A Worthy Opponent
Chapter 7 - The Lesson
Elizabeth's brave conduct belied her apprehension about the outcome of the contest. Although she had prevailed against many strong opponents in years past and had good reason to be assured of acquitting herself commendably, a victory against a formidable master could not be assumed. She was determined, however, to extract some measure of recompense for Darcy's previous slights and unbearable pride, and a win or draw here would be a most exquisite method of achieving it. Then she reflected that even if she were to lose the game, a result which candor had the perfect right to predict, the disruption of Darcy's equanimity already achieved by her pre-game maneuvers was easily worth the cost of two pounds. With assurance of at least that much success, her anxiety gave way to excitement. She found it difficult to maintain her composure.
"Before you proceed with the game, may I offer some refreshment - a glass of port perhaps," Bingley asked.
"I thank you, sir," answered Elizabeth, "but my preference is tea. If I have gained any benefit thus far with the 'Port Gambit', it can only be attributed to opponents who have imbibed it too liberally in search of inspiration for their game!"
Darcy forced a smile but would not let such a remark divert him from his cherished glass of wine. Bingley motioned to the servants to attend to the needs of the party.
For his part, Darcy wondered how he had allowed himself to be tricked into such a predicament. Matters had progressed so quickly that he found himself committed to the contest in spite of his every inclination against it. That he had lost the good regulation of his mind perplexed and discomfited him exceedingly. There was no possible way for this match to end creditably. To forfeit any game was his abhorrence, but to ruthlessly trounce an overmatched female violated his sense of gentlemanly behavior. He then recalled her reckless assertion about the match placing his dignity at risk. Did she really think that a modest player with little tournament experience could pose a substantive threat to a master of the game? It was ludicrous beyond refutation.
There being no elegant way to avoid the Scylla and Charybdis of victory and defeat, Darcy concluded the less dishonorable course would be to accord Elizabeth the same respect as any other opponent. Henceforth the sole object of his concentration would be the position on the chessboard; he would collect the inevitable victory regardless of its unpleasantness. Having already lost the first skirmish by being tricked into this undesirable contest; he redoubled his resolve not to lose the battle.
The game began routinely enough. Elizabeth proceeded as before with the king pawn. Darcy improved on Bingley's play by advancing his queen bishop pawn two squares.
"Ah, the Sicilian Defense. That is my preference as well for the Black pieces," said Lizzy.
Darcy began to wonder how intimately acquainted she was with the nuances of the opening, but made no reply. His marvel increased over the next hour as the game steadily progressed in accordance with published analysis. Lizzy was concentrating on control of the center of the board after wisely providing a haven for her king. Darcy was equally keen on getting his forces to their best squares. He castled to safety on the kingside while preparing a counter attack on the opposite wing. By advancing her queen rook pawn on the eighth move, Lizzy served notice that she was aware of his plans and would do her best to confound them. As he pried open the center with an exchange of pawns, Darcy understood that his opponent had achieved a high level of competence in her game and that he was in the middle of a difficult battle.
That Elizabeth was able to hold her own for so long a time against the champion impressed the other ladies in attendance. Darcy too could not refrain from expressing his amazement. "You have played the opening well, Miss Bennet. I find it remarkable that you have attained such mastery over the intricacies of this defense. Have you had the benefit of chess studies?"
Lizzy smiled as she recaptured a pawn with her bishop and simply answered, "Yes".
As the game entered its middle phase, Bingley was the only onlooker who could appreciate the strategic battle that raged behind the apparently quiet moves. "How is it possible that you were able to gain such proficiency, Miss Bennet?" he asked.
Darcy was grateful for Bingley's shared curiosity about her talent. He had wished to ask further questions, but to do so might have appeared as a rather shallow attempt to disrupt her concentration. Not that Darcy would have minded terribly, for according to his calculation that would have made matters approximately equal. He found the presence of his lovely female partner greatly distracting. He could not lean over the board but the fragrance of her hair would command his attention. He could be deeply entranced in his analysis, only to be diverted by the delicacy and smoothness of her hand as she reached out to move a piece. Despite his resolve, he frequently stole glances at her fine dark eyes as she studied the position, apparently unaware of his presence. At such times Darcy would take another sip of port and glance about the room before resuming his concentration.
"My father taught me the moves shortly after my sixth birthday," Lizzy replied. "My father is fairly expert at the game. He seeks solace in his study for the better part of each day. Because one can read only so many tribunals or novels, he devotes a goodly share of his time to chess. There are few good players in the vicinity of Meryton, so he conducts most of his games by post. His play has progressed steadily over the years, and he frequently engages expert opponents on the continent as well as in Great Britain."
Darcy meanwhile moved his queen to the knight file, away from the potential threat presented by Lizzy's bishop in hiding, thus attacking her unprotected knight pawn.
Elizabeth continued, "As we had no governess, the duties of educating my sisters and me fell upon my parents. My mother was chiefly responsible for teaching us reading, penmanship, and such domestic skills as knitting and crochet, while my father taught us about history and ciphers and such. Naturally his love of chess led him to regard the study of the game as an ideal method for teaching his daughters the art of sound reasoning and planning."
"Do all your sisters share your love of the game?" asked Bingley.
"Well, Papa taught them all the moves", Lizzy laughed, "but none seemed especially captivated by chess. Jane had no predilection for devising attacking strategies; Mary much preferred reading other subjects; Kitty had no patience for the game; and Lydia could never bear to lose. Her games invariably ended by her upsetting the board and scattering the pieces to all corners of the room. I do believe my father tried to teach Mama when they first married, but he soon discovered her penchant for making ridiculous moves. It only served to irritate his nerves as well as hers, so he quickly repented of the attempt."
Elizabeth returned her full attention to the board. After an extended period of analysis, she ignored Darcy's threats and sent her unprotected rook pawn to attack his queen.
"That is daring!" exclaimed Bingley. "Darcy, it appears that your queen is at choice for the capture of two unprotected pawns."
Darcy made no reply, only frowning as he studied the matter. He had already gained enough respect for her game to assume that she could not make a blatant oversight. The trap was soon spotted. If his queen were to take either pawn, he stood to lose his queen or a bishop; so he was forced to pull back his queen in retreat, even though it stalled his counterattack dreadfully. Lizzy continued harassing his queen with her bishop, causing its further retreat. It was becoming increasingly plain that White possessed the initiative; the Black forces were spending all their time responding to White's threats.
"So you learned the game only by playing your father and reading his chess books?" Caroline inquired of Elizabeth.
"Yes, most of my early education proceeded in that manner, but my father would take me along on his excursions to London several times each year. The London Chess Club was a wonderful place, and I spent many happy times there learning the game's finer points from players more expert than my father. Once a Russian Grandmaster, a Mr. Vassily Chernov, visited the club and gave a simultaneous exhibition. He played 44 games at once, making one move per board in round-robin fashion. He won 34 games and drew ten. I played on one of the boards and was penultimately defeated after playing for the better of seven hours, but it was great fun. Since that time I have had the pleasure of playing several more games with him in correspondence, and although I fared no better in results, the effort did improve my play enormously."
The mention of the London Chess Club gave Darcy a shock of recognition. He suddenly recalled the little dark-haired girl in the white bonnet. As he looked intently once more at Elizabeth, he nodded slowly as he finally accounted for the familiarity of her fine eyes. So, he mused, this is what became of the little girl. Perhaps it would have been wiser to play against her when victory was more easily attained.
His attention was snapped back to the game when Elizabeth crisply displaced his knight with her bishop. Darcy could not hide his astonishment as he recaptured the bishop with his queen pawn. This opened the diagonal between the opposing queens, the possible exchange of which would blunt her attack.
"Most unusually played, Miss Bennet. It would appear that your bishop, rather than my knight, would be the more valuable piece in this open position."
"But first impressions can so deceiving, is that not so, Mr. Darcy?" she asked with a wicked little grin as she attacked his remaining knight with her king pawn.
Darcy at once grasped the significance of the move. Far from blunting her attack, the previous exchange of forces had only fueled it by opening the center for the activity of her pieces. The locus of action soon migrated toward the vicinity of the Black king, forcing Darcy to weaken the pawn phalanx guarding his monarch. Elizabeth's attack was accelerating.
"Did you not find chess a difficult game to learn?" asked Louisa. "I should think it far too complicated to provide any real amusement."
"Difficult? Perhaps, but not in the way it might at first appear. The moves are so simple a child can learn them within half an hour, but it may take years to learn how to employ the forces harmoniously. In many ways learning chess is similar to learning a foreign language. We struggle initially to decipher the meaning of individual words. Later we laboriously string them together to make sense out of sentences. As our competence grows, we learn to recognize phrases and finally, idioms. So it is with chess. A beginner struggles to play legal moves; an apprentice is concerned with combinations of moves and counter moves; whereas a master recognizes patterns in positions and can instantly initiate familiar attacking sequences. But why do I tell you all this," Lizzy asked with a laugh, "when we have such an illustrious master in our midst?"
Darcy simply mumbled a few words of agreement, being much too preoccupied to be drawn into conversation. The beads of perspiration gathering on his forehead bore witness to the criticality of his situation. After a prolonged study, Darcy accepted Lizzy's pawn sacrifice, preferring an active double-edged position to one of total passivity, which he knew had almost no hope for success.
It was now Elizabeth's turn for lengthy deliberation. She was aware that the position had reached a crossroads. She possessed the advantage, but if she failed to press that advantage soon, Darcy would have time to consolidate his position and possibly launch an attack of his own. She was determined not to let him off the hook; she may never have such an opportunity again. Only his just and proper defeat would be acceptable from a position so much to her advantage. She smiled as she imagined his chagrined expression as he resigned the game!
She caught herself, got up immediately, and walked around the room. No! That is precisely the wrong approach to the game. She must concentrate only on the board, not savor the results of a victory not yet attained. Had she not yet learned that lesson thoroughly? The most difficult stage of the game is to win in practice what is won in principle. It is all too natural to relax even a little, but that soon leads to moves that are slightly inaccurate. Before long the opponent will suddenly discover counter-play, and so the golden win turns into a silver draw or a brass loss. No! She must gather her wits and pay close attention to the position. She did not come this far to let him crow about a miraculous recovery.
Darcy spoke with genuine concern. "Miss Bennet, are you unwell?"
She did not realize she had been pacing in such an agitated state. "Yes, I am very well. My foot had developed a minor cramp and I needed to walk it off. It is much better now, thank you."
She regained her seat and began her calculations anew. All her forces were trained on his king, which now was practically devoid of protection. His bishop pawn beckoned as a target, but could she afford to sacrifice a whole rook to expose the monarch? Darcy need not capture immediately÷ perhaps he had other resources÷ Just as she was about to despair about the efficacy of her attack, a burst of inspiration lifted the veil and the truth of the position became obvious. After final review of the ramifications of the move, she held her breath and took the plunge: she captured his bishop pawn with the sacrificial rook, thereby threatening mate via queen capture of Darcy's naked rook pawn.
Caroline could sense from Darcy's anxious expression that his game was in peril. Suddenly her ten pounds were at serious risk; she loathed the thought of Elizabeth's triumph at her expense. She looked around the room for a means of distracting her. "Come, Louisa. This game is becoming rather dull. Let us have some music to liven the afternoon".
Bingley looked at his sister crossly, but said nothing. He doubted she could find any muse strong enough to distract the contestants from the evolving drama on the board. Indeed both Lizzy and Darcy remained in such a determined state of application they were oblivious to Louisa's sonatas and gigues. After a quarter hour's effort elicited no response, Caroline decided stronger measures were necessary: she attempted to sing the "Queen of the Night's Vengeance Aria" from Mozart's "Magic Flute". Had the composer been present to collect all her missed notes, there would have been sufficient material to produce a new aria only slightly more abbreviated than the original. Her many attempts at the treacherous high octave leaps soon attracted the attention of Bingley's border collie. Duchess began howling in assistance, much to the annoyance of the soloist. The ensuing convulsive laughter momentarily dissolved the tension of the contest. Eventually Darcy restored order by calling out decisively, "Thank you, Caroline, for providing us with such delights. Perhaps you can postpone the effort until such time that all of us can take pleasure in the performance." Caroline made no attempt to hide her chagrin as the sisters retreated to the far side of the room.
After rising to stretch, Darcy sat down to have another look at the board. The danger was palpable; he felt as though he were being pulled along by an irresistible current toward a waterfall. He raised his head to view the scenery one last time before plunging into the abyss. Elizabeth was still studying the position intently, her head cradled in her hands with a few stray luxuriously black curls adding grace notes to her forehead. How lovely was her appearance! Darcy marveled that such a beautiful and apparently innocent creature could possess the tenacious fighting spirit of a panther.
Darcy viewed her rook sacrifice with equilibrium; he had been expecting it. He had initially planned to accept the rook gift directly, but analysis convinced him that to do so would leave his king fatally exposed to the crossfire of her forces. He followed the only alternative course: he moved his knight into position to fork the White queen and rook while simultaneously guarding the vital rook pawn. One could hardly ask more from one move than that!
After verifying her analysis, Elizabeth took the Black knight with her own. She raised her head to observe Darcy's reaction. The shocked look on his face proved he had completely overlooked the power of a move he had deemed impossible. The only way to forestall ruin was to capture the exposed rook on the first row with check. Lizzy simply interposed her bishop and her attack continued unabated. Both Darcy and Bingley sensed the imminent falling of the curtain. After a few more blocking moves Darcy pressed his face against his hands, folded as in prayer, and stared at the board for several minutes more. Rather than wait for the inevitable mate by the White knight, Darcy tipped over his king in resignation, forced a brave smile to hide the pain, and extended his hand.
"Miss Bennet, I congratulate you on your magnificent play. It is clear that I have grossly underestimated the strength of your game; a mistake I shall not repeat. As you have said, much indeed has been learned from this game."
Darcy's arrogant proclamations at the beginning of the game had not prepared Elizabeth for the gallant and conciliatory tone of his concession. She shook his hand graciously, thanked him for his sportsmanship, and expressed disappointment that both parties could not emerge victorious from such a hard fought contest. Bingley echoed these sentiments while adding congratulations of his own. Emotionally and physically spent, Elizabeth collected her winnings and took leave to attend to Jane. Having just won the best game of her life and having finally achieved some small redress for the indignities she had suffered from Darcy's pride, she had difficulty containing her excitement. As she reached the top of the stairs she stopped and surveyed the empty hall. "Jubilate!" Elizabeth exalted in triumphant relief, then rushed to tell her sister the happy news.
The game between Lizzy and Darcy was played in the 1995 Monaco Rapid Tournament between Hungarian grandmaster Judit Polgar and Russian grandmaster Vassily Ivanchuk. In a rapid game each player has 25 minutes for all moves, so the game can last no longer than 50 minutes. If your time expires before giving checkmate or forcing your opponent's resignation, you lose the game on time.
Judit Polgar was 17 when she played this game, and her story is an interesting one. She is the youngest of three sisters. Her oldest sister, Suzanna, is also a grandmaster and is currently ranked as the second highest rated woman in the world. The middle sister, Sophie, is an International Master, not quite as strong as grandmaster. Judit is the strongest of the three and is ranked first among women and among the top twenty players in the world, male or female. She became a grandmaster at the age of 15, breaking Bobby Fischer's record by several months. She is a fierce and imaginative attacker and has a good chance of becoming the first female World Champion some day. It is interesting to note that less than one percent of grandmasters are female (that will change, one hopes), and the Polgar family has two of them! Their father, an average player, taught the game to girls when they were very young.
|Polgar,J (White) - Ivanchuk,V (Black)
Monaco Rapid, 1995
|1.e4 c5||2.Nf3 d6|
|3.d4 cxd4||4.Nxd4 Nf6|
|5.Nc3 a6||6.f4 e5|
|7.Nf3 Nbd7||8.a4 Be7|
|9.Bd3 0-0||10.0-0 Nc5|
|11.Kh1 exf4||12.Bxf4 Bg4|
|13.Qe1 Re8||14.Rd1 Qa5|
|15.Qg3 Rad8||16.Bd2 Qb6|
|17.a5 Qa7||18.Be3 Qb8|
|19.Bxc5 dxc5||20.e5 Bxf3|
|21.Rxf3 Nh5||22.Qh3 g6|
|23.g4 Ng7||24.Re1 Ne6|
|25.Ne4 Qxe5||26.Rxf7 Ng5|
|27.Nxg5 Qxe1+||28.Bf1 h5|
|29.Qb3 c4||30.Qxc4 Rc8|
|31.Rf8+ Kg7||32.Qg8+ 1-0|
|after 32....Kh6, it is checkmate by 33. Nf7# A sparkling attack by Judit Polgar!|
If you have any questions about the story or any of the games, please feel free to email them to me. Thanks for your interest.
P.S. Yes, my dog Duchess possesses the wonderful gift of song and joins in frequently when my wife practices her octaves! Perhaps we should have named her Octavia, but she had already been named when we acquired her from the animal shelter thirteen years ago. I am certain that those who know me may find it incredible, but Duchess is not a pun on "Dutch chess"! ;-)
A further note: the aforementioned simultaneous exhibition was actually given by Boris Spassky at the Oak Park Chess Club (Illinois) in August, 1985. Yes, I lost the seven-hour struggle, but it was fun! How many people get the chance to play against a former world champion? I found Mr. Spassky to be a true gentleman, a sportsman worthy of the name.
Chapter 8 - A Heart Captured In Passing
Author's note: In the first version of "A Worthy Opponent", I made explicit references to my earlier work, "The Red Queen". For the sake of completeness I have decided to integrate TRQ into this story. I shall leave the original version of TRQ in the archives for readers who prefer it as separate story. When TRQ first appeared some readers asked about the origin of the poem. All verses in this story are my own.
Not long after Jane and Elizabeth left Netherfield for Longbourn, their cousin, the Reverend William Collins, descended upon the Bennet family for an extended visit. His arrival greatly bemused the father, to whom ridiculous behavior of any sort was an open irresistible; it greatly delighted the mother, who was overcome by visions of marriage for one her daughters; and it greatly dismayed the daughters, who were also overcome with premonition of a wedding dance with their cousin. Mr. Collins soon verbalized his intentions by condescending to propose marriage to Elizabeth, who greatly shocked him by not stooping to accept it. With barely a pause, the piqued pastor shamelessly redirected his affection to Charlotte Lucas, her close friend, who was not cursed with Elizabeth's fastidiousness about suitors. Much to Elizabeth's horror, Charlotte immediately consented to accept him as husband. Within the week the married couple departed for their new residence in Kent, but not before Charlotte had secured Elizabeth's promise to visit them in the spring.
Elizabeth's sojourn at Hunsford during the months of March and April was mostly pleasant, although her enjoyment of Charlotte's company was frequently interrupted by Mr. Collins and his clumsy attempts to convince her of how foolish she had been to reject her share of his extremely fortunate situation. On the day after Easter he did not wait long to press his perceived advantage. He carried on eloquently about the variety and quality of comestibles present on the breakfast table, saving his most extravagant praise for the fresh honey produced in hives provided by none other than his noble patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. "Fancy that", thought Elizabeth. "Beehives from her ladyship, and each one fitted, no doubt, with its own special little closet!"
"How few families in the entire region can boast of such luxurious and generous bounty!" exclaimed Mr. Collins. He brandished an aggressive, clenched-teeth grin explicitly toward Elizabeth, forcing her to return a weak smile of acknowledgment. "He is as gracious as a horse's behind", she muttered to herself, "although perhaps not quite so handsome or intelligent." She bit her tongue and somehow managed to maintain her composure throughout the remainder of the meal. Needing desperate relief from his suffocating society, she collected her writing tablet, took her leave, and set out for the solitude of the nearby woodlands.
The fragrances of the forest, intensified by the previous night's storm, soon lifted her mood. Shafts of sunlight flooded through gaps in the canopy of branches and washed the forest with saturated colors. Elizabeth walked along the path for about a mile before turning toward a magnificent willow whose thick branches formed a secluded hollow beside a stream. Many seasons ago some anonymous traveler had fashioned a stool from a weathered log and placed it against the tree. Elizabeth impulsively flung her bonnet toward the stool, choosing instead to sit on a large flat rock at the water's edge. She removed her shoes and stockings, hitched up her frock, and let her legs dangle freely in the slow current. Her eyes followed fallen leaves and twigs as they navigated the rocks in midstream. In the eddy below the largest rock, fish were feeding near the surface. Along the opposite bank a pair of mallards were paddling nonchalantly upstream. The pleasant scene soon instilled a cool and tranquil sensation. She reached back for her tablet and, after a few moments reflection, began writing a letter to her sister.
Monday, March 30
My dear Jane,
I hope you are well in London and that the elusive Mr. Bingley has finally taken notice of your presence. Charlotte and Maria send their love. As our esteemed cousin has issued standing orders to include his best wishes in all correspondence to my family, I will "condescend to perform the greatest of honors" for him and greet you in his name as well.
It has been three weeks already since I have arrived at Hunsford, and I must allow the place does possess its rightful share of diversions and amusements. Chief among these must be ranked the many unintentionally hilarious contributions by our cousin Mr. Collins. Although we had intimations of his lack of sense, I never could have ventured to predict the quality and quantity of fresh proofs. I know how it must vex you to hear of such accusations against another living being, but had you been with me to hear his sermon yesterday, I am certain we should have found it impossible to suppress our giggles. Most reasonable persons might suppose that, as it was Easter Sunday, a resurrection theme would form the centerpiece of the sermon. But what an unanticipated delight: Mr. Collins devoted the entire homily to the exposition of the evils of strong drink! He performed such wonderful leaps and lapses of logic that he had me on tenterhooks, wondering when the next howler would appear. It required an effort of supreme sainthood to maintain a semblance of composure.
Later in the afternoon we assembled at Rosings for dinner. We spent the better part of the first hour in the drawing room, where Lady Catherine held court. Her ladyship seized the opportunity to point out a few theological difficulties presented by the morning's sermon. Chief among them was Mr. Collins' discussion of the Last Supper; specifically, our Lord's command to the disciples to partake of the wine ("drink ye all of it"). Lady Catherine maintained that the clear intent of this passage was that ALL of the disciples were to partake of the wine, and NOT, as Mr. Collins had expounded, that the disciples were to drain the casket. His sudden ashen complexion betrayed his mortification, but his spirits rallied admirably when her ladyship expressed approval of his attempts to prevent strong drink from pickling the lower classes. As for herself, Lady Catherine, while reaching for a glass of sherry, spoke of her great reliance on St. Paul's admonition to Timothy: that one should drink not only water, but also wine to aid the digestion. She was of the firm opinion that it behooved Mr. Collins never to base a sermon on this topic. St Paul's directive was clearly meant to apply only to members of the upper class, who, because of their rich diet, would naturally be subject to the greatest need of digestive palliative. The lower classes, on the other hand, would undoubtedly misconstrue the missive and use it as justification for licentious behavior. Overindulgence, it seems, is their natural inclination, so further encouragement from the clergy would be neither necessary nor desirable. Mr. Collins profoundly agreed with these wise sentiments, and thanked her profusely in his inimitable, humble manner.
Do you blame me, Jane, for secretly laughing at this incongruous exchange? I must admit a certain perverse anticipation of each new Sunday morning's theological adventure. I should not be the least bit surprised if for next Sunday's sermon, Mr. Collins were to take the familiar phrase from the Psalms, "Hide me under the shadow of thy wings", and develop it into a proof that our Lord has feathers! Perhaps he could then top himself the following week by preaching about the sad consequences of Noah's ill-advised marriage to Joan of Arc!
Easter dinner was a lavish affair, consisting of exquisitely prepared turtle soup, salmon in corbullion, pheasant › la braise, fricandos of veal, and a harrico of mutton; followed by pyramid creams and tea for dessert. Matters began on a disquieting note, however. Maria was not feeling at all well, but she did not dare risk Lady Catherine's displeasure by absenting herself. Shortly after the turtle soup had been served, poor Maria fainted dead away, her arm landing on her spoon and catapulting a full load in the direction of the unsuspecting Lady Catherine. Such a shriek I have never heard in all my life. Lady Catherine's look of sudden fury made it appear she was about to demand, on a platter, the severed head of the servant responsible. When she saw Maria slumped against the table, she quickly regained her piquant sort of Christian charity. Servants immediately rushed to Maria's aid and carried her off to the guest chamber. I am happy to report that Maria was soon restored to full sensibility, suffering mainly from fever and severe headache. It is not as serious as it had first appeared, and she is recovering nicely as I write this.
Naturally the dinner was interrupted by Lady Catherine's quick recess to her room. Within the half-hour, all table linens had been replaced and her ladyship reappeared in a fresh dress and hat. I very much regretted the change of hat, as the appearance of the dead bird on the original one had been livened considerably with the addition of turtle meat on its wing! The rest of the dinner proceeded without incident or notable conversation. I must confess I ate so much I felt almost as fat as Lydia did at Netherfield! Oh, well, I suppose I can emulate our dear Mary and seek comfort in philosophy: "je mange, donc je suis".
No account of Rosings can be complete, alas, unless I note that Mr. Darcy has been his usual mopish self. I had the misfortune of being seated opposite him at dinner, and he scarcely spoke three sentences during the entire meal. I must own that it is rather unnerving to feel his gaze whilst I eat or converse with others, only to have my apprehensions confirmed each time I look up. How peculiar of him to constantly stare! Perhaps he hopes in this manner to coerce me into a rematch at the chessboard, but thus far I have managed to avoid it. A more happy consequence of Mr. Darcy's visit is that his charming cousin had accompanied him. Col. Fitzwilliam is his opposite in demeanor and humor. I am most happy that you have your Mr. Bingley to occupy your thoughts, else I should live in constant dread that your great beauty should turn the good Colonel's head upon his first meeting you. But I must hasten to add that thus far we are only friendly acquaintances, nothing more.
My dear Jane, I regret that you shall have to content yourself with only these few images of Easter at Rosings, but do relieve my suffering and write soon. I miss you so very much and I eagerly wish to learn how you spent Easter with the Gardiners. Please convey my best wishes to them all.
Your naughty little sister, &tc
As Elizabeth put away the letter, she noticed a poem she had begun several months ago. She smiled as she recalled the events that inspired the effort: Mr. Darcy's impolitic comments at the assembly hall about her unsuitability, and Mr. Collins' clumsy proposal. The poem was in desperate need of polishing. Uncertain meter violated one's sense of balance, and unhappy rhymes grated the ear. Elizabeth began to rewrite it immediately and completed the task after an hour of diligent concentration. The many crosses and arrows made such a random mess of the page that transcription was necessary. Elizabeth took a fresh page and wrote the title in bold hand across the top: My Constant Heart. Only after copying the text did she feel the fatigue caused by her writing efforts. She moved toward the weathered stool, relaxed against the willow's trunk, and closed her eyes. The stream was soon murmuring in her sleep.
Several hours passed before a screeching rook jolted Elizabeth awake. A light breeze had come up and scattered some papers from the tablet she left on the rock. As she gathered the pages she noticed that the transcribed poem was nowhere to found. Not too great a loss, she reckoned, as she had recovered the original and could just as easily copy it again that evening.
Elizabeth started lethargically on the path back to Hunsford. About halfway home, she was startled by the sudden appearance of Mr. Darcy on horseback! He was stopped not more than forty yards away, looking at her with an unremittingly intense expression. She instinctively stopped, rose to the perceived challenge, and returned an equally steadfast gaze. At length Darcy ended the stalemate by deliberately turning his horse toward Rosings. He had not made the slightest gesture of acknowledgment, leaving Elizabeth most unfavorably impressed. "What cold incivility!" she fumed. "Ha! Yes, go away! Who could have any use for such bad manners and false pride!"
Had Lizzy been able to discern Darcy's thoughts, however, her disgust would have been replaced by feelings of a more charitable nature. A mile downstream from her hideaway, not thirty minutes earlier, Darcy had paused to allow his horse a drink. He spied a sheet of paper trapped by branches in the slower moving water. He waded into the stream to retrieve it, nearly slipping on a mossy rock and taking an impromptu bath. Laying the paper carefully on a clean flat rock, he dried it as best he could with his handkerchief.
Darcy inspected the document carefully. It was a poem, a bit smeared but still legible, and written in an elegant though unfamiliar hand. The first reading made it plain that the author was a woman with a very lively mind indeed. Although the style was witty and the rhymes were playful, its subject was serious and the underlying tone was resolute. Had he ever met a woman possessing such an independent and confident air? And what was he to make of all the references to nobility? Was she infatuated with kings, knights and things medieval, or chess perhaps? Darcy smiled at the thought. What astonished him most, though, was the indelicate overtone that resonated from such phrases as "the duke of virility" and "wanton delights". The poem clearly was intended for private amusement only. A lady could hardly affix her name to such a work and remain respectable. It most definitely was not the sort of poem a lady would read aloud in the presence of gentlemen.
Darcy could not resist reading the poem several more times, his wonder and admiration multiplying with each repetition. What he found truly fascinating was the insight it afforded into a woman's heart; his first true glimpse, actually. Even as a child he noticed that women were expected to suppress their own desires, interests, and opinions in deference to men. Since he came of age the ladies of his acquaintance formed a monotonous sycophantic chorus (with Caroline Bingley as the predominant vocalist), whose primary theme was the maintenance of Darcy's comfort and good opinion. He had long ago accepted this arrangement to be as natural as summer rain. The author of these verses, however, was no such fawn. Her self-assured tone left no doubt she considered herself quite a man's equal, and it was just as clear she expected her needs and opinions to be taken seriously. The author knew precisely what she wanted, and she seemed fully prepared to use her formidable talents to procure happiness on her own terms. In short, here was a portrait of a woman in complete command of herself; and it intrigued Darcy immensely. His heart told him that there was but one young lady in the vicinity who possessed such qualities. A vision of her fine eyes and lovely smile bewitched him as he leaned against a tree and looked blankly toward the stream.
How long Darcy would have remained in such a state of enchantment is uncertain, for his impatient horse soon nudged him back to sensibility. Darcy reluctantly pocketed the poem and resumed his homeward journey. He wondered how, exactly, the poem found its way into the stream and how long it had been there? The paper was not crumpled, so it obviously had not been discarded; perhaps it had been dropped accidentally during a crossing upstream. It could not have happened too long ago or the writing would have been washed out completely. It was quite a puzzle.
These mysteries were instantly resolved the moment he reached the trail and saw Miss Bennet. He stopped and looked steadfastly into her eyes, needing no further confirmation of the author's identity. His mind began to race. He wanted to tell her how much enjoyment he derived from her poem, and how greatly he admired her writing talent; but what, precisely, was the right thing for him to do? He couldn't very well express these thoughts now, could he? No, that would be insupportable. Her knowing he was privy to her most private musings could only result in her acute embarrassment. No, she must not learn of his discovery. It would be far better to return the poem to its original lost state. Darcy turned his horse toward Rosings, deliberating matters so earnestly that he remained totally unaware of his failure to acknowledge Miss Bennet's presence.
Was he holding the only copy of the poem, he wondered? If so, it would be deplorable to destroy it. But where could he place the document so that she alone could discover it without suspecting his intervention? He could hardly return it to the most likely spot for recovery: the place where she had lost it, for indeed, he did not know where she had been. He could perhaps return it to the stream and pretend he had never found it; but to do so he would have to pass by Miss Bennet again, and that would be most awkward. And what would be the point of returning it to the stream? It would be highly improbable that she would ever discover it there. He could perhaps send it anonymously to her by morning post; but that would surely arouse her suspicions and, more importantly, would not prevent her embarrassment. After their chance meeting in the woods, she would instantly guess that he alone could have found it, recognized her as the poetic protagonist, and then mailed it to her. Perhaps he should secretly keep the treasure for himself, but that hardly seemed the decent thing to do. She had not given the poem to him; indeed, she did not even know he possessed it; so how could he in good conscience retain something so acutely personal? No, keeping the poem was out of the question. Darcy reluctantly concluded the only honorable course of action would be to burn the poem that evening in his bedchamber's fireplace. Yet he could not quite shake the feeling that the lesser sin would be to preserve, rather than destroy, something so intrinsically valuable.
Darcy tried his best to clear his mind by concentrating on features of the landscape; but he could not long prevent his thoughts from wandering back to Elizabeth. He had to laugh as he recalled how badly he had underestimated her chess prowess at Netherfield. He smiled warmly as he relived their dance together a few weeks later at the Netherfield Ball: the loveliness of her gown, her sweet smile, the smoothness of her complexion, and the sensuous fragrance of her hair. He lingered on the fond memory of her shapely form pressing lightly against him as they walked arm in arm to the starting position of the dance. He sighed passionately as the same involuntary sensations swept over him anew.
The trance was broken, however, when he recalled her mention of Wickham during their verbal pas de deux. Other unwelcome recollections soon followed: Mary's monopolization of the piano; her public humiliation occasioned by her father's rebuke; Mrs. Bennet's loud and vulgar conversation; and the uproar caused by the reckless behavior of the younger sisters. Darcy felt pure empathy for the embarrassment he had observed on Elizabeth's face. What a great pity it was that such a beautiful, talented, and superior creature should be cursed with such inferior relations.
These melancholy thoughts soon became unbearable. Darcy had to escape them, so he turned to the only available method: he retrieved Lizzy's poem. "One last time", he promised himself. Darcy read it aloud as his horse ambled down the path.
My Constant Heart
My blithe heart could hardly submit
To a man of vacuous wit,
Were he the king of dance he
Could not command my fancy,
As my heart is forever my own.
Should I in a suitor detect
A trace of covert disrespect.
Even a duke of virility
Would shrink to ignobility,
For my heart is supremely my own.
And should some fool knave try to force
My heart to his predestined course,
He will gain fresh perspective
From my sharp-tongued invective,
For my heart can be fiercely my own.
Away with false pride and pretense,
All men should be blessed with good sense,
So whatever my charms they
Will be daily in harm's way,
While my heart stays serenely my own.
I swear by sweet heaven above
I shall only marry for love.
Then bound to a most lively knight,
I'll rollick in wanton delight,
And my heart won't be simply my own.
"My 'queen of hearts'", sighed Darcy heavily, finally admitting to himself how completely and irretrievably he had fallen under Lizzy's spell; how utterly incapable he was of destroying the charming artifact; and how dearly he wished to be the knight that shared her wanton delights. No, he would find the right time and place to return the poem to its rightful owner, a time when they would be on more congenial terms. "Soon÷", he heard himself saying with great intensity. "I must find a way soon÷Very soon÷"
Darcy carefully folded the poem and placed it inside his vest, next to the heart that no longer was his alone.
Chapter 9 - Rosings Park
The late afternoon found Elizabeth attempting to derive fresh pleasure from yet another excursion to Rosings, a task that had become progressively more difficult in each of her eight previous visits. Alas, lively amusement was not to be found. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam had not yet returned from town, so the usual party convened in the usual room to enjoy the usual long pauses interrupted by mostly threadbare thoughts. Mr. Collins eventually raised a point concerning the grafting of roses. Lady Catherine seized the opportunity and led the party into the garden, where she could more explicitly dispense the knowledge she imagined they so eagerly sought.
Elizabeth, still feeling a bit chilled from having spent the morning in her forest hideaway, excused herself to enjoy the solitary comfort of a glowing hearth. She positioned her chair closer to the warmth and was soon mesmerized by the crackling echoes and the flickering flames. Daydream soon brought her back to earlier events of that day. What a strange encounter with Mr. Darcy in the forest! Why did he appear so sullen? What had she ever done to warrant his disapprobation? Did he dislike her looks; was that the reason for his constant stare? No, that was simply incredible. Was it because her connections were so inferior to his? That might account for his initial slight, but it certainly did not prevent his subsequent attentions at Netherfield. And even if that were the cause of his disapproval, what divine right entitled him to demean her for circumstances so completely beyond her control? He was such a puzzle; but why should she care? Let him go his arrogant way! He would somehow have to manage on his own without her giving him the benefit of another thought.
Elizabeth kept her promise for several minutes, but her mind wandered and eventually led her to survey the very room where they conversed several days earlier. "We, neither of us, perform to strangers", he had said. How clever of him to extricate himself from her just accusations of social disengagement by linking his unbearable pride and aloofness to her musical imperfections. How dare he suggest their respective faults could in any way be considered equivalent! Not perform to strangers, indeed! She was continually performing to strangers, fully aware of her deficiencies all the while. He, in contrast, never even bothered to make the attempt. Ha! Their faults had about as much in common as bishops moving on diagonals of opposite color.
Loud bantering in the hall interrupted her reverie, and the prodigal gentlemen soon appeared. Darcy made his predictable stiff inquiry about her health, but the Colonel was considerably more lively. "Miss Bennet, it is so pleasant to see you again. You are doing well, I hope. But we find you all alone -- where have you hidden the rest of the party?"
"I am very well, thank you. If you look out the window behind you, sir, I believe you shall find the rest of our little group engaged in animated discussion about gardening. I am certain your aunt is doing her best to put to rest some of Mr. Collins' anxieties about plantation."
Colonel Fitzwilliam took the seat closest to Elizabeth, much to her relief and delight. After complimenting her lovely appearance and determining that nothing more serious than a desire for momentary rest prevented her joining the outdoor party, he recounted what he had just learned on his ride in from town.
"I had to scold Darcy for not telling me sooner, but I understand your musical talents, prodigious as they are, pale in comparison to your mastery of chess. When he mentioned in passing your triumph at Netherfield, I naturally had to hear all the particulars. I find it remarkable that you have defeated him on your first attempt; I did not achieve such success until my second year of trying! I must admit to total admiration and jealousy!"
"Yes, I was indeed fortunate to be at the top of my game that day, but I did have the advantage of surprise", Elizabeth smiled. "I suspect Mr. Darcy suffered from overconfidence at the outset. No doubt he will be much more formidable should we have the pleasure of playing again someday."
"Someday?" exclaimed Darcy. "Would not today be suitable, Miss Bennet? I must acknowledge a great eagerness for a rematch. Surely you would not be so unjust as to deny me the pleasure of playing now?"
"What! Play now? Surely Lady Catherine will reappear momentarily and I would not wish to appear rude to her ladyship."
"Oh, it appears that my aunt remains actively engaged in her garden lecture." A bush hid Darcy's window view of her, but he spied her arms waving above the hedge in support of some instruction to her attentive protege. Darcy had to laugh at the comical appearance of Mr. Collins apparently speaking with an animated shrub.
"At her current rate of progress through the flowers", Darcy continued, "I should estimate we have time enough for several games before Aunt Catherine's rounds are completed."
Elizabeth, still somewhat fatigued, was not at all in a rush for the contest. Sensing this, Darcy made earnest application. "Miss Bennet, perhaps you will be generous and grant me the opportunity to redeem myself for my poor showing in our previous encounter. It would be most unjust if you were to withhold your talent from those who can most truly appreciate it."
"Yes, Miss Bennet, you must play", seconded the Colonel, "Being so familiar with Darcy's strong play and hearing so much of your skill, I should never forgive myself were I to leave Rosings without witnessing the rematch."
"If a sense of obligation is insufficient", Darcy added, "perhaps you will demonstrate kindness and agree to play, if only to further my education."
Elizabeth was not at all pleased to be hoisted by the very means she had induced Darcy to play at Netherfield. She nonetheless rose to the challenge and returned a smile despite her unease. "Very well. If Mr. Darcy once again wishes me to be the agent of his enlightenment, I can not be so ungenerous as to refuse him."
Darcy immediately got up to move the chess table near the hearth. Colonel Fitzwilliam hid a pawn in either hand and put the choice to Elizabeth, who selected the Black pieces.
"Are we agreed that we shall play at an accelerated pace?" Elizabeth asked. "I would not wish to postpone the dinner hour and inconvenience her ladyship by a tardy game."
"That is agreeable" answered Darcy as he pushed the White king pawn forward two squares. She responded modestly by moving her corresponding pawn only one square up the board. "Ah, the 'French Defense'; and you had led me to believe that you were such a devotee of the Sicilian!"
"Perhaps you feel that I should seek your permission before selecting an opening?" Elizabeth bristled. "Although I may not have mastered as many defenses as befits a champion, this continuation best suits my present temperament."
Darcy laughed at her reply. "You see, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Miss Bennet seeks to fortify her competitive resolve by initiating skirmishes above the board as well as on the board."
"And Mr. Darcy deludes himself in imagining his comments are improving the speed of play," Elizabeth decisively replied.
Taking the hint, Darcy became serious and emulated the rapidity of her opening play. After both queen pawns met in the center, Elizabeth pinned his queen knight on third rank with her bishop. A moment later Darcy tried to free the pin by harassing her bishop with a pawn. Instead of the usual piece exchange, she simply withdrew her bishop to the rook file.
"That is a surprising rejoinder", remarked Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Is that book? I must admit an unfamiliarity with that particular variation."
"Quite bookish, although not frequently played", answered Elizabeth. "I do like to challenge my opponents from time to time and quickly steer matters to less well charted waters. Even though such moves may not be the strongest objectively, they often catch players off guard, which usually makes for lively and interesting play."
Darcy conducted his game with an aggressive passion that was lacking in their previous outing. He attacked her bishop again with the knight pawn. Elizabeth immediately sensed the strength of his resolve and redoubled her own. She answered by taking his center pawn and attacking his knight. He ignored it, preferring to initiate an attack with his queen against the undefended Black king side. The character of the game was thus early established: each player piled threat upon threat to more quickly activate forces, even at the cost of a pawn or two. The pace of play slowed considerably as the position grew increasingly Byzantine.
"This is one of the more exciting opening sequences I have ever observed", exclaimed Colonel Fitzwilliam. "I now comprehend your assessment of Miss Bennet's playing strength, Darcy. She is indeed acquitting herself admirably."
Elizabeth was too involved with the game to pay attention to the Colonel's commentary. What she did find nettlesome, however, was Darcy's apparent fixation upon her rather than on the board. When he was at move, he concentrated wonderfully on his calculations, although he had a habit of leaning back in his chair with his thumbs hooked in the side openings of his waistcoat. It lent him such a comical air, as though he were threatening to flap his wings momentarily and begin circling the room! Still, the habit did have the wonderful side effect of exposing his handsome physique, drawing her particular attention to the muscular expanse of his shoulders and chest. The manipulation of his vest provided another curiosity: it pushed upward a folded paper that must have been very recently wet, for the ink had leaked completely through the page and imprinted his white shirt with a bluish stain. How very odd that such a meticulous dresser as Darcy should be so careless!
When it was Elizabeth's turn to make a move, on the other hand, every glance upward from the board caught Darcy steadfastly contemplating her every feature. It was so unnerving that she was finally forced to object.
"Mr. Darcy, have I given you occasion to stare at me so, or is this some new scheme designed to put me at disadvantage by upsetting my concentration? I had always thought a champion and a gentleman to be far above such conduct. But if that is your plan, or if I am too great a distraction for you, perhaps it would be best were I to turn my back and play blind from memory. If, on the other hand, you have completely lost interest in the game, perhaps you would wish to forfeit now."
Darcy was startled to be brought up so short while engaged in a most pleasant fantasy. "I beg your pardon, Miss Bennet. I did not realize I was so absentmindedly transfixed. I can give you every assurance that I have no intention of disrupting your concentration. Henceforth I shall try to conduct myself in an irreproachable manner."
Elizabeth accepted his apology, but nonetheless felt it necessary to continue play by leaning forward with her elbows on the table and shielding her eyes with her hands to prevent further distractions.
On the fourteenth move, Darcy miscalculated slightly by bringing his queen bishop into play before trading off Lizzy's well-situated queen knight. After taking time for detailed analysis, Elizabeth lit a firework of exchanges by capturing his under-protected king pawn. At first glance Darcy thought it merely an attempt to confuse matters, but as the reduction in forces continued unabated, it became clear that Elizabeth had cleverly managed to wriggle out of his crushing bind on her position. The avenue to White's king was now open, and a Black rook swooped down to give check.
"What is going on here?" demanded Lady Catherine as she threw open the door and admitted the outdoor party into the room. "What? Playing chess so near the dinner hour? Darcy, that is unsupportable. And Miss Bennet, you astound me! How unbecoming for a lady to be so engaged!"
Elizabeth looked up, more in annoyance than surprise. Darcy and the Colonel rose to greet their aunt.
"The fault is mine completely, Aunt Catherine", explained the Colonel after an awkward interval. "I confess that I have strongly encouraged the contest. But were you to understand how well Miss Bennet conducts the game and how evenly she is matched to Darcy, I am certain you would revise your opinion about the suitability of women playing chess. She is certainly giving Darcy all the play he bargained for."
"Oh, I understand more of the game than I care to admit, I assure you. Your late uncle was an avid player and I would observe him on occasion. Had I been born a man and had I any inclination to learn the game, I am quite certain that I could easily jump the majority of the Black pieces there in a single turn."
Elizabeth and the gentlemen looked at each other, barely able to suppress their smiles at such a display of bald ignorance. In contrast, the earnest Mr. Collins felt an irresistible compulsion to share his manifestly erudite opinions. "It is my firm and well considered belief that a young woman would be much wiser and better off were she to eschew the trappings of manly behavior and attend, instead, to the development of those delicate feminine qualities which, rather than antagonize and offend, can only endear her to the society of men. What possible good can accrue from the licentious and ill-advised pursuit of such a violent pastime as chess? Heaven clearly ordained such militaristic activities to be the sole domain of men, whose duty it is to serve the king by whatsoever means are dictated by unforeseen and frequently dangerous circumstances. It is a woman's task, surely, to cultivate the gentler side of human nature so that she may properly nurture the family, and thus render ready support for her absent husband, father, or brothers who may have been called away to distant fields of military duty and honor. For a woman to develop an aggressive side bespeaks a most serious failing of judgment and refinement. Such a wayward woman would find great profit in emulating the quiet and highly dignified manners of the estimable young lady there: Miss Anne DeBourgh."
Mr. Collins turned toward the young heiress and bowed his reverend head as he flashed an unctuous grin. Although Lady Catherine was quite pleased by the confirmation of her good opinions and by the attention to her daughter; Anne suffered in discomfited silence.
Although Darcy felt Elizabeth to be neither desirous nor approving of his rushing to her defense, he found it impossible to hold his tongue at such egregious pomposity. "Mr. Collins, if your talent for playing chess were ever to approach your talent for social analysis, speech making, and the discernment of good manners, I am quite certain that few of your opponents should ever sense the danger of a loss." Darcy paused long enough to enjoy the bewilderment on Mr. Collins' face. "We are only about a game here, sir. A game, not the development of England's policy toward belligerent neighbors and its implications for families."
Mr. Collins was chagrinned to discover that, while seeking to ingratiate himself with his patroness, he had neglected to include into his calculations the possible effect upon her influential nephew. Mr. Collins suddenly acquired the good instinct to remain speechless, a salutary state rarely enjoyed by her ladyship.
"Surely you cannot be serious, nephew, in dismissing Mr. Collins' reasoned objections so facilely. I know that your father and mother would never sanction Georgiana's indulging in an activity such as chess. A woman of good breeding and connections has no need to convince herself, or any one else for that matter, that she is the equal of a man in a man's sphere. A true gentleman would never desire a woman to develop and display such masculine skills in a public place. A true gentleman would never desire to be in true competition with his lady. It is simply not to be imagined or endured! How can you possibly find such an circumstance acceptable?"
Elizabeth had struggled mightily thus far to remain civil, but simmering anger finally dissolved her even temper. "Forgive the plain speaking of a young woman who has not been blessed with the advantages of superior refinements, but your ladyship speaks as though I were not even present in this room! Do you believe that a gentleman could find an incivility such as that to be acceptable, while condemning the playing of a harmless game of skill that is truly impartial to sex? And how, precisely, is playing chess more grievous than the playing of other games, such as whist or commerce, or even draughts, perhaps?"
Her ladyship, growing increasingly irritated, was unmoved by reason. "It is not to be endured! Miss Bennet, I no longer presume to be astonished by your audacious manner. You have made it abundantly plain that you have wasted all your time on this frivolous game; time that would have been far better spent in the cultivation of a civil tongue. But your parents, lacking the resources and sense to procure a qualified governess, were doubtless unequipped to nurture any such refined qualities on their own. Perhaps I should remedy that deficiency now by giving you a demonstration of proper manners: I shall respond more civilly to your question than your tone has deserved."
Lady Catherine paused to give her words greater dramatic effect. The Colonel was embarrassed, and Darcy mortified, by their aunt's uncharitable outburst. Elizabeth was livid, to be sure, but intuitively sensed the futility of responding to an angry, irrational harpy in its own nest. This was neither the time nor place for a full confrontation with her ladyship, but the increasing severity of contention between them made it clear such an event would not be long postponed. With self-control forged of cold steel, Elizabeth said nothing and looked at her ladyship with as blank an expression as she could summon.
"Draughts is, I grant you, a tame cousin to the game in question", continued Lady Catherine, "and it is perhaps nearly as unsuitable for women; but chess has always been a game belonging in a man's sphere, much as the sport of shooting is in a man's sphere. It is unthinkable that a woman should engage in any of the military arts, whether it be the acquisition of proficiency in firearms or the development of strategic thinking, such as in chess. The other games you mention are merely parlor games of a more social turn, and thus can only be considered a harmless pastime conducive to harmony between the sexes."
Lady Catherine looked around the room to gather smiles of affirmation.
"Very well said, your ladyship", Mr. Collins remarked gratefully. "It is the undeserved good fortune of Charlotte and myself to be able to state that we share your mind exactly on these most important points. Just the other day Charlotte turned to me and ÷"
"Yes, that is all very well" interrupted Lady Catherine peevishly, "but I would hear Charlotte's views directly. You have been listening attentively, my dear. What is your opinion?"
Charlotte was taken aback. To be squeezed in such a vise had been her secret dread. As harmless as she found Elizabeth's activity, she felt compelled by marriage to support her husband at her good friend's expense. She paused to form a reasoned and diplomatic response. "I feel that I am almost set as judge, an office for which I have neither qualifications nor aspirations. While I can agree that games are mostly harmless in themselves, it appears that it would be advantageous for a woman to seek out only those activities which are least likely to give offense."
Mr. Collins beamed, triumphant in the knowledge that Charlotte must surely have far exceeded Lady Catherine's expectations of his procuring a useful wife. Indeed, Lady Catherine's smile grew steadily as she condescended to nod in agreement. Elizabeth, although disappointed by Charlotte's response, was not at all surprised. She fully understood her difficult situation and spared her friend the possible aggravation of a rebuttal.
The room lapsed into a welcome period of silence and the storm of dissension slowly dissipated. Eventually Darcy remembered the contest that precipitated the tempest. "Whatever one's feelings about the matter, I must repeat that we only play this little game for our amusement. And a contest such as this, so well begun, deserves to see a conclusion."
Her ladyship, while not pleased, acceded to her nephew's wish and turned her attention the Collinses and Maria. Darcy and Elizabeth, under the watchful eye of the Colonel, resumed analyzing the position before them.
"Your king is checked by my rook; clearly you are at move, sir", noted Elizabeth.
Darcy thanked her for stating the obvious, then surprised Colonel Fitzwilliam by moving his king into the corner, rather than capture the undefended bishop on its left.
"Darcy, that is unbelievable. Were you guilty of oversight or has generosity induced you to refuse her free bishop?"
"An oversight? Surely not" he replied. "To have taken the cleric would have allowed Miss Bennet to capture my rook pawn with her rook, thus attacking my queen and threatening my other rook via check. One always has to be on guard with an opponent capable of conjuring fierce attacks out of thin air."
Lizzy raised her head and gave Darcy a wicked smile. Darcy's confident manner contrasted sharply with the anxiety he exhibited at Netherfield, but she was not intimidated. Lizzy moved her queen to the center of the board to escape the attack of his knight. Darcy finally removed her annoying bishop with his rook; Lizzy took his knight; and Darcy captured her rook. The wholesale exchanges had finally subsided, leaving Darcy with numerically superior forces but an exposed king. After a final survey of possibilities, Elizabeth concluded that she had no better recourse than to check with her queen and force the monarch to find limited refuge in the corner.
"The game is drawn, sir, by perpetual check", Lizzy announced. "Your king can not hide from my queen which, unfortunately, does not have sufficient support to enforce checkmate."
Darcy stood and extended his hand in agreement. "Yes, a draw it most certainly is. Still, as I have progressed from a loss in our first game to a draw here, the tide has clearly turned in my favor. You are on notice that the next game will surely belong to me! But what a wild and exciting game this was! I thank you for the exhilarating contest."
"Indeed", said Elizabeth, "this game was perhaps the most exciting draw I have been party to, especially when one considers the activities extraneous to the board. But taken as whole, when you think of the circumstances, the venue I mean, a draw was really the only possible outcome."
"The venue?" inquired Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Rosings Park, do you mean? I do not have the pleasure of understanding your meaning."
"Why sir, you astonish me! Naturally, I was referring to this delightful room: the drawing room!"
Both Darcy and the Colonel groaned, then laughed in appreciation as the party arose and walked toward the dining room. Lady Catherine at once demanded to know the cause of the sudden merriment, but the three simply let their laughter melt into easy smiles as they shifted the conversation to admiration of the bountiful table that greeted them.
The game that formed the basis of this story was played between Bobby Fischer of the USA (White) and Michael Tal of the USSR (Black) in the 1960 Leipzig Chess Olympic. Fischer was 17 at the time of this game and Tal had just become World Champion. Tal had a well deserved reputation for slashing attacks that usually involved surprising piece sacrifices which, although not always sound, were extremely difficult to refute over-the-board, thus unnerving most of his opponents.
Fischer's accomplishments are better known. A social recluse, he learned the game at age six, became a master at age 10, champion of the United States at age 14, and international Grandmaster at age 15. He played in the World Championship Candidates Tournament at age 16 and finished fifth. He publicly accused the Russians of pre-arranging draws among themselves, thus giving their candidates valuable time to rest between the grueling rounds, while Fischer had to struggle hard for every win and draw. He withdrew from the championship cycle until 1972, when he wrested the world title from Boris Spassky in Reykjavik. Prior to and during the challenger matches, Fischer won an astounding 20 games in a row with no draws - analogous perhaps to the probability of pitching four or five consecutive perfect baseball games. Many of Fischer's games are artistic gems possessing logic of extraordinary crystal clarity. In a display of true sportsmanship, Spassky acknowledged as much when he joined the audience in applauding Fischer's magnificent performance in the sixth game of their title match, but that's another story.
|Fischer,R (White) - Tal,M (Black)
|1.e4 e6||2.d4 d5|
|3.Nc3 Bb4||4.e5 c5|
|5.a3 Ba5||6.b4 cxd4|
|7.Qg4 Ne7||8.bxa5 dxc3|
|9.Qxg7 Rg8||10.Qxh7 Nbc6|
|11.Nf3 Qc7||12.Bb5 Bd7|
|13.0-0 0-0-0||14.Bg5 Nxe5|
|15.Nxe5 Bxb5||16.Nxf7 Bxf1|
|17.Nxd8 Rxg5||18.Nxe6 Rxg2+|
|19.Kh1 Qe5||20.Rxf1 Qxe6|
|21.Kxg2 Qg4+ (draw)|
Chapter 10 -- The Rebellious Bird
A slight rustling of underbrush caused Darcy to turn around. He recognized the form of Elizabeth Bennet furtively walking away. With his long strides he was soon able to overtake her.
"Miss Bennet, I have been walking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honor of reading that letter?'' Without waiting for reply, he left Elizabeth to her solitude and regained the path back toward Rosings Park. Col. Fitzwilliam, out on his daily perambulation, intercepted Darcy at the park's perimeter.
"You look positively out of sorts, Darcy. Is anything the matter?"
"No” nothing is wrong," he responded tightly. "While walking I suddenly recalled a pressing matter at Pemberley that I must tend to immediately. Excuse me; I must lose no time alerting the servants to prepare for my departure.
"I am indeed sorry to hear that, Darcy. This visit has been a most pleasant one and I am heartily sorry to see it curtailed. But come, I'll walk with you to the house. After our preparations are underway, surely there will time enough for us to call on the parsonage to say our farewells."
As there was no acceptable excuse to be made for slighting this social convention, Darcy reluctantly accompanied the Colonel across the lane to Hunsford. Much to Darcy's relief, Elizabeth had not yet returned, and he wished to preserve this fortunate circumstance by not waiting long. After half an hour he extended his best wishes to those present and walked quickly back to Rosings.
The carriage ride to Pemberley seemed twice as long as the trip to Rosings a few weeks earlier. Darcy could not refrain from reflecting upon his ineffectual proposal of marriage to Elizabeth the evening before. As the trip wore on, his feelings of anger, frustration and humiliation grew more intense. It made him livid to consider that George Wickham's lies had so thoroughly poisoned Elizabeth's attitude against him. Furthermore, he was angry with himself for not anticipating Wickham's interference. Did she not intimate at the Netherfield Ball that Wickham was blaming him for his troubles? Why did he not speak up strongly to counter that false impression? Then his thoughts shifted to her surprising and forceful rejection of his proposal. How humiliating it was for him to be so rudely dismissed, especially when he considered how readily acceptable his proposal would have been anyone occupying a social stratum much higher than her own. At length he sank into deep frustration when he considered that, having finally met a woman who was his intellectual and emotional equal, and having fallen deeply in love for her, his ungainly manner had doomed perhaps his one and only chance to find marital happiness.
The next few weeks at Pemberley were difficult for Darcy. He tried to find distraction by engaging in riding, fencing, hunting, and fishing with his fellows, but these activities were more beneficial for his body than for his mind. After waiting longer and longer every night for sleep's tardy visit, Darcy decided the most hopeful tonic would be to play in a tournament at the London Chess Club. As long as he was going to have trouble finding sleep, he reasoned, anything, even mentally replaying a horrid game, must be counted a vast improvement over nocturnal melancholy.
Several days later Darcy arrived at the London club just as the late afternoon sun was steaming away the last traces of a brief May shower. He instinctively walked toward the Master's Hall, but as he passed the Duffer's Gallery the commotion of a large crowd caught his attention. He entered the room to find a blindfolded man seated before the assembly. At the man's right an assistant was taking names contributed by the crowd, writing them down on pieces of paper, and pasting them on empty squares of the large demonstration board propped up on an easel. Darcy quickly deduced the meaning of it. The blindfolded gent was about to perform a Âknights tour', but with an added twist of difficulty. Darcy had read about such demonstrations in one of his chess journals. The knight, which moves in L-shaped patterns (two squares up or across and then one square over), is placed somewhere on the board and then jumps in such a way that every square is touched only once. It was a tricky feat to accomplish from memory even while looking at the board. The performer was about to compound the degree of difficulty by memorizing the names given by the audience to each of the 64 squares, then listing the knight's moves by calling out the name of its square. Darcy was delighted to have finally gotten the opportunity to witness this spectacular mental feat.
Only a few open squares left. "Pemberley", Darcy called out in a strong voice.
"Ah, monsieur Darcy", replied the smiling performer. "It is so very good to hear your voice again."
Darcy was pleased to discover that it was his friend Philippe behind the mask. After the last square had been named, Philippe asked someone in the crowd to name a beginning square, and then proceeded to rattle off the remaining 63 names as the knight danced over the whole board. Philippe tore off the blindfold to thunderous applause and walked over to greet his friend.
"My good friend Darcy! It has been over a year since my last visit to Pemberley." He pulled his ring suspended from the necklace under his shirt and held it up for display. "See, here it is. I am keeping my part of our agreement."
The two good friends embraced. Darcy suggested they repair to the pub down the street so they could recount recent events in their lives. Philippe glanced at his timepiece and shook his head.
"No, it is impossible now as I have promises to keep. Darcy, you are fond of opera, no? Would you like to accompany me to a rehearsal of a new opera? I understand it is quite enchanting. You shall be my dinner guest afterwards."
"Yes, Philippe, I should enjoy that very much. Whenever I find myself in London, a performance at the Royal Opera House is something I anticipate with great pleasure."
"Then you will find this new work much to your liking. It is called ÂCarmencita' and it is a story about a gypsy girl and a Spanish army officer who forsakes his betrothed and falls in love with the gypsy against his will. Come. I'll tell you the particulars as we walk to the Music Hall."
The gentlemen reclaimed their coats and moved to the hall next door. The director, a well-dressed man of middle age, was leaning on his cane, swaying side to side in time with the music. Darcy and Philippe unobtrusively took a seat in the back of the theater. On stage a children's chorus sang gaily as they marched in imitation behind a troop of soldiers who were coming to the cigar factory to watch working girls emerge at the end of their shift. A bell sounded and the girls poured on stage. Last to appear was Carmencita, wearing a tight white dress with a red rose in her hair. The orchestral music transposed into a lilting, playful mood and she began singing as she flitted shamelessly from soldier to soldier. She faced one man with her hands on her hips, legs apart, and her head thrown back in defiance. She ran finger under another man's chin as she strolled by smiling seductively. Another soldier she pushed away as he became too eager. She placed her arms around the waist of another and brushed against a fifth man with her body. Her pure, golden voice soared above it all.
"Love is a rebellious bird
That no one can tame,
And it is all in vain to call it
If it chooses to refuse.
Nothing helps, not threats nor prayers.
One man is smooth-tongued, another is silent,
And he is the one I prefer.
He says nothing, but he pleases me.
Love. Love. Love is a gypsy child
That has never known a law.
Though you don't love me, I love you,
And if I love you, beware!
The bird you thought you had caught
Spread its wings and flew away.
Love stays aloof; you must wait for it.
Then, when you least expect it, there it is,
All around you. Quickly, quickly
It comes and goes and then returns.
You think you have it --- it escapes you.
You try to avoid it -- it grasps you tightly."
Darcy was uncertain what he found most stunning: her brilliant mezzo-soprano voice, her sculpted physique, her lovely face, or the bold lusty manner of her dance across the stage. Philippe had to nudge him back to reality when the rehearsal was over.
"So, Darcy, what is your opinion of the opera so far? Carmencita is lovely, is she not?"
Finding it difficult to verbalize his thoughts, Darcy merely nodded his assent.
"Well, let us go backstage then", Philippe suggested. "You can tell her how much you enjoyed her performance."
"No, it would hardly be proper for a gentleman to visit a lady in her dressing room", objected Darcy. "Perhaps it would be better to wait in the foyer."
"No, no! That will not do at all. You must follow me." Philippe took Darcy by the arm and dragged him backstage. He knocked on Carmencita's dressing room, and the two men soon stood before her.
"My dear," said Philippe emotionally, "here is my very good friend monsieur Darcy whom I have talked so much about. He has made possible our reunion last year." Turning to Darcy he added, "I am so happy to finally introduce you to my sister Michelle."
The blindfold knight's tour described in this chapter was the specialty of grandmaster George Koltanowski, who died earlier this month (2/5/00) at the age of 96. He was born in Antwerp, Belgium and learned the game at age 14. Three years later he played a game against a blindfolded player, decided to learn how to do it, and eventually became the greatest blindfolded player in history of the game. In 1937 he set a world's record in Edinburgh by playing blindfolded against 34 players simultaneously. After 13 hours he had won 24 games and drawn 10. In 1960 he played a record 56 simultaneous blindfold blitz games (10 seconds per move) and won 50 and drew 6. He later perfected the blindfolded knight's tour and performed it widely.
The opera in the story is Carmen, of course, but that presents a bit of a dilemma. Bizet wrote Carmen a full six decades after the setting of Pride and Prejudice. To preserve some semblance of historical consistency, I shall adopt the conceit that Carmencita (Carmen's full name in Bizet's opera) is the prototype (long lost to posterity, alas) upon which Bizet based his justly popular opera. The poem in the story is a translation I found of Bizet's original French version.
L'amour est un oiseau rebelle**********
que nul ne peut apprivoiser,
et c'est bien en vain qu'on l'appelle,
s'il lui convient de refuser!
Rien n'y fait, menace ou pri're,
l'un parle bien, l'autre se tait;
et c'est l'autre que je pref're,
il n'a rien dit, mais il me pla²t.
L'amour est enfant de Boh'me,
il n'a jamais,
jamais connu de loi,
si tu ne m'aimes pas,
je t'aime, si je t'aime,
prends garde › toi!
L'oiseau que tu croyais surprendre
battit de l'aile et s'envola;
l'amour est loin, tu peux l'attendre,
tu ne l'attends plus, il est l›.
Tout autour de toi, vite, vite,
il vient, s'en va, puis il revient;
tu crois le tenir, il t'evite,
tu crois l'eviter, il te tient!
Continued in Part 3
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