He was good-natured about it, perfectly open apparently, and at the same time evidently so confident that his was the sensible view of the matter that Eliza could only repeat her prohibition less hopefully.
A little later she found that he had quelled a revolt against her authority that was simmering in the minds of the table-maids. She went at once to the door that was decorated with the dentist’s sign.
It was opened by Harkness in the bowing manner with which he was wont to open to patients. When he saw Eliza’s expression he straightened himself.
“I want to know what you’ve been saying to those girls downstairs about me.”
“Well now,” said he, a little flustered, “nothing that you’d dislike to hear.”
“Do you think,” she went on with calm severity, “that I can’t manage my affairs without your help?”
“By no means.” His emphasis implied that he readily perceived which answer would give least offence. “Same time, if I can make your path more flowery—fail to see objections to such a course.”
“I don’t want you to trouble yourself.”
“It wasn’t the least mite of trouble,” he assured her. “Why, those girls downstairs, whenever I roll my eyes, they just fly to do the thing I want.”
“Do you think that is nice?” asked Eliza.
“I do not like it.”
“It don’t follow that whenever they roll their eyes, I do what they want. Jemima! no. They might roll them, and roll them, and roll them, right round to the back of their heads; ’twouldn’t have an atom of effect on me.”
He waited to see some result from this avowal, but Eliza was looking at him as coldly as ever.
“In that respect,” he added, “there ain’t no one that interferes with your prerogative.”
Eliza looked as if he had spoken in a foreign tongue. “I do not understand,” she said, and in this she told a lie, but she told it so successfully that he really did not know whether she had understood, or whether it behooved him to speak more plainly.
Before he could make up his mind, she had taken her departure. When she was gone he stood looking darkly, wishing he knew how to hasten the day when she should change her aspect to him.
When Harkness found that he was always defied by Eliza he grew gloomy, and was quiet for a time. One day, however, he recovered his former cheerfulness. He seemed, indeed, to be in high spirits. When he saw his time, he sought talk with Eliza. He did not now affect to be lively, but rather wore a manner of marked solemnity.
“Can you read the French language?” he asked.
“No,” she answered.
“That’s unfortunate, for I’m not a good hand at it myself; but I’ve found a bit of news in a French paper here that is real interesting and important.”