The Daffodil Mystery

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"Poetry, like cucumbers, is an acquired taste," he said after a while. "You have to be educated up to some kind of literature. I daresay there will come a time when you will be grateful that I have given you an opportunity of meeting beautiful thoughts dressed in beautiful language."

She looked up at this.

"May I go now, Mr. Lyne?" she asked.

"Not yet," he replied coolly. "You said just now you didn't understand what I was talking about. I'll put it plainer this time. You're a very beautiful girl, as you probably know, and you are destined, in all probability, to be the mate of a very average suburban-minded person, who will give you a life tantamount to slavery. That is the life of the middle-class woman, as you probably know. And why would you submit to this bondage? Simply because a person in a black coat and a white collar has mumbled certain passages over you--passages which have neither meaning nor, to an intelligent person, significance. I would not take the trouble of going through such a foolish ceremony, but I would take a great deal of trouble to make you happy."

He walked towards her slowly and laid one hand upon her shoulder. Instinctively she shrank back and he laughed.

"What do you say?"

She swung round on him, her eyes blazing but her voice under control.

"I happen to be one of those foolish, suburban-minded people," she said, "who give significance to those mumbled words you were speaking about. Yet I am broad-minded enough to believe that the marriage ceremony would not make you any happier or more unhappy whether it was performed or omitted. But, whether it were marriage or any other kind of union, I should at least require a man."

He frowned at her.

"What do you mean?" he asked, and the soft quality of his voice underwent a change.

Her voice was full of angry tears when she answered him.

"I should not want an erratic creature who puts horrid sentiments into indifferent verse. I repeat, I should want a man."

His face went livid.

"Do you know whom you are talking to?" he asked, raising his voice.

"I am talking to Thornton Lyne," said she, breathing quickly, "the proprietor of Lyne's Stores, the employer of Odette Rider who draws three pounds every week from him."

He was breathless with anger.

"Be careful!" he gasped. "Be careful!"

"I am speaking to a man whose whole life is a reproach to the very name of man!" she went on speaking rapidly. "A man who is sincere in nothing, who is living on the brains and reputation of his father, and the money that has come through the hard work of better men.

"You can't scare me," she cried scornfully, as he took a step towards her. "Oh, yes, I know I'm going to leave your employment, and I'm leaving to-night!"

The man was hurt, humiliated, almost crushed by her scorn. This she suddenly realised and her quick woman's sympathy checked all further bitterness.

"I'm sorry I've been so unkind," she said in a more gentle tone. "But you rather provoked me, Mr. Lyne."

He was incapable of speech and could only shake his head and point with unsteady finger to the door.

"Get out," he whispered.

Odette Rider walked out of the room, but the man did not move. Presently, however, he crossed to the window and, looking down upon the floor, saw her trim figure move slowly through the crowd of customers and assistants and mount the three steps which led to the chief cashier's office.

"You shall pay for this, my girl!" he muttered.

He was wounded beyond forgiveness. He was a rich man's son and had lived in a sense a sheltered life. He had been denied the advantage which a public school would have brought to him and had gone to college surrounded by sycophants and poseurs as blatant as himself, and never once had the cold breath of criticism been directed at him, except in what he was wont to describe as the "reptile Press."

He licked his dry lips, and, walking to his desk, pressed a bell. After a short wait--for he had purposely sent his secretary away--a girl came in.

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