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Chapter 6 The End

  • 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.[[9]](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.[[10]](footnotes.xml#footnote_10) That was all. Th_rawing-room table, strangely enough, stood perfectly still.