The Wimpole Street laboratory. Midnight. Nobody in the room. The clock on the mantelpiece strikes twelve. The fire is not alight: it is a summer night.
Presently Higgins and Pickering are heard on the stairs.
Higgins [calling down to Pickering] I say, Pick: lock up, will you. I shan’t be going out again.
Pickering. Right. Can Mrs. Pearce go to bed? We don’t want anything more, do we?
Higgins. Lord, no!
Eliza opens the door and is seen on the lighted landing in opera cloak, brilliant evening dress, and diamonds, with fan, flowers, and all accessories. She comes to the hearth, and switches on the electric lights there. She is tired: her pallor contrasts strongly with her dark eyes and hair; and her expression is almost tragic. She takes off her cloak; puts her fan and flowers on the piano; and sits down on the bench, brooding and silent. Higgins, in evening dress, with overcoat and hat, comes in, carrying a smoking jacket which he has picked up downstairs. He takes off the hat and overcoat; throws them carelessly on the newspaper stand; disposes of his coat in the same way; puts on the smoking jacket; and throws himself wearily into the easy-chair at the hearth. Pickering, similarly attired, comes in. He also takes off his hat and overcoat, and is about to throw them on Higgins’s when he hesitates.
Pickering. I say: Mrs. Pearce will row if we leave these things lying about in the drawing-room.
Higgins. Oh, chuck them over the bannisters into the hall. She’ll find them there in the morning and put them away all right. She’ll think we were drunk.
Pickering. We are, slightly. Are there any letters?
Higgins. I didn’t look. [Pickering takes the overcoats and hats and goes down stairs. Higgins begins half singing half yawning an air from La Fanciulla del Golden West. Suddenly he stops and exclaims] I wonder where the devil my slippers are!
Eliza looks at him darkly; then leaves the room.
Higgins yawns again, and resumes his song. Pickering returns, with the contents of the letter-box in his hand.
Pickering. Only circulars, and this coroneted billet-doux for you. [He throws the circulars into the fender, and posts himself on the hearthrug, with his back to the grate].
Higgins [glancing at the billet-doux] Money-lender. [He throws the letter after the circulars].
Eliza returns with a pair of large down-at-heel slippers. She places them on the carpet before Higgins, and sits as before without a word.
Higgins [yawning again] Oh Lord! What an evening! What a crew! What a silly tomfoollery! [He raises his shoe to unlace it, and catches sight of the slippers. He stops unlacing and looks at them as if they had appeared there of their own accord]. Oh! they’re there, are they?
Pickering [stretching himself] Well, I feel a bit tired. It’s been a long day. The garden party, a dinner party, and the opera! Rather too much of a good thing. But you’ve won your bet, Higgins. Eliza did the trick, and something to spare, eh?
Higgins [fervently] Thank God it’s over!
Eliza flinches violently; but they take no notice of her; and she recovers herself and sits stonily as before.
Pickering. Were you nervous at the garden party? I was. Eliza didn’t seem a bit nervous.
Higgins. Oh, she wasn’t nervous. I knew she’d be all right. No, it’s the strain of putting the job through all these months that has told on me. It was interesting enough at first, while we were at the phonetics; but after that I got deadly sick of it. If I hadn’t backed myself to do it I should have chucked the whole thing up two months ago. It was a silly notion: the whole thing has been a bore.
Pickering. Oh come! the garden party was frightfully exciting. My heart began beating like anything.
Higgins. Yes, for the first three minutes. But when I saw we were going to win hands down, I felt like a bear in a cage, hanging about doing nothing. The dinner was worse: sitting gorging there for over an hour, with nobody but a damned fool of a fashionable woman to talk to! I tell you, Pickering, never again for me. No more artificial duchesses. The whole thing has been simple purgatory.
Pickering. You’ve never been broken in properly to the social routine. [Strolling over to the piano] I rather enjoy dipping into it occasionally myself: it makes me feel young again. Anyhow, it was a great success: an immense success. I was quite frightened once or twice because Eliza was doing it so well. You see, lots of the real people can’t do it at all: they’re such fools that they think style comes by nature to people in their position; and so they never learn. There’s always something professional about doing a thing superlatively well.
Higgins. Yes: that’s what drives me mad: the silly people don’t know their own silly business. [Rising] However, it’s over and done with; and now I can go to bed at last without dreading tomorrow.
Eliza’s beauty becomes murderous.
Pickering. I think I shall turn in too. Still, it’s been a great occasion: a triumph for you. Good-night. [He goes].
Higgins [following him] Good-night. [Over his shoulder, at the door] Put out the lights, Eliza; and tell Mrs. Pearce not to make coffee for me in the morning: I’ll take tea. [He goes out].
Eliza tries to control herself and feel indifferent as she rises and walks across to the hearth to switch off the lights. By the time she gets there she is on the point of screaming. She sits down in Higgins’s chair and holds on hard to the arms. Finally she gives way and flings herself furiously on the floor raging.
Higgins [in despairing wrath outside] What the devil have I done with my slippers? [He appears at the door].
Liza [snatching up the slippers, and hurling them at him one after the other with all her force] There are your slippers. And there. Take your slippers; and may you never have a day’s luck with them!
Higgins [astounded] What on earth —! [He comes to her]. What’s the matter? Get up. [He pulls her up]. Anything wrong?
Liza [breathless] Nothing wrong — with YOU. I’ve won your bet for you, haven’t I? That’s enough for you. I don’t matter, I suppose.
Higgins. YOU won my bet! You! Presumptuous insect! I won it. What did you throw those slippers at me for?
Liza. Because I wanted to smash your face. I’d like to kill you, you selfish brute. Why didn’t you leave me where you picked me out of — in the gutter? You thank God it’s all over, and that now you can throw me back again there, do you? [She crisps her fingers, frantically].
Higgins [looking at her in cool wonder] The creature IS nervous, after all.
Liza [gives a suffocated scream of fury, and instinctively darts her nails at his face]!!
Higgins [catching her wrists] Ah! would you? Claws in, you cat. How dare you show your temper to me? Sit down and be quiet. [He throws her roughly into the easy-chair].
Liza [crushed by superior strength and weight] What’s to become of me? What’s to become of me?
Higgins. How the devil do I know what’s to become of you? What does it matter what becomes of you?
Liza. You don’t care. I know you don’t care. You wouldn’t care if I was dead. I’m nothing to you — not so much as them slippers.
Higgins [thundering] THOSE slippers.
Liza [with bitter submission] Those slippers. I didn’t think it made any difference now.
A pause. Eliza hopeless and crushed. Higgins a little uneasy.
Higgins [in his loftiest manner] Why have you begun going on like this? May I ask whether you complain of your treatment here?
Higgins. Has anybody behaved badly to you? Colonel Pickering? Mrs. Pearce? Any of the servants?
Higgins. I presume you don’t pretend that I have treated you badly.
Higgins. I am glad to hear it. [He moderates his tone]. Perhaps you’re tired after the strain of the day. Will you have a glass of champagne? [He moves towards the door].
Liza. No. [Recollecting her manners] Thank you.
Higgins [good-humored again] This has been coming on you for some days. I suppose it was natural for you to be anxious about the garden party. But that’s all over now. [He pats her kindly on the shoulder. She writhes]. There’s nothing more to worry about.
Liza. No. Nothing more for you to worry about. [She suddenly rises and gets away from him by going to the piano bench, where she sits and hides her face]. Oh God! I wish I was dead.
Higgins [staring after her in sincere surprise] Why? in heaven’s name, why? [Reasonably, going to her] Listen to me, Eliza. All this irritation is purely subjective.
Liza. I don’t understand. I’m too ignorant.
Higgins. It’s only imagination. Low spirits and nothing else. Nobody’s hurting you. Nothing’s wrong. You go to bed like a good girl and sleep it off. Have a little cry and say your prayers: that will make you comfortable.
Liza. I heard YOUR prayers. “Thank God it’s all over!”
Higgins [impatiently] Well, don’t you thank God it’s all over? Now you are free and can do what you like.
Liza [pulling herself together in desperation] What am I fit for? What have you left me fit for? Where am I to go? What am I to do? What’s to become of me?
Higgins [enlightened, but not at all impressed] Oh, that’s what’s worrying you, is it? [He thrusts his hands into his pockets, and walks about in his usual manner, rattling the contents of his pockets, as if condescending to a trivial subject out of pure kindness]. I shouldn’t bother about it if I were you. I should imagine you won’t have much difficulty in settling yourself, somewhere or other, though I hadn’t quite realized that you were going away. [She looks quickly at him: he does not look at her, but examines the dessert stand on the piano and decides that he will eat an apple]. You might marry, you know. [He bites a large piece out of the apple, and munches it noisily]. You see, Eliza, all men are not confirmed old bachelors like me and the Colonel. Most men are the marrying sort (poor devils!); and you’re not bad-looking; it’s quite a pleasure to look at you sometimes — not now, of course, because you’re crying and looking as ugly as the very devil; but when you’re all right and quite yourself, you’re what I should call attractive. That is, to the people in the marrying line, you understand. You go to bed and have a good nice rest; and then get up and look at yourself in the glass; and you won’t feel so cheap.
Eliza again looks at him, speechless, and does not stir.
The look is quite lost on him: he eats his apple with a dreamy expression of happiness, as it is quite a good one.
Higgins [a genial afterthought occurring to him] I daresay my mother could find some chap or other who would do very well —
Liza. We were above that at the corner of Tottenham Court Road.
Higgins [waking up] What do you mean?
Liza. I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself. Now you’ve made a lady of me I’m not fit to sell anything else. I wish you’d left me where you found me.
Higgins [slinging the core of the apple decisively into the grate] Tosh, Eliza. Don’t you insult human relations by dragging all this cant about buying and selling into it. You needn’t marry the fellow if you don’t like him.
Liza. What else am I to do?
Higgins. Oh, lots of things. What about your old idea of a florist’s shop? Pickering could set you up in one: he’s lots of money. [Chuckling] He’ll have to pay for all those togs you have been wearing today; and that, with the hire of the jewellery, will make a big hole in two hundred pounds. Why, six months ago you would have thought it the millennium to have a flower shop of your own. Come! you’ll be all right. I must clear off to bed: I’m devilish sleepy. By the way, I came down for something: I forget what it was.
Liza. Your slippers.
Higgins. Oh yes, of course. You shied them at me. [He picks them up, and is going out when she rises and speaks to him].
Liza. Before you go, sir —
Higgins [dropping the slippers in his surprise at her calling him sir] Eh?
Liza. Do my clothes belong to me or to Colonel Pickering?
Higgins [coming back into the room as if her question were the very climax of unreason] What the devil use would they be to Pickering?
Liza. He might want them for the next girl you pick up to experiment on.
Higgins [shocked and hurt] Is THAT the way you feel towards us?
Liza. I don’t want to hear anything more about that. All I want to know is whether anything belongs to me. My own clothes were burnt.
Higgins. But what does it matter? Why need you start bothering about that in the middle of the night?
Liza. I want to know what I may take away with me. I don’t want to be accused of stealing.
Higgins [now deeply wounded] Stealing! You shouldn’t have said that, Eliza. That shows a want of feeling.
Liza. I’m sorry. I’m only a common ignorant girl; and in my station I have to be careful. There can’t be any feelings between the like of you and the like of me. Please will you tell me what belongs to me and what doesn’t?
Higgins [very sulky] You may take the whole damned houseful if you like. Except the jewels. They’re hired. Will that satisfy you? [He turns on his heel and is about to go in extreme dudgeon].
Liza [drinking in his emotion like nectar, and nagging him to provoke a further supply] Stop, please. [She takes off her jewels]. Will you take these to your room and keep them safe? I don’t want to run the risk of their being missing.
Higgins [furious] Hand them over. [She puts them into his hands]. If these belonged to me instead of to the jeweler, I’d ram them down your ungrateful throat. [He perfunctorily thrusts them into his pockets, unconsciously decorating himself with the protruding ends of the chains].
Liza [taking a ring off] This ring isn’t the jeweler’s: it’s the one you bought me in Brighton. I don’t want it now. [Higgins dashes the ring violently into the fireplace, and turns on her so threateningly that she crouches over the piano with her hands over her face, and exclaims] Don’t you hit me.
Higgins. Hit you! You infamous creature, how dare you accuse me of such a thing? It is you who have hit me. You have wounded me to the heart.
Liza [thrilling with hidden joy] I’m glad. I’ve got a little of my own back, anyhow.
Higgins [with dignity, in his finest professional style] You have caused me to lose my temper: a thing that has hardly ever happened to me before. I prefer to say nothing more tonight. I am going to bed.
Liza [pertly] You’d better leave a note for Mrs. Pearce about the coffee; for she won’t be told by me.
Higgins [formally] Damn Mrs. Pearce; and damn the coffee; and damn you; and damn my own folly in having lavished MY hard-earned knowledge and the treasure of my regard and intimacy on a heartless guttersnipe. [He goes out with impressive decorum, and spoils it by slamming the door savagely].
Eliza smiles for the first time; expresses her feelings by a wild pantomime in which an imitation of Higgins’s exit is confused with her own triumph; and finally goes down on her knees on the hearthrug to look for the ring.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00