From the table at which they had been lunching two American ladies of ripe but well-cared-for middle age moved across the lofty terrace of the Roman restaurant and, leaning on its parapet, looked first at each other, and then down on the outspread glories of the Palatine and the Forum, with the same expression of vague but benevolent approval.
As they leaned there a girlish voice echoed up gaily from the stairs leading to the court below.”Well, come along, then,” it cried, not to them but to an invisible companion, “and let’s leave the young things to their knitting,” and a voice as fresh laughed back: “Oh, look here, Babs, not actually knitting—” “Well, I mean figuratively,” rejoined the first.”After all, we haven’t left our poor parents much else to do. . . .” At that point the turn of the stairs engulfed the dialogue.
The two ladies looked at each other again, this time with a tinge of smiling embarrassment, and the smaller and paler one shook her head and colored slightly.
“Barbara!” she murmured, sending an unheard rebuke after the mocking voice in the stairway.
The other lady, who was fuller, and higher in color, with a small determined nose supported by vigorous black eyebrows, gave a good-humored laugh.”That’s what our daughters think of us.”
Her companion replied by a deprecating gesture.”Not of us individually. We must remember that. It’s just the collective modern idea of Mothers. And you see—” Half guiltily she drew from her handsomely mounted black handbag a twist of crimson silk run through by two fine knitting needles.”One never knows,” she murmured.”The new system has certainly given us a good deal of time to kill; and sometimes I get tired just looking—even at this.” Her gesture was now addressed to the stupendous scene at their feet.
The dark lady laughed again, and they both relapsed upon the view, contemplating it in silence, with a sort of diffused serenity which might have been borrowed from the spring effulgence of the Roman skies. The luncheon hour was long past, and the two had their end of the vast terrace to themselves. At its opposite extremity a few groups, detained by a lingering look at the outspread city, were gathering up guidebooks and fumbling for tips. The last of them scattered, and the two ladies were alone on the air-washed height.
“Well, I don’t see why we shouldn’t just stay here,” said Mrs. Slade, the lady of the high color and energetic brows. Two derelict basket chairs stood near, and she pushed them into the angle of the parapet, and settled herself in one, her gaze upon the Palatine.”After all, it’s still the most beautiful view in the world.”
“It always will be, to me,” assented her friend Mrs. Ansley, with so slight a stress on the “me” that Mrs. Slade, though she noticed it, wondered if it were not merely accidental, like the random underlinings of old-fashioned letter writers.
“Grace Ansley was always old-fashioned,” she thought; and added aloud, with a retrospective smile: “It’s a view we’ve both been familiar with for a good many years. When we first met here we were younger than our girls are now. You remember!”
“Oh, yes, I remember,” murmured Mrs. Ansley, with the same undefinable stress—”There’s that head-waiter wondering,” she interpolated. She was evidently far less sure than her companion of herself and of her rights in the world.
“I’ll cure him of wondering,” said Mrs. Slade, stretching her hand toward a bag as discreetly opulent-looking as Mrs. Ansley’s. Signing to the headwaiter, she explained that she and her friend were old lovers of Rome, and would like to spend the end of the afternoon looking down on the view—that is, if it did not disturb the service! The headwaiter, bowing over her gratuity, assured her that the ladies were most welcome, and would be still more so if they would condescend to remain for dinner. A full moon night, they would remember. . . .
Mrs. Slade’s black brows drew together, as though references to the moon were out of place and even unwelcome. But she smiled away her frown as the headwaiter retreated.”Well, why not! We might do worse. There’s no knowing, I suppose, when the girls will be back. Do you even know back from where? I don’t!”