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Turning the Soul On

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"Goodbye . . . Professor Higgins."

Henry had stared at her, his brain not computing her reaction to what he had considered a glowing compliment.

And then she was gone.

All pretension of cool sophistication was tossed aside as he ran to the window to see her climb into a sleek roadster with Freddy. He then nearly tripped over his own feet in his haste to stop her but only reached the main threshold in time to see her motor away.

The fabric of Henry Higgins' tweed slacks slapped against his legs as they ate up the sidewalk on his way back to Wimpole street from his mother's.

How dare she, how dare she! That ungrateful little guttersnipe! How dare she say she would marry that brainless boy, that lounge lizard—

Henry's thoughts tumbled about, as confused as his feelings. The only feeling he could put a label on for certain was anger; but, in true English fashion his outward features only showed mild perturbation—a furrowed brow, hands shoved in trouser pockets, perennial pipe clenched tightly between his teeth.

Henry's brooding gaze was unaware of the mass of humanity milling about him. His brain did not even register the moment a passing stranger bumped into his shoulder, he just plowed on. His mind's eye replayed the events of the last hour like a motion-picture: what was said, how it was said, what could have been said instead . . .

Not that he had said anything wrong, mind you, she was the one being unreasonable, as always.

As always . . .

Henry was on his doorstep sooner than he expected, he fumbled with his keys, dropping them once. Once in Henry stormed across the foyer to his study, his sanctuary; the one place where he felt the most in control—where he could think clearly, surrounded by all influences and results of his life's work.

Except one work was now missing.

He pushed open the double oak pocket doors so hard they rebounded slightly. He put his hands on his hips and surveyed the room, anxious to purge all traces of Eliza from his world. But, he found that being in the study did not soothe as he hoped but instead further inflamed his anger. Eliza's presence infected everything; all the comforting, familiar spaces that used to be his alone, now seemed incomplete without her.

As Henry's eyes irritably darted around the space they fell on a pile of loose record left beside the Victrola; the last of the many recording sessions of Eliza's lessons. He stalked forward and, after grabbing it, he brought them down hard against the side of the machine. The loud cracking noise of the brittle shellac splitting in two seemed to act like a slap across the face, startling him out of his fury. In the vacuum of his anger sadness then seeped in with the chilling pervasiveness of morning fog.

Before Eliza had waltzed into his life Henry Higgins could have counted on one hand the moments when his temper got the better of him. Now he had lost count.

From the corner of his eye Henry saw the box of chocolates resting at an angle on a mountain of disordered papers. He snatched the chocolate box up. He would eat his feelings and to Hell with it all!

As he grabbed the box his elbow bumped against the phonograph switch, setting the turntable spinning and the needle down. He threw himself into his swivel chair and began mindlessly rooting through the paper wrappers, looking for the chocolate with the marzipan filling.

Eliza's voice suddenly burst into the room. Higgin's head snapped up from his task, expecting to see her. For a split second he had thought—but, no, he recognized her old cockney and the conversation. It was his first recording of Eliza.

"Aow, I ain't dirty, I washed my face and 'ands before I come I did . . ."

"I shall make a duchess of this draggled-tailed guttersnipe. In six months, in three—"

Henry's hand darted out and quickly shut off the Victrola, not able to bear a second more. His heart twisted in anguish at his stupidity. The sense of loss and regret was so intense he felt acid rise to his throat and a prickling sensation of moisture at the corners of his eyes.

Henry blinked back the tears then, leaning his arm on the desk, he covered his eyes with his free hand.

"I washed my face and hands before I came . . . I did."

Henry sat straight up as if an electrical current had zipped up his spine. The soft, slightly ironic voice had come not from the Victrola this time but from within the room.

Henry twisted in his chair to look at her.

Eliza had been prepared for a smug grin, maybe even a triumphant smile, but in his surprise, Henry let all his feelings show. Eliza's breath caught in surprise when she saw them.

Shock, relief, joy, hope, gratitude--and dare she say, love?  All appeared on Higgins' face in quick succession.  But all to soon, they were stifled as Henry remembered himself.  He lifted his chin and with deliberate casualness he turned his swivel chair so his back was to her.

"Where the devil are my slippers, Eliza?"

Eliza's first impulse was to storm out, disappointment and frustration flooding her.  But she she controlled herself and recalled the look on his face just moments before. In that too brief unguarded moment, she had seen his heart at last and was not about to allow him to hide again behind that upper-class facade of disinterested superiority.

Why had it not occurred to her before that a man who appreciated Keats, Milton, and Shakespeare as much as Higgins, could not be as unsentimental and unmoved by the finer feelings of life as he claimed to be?

Eliza took a deep, bracing breath for courage and marched up to Henry. She boldly grasped the back of his chair and turned it around so he faced her.

Higgin's chin was ducked down, perhaps trying to hide the blush that was creeping up his face. With his head still in this position, his eyes slowly traveled up her figure until they met hers. Eliza swallowed as she saw desire bright in his gaze, but she also saw uncharacteristic uncertainty.

Higgins was about to step into unknown territory and was looking to her for guidance. Eliza was overwhelmed with feelings of compassion and not a little gratification.

Eliza removed the fedora from Henry's head and laid it on the desk; then the former flower girl did something she had wanted to do since she had first walked into the Wimpole street house: she reached out and lightly stroked his blonde hair.

Henry stiffened slightly but did not move, nor did he break eye contact. Feeling a tad braver now, Eliza began to comb her fingers through his hair, tucking a loose, waved tendril back into the main sweep of it.

As Eliza's hand passed over Higgins' ear his eyes slid languidly shut, just for a moment, before he reached up to close his hand over the one ministering to his hair. He then turned his head and pressed a kiss into Eliza's palm. Her hands were not as petal-soft as her gentle-born counterparts—no amount of lotions could undo the years of toil, but that did not matter to Henry. They belonged to her.

"Eliza," he murmured.

"Yes, Henry?"

Higgins' eyes flew open and he looked up at her again. The intimacy of her using his Christian name moved him so deeply he was startled.  The experience was a desire in a long list of desires that were now being fulfilled—desires he had not realized he had been holding in his heart until now.

Higgins might be the most learned man of his profession, but in the matter of love, he was ignorant.  He could not recall ever being deeply attached to anyone other than his mother (and even that relationship was touch-and-go at the best of times).

As for Eliza, her life up to this point had been an excellent teacher concerning the ways of human nature--most of all love; making her the comparative expert in this situation.

Eliza gently lowered herself onto his lap and she felt Henry's body start for a second at her boldness then relax. He wound his arms around her waist and pulled her close; Eliza framed his face with her hands with a warm and gentle smile on her lips. Henry's expression was full of languid wonder as he studied her face before pulling Eliza into a kiss. The pair felt a sudden, strange sense of satisfaction as if this moment was the culmination of the many moving parts of Providence or the fulfillment of some sort of ancient Delphinic prophecy.

"You do understand," Henry drawled when they parted, "that I must marry you now?" 

Eliza smiled. "Yes, Henry."

Henry Higgins smiled back and drew her to him again for another kiss.