A Better Man
Rating: T for mature themes
Summary: Eliza marries Freddy Eynsford-Hill as foretold by Shaw. Will their little family survive the Great War? Will Higgins ever forgive her?
Author's note: This plot bunny has been nagging at me for over a half year, and I must bring it forth. It's a bit of a monster bunny, one that will not be resolved quickly. Let my usual readers be warned, this is Freddy/Eliza for at least the first part. Also, I will have the epilogue to "A Hole in the River" very shortly!
This being the state of human affairs, what is Eliza fairly sure to do when she is placed between Freddy and Higgins? Will she look forward to a lifetime of fetching Higgins's slippers or to a lifetime of Freddy fetching hers? There can be no doubt about the answer. Unless Freddy is biologically repulsive to her, and Higgins biologically attractive to a degree that overwhelms all her other instincts, she will, if she marries either of them, marry Freddy.
And that is just what Eliza did.
-From epilogue of the play 'Pygmalion' by George Bernard Shaw
Late Spring, 1912
"Gretna Green? Why the blazes would she go to Gretna Green?"
"Language, Henry! Eliza went to Gretna Green because she is barely twenty years old, and Mr. Eynsford-Hill does not turn twenty-one for another three months."
Henry found himself back at his mother's residence, after storming home, despondantly listening to his phonograph, and realising that he could not do without Eliza. He had hoped that the girl had not have gotten far, or that his mother would be able to point him in the right direction. He now found his hopes being dashed with two fatal words that together formed the name of a destination popular for'runaway marriages'.
"The girl was bluffing, Mother; she isn't going to marry Freddy."
"Will she not? I gave her train fare so that she could."
"You did what?"
Eleanor Higgins chuckled, her eyes held a dreamy, faraway look. "I think it is all very romantic; Freddy Eynsford-Hill is quite besotted with her, and with her background she could hardly do better."
Henry's jaw dropped. "After all of the work I put into that insect, she could do no worse! I did not waste six months of my life just so my creation could flit off to Scotland with a sniveling idiot whose equally idiotic mother suffers in genteel poverty at Largelady Park!"
"Mrs. Eynsford-Hill is a very dear friend of mine, and I won't have you insulting her!"
"Such a dear friend she must be, that you feel you have to encourage her son to elope without telling her."
Eleanor opened her mouth in astonishment, but gave no reply.
"Why the secrecy, Mother?"
"Henry, you know that she hopes for an advantageous match for her son. Unfortunately, the boy is very easily swayed by her, and I thought that it would be cruel to allow him to act against his heart in this matter."
Henry raised an eyebrow."You are disgustingly romantic, Mother; when did this happen?"
Eleanor sniffed, and looked away. "I was young once."
"Indeed, you were. It was to your advantage to marry Father, and you did - without thought to romance, I might add."
"Without that match, I would not have had you - you were my greatest, and only comfort in that marriage."
"I am sure the financial security was a comfort."
Eleanor glared. "You are your father's son, so I do not expect you to understand."
"Father was a very fine man, and I thank you for the comparison!"
A muscle twitched in Eleanor's cheek, and she pressed her lips into a thin, tight line. "I do not wish to take this conversation any further, Henry. It makes me feel unwell, and I would appreciate it if you would go back to your own home, and sulk there."
And that is just what Henry did.
Several weeks later, and many miles away, Eliza was about to bid farewell to Doolittle, and greet the more elegant Eynsford-Hill. She and Freddy had just finished their twenty-one days' residence required for an 'Over the Anvil' wedding, and were saying their vows before a blacksmith.
The wait had been a costly one, as Eliza had insisted on seperate lodgings. She thought it was bad enough that they were eloping, she would not further damage her reputation by sharing a room with a man who was not yet her husband. Freddy, always ready to oblige, had agreed whole-heartedly. Eliza's virtue was priceless to him, and he would protect it at any cost.
They became as one later that night, in a shy, awkward fashion. Neither quite knew what to do, but instinct took over as it usually does in such cases, and the deed was done. Freddy was immensely pleased with himself, and keen for another go, while Eliza found herself wondering what all the fuss was about.
"I love you," Freddy declared, shortly after their introduction to the marriage bed.
Eliza smiled at Freddy, and reached across the bed to caress his cheek. He was terribly handsome. If it were not for the good, simple humour that constantly played across his features, Eliza would have taken him for a rake with his dark, silky hair, high cheekbones, and intense blue-grey eyes that would have been piercing if they weren't constantly twinkling with merriment.
"You are so good to me, Freddy." Impulsively, she ran a fingertip along the bridge of his fine, straight nose. It was slightly aquiline, and again, were it not for his sweetness, would have otherwise given him the appearance of a predatory hawk.
Freddy smiled, and leaned in to give Eliza a heartbreakingly tender kiss. "I promise to be as such until the day I die, Mrs. Eynsford-Hill."
Fortunately, the art of lovemaking soon proved to be quite nice for Eliza upon repetition; unfortunately, the young couple found that they barely had enough funds to travel home, and were loathe to depart from their little paradise.
Once home, they immediately found three doors closed to them. Freddy's mother absolutely refused to receive her son and her daughter-in-law; Eliza's father was indifferent, and his new residence was undergoing remodeling; Henry Higgins had instructed a reluctant Mrs. Pearce to turn the pair away flat, but invited Eliza to try again in a few weeks, once Henry had time to allow his temper to even itself out.
Mrs. Higgins immediately took the pair into her home. Colonel Pickering happened to be paying a call at the time, and he greeted both Freddy and Eliza with gushing enthusiasm, and a wedding present of five hundred pounds.
"Colonel Pickering, I cannot-"
"Tosh! Of course you can. I will not accept a refusal to a perfectly reasonable wedding gift, nor to the flower shop I've already purchased for you."
Eliza burst into tears.
"Come now, Miss Doolittle, do not cry. I consider it an investment," Pickering explained, as Freddy desperately tried to dab at Eliza's tears with a handkerchief. She waved Freddy away, and smiled at her benefactor through her tears.
"You are the greatest man I have even know." Freddy did not feel any pangs of jealousy over hearing his wife's statement, for he knew it was true. Such generosity was unprecedented, and the two of them would be indebted to the Colonel for the rest of their lives.
Colonel Pickering blushed at Eliza's pronouncement of him. "It really is nothing, my dear. There is even a charming little flat above that the pair of you can live in until the shop generates enough capital for better lodgings."
"Or you may live here, and let out the flat for more income," Eleanor offered.
"Oh, thank you, Mrs. Higgins, but I do believe the flat will do quite nicely. I do not think your son would like the idea of me living here."
Eleanor was on the verge of declaring that her son could hang, but thought better of it. She was a lady after all, and was honor bound to set a good example for Eliza, who was very young.
"Very well, my dear. I am sure my son will come around eventually, once his pride stops stinging so."
After several hours of pleasantries, Eleanor invited Colonel Pickering, Eliza, and Freddy to have dinner with her, which they all accepted. It was a very fine affair, and Eleanor even had her best bottle of wine opened for the occasion, which they all used to toast to the future. Eliza smiled glowingly at her new husband, and decided that it was very possible that she could come to love him.
They had all the time in the world, after all.