They rose to leave the cafe. Francis privately concluded that the maraschino punch offered the only discoverable explanation of what the Countess had said to him.
‘Shall I see you again?’ she asked, as she held out her hand to take leave. ’It is quite understood between us, I suppose, about the play?’
Francis recalled his extraordinary experience of that evening in the re-numbered room. ‘My stay in Venice is uncertain,’ he replied. ’If you have anything more to say about this dramatic venture of yours, it may be as well to say it now. Have you decided on a subject already? I know the public taste in England better than you do—I might save you some waste of time and trouble, if you have not chosen your subject wisely.’
‘I don’t care what subject I write about, so long as I write,’ she answered carelessly. ’If you have got a subject in your head, give it to me. I answer for the characters and the dialogue.’
‘You answer for the characters and the dialogue,’ Francis repeated. ’That’s a bold way of speaking for a beginner! I wonder if I should shake your sublime confidence in yourself, if I suggested the most ticklish subject to handle which is known to the stage? What do you say, Countess, to entering the lists with Shakespeare, and trying a drama with a ghost in it? A true story, mind! founded on events in this very city in which you and I are interested.’
She caught him by the arm, and drew him away from the crowded colonnade into the solitary middle space of the square. ‘Now tell me!’ she said eagerly. ’Here, where nobody is near us. How am I interested in it? How? how?’
Still holding his arm, she shook him in her impatience to hear the coming disclosure. For a moment he hesitated. Thus far, amused by her ignorant belief in herself, he had merely spoken in jest. Now, for the first time, impressed by her irresistible earnestness, he began to consider what he was about from a more serious point of view. With her knowledge of all that had passed in the old palace, before its transformation into an hotel, it was surely possible