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The Haunted Hotel

Chapter 20
'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 that she might suggest some explanation of what had happened to his brother,
and sister, and himself. Or, failing to do this, she might accidentally reveal some event in
her own experience which, acting as a hint to a competent dramatist, might prove to be
the making of a play. The prosperity of his theatre was his one serious object in life. 'I
may be on the trace of another "Corsican Brothers,"' he thought. 'A new piece of that sort
would be ten thousand pounds in my pocket, at least.'
With these motives (worthy of the single-hearted devotion to dramatic business which
made Francis a successful manager) he related, without further hesitation, what his own
experience had been, and what the experience of his relatives had been, in the haunted
hotel. He even described the outbreak of superstitious terror which had escaped Mrs.
Norbury's ignorant maid. 'Sad stuff, if you look at it reasonably,' he remarked. 'But there
is something dramatic in the notion of the ghostly influence making itself felt by the
relations in succession, as they one after another enter the fatal room--until the one
 
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