Pygmalion Act 1
A young gentlewoman and her mother stand under a portico in Covent Garden, London, avoiding a torrential, evening rainstorm. They are among a group of pedestrians seeking shelter. The daughter complains that her brother, Freddy, should have gotten them a cab by now. Freddy returns without a cab. He tells them he has had difficulty finding a cab, but they insult him and tell him to continue looking. Dashing away, he knocks over a flower girl who is hurrying in for shelter. She says, "Nah then, Freddy: look wh' y' gowin, deah," Act 1, pg. 15 accidentally getting his name right.
He apologizes curtly and runs off. She gathers her scattered bunches of violets and moves under the portico. She is wearing shoddy clothing and is quite dirty. Freddy's mother asks the flower girl how she knew her son's name. The flower girl reproaches her for raising a boy who would spill a girl's flowers without paying for them, and asks if she will pay for them. Her daughter immediately commands her mother not to give the flower girl any money. The mother asks her daughter to allow her to pay for them. The daughter grudgingly gives her mother sixpence to pay for them after the flower girl says she can make change, but the mother does not ask for any change. Instead, she asks for an explanation of why the flower girl knew her son's name. The flower girl denies that she knew it. She says she only said it to be polite. The daughter scorns her mother for throwing away sixpence.
A gentleman runs in from the rain and tells the mother that the rain is only getting worse. As he bends down to unfold his wet trousers, the flower girl asks him to buy a flower. He says he only has sovereign. She says, "Garn! Oh do buy a flower off me, Captain. I can change a half-a-crown." Act 1, pg. 19 He gives her three halfpence for nothing. She is grateful, but a bystander tells her to give him a flower for it because he sees someone who is writing down every word she says. He is implying that the man may be a police informer, who intends to prosecute her for soliciting herself.
The flower girl is terrified and begins to defend herself to the crowd hysterically. She says she is a respectable girl with a right to sell flowers. She gets a lot of attention as the sympathetic crowd tries to calm her down. She finds the gentleman who gave her the halfpence and pleads with him to exonerate her. The notetaker finally steps forward and asks the flower girl what is wrong. Another bystander, noticing the notetaker's fancy boots which signal that he is not an informer, explains to him that the flower girl thought he was a "copper's nark." Act 1, pg. 21 The notetaker asks, with great interest, what a copper's nark is. The bystander gives an inapt definition of an informer. The flower girl remains defensive and hysterical. She demands to know what he has written about her, but when he shows her his notes she cannot decipher them. So he reads a line of her speech back to her in perfect intonation. She then exclaims that it is because she called the gentleman Captain that the notetaker intends to have her charged. The gentleman denies that he will allow a charge to be made against her, and the crowd rallies in her support.
One bystander points out the notetaker's boots as proof that he is not an informer. The notetaker responds to his comments by asking him how his family is doing in Selsey. The bystander is surprised, and asks how the notetaker knows his family is from Selsey. The notetaker refuses to demystify his knowledge. Instead, he asks the flower girl how she has come so far east, as she was born in Lisson Grove. She is appalled and in tears. The notetaker tells her to be quiet. Skeptical bystanders challenge the notetaker to tell them where they are from, and with each opportunity he more shockingly demonstrates his mysterious skill. Meanwhile, the flower girl pouts and insists that she is a good girl and that the notetaker is not a gentleman. The rain stops and the crowd begins to dissipate. The notetaker offends the daughter and mother but proceeds to call them a cab. However, the rain stops and they walk off to catch a bus.
The gentleman, flower girl, and notetaker remain. The gentleman asks the notetaker how he does his trick. The notetaker says that it is simply phonetics, which is his profession. He claims that he can place a man within six miles. The gentleman asks if he can make money as a phonetician. He responds that his clientele consists of those who want to refine their accents in order to move up the social ladder, and that they will pay well for it. The flower girl has been muttering continually, and the notetaker explosively tells her to shut up. She insists on her right to sit there. The notetaker responds,
"A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere - no right to live. Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift or articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespear and Milton and The Bible; and don't sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon." Act 1, pg. 27
The flower girl is shocked. The notetaker boasts to the gentleman that he could pass this flower girl off as a duchess after three months of tutelage, or get her a job in a shop, which requires better English. The gentleman is not surprised. He tells the notetaker that he is a student of Indian dialects. The notetaker asks him if he knows Colonel Pickering, who is an expert on Sanscrit. The gentleman says that he is Colonel Pickering, and that he has come from India looking for Henry Higgins. The notetaker confesses that he is Henry Higgins, author of Higgins's Universal Alphabet, and that he was going to visit India to meet Colonel Pickering. They decide to have supper together. As they leave, the flower girl asks Pickering again if he will buy a flower. He again says he has no change.
Higgins derides her, but then when a church bell sounds, changes his mind and throws a handful of money into her basket. She cries out as she counts her newfound wealth. Just then, Freddy pulls up in a taxi looking for his mother and sister. She tells him they have left and takes the taxi home herself. When they arrive in Angel Court the driver asks for a shilling. The flower girl is shocked, and he laughs at her and leaves without the fare. Humiliated, she walks up to her shabby room. An empty birdcage hangs in the corner. She counts her money repeatedly until she realizes that she can plan what to do with it more economically with the light off. So she goes to bed in her clothes.