A Worthy Opponent
Chapter 1 - The Novice
Author's note: More than a year has passed since I last added to this story, but lately I've been haunted by several ideas that, I hope, significantly enhance the original. Besides adding a more chapters, I could not pass up the opportunity to improve sections of the original that are not wholly satisfactory to me. As always, your encouragements and suggestions for improvement are most highly valued. Many thanks.
"The injury is worse in appearance than actuality", young master Darcy said nonchalantly in a vain attempt to stem his governess's concern over his bleeding nose. "It was careless of me to lose my footing and fall from the horse chestnut."
"Oh, my dear Fitzwilliam!" she exclaimed in horror. "Your garments are soiled and you are not fit to be seen. Are you certain you are not injured?"
"Quite. I am perfectly well. I landed badly and my nose is only a little bloody, not broken. The bleeding has almost stopped and I want only fresh clothes."
"A twelve-year old boy playing in trees. Whatever induced you to act so recklessly, Fitzwilliam? You certainly did not learn that from your father."
To curtail further questions and concerns, he instinctively planted a kiss on her cheek, and noticed a slight bloody smudge as he withdrew. He found a white patch on his mostly red handkerchief and motioned that he wished to whisper something. "I am not a little boy any more, I can fend for myself", he said as he surreptitiously wiped the residue from her cheek and then departed promptly for his room. She smiled despite her intention to treat the matter sternly.
The master of Pemberley returned with a boar later that afternoon, highly pleased that the day's hunt was blessed with greater success than his last several outings. After taking refreshment and hearing the news of the day, he sought out his son busily engaged in catching trout in the fastest part of the stream.
"You are a fine sight better than I have been led to believe", observed the father as he reached the young fisherman. "What is this nonsense about your falling out of a tree? What? A monkey such as yourself?" He knocked off his son's cap playfully and tousled his hair. "I don't believe a word of it!"
Fitzwilliam looked up a bit sheepishly. "I had to tell the governess something. You know how she abhors..." His voice trailed off.
"So, caught up in another scrape, have you? Do you wish to tell me about it?"
They sat together staring at the immobile fishing line for several minutes. Young Darcy was too proud to admit that he had received a thrashing at the hands of George Wickham. "I was playing chess with a friend and it appeared he was cheating. I told him of my suspicions but he refused to acknowledge it and began taunting me, saying Darcys would do anything to avoid the sting of defeat, even stooping to invent slanders rather than suffer embarrassment. I hit him for that slander and that is how the fight began."
"Who dared slander you thus? Let the devil take him!" bellowed the father.
"I prefer not to say. It is time I settle disputes on my own."
The father concurred. "Are you certain that he was not playing fair?"
"Not completely certain, no, but I had been playing so well and was so far ahead, and suddenly he got the upper hand. That could hardly have been possible had he not been cheating."
"Perhaps," said the elder Darcy as he tempered his pipe and lit it, "perhaps. But it is a serious matter to make accusations, and fairness requires certainty, not merely suspicion. If you must defend your honor by fisticuffs, then we must teach you to make a better account of yourself. I would suggest, however, that physical force is not always the most favorable method of settling disputes. You would acquit yourself all the better were you to outwit your adversary and beat him at his own game."
"You think I should sink to his level by cheating?" asked the son incredulously.
The father smiled. "No, not at all. I only meant that it appears you have attained the age where can you benefit from chess lessons. If that is your desire, I can teach you more of the game and prepare you for your next encounter with the rogue."
"Yes, I should like that very much indeed! Perhaps you can take me to London to play in the chess club there?"
"There will be time enough for that once you have proved yourself. The club is no place for rank beginners. We need to bring you up to the third level of proficiency at a minimum. Let us observe first your mettle and intensity, then we shall decide when you are ready for the next step."
Fitzwilliam quickly gathered in the fishing line and packed his tackle box. "May we begin the lessons at once?" His father nodded and they walked briskly toward the house. A freshly stoked fire awaited them in the library and the father moved the chess table closer to the warmth and began setting up the opening position.
Mr. Darcy began speaking deliberately. "The best attitude to take toward the game is to imagine yourself a general overseeing the battlefield from a high vantage. All is in plain view both to you and your counterpart on the opposing hill. Chess is nothing but pure military struggle; the outcome is highly dependent upon your wit and powers of observation and very little dependent upon chance. It is your task to survey the battlefield, accurately assess your advantages and disadvantages and seek to discover the hidden resources of the position, both for you and for your opponent. Tell me, Fitzwilliam, what do you think about as you play the game?"
"I like to trick my opponent, especially by placing my bishops on the long diagonals in hopes of snagging an exposed rook. And because knights jump over other pieces and are the hardest moves to see, I prefer to move them most."
The father laughed. "How typical of a tyro. I remember thinking along similar lines when I first learned to play. Those tactics may work sporadically when your opponent is weak or tired and inattentive, but if you are ever to gain in playing strength, you must assume that he sees everything you see. The only defensible time for employing tricks and traps is when you are staring defeat in the face. The best players eschew cheap tactics and let the arrangement of the pieces on the board inform them of the best course of action."
The elder Darcy reached for the decanter of Bordeaux and poured a glass. "Fitzwilliam, you must pay special heed to what I am about to say. It will serve you as well in life as over the board." He paused to sip the wine. "You must always, always strive to present a tranquil, unaffected countenance. You must never give away your thoughts to the other player. It is as true at the chessboard as it is at the card table as it is in your dealings with servants and tenants. A Darcy always maintains an air of reserve --he keeps his own counsel from the world. Do you understand my meaning?"
Young Darcy nodded. "Yes, I think I do. I must try harder to hide my feelings of excitement and concern."
"Yes, you have it precisely. As you grow older you will discover that to master an estate, to gain the trust and respect of underlings, to manage tenets and men of commerce, you must not only treat others fairly and generously, but more importantly, you must assume an air of authority if your wishes are be fulfilled expediently. In like manner over the chessboard you will have an easier time of handling your adversary if you keep your wits about you and make your move calmly and deliberately whether you are winning or losing. Equanimity will confound your adversary and will keep him wondering what you are seeing that he does not see!"
Pausing for a moment for his words to take effect, the father lit his pipe and sipped more wine. "When you are winning, it is advisable to keep complications to a minimum, but when you are losing, it is best to do the opposite --complicate the position as much as possible and avoid the simplification of piece exchanges, thereby giving your opponent maximum opportunity to go astray. Always make him earn the point; always make a move that increases your opponent's difficulties. You may still lose, but at least you will keep your interest in the match and toughen yourself mentally for the next game."
The father walked over and removed a volume from the shelf. "Here is an excellent treatise from Alexander Blackburn, one of the leading masters in London. Let us play over some of his games and observe what moves you would have made in his situation."
Thus began their daily tutorial sessions, where elder posed problems lifted from tournament play, and boy's game grew steadily stronger. Within a few weeks discoveries over the board were not credited solely to the ledger of the older player. Within several months the advantage in the sparring matches slipped gradually down the generational line and the younger Darcy's knowledge, judgment and confidence grew exponentially.
Darcy had played no games with Wickham since they last traded blows and was only too happy to oblige when Wickham taunted him one day in the stable after Darcy had returned from riding.
"You must concur, Darcy, that even though you outrank me socially you cannot say the same at the chessboard. It must be dreadfully inconvenient to acknowledge that your ready cash cannot procure ready wit."
"I see no reason to concur to such an obvious falsehood, Wickham. It is not necessary to procure by commerce what has been freely given by nature. I have no reason to indulge nor fear empty boasts."
"We are engaged then. Shall we play for a pound?"
"If that is what is required for you to generate interest in the game, so be it", declared Darcy. Wickham retrieved a well-used set from the cupboard as Darcy overturned a crate for use as a table and took a notebook from his waistcoat.
"What is that for?" inquired Wickham.
"I have made it my practice to record all my games for later review --I find it useful for assessing the quality of my play."
Wickham brushed it off as a cheap ploy designed merely to nettle him and quickly played his opening move. Darcy responded in kind for the first dozen moves and then the pace slowed considerably. Wickham hummed softly while fondling captured pieces in his right hand, waiting for the opportune moment to duplicate his favorite cheating maneuver. While waiting for Wickham's move, Darcy stroked the cat purring on his lap. Wickham suddenly slammed down the palmed piece and decisively cried "Check!", depending upon the ensuing confusion to hide the sudden appearance of the extra piece. But Darcy scarcely changed his demeanor, looked up calmly, and pointed out that some gross error must have been made as the newly resurrected rook had previously been captured. To confirm that assertion he magnanimously offered to replay the game from his score sheet. Wickham first smiled wanly in surprise, scowled as he realized his deception had been unmasked, then threw a pound note on the board and scattered chess pieces to the floor. He muttered an oath as he made for the door, vowing never to place chess against Darcy again. His loss of the game was compounded; Wickham's false gambit lost forever the good opinion of his benefactor's son.
Chapter 2 - London
"Your introduction to the London Chess Club is well past due, Fitzwilliam", announced his father several weeks after the budding dogwood trees ushered in spring. "No doubt you have grown weary of the competition that the Derbyshire Club and I have offered. Let us depart tomorrow for a fortnight and test your mettle against the London Club."
The younger Darcy was overjoyed at the prospect but, having learned his lessons well, restrained most outward manifestations of his pleasure; only a slight nod and smile betrayed him. Mr. Darcy comprehended perfectly and chuckled in approval.
The Darcys took advantage of the long carriage ride to prepare for the challenge. Mr. Darcy took the son to a review of the rules and etiquette proscribed by club management. In tournament play each game was worth one point, awarded to the winner or split between participants in case of a drawn game. Players customarily shook hands before and after each game. Good manners dictated restraint in exultations of victory, but expansive commiseration with the losing party was commendable. Should a player touch one of his pieces, even accidentally, he must move it; or touch an enemy piece, and it must be captured, provided that the constrained move is legal. The only permitted deviation from the 'touch' rule is the restoration of a piece poorly situated on its square, but only after announcing 'I adjust', or more commonly as the French have it, 'J'adoube'. It is customary to announce 'check' when directly attacking the opposing king. Only the player at move can make an offer of a draw; if it is refused, it is bad form to renew the draw offer before the opponent has issued a draw offer of his own. Mr. Darcy then launched into a discourse about general courtesy. Talking with opponents or with the gallery is a great rudeness, as is blowing smoke over the board, fidgeting with captured pieces, humming, singing, drumming fingers on the table, and so forth.
Fitzwilliam agreed that all these conventions were the essence of reason, but he was more particularly interested in information about the players he would be facing. Mr. Darcy responded by describing in detail the styles and idiosyncrasies of the players he'd had the pleasure of meeting. One prominent master was a genius of the attack, but found defense an irksome business. Another preferred slow positional maneuvering and accumulating small advantages and later converting them into a large one in the endgame; whereas a third master lived for complications, the more intricate the better, even if they were unsound. Indeed, he scored many impressive victories because his wild play was so extremely difficult to meet given the tension and time constraints of tournament play, but many of his brilliancies dulled considerably upon close inspection during post-mortem analysis. The club's best player, Alexander Blackburn, was blessed with an even game, feeling equally at home in complicated and simple positions, his only weakness being a tendency to relax in favorable positions and not dispatch games efficiently.
There followed an exhausting account of players who occupied lower strata in the club hierarchy. Fitzwilliam took copious notes in his journal and began wondering how someone might describe his play. At length he concluded that he had not sufficiently advanced his game to the point where he had a recognizable style. Too many of his games were ad-hoc, characterized chiefly by youthful exuberance, impatience and impulsiveness. Still, he hoped to learn as much about himself as about his opponents in the weeks that lay ahead.
After conversation had died of exhaustion, Mr. Darcy retrieved a small peg chess set that had been crafted in India to his precise specifications. The pegboard was central its success, as the constant jostling of the carriage would have rendered normal sets impractical. The Darcys spent the remainder of the journey engaged in happy combat, and the father, although holding the upper hand, had to concede a substantial number of games.
The sights, sounds and smells of London compelled them to look up and abandon their last game. Happy as he was to arrive, Fitzwilliam greatly preferred the city's vista and cacophony to its aroma. The building on Oxford Street that housed the chess club was in particular a visual feast. Its tall alabaster columns signified substance and stability and it was snugly situated between equally impressive structures Ò the majestic Bank of England and the ornate London Music Hall.
Upon entry the club's secretary, a rather portly man with an untamed moustache, welcomed and introduced them to the gentlemen in the antechamber and led them on a tour of the rooms. The Masters Hall occupied the heart of the Club as well as the building Ò all master tournaments were held there. Thirty chess tables adorned the commodious stage, toward the rear of which were located large demonstration boards depicting the position of each board for spectators seated in the front half of the room. For very important matches the venue was relocated to the neighboring music hall which, with its double balcony, had much more available seating.
The next major room was the Duffers Gallery where woodpushers, as amateurs were wont to be called, battled each other or engaged in spirited post-mortem analysis of their games or master games that had recently concluded in the main room. Darcy was intrigued to witness rapid transit play on several boards. By gentlemen's agreement each player would take no longer than ten seconds per move. A referee consulted his timepiece and called out each interval and the player was constrained to move immediately or forfeit the game. A club ladder tournament was also in progress on the far side of the room. Players vied for higher standings in the club's roster. A middle-aged gentleman in the corner playing an off-hand game caught his eye. He would rise occasionally to shepherd his young daughter back to his side. She appeared to be quite a pretty girl, especially her expressive eyes and wild curls that escaped from under her spring bonnet. She could have been no older than six or seven and her presence startled Darcy as she was the only child present, but no one in the room seemed to take notice of her.
The last room was the Smoking Room, where gentlemen puffed and chatted amiably by the fire as they took refreshment. Draughts, backgammon, and card games were popular divertissements here. Mr. Darcy struck up a conversation with an old acquaintance and, after a courteous interval, his son took leave to search for a match in the Duffers Gallery. As all tables were in use, he strolled among them to observe the quality of play, finally settling on the action provided at the rapid transit tables. Darcy observed that prohibitions against talking were suspended in the amateurs' room. One fellow in particular, whom he reckoned to have reached his approximate age, maintained a steady banter of pleasantries until suddenly interrupted by an impertinent move by his adversary. Darcy could only smile at the gross oversights produced by the furious pace of the game. Attacked pieces were left en prise, mates in two moves were missed, and forks and pins were overlooked. Suddenly the fellow resumed his running commentary as his arm swooped down and snatched the opponent's king off the board.
"What did you do that for?" cried the other man. "Such a move is never permitted. You cannot capture a king. Put it back at once."
"Yes, you are quite right", he answered, "but when you make an illegal move such as castling into check, you have forfeited the game if your opponent spots it!"
Darcy could not keep from grinning.
"There, my good man, you seem to be enjoying the spirit of things", said the fellow to Darcy. "Would you like to like to be the next contestant?"
"I ... I have never attempted this style of play", he protested, but fearing to broadcast a bad first impression he subdued his apprehension as best he could and quickly added, "but I am not afraid to profit from your instruction. I thank you."
The young man rose and extended his hand. "Charles Bingley, sir. You are new to the club?"
"Fitzwilliam Darcy. Yes, quite new; I have just now arrived. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance."
They setup the board and began a score of games, each lasting no more than 10 to 15 minutes, thereby consuming the remaining hours of the afternoon. Bingley's experience naturally enabled him to prevail in the early contests, but Darcy soon settled down as he grew accustomed to the rapid metric. His blunders became fewer and less obvious and, after consecutive seven losses, he finally procured his first win in a brilliant slashing attack. Bingley was gracious in his admiration of Darcy's skillful play.
The crowd around the table gained in number as word spread about the interesting games. Soon the girl wandered over, wedged her way to the edge of the table, and planted her elbows to claim sufficient real estate. She cupped her head in her hands as she studied the board.
"Do either of you gentlemen wish to play against me?" she innocently asked upon conclusion of the game. "I promise not to take up much of your time."
Darcy was taken aback by her audacity, but finally managed to activate his tongue. "No, thank you kindly, miss. It is not my habit to trounce little girls."
"Oh, I have not the least intention of losing, sir", she answered sweetly. The assembly erupted in laughter. Darcy and Bingley looked at each other and grinned broadly. Any remaining awkwardness of their newly formed acquaintance melted quickly away. The commotion soon brought her father to the scene.
"There you are, my dear. Come. You must not assist these gentlemen; they shall have to rely upon their wits alone." Smiling, he took her by the hand and dragged her back to his table. A young man at an adjacent table accepted her offer of a game and the girl was all contentment.
The girl's high spirits had provided grist for continuing good-natured comments from the gallery, which Darcy soon found vexatious. He maintained his composure throughout and said nothing, realizing full well that any objection would only exacerbate the situation. He redoubled his concentration and the gallery receded from his awareness.
The afternoon's activities whetted Darcy's appetite for rapid play, although he sensed its dual edge. On the plus side, knowing how to play well rapidly is a skill worth having when you find yourself short of time in a tournament game. On the negative side, rapid play tended to inculcate superficiality and spontaneity when the position may require profound deliberation. Darcy resolved to limit his fast play to the end of each day's session after concentrating deeply in several serious games.
In the days ahead Darcy became acquainted with all of the amateurs and even a few of the masters. Although he never seriously threatened any of the latter's games, the encounters made him aware of how much more deeply the masters looked into a position than did he. With his father's support he sought out Alexander Blackburn, who agreed to serve as his tutor. The master quickly deduced that the ending was the weakest part of his game, so that is where they concentrated their efforts.
"You cannot play chess well unless you are expert at endgame play", began the master, "for how can you expect to manage an army if you cannot properly handle a few men? And how can you expect to play the middle game properly if you do not know when it is advantageous to simplify and enter the end game."
Darcy was persuaded and resolved to study endings until he had mastered them. He studied with Mr. Blackburn several hours every morning and put his newly acquired knowledge to use in afternoon tournament games, skittles and analysis. When his fortnight's residence in London was complete, Darcy left the city greatly enriched not only in increased chess acumen, but also in newly formed friendships, none more highly regarded than that of Bingley, whose open manner and cheerful spirit he found most admirable and enjoyable.
Chapter 3 - The Young Master
Upon his return to Pemberley, Fitzwilliam judged his playing strength to be at the first level, only a step below candidate master. He attributed his success to an ability to quickly grasp geometric patterns, a decidedly advantageous skill in a two-dimensional game of ranks, files, diagonals, and jumps in L-shaped patterns. His trip to London also made him cognizant of his need to learn the strategic elements of the game. To remedy this deficiency, his father, assisted by London's master Blackburn, devised a daily regimen of chess instruction. Every morning Darcy walked briskly for an hour through the groves to improve his physical conditioning. After breakfast he repaired to the library for intensive chess studies from books recommended by Blackburn and procured during his London expedition. Several dozen books were devoted solely to each of the three major phases of the game: the myriad variations of the opening, the strategy and tactics of the middle game, and the precise maneuverings in the endgame. For the study of current chess practice, another dozen books were devoted to tournament games. Darcy was pleased to discover that some of his father's games were included in some of the tournament compilations.
To further sharpen Darcy's analytical skills, Mr. Blackburn engaged him in a number of simultaneous postal games. Darcy had several days to study each position before sending his move in the post, and a few days later the master's reply arrived in the morning mail. The long interval between moves and the ability to move the pieces around during analysis proved an ideal opportunity to probe the hidden possibilities of a position. Upon the conclusion of a game, which could last a year or more, his mentor provided a thorough analysis that clarified where the pupil had erred. Darcy found postal play so enjoyable that he entered a national postal tournament when he reached his sixteenth birthday. He played three rounds in as many years against six opponents in each round. In the first round he drew one game, lost another in a frightfully stupid manner when he deployed an unsoundly aggressive opening but he won his remaining four games. In the second round he won five games and lost one. By the time he finished the final round, where the competition was strongest, he had attainted sufficient playing strength to sweep the round. His ninth place finish in a field of over 1,500 participants was a point of pride for his father as well as for himself.
To gain over-the-board experience, Darcy revisited the London Chess Club annually to compete in its autumn tournament. He found clubs in the Derbyshire vicinity more convenient for habitual play. Bingley was a frequent visitor at Pemberley, and during many of his extended stays, Darcy and Bingley participated regularly in tournaments at the clubs of Birmingham, Nottingham and Manchester. The latter club, in particular, hosted tourneys in which masters and candidate masters regularly played. This level of competition was ideally suited for the development of young talent.
In his nineteenth year Darcy gave his father even greater cause for celebration; he became champion of Derbyshire, the youngest ever. Strangely, he began the tournament with uncharacteristically bad form. He won twice and drew twice, but lost four times, leaving him solidly in the bottom half of the playing roster. So disgusted and discouraged was he by his performance that he considered quitting the tournament, and confessed as much to his father.
"It appears that it has been a mistake to enter this competition. The tension of concentrating five hours straight, worrying that even a small oversight can nullify the entire effort, has caused me to hallucinate and make blunders worthy of a novice. Perhaps I have played too much recently and it is best to retire from the game for short while."
"Withdrawal certainly appears to the easiest way out of your predicament, Fitzwilliam, but I feel strongly that it is not in your best interest. You must not quit the tournament."
"If you are concerned about appearances", protested the son, "I daresay our family name will survive the ordeal. There will be other tournaments."
"No, the reputation of our family is not foremost in mind. Rather, what concerns me is your lack of fortitude. You have studied years to acquire knowledge of the game; now you are presented with a golden opportunity to acquire knowledge of yourself. You have many resources; you must put them to use." He put his hand on his shoulder and looked at him earnestly. "My son, I speak from experience. Do not fret about the outcome of the game during play; I know how easily one falls into that trap. Rather concentrate only on the position before you. Rekindle the joy of solving the puzzle. Take courage and play the move of your conviction; do not play safe for fear of losing. When you win by uncertain play, you learn nothing but self-doubt; but if you make a judgment about a position and play accordingly, then even in loss will you learn something valuable. Misjudging a position is far, far better than mistrusting yourself."
Darcy acknowledged the wisdom and truth of his father's assertion, and vowed to take his advice to heart and begin afresh. The tonic yielded immediate improvement. He won his next game, and the next, and drew the third against the tournament leader. After four more straight wins, he trailed the leader by only half a point. When they were paired in the ultimate round, Darcy was determined to play hard for a win and he sought out continuations that unbalanced the position. Allowing the position to remain balanced was to risk drifting toward a draw. Although not able to unravel all the intricacies of the ensuing complications, Darcy trusted the instincts he had forged in his Pemberley laboratory. It was only a matter of time until his opponent tipped over the White king in capitulation.
"Darcy may lose a game", declared the deposed champion to the crowd, "but never his head." The assembly applauded their assent.
The elder Darcy prepared a lavish banquet at Pemberley to properly honor the occasion. He took particular joy in raising his glass and addressing the multitude, "At long last a father's aspiration has come to pass. I can now look upon my first-born and truly say that he out-ranks me. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Derbyshire's newest chess master, Master Fitzwilliam Darcy." Amid the spontaneous cheers, Darcy clinked a toast with his father, and each looked upon the other with equal measure of gratitude and pride.
Bingley was just as proud of his friend's accomplishment. Although he could not match Darcy's talent over the board, he nonetheless enjoyed their frequent off-hand games after dinner. Their circle of friendship naturally expanded to include their sisters, Georgiana Darcy and Louisa and Caroline Bingley. The Bingley sisters, very near Fitzwilliam in age but not in character, found much in the young gentleman to admire, his magnificent estate and rents certainly not being the least of them. They competed fiercely for his attention. Few of his comments escaped sycophantic assent; no light remark passed without giggling accompaniment; no criticism need fear a rebuke. Darcy dismissed their ingratiating ploys with an air suggesting bemused annoyance, especially when they crossed the line toward absurdity.
"Mr. Darcy sweeps away all who dare play against him", declared Louisa one day as he and Bingley were engaged at chess. "Even the devil himself would have scant hope of prevailing against our Mr. Darcy."
Darcy had reached his limit of fulsome praise. He looked up and declared solemnly, "I must defer to your experience in this matter, Louisa. I must admit that I do not possess your intimate knowledge of the devil's strengths and weaknesses."
Caroline shrieked in delight at her sister's comeuppance. Louisa turned crimson but made no reply. Unlike her younger sister, Louisa was finally shrewd enough to finally sense that trapping Darcy was a lost cause. She had recalled what her father had taught her years ago about fishing Ò the secret of success is always moving from unproductive waters toward productive waters. Yes, decided Louisa, she would no longer dangle lures in the sterile Pemberley waters; she would begin casting about in earnest for an easier catch.
Louisa did not wait long before a prize fish swam into view. A Mr. Edgar Hurst, who was called 'Egad' by his close acquaintances, joined their party in one post-tournament soiree. Louisa quickly determined that he possessed the sufficient and necessary attributes of a potential husband. He could walk and breathe, which was sufficient, and he had inherited a sizeable fortune, which was absolutely necessary. Her flattery soon extracted bits of information about his accomplishments as a gamesman. He often played brilliantly at chess and was unusually fortunate at cards. For counterpoint, she also observed him to be a prolific reveler. Frequently he combined his passion for games with his lust for drink, much to the detriment of the former. In the preceding year he had conducted a chess exhibition where he played against 20 opponents simultaneously. After he had dispatched the easy opponents, some of those remaining improvised a most interesting gambit Ò they filled glasses of wine and placed them on his side of the table. The results speak for the efficacy of their plan. After a 10 game winning streak, he managed but two wins, two draws and six losses. "They left wine en prise, so I took it en passant", he moaned to Darcy and Bingley, who smiled at the witty chess reference.
Whether it was the good company or whether it was the excellent wine so copiously supplied by Louisa, Mr. Hurst gradually warmed to her attentions and took the bait. Louisa lost little time reeling him in and securing him. Within two months they exited the parish church as husband and wife. This provided much relief to Caroline, who now fancied that her only rival for Darcy's affections had quit the competition. Darcy, however, viewed the proceedings disinterestedly, wishing nothing more than to remain disentangled from the affairs of the Bingley sisters. He was preoccupied with his imminent enrollment at Cambridge University. In a few months more he would begin a course of study in history and philosophy.
Chapter 4 - Cambridge
Arriving in Cambridge a full week before the beginning of the Michaelmas term, Darcy had time to leisurely ensconce himself in his new quarters and become acquainted with the fellows who shared the second floor of the centuries-old dormitory. Once his servants had lugged his boxes of clothing and supplies and stocked his room with the contents, he joined his mates on a quick tour of the University and the town.
The medieval Gothic architecture of the various college buildings was a wonder. Darcy was especially taken by the spectacular interior of the 15th century King's College Chapel. Conceived by Henry VI, the chapel's magnificent stained-glass windows, vaulted roof, great buttresses, and lofty spires appeared to reach up and draw heaven down to earth. When Darcy considered he was standing in the very place once occupied by such intellectual giants as Desiderius Erasmus and Sir Isaac Newton, he felt even more keenly the reverent atmosphere of the place.
As the young men exited the Chapel, Darcy admired the aspect of the surrounding colleges of Queen's, Trinity, and Magdalene. Through their lovely manicured lawns and luxuriant gardens flowed the winding Cam River. A superannuated gent was resting beneath one of the shade trees along the bank, and he informed them that during Anglo-Saxon times trade between central England and the continent passed over the main bridge on the Cam. The group continued their walk along a path on the riverbank and followed it to the marketplace in the town center. The colorful produce grown in the rolling hills of Cambridgeshire was as appealing to sight and touch as it was to taste and smell. Darcy devoured a ripe Granny apple and bought extra for his sack, he then ran after the others who were headed toward the Pig's Ear Pub to proof the local ale.
The first few weeks of the term passed quickly by and Darcy found the academic life very much to his liking. Many of his classmates found the increased demands of University course work daunting compared to that of their preparatory schools, but Darcy had formed such good study habits over the chessboard that he felt a diminution of effort sufficed to master his new objects of study. He was determined, however, not to let chess interfere with his University probation period, and to that effect he foreswore play of any games until at least the beginning of the Lenten term.
It was unfortunate that the University was burdened with a fair number of ossified instructors who leaned mightily upon personal authority to quell any uprisings of curiosity among the body of students. Darcy had only to suffer one such fool in his course of systematic theology. Most of the professors, it must be happily noted, retained sufficient humility and devotion to exhibit genuine interest in learning as well as teaching. Doctors Adrian McTavish and Jeremy Crimcot, who taught courses in logic and aesthetics respectively, were two such gifted men and, consequently, they quickly become Darcy's favorites.
The eight weeks of the Michaelmas term passed pleasantly enough. Bingley and Caroline rode up from London to visit him during Christmas week. Darcy would have very much preferred to entertain them at Pemberley, but the bulk of students' work was accomplished in the interterm, and it was expected of him to reside in Cambridge for the duration. It was after a long day's diligent study that Bingley and Caroline broke into his library, closed his books and escorted him, arm-in-arm, to the pub. Darcy's feeble protest made clear his secret delight to be so timely kidnapped. The barkeep soon produced a pitcher of ale and a large basket of sundry comestibles, the major constituent of which was fried pig's ear, no doubt to remain in full compliance with the establishment's name.
"Tell me Darcy", began Caroline, "whatever did you find so engrossing in your study that we were forced to abduct you from its clutches?"
"Philosophical studies were the culprit", replied Darcy. "I was specifically engaged by the problem of aesthetics."
"Aesthetics? You find my beauty so problematical?" asked Caroline. "That is not what a lady wishes to hear."
"Beauty is not a problem for me", returned her brother. "I must admit I can only find it charming!"
"Yes, exactly", laughed Caroline. "Poor Darcy has been hidden so long in his dark library that he has been rendered blind to all that is light and beautiful. Such a pity it is, that a man should work so diligently to acquire the tree of knowledge, and discover only too late that he has turned into a mushroom." She chortled softly.
"There may be some justice in your sentiment", answered Darcy, "and I may yet be the proof of it, but the point of my studies today was understanding the dilemma of aesthetics. What is its proper origin? Is beauty some immutable quality of an object, or is it a value ascribed to it by an observing mind?"
"That is self-evident, is it not?" Bingley quickly retorted. "Surely no one can dispute that a beautiful woman is universally admired by an assemblage, whereas a less pretty girl would not stir such emotion. Therefore beauty must reside in the woman."
"That may be true for a given society with shared taste", admitted Darcy, "but that has not been true across time and culture. You have only to consider different portrayals of women in paintings during various eras. No, beauty appears to be a resonant expression of the beholder to the object. The eye may find a poor painting of a lovely girl to be far less attractive than a well rendered painting of an plain girl."
"Oh dear", cried Caroline, "such a heavy dissertation! What have I started? Bartender! Another pitcher of your lightest ale, please, to lift the conversation!"
Darcy paid her no heed as he continued speaking with Bingley. "Aesthetics is closely wedded to chess as well, I have found. A very beautiful continuation may later be proven to be false, and thus rendered as ugly as a painted harlot; but a sound winning variation, even if it appears ugly upon first acquaintance, may prove to be a thing of sublime beauty. So in chess at least, truth can be beauty, and beauty truth. In my everyday existence, however, I tend to find art is most truthful when it closely imitates nature."
The fresh pitcher of ale arrived at their table and Darcy was happy to lay aside the heavy philosophy in exchange for more congenial fare. The three of them stood to toast the correctness of Darcy's assertion about natural art, then sat down and let the discourse collapse into observations about fashions and behaviors exhibited by the patrons of the pub. The boisterous action and loud insults from the far side of the room commanded their attention. A crowd had gathered to witness a French expatriate play chess against all comers for a wager. Darcy and Bingley took leave of Caroline and walked over for a better view. The Frenchman had just dispatched a woodpusher and collected his prize of one crown. He smiled and gently derided the crowd as he searched for the next fish.
"So, are zere no more citoyens who dare to defend ze British honor? Non? Not even one to put a poor Parisian peasant in his place? Non? Why ze hesitation, mes amis? Ah, you know zat I have ze secret weapon. I eat ze French food tres delicieux and you English, tsk, you are forced to eat ze fat sausages sauvage and ze kippers horrible. Eet ees no wonder zat your brains are all scrambled and you cannot defeat ze humble peasant."
"I've heard as much tripe as I can stand", announced a burly patron as he plunked down two crowns next to the board and assumed his seat. "You want to see want Englishmen are made of? Well, you'll out soon enough, my froggy friend."
The crowd hooted in delight and slapped the fellow on the back encouragingly. The foreigner played rapidly and sang continuously to annoy his opponent. He droned on and on, alternating between two tuneless single-line renditions of "Who hit Nelly in ze belly with ze flounder" and "Zay call me Shirley because my hair is so curly". To further confuse and make the other fellow frown, he would randomly announce in stentorian tone as he was about to make his move, "I am coming Father Abraham, ten thousand strong!" Of course the gathering made little sense of it, but they found the entertainment riveting and immensely amusing. Even Darcy had difficulty in suppressing a chuckle.
The pace of play quickened but the sharp eye of the Frenchman did not miss the challenger castling on the kingside by surreptitiously grabbing a rook from the neighboring board to replace his previously captured king's rook. Because he was winning anyway, the Frenchman didn't protest, but answered simply by his own custom made kingside castling maneuver. He illegally placed the rook one square over on the king file instead of the proper king bishop file. When the challenger protested, he barked, "Look, you castle your way, and I'll castle mine." Realizing his scam had been detected, the challenger meekly decided to drop his claim and soon found himself in a dead lost position. He shoved his chair away from the table in disgust as the foreigner pocketed the winnings.
"So. Is zat ze best Cambridge can offer? How extremely sad for ze English partisans! Ze Universite students have so many brains and so leetle courage." He wagged his head in mock reproach.
"Darcy, you should play this upstart", urged Bingley. "You must redeem the honor of Cambridge."
The Frenchman instantly looked up. "So. Le monsieur would like to play a game?"
"No, I thank you. I rarely find time to play."
"Ah, from ze look of your clothes, ze problem cannot be ze money. You lack courage, peut-'tre, mon ami?" he said flashing a wicked grin.
After an intensive entreaty by Bingley and Caroline, who finally became sufficiently curious to investigate the proceedings, Darcy capitulated and plunked down a crown. He began with the standard king pawn advance of two squares. His rival played the weakest possible move: he moved his queen knight's pawn up two squares, leaving it en prise to the white bishop. As the bishop quickly snapped it up, the Frenchman feigned chagrin. Darcy sensed the true nature of the contest and deliberately blundered a few moves later as a test. Bingley gasped in horror, but Darcy was not at all surprised when his opponent pretended to notice neither the blunder nor the reaction, and offered instead a retaliatory blunder of his own. Keen to end the farce, Darcy captured the loose queen and accepted the immediate offer of resignation.
"So ze English gentilhomme had ze good fortune to pummel ze peasant. You would not deny an honest man a chance at another game, n'est pas? Say for une guinea?"
The masses urged Darcy on, and he was agreeable as a true contest could be assured now that the opening charade to increase the stakes had been played out. He reached into his purse and counted out coins before the astonished crowd. "Let us play for ten pounds instead. Agreed?"
The Frenchman smiled wryly and shook Darcy's hand.
Chapter 5 - Philippe
The Frenchman was not unhandsome, nor did his face exaggerate his age of two and twenty. It was his clothing, rather, that commanded notice. He wore black leather breeches, long red argyle socks, green wool shirt, black leather vest and a short-brimmed hat adorned with several hawk feathers. Most players would find it difficult to apprehend any danger from so comical an apparition. Darcy, however, was determined not to take his opponent lightly. He began the contest properly by reaching into his waistcoat and placing the ten-pound wager on the table. If the Frenchman was embarrassed by his inability to reciprocate, he did not betray it.
"You will find eet understandable, monsieur, zat I do not carry ze large amount of money on my person. Let zis be le securite." He reached into the top of his shirt and pulled out a gold ring attached to a necklace. Darcy leaned over to inspect the article briefly and nodded his approval. Darcy's financial interest in the match was of no consequence compared to his interest in teaching the stranger that he was not an Englishman to be scorned.
Bingley performed the ritual of chess color selection by presenting a pawn in each closed fist. The Frenchman tapped the left hand and got the black pawn, thus losing the slight advantage of moving first. Darcy opened with his king pawn. The Frenchman responded by advancing his queen bishop pawn two squares -- the hallmark of the Sicilian defense, which yields aggressively imbalanced positions. White is given a free hand on the kingside while Black is given equal freedom on the queenside. The resulting lively play is often quite thrilling to observe, but for the players it can be nerve racking to weather the dangerous onslaughts. White often castles his king on the queenside to speed the attack, and Black, conversely, does the same on the opposite half of the board. The side which executes the attack most quickly and forcefully usually wins the game, assuming of course that one's head is not lost in the complications.
It did not take long for the Frenchman to reprise the singsong banter of his first game, but Darcy countered by occasionally humming in accompaniment, much to his opponent's aggravation. The Frenchman switched to his insult gambit. "I feel so sorry for votre money, monsieur. But do not worry your head about eet. I promeese to spend eet very well."
"Yes, perhaps you can begin by returning your borrowed outfit to the court jester and purchasing decent habiliments of your own."
The Frenchman muttered an oath. Convinced that Darcy's retort was more due to luck than wit, he probed further a few moves later. "So, monsieur. How does eet feel to play in ze peasant's peeg pen? You like to play ze fool, eh, mon ami?"
"Playing the fool is no problem for me, pig pen or no", replied Darcy tersely. Then with a slight smile he added, "I have had the opportunity to play against many fools in my chess career; one more does not signify."
The Frenchman realized that verbal sparring with Darcy was not having the desired effect, so he slipped into silence. After a dozen moves the position conformed to the conventional Sicilian pattern. Black had advanced his pawns on the queenside and was ready to take control of a half-open queen bishop file. White, although not yet castled, controlled the center of the board and had initiated an attack against the Black king on the opposite side of the board. The tense nature of the contest animated the patrons of the pub and they pressed closer to the playing table for a better view. The feel of hot breath on his neck was more than Darcy could endure. He sharply rebuked the crowd and demanded easement. They reluctantly complied, but it was not long before they inexorably reverted to their previous configuration.
On the nineteenth move, the Frenchman's queen and bishop bore down on the White king and threatened mate on the move. Darcy blocked the diagonal with his queen, but Black, rather than trade queens and defuse the position, played for a win and launched a simultaneous attack on White's queen and naked king knight pawn. White counterattacked Black's unguarded bishop on the queenside. This shift of the locus of action from kingside to queenside surprised some of the kibitzers, but Darcy's maneuver was an indirect attack against the king. The Frenchman was forced to redeploy his queen in defense, and Darcy's attack never looked back.
White's attack reached the point of no return five moves later. Although he was unable to fathom all the myriad complicated branches, Darcy felt intuitively that if he failed to press decisively, his advantage would evaporate. He summoned his courage and cracked open the opposing defense with a rook sacrifice that Black could scarcely refuse to take with his own rook. Black, however, was left in a nasty pin, and Darcy immediately attacked the trapped piece with his other rook. The Frenchman interposed his bishop, much to Darcy's dismay as he had failed to foresee this simple move. Darcy was far from lost, though. He found a fine resource and threw the king knight pawn into the fray. Black countered by moving his king and unpinning his rook. Later when he simultaneously attacked White's queen and rook, Darcy offered his queen in sacrifice, a move that astonished the crowd. At first glance it seemed more a blunder than sacrifice, but the Frenchman's anxious expression showed a contrary opinion. He frantically searched for an escape, but there was none to be found. The Frenchman reluctantly turned over his king in capitulation.
The gallery was profuse in its congratulatory cheers and applause. The player of the Black pieces could only look at the board and shake his head in disbelief. Finally becoming aware of the demands of sportsmanship, he rose to extend a congratulatory hand.
"You have played very well, mon ami. Ze game was tres manifique. And eef I may be so bold as to eenquire ze name of ze man who has beaten me so badly? My name is Philippe Alain."
"Darcy. Fitzwilliam Darcy. You played a fine game, Mr. Alain."
"Non. Please. All my friends call me Philippe. We can play another game, peut-'tre, at double the prize?"
"No. I thank you. The dinner hour is upon us and it is best to collect my winnings and rejoin my party. Perhaps we shall meet again some other day."
Philippe looked absolutely forlorn as he slowly and silently handed over his ring to Darcy, who pocketed it with barely a glance before taking his leave. The perplexed Frenchman slumped into his chair and stared at the hopeless board.
Darcy and the Bingleys had walked only a few hundred yards when they heard Philippe running after them calling Darcy's name. They waited for his approach.
"Mr. Darcy, pardon my interruption, but there is an important matter I must discuss with you. Can you give me a few moments of time?"
"Yes, Mr. Alain, of course", he replied courteously. "We can meet tomorrow, if you find that convenient."
"No, Mr. Darcy, the matter is urgent and it cannot be postponed. I must meet with you now in private, for a few moments only."
The distress in Philippe's voice was palpable and it moved Darcy to empathy. Assuming the matter to concern the ring and sensing the conversation to be of some duration, Darcy begged Charles and Caroline to excuse him, and turned to Philippe after they had gone.
"Very well, Mr. Alain. My friends have departed but my hunger has not. Would you object to partaking dinner with me?"
He readily agreed and the two walked the quarter mile to the Foxtail Inn, where they claimed an empty table in the corner and ordered a hearty dinner. A bottle of cabernet sauvignon soon appeared and shortly thereafter the two men felt sufficiently settled to converse.
Darcy could no longer suppress his curiosity. "Mr. Alain, you appear to have lost more than the game. Whatever became of your charmingly thick accent? Now I can only detect the slightest foreign influence. Never has a game of mine effected such a wondrous change."
His companion smiled. "Yes, I must plead guilty to the charge. I moved to London as a young child and I was able to quickly assimilate the cadence and pronunciation of your language. As I now make my living playing chess in pubs and coffee houses, I find that teasing the public with a thick French accent stokes them wonderfully and produces a long line of opponents eager to crush my game if not my skull. How much easier it is to extract money from adversaries who are defending their pride!"
"You have taken an original approach to the game, Mr. Alain, and I trust you have met with a fair share of success. You have acquitted yourself admirably over the board in our game, even if victory has eluded you this once." Darcy sipped wine as he waited for Philippe to speak his mind. His companion put down his glassed and leaned over the table.
"Mr. Darcy, I have a great favor to ask of you. I did not dare ask it in the presence of others as I did not want to appear desperate or dishonorable, nor did I want you to suffer any embarrassment. Because I seldom lose a game when my livelihood is at risk, I scarcely entertained the possibility you could defeat me. Had I known how well you play the game, I should never have entered the wager. But so few men are willing to risk such a large sum against a stranger and I needed the money so badly that I could not refuse the offer. What an idiot I have been! But I did play and lose, and the game was not the most significant of my losses." He looked earnestly at Darcy. "You must permit me to buy back my ring. It can mean nothing to you, and it must stay in my family."
Darcy reached into his pocket for the article and examined it carefully. It was a gold signet ring. A fleur-de-lis was engraved in its center; a crown adorned the top; and below was inscribed "Louis XVI". The exquisite detail of the fleur-de-lis and the substantial weight of the ring told Darcy that it was probably genuine. He had never held a king's ring before and the thought of holding history in his hand intrigued him.
"This ring belonged to your family, you say? Are you then of royal blood, Mr. Alain?"
The waiter interrupted them to serve lamb stew, bread, and a second bottle of cabernet. After they had consumed a sufficient portion to assuage their hunger, the Frenchman began his story.
"No, monsieur, I am not of royal blood, but my father served in the court of Louis XVI. The king was in many ways a bad and weak king, but many of his problems were inherited. The many wars, especially the Seven Years War, left the country bankrupt. The French were so angry with the British afterwards that not even bankruptcy could prevent their sending troops to aid the American colonies' revolt. The French soldiers returned full of ideas about freedom and independence. When the First Estate tried to levy taxes on the nobles, they refused to pay, so the heavy tax burden of the wars was shifted solely to the backs of the peasants. That precipitated the revolution of 1789, and King Louis and Marie Antoinette were carted off to the guillotine. During the chaos of the king's capture, he gave the ring to my father, who later escaped by donning peasant clothing. My father knew his life and the life of his family were in great jeopardy in Paris, so he arranged to smuggle me out of the country to stay with his cousin in London. My mother's sister in Louvain, Belgium, agreed to take my younger sister. Shortly after our separation my parents were apprehended, put through the humiliating spectacle of a sham trial, and then carted off with the other prisoners. When I last saw my father fifteen years ago, he put the ring in my hand and made me swear to keep it always, and this I have done until today. So you can understand, Mr. Darcy, why I am so desperate to get back the ring."
"I am indeed sorry to hear of your parents' tragic end", said Darcy quietly, "and of your lengthy separation from your sister. You have lived in England now for fifteen years, have you not? Why have you not sent for your her?"
"Nothing could have pleased me more and I think about it every day, Mr. Darcy, but it was not possible. My aunt was entrusted with her care and would not permit her to come here while she was so young. With the turmoil on the continent, my cousin did not risk my traveling to her. Another factor is that the whole of our parent's estate was plundered and we were left without a sou. Both of our guardians are of modest means and would have had great difficulty in paying for our voyage."
Philippe paused to keep his emotions in check. "Since my arrival, I have studied very hard, not only English culture but also mathematics. Professor Brookston here at Cambridge took notice of my published dissertation on differential equations, and he arranged for my enrollment at the university. I am currently employed as his research assistant. It barely pays for my room and board, so I have taken to wander the countryside in hopes of gleaning enough chess winnings to cover my other necessities. I post money every month to assist my aunt and a special allotment to pay for my sister's music lessons. If I could scrape together 75 pounds more, I should have enough to send for my sister soon and rent a place in London for us both."
Darcy leaned back in his chair and emptied his wineglass. He had accompanied his father many times to call upon tenants who had fallen into arrears, and having heard countless recitations of myriad woes he had developed a fine sense for discerning which cases deserved charity and which cases did not. Although he was predisposed to remain skeptical of all strangers bearing sad tales, Philippe's story resonated with a truth that Darcy found difficult to deny. His careful study of Philippe's countenance found no false emotion, but he had to put him to the test.
"If you are having such great difficulty accumulating funds, how am I ever to receive assurance of my ten pounds?"
Philippe looked at him solemnly. "I swear on the graves of my father and mother, and I swear on the life of my sister that I shall return before this month's end and pay what is due." Contorted with anguish, he reached into his vest pocket and produced a bundle of papers. "Here, you may take these letters from my sister in exchange for security. They are as close to my heart as my father's ring, but my pledge to my father was directly made and I am bound by honor to keep it. I implore you to relieve my suffering and let me make this substitution. I only ask that you permit me to seal the letters with the ring so that my sister's thoughts remain private."
Darcy picked up the top letter and examined the address. "A fine and beautiful hand", he remarked. "A very lovely hand indeed." He replaced the letter and shoved the pile toward Philippe. "It is not possible for me to accept your terms. I have a sister of my own and I shall not the one to come between brother and sister." Fingering the ring, he continued. "No, indeed I am inclined to think the only honorable course of action is to retain the ring as per our original agreement. Still, ten pounds seems a pittance for this jewel. How much would you imagine it to fetch on the marketplace?"
The Frenchman was stunned by the response and momentarily lost his ability to reply. He rallied and responded angrily. "Mr. Darcy, the ring is priceless. It cannot be sold. Surely you are aware of that?"
Darcy paused to calmly fill his glass. "It certainly is true that your life will be worth nothing if you were to enter France with this trinket. Still, I am convinced that its true value must lie somewhere between ten pounds and priceless." He reached into his waistcoat to retrieve his pocketbook and wrote out a sum on a bank note, which he then laid on Philippe's side of the table. "Does one hundred pounds strike you as a reasonable compromise?"
His companion stared at the note incredulously, but made no move to take it. Darcy ignored him and took advantage of the silence to examine the ring once more.
After a long interval he remarked, "It strikes me that having this ring in my possession may be ill conceived after all. Under certain circumstances I should imagine that it may even put my life at risk." Darcy carefully placed the ring on top of the note and leaned over the table. "If you would show me the kindness to take custody of my ring, I shall be grateful."
Philippe's expression changed to a mixture of bewilderment and wonder.
"My offer is not without conditions, Mr. Alain", continued Darcy, "and you must promise to faithfully execute all of them or I shall withdraw my offer."
His countenance now revealed both curiosity and trepidation.
"First, you must never permit my ring to leave your possession, which implies, of course, that you must never use my ring as surety for wagering. Second, you must never wager more against a stranger than you can afford to comfortably lose. Third, should I desire to do so, you must allow me to inspect my ring whenever we are contemporaneously in London. Finally," here Darcy began to grin, "finally, you must promise to visit me in Pemberley at least once every year and allow me another opportunity of beating you on the chessboard, but only for stakes of a pound or less. Do you find those terms acceptable, Philippe?"
Philippe jumped to his feet, unable restrain his happiness and gratitude. "Mon dieu! Yes, yes, yes. I accept them with all my heart. Never will I find duties more agreeable, mon ami!"
As he grasped the hand of his companion, Darcy was almost as overcome by emotion as was Philippe. Darcy called out to the proprietor for his oldest armagnac. The two toasted the agreement and their friendship, and then conversed easily through the hours until closing time forced their eviction.
Chess notation is always specified from White's view of the board. The files (vertical rows) are labeled from a-h, (left to right). The ranks (horizontal rows) are number up the board from 1-8. Thus at the beginning of the game, White's queen rook square is a1, Black's king rook square is h8, White's king is on the e1 square, and Black's king is on the e8 square.
The abbreviations for the pieces are as follows: K = king, Q = queen, R = rook, B = bishop, N = knight. If no piece is specified (except for castling as described below), then a pawn move is implied.
A move of a piece is denoted by its abbreviation and the destination square. Thus Nf3 means that the knight moves to the third rank in the 'f' file. If there is ambiguity, then information about the originating square is given. For instance, if two knights can reach the f3 square, the move could be specified as Ndf3 (the knight on the Îd' file moves to f3), or it would specified as N2f3 if knights were on the d2 and d4 squares, and we wanted to move the knight on the second rank to the f3 square.
Pawn moves are designated by the destination square. Thus e4 means that White's pawn moves from the e2 square to the e4 square.
A capture is denoted by an 'x'. Thus fxg6 means that the pawn on the 'f' file captures whatever piece (or pawn) is located on the g6 square.
When White's pawn reaches the 8th rank (or Black's the 1st rank) it must be promoted into a Queen (by far the most common), rook, knight, or bishop. This is denoted by a pawn move/piece promotion; for example: f8/Q means that the White pawn on the Îf' file moves to the 8th rank and is promoted to a queen.
Castling kingside is denoted by 0-0, and castling queenside is denoted by 0-0-0. Checks (direct attacks on the opponent's king) are denoted by '+'; whereas '#' means checkmate. Checkmate is rare in actual play; most skilled players resign when defeat is inevitable.
The game between Darcy and Philippe is based on a game I played in my teenage years against Gary Simms, a chess expert, in a semi-final round of a national postal tournament. I played a previous game against him in the preliminary round of the tournament (the game was a draw) and we both happened to land in the same semi-final seven-player section. I qualified for the finals and, like our hero Darcy, I was fortunate enough to finish ninth overall.
The outstanding feature of postal chess is that you have three days to make a move, so you can analyze all the variations in great detail. The following win against Simms took about six months to complete.
|W. Friesema vs. G. Simms, Golden Knights Semi-finals. 1967|
|1.e4 c5||2.Nf3 d6|
|3.d4 cxd4||4.Nxd4 Nf6|
|5.Nc3 g6||6.f3 Bg7|
|7.Be3 Nc6||8.Qd2 0--0|
|9.Bc4 Bd7||10.Bb3 Nxd4|
|11.Bxd4 b5||12.h4 a5|
|13.h5 a4||14.Bxf6 exf6|
|15.Bd5 b4||16.Ne2 Rb8|
|17.hxg6 hxg6||18.0--0--0 f5|
|19.Kb1 Qf6||20.Qd4 Qg5|
|21.Qa7 Qd8||22.Nd4 fxe4|
|23.fxe4 a3||24.Rdf1 Rb6|
|25.Rxf7 Rxf7||26.Rf1 Bf6|
|27.g4 Kh8||28.g5 Rh7|
|29.gxf6 Bh3||30.f7 Bxf1|
|[if 31...Qxb6 32.f8/Q#]|
|[if 31...Qf8||32.Ne6 Qxf7|
|33.Qd8+ Qg8||34.Qf6+ Rg7|
|35.Nf8 and the Black queen is trapped.]|
Chapter 6 - Netherfield
Consumed by philosophical study for vocation and chess for avocation, Darcy was barely cognizant of the speedy passage of time. His residence at Cambridge would have been wholly idyllic had death not intervened to claim his father in his senior year. As he was nearly finished with his coursework, Darcy prematurely curtailed his stay at Cambridge so he could guide his sister through the sad and difficult time.
Five summers later, Bingley's father died in the north of England, leaving him with a fortune of nearly an hundred thousand pounds. The father had made his fortune in trade and although intending to procure a grand estate, he did not live to accomplish it. After settling family affairs, Bingley traveled to Pemberley to enlist Darcy's assistance in procuring an eligible estate. The search naturally began in Derbyshire, but the country estates there that were available were not suitable, and those that were suitable were not available. Hearing of a fine prospect called Netherfield, not far from the small town of Meryton in Hertfordshire, Bingley and Darcy rode down by carriage to investigate. The sylvan landscape spurred Bingley to quickly let the place despite his friend's cautions concerning the area's probable social deficiency.
Not long afterward, Bingley, his sisters and Mr. Hurst settled in Netherfield. Soon a steady stream of neighboring gentlemen called upon them, each issuing a friendly invitation to attend the Meryton Ball. Their stated intent was to acquaint the Netherfield party with Meryton society, but ensnaring the affluent Bingley for one of their daughters was their unstated objective. Darcy needed little prodding to join the assembly, so curious was he to confirm his assertion about the state of country manners. He was not disappointed. Darcy found their behavior so unrefined, and the gap between their less restrained manners and his formality so pronounced, that he felt quite ill at ease. Not even the charms of a rather alluring young woman could tempt him to participate in the dance; and Bingley's repeated pleadings were of no avail. Bingley had already engaged the interest of the woman's older sister, a Miss Jane Bennet, the most beautiful woman in the assembly; and Darcy found it unacceptable to take second place to Bingley in anything.
Meryton society, however unrefined, must have had some beneficial affect upon Darcy's humor though, for he surprised himself several weeks later by accepting an invitation to repeat the experience. As that evening progressed his stiffness melted to such an extent that he fancied himself pleased to accept his host's suggestion to dance with Miss Elizabeth Bennet, the second of the five Bennet daughters whom he had so thoughtlessly dismissed at the prior ball. Her resolute refusal startled him and commanded his further notice. There was something about her countenance, something especially about her fine eyes that provoked feelings of eerie familiarity. He must have seen her before, but he could not account for it. For the remainder of the evening he found it impossible to expel her from his thoughts.
Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst, perhaps indirectly influenced by their enamored brother, were disposed to think of Jane Bennet as the only girl in the whole community possessing manners and appearance worthy of their friendship. They invited her to tea when the men would be absent. When she arrived the following day on horseback in a driving rain, they were shocked; when she suddenly developed a violent cold, they were perplexed; when Jane was forced to recuperate at Netherfield, they were sympathetic; but when her sister arrived to look after her, Louisa, resentful of Elizabeth's lack of decorum, was dismayed and Caroline, resentful of Elizabeth's bewitchment of Darcy, was indignant. When their brother invited Elizabeth to stay for Jane's recuperation, there was nothing to be done, of course, except feign courtesy.
By the third day of the Bennet invasion Jane's condition had improved markedly, but lingering weakness kept her in bed. Elizabeth's attentions did much to alleviate the tedious confinement. The soothing sound of her voice as she read from a novel and the steady beat of the afternoon rain soon led Jane into a deep slumber. Elizabeth bent over to kiss her and silently left the room.
The incessant rain had gathered the Netherfield party into the library in search of amusement. Any enthusiasm for card playing had been thoroughly dissipated by the morning's marathon session, so the group divided along individual pursuits. Elizabeth entered the room to find Caroline writing a letter to Georgiana, Louisa softly playing the piano so as not to disturb the slumbers of her inebriated husband, while Darcy and Bingley huddled over the chessboard near the fire. She approached the table quietly and stood behind Darcy to observe the progress of the game.
"Good lord, Darcy! You give no quarter. How am I to defeat you this year if you persist in mounting attacks of such fierce proportion?" Bingley cried in mock complaint.
"What?" replied Darcy. "Would you have me lose by design? No satisfaction could be derived from such an empty purchase, I assure you. Concentrating on the board rather than entertaining vain wishes would be far more efficacious in strengthening your game."
Bingley heeded Darcy's advice and leaned over the board once more. After inspecting the position for several minutes, his optimism dissipated as he grasped the precariousness of his situation. "I see there is not the slightest hope of escape; my king is doomed," he said as he tipped over his monarch. He looked up and observed Elizabeth nodding in concurrence.
"Miss Bennet. Forgive my slight. I did not hear you enter the room."
Darcy was equally surprised. He stood quickly and turned to face her. "Good afternoon, Miss Bennet. Your sister's health is improving, I hope?"
"Yes, thank you. The fever has broken and she sleeps soundly at last. I anticipate that by this time tomorrow she will have gained strength enough to permit our return to Longbourn."
"That is welcome news indeed," declared Caroline. "She has been suffering terribly, I know." The thin sarcasm in her tone intimated that while Caroline had appropriated the outward form of civility, she was not acquainted with its essence. Elizabeth chose to conceal her irritation with a polite smile.
"You exhibit an unusual interest in chess, Eliza", continued Caroline. "Do not tell me that you actually play the game?"
"Yes, I do, Miss Bingley. My father taught me the game at an early age, but it has been quite some time since I have had the pleasure of playing."
"Why, then you have held back on us yesterday when we talked of ladies' accomplishments! You have greater proficiency than you have led us to believe. How extraordinary!" Caroline smirked. "I can number no other chess players among my female acquaintances; perhaps it is because they value the development of true feminine qualities. But come, Eliza, you must play Charles. He has been occupied at the board all afternoon it seems, and he is in desperate need of a win."
"Caroline!" objected her brother. "That remark is most unkind and your implication may simply be untrue. Still, if Miss Bennet wishes to engage in a match, I shall be very happy to oblige."
"Why, thank you, Mr. Bingley. Yes, I am quite in the mood to play."
Darcy offered his chair as Bingley prepared the board. Caroline and Louisa moved closer for a better view. Darcy took his seat opposite them as Elizabeth advanced her king pawn two squares.
"Quite the expected move," observed Bingley good naturedly, "but I often prefer the less conventional." He advanced his queen knight pawn one square.
"Yes, that indeed is an uncommon move, certainly one I have not seen before. But if you insist on ceding the middle of the board, I shall be happy to oblige and take control of the center." She confidently advanced her queen pawn two squares.
"You make your moves very quickly for someone in such unfamiliar territory, Miss Bennet. I agree that pieces are most active in the center, but attacks from the wing are not as toothless as they may first appear." Bingley moved his bishop in front of his queen knight.
"An oblique attack on my king pawn ÷ I see. But that is parried easily enough with my king bishop." Elizabeth moved it to the queen file. "And an additional benefit is that I get to develop a piece in the bargain."
Bingley paused to survey the board. "What you say is true enough, but I have other soldiers who want to march. My king bishop pawn, for example." He advanced it two squares.
Elizabeth examined the variations for a few moments and then decisively snapped up the loose pawn. "That is indeed most generous of you, Mr. Bingley! Did you intend as much?"
He could not suppress a wide smile. "Of course I did, Miss Bennet! That was the very point. You have fallen into my trap. Your last move has opened a diagonal for my bishop to the detriment of your king rook." He slowly swept the bishop down the board and captured the unprotected knight pawn. "Observe. Your rook has no escape and must now be regarded as uncompensated loss."
"Uncompensated? Are you quite certain of that?" she teased. "Does not your king feel a slight side draft from the door you have left so wide open?" She moved the queen diagonally to the king rook's file. "It appears your king is in check, sir!"
As he studied this unexpected development, Bingley's bravado changed to active concern. "H-m-m, it appears that I have only one legal reply at my disposal, yet it seems capable of thwarting your attack." He moved his king knight pawn to block the diagonal between the Black king and the White queen. Lizzy immediately captured the pawn with her own, threatening a nasty uncovered check by the White queen. Bingley's uneasiness in the face of the strong attack, in marked contrast to Lizzy's calm, made the state of the game clear even to Louisa, who knew nothing of the game. A moment later Bingley brightened as he discovered a resource and moved his knight to attack the White queen.
"You have missed your last chance to save the game," Darcy dryly observed. "Your only hope was to create an escape square for your king by moving the adjacent bishop."
"But surely Miss Bennet's queen must abandon the attack now or be lost!" exclaimed Bingley. "Then I shall have more than sufficient time to tend to the safety of my king."
"Yes, I agree. Time is of the essence when attacking," observed Lizzy as she captured the rook pawn with her own. "Your king is once again in check, sir."
"What! Are you sacrificing your queen?" asked Bingley in amazement. He took a few moments to gather his wits and study the position. "I have no alternative." He captured the queen with his knight. Without hesitating Lizzy slid her bishop from the queen file to the king knight file.
"And that, my dear sir, is checkmate," she announced with a sweet smile.
"Why, so it is," cried Bingley in disbelief. "What an astonishing turn of events. That is without a doubt the shortest game I have ever played. I must congratulate you on your remarkable success."
Darcy could not suppress a smile of his own. "Quite the irony, Bingley. The trapper falling into a counter trap! It must be noted, however, that the game is no more than a standard opening trick; but as you have hinted not to have seen the moves before, Miss Bennet, I must own that you have improvised the attack with commendable skill." She acknowledged the compliment with a slight nod.
"Yes, Eliza," added Caroline, "you have indeed been fortunate to defeat Charles, but I dare say you could not hope to achieve such an easy result against Darcy. He, after all, has been champion of Derbyshire since attaining the age of sixteen."
Darcy protested immediately, "I have no desire to play Miss Bennet. Although it is quite possible that she would be a worthy opponent, I would not wish to diminish the joy of her victory over Bingley."
"Are you absolutely certain that you would triumph in such a match?" Lizzy asked as she looked at him coolly. "Are you quite certain it is my feelings you wish to spare and not your own? I can give you every assurance my feelings are strong enough to absorb losses. I have had many confirmations of that already, and the addition of one more loss will have no long lasting effect; you need not concern yourself on that score. I must put you on notice, however, that I have not yet learned the ways of elegant and accomplished females who readily suppress their talents in deference to their male counterparts. That I will not do. But if you can summon the will and the courage to engage in a match, I can promise that you will be required to purchase victory with the full price of determined effort."
Darcy was taken aback by her audacity. "Yes÷ Yes I am convinced that you would struggle valiantly but I have serious misgivings that the female mind is not well equipped to engage in the military arts, of which chess is, after all, a wonderful distillation. Forgive my directness, Miss Bennet, but I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting any woman who could present any serious challenge to a master of the game."
"Indeed! Then your experience has been less varied than one would expect from the champion of Derbyshire. And if that is your true opinion, then you can risk nothing by satisfying my curiosity as to whether I could be fortunate enough to exceed your low expectations. If such a reason is insufficient, perhaps you will consent to play as a matter of courtesy, if only to further my education?"
An awkward pause ensued as Darcy attempted to produce a reasoned response, but could not.
"Perhaps a wager can induce you to play, Darcy", suggested Bingley. "For my part I should not know on which side to place the wager!"
"Is that quite so?" replied Darcy sharply. "Then perhaps it is time to settle this matter once and for all." He took a one-pound note from his vest and cast it perfunctorily on the table. "Now we shall discern your true opinion, Bingley."
Lizzy was pleased to see the dissolution of Darcy's defenses and could not resist an additional tweak. "A wager of only one pound? That is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me!" She smiled impishly, taking secret delight in Darcy's involuntary grimace. "But pounds to you are as plentiful as the leaves that fall annually on Pemberley; you need only to gather them into your barrel. And considering that your barrel is at least five times larger than my family's, perhaps the scales of justice would be balanced, and your interest in the match heightened, were you to give odds according to that same proportion? Do you find that agreeable, sir?"
Caroline could contain herself no longer. "What impertinence, Eliza! You must surely be aware that merely increasing the odds to five-to-one or even ten-to-one would not affect Darcy's risk in the slightest! You would do better to request rook or queen odds instead. You surely cannot be serious."
"Very well, Caroline," Lizzy replied, taking full measure of the implied insult. "I have an extra pound that shall be happily matched to your ten. I presume you can not find that objectionable."
The quick vanishing of Caroline's smile betrayed her being caught off guard, but she soon regained her former demeanor. "Yes ÷ that suits me very well÷ very well indeed. I do not have such funds on my person, but that is of no material consideration as the outcome cannot be in doubt. For your ease of mind, however, Charles will be my backer in the unlikely event that I shall be required to produce."
"Of course I shall be glad to do so, Caroline," answered her brother. "Now the wager comes round to me. It does appear this affair has become one sided to the extreme. For the sake of balance I shall place my wager on the side of Miss Bennet."
Such a response from his close friend nettled Darcy. "Very well, Bingley, do what pleases you; but I pity the needless loss of your funds." Darcy solemnly took his seat and put the pieces in their original configuration. He resolved to fix his gaze solely at the board to avoid the amused look of his opponent. "I shall give you the advantage of the first move, Miss Bennet, but that is all the consideration you can expect."
"I thank you, sir, for condescending to teach me the finer points of chess," returned Elizabeth with a sly smile. "I am certain that there will be much to learn from this game."
The game between Elizabeth and Bingley is a speed game that I played in my youth against Arnold Hanke. He was the rather gruff but good-hearted proprietor of a diner in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and when business was slow he loved nothing better than to puff on a cigar while playing speed games against patrons. I have spent many enjoyable afternoons in his company and we often played six or more games in an hour. I never recorded any of the games, but this one always stuck with me.
|Friesema,W (White) vs Hanke,A. (Black)|
|1.e4 b6||2.d4 Bb7|
|3.Bd3 f5||4.exf5 Bxg2|
|5.Qh5+ g6||6.fxg6 Nf6|
Continued in Part 2
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