The ageless Count cuts a dashing figure as he walks to the podium, elegant and refined - yes, almost regal. His dark, magnetic eyes scan the room. He clears his throat and speaks. His diction is precise and his thick accent, rather than detracting from his message, only serves to lend it an air of authority.
He speaks eloquently of opportunity and the future and of the patchwork of life that is even now unrolling in front of them like an expensive Persian rug, crisscrossed with an intricate latticework representing an infinite number of possibilities.
They hang on his every word, rapt. There is a minor commotion in front, but most of them are so caught up by his words that they do not notice.
One of the students has lost a small brooch - a family heirloom. She and another student are bent over looking for it. She straightens up - triumphantly clutching the brooch. As she does, she whacks her fellow seeker in the lip with her elbow.
A trickle of blood flows from the split lip. The Count is distracted by the commotion. He spots the blood and falters slightly. He catches himself and continues.
The young man presses the lip with a handkerchief, but of course it keeps bleeding. The handkerchief is soon stained a deep shade of red and the boy's chin is smeared with blood. He excuses himself and slips from the hall, but it is too late.
The Count has become increasingly befuddled and distracted. He stammers and stumbles over his words, mumbling and tugging at his shirt collar. As the boy stands up to leave, he completely loses his train of thought. He stares blankly into the hall, a vacant look on his face. His tongue whisks across his lips. A murmur passes through the audience.
The Count is visibly relieved when the boy leaves. The magic spell he has woven with his words has been shattered, but he manages to gather his thoughts with great difficulty and carries on, just as a thin rivulet of blood trickles from the nose of a girl in the second row.
That does it. The Count slams his palm on the podium, mumbles a halfhearted excuse and stalks offstage, mopping his brow with his sleeve. The crowd murmurs. It is over.