Flush was growing an old dog now. The journey to England and all the memorie_t revived had undoubtedly tired him. It was noticed that he sought the shad_ather than the sun on his return, though the shade of Florence was hotte_han the sun of Wimpole Street. Stretched beneath a statue, couched under th_ip of a fountain for the sake of the few drops that spurted now and again o_o his coat, he would lie dozing by the hour. The young dogs would come abou_im. To them he would tell his stories of Whitechapel and Wimpole Street; h_ould describe the smell of clover and the smell of Oxford Street; he woul_ehearse his memories of one revolution and another—how Grand Dukes had com_nd Grand Dukes had gone; but the spotted spaniel down the alley on th_eft—she goes on for ever, he would say. Then violent Mr. Landor would hurr_y and shake his fist at him in mock fury; kind Miss Isa Blagden would paus_nd take a sugared biscuit from her reticule. The peasant women in th_arketplace made him a bed of leaves in the shadow of their baskets and tosse_im a bunch of grapes now and then. He was known, he was liked by al_lorence—gentle and simple, dogs and men.
But he was growing an old dog now, and he tended more and more to lie not eve_nder the fountain—for the cobbles were too hard for his old bones—but in Mrs.
Browning's bedroom where the arms of the Guidi family made a smooth patch o_cagliola on the floor, or in the drawing-room under the shadow of th_rawing-room table. One day shortly after his return from London he wa_tretched there fast asleep. The deep and dreamless sleep of old age was heav_n him. Indeed today his sleep was deeper even than usual, for as he slept th_arkness seemed to thicken round him. If he dreamt at all, he dreamt that h_as sleeping in the heart of a primeval forest, shut from the light of th_un, shut from the voices of mankind, though now and again as he slept h_reamt that he heard the sleepy chirp of a dreaming bird, or, as the win_ossed the branches, the mellow chuckle of a brooding monkey.
Then suddenly the branches parted; the light broke in—here, there, in dazzlin_hafts. Monkeys chattered; birds rose crying and calling in alarm. He starte_o his feet wide awake. An astonishing commotion was all round him. He ha_allen asleep between the bare legs of an ordinary drawing-room table. Now h_as hemmed in by the billowing of skirts and the heaving of trousers. Th_able itself, moreover, was swaying violently from side to side. He did no_now which way to run. What on earth was happening? What in Heaven's nam_ossessed the drawing-room table? He lifted up his voice in a prolonged how_f interrogation.
To Flush's question no satisfactory answer can here be given. A few facts, an_hose of the baldest, are all that can be supplied. Briefly, then, it woul_ppear that early in the nineteenth century the Countess of Blessington ha_ought a crystal ball from a magician. Her ladyship "never could understan_he use of it"; indeed she had never been able to see anything in the bal_xcept crystal. After her death, however, there was a sale of her effects an_he ball came into the possession of others who "looked deeper, or with pure_yes," and saw other things in the ball besides crystal. Whether Lord Stanhop_as the purchaser, whether it was he who looked "with purer eyes," is no_tated. But certainly by the year 1852 Lord Stanhope was in possession of _rystal ball and Lord Stanhope had only to look into it to see among othe_hings "the spirits of the sun." Obviously this was not a sight that _ospitable nobleman could keep to himself, and Lord Stanhope was in the habi_f displaying his ball at luncheon parties and of inviting his friends to se_he spirits of the sun also. There was something strangely delightful—excep_ndeed to Mr. Chorley—in the spectacle; balls became the rage; and luckily _ondon optician soon discovered that he could make them, without being eithe_n Egyptian or a magician, though naturally the price of English crystal wa_igh. Thus many people in the early 'fifties became possessed of balls, though
"many persons," Lord Stanhope said, "use the balls, without the moral courag_o confess it." The prevalence of spirits in London indeed became so marke_hat some alarm was felt; and Lord Stanley suggested to Sir Edward Lytton
"that the Government should appoint a committee of investigation so as to ge_s far as possible at the facts." Whether the rumour of an approachin_overnment committee alarmed the spirits, or whether spirits, like bodies,
tend to multiply in close confinement, there can be no doubt that the spirit_egan to show signs of restlessness, and, escaping in vast numbers, took u_heir residence in the legs of tables. Whatever the motive, the policy wa_uccessful. Crystal balls were expensive; almost everybody owns a table. Thu_hen Mrs. Browning returned to Italy in the winter of 1852 she found that th_pirits had preceded her; the tables of Florence were almost universall_nfected. "From the Legation to the English chemists," she wrote, "people are
'serving tables' … everywhere. When people gather round a table it isn't t_lay whist." No, it was to decipher messages conveyed by the legs of tables.
Thus if asked the age of a child, the table "expresses itself intelligently b_nocking with its legs, responses according to the alphabet." And if a tabl_ould tell you that your own child was four years old, what limit was there t_ts capacity? Spinning tables were advertised in shops. The walls wer_lacarded with advertisements of wonders _"scoperte a Livorno."_ By the yea_854, so rapidly did the movement spread, "four hundred thousand families i_merica had given their names … as actually in enjoyment of spiritua_ntercourse." And from England the news came that Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton ha_mported "several of the American rapping spirits" to Knebworth, with th_appy result—so little Arthur Russell was informed when he beheld a "strange-
looking old gentleman in a shabby dressing-gown" staring at him a_reakfast—that Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton believed himsel_nvisible.[](footnotes.xml#footnote_9)
When Mrs. Browning first looked into Lord Stanhope's crystal ball at _uncheon party she saw nothing—except indeed that it was a remarkable sign o_he times. The spirit of the sun indeed told her that she was about to go t_ome; but as she was not about to go to Rome, she contradicted the spirits o_he sun. "But," she added, with truth, "I love the marvellous." She wa_othing if not adventurous. She had gone to Manning Street at the risk of he_ife. She had discovered a world that she had never dreamt of within half a_our's drive from Wimpole Street. Why should there not be another world onl_alf a moment's flight from Florence—a better world, a more beautiful world,
where the dead live, trying in vain to reach us? At any rate she would tak_he risk. And so she sat herself down at the table too. And Mr. Lytton, th_rilliant son of an invisible father, came; and Mr. Frederick Tennyson, an_r. Powers and M. Villari—they all sat at the table and then when the tabl_ad done kicking, they sat on drinking tea and eating strawberries and cream,
with "Florence dissolving in the purple of the hills and the stars lookin_n," talking and talking: "… what stories we told, and what miracles we swor_o! Oh, we are believers here, Isa, except Robert… ." Then in burst deaf Mr.
Kirkup with his bleak white beard. He had come round simply to exclaim, "Ther_s a spiritual world—there is a future state. I confess it. I am convinced a_ast." And when Mr. Kirkup, whose creed had always been "the next thing t_theism," was converted merely because, in spite of his deafness, he had heard
"three taps so loud that they made him leap," how could Mrs. Browning keep he_ands off the table? "You know I am rather a visionary and inclined to knoc_ound at all the doors of the present world to try to get out," she wrote. S_he summoned the faithful to Casa Guidi; and there they sat with their hand_n the drawing-room table, trying to get out.
Flush started up in the wildest apprehension. The skirts and the trousers wer_illowing round him; the table was standing on one leg. But whatever th_adies and gentlemen round the table could hear and see, Flush could hear an_ee nothing. True, the table was standing on one leg, but so tables will i_ou lean hard on one side. He had upset tables himself and been well scolde_or it. But now there was Mrs. Browning with her great eyes wide open starin_s if she saw something marvellous outside. Flush rushed to the balcony an_ooked over. Was there another Grand Duke riding by with banners and torches?
Flush could see nothing but an old beggar woman crouched at the corner of th_treet over her basket of melons. Yet clearly Mrs. Browning saw something;
clearly she saw something that was very wonderful. So in the old Wimpol_treet days she had wept once without any reason that he could see; and agai_he had laughed, holding up a blotted scrawl. But this was different. Ther_as something in her look now that frightened him. There was something in th_oom, or in the table, or in the petticoats and trousers, that he dislike_xceedingly.
As the weeks passed, this preoccupation of Mrs. Browning's with the invisibl_rew upon her. It might be a fine hot day, but instead of watching the lizard_lide in and out of the stones, she would sit at the table; it might be a dar_tarry night, but instead of reading in her book, or passing her hand ove_aper, she would call, if Mr. Browning were out, for Wilson, and Wilson woul_ome yawning. Then they would sit at the table together until that article o_urniture, whose chief function it was to provide shade, kicked on the floor,
and Mrs. Browning exclaimed that it was telling Wilson that she would soon b_ll. Wilson replied that she was only sleepy. But soon Wilson herself, th_mplacable, the upright, the British, screamed and went into a faint, and Mrs.
Browning was rushing hither and thither to find "the hygienic vinegar." That,
to Flush, was a highly unpleasant way of spending a quiet evening. Better fa_o sit and read one's book.
Undoubtedly the suspense, the intangible but disagreeable odour, the kicks an_he screams and the vinegar, told upon Flush's nerves. It was all very wel_or the baby, Penini, to pray "that Flush's hair may grow"; that was a_spiration that Flush could understand. But this form of prayer which require_he presence of evil-smelling, seedy-looking men and the antics of a piece o_pparently solid mahogany, angered him much as they angered that robust,
sensible, well-dressed man, his master. But far worse than any smell to Flush,
far worse than any antics, was the look on Mrs. Browning's face when she gaze_ut of the window as if she were seeing something that was wonderful whe_here was nothing. Flush stood himself in front of her. She looked through hi_s if he were not there. That was the cruellest look she had ever given him.
It was worse than her cold anger when he bit Mr. Browning in the leg; wors_han her sardonic laughter when the door shut upon his paw in Regent's Park.
There were moments indeed when he regretted Wimpole Street and its tables. Th_ables at No. 50 had never tilted upon one leg. The little table with the rin_ound it that held her precious ornaments had always stood perfectly still. I_hose far-off days he had only to leap on her sofa and Miss Barrett starte_ide-awake and looked at him. Now, once more, he leapt on to her sofa. But sh_id not notice him. She was writing. She paid no attention to him. She went o_riting—"also, at the request of the medium, the spiritual hands took from th_able a garland which lay there, and placed it upon my head. The particula_and which did this was of the largest human size, as white as snow, and ver_eautiful. It was as near to me as this hand I write with, and I saw it a_istinctly." Flush pawed her sharply. She looked through him as if he wer_nvisible. He leapt off the sofa and ran downstairs into the street.
It was a blazing hot afternoon. The old beggar woman at the corner had falle_sleep over her melons. The sun seemed droning in the air. Keeping to th_hady side of the street, Flush trotted along the well-known ways to th_arket-place. The whole square was brilliant with awnings and stalls an_right umbrellas. The market women were sitting beside baskets of fruit;
pigeons were fluttering, bells were pealing, whips were cracking. The many-
coloured mongrels of Florence were running in and out sniffing and pawing. Al_as as brisk as a beehive and as hot as an oven. Flush sought the shade. H_lung himself down beside his friend Catterina, under the shadow of her grea_asket. A brown jar of red and yellow flowers cast a shadow beside it. Abov_hem a statue, holding his right arm outstretched, deepened the shade t_iolet. Flush lay there in the cool, watching the young dogs busy with thei_wn affairs. They were snarling and biting, stretching and tumbling, in al_he abandonment of youthful joy. They were chasing each other in and out,
round and round, as he had once chased the spotted spaniel in the alley. Hi_houghts turned to Reading for a moment—to Mr. Partridge's spaniel, to hi_irst love, to the ecstasies and innocences of youth. Well, he had had hi_ay. He did not grudge them theirs. He had found the world a pleasant place t_ive in. He had no quarrel with it now. The market woman scratched him behin_he ear. She had often cuffed him for stealing a grape, or for some othe_isdemeanour; but he was old now; and she was old. He guarded her melons an_he scratched his ear. So she knitted and he dozed. The flies buzzed on th_reat pink melon that had been sliced open to show its flesh.
The sun burnt deliciously through the lily leaves, and through the green an_hite umbrella. The marble statue tempered its heat to a champagne freshness.
Flush lay and let it burn through his fur to the naked skin. And when he wa_oasted on one side he turned over and let the sun roast the other. All th_ime the market people were chattering and bargaining; market women wer_assing; they were stopping and fingering the vegetables and the fruit. Ther_as a perpetual buzz and hum of human voices such as Flush loved to listen to.
After a time he drowsed off under the shadow of the lilies. He slept as dog_leep when they are dreaming. Now his legs twitched—was he dreaming that h_unted rabbits in Spain? Was he coursing up a hot hill-side with dark me_houting "Span! Span!" as the rabbits darted from the brushwood? Then he la_till again. And now he yelped, quickly, softly, many times in succession.
Perhaps he heard Dr. Mitford egging his greyhounds on to the hunt at Reading.
Then his tail wagged sheepishly. Did he hear old Miss Mitford cry, "Bad dog!
Bad dog!" as he slunk back to her, where she stood among the turnips wavin_er umbrella? And then he lay for a time snoring, wrapt in the deep sleep o_appy old age. Suddenly every muscle in his body twitched. He woke with _iolent start. Where did he think he was? In Whitechapel among the ruffians?
Was the knife at his throat again?
Whatever it was, he woke from his dream in a state of terror. He made off a_f he were flying to safety, as if he were seeking refuge. The market wome_aughed and pelted him with rotten grapes and called him back. He took n_otice. Cart-wheels almost crushed him as he darted through the streets—th_en standing up to drive cursed him and flicked him with their whips. Half-
naked children threw pebbles at him and shouted _"Matta! Matta!"_ as he fle_ast. Their mothers ran to the door and caught them back in alarm. Had he the_one mad? Had the sun turned his brain? Or had he once more heard the huntin_orn of Venus? Or had one of the American rapping spirits, one of the spirit_hat live in table legs, got possession of him at last? Whatever it was, h_ent in a bee-line up one street and down another until he reached the door o_asa Guidi. He made his way straight upstairs and went straight into th_rawing-room.
Mrs. Browning was lying, reading, on the sofa. She looked up, startled, as h_ame in. It was not a spirit—it was only Flush. She laughed. Then, as he leap_n to the sofa and thrust his face into hers, the words of her own poem cam_nto her mind:
> You see this dog. It was but yesterday
> I mused forgetful of his presence here
> Till thought on thought drew downward tear on tear,
> When from the pillow, where wet-cheeked I lay,
> A head as hairy as Faunus, thrust its way
> Right sudden against my face,—two golden-clear
> Great eyes astonished mine,—a drooping ear
> Did flap me on either cheek to dry the spray!
> I started first, as some Arcadian,
> Amazed by goatly god in twilight grove;
> But, as the bearded vision closelier ran
> My tears off, I knew Flush, and rose above
> Surprise and sadness,—thanking the true Pan,
> Who, by low creatures, leads to heights of love.
She had written that poem one day years ago in Wimpole Street when she wa_ery unhappy. Years had passed; now she was happy. She was growing old now an_o was Flush. She bent down over him for a moment. Her face with its wid_outh and its great eyes and its heavy curls was still oddly like his. Broke_sunder, yet made in the same mould, each, perhaps, completed what was dorman_n the other. But she was woman; he was dog. Mrs. Browning went on reading.
Then she looked at Flush again. But he did not look at her. An extraordinar_hange had come over him. "Flush!" she cried. But he was silent. He had bee_live; he was now dead.[](footnotes.xml#footnote_10) That was all. Th_rawing-room table, strangely enough, stood perfectly still.