"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
s 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 headwaiter 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!"
Mrs. Ansley again colored slightly. "I think those young Italian aviators we met at the embassy invited them to fly to Tarquinia for tea. I suppose they'll want to wait and fly back by moonlight."
"Moonlight-moonlight! What a part it still plays. Do you suppose they're as sentimental as we were?"
"I've come to the conclusion that I don't in the least know what they are," said Mrs.
Ansley. "And perhaps we didn't know much more about each other."
"No, perhaps we didn't."
Her friend gave her a shy glance. "I never should have supposed you were sentimental, Alida."
"Well, perhaps I wasn't." Mrs. Slade drew her lids together in retrospect; and for a few moments the two ladies, who had been intimate since childhood, reflected how little they knew each other. Each one, of course, had a label ready to attach to the other's name; Mrs. Delphin Slade, for instance, would have told herself, or anyone who asked her, that Mrs. Horace Ansley, twenty-five years ago, had been exquisitely lovely - no, you wouldn't believe it, would you! though, of course, still charming, distinguished. . . . Well, as a girl she had been exquisite; far more beautiful than her daughter, Barbara, though certainly Babs, according to the new standards at any rate, was more effective - had more edge, as they say. Funny where she got it, with those two nullities as parents. Yes; Horace Ansley was - well, just the duplicate of his wife. Museum specimens of old New York. Goodlooking, irreproachable, exemplary. Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley had lived opposite each other - actually as well as figuratively - for years. When the drawing-room curtains in number 20 East Seventy-third Street were renewed, number 23, across the way, was always aware of it. And of all the movings, buyings, travels, anniversaries, illnesses - the tame chronicle of an estimable pair. Little of it escaped Mrs. Slade. But she had grown bored with it by the time her husband made his big coup in Wall Street, and when they bought in upper Park Avenue had already begun to think: "I'd rather live opposite a speakeasy for a change; at least one might see it raided." The idea of seeing Grace raided was so amusing that (before the move) she launched it at a woman's lunch. It made a hit, and went the rounds - she sometimes wondered if it had crossed the street, and reached Mrs. Ansley. She hoped not, but didn't much mind. Those were the days when respectability was at a discount, and it did the irreproachable no harm
to laugh at them a little.
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