his suspicions wer_onfirmed by snatches of talk held in passing with the dogs of Wimpole Street.
  • "See that scallywag? A mere mongrel! … By gad, that's a fine Spaniel. One o_he best blood in Britain! … Pity his ears aren't a shade more curly… .
  • There's a topknot for you!"
  • From such phrases, from the accent of praise or derision in which they wer_poken, at the pillar-box or outside the public-house where the footmen wer_xchanging racing tips, Flush knew before the summer had passed that there i_o equality among dogs: there are high dogs and low dogs. Which, then, was he?
  • No sooner had Flush got home than he examined himself carefully in th_ooking-glass. Heaven be praised, he was a dog of birth and breeding! His hea_as smooth; his eyes were prominent but not gozzled; his feet were feathered;
  • he was the equal of the best-bred cocker in Wimpole Street. He noted wit_pproval the purple jar from which he drank—such are the privileges of rank;
  • he bent his head quietly to have the chain fixed to his collar—such are it_enalties. When about this time Miss Barrett observed him staring in th_lass, she was mistaken. He was a philosopher, she thought, meditating th_ifference between appearance and reality. On the contrary, he was a_ristocrat considering his points.
  • But the fine summer days were soon over; the autumn winds began to blow; an_iss Barrett settled down to a life of complete seclusion in her bedroom.
  • Flush's life was also changed. His outdoor education was supplemented by tha_f the bed-room, and this, to a dog of Flush's temperament, was the mos_rastic that could have been invented. His only airings, and these were brie_nd perfunctory, were taken in the company of Wilson, Miss Barrett's maid. Fo_he rest of the day he kept his station on the sofa at Miss Barrett's feet.
  • All his natural instincts were thwarted and contradicted. When the autum_inds had blown last year in Berkshire he had run in wild scampering acros_he stubble; now at the sound of the ivy tapping on the pane Miss Barret_sked Wilson to see to the fastenings of the window. When the leaves of th_carlet runners and nasturtiums in the window-box yellowed and fell she dre_er Indian shawl more closely round her. When the October rain lashed th_indow Wilson lit the fire and heaped up the coals. Autumn deepened int_inter and the first fogs jaundiced the air. Wilson and Flush could scarcel_rope their way to the pillar-box or to the chemist. When they came back,
  • nothing could be seen in the room but the pale busts glimmering wanly on th_ops of the wardrobes; the peasants and the castle had vanished on the blind;
  • blank yellow filled the pane. Flush felt that he and Miss Barrett lived alon_ogether in a cushioned and fire-lit cave. The traffic droned on perpetuall_utside with muffled reverberations; now and again a voice went callin_oarsely, "Old chairs and baskets to mend," down the street: sometimes ther_as a jangle of organ music, coming nearer and louder; going further an_ading away. But none of these sounds meant freedom, or action, or exercise.
  • The wind and the rain, the wild days of autumn and the cold days of mid-
  • winter, all alike meant nothing to Flush except warmth and stillness; th_ighting of lamps, the drawing of curtains and the poking of the fire.
  • At first the strain was too great to be borne. He could not help dancing roun_he room on a windy autumn day when the partridges must be scattering over th_tubble. He thought he heard guns on the breeze. He could not help running t_he door with his hackles raised when a dog barked outside. And yet when Mis_arrett called him back, when she laid her hand on his collar, he could no_eny that another feeling, urgent, contradictory, disagreeable—he did not kno_hat to call it or why he obeyed it—restrained him. He lay still at her feet.
  • To resign, to control, to suppress the most violent instincts of hi_ature—that was the prime lesson of the bedroom school, and it was one of suc_ortentous difficulty that many scholars have learnt Greek with less—man_attles have been won that cost their generals not half such pain. But then,
  • Miss Barrett was the teacher. Between them, Flush felt more and more strongly,
  • as the weeks wore on, was a bond, an uncomfortable yet thrilling tightness; s_hat if his pleasure was her pain, then his pleasure was pleasure no longe_ut three parts pain. The truth of this was proved every day. Somebody opene_he door and whistled him to come. Why should he not go out? He longed for ai_nd exercise; his limbs were cramped with lying on the sofa. He had neve_rown altogether used to the smell of eau de cologne. But no—though the doo_tood open, he would not leave Miss Barrett. He hesitated halfway to the doo_nd then went back to the sofa. "Flushie," wrote Miss Barrett, "is m_riend—my companion—and loves me better than he loves the sunshine without."
  • She could not go out. She was chained to the sofa. "A bird in a cage woul_ave as good a story," she wrote, as she had. And Flush, to whom the whol_orld was free, chose to forfeit all the smells of Wimpole Street in order t_ie by her side.
  • And yet sometimes the tie would almost break; there were vast gaps in thei_nderstanding. Sometimes they would lie and stare at each other in blan_ewilderment. Why, Miss Barrett wondered, did Flush tremble suddenly, an_himper and start and listen? She could hear nothing; she could see nothing;
  • there was nobody in the room with them. She could not guess that Folly, he_ister's little King Charles, had passed the door; or that Catiline, the Cub_loodhound, had been given a mutton-bone by a footman in the basement. Bu_lush knew; he heard; he was ravaged by the alternate rages of lust and greed.
  • Then with all her poet's imagination Miss Barrett could not divine wha_ilson's wet umbrella meant to Flush; what memories it recalled, of forest_nd parrots and wild trumpeting elephants; nor did she know, when Mr. Kenyo_tumbled over the bell-pull, that Flush heard dark men cursing in th_ountains; the cry, "Span! Span!" rang in his ears, and it was in som_uffled, ancestral rage that he bit him.
  • Flush was equally at a loss to account for Miss Barrett's emotions. There sh_ould lie hour after hour passing her hand over a white page with a blac_tick; and her eyes would suddenly fill with tears; but why? "Ah, my dear Mr.
  • Horne," she was writing. "And then came the failure in my health … and the_he enforced exile to Torquay … which gave a nightmare to my life for ever,
  • and robbed it of more than I can speak of here; do not speak of that anywhere.
  • _Do not speak of that,_  dear Mr. Horne." But there was no sound in the room,
  • no smell to make Miss Barrett cry. Then again Miss Barrett, still agitatin_er stick, burst out laughing. She had drawn "a very neat and characteristi_ortrait of Flush, humorously made rather like myself," and she had writte_nder it that it "only fails of being an excellent substitute for mine throug_eing more worthy than I can be counted." What was there to laugh at in th_lack smudge that she held out for Flush to look at? He could smell nothing;
  • he could hear nothing. There was nobody in the room with them. The fact wa_hat they could not communicate with words, and it was a fact that le_ndoubtedly to much misunderstanding. Yet did it not lead also to a peculia_ntimacy? "Writing,"—Miss Barrett once exclaimed after a morning's toil,
  • "writing, writing … " After all, she may have thought, do words sa_verything? Can words say anything? Do not words destroy the symbol that lie_eyond the reach of words? Once at least Miss Barrett seems to have found i_o. She was lying, thinking; she had forgotten Flush altogether, and he_houghts were so sad that the tears fell upon the pillow. Then suddenly _airy head was pressed against her; large bright eyes shone in hers; and sh_tarted. Was it Flush, or was it Pan? Was she no longer an invalid in Wimpol_treet, but a Greek nymph in some dim grove in Arcady? And did the bearded go_imself press his lips to hers? For a moment she was transformed; she was _ymph and Flush was Pan. The sun burnt and love blazed. But suppose Flush ha_een able to speak—would he not have said something sensible about the potat_isease in Ireland?
  • So, too, Flush felt strange stirrings at work within him. When he saw Mis_arrett's thin hands delicately lifting some silver box or pearl ornament fro_he ringed table, his own furry paws seemed to contract and he longed tha_hey should fine themselves to ten separate fingers. When he heard her lo_oice syllabling innumerable sounds, he longed for the day when his own roug_oar would issue like hers in the little simple sounds that had suc_ysterious meaning. And when he watched the same fingers for ever crossing _hite page with a straight stick, he longed for the time when he too shoul_lacken paper as she did.
  • And yet, had he been able to write as she did?—The question is superfluou_appily, for truth compels us to say that in the year 1842-43 Miss Barrett wa_ot a nymph but an invalid; Flush was not a poet but a red cocker spaniel; an_impole Street was not Arcady but Wimpole Street.
  • So the long hours went by in the back bedroom with nothing to mark them bu_he sound of steps passing on the stairs; and the distant sound of the fron_oor shutting, and the sound of a broom tapping, and the sound of the postma_nocking. In the room coals clicked; the lights and shadows shifted themselve_ver the brows of the five pale busts, over the bookcase and its red merino.
  • But sometimes the step on the stair did not pass the door; it stopped outside.
  • The handle was seen to spin round; the door actually opened; somebody came in.
  • Then how strangely the furniture changed its look! What extraordinary eddie_f sound and smell were at once set in circulation! How they washed round th_egs of tables and impinged on the sharp edges of the wardrobe! Probably i_as Wilson, with a tray of food or a glass of medicine; or it might be one o_iss Barrett's two sisters—Arabel or Henrietta; or it might be one of Mis_arrett's seven brothers—Charles, Samuel, George, Henry, Alfred, Septimus o_ctavius. But once or twice a week Flush was aware that something mor_mportant was about to happen. The bed would be carefully disguised as a sofa.
  • The armchair would be drawn up beside it; Miss Barrett herself would b_rapped becomingly in Indian shawls; the toilet things would be scrupulousl_idden under the busts of Chaucer and Homer; Flush himself would be combed an_rushed. At about two or three in the afternoon there was a peculiar, distinc_nd different tap at the door. Miss Barrett flushed, smiled and stretched ou_er hand. Then in would come—perhaps dear Miss Mitford, rosy and shiny an_hattering, with a bunch of geraniums. Or it might be Mr. Kenyon, a stout,
  • well-groomed elderly gentleman, radiating benevolence, provided with a book.
  • Or it might be Mrs. Jameson, a lady who was the very opposite of Mr. Kenyon t_ook at—a lady with "a very light complexion—pale, lucid, eyes; thi_olourless lips … a nose and chin projective without breadth." Each had his o_er own manner, smell, tone and accent. Miss Mitford burbled and chattered,
  • was fly-away yet substantial; Mr. Kenyon was urbane and cultured and mumble_lightly because he had lost two front teeth;[[2]](footnotes.xml#footnote_2)
  • Mrs. Jameson had lost none of her teeth, and moved as sharply and precisely a_he spoke.
  • Lying couched at Miss Barrett's feet, Flush let the voices ripple over him,
  • hour by hour. On and on they went. Miss Barrett laughed, expostulated,
  • exclaimed, sighed too, and laughed again. At last, greatly to Flush's relief,
  • little silences came—even in the flow of Miss Mitford's conversation. Could i_e seven already? She had been there since midday! She must really run t_atch her train. Mr. Kenyon shut his book—he had been reading aloud—and stoo_ith his back to the fire; Mrs. Jameson with a sharp, angular movement presse_ach finger of her glove sharp down. And Flush was patted by this one and ha_is ear pulled by another. The routine of leave-taking was intolerabl_rolonged; but at last Mrs. Jameson, Mr. Kenyon, and even Miss Mitford ha_isen, had said good-bye, had remembered something, had lost something, ha_ound something, had reached the door, had opened it, and were—Heaven b_raised—gone at last.
  • Miss Barrett sank back very white, very tired on her pillows. Flush crep_loser to her. Mercifully they were alone again. But the visitor had stayed s_ong that it was almost dinner-time. Smells began to rise from the basement.
  • Wilson was at the door with Miss Barrett's dinner on a tray. It was set dow_n the table beside her and the covers lifted. But what with the dressing an_he talking, what with the heat of the room and the agitation of th_arewells, Miss Barrett was too tired to eat. She gave a little sigh when sh_aw the plump mutton chop, or the wing of partridge or chicken that had bee_ent up for her dinner. So long as Wilson was in the room she fiddled abou_ith her knife and fork. But directly the door was shut and they were alone,
  • she made a sign. She held up her fork. A whole chicken's wing was impaled upo_t. Flush advanced. Miss Barrett nodded. Very gently, very cleverly, withou_pilling a crumb, Flush removed the wing; swallowed it down and left no trac_ehind. Half a rice pudding clotted with thick cream went the same way.
  • Nothing could have been neater, more effective than Flush's co-operation. H_as lying couched as usual at Miss Barrett's feet, apparently asleep, Mis_arrett was lying rested and restored, apparently having made an excellen_inner, when once more a step that was heavier, more deliberate and firme_han any other, stopped on the stair; solemnly a knock sounded that was no ta_f enquiry but a demand for admittance; the door opened and in came th_lackest, the most formidable of elderly men—Mr. Barrett himself. His eye a_nce sought the tray. Had the meal been eaten? Had his commands been obeyed?
  • Yes, the plates were empty. Signifying his approval of his daughter'_bedience, Mr. Barrett lowered himself heavily into the chair by her side. A_hat dark body approached him, shivers of terror and horror ran down Flush'_pine. So a savage couched in flowers shudders when the thunder growls and h_ears the voice of God. Then Wilson whistled; and Flush, slinking guiltily, a_f Mr. Barrett could read his thoughts and those thoughts were evil, crept ou_f the room and rushed downstairs. A force had entered the bedroom which h_readed; a force that he was powerless to withstand. Once he burst i_nexpectedly. Mr. Barrett was on his knees praying by his daughter's side.