Why does Higgins agree to educate the flower girl in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion?

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Henry Higgins, a linguist, happens to overhear Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle speaking in lower class dialect at Covent Garden. He brags that:

in three months I could pass that girl off as a duchess at an ambassador's garden party.

He goes home, thinking no more of that passing comment or of the Cockney flower seller.

In her cold room, however, Eliza ponders what Higgins said about teaching her to speak like lady. She'd like a better life for herself, so she boldly shows up at his doorstep the next day. She demands lessons and offers to pay a shilling apiece for them.

Higgins is ready to throw her out when Colonel Pickering, who happens to be there, offers to pay. He also holds Higgins's feet to the fire, betting him that he won't be able to pass Eliza off as a duchess. Higgins rises to the challenge and agrees to the bet. In this way, Eliza ends up being educated to act, dress and speak like a lady.

This has nothing to do with Higgins having any compassion for Eliza. He plans to throw her out again once the bet is over.

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Higgins first encounters the flower girl outside Covent Garden and transcribes her speech. He boasts to Colonel Pickering that by means of his skills as a speech coach he could pass her off for a duchess at an ambassador's garden party in a period of three to six months of instruction. To Higgins' surprise, the flower girl, who reveals her name to be Eliza Doolittle, appears at his house the next day and offers to pay him for speech lessons so that she can get a job at a flower shop.

Higgins agrees to teach her for several reasons. First, he finds the project intriguing and an interesting professional challenge. Second, he makes a bet with Colonel Pickering, and wants to win the bet. Also, Colonel Pickering agrees to pay the expenses of the project, including appropriate clothing for Eliza. 

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