A story reflective and yet contrary to the Old New York's stifled society, Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Slade, rather than being truly friends, have been thrown into intimacy by their social class. They first met as young ladies vacationing in Rome, and then they have lived most of their adults lives across the street from each other. Perhaps, it has been easier for them both to have maintained a friendship of sorts. Now that their daughters are friends, the two women find themselves again in Rome. And, naturally, as they sit together, now widows,
...they both relapsed upon the view, contemplating it in silence, with a sort of diffused serenity which have been borrowed from the spring effulgence of the Roman skies.
Unknowingly, both Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Spade reflect upon their own private memories, both believing they know more of one night than the other. One inner conflict that Mrs. Ansley surely has held in her heart has been that of the private night that she spent with Delphin Spade, a night whose incidents she has never revealed to anyone. When she looks at her friend Mrs. Spade how often has she wondered what her friend would think if she only knew what had happened that Roman night? With the mention by Mrs. Spade of the "spice of disobedience when they were girls, Mrs. Ansley misses a stitch in her knitting, indicatiing that she remembers her own night of indiscretion.
Mrs. Spade is amazed that Mrs. Ansley can continue to knit in the face of these memories reaching back to them here in Rome. Finally, revealing her jealousy of Mrs. Ansley, Mrs. Spade wonders aloud how such "exemplary characters" as Mr. and Mrs. Ansley could have produced a dynamic child such as Barbara. She excuses herself by saying Rome brings "back the past a little too acutely." However, as Mrs. Ansley continues to knit, she must wonder how much Mrs. Spade really knows about her and that first visit to Rome. As Mrs. Spade continues to talk, Mrs. Ansley feigns disinterest, conflicting with her true emotion which she strives to squelch. Finally, however, Mrs. Spade talks of the Coliseum where lovers would rendez-vous. All this time, Mrs. Spade feigns having a vague memory of the night she had become ill from the night air in Rome while shadowing her inner conflicts of wondering if Mrs. Spade knows much at all about the affair between her and Delphin, the deceased husband.
Finally, Mrs. Spade reveals that she is the one who has written the letter that called Mrs. Ansley to the Coliseum.
"You tried your best to get him away from me, didn't you? But, you failed; and I kept him. That's all."
And, saddened, Mrs. Ansley says, "Yes. That's all," as, in conflict, she restrains herself from revealing all after her hurt in learning the letter she has kept so long was not written by Delphin. Mrs. Spade does not understand; she has thought her friend would be amused. With this, Mrs. Ansley suppresses her conflict between politeness and truth. She reveals that Delphin was indeed at the Coliseum because she responded to the forged letter. Then, she tells her friend that she is sorry for her because Delphin met her. Mrs. Spade discredits the sympathy contending that she has had Delphin for years as her spouse. Overcoming her last inner conflict because of this remark, Mrs. Ansley reveals what she has withheld for years: Barbara is hers and Delphin's child.