Flush: a biography, by Virginia Woolf

Chapter Three

The Hooded Man

Such an education as this, in the back bedroom at Wimpole Street, would have told upon an ordinary dog. And Flush was not an ordinary dog. He was high-spirited, yet reflective; canine, but highly sensitive to human emotions also. Upon such a dog the atmosphere of the bedroom told with peculiar force. We cannot blame him if his sensibility was cultivated rather to the detriment of his sterner qualities. Naturally, lying with his head pillowed on a Greek lexicon, he came to dislike barking and biting; he came to prefer the silence of the cat to the robustness of the dog; and human sympathy to either. Miss Barrett, too, did her best to refine and educate his powers still further. Once she took a harp from the window and asked him, as she laid it by his side, whether he thought that the harp, which made music, was itself alive? He looked and listened; pondered, it seemed, for a moment in doubt and then decided that it was not. Then she would make him stand with her in front of the looking-glass and ask him why he barked and trembled. Was not the little brown dog opposite himself? But what is “oneself”? Is it the thing people see? Or is it the thing one is? So Flush pondered that question too, and, unable to solve the problem of reality, pressed closer to Miss Barrett and kissed her “expressively.” That was real at any rate.

Fresh from such problems, with such emotional dilemmas agitating his nervous system, he went downstairs, and we cannot be surprised if there was something — a touch of the supercilious, of the superior — in his bearing that roused the rage of Catiline, the savage Cuba bloodhound, so that he set upon him and bit him and sent him howling upstairs to Miss Barrett for sympathy. Flush “is no hero,” she concluded; but why was he no hero? Was it not partly on her account? She was too just not to realize that it was for her that he had sacrificed his courage, as it was for her that he had sacrificed the sun and the air. This nervous sensibility had its drawbacks, no doubt — she was full of apologies when he flew at Mr. Kenyon and bit him for stumbling over the bell-pull; it was annoying when he moaned piteously all night because he was not allowed to sleep on her bed — when he refused to eat unless she fed him; but she took the blame and bore the inconvenience because, after all, Flush loved her. He had refused the air and the sun for her sake. “He is worth loving, is he not?” she asked of Mr. Horne. And whatever answer Mr. Horne might give, Miss Barrett was positive of her own. She loved Flush, and Flush was worthy of her love.

It seemed as if nothing were to break that tie — as if the years were merely to compact and cement it; and as if those years were to be all the years of their natural lives. Eighteen-forty-two turned into eighteen-forty-three; eighteen-forty-three into eighteen- forty-four; eighteen-forty-four into eighteen-forty-five. Flush was no longer a puppy; he was a dog of four or five; he was a dog in the full prime of life — and still Miss Barrett lay on her sofa in Wimpole Street and still Flush lay on the sofa at her feet. Miss Barrett’s life was the life of “a bird in its cage.” She sometimes kept the house for weeks at a time, and when she left it, it was only for an hour or two, to drive to a shop in a carriage, or to be wheeled to Regent’s Park in a bath-chair. The Barretts never left London. Mr. Barrett, the seven brothers, the two sisters, the butler, Wilson and the maids, Catiline, Folly, Miss Barrett and Flush all went on living at 50 Wimpole Street, eating in the dining-room, sleeping in the bedrooms, smoking in the study, cooking in the kitchen, carrying hot-water cans and emptying the slops from January to December. The chair-covers became slightly soiled; the carpets slightly worn; coal dust, mud, soot, fog, vapours of cigar smoke and wine and meat accumulated in crevices, in cracks, in fabrics, on the tops of picture-frames, in the scrolls of carvings. And the ivy that hung over Miss Barrett’s bedroom window flourished; its green curtain became thicker and thicker, and in summer the nasturtiums and the scarlet runners rioted together in the window-box.

But one night early in January 1845 the postman knocked. Letters fell into the box as usual. Wilson went downstairs to fetch the letters as usual. Everything was as usual — every night the postman knocked, every night Wilson fetched the letters, every night there was a letter for Miss Barrett. But tonight the letter was not the same letter; it was a different letter. Flush saw that, even before the envelope was broken. He knew it from the way that Miss Barrett took it; turned it; looked at the vigorous, jagged writing of her name. He knew it from the indescribable tremor in her fingers, from the impetuosity with which they tore the flap open, from the absorption with which she read. He watched her read. And as she read he heard, as when we are half asleep we hear through the clamour of the street some bell ringing and know that it is addressed to us, alarmingly yet faintly, as if someone far away were trying to rouse us with the warning of fire, or burglary, or some menace against our peace and we start in alarm before we wake — so Flush, as Miss Barrett read the little blotted sheet, heard a bell rousing him from his sleep; warning him of some danger menacing his safety and bidding him sleep no more. Miss Barrett read the letter quickly; she read the letter slowly; she returned it carefully to its envelope. She too slept no more.

Again, a few nights later, there was the same letter on Wilson’s tray. Again it was read quickly, read slowly, read over and over again. Then it was put away carefully, not in the drawer with the voluminous sheets of Miss Mitford’s letters, but by itself. Now Flush paid the full price of long years of accumulated sensibility lying couched on cushions at Miss Barrett’s feet. He could read signs that nobody else could even see. He could tell by the touch of Miss Barrett’s fingers that she was waiting for one thing only — for the postman’s knock, for the letter on the tray. She would be stroking him perhaps with a light, regular movement; suddenly — there was the rap — her fingers constricted; he would be held in a vice while Wilson came upstairs. Then she took the letter and he was loosed and forgotten.

Yet, he argued, what was there to be afraid of, so long as there was no change in Miss Barrett’s life? And there was no change. No new visitors came. Mr. Kenyon came as usual; Miss Mitford came as usual. The brothers and sisters came; and in the evening Mr. Barrett came. They noticed nothing; they suspected nothing. So he would quieten himself and try to believe, when a few nights passed without the envelope, that the enemy had gone. A man in a cloak, he imagined, a cowled and hooded figure, had passed, like a burglar, rattling the door, and finding it guarded, had slunk away defeated. The danger, Flush tried to make himself believe, was over. The man had gone. And then the letter came again.

As the envelopes came more and more regularly, night after night, Flush began to notice signs of change in Miss Barrett herself. For the first time in Flush’s experience she was irritable and restless. She could not read and she could not write. She stood at the window and looked out. She questioned Wilson anxiously about the weather — was the wind still in the east? Was there any sign of spring in the Park yet? Oh no, Wilson replied; the wind was a cruel east wind still. And Miss Barrett, Flush felt, was at once relieved and annoyed. She coughed. She complained of feeling ill — but not so ill as she usually felt when the wind was in the east. And then, when she was alone, she read over again last night’s letter. It was the longest she had yet had. There were many pages, closely covered, darkly blotted, scattered with strange little abrupt hieroglyphics. So much Flush could see, from his station at her feet. But he could make no sense of the words that Miss Barrett was murmuring to herself. Only he could trace her agitation when she came to the end of the page and read aloud (though unintelligibly), “Do you think I shall see you in two months, three months?”

Then she took up her pen and passed it rapidly and nervously over sheet after sheet. But what did they mean — the little words that Miss Barrett wrote? “April is coming. There will be both a May and a June if we live to see such things, and perhaps, after all, we may . . . I will indeed see you when the warm weather has revived me a little. . . . But I shall be afraid of you at first — though I am not, in writing thus. You are Paracelsus, and I am a recluse, with nerves that have been broken on the rack, and now hang loosely, quivering at a step and breath.”

Flush could not read what she was writing an inch or two above his head. But he knew just as well as if he could read every word, how strangely his mistress was agitated as she wrote; what contrary desires shook her — that April might come; that April might not come; that she might see this unknown man at once, that she might never see him at all. Flush, too, quivered as she did at a step, at a breath. And remorselessly the days went on. The wind blew out the blind. The sun whitened the busts. A bird sang in the mews. Men went crying fresh flowers to sell down Wimpole Street. All these sounds meant, he knew, that April was coming and May and June — nothing could stop the approach of that dreadful spring. For what was coming with the spring? Some terror — some horror — something that Miss Barrett dreaded, and that Flush dreaded too. He started now at the sound of a step. But it was only Henrietta. Then there was a knock. It was only Mr. Kenyon. So April passed; and the first twenty days of May. And then, on the 21st of May, Flush knew that the day itself had come. For on Tuesday, the 21st of May, Miss Barrett looked searchingly in the glass; arrayed herself exquisitely in her Indian shawls; bade Wilson draw the armchair close, but not too close; touched this, that and the other; and then sat upright among her pillows. Flush couched himself taut at her feet. They waited, alone together. At last, Marylebone Church clock struck two; they waited. Then Marylebone Church clock struck a single stroke — it was half-past two; and as the single stroke died away, a rap sounded boldly on the front door. Miss Barrett turned pale; she lay very still. Flush lay still too. Upstairs came the dreaded, the inexorable footfall; upstairs, Flush knew, came the cowled and sinister figure of midnight — the hooded man. Now his hand was on the door. The handle spun. There he stood.

“Mr. Browning,” said Wilson.

Flush, watching Miss Barrett, saw the colour rush into her face; saw her eyes brighten and her lips open.

“Mr. Browning!” she exclaimed.

Twisting his yellow gloves 3 in his hands, blinking his eyes, well groomed, masterly, abrupt, Mr. Browning strode across the room. He seized Miss Barrett’s hand, and sank into the chair by the sofa at her side. Instantly they began to talk.

What was horrible to Flush, as they talked, was his loneliness. Once he had felt that he and Miss Barrett were together, in a firelit cave. Now the cave was no longer firelit; it was dark and damp; Miss Barrett was outside. He looked round him. Everything had changed. The bookcase, the five busts — they were no longer friendly deities presiding approvingly — they were alien, severe. He shifted his position at Miss Barrett’s feet. She took no notice. He whined. They did not hear him. At last he lay still in tense and silent agony. The talk went on; but it did not flow and ripple as talk usually flowed and rippled. It leapt and jerked. It stopped and leapt again. Flush had never heard that sound in Miss Barrett’s voice before — that vigour, that excitement. Her cheeks were bright as he had never seen them bright; her great eyes blazed as he had never seen them blaze. The clock struck four; and still they talked. Then it struck half-past four. At that Mr. Browning jumped up. A horrid decision, a dreadful boldness marked every movement. In another moment he had wrung Miss Barrett’s hand in his; he had taken his hat and gloves; he had said good-bye. They heard him running down the stairs. Smartly the door banged behind him. He was gone.

But Miss Barrett did not sink back in her pillows as she sank back when Mr. Kenyon or Miss Mitford left her. Now she still sat upright; her eyes still burnt; her cheeks still glowed; she seemed still to feel that Mr. Browning was with her. Flush touched her. She recalled him with a start. She patted him lightly, joyfully, on the head. And smiling, she gave him the oddest look — as if she wished that he could talk — as if she expected him too to feel what she felt. And then she laughed, pityingly; as if it were absurd — Flush, poor Flush could feel nothing of what she felt. He could know nothing of what she knew. Never had such wastes of dismal distance separated them. He lay there ignored; he might not have been there, he felt. She no longer remembered his existence.

And that night she ate her chicken to the bone. Not a scrap of potato or of skin was thrown to Flush. When Mr. Barrett came as usual, Flush marvelled at his obtuseness. He sat himself down in the very chair that the man had sat in. His head pressed the same cushions that the man’s had pressed, and yet he noticed nothing. “Don’t you know,” Flush marvelled, “who’s been sitting in that chair? Can’t you smell him?” For to Flush the whole room still reeked of Mr. Browning’s presence. The air dashed past the bookcase, and eddied and curled round the heads of the five pale busts. But the heavy man sat by his daughter in entire self- absorption. He noticed nothing. He suspected nothing. Aghast at his obtuseness, Flush slipped past him out of the room.

But in spite of their astonishing blindness, even Miss Barrett’s family began to notice, as the weeks passed, a change in Miss Barrett. She left her room and went down to sit in the drawing- room. Then she did what she had not done for many a long day — she actually walked on her own feet as far as the gate at Devonshire Place with her sister. Her friends, her family, were amazed at her improvement. But only Flush knew where her strength came from — it came from the dark man in the armchair. He came again and again and again. First it was once a week; then it was twice a week. He came always in the afternoon and left in the afternoon. Miss Barrett always saw him alone. And on the days when he did not come, his letters came. And when he himself was gone, his flowers were there. And in the mornings when she was alone, Miss Barrett wrote to him. That dark, taut, abrupt, vigorous man, with his black hair, his red cheeks and his yellow gloves, was everywhere. Naturally, Miss Barrett was better; of course she could walk. Flush himself felt that it was impossible to lie still. Old longings revived; a new restlessness possessed him. Even his sleep was full of dreams. He dreamt as he had not dreamt since the old days at Three Mile Cross — of hares starting from the long grass; of pheasants rocketing up with long tails streaming, of partridges rising with a whirr from the stubble. He dreamt that he was hunting, that he was chasing some spotted spaniel, who fled, who escaped him. He was in Spain; he was in Wales; he was in Berkshire; he was flying before park-keepers’ truncheons in Regent’s Park. Then he opened his eyes. There were no hares, and no partridges; no whips cracking and no black men crying “Span! Span!” There was only Mr. Browning in the armchair talking to Miss Barrett on the sofa.

Sleep became impossible while that man was there. Flush lay with his eyes wide open, listening. Though he could make no sense of the little words that hurtled over his head from two-thirty to four-thirty sometimes three times a week, he could detect with terrible accuracy that the tone of the words was changing. Miss Barrett’s voice had been forced and unnaturally lively at first. Now it had gained a warmth and an ease that he had never heard in it before. And every time the man came, some new sound came into their voices — now they made a grotesque chattering; now they skimmed over him like birds flying widely; now they cooed and clucked, as if they were two birds settled in a nest; and then Miss Barrett’s voice, rising again, went soaring and circling in the air; and then Mr. Browning’s voice barked out its sharp, harsh clapper of laughter; and then there was only a murmur, a quiet humming sound as the two voices joined together. But as the summer turned to autumn Flush noted, with horrid apprehension, another note. There was a new urgency, a new pressure and energy in the man’s voice, at which Miss Barrett, Flush felt, took fright. Her voice fluttered; hesitated; seemed to falter and fade and plead and gasp, as if she were begging for a rest, for a pause, as if she were afraid. Then, the man was silent.

Of him they took but little notice. He might have been a log of wood lying there at Miss Barrett’s feet for all the attention Mr. Browning paid him. Sometimes he scrubbed his head in a brisk, spasmodic way, energetically, without sentiment, as he passed him. Whatever that scrub might mean, Flush felt nothing but an intense dislike for Mr. Browning. The very sight of him, so well tailored, so tight, so muscular, screwing his yellow gloves in his hand, set his teeth on edge. Oh! to let them meet sharply, completely in the stuff of his trousers! And yet he dared not. Taking it all in all, that winter — 1845-6 — was the most distressing that Flush had ever known.

The winter passed; and spring came round again. Flush could see no end to the affair; and yet just as a river, though it reflects still trees and grazing cows and rooks returning to the tree-tops, moves inevitably to a waterfall, so those days, Flush knew, were moving to catastrophe. Rumours of change hovered in the air. Sometimes he thought that some vast exodus impended. There was that indefinable stir in the house which precedes — could it be possible? — a journey. Boxes were actually dusted, were, incredible as it might seem, opened. Then they were shut again. No, it was not the family that was going to move. The brothers and sisters still went in and out as usual. Mr. Barrett paid his nightly visit, after the man had gone, at his accustomed hour. What was it, then, that was going to happen? for as the summer of 1846 wore on, Flush was positive that a change was coming. He could hear it again in the altered sound of the eternal voices. Miss Barrett’s voice, that had been pleading and afraid, lost its faltering note. It rang out with a determination and a boldness that Flush had never heard in it before. If only Mr. Barrett could hear the tone in which she welcomed this usurper, the laugh with which she greeted him, the exclamation with which he took her hand in his! But nobody was in the room with them except Flush. To him the change was of the most galling nature. It was not merely that Miss Barrett was changing towards Mr. Browning — she was changing in every relation — in her feeling towards Flush himself. She treated his advances more brusquely; she cut short his endearments laughingly; she made him feel that there was something petty, silly, affected, in his old affectionate ways. His vanity was exacerbated. His jealousy was inflamed. At last, when July came, he determined to make one violent attempt to regain her favour, and perhaps to oust the newcomer. How to accomplish this double purpose he did not know, and could not plan. But suddenly on the 8th of July his feelings overcame him. He flung himself on Mr. Browning and bit him savagely. At last his teeth met in the immaculate cloth of Mr. Browning’s trousers! But the limb inside was hard as iron — Mr. Kenyon’s leg had been butter in comparison. Mr. Browning brushed him off with a flick of his hand and went on talking. Neither he nor Miss Barrett seemed to think the attack worthy of attention. Completely foiled, worsted, without a shaft left in his sheath, Flush sank back on his cushions panting with rage and disappointment. But he had misjudged Miss Barrett’s insight. When Mr. Browning was gone, she called him to her and inflicted upon him the worst punishment he had ever known. First she slapped his ears — that was nothing; oddly enough the slap was rather to his liking; he would have welcomed another. But then she said in her sober, certain tones that she would never love him again. That shaft went to his heart. All these years they had lived together, shared everything together, and now, for one moment’s failure, she would never love him again. Then, as if to make her dismissal complete, she took the flowers that Mr. Browning had brought her and began to put them in water in a vase. It was an act, Flush thought, of calculated and deliberate malice; an act designed to make him feel his own insignificance completely. “This rose is from him,” she seemed to say, “and this carnation. Let the red shine by the yellow; and the yellow by the red. And let the green leaf lie there —” And, setting one flower with another, she stood back to gaze at them as if he were before her — the man in the yellow gloves — a mass of brilliant flowers. But even so, even as she pressed the leaves and flowers together, she could not altogether ignore the fixity with which Flush gazed at her. She could not deny that “expression of quite despair on his face.” She could not but relent. “At last I said, ‘If you are good, Flush, you may come and say that you are sorry,’ on which he dashed across the room and, trembling all over, kissed first one of my hands and then another, and put up his paws to be shaken, and looked into my face with such beseeching eyes that you would certainly have forgiven him just as I did.” That was her account of the matter to Mr. Browning; and he of course replied: “Oh, poor Flush, do you think I do not love and respect him for his jealous supervision — his slowness to know another, having once known you?” It was easy enough for Mr. Browning to be magnanimous, but that easy magnanimity was perhaps the sharpest thorn that pressed into Flush’s side.

Another incident a few days later showed how widely they were separated, who had been so close, how little Flush could now count on Miss Barrett for sympathy. After Mr. Browning had gone one afternoon Miss Barrett decided to drive to Regent’s Park with her sister. As they got out at the Park gate the door of the four- wheeler shut on Flush’s paw. He “cried piteously” and held it up to Miss Barrett for sympathy. In other days sympathy in abundance would have been lavished upon him for less. But now a detached, a mocking, a critical expression came into her eyes. She laughed at him. She thought he was shamming: “ . . . no sooner had he touched the grass than he began to run without a thought of it,” she wrote. And she commented sarcastically, “Flush always makes the most of his misfortunes — he is of the Byronic school — il se pose en victime.” But here Miss Barrett, absorbed in her own emotions, misjudged him completely. If his paw had been broken, still he would have bounded. That dash was his answer to her mockery; I have done with you — that was the meaning he flashed at her as he ran. The flowers smelt bitter to him; the grass burnt his paws; the dust filled his nostrils with disillusion. But he raced — he scampered. “Dogs must be led on chains”— there was the usual placard; there were the park-keepers with their top-hats and their truncheons to enforce it. But “must” no longer had any meaning for him. The chain of love was broken. He would run where he liked; chase partridges; chase spaniels; splash into the middle of dahlia beds; break brilliant, glowing red and yellow roses. Let the park- keepers throw their truncheons if they chose. Let them dash his brains out. Let him fall dead, disembowelled, at Miss Barrett’s feet. He cared nothing. But naturally nothing of the kind happened. Nobody pursued him; nobody noticed him. The solitary park-keeper was talking to a nursemaid. At last he returned to Miss Barrett and she absentmindedly slipped the chain over his neck, and led him home.

After two such humiliations the spirit of an ordinary dog, the spirit even of an ordinary human being, might well have been broken. But Flush, for all his softness and silkiness, had eyes that blazed; had passions that leapt not merely in bright flame but sunk and smouldered. He resolved to meet his enemy face to face and alone. No third person should interrupt this final conflict. It should be fought out by the principals themselves. On the afternoon of Tuesday, the 21st of July, therefore, he slipped downstairs and waited in the hall. He had not long to wait. Soon he heard the tramp of the familiar footstep in the street; he heard the familiar rap on the door. Mr. Browning was admitted. Vaguely aware of the impending attack and determined to meet it in the most conciliatory of spirits, Mr. Browning had come provided with a parcel of cakes. There was Flush waiting in the hall. Mr. Browning made, evidently, some well-meant attempt to caress him; perhaps he even went so far as to offer him a cake. The gesture was enough. Flush sprang upon his enemy with unparalleled violence. His teeth once more met in Mr. Browning’s trousers. But unfortunately in the excitement of the moment he forgot what was most essential — silence. He barked; he flung himself on Mr. Browning, barking loudly. The sound was sufficient to alarm the household. Wilson rushed downstairs. Wilson beat him soundly. Wilson overpowered him completely. Wilson led him in ignominy away. Ignominy it was — to have attacked Mr. Browning, to have been beaten by Wilson. Mr. Browning had not lifted a finger. Taking his cakes with him, Mr. Browning proceeded unhurt, unmoved, in perfect composure, upstairs, alone to the bedroom. Flush was led away.

After two and a half hours of miserable confinement with parrots and beetles, ferns and saucepans, in the kitchen, Flush was summoned to Miss Barrett’s presence. She was lying on the sofa with her sister Arabella beside her. Conscious of the rightness of his cause, Flush went straight to her. But she refused to look at him. He turned to Arabella. She merely said, “Naughty Flush, go away.” Wilson was there — the formidable, the implacable Wilson. It was to her that Miss Barrett turned for information. She had beaten him. Wilson said, “because it was right.” And, she added, she had only beaten him with her hand. It was upon her evidence that Flush was convicted. The attack, Miss Barrett assumed, had been unprovoked; she credited Mr. Browning with all virtue, with all generosity; Flush had been beaten off by a servant, without a whip, because “it was right.” There was no more to be said. Miss Barrett decided against him. “So he lay down on the floor at my feet,” she wrote, “looking from under his eyebrows at me.” But though Flush might look, Miss Barrett refused even to meet his eyes. There she lay on the sofa; there Flush lay on the floor.

And as he lay there, exiled, on the carpet, he went through one of those whirlpools of tumultuous emotion in which the soul is either dashed upon the rocks and splintered or, finding some tuft of foothold, slowly and painfully pulls itself up, regains dry land, and at last emerges on top of a ruined universe to survey a world created afresh on a different plan. Which was it to be — destruction or reconstruction? That was the question. The outlines only of his dilemma can be traced here; for his debate was silent. Twice Flush had done his utmost to kill his enemy; twice he had failed. And why had he failed, he asked himself? Because he loved Miss Barrett. Looking up at her from under his eyebrows as she lay, severe and silent on the sofa, he knew that he must love her for ever. But things are not simple but complex. If he bit Mr. Browning he bit her too. Hatred is not hatred; hatred is also love. Here Flush shook his ears in an agony of perplexity. He turned uneasily on the floor. Mr. Browning was Miss Barrett — Miss Barrett was Mr. Browning; love is hatred and hatred is love. He stretched himself, whined and raised his head from the floor. The clock struck eight. For three hours and more he had been lying there, tossed from the horn of one dilemma to another.

Even Miss Barrett, severe, cold, implacable as she was, laid down her pen. “Wicked Flush!” she had been writing to Mr. Browning, “ . . . if people like Flush, choose to behave like dogs savagely, they must take the consequences indeed, as dogs usually do! And you, so good and gentle to him! Anyone but you, would have said ‘hasty words’ at least.” Really it would be a good plan, she thought, to buy a muzzle. And then she looked up and saw Flush. Something unusual in his look must have struck her. She paused. She laid down her pen. Once he had roused her with a kiss, and she had thought that he was Pan. He had eaten chicken and rice pudding soaked in cream. He had given up the sunshine for her sake. She called him to her and said she forgave him.

But to be forgiven, as if for a passing whim, to be taken back again on to the sofa as if he had learnt nothing in his anguish on the floor, as if he were the same dog when in fact he differed totally, was impossible. For the moment, exhausted as he was, Flush submitted. A few days later, however, a remarkable scene took place between him and Miss Barrett which showed the depths of his emotions. Mr. Browning had been and gone; Flush was alone with Miss Barrett. Normally he would have leapt on to the sofa at her feet. But now, instead of jumping up as usual and claiming her caress, Flush went to what was now called “Mr. Browning’s armchair.” Usually the chair was abhorrent to him; it still held the shape of his enemy. But now, such was the battle he had won, such was the charity that suffused him, that he not only looked at the chair but, as he looked, “suddenly fell into a rapture.” Miss Barrett, watching him intently, observed this extraordinary portent. Next she saw him turn his eyes towards a table. On that table still lay the packet of Mr. Browning’s cakes. He “reminded me that the cakes you left were on the table.” They were now old cakes, stale cakes, cakes bereft of any carnal seduction. Flush’s meaning was plain. He had refused to eat the cakes when they were fresh, because they were offered by an enemy. He would eat them now that they were stale, because they were offered by an enemy turned to friend, because they were symbols of hatred turned to love. Yes, he signified, he would eat them now. So Miss Barrett rose and took the cakes in her hand. And as she gave them to him she admonished him, “So I explained to him that you had brought them for him, and that he ought to be properly ashamed therefore for his past wickedness, and make up his mind to love you and not bite you for the future — and he was allowed to profit from your goodness to him.” As he swallowed down the faded flakes of that distasteful pastry — it was mouldy, it was flyblown, it was sour — Flush solemnly repeated, in his own language, the words she had used — he swore to love Mr. Browning and not bite him for the future.

He was instantly rewarded — not by stale cakes, not by chicken’s wings, not by the caresses that were now his, nor by the permission to lie once more on the sofa at Miss Barrett’s feet. He was rewarded, spiritually; yet the effects were curiously physical. Like an iron bar corroding and festering and killing all natural life beneath it, hatred had lain all these months across his soul. Now, by the cutting of sharp knives and painful surgery, the iron had been excised. Now the blood ran once more; the nerves shot and tingled; flesh formed; Nature rejoiced, as in spring. Flush heard the birds sing again; he felt the leaves growing on the trees; as he lay on the sofa at Miss Barrett’s feet, glory and delight coursed through his veins. He was with them, not against them, now; their hopes, their wishes, their desires were his. Flush could have barked in sympathy with Mr. Browning now. The short, sharp words raised the hackles on his neck. “I need a week of Tuesdays,” Mr. Browning cried, “then a month — a year — a life!” I, Flush echoed him, need a month — a year — a life! I need all the things that you both need. We are all three conspirators in the most glorious of causes. We are joined in sympathy. We are joined in hatred. We are joined in defiance of black and beetling tyranny. We are joined in love. — In short, all Flush’s hopes now were set upon some dimly apprehended but none the less certainly emerging triumph, upon some glorious victory that was to be theirs in common, when suddenly, without a word of warning, in the midst of civilisation, security and friendship — he was in a shop in Vere Street with Miss Barrett and her sister: it was the morning of Tuesday the 1st of September — Flush was tumbled head over heels into darkness. The doors of a dungeon shut upon him. He was stolen. 4

3 “yellow gloves.” It is recorded in Mrs. Orr’s Life of Browning that he wore lemon-coloured gloves. Mrs. Bridell-Fox, meeting him in 1835-6, says, “he was then slim and dark, and very handsome, and — may I hint it — just a trifle of a dandy, addicted to lemon-coloured kid gloves and such things.”

4 “He was stolen.” As a matter of fact, Flush was stolen three times; but the unities seem to require that the three stealings shall be compressed into one. The total sum paid by Miss Barrett to the dog-stealers was £20.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 11:53