HIGGINS [loftily] I cannot charge myself with having ever uttered it, Mrs. Pearce. [She looks at him steadfastly. He adds, hiding an uneasy conscience with a judicial air] Except perhaps in a moment of extreme and justifiable excitement.
MRS. PEARCE. Only this morning, sir, you applied it to your boots, to the butter, and to the brown bread.
HIGGINS. Oh, that! Mere alliteration, Mrs. Pearce, natural to a poet.
MRS. PEARCE. Well, sir, whatever you choose to call it, I beg you not to let the girl hear you repeat it.
HIGGINS. Oh, very well, very well. Is that all?
MRS. PEARCE. No, sir. We shall have to be very particular with this girl as to personal cleanliness.
HIGGINS. Certainly. Quite right. Most important.
MRS. PEARCE. I mean not to be slovenly about her dress or untidy in leaving things about.
HIGGINS [going to her solemnly] Just so. I intended to call your attention to that [He passes on to Pickering, who is enjoying the conversation immensely]. It is these little things that matter, Pickering. Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves is as true of personal habits as of money. [He comes to anchor on the hearthrug, with the air of a man in an unassailable position].
MRS. PEARCE. Yes, sir. Then might I ask you not to come down to breakfast in your dressing-gown, or at any rate not to use it as a napkin to the extent you do, sir. And if you would be so good as not to eat everything off the same plate, and to remember not to put the porridge saucepan out of your hand on the clean tablecloth, it would be a better example to the girl. You know you nearly choked yourself with a fishbone in the jam only last week.
HIGGINS [routed from the hearthrug and drifting back to the piano] I may do these things sometimes in absence of mind; but surely I don't do them habitually. [Angrily] By the way: my dressing-gown smells most damnably of benzine.
MRS. PEARCE. No doubt it does, Mr. Higgins. But if you will wipe your fingers —
HIGGINS [yelling] Oh very well, very well: I'll wipe them in my hair in future.
MRS. PEARCE. I hope you're not offended, Mr. Higgins.
HIGGINS [shocked at finding himself thought capable of an unamiable sentiment] Not at all, not at all. You're quite right, Mrs. Pearce: I shall be particularly careful before the girl. Is that all?
MRS. PEARCE. No, sir. Might she use some of those Japanese dresses you brought from abroad? I really can't put her back into her old things.
HIGGINS. Certainly. Anything you like. Is that all?
MRS. PEARCE. Thank you, sir. That's all. [She goes out].
HIGGINS. You know, Pickering, that woman has the most extraordinary ideas about me. Here I am, a shy, diffident sort of man. I've never been able to feel really grown-up and tremendous, like other chaps. And yet she's firmly persuaded that I'm an arbitrary overbearing bossing kind of person. I can't account for it.
Mrs. Pearce returns.
MRS. PEARCE. If you please, sir, the trouble's beginning already. There's a dustman downstairs, Alfred Doolittle, wants to see you. He says you have his daughter here.
PICKERING [rising] Phew! I say! [He retreats to the hearthrug].
HIGGINS [promptly] Send the blackguard up.
MRS. PEARCE. Oh, very well, sir. [She goes out].
PICKERING. He may not be a blackguard, Higgins.
HIGGINS. Nonsense. Of course he's a blackguard.
PICKERING. Whether he is or not, I'm afraid we shall have some trouble with him.
HIGGINS [confidently] Oh no: I think not. If there's any trouble he shall have it with me, not I with him. And we are sure to get something interesting out of him.
PICKERING. About the girl?
HIGGINS. No. I mean his dialect.
MRS. PEARCE [at the door] Doolittle, sir. [She admits Doolittle and retires].
Alfred Doolittle is an elderly but vigorous dustman, clad in the costume of his profession, including a hat with a back brim covering his neck and shoulders. He has well marked and rather interesting features, and seems equally free from fear and conscience. He has a remarkably expressive voice, the result of a habit of giving vent to his feelings without reserve. His present pose is that of wounded honor and stern resolution.
DOOLITTLE [at the door, uncertain which of the two gentlemen is his man] Professor Higgins?
HIGGINS. Here. Good morning. Sit down.
DOOLITTLE. Morning, Governor. [He sits down magisterially] I come about a very serious matter, Governor.
HIGGINS [to Pickering] Brought up in Hounslow. Mother Welsh, I should think. [Doolittle opens his mouth, amazed. Higgins continues] What do you want, Doolittle?
DOOLITTLE [menacingly] I want my daughter: that's what I want. See?
HIGGINS. Of course you do. You're her father, aren't you? You don't suppose anyone else wants her, do you? I'm glad to see you have some spark of family feeling left. She's upstairs. Take her away at once.
DOOLITTLE [rising, fearfully taken aback] What!
HIGGINS. Take her away. Do you suppose I'm going to keep your daughter for you?
DOOLITTLE [remonstrating] Now, now, look here, Governor. Is this reasonable? Is it fair to take advantage of a man like this? The girl belongs to me. You got her. Where do I come in? [He sits down again].
HIGGINS. Your daughter had the audacity to come to my house and ask me to teach her how to speak properly so that she could get a place in a flower-shop. This gentleman and my housekeeper have been here all the time. [Bullying him] How dare you come here and attempt to blackmail me? You sent her here on purpose.
DOOLITTLE [protesting] No, Governor.
HIGGINS. You must have. How else could you possibly know that she is here?
DOOLITTLE. Don't take a man up like that, Governor.
HIGGINS. The police shall take you up. This is a plant — a plot to extort money by threats. I shall telephone for the police [he goes resolutely to the telephone and opens the directory].
DOOLITTLE. Have I asked you for a brass farthing? I leave it to the gentleman here: have I said a word about money?
HIGGINS [throwing the book aside and marching down on Doolittle with a poser] What else did you come for?
DOOLITTLE [sweetly] Well, what would a man come for? Be human, governor.
HIGGINS [disarmed] Alfred: did you put her up to it?
DOOLITTLE. So help me, Governor, I never did. I take my Bible oath I ain't seen the girl these two months past.
HIGGINS. Then how did you know she was here?
DOOLITTLE ["most musical, most melancholy"] I'll tell you, Governor, if you'll only let me get a word in. I'm willing to tell you. I'm wanting to tell you. I'm waiting to tell you.
HIGGINS. Pickering: this chap has a certain natural gift of rhetoric. Observe the rhythm of his native woodnotes wild. "I'm willing to tell you: I'm wanting to tell you: I'm waiting to tell you." Sentimental rhetoric! That's the Welsh strain in him. It also accounts for his mendacity and dishonesty.
PICKERING. Oh, PLEASE, Higgins: I'm west country myself. [To Doolittle] How did you know the girl was here if you didn't send her?
DOOLITTLE. It was like this, Governor. The girl took a boy in the taxi to give him a jaunt. Son of her landlady, he is. He hung about on the chance of her giving him another ride home. Well, she sent him back for her luggage when she heard you was willing for her to stop here. I met the boy at the corner of Long Acre and Endell Street.
HIGGINS. Public house. Yes?
DOOLITTLE. The poor man's club, Governor: why shouldn't I?
PICKERING. Do let him tell his story, Higgins.
DOOLITTLE. He told me what was up. And I ask you, what was my feelings and my duty as a father? I says to the boy, "You bring me the luggage," I says —
PICKERING. Why didn't you go for it yourself?
DOOLITTLE. Landlady wouldn't have trusted me with it, Governor. She's that kind of woman: you know. I had to give the boy a penny afore he trusted me with it, the little swine. I brought it to her just to oblige you like, and make myself agreeable. That's all.
HIGGINS. How much luggage?
DOOLITTLE. Musical instrument, Governor. A few pictures, a trifle of jewelry, and a bird-cage. She said she didn't want no clothes. What was I to think from that, Governor? I ask you as a parent what was I to think?
HIGGINS. So you came to rescue her from worse than death, eh?
DOOLITTLE [appreciatively: relieved at being understood] Just so, Governor. That's right.
PICKERING. But why did you bring her luggage if you intended to take her away?
DOOLITTLE. Have I said a word about taking her away? Have I now?
HIGGINS [determinedly] You're going to take her away, double quick. [He crosses to the hearth and rings the bell].