Chapter Twenty-Eight: Trouble and Strife
The pain was excruciating. Really, and truly awful. Henry Higgins rubbed his temples, in a vain attempt to quell the sharp hammering in his head. Eliza's agonizing cries were only slightly muffled by the closed door.
"Is she in much pain?" Henry asked Mrs. Pearce as she passed him in the hallway, bearing a bucket of hot water. Mrs. Pearce gave Henry a look that said 'You are a very stupid person', and nodded.
"The first ones always hurt the worst, sir." With that, Mrs. Pearce attempted to walk around him, as Henry was blocking her pathway back to Eliza's room. Henry sidestepped in front of her, and she sighed impatiently. "What else troubles you, sir?"
"Will it be much longer?"
"It could be hours, sir."
"Hours? It's already been three!"
Mrs. Pearce did not dignify his last remark with a response, merely pushed past him with great haste, and entered the bedroom.
"Did you hear that, Pickering? Hours! Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?" Henry and Pickering retreated to the study, whereupon Henry collapsed on the sofa with a petulant sigh. "Babies will take their sweet time being born, will they not?"
"You forget that I was once a father, Henry. My Amita was in labor for nearly thirty hours."
The fact that Pickering's lover had not survived the birthing hung heavy and unspoken between the two men.
"Babies are more trouble than what they are worth," Henry groused, accepting a glass of port from Pickering.
"Children are a delight, Higgins; you'll see soon enough."
"I rather doubt it. You have to feed and clothe them, and you can't keep them in a cage all day like a bird. Birds are a delight."
"You will think differently in a few hours time, Higgins. I am hoping Eliza gives you a little girl. Delightfully heartless creatures, little girls. You hand them your beating hearts, and they cheerfully stomp on them."
"No, let it be a boy, if it has to be anything. Someone who I can impart my wisdom to, and trust not to fall to pieces at the drop of a hat."
"I daresay you will be disappointed."
Henry raised an eyebrow. "Care to make a wager?"
They shook hands.
It was only a matter of time before Henry's truncated study accumulated more guests. Edward and Alfred joined them, and the stock of alcohol was increased significantly with Alfred's contribution. As the hours passed, the small wager soon became a pool, with Alfred phoning a few of his old companions to let them in on the fun.
Henry started to become drowsy from the drink, but was jolted quite suddenly by a particularly pained cry coming from Eliza's room. He ran up the stairs, tousled and stumbling, and pounded on the bedroom door.
His mother answered the door and glared at him. "Henry, get back downstairs with the other gentlemen!" She scolded, crossly.
"She's dying, isn't she?" Henry asked, drunkenly.
An oath erupted from Eliza, so vile, that Henry hesitated to recount it to Pickering afterwards. It was enough to instantly sober him. "Eliza!" He cried.
"Get out of 'ere! You're 'ead ought to be mounted on a friggin' pike for what you've done to me!" Eliza screamed before Eleanor Higgins slammed the door.
Henry, having been severely rebuked, returned to the study.
It was shortly after that Mrs. Pearce came down the study to announce that a child had been born. "A healthy little girl, sir!" She gushed, uncharacteristically ecstatic. "She's big for being slightly early, and has the most indecently full head of dark curls I've ever seen on a newborn."
"Ha! Down to the very hour!" crowed Pickering. He grinned sheepishly at Mrs. Pearce when she shot him a quizzical look. "Erm- Congratulations, Higgins."
"What of my wife?" demanded Henry, a hint of hysteria in his voice.
"Exhausted, of course." Not dead. Henry rushed from the room without looking back. He was set on seeing Eliza for himself, let no one stand in his way!
He opened the door, to discover his very-much-alive wife, propped up by many pillows, holding a small bundle in her arms. Henry was struck by Eliza's pale but serene expression as she gazed down at the face of their daughter. He gave a start when Jane squeezed his arm, and saw that she was grinning with tears shining in her eyes. Jane dutifully summoned Doctor Burke, and the rest of the ladies from the room, and shut the door, leaving Henry alone with his wife.
"Come see your daughter, Henry," Eliza finally spoke, without meeting his gaze. Henry approached as if in a trance, and took a seat next to the bed. Sure enough, the infant possessed a pretty head of dark curls. It was impossible to discern who she resembled most; to Henry, at least, she resembled a small, wrinkled monkey.
"Eleanor Jane. Little Elle." Eliza cooed softly. It took Henry a moment to realize that that was the child's name.
After a few beats of awkward silence, Eliza spoke again. "It seems we've much to discuss, Husband."
Rather impulsively, Henry grabbed one of Eliza's hands and pressed it to his lips. "My darling, I am so sorry," he apologized, voice hoarse with raw emotion.
Eliza pulled her hand away, and shifted the weight of Little Elle to one side. "Would you please fetch Mrs. Pearce, and have her take Elle to the nursery? I do not want to wake her." Eliza's voice betrayed no astonishment at the fact that her undemonstrative husband had begun to humble himself before her.
"Give her to me, I will take her to Mrs. Pearce." Eliza handed Little Elle to Henry, who accepted the bundle with awkward, and slightly trembling arms.
The chit was so light to carry, it was as if Henry had nothing in his arms but air. He marveled at his daughter as he carried her out the door and down the hall. It seemed every time he looked upon her, the early observation of her resembling a monkey seemed entirely inaccurate. Here was a beauty to behold! Little Elle opened her eyes for a moment, and Henry was pleased to note that the shape of them were Eliza's precisely, although it was too early to determine what color her eyes would settle upon.
"Hello, Daughter," Henry greeted. Little Elle closed her eyes once more, as though the mere purpose of her waking up was to get a better look at her father. Henry was astonished at how hesitant he was to give the child to Mrs. Pearce. He shrugged it off as dread over having to finally confront Eliza about his behavior.
Henry returned to the bedroom and took his seat once more. He gave the room a once over. "I see the decorators have been here as well," he observed.
"Why didn't you just stay away?" The remark completely bowled Henry over.
"You are displeased with my reappearance?"
"I never wanted you to leave in the first place!" Eliza cried, surprisingly strong voiced for a woman who had just labored in excruciating pain for hours on end.
"I had- That is, I felt I had to."
"I… I couldn't face what I had done to your mother."
Eliza glared at him. "You abandoned me because you could not face something you had done years ago?"
"I didn't think you would forgive me."
Eliza slapped her palm down on the surface of the nightstand, the sound reverberated like a canon volley to Henry's ears. "Why couldn't you let me be the judge of that? You've never treated me with kid gloves before, Henry." She sighed. "Of course I would have been upset, initially, but I would have discussed it with you. Yes, it was an awful thing you did, and the consequences were far-reaching. Yes, it would have been hard to forget the actions of a brash young man, but, I would have forgiven the man that the little boy had become. I would have forgiven you anything."
Henry's heart skipped a beat, and promptly sank. "Would have?"
Tears sprung to Eliza's eyes. "Had you been honest, yes, I would have; but, you ran. You left me alone, confused, and-" She paused once more, the emotion in her voice becoming too much to bear. "Heartbroken. How I loved you, Henry! I loved you, and you left."
Henry's reserve cracked a bit with every past tense that left Eliza's lips. Loved.
"Eliza, please don't rescind your regard for me, I can't bear it."
"It's the least of what you deserve!"
Henry dropped to his knees at her bedside, grasped her hands within his, and bowed his head in contrition. "Eliza, tell me what to do and I will do it. Do you want me to fling open the windows and shout to the streets below how I love you? Shall I rip my heart out and present it to you? I… I will write my will and leave you sole benefactor, and then throw myself into the Thames. Anything you would like, my dear; just don't dismiss us so coldly. I do love you."
There. It was done. Henry had shrugged aside his mask of cold indifference and reserve and humbled himself before his wife, just as he had planned. He had thought, whilst planning to do this, that it would feel humiliating and wrong-footed, but the words were flowing like a river's waters, and just as naturally.
"Words. Bloody Hell! If black could be made white by talking, you would be the man for the job." Henry looked up at Eliza's cold reply. Although her voice was controlled, he noted that she was not entirely unmoved by his speech. Her lips were trembling, as well as her hands, and the tears had fallen more freely since he finished talking.
"I meant every word, Eliza."
Eliza's eyes met his in a steely, determined glare. "Did you?"
Eliza slipped her hands out from his slackened grasp, and then cupped his face between them.
Author's Note: Yes, I realize that this is a horrible spot to end a story on. Does she forgive him? Do they have a chance? Well, gentle reader, this story will continue in "Romancing the Guttersnipe", coming soon to the My Fair Lady section of ! Many thanks to Lady Weasleyy, and my bestie since the sixth grade, Miss Teckla! You ladies make me English write good! ;)
Also, thank you to my readers, especially those who take the time to review. You praise, and critiques are the fuel that keep me going!
PS: Many apologies for blatantly stealing a line from "Revolutionary Road". It was just so good, I had to borrow it!