“A separation, father! Oh no, he cannot mean that!” And she pressed her hands strongly against her temples.
“Yes, my daughter, that is the simple meaning.”
“Oh no, no, no! He never meant that.”
“You left him?”
“But not in that way; not in earnest. It was only in fitful anger—half sport, half serious.”
“Then, in Heaven’s name, sit down and write him so, and that without the delay of an instant. He has put another meaning on your conduct. He believes that you have abandoned him.”
“Abandoned him! Madness!” And Irene, who had risen from her chair, commenced moving about the room in a wild, irresolute kind of way, something like an actress under tragic excitement.
“This is meant to punish me!” she said, stopping suddenly, and speaking in a voice slightly touched with indignation. “I understand it all, and see it as a great outrage. Hartley knows as well I do that I left as much in sport as in earnest. But this is carrying the joke too far. To write such a letter to you! Why didn’t he write to me? Why didn’t he ask me to appoint a friend to represent me in the arrangement proposed?”
“He understood himself and the case entirely,” replied Mr. Delancy. “Believing that you had abandoned him—”
“He didn’t believe any such thing!” exclaimed Irene, in strong excitement.
“You are deceiving yourself, my daughter. His letter is calm and deliberate. It was not written, as you can see by the date, until yesterday. He has taken time to let passion cool. Three days were permitted to elapse, that you might be heard from in case any change of purpose occurred. But you remained silent. You abandoned him.”
“Oh, father, why will you talk in this way? I tell you that Hartley is only doing this to punish me; that he has no more thought of an actual separation than he has of dying.”
“Admit this to be so, which I only do in the argument,” said Mr. Delancy, “and what better aspect does it present?”
“The better aspect of sport as compared with earnest,” replied Irene.
“At which both will continue to play until earnest is reached—and a worse earnest than the present. Take the case as you will, and it is one of the saddest and least hopeful that I have seen.”
Irene did not reply.
“You must elect some course of action, and that with the least possible delay,” said Mr. Delancy. “This letter requires an immediate answer. Go to your room and, in communion with God and your own heart, come to some quick decision upon the subject.”
Irene turned away without speaking and left her father alone in the library.
The flight and the return.