“Bles, almost thou persuadest me—to be a fool. Now go.”
“I never realized before just what a lie meant,” said Zora.
The paper in Mrs. Vanderpool’s hands fell quickly to her lap, and she gazed across the toilet-table.
As she gazed that odd mirage of other days haunted her again. She did not seem to see her maid, nor the white and satin morning-room. She saw, with some long inner sight, a vast hall with mighty pillars; a smooth, marbled floor and a great throng whose silent eyes looked curiously upon her. Strange carven beasts gazed on from a setting of rich, barbaric splendor and she herself—the Liar—lay in rags before the gold and ivory of that lofty throne whereon sat Zora.
The foolish phantasy passed with the second of time that brought it, and Mrs. Vanderpool’s eyes dropped again to her paper, to those lines,—
“The President has sent the following nominations to the Senate ... To be ambassador to France, John Vanderpool, Esq.”
The first feeling of triumph thrilled faintly again until the low voice of Zora startled her. It was so low and calm, it came as though journeying from great distances and weary with travel.
“I used to think a lie a little thing, a convenience; but now I see. It is a great No and it kills things. You remember that day when Mr. Easterly called?”
“Yes,” replied Mrs. Vanderpool, faintly.
“I heard all he said. I could not help it; my transom was open. And then, too, after he mentioned—Mr. Alwyn’s name, I wanted to hear. I knew that his appointment would cost you the embassy—unless Bles was tempted and should fall. So I came to you to say—to say you mustn’t pay the price.”
“And I lied,” said Mrs. Vanderpool. “I told you that he should be appointed and remain a man. I meant to make him see that he could yield without great cost. But I let you think I was giving up the embassy when I never intended to.”
She spoke coldly, yet Zora knew. She reached out and took the white, still hands in hers, and over the lady’s face again flitted that stricken look of age.
“I do not blame you,” said Zora gently. “I blame the world.”
“I am the world,” Mrs. Vanderpool uttered harshly, then suddenly laughed. But Zora went on:
“It bewildered me when I first read the news early this morning; the world—everything—seemed wrong. You see, my plan was all so splendid. Just as I turned away from him, back to my people, I was to help him to the highest. I was so afraid he would miss it and think that Right didn’t win in Life, that I wrote him—”
“You wrote him? So did I.”
Zora glanced at her quickly.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Vanderpool. “I thought I knew him. He seemed an ordinary, rather priggish, opinionated country boy, and I wrote and said—Oh, I said that the world is the world; take it as it is. You wrote differently, and he obeyed you.”