Covent Garden: Part II

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Eliza’s life could be succinctly described as tiresome. Each day had a grinding sameness to it, a routine that held a fragile sanity.

So it was near a shock than a surprise to enter her tea-room one July afternoon to find the indolent figure of Professor Henry H. Higgins reclining on the sofa and eating a biscuit.

Eliza stood stock still in the doorway, regarding him. Aside from turning a little pale, her face registered no emotion at his appearance.

Higgins seemed to sense her presence, for he sat up. Lazily brushing crumbs from his jacket, he exclaimed, “Eliza! How the devil are you? Do come join me in an excellent biscuit.”

Eliza drew forward, silent.

“I did knock, but no one answered, and once I saw this lovely tea laid out, well — I couldn’t resist.” Higgins jammed another biscuit in his mouth and grinned at her. “I do hope I’m not unwelcome.”

Eliza, for the first time, seemed to rouse from her trance.

“You are very welcome, Professor Higgins,” she said coolly. “May I pour you some tea?”

Higgins grinned yet more widely. “Ever a charming hostess. You may.”

She sat without looking at him and coolly poured tea into two cups. “Milk and sugar, Professor?”

“Two lumps, Mrs. Eynsford-Hill, if you please.”

He stirred the tea without looking away from her.

“Is your mother well?” Eliza asked.

“My mother–” Higgins paused to slurp his tea “–is always in abominably excellent health. But I didn’t come to talk about my mother. I came to ask you how the devil you’ve been stealing so many of my students.”

“You refer to Mr. Roberts, I presume.”

“Mr. Roberts, who was my most devoted pupil.”

“He prefers attention and respect to diatribes and abuse.”

“I, abuse my pupils?” Higgins sat up. “I shall thank you to cease these destructive lies at once!”

Eliza dropped her eyes. “You may call them whatever you wish, Professor Higgins. Mr. Roberts seems to be making great strides in the last few weeks.”

“As you did with me.”

“A great compliment indeed.”

“Whatever compliments there are on the subject, I earned. I shaped you.”

Eliza raised dark eyes to his face. Her own still showed no emotion except a determined calm.

“And yet, Professor Higgins, here I am apart from you.”

Higgins stared at her for a long moment. Then he grinned, sagging back against his chair. “By gum, Eliza, you should have married me.”

She gave him a small smile as she gathered up the saucers, bidding him good day.

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