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Now Mrs. Willey, like a sensible woman, as many persons will think, had no objection to her son Edwin taking a special interest in an agreeable young lady that he chanced to see, although he was yet only a boy. She thought that the best way to prevent the instinct of attraction between the two sexes, which manifests itself at such an early age, from leading to mischief and injury, was not to ignore it, or attempt to ridicule it or frown it down, but to recognize it at once as a legitimate source of pleasure to young people, and to take it under her protection, as it were, and thus make herself the confidante of her children in this as in all other things. There are so many different opinions among parents in respect to this subject, or rather the practice of very excellent people varies so much, that I will not attempt to decide how far she may have been right in her view of the subject. I only explain what her ideas were, and relate how they led her to act.
Instead of reproving Edwin for the interest he seemed to take in the stranger, or speaking of it in a manner to make him feel that there was anything wrong, or anything to be ashamed of in feeling this interest in a young and beautiful girl, and so leading him to conceal his thoughts from her on future occasions, she said, in reply to his remark that she herself would have felt an interest in her if she had seen her,that she had no doubt at all that she should have done so.
"And, at any rate," she added, "you do perfectly right to take an interest in her, and to be willing to help her, if there is anything that we can do for her."
"Let us send to her room and ask," said Edwin, eagerly. "Or let me go myself. I can go and say that you heard that she and her brother were travelling alone, and you wished to know if there is anything you can do for her.”
"Let me think a moment," said Mrs. Willey. Then, after a few moments' consideration, she added,
"I think that before we go to make a call upon the young lady, it will be best for us to send word to her, to inquire whether it would be agreeable to her to receive us. Ring the bell for Pedro to come again."
So Edwin rang the bell, and when Pedro appeared, Mrs. Willey asked him if the vetturino of the two young persons was in the public room below. Pedro said he was.
"Ask him," said Mrs. Willey, "to go to the young lady's room, and tell her that Mrs. Willey and her family from New York are in the hotel, and if agreeable to them, she and her son will call and see her."
"Me too!" said Willie, eagerly. Willie had been listening quietly, but very attentively, to all these proceedings.
"Me too?" repeated Mrs. Willey; "why, Willie, it is time you were in bed. But, on the whole, you may go with us. So tell them that Mrs. Willey and her children will call and see them in their room, if that will be agreeable. Here is my card to give them."
So Mrs. Willey took out a card from her cardcase, and handed it to Pedro, who immediately disappeared.
In a few minutes he returned, and said that the vetturino went up to the children's room with the card, and found that they had both gone to bed. But he would deliver the message in the morning at breakfast, the vetturino said, and he had no doubt that they would be very glad to see Mrs. Willey.
"Gone to bed ?" repeated Mrs. Willey. "They are sensible children; and you ought to have been in bed, too, Willie, long ago, as I told you. Ask Rosetta to come up, Pedro, and put Miss Willie to bed."
So Rosetta, the chambermaid of the inn, came up, and led Willie away into an adjoining bedroom to put her to bed.
"You can talk to Rosetta as much as you please, Willey, while she is undressing you," said Mrs. Willey; "but you must not ask her any questions, or if you do, you must not expect her to answer them, for she can not speak English herself.
Rosetta was a very pretty girl, with dark hair and large Italian eyes, and a face beaming with intelligence and love. When she put out her hand to lead Willie away, she looked upon her with so sweet a smile, although she did not speak, that Willie made no objection to going with her. All the time that Rosetta was undressing her, Willie continued talking to her, having taken what her mother had said in its most restricted sense, and not at all imagining that Rosetta was unable to understand English, as well as unable to speak it.
"What is the reason you can't speak, Rosetta ?" said she. "You look as if you could
speak, I am sure. I wish you could speak, and then you could tell me about the two children, that are travelling all by themselves. I think the boy is a very pretty boy. He is going to have a message to-morrow morning for us to go and see them. I know he will like to have us come and see him, for he asked me once already —when I was standing in the entry. But I did not dare to go. What do you suppose the reason is that they are travelling alone? Tell me, Rosetta, what you think?
"Oh, I forgot. I must not ask you any questions. But I wish I knew how they happen to be travelling without their father and mother. I think their father and mother must be dead. Perhaps the robbers killed them somewhere on the road."
Thus Willie talked on, encouraged by Rosetta's kind looks, which were so full of meaning that Willie thought she understood what she said, though she did not reply.
The next morning, just as Florence and John were finishing their breakfast, Pacifico came in with the message from Pedro. Florence said at once she should be very happy to see Mrs. Willey, and in a few minutes Mrs. Willey and her two children came in.
Florence felt, at first, a little timid at the idea