Romancing The Guttersnipe
Rated: T for some language and possible innuendos.
Summary: Henry is forced to make ammends by courting the mother of his child. What could possibly go wrong?
Author's Note: This will be considerably shorter than "Eliza Doolittle: The Life and Times of a Good Girl", and a great deal more light-hearted. I had intended to wrap up this storyline by the end of my previous work, but it occured to me that if I were a woman who had just spent hours in excrutiating pain, and my absentee husband showed up begging forgiveness, it would take something huge for me to be forgiving. I was so pleased with the response I got to "Eliza Doolittle: The Life and Times of a Good Girl", and I hope you all enjoy this little addition to the storyline. Thank you all!
Disclaimer: If only. Alas, I do not own the recognizable characters, and I am not making any money off of this humble tale.
Chapter One: Where We Left Off
"Show me," Eliza commanded with a hushed sort of intensity. Her eyes matched her voice, exhausted, but burning with strength.
Henry assumed, with the way that her cool hands cupped his jaw, that Eliza meant for him to kiss her. He complied with an eagerness he had not felt since he was thirteen years old, and a daughter of one of his mother's acquaintances had cornered him in the garden.
It took a few moments for him to realize that Eliza's usually soft lips were set in an unyieldingly thin line, and utterly unresponsive to his ministrations. Her hands were no longer on his face, and when he pulled away, he noticed that they were balled into tense fists in her lap.
"That's not what I meant."
Henry sat back, and regarded her with a baffled expression. "What on earth do you mean, 'that's not what I meant'? I pour my heart out at your feet, you mock me and demand physical proof of my regard; once offered said physical proof, you rebuff me. What the devil do you want?"
Eliza closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose, an gesture which Henry was sure she had adapted from him, as he had done it often while she had still been his student. "I'm not a child with a skinned knee, Henry; a kiss will not suffice."
"I'm afraid I don't follow."
"Of course you don't." Eliza sighed, and patted one of his hands as one might a slow child. "I should like it very much if you-" Eliza faltered, as if searching for the proper words. "I should like to see your sincerity manifest in-" A blush rose to her cheeks as she struggled.
"I told you before that I would do anything."
Henry stared at Eliza for a good long time upon hearing her strange request. His eyes searched hers for signs of jest, finding none; he leaned forward, frowning, and rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Really?"
"You've been away for a good long time, Henry."
"I know, Eliza. I behaved like a bounder."
"I know you did. Which is why, I feel, we need to start over entirely."
"Clean slate, so to speak."
Henry regarded her proposal, forming his forefingers together in a steeple and touching the tips lightly against his lips. "You realize that I have no idea how to court a woman."
"I didn't think you did. Don't fret, Henry, I have no idea how to be courted."
"Hmm… That Eynsford-Hill child seemed to have the right idea. Shall I sleep outside of your door, and bring you rubbish like flowers and awful verses with unstructured rhyming schemes?"
"Freddy has a good heart."
"Does he? Offering himself up as your lover while living off the allowance I give you, that's what you consider a 'good heart'?"
Henry felt a modicum of relief when Eliza chuckled softly. "That was bizarre, wasn't it? Poor Freddy, he must be desperate to leave his mother's home."
"Desperate being the operative word."
Eliza smiled down at her hands, smoothing her bedcovers. "I wouldn't want you to do all of that, because it wouldn't be you." She cocked her head to one side. "Do you realize we've spent more time in this marriage apart than together? It's as if the whole thing was cancelled out."
"Are you implying that you'd like a divorce to make all of this starting over business truly authentic?"
Eliza's eyes widened, her face paling considerably. "No, of course not. I've just had your child!" Her voice took on an edge of hysteria that made Henry regret his words. "What makes you think I would ask such a thing of you? It isn't decent!"
Henry moved from his chair to the edge of the bed, bending over to press a kiss to her forehead, one of his hands moving to stroke her cheek. "I'm sorry I even mentioned it, Eliza, I should have known better than to assume that is what you meant." He hushed her when a sob rent from her throat. "There now, you're a good girl; you've told me as much on many occasions."
Astoundingly, Eliza allowed Henry to pull her against his chest and stroke her hair until her tears subsided. She sniffled, and looked up at him. "I wouldn't mind if you, or I, moved out of 27A for a little while, however."
Henry shot to his feet suddenly, causing Eliza to lose her balance and teeter sideways on the bed. "A separation?"
"Short of divorce, it would make the business of starting anew seem more realistic."
"You want to expel me from the household like a naughty swain, and force me to beg my way back in?" Eliza's silence spoke volumes. "Woman, the mere fact that you've borne my child makes this whole courtship business utterly ridiculous!"
"You told me you would do anything. It's not as if I am taking you up on your offer to jump into the Thames, is it?" Damn her logic.
"Well, where the devil do you want me to go?"
Eliza shrugged. "Your mother's home? Perhaps Edward would take you in."
"A choice between a house full of screaming brats, or an endless procession of geriatric well-wishers."
"You ought to change your attitude about children, as you've fathered one."
Henry scowled. "I was referring to other people's children; Little Elle isn't a brat, in the least. I daresay she's one of the most lovely females of my acquaintance; she looked right at me without falling into hysterics. Fearless, my girl."
Eliza gave Henry a radiant smile, making him feel better than he had in months. "I was afraid the thought of being a father would horrify you."
"Well, it did; but now that I've seen that you've borne me a steady, reasonable sort of creature, the idea isn't as objectionable as originally thought."
"Well, I am glad you like her."
Henry sat back down, basking in Eliza's warmth. It was a pleasant change from the frosty, teary creature he had encountered earlier.
"Do you really want me to go, Eliza?" He inquired, utilizing his most winning tones.
Eliza frowned suddenly. "You are trying to get around this. It won't work. That is the same voice you use when you are trying to wheedle the cook into making extra strawberry tarts."
"Fine. I shall stay at Mother's, you heartless guttersnipe." He stood up and started walking towards the door.
"Henry!" Eliza cried. He looked back, unable to mask the hope in his expression. "I did miss you." Eliza looked as though she were going to add to the statement, but she simply looked away.
"I will call on you in a few days time, when you are feeling better."
"I look forward to it."
Henry left the room, closing the door behind him. He would ask Pickering about how to court a woman at his earliest convenience.