A Worthy Opponent
Chapter 11 - Michelle
Feeling quite awkward upon his first visit to a woman's dressing room, Darcy fidgeted as he waited for Philippe to finish the rite of introduction. He bowed in acknowledgement of Michelle, and she reciprocated by curtsey. Each owned feelings of delight and enchantment to meet the other at last.
"Philippe, decant some sherry for our guest and for yourself", said Michelle as she disappeared behind a screen covered by painted oriental birds. "It will take a few moments to change out of my stage costume."
Darcy accepted the beverage gratefully. The smooth liquid soon made him feel much more at ease.
"So, Mr. Darcy. What is your impression of the new opera?" Michelle called out.
"I was only fortunate enough to hear the last aria," he replied, "but I found it quite to my liking. The music is both lyrical and passionate, and I greatly admire your exquisite voice." After receiving thanks for the compliment, he hesitated briefly before adding, "My only qualm is that the audience may find your dance too provocative."
"Really, Mr. Darcy? You found it so?" She laughed and poked her head around the screen. "Philippe, perhaps you can find a cool wet towel for the monsieur."
Her bold and unaffected manner startled Darcy. "No, Miss Alain. My concern was not for myself; it was directed rather toward the London populace, which may be less accustomed to aggressive overtures on stage than audiences on the continent."
"The audiences in Edinburgh did not find it so", she said crisply. "You must allow that Carmencita is a poor gypsy girl who is not blessed with British refinements. Perhaps you are at a disadvantage as you have seen only a small portion of the opera. We shall remedy that soon; you shall be my guest on opening night, Saturday next."
Michelle emerged from the screen wearing a conservative yellow muslin dress that, while contrasting sharply with her tantalizing costume, did little to deny her charms. "Perhaps Carmencita would wear such a dress were she to be transplanted to England!" she teased.
"My dear, you look lovely as always", said Philippe, "and perfectly outfitted for dining. I know the perfect place. Let us hurry as I am famished."
Dinner at the Garland of Rosalind was a sumptuous affair, especially the crown roast of lamb and its exquisite complement, a1789 Bordeaux. The conversation naturally gravitated toward Michelle and her music.
"I was only 10 years old when my parents sent me away to my mother's sister in Louvain, Belgium", she began. "I was in great distress, for my heart knew I should never see my parents again. I had little to console me except my aunt Marie's arms and the music that poured from the cathedral near her home. My aunt permitted me to sneak into the church when the organmeister or the choir was practicing. The soprano soloist had such a radiantly beautiful voice that it transported my tearful heart to the rafters as I sat quietly in the back of the sanctuary. After that I began singing my own childish songs, wherever I would go. Soon I joined the children's choir and the director noticed my voice. He schooled me in music theory and the fundamentals of singing, and my voice blossomed. When I reached my sixteenth year, Philippe's kind financial assistance made it possible for me to study with Mlle. Bridget Simone, the renowned French opera mezzo-soprano, who was forced to flee from her homeland. She treated me like a daughter and took me to all her performances. I learned all the arias in her repertoire. She gave to me an undying love for opera, and for that and for her unsurpassable kindness I adored her."
Michelle's voice choked with emotion and she drank some water to gain time to collect herself. "After several years of training, my voice had matured, so Mlle. Simone recommended me to M. Grandeux, the impresario of the Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp, for a small role in Mozart's ┬Marriage of Figaro'. That glorious experience bound me to opera forever, and new offers to sing other operatic roles streamed in with the favorable notices. It was a short while later that Philippe informed me by letter of your generosity and your wish to see us reunited. I would have done so then, but my aunt Marie had taken very ill and I could not leave her. I used your funds instead to move her to Brussels and provide for her care even as I continued in my operatic career. After she died last autumn, I had earned more than enough from my singing to finally join Philippe here in London. It was one of our happiest days, and I must thank you, our good friend Mr. Darcy, for your thoughtful assistance when times were so difficult."
"I am glad that I was able to assist you, Miss Alain", said Darcy. "Had your aunt not taken gravely ill, I should have regretted your waiting so long to come to England."
"But our reunion was short lived, was it not, sister?" remarked Philippe. "You had not stayed with me but a month before you flew away to Scotland."
"Yes, yes", laughed Michelle. "I attempted to find an opportunity with the London opera, but none was to be had, other than a position in the chorus. I heard that the Scottish Opera Company was seeking a replacement to sing the role of Morgana in Handel's ┬Alcina', so I traveled to Edinburgh. After the temporary assignment ended, I was invited to stay on with their production of ┬Carmencita', which of course is now moving to London."
"And you find playing the coquette on stage agreeable?" asked Darcy, adding quite subconsciously, "I cannot imagine my sister Georgiana doing so." His face immediately reddened as he recognized the insulting nature of his observation. Before she could respond he quickly stammered, "I beg your pardon, Miss Alain. I intended noö"
Michelle waved him off with a smile. "No, Mr. Darcy. I understand perfectly. There is no need for explanation. I have encountered enough British gentlemen to understand sensibilities not frequently encountered on the continent. Had you been born a woman, Mr. Darcy, perhaps you might understand how liberating it feels to fly against convention and live enthusiastically, if only for a few brief hours on the stage. If my portrayal of Carmencita this afternoon has upset you, you can take comfort. I am far too serious an artist to allow myself the luxury of Carmencita's freedom, although I cannot suppress my feelings of envy and admiration for her."
"You are right", said Darcy wistfully. "There is much about women that I have yet to learn."
Philippe laughed aloud, and Darcy instantly regretted the remark. What powers did Miss Alain possess, he wondered, that forced him to reveal more of himself than he intended? He could only shake his head and laugh along good-naturedly. He looked up to observe Michelle taking his measure.
"Philippe", she said, "I think Mr. Darcy will fit the role very well. He is tall and handsome and has a very strong and pleasing voice."
Darcy was all curiosity. "I beg your pardon, Miss Alain?"
"Mr. Darcy, do you sing? Can you read music?"
His curiosity turned into mild alarm. "I rarely sing, but I can read music as I have learned in my youth to play the violoncello. What role do you speak of? I can assure youö"
"Do you have any plans for the next six weeks?" she interrupted eagerly.
"No", said Darcy, forgetting completely his intention to enter the chess tournament.
"Excellent!" cried Michelle. "Come, Philippe. Let's settle the bill and repair to our apartment to test Mr. Darcy's voice."
"That is impossible, Miss Alain. My singing is quite unaccomplished and ö I find it difficult to perform before strangers."
"Everyone finds it difficult, Mr. Darcy, but the effort can be most rewarding. One of our singers became seriously ill yesterday and we have yet to find his replacement. He played the commandant of the guard and had a small solo role -- only one page of music. I believe you may be able to take his place. With a large supporting ensemble of talented singers, I am certain you will find the whole experience enjoyable."
Darcy strongly protested that he was utterly incompetent to accomplish the task, but he found Michelle equally determined to discover to her own satisfaction whether that was true. Within ten minutes he was surprised to find himself standing next to her pianoforte and singing scales with her. She transposed to lower keys several times before permitting him to descend on his own.
Unhappy at the strained quality of his voice, Michelle walked over to Darcy and reached for his hand, which he instinctively withdrew.
"It is quite alright, Mr. Darcy. I mean you no harm. I know you are a gentleman and I promise to behave in a lady-like manner."
That phrasing of her remark hardly put him at ease. She reached for his hand again and placed it on his throat. "Try singing that last scale again, if you please, and open your throat this time. Let go the tension."
Despite Darcy's attempt to comply, there was no discernable difference in vocal timbre. "Trust me", Michelle said simply as she took his other hand and placed it on her throat. Her voice effortlessly climbed four octaves. "Did you feel any strain?" He shook his head in the negative, although he was thinking more about the sensuous smoothness of her skin than he was about the oscillations of her vocal chords.
"Let us both sing your lowest octave, mine will naturally be several octaves higher." They began the duet and held each note for an extended period so Darcy could feel the contrast in tension between their throats. Through concentrated effort he was able to substantially relax his vocal cords. By the time he reached the last note, the volume of his voice greatly surprised him.
"Quelle difference!" exclaimed Philippe. "I should have warned you that Michelle is a miracle worker."
"Do not believe a word he says", scolded Michelle playfully as she released Darcy's hand. "I can only improve upon nature's endowment, and she has given you a naturally beautiful and resonant voice, Mr. Darcy. I am confident that if we work together for a few hours every day, I can get your voice into splendid form before the opening performance."
His furrowed brow betrayed uncertainty. "Are you in a position to manage the chorus?" he asked.
"No, of course not", she replied, "but Mr. McAllister, the choral director, trusts my judgment implicitly, and I have no doubt that he will follow my recommendation. If you are concerned about our scandalous lesson arrangements", she added with a grin, "we can conduct all lessons in an open practice room at the music hall."
"I need time to think the matter over", said Darcy. "May I give you my answer in the morning?"
Michelle nodded. "Mr. Darcy, I can understand your hesitation. It is not easy to attempt something different and new, but that is the essence of adventure. By joining the opera, you have very much to gain and very little to lose. I will do everything in my power to make certain your success." She paused and looked earnestly into his eyes. "There is no sweeter song than the song of a wild bird. If a bird is afraid to leave its cage, it can never know all the songs in its heart."
At that moment Darcy knew there was only one path to be taken. After a moment he said softly. "Yes, Miss Alain, I believe you speak the truth. I accept your offer."
Chapter 12 -- Song of the Wounded Knight
The bright butterscotch sun streamed through the leaded glass window and awakened Darcy. He washed the sleep from his face and groaned as he recalled his promise to Michelle to join the opera company. After a simple breakfast he walked to the music hall and found Michelle singing warm-up exercises in the practice room. They exchanged greetings and Darcy admitted reservations about his new undertaking.
"I do not understand how your powers of persuasion overcame my better judgment last evening", he began, "but I fear I may have assented to your proposal too hastily. It is customary for a gentleman of my station to indulge the arts through patronization rather than direct participation."
Michelle looked at him thoughtfully for a few moments as she formed her response.
"I would never presume to advise a gentleman on what constitutes proper behavior, Mr. Darcy, but what is the true sticking point? Are you hesitant to engage in an unfamiliar activity because you feel inadequate to the challenge? You need not be nervous on that score. As I promised yesterday, I will make certain you are well prepared. Or are you worried, perhaps, that you may be recognized by acquaintances who would not approve?"
"You seem to understand the situation well, Miss Alain. I am most concerned with causing injury to my family should they learn of my participation. While they would be supportive of my private participation in the arts, many would think it a great scandal were I to perform on a public stage."
"Then I am able to put your fears to rest at once, Mr. Darcy. Your family and acquaintances need never know. Your solo role is a very small one, consisting mainly of the sung dialogue of a lieutenant to his troops. Unless you falter significantly, your singing will attract no critical notice. To preserve your anonymity you can assume a stage name for the playbill. To the other members of the opera I will simply introduce you as an old family acquaintance. If you are concerned about being recognized on stage, you can be outfitted with an impenetrable disguise, perhaps by adding a large moustache, some gray to your hair, and padding your uniform with an extra fifty pounds."
Darcy laughed at the thought of passing himself off as a fat old man. "Yes, I do see how you have covered all my objections." He ran a finger across his lips as he paced the floor. "I know that were my parents still alive they would hardly approve of such a project, still, escaping into a totally different world for a few weeks does seem an irresistible adventure and great divertissement. To be perfectly satisfied, however, I must be assured that my secret is safe with both you and Philippe. Can I depend upon that?"
"You know Philippe well enough to be certain of his devotion to you, and you will find me his equal in dependability", declared Michelle. "Your secret shall travel no further than me, or your name isn't Adam Antine." She giggled.
"What?" asked Darcy, somewhat bewildered.
"That is to be your new stage name. Do you like it or would you prefer to be re-christened?"
"Adam Antine? That is a horrible name!" Darcy groaned. "I am certain that name would attract far too much attention. Adam Streamwood is much more to my liking."
"Very well. Adam Streamwood it is. But before I introduce you to the other members of the opera you would be wise to conceal your gentlemanly identity. You should replace your fine clothes with more pedestrian threads. I am certain Philippe can assist you with that. Most importantly of all, you must drop your formality and learn to call members of the ensemble by their Christian names. You may begin by calling me Michelle."
"That may be a most difficult habit to break, Michelle", said Darcy with a smile.
"Now that we have settled all that, Adam, let us begin rehearsing your part."
Darcy needed every practice moment during the next ten days to give his part a professional shine. As the days passed his sense of rhythm became more secure, his intonation more true, his vocal projection more accurate, and his manner more confident. Michelle's criticisms, although warranted, were at times unsparingly sharp and exasperating to Darcy. But through it all he accepted her reproofs with equanimity, determined to keep any manifestation of pride or vanity in good regulation. The director of the opera wisely postponed Darcy's integration into the ensemble until the fifth day, by which time Michelle had declared him fit for stage rehearsal. If any in the male chorus where jealous of Darcy's promotion from obscurity to soloist, they hid it well out of deference to their leading lady. The cast came quickly to his aid and advised him whenever he betrayed any awkwardness in his marching or gestures. By opening night only the most fastidious critic could have detected which performer on stage had the least experience.
Although Darcy's natural reticence delayed his full assimilation into the ensemble, he found their camaraderie very enjoyable nonetheless. Their easy laughter and unreserved manner contrasted strongly with behaviors encountered in his normal social sphere. What allowed him finally to connect to the rest of the ensemble was a mutual love of chess. Before every performance, singers engaged in various rituals. Some practiced their songs; others preferred to curl in the corner with a book; a dedicated group played cards; and about ten members liked nothing better than to dispatch a few games of chess. Darcy's prowess at the game quickly established itself, and it became de rigueur that he give pawn or knight odds to his challengers. Quite often Philippe stopped backstage before curtain time so he and Darcy could entertain the groundlings with more substantial matches.
It was the time spent together after the performances, however, that created the strongest bonds of friendship. Whereas drinking before the opera was unthinkable for serious artists, drinking afterward appeared to be a necessity. Freely flowing wine, a hearty meal, lively banter, and spontaneous songs all contributed mightily to the feeling of unity.
What Darcy found most exciting was the performance itself. It was a wonder to hear and watch the artistry of Michelle as she glided across the stage and collected everyone's heart with her radiant singing. Each night as Carmencita she found fresh ways to tease him. Once she peeled an orange and, after he had finished his solo, stuffed a section into his mouth as she sauntered by. Another night she poked him in his padded stomach. Another time she brushed his cheek with her long black hair. And each night the opera worked its magic on him. Carmencita's exquisite arias, the bold flamenco dance rhythms, the orchestral crescendo, the swirling costumes, the lusty full-throated choral singing all combined to install in Darcy a sense of ecstasy that let him forget himself and devote all his attention to the music.
It was on the third Sunday after opening night that Darcy stopped at the music hall to retrieve the overcoat he had forgotten after the previous night's rousing post-performance festivities. He expected to find the building deserted as there was no performance that evening, and he was surprised to hear a melancholy tune played on a distant piano. He traced it to one of the practice rooms. As he approached, he also heard a woman humming along softly. Darcy knocked before entering.
"Good afternoon, my friend", said Michelle. "I am so happy to see you. I am composing a song for my recital next month and I need your assistance. There are too many bright songs and I am trying to compose a sad one for balance."
"I would not presume to possess any talent in that area", replied Darcy. "It is all I can do to sing what others have written."
"Yes, I understand that. The tune I am writing is quite near to completion, but I am struggling to find an appropriate lyric to complement it. Let me play it for you."
Michelle hummed as she twice played the main line and refrain. She looked up and could see in Darcy's eyes that the haunting melody had affected him.
"It is as sad and beautiful a melody as any I have encountered", he said.
"Thank you, Darcy. I have a great fondness for it too, but can you suggest a lyric. Does it remind you of anything or anyone? Perhaps we can start there."
She could tell from Darcy's sigh this indeed was the case, and she waited patiently for him to give words to his thoughts. A few minutes later he began speaking in a low even tone.
"Yes, I am reminded of a young woman I last met only a few months ago, but the memory is still quite painful. I loved her and I wanted her to be my wife, but she refused me." Michelle looked on empathetically, but did not disturb the silence. Darcy never explicitly mentioned Elizabeth or any other person by name as he related all the particulars of his unhappiness. He told how he had misjudged and slighted her at the first ball, how he guided his friend away from her sister, and how his childhood friend's lies had poisoned Elizabeth against him. Darcy related how he had discovered her poem by the wooded stream and its powerful hold on his imagination. At last he narrated in painful detail his ungentlemanly, condescending proposal and her stinging refusal. He despaired that his hopes for happiness were forever doomed.
"That is indeed a heavy burden to carry, Darcy. Is that the last time you saw her?"
"No", he replied. "On the next morning I placed in her hand a letter setting forth the truth about my nemesis and my reasons for hiding my friend from her sister. I have confidence that she will vindicate my treatment of the former, but I fear she continues to lay the blame for her sister's unhappiness at my door." Darcy paused momentarily. "And I have seen her more recently still. Do you recall our performance last Thursday when my voice broke during my solo? I rarely look at the audience but I could not help noticing her seated in the seventh row with the rest of her family. Actually it was her mother's high nervous laugh that first alerted me to their presence. Concentration on the music was difficult through the remainder of the evening."
"Did you not seek her out afterward?"
"No, I did not wish my sudden appearance to be the cause of her embarrassment. She has rejected me in a completely unambiguous manner, and I have no reason to suspect her opinion of me has materially altered."
Michelle sighed in acknowledgement of the missed opportunity. "You mentioned her poem's effect upon you. Can you tell me about it?"
"I am not at liberty to disclose her poem, but it haunts me still. Last month, in an attempt to secure release, my heart poured forth a poem in response."
"Darcy", she said earnestly. "We have become close friends. Can you share your composition with me?"
"I do not have it with me, at least not in written form, but given a few moments I can transcribe it from memory."
He wrote down the first two verses of his poem and gave them to Michelle. "Darcy, this is simply wonderful", exclaimed Michelle as she sang them in her new tune. "Please write out the remainder. We can then make slight alterations to better fit the meter to the melody."
Twenty minutes later Darcy delivered the remaining verses, and for the next few hours the two collaborated to polish the composition. Both agreed the ethereal marriage of music and words did justice to both. At the top of the score Michelle wrote the title in fine hand: ┬My Foolish Heart', and below: ┬music by Michelle Alain, words by Adam Streamwood.' That did not sit well with Darcy, who wished for anonymity. He crossed out his assumed name and wrote: ┬words by a gentleman.' Michelle smiled in agreement. The distant church bells announced the arrival of the dinner, and the two left for her apartment to find Philippe. Naturally he first had to audition the new work. It left him speechless except for adjectives such as "sublime", "heavenly" and "lovely".
Several weeks later the concluding performance of "Carmencita" filled Darcy with equal parts of happiness and sadness. Afterwards the ensemble toasted their success with unrestrained celebration. Champagne and wine flowed freely and no one's appetite wanted for lack of roast pig and beef, imported cheese or fresh fruits. But the event was bittersweet as Darcy realized his experiment in liberation was ending and the strong bonds he had formed with various members of the cast could only atrophy in future. As the festivities crossed into early morning, Michelle made the first move to leave. She hugged each member of the cast in turn, saving Darcy for last, but she did not hug him.
"Remember that love can never be tamed, Darcy", she said softly as she affixed to his coat a silver pin depicting a songbird. "Please come to my recital tomorrow evening." Darcy kissed her hand.
The next morning found Darcy in restless spirits. He wished to avoid meeting Michelle, as he did not want to disturb her recital preparations. Darcy spent the greater part of the morning walking the streets along the Thames, and the greater part of the afternoon playing off-hand games at the chess club. The concert hour finally arrived and he claimed an inconspicuous seat toward the rear of the hall. The audience adored her renditions of Mozart and Handel and the few arias she included from "Carmencita". Before singing her final work, Michelle spoke to the audience.
"I wish to dedicate my next song to the gentleman who graciously provided the lyric. Working with him has been a great pleasure." She waited a moment before signaling the accompanist to begin the pensive introduction. Michelle modulated her voice expressively as she sang the words of Darcy's ┬My Foolish Heart'.
I shall never know precisely When I first heard your siren song And my heart, pulled free from its mooring, Followed gladly, unmindful of wrong.
For I was incredibly foolish, So elated my heart did not see All hopes for requited affection Were nothing but pure fantasy.
Forgive the inept calculations Of an eager and runaway heart Lost in love's passionate silence Yearning madly for fires to start.
For I was unknowingly foolish, So bewitched I scarcely could see My artless expressions of love Were mere shadows of true empathy.
Your hurt look shall haunt me forever, My last song hearing no counterpart, Only chords of rebuke and displeasure Surreptitiously piercing my heart.
For I was insensibly foolish, And my heart was unwilling to see I never did truly behold you, Simply fooled by my own sophistry.
Will my lonely heart wander forever? Is there nothing to lessen the pain? Is there no one to help me forget I may never embrace you again?
For I was ineffably foolish, So enchanted I could not foresee Resplendent songs of transcendent love Would fade in subdued minor key.
The magic hung in the reverberant air momentarily before the audience broke into unanimous ovation. After Michelle sang her final encore, Darcy slipped out back and walked toward her dressing room. Many well-wishers had preceded him, so Darcy waited patiently in the hall until Michelle was able to gracefully accept their flowers and compliments and reclaim her room. She admitted Darcy and shut the door.
"As long as I live, Michelle, I will always carry this evening's memory with me", said Darcy simply.
"I can hardly do less," she said as she retrieved an item from her drawer. "I want you to have this."
Michelle pressed into his hand the score of "My Foolish Heart" and a red silk rose, both tied together with a red silk ribbon. "Darcy, I do not know who she is or where she is, but I know you still love her. She cannot know the true nature of the gentleman I have had the pleasure of knowing these last few months. I have every hope of visiting you both at Pemberley before another year passes by."
"I cannot see how your hope can be fulfilled", replied Darcy, "but I thank you from my heart for your kind wishes."
Michelle leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. "Find her, Darcy, and if she refuses you a second time, write to me soon."
On the road back to Pemberley the next morning, Darcy gazed absently out the carriage window and declared firmly, "I shall conquer thisö"
Author's note: I have agreed to be the tournament bulletin editor for the National Chess Open in Las Vegas next week. It should be a spectacular event as several dozen grandmasters are expected to attend along with thousands of other competitors. After that I am off to explore several national parks for the remainder of the month. For these reasons it will be impossible for me to post the next chapter of AWO until early April. Thanks for your patience and thanks very much for all your comments.
Special thanks to EllenM for proofreading my poem.
Chapter 13 - A Walk Along the River
While it is true that fortune favors the brave, it is equally true that happiness favors those who are generous. It was this latter quality in Darcy╠s character that allowed Michelle╠s unselfish wish for his happiness to be realized. At the very time Darcy was prepared to abandon all hope of atoning for his ungentlemanly conduct toward Elizabeth, she suddenly materialized before him. She and her aunt and uncle were touring Derbyshire on holiday and, having been informed that Darcy and his sister were away for the summer, decided the fine weather must have been created specifically for an inspection of the lovely home and grounds of Pemberley. Their visit would have gone unnoticed and undisturbed but for Darcy╠s early return to meet with his steward. The heat of the morning╠s hard ride made it impossible for him to resist a cool swim in the pond before walking toward the house. The awkwardness of his surprise encounter with Elizabeth as she walked in the garden was acutely intensified by the unpresentable condition of his wet attire. Darcy did manage a small recovery and stammered a few pleasantries before excusing himself for a few moments to put on more suitable clothes. When he reappeared to guide them in a tour of the grounds, Elizabeth and the Gardiners were much amazed by his open and complaisant manner; so much so that Elizabeth began to wonder if she had been guilty of misjudging him. During the following days, as she became acquainted with his sister Georgiana and witnessed the tender bond between them, she became persuaded that her hasty sketch of his character had indeed been grossly malformed.
It is quite likely that in the absence of outside influences their mutual hope for renewed affection could have been readily fulfilled and acted upon, but life seldom finds the smoothest path to the future. George Wickham, the agent of their previous undoing, caused fresh mischief by absconding with Elizabeth╠s youngest sister to Scotland. Feeling the acute shame entailed upon her family by Lydia╠s wanton act, Elizabeth retreated to Longbourn in tears and despaired that Darcy╠s regard for her could not survive such a scandal. Darcy, however, was determined not to let her slip away a second time. With the confidential assistance of the Gardiners he was able to exert sufficient influence upon Wickham to lure him into a respectable union with Lydia. After Lady Catherine╠s well-timed officious interference, and after Darcy removed himself as the sole impediment to Bingley╠s happy reunion with Jane Bennet, Darcy and Elizabeth were often thrown into each other╠s company. Discovering nothing further to inhibit the growth of love and delight, Elizabeth was grateful and happy to receive his attentions, and happier still to accept his renewed offer of marriage.
On the day following their engagement, Elizabeth, trying her best to shield her betrothed from the idle curiosity of her Longbourn circle, intercepted Darcy's arm and suggested a walk to the north of Meryton.
"A walk along the river? On a day as fine and clear as this, nothing could please me more." They took their leave from the Bennets and Bingley and stepped out into the cool air. A quarter of an hour later they reached the stone bridge near Meryton and proceeded on the footpath along the western bank. Soon they passed some young boys fishing from rocks that jutted into the river. Darcy smiled at the recollection of happy times he had spent fishing with his late father in Derbyshire.
"A scene such as this makes me anticipate eagerly the day when I shall have sons of my own to take fishing."
"Sons?" asked Lizzy mischievously. "Is it absolutely certain that we shall have sons? It is quite probable that we may have only daughters. Perhaps you recall my parents have set an excellent example in that regard."
Darcy grinned. "And should that be the happy case, my dear, I can safely predict that, given our great love of nature, the girls too shall find the allurement of water as difficult to resist as their parents do. But you forget, Lizzy, that my excellent parents produced a son as well as a daughter. It may be premature to speculate on populating our family with daughters alone."
Lizzy could not suppress a grin of her own. "Now it is your turn to willfully misunderstand me, William. I am certain that with sufficient practice we can learn the art of producing sons as well as daughters! And should we have sons alone, or daughters alone, or a delightful mixture of the two, I am inclined to agree that our offspring shall heed our good example and take a keen liking to all that nature has to offer. Perhaps we will fish together down by Pemberley pond; assuming, of course, you are not tempted to fling yourself into the water and frighten off all the fish!"
"I promise to do my best. A family fishing expedition it shall be then, and in the evening, after we have dined on delectable trout, we can repair to the library and teach all our children to become chess masters."
"Yes, we shall have a family chess tournament! That would be delightful! But would you feel comfortable participating, Darcy? After all, you have never beaten me at the game!"
"That is certainly true," said Darcy with mock indignation, "but the only reason I am marrying you is to discover the secrets of your game."
They looked at each other and burst into laughter, much to the wonderment of a hunting party coming around the bend in the river. Darcy nodded to the gentlemen and made friendly inquiry as to their success in the woods that lay beyond the meadow.
After they had walked out of earshot of the hunters, Darcy turned to Elizabeth. "My dear Lizzy, I have not been totally forthcoming with you in our conversation yesterday, and my conscience demands that I own up to it." The playful tone of his voice prevented any alarm. "You had asked if I knew when I began loving you, but I did not directly respond to your question. I believe I can now identify the moment when I first became aware my admiration for you had transformed itself into true love."
"Oh? And what prevented your revealing this vital bit of information yesterday? Was it my beauty or my wit that so incapacitated your powers of recollection?"
"Neither, I trust, but I could be mistaken," he laughed. "I simply wished to delay my complete response until I had in my possession the artifact that produced the moment of sudden clarity. Can you guess what that article is?"
"H-m-m", responded Lizzy as she raked her memory. "Some bright thing capable of exciting love... From the timing of your first proposal, it must have happened last April in Kent. But I had sent you no letters, nor had I lost any jewelry or glove or any intimate thing... I am afraid I cannot account for it. Perhaps if I behave myself properly you will reveal it to me someday?" she said arching her brow.
Darcy reached inside his vest and produced a package wrapped in red satin and secured with a white silk ribbon. "The very article in question", he announced, bowing in proper knight-like fashion.
Elizabeth inspected the package with intense curiosity, then ceremoniously untied the ribbon to reveal its contents. She gasped as she recognized her poem. "'My Constant Heart'. Where...? This is astonishing. I never... How...? Oh yes, I remember now -- this must be the poem I lost on one of my walks at Hunsford. Tell me how it came into your possession, William?"
"I have my horse to thank for it, actually. Its thirstiness gave me time to notice the poem trapped in branches growing over the stream."
"Did you recognize it immediately as my work?"
"Not at first, although I did have strong suspicions. I was unfamiliar with your handwriting and I found it in such a remote and unlikely spot that I had great difficulty accounting for its presence. But when I happened upon you shortly thereafter in the forest, I was convinced that no one else in the vicinity could compose such lively, forthright verses. I recall wanting to return the poem to you then and to congratulate you on its cleverness but, given its intimate nature, I could think no way of doing so without causing your embarrassment."
"Yes, I do recall our meeting; it was nearly two weeks before your first proposal. But Darcy," she teased, "you read the poem and had sufficient time to contemplate its import. I am afraid that this does not speak well of your navigational abilities. I had unknowingly provided you with a road map exposing the direct route to my heart. How could you then not manage to steer clear of the blockades and traps I had so explicitly mentioned?"
"I have asked myself that very question many times since," Darcy answered soberly. "Upon entering the parsonage I presumed I was playing the knight, taking rightful claim of the affections of my queen. I had absolutely no notion I was playing the foolish knave instead. Your just words brought clearly into focus my guilt in trying to 'force you to my predestined course'."
"But what prompted you to retain the poem until now? You are quite right of course; I would have been shocked then to have learned of its being in your possession. I had no intention of sharing it with anyone other than Jane. If you could not find a way to return the poem at Hunsford, why did you not destroy it immediately?"
"I admit to struggling with that question as well. I had resolved to do as much that very day, but as it was your poem that induced me to acknowledge at last my heartfelt desire for you, I could not destroy it without feeling criminal. I had the poem on my person when I first proposed to you but, as we are well aware, my unfortunate behavior at the time prevented my returning it to you. I locked it my desk drawer before beginning my letter to you that evening, and then I put it out of mind completely. After my hopes were rekindled by Lady Catherine's call last week, I remembered your poem and immediately retrieved it. I wanted only one more opportunity for redemption. Had you refused me a second time, the poem would have been destroyed, and along with it, all my hopes for happiness."
"My dear William, do not be uneasy", said Elizabeth as she tenderly took his arm. "I am most grateful for the turn that events have taken. Were it not for miscalculations on both our parts, our understanding of each other, and of ourselves, would not be so nearly complete as it is now."
They walked for a few moments before Elizabeth spoke again. "Now it is my turn for confession, William. You have not asked when I first began loving you. Jane did last evening and I answered, mostly in jest, that I thought it was when I first saw Pemberley. In truth it was much earlier. A few months ago when I was in London I went to hear the a new opera." She looked at Darcy and found a look of slight embarrassment. "At first I paid no heed to the fat elderly lieutenant of the guard, but when I heard his voice crack on a high note, my interest was piqued and I began to listen more closely. The voice had a familiar quality but, as I have no opera singers among my acquaintances, I could not immediately account for it. You can imagine my shock when I discovered who it was!" she said with a laugh.
Darcy shook his head. "To think if I had not seen you in the audience, I would not have choked and my secret would have been safe. Have you told your family and is the whole world now acquainted with my infamy?"
"I mentioned it only to Jane afterward, but she refused to believe me! I must admit I too never expected you to be so flexible and adventuresome as to appear on stage, but that is not the true reason for my affection for you. I saw how Carmencita was especially playful toward you during the performance and I wondered if you had fallen in love with her. My curiosity got the best of me and I had to learn more about her. As I left the theater I read the notice for her recital two weeks later. As my twin cousins were to celebrate their eighteenth birthday on the 8th of the next month, I used that as a pretext to remain in London while the rest of my family returned to Longbourn."
"You were at the recital?" Darcy asked incredulously. "How is it possible that I did not see you?"
"It is because I first noticed you and I wished to avoid another awkward encounter. I saw you walk into the music hall, so I waited outside for several moments before entering. I saw you sitting toward the back on the right side of the main floor, so I took a seat out of your view in the balcony at the opposite side of the room. I left through a separate door after the performance was finished."
"You deduced that I was the gentleman who supplied the lyric for her song about the foolish heart?"
"Yes, I saw Miss Alain look in your direction as she gave you credit during its introduction. After hearing the song I wondered what prompted you to write such an intimate poem and then share it with someone who appeared to have such affection for you. Now I realize your poem was written in response to mine; of course I had no intimation of that at the time. Hearing the song, though, did make me realize for the first time how badly I had misjudged your feelings for me. I was unaware how deeply you cared for me, and how much you regretted your attitude during your first proposal and the pain it caused. That you would share such sentiments with Miss Alain proved to me that you still retained some affection for me. I was grateful to learn you did not despise me for upbraiding you, and the melancholy of the music and the lyric overwhelmed me. When I thought my only chance of happiness with you had passed, I was powerless to staunch the flow of tears."
Darcy found it impossible to find words to express the emotions that now overpowered him. He cupped her hands in his.
"I wanted to get at copy of your poem," said Lizzy, "so I went to see Miss Alain on the following day."
"What?" exclaimed Darcy. "You called on her?"
"Yes, she received me most graciously and gave me leave to copy your verse. I mentioned nothing about knowing you, but her pensive manner of looking at me convinced me that she suspected our connection. She was kind and considerate, and I like her very much. If you had fallen in love with her, I should not have blamed you in the least. She is very lovely and talented."
"I can hardly do that," replied Darcy, pausing to choose his words carefully. "I do admire her very much, I am indebted to her in many ways, and she has been a wonderful friend, but I could not honestly love her. Her humor, her fine intelligence, even her bright smile reminded me only of you. Until I could get you out of my mind, it would have been unfair to her to pretend otherwise."
"How very strange it is though," noted Lizzy, "that we both should end up with each other╠s poem?"
"Very strange indeed", answered Darcy, "but I am grateful for the whole of the experience."
They had nearly reached the end of the meadow and Lizzy decided it was time to change the mood. "Look at the lovely willows there -- my favorite sort of tree", she exclaimed, letting go Darcy's arm as she ran towards them. Darcy took up the chase, catching her as she ducked under the low hanging branches.
"Willows are favorites of mine as well", said Darcy. "My father planted more than a dozen around the pond, and I have spent countless hours in play in them as a child. Come, I must show you a special place."
Darcy took Lizzy's hand and led her to an adjacent willow that bounded the river. "Look! A log bench -- how delightful!" she exclaimed. "How did you know it was here, William?"
"Why, here we are but a mile from Netherfield", he replied. "I discovered this refuge last fall and arranged to have this log set here as you see it. I too am fond of walks and this is one of my favorite destinations."
"How odd", said Lizzy. "This is quite reminiscent of a grove near Rosings..." Darcy's laugh interrupted her thought. "You!" she said all astonished. "So it was you who fashioned the log stool by the large willow beside the stream! I had not the least suspicion..."
"Yes, I confess I found that enchanted spot in my youth when my parents visited Rosings. Ten years ago I fashioned that stool with an axe. Was that the spot where you lost the poem? I am indeed happy to learn you share my excellent taste in scenery!"
Shielded from the world by an opaque curtain of willow leaves, they sat down on the accommodating bench and embraced and kissed as passionately as any lovers before or since. Lizzy relaxed her grip on her poem and entrusted its care to the dancing breeze. Having found its way from one heart to the other, the poem ended its journey at the bottom of the swift running river. Its physical loss was of little consequence as its words had long ago been branded indelibly upon Darcy's heart, which no longer was simply his own.
Chapter 14 - Pemberley Invasion
The Bennets, craning their necks through the carriage windows, were finally rewarded with a grand prospect of Pemberley. This was their first visit to the opulent estate, Elizabeth╠s new home since her marriage to Darcy four months earlier, and Mrs. Bennet's enthusiasm suffered none of the advantages of restraint.
"Kitty! Mary! Look at your sister's beautiful manor. Is it not grand? Never in all my imaginings did I expect to see such beautiful gardens and such a huge and magnificent structure. Oh! I am as giddy as a young girl on her first shopping excursion!"
"And just think of our Lizzy's supreme misfortune, my dear" observed her husband. "She could have been blessed with Mr. Collins' comfortable situation and connection to the estimable Lady Catherine De Bourgh, but alas, our poor Lizzy is now reduced to this!"
"Oh, Mr. Bennet! How can you be so constantly tedious? You must know I have always considered Mr. Collins to be ill suited for our Lizzy, or for any of our other fine daughters, for that matter."
"Yes, I do recall some conversation along those lines in my library last year. I particularly remember your scolding me for urging Lizzy to seriously reconsider her refusal of Mr. Collins."
The chagrinned Mrs. Bennet could only glare at her husband in lieu of substantive reply, but the walk toward the entrance of the mansion presented enough distractions to make her forget all else.
"What a lovely archway! The artistry of this stonework is not to be believed. It must have cost a small fortune to lay a pathway with such an intricate design. And look at all the marvelous shrubs and plants, and the lovely trees behind us surrounding the pond. I am so distracted! Such exquisite delights¸"
Her rhapsody was momentarily interrupted by the appearance of Elizabeth, who rushed forward to embrace and kiss them all.
"Mama, Papa. It is so good to see you come to Pemberley at last. And my dear Mary and Kitty, I hope you have all had a pleasant journey."
"And who could not have enjoyed a ride in such a splendid coach," replied Mrs. Bennet. "It was so very kind and thoughtful of you, my dear, to send it down to Longbourn to fetch us."
"That was done as much for my benefit as yours," said Elizabeth. "The distance is long enough to be uncomfortable, and I could not have remained at ease thinking of you traveling by post when I had the means of making your journey more pleasant."
"You have looked after us very well indeed, my child," declared her father. "But where, may I ask, is your splendid new husband hiding? Has he acquired a sudden shyness that prevents the acknowledgment of his newly acquired family?"
"No, Father, you know that to be untrue. I'm sorry to report that he has been called away to tend to matters in London, and it appears quite likely he will be absent for the duration of your visit." Elizabeth secretly congratulated herself for scheduling her mother's initial visit during his absence. Her father winked his approval of her wise arrangements.
"Let us hurry and see the inside of the place before I die of eagerness", cried her mother with giddy laughter. "Or do you think the spectacle too imposing for my poor nerves?"
"No, Mama. If your nerves can survive the ordeals of escorting three of your daughters from infancy to marriage, Pemberley in comparison can only have a soothing effect. You need only temper your enthusiasm a little."
Elizabeth led her family on a tour of her new home. Her worries about her mother's unbridled outbursts were soon justified. No sooner had they stepped into the foyer than her mother began taking inventory as she surveyed the house.
"Oh, Lizzy, what a lovely mantle piece there, and so exquisitely carved! That must have cost no less than 180 pounds. And the chandelier made of crystal and gold, how absolutely enchanting! That must be worth 500 to say the least. Just look at the inlaid marble floor; it is almost too beautiful for the function."
She barely stopped to catch her breath as they walked through the dining room and beyond. "Oh the chairs and table and silverware! I have never before seen such fine craftsmanship and such elaborate patterns¸ My dear, dear Lizzy, you are rich beyond all hopes and imaginings. Let Mr. and Mrs. Collins take Longbourn off our hands prematurely, if they so choose. I shall be most delighted to move into Pemberley immediately and live constantly with you!"
Elizabeth shuddered at the thought, and she was relieved that Georgiana had accompanied Darcy to London and that only the servants were present to witness the spectacle.
"Now, Mama, you know that to be undesirable. What? Would you leave all your friends and acquaintances of Longbourn? And no one takes greater delight in the care of a garden than you do. The many gardeners here would deny you that privilege. I am certain you should greatly miss such activities here."
"Oh hang the garden and Mr. Collins in it!" cried her mother indignantly. "It all seems so useless now. As soon as the Collinses inherit the place I'm sure they will amend and destroy everything I have worked so hard to make beautiful. I do suspect you are right about the rest though -- I should sadly miss the daily company of my dear sister and the Longs and Lucases."
"You see my dear," exclaimed Mr. Bennet, grinning. "Your mother has achieved a semblance of good sense at last! Many times have I dreamed of this happy day, and I had almost given up all hope of surviving long enough to mark its appearance. This is all your doing, Lizzy, and I am indebted to you for the authorship of it all."
Lizzy smiled appreciatively and realized how much she had missed her father's wry humor and continual teasing.
The week of their visit passed swiftly and pleasurably. Mary was quite content to explore the scholarly wonders in Darcy's formidable library, and she seldom wandered out of doors. Kitty was more adventuresome, spending many happy days learning to ride horseback and venturing out into the Derbyshire countryside, but she sorely missed Lydia╠s company.
The splendor of Pemberley soon overwhelmed Mrs. Bennet to such an extent that even she saw the futility of completing her inventory of the place. She did, however, insist on inspecting all of Elizabeth's fine clothes and jewelry, finally declaring everything perfectly suitable for the mistress of the great estate. Elizabeth was profoundly relieved when her father would occasionally interrupt his readings by the fire and, heeding the invitation of fine weather, perambulate the grounds with his wife or take her into town for more shopping.
On one such occasion of solitude Elizabeth was enjoying the luxury of a warm bath when Molly, her maid, brought the morning's post. She instantly recognized Darcy's handwriting and gleefully broke the seal of the letter. A folded note fell out of the envelope into the bath, but she retrieved it quickly and gave it to Molly to dry. She turned her attention to the letter.
My dear Elizabeth,
A few moments ago I was tossing about in my bed, vainly hoping for sleep to relieve my longing for your presence. The moon then chose to brush aside her cloudy veils, reach into the room and lift me to the window that she might better whisper her secrets. She told me that you too were standing in her light at that very moment, speaking softly of loneliness and restlessness, wondering where I was.
Forgive me my dear, for I am not yet accomplished in the art of committing expressions of the heart to paper, and I can find no words adequate to describe the strength and depth of my affections for you. I suppose I could attempt to play the poet and proclaim that in your absence the sun has gone into sympathetic hiding, birds have forgotten their songs, flowers have assumed drab colors and dull scents, food has lost all flavor, opera no longer inspires and the theater has lost all powers of diversion and amusement. But such overplayed sentiments put me in the mind of a schoolboy, and I can love you only as a man.
I suppose I could earnestly wish for some magical means of transport up and down the moonbeams that unite us and so take my place by your side tonight, but vain wishes would only intensify feelings of desire for you and the ache of separation. So I shall simply return to my lonely bed, consoling myself with the knowledge that my duties here in London are nearly at an end and that I shall be at your side before the sun sets twice more.
I remain yours forever,
Elizabeth sighed as she set the letter down. Darcy had written the truth -- she had stood in the moonlight the previous night and did indeed wonder if he too was contemplating her at that moment. Lizzy retrieved the note included in the letter:
My dear, I meant to surprise you with this information upon my arrival, but as it may involve your father, do you think it possible to persuade your family to extend their visit for another ten days? Yesterday I visited the London Chess Club, where everyone still speaks fondly of you and heartily congratulated us on our marriage. I broached the idea of an invitational tournament at Pemberley on the seventh of next month and several masters enthusiastically approved of the idea and indicated their desire to participate. Should you find this idea attractive, perhaps you and your father can discover additional players to whom invitations should be extended. We shall discuss the arrangements upon my return.
Host a chess tournament, with a banquet for the closing ceremonies? Yes, that would be great fun indeed. Elizabeth beamed at the thought. She quickly ended her bath, dressed, and ran into the garden to convey the good news to her father.
Chapter 15 - Opening Game
With his business in London concluded, Darcy hastened on his way back to Pemberley. Elizabeth heard the approach of the carriage and ran from the house to embrace him and take his arm as they walked back to greet her family.
"Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and my dear sisters", said Darcy as he entered the drawing room, "I regret that pressing matters prevented my welcoming you properly upon your arrival, but I am delighted to see you here at last." Mr. Bennet stepped forward to shake Darcy's outstretched hand; Mrs. Bennet and the younger daughters curtsied and smiled deferentially.
"I can speak truthfully for us all," said Mr. Bennet. "Spending this past fortnight in your fine abode has made us quite forget the luxuries of Longbourn."
"Oh, yes indeed," declared the mother excitedly. "The magnificent grounds and the luxurious appointments of the interior and the gracious attentions of your staff and the sumptuous food, they have all made me feel quite the queen mother. I have never been so distracted in all my days!"
Elizabeth could only force a mild laugh and roll her eyes upward as she turned to Darcy, but he let the remarks slip by with an easy smile. The party moved to the drawing room for scones and tea. Discussion quickly advanced from the simple pleasantries of weather and local news to the topic that most interested the Darcys and Mr. Bennet: the upcoming tournament. Mrs. Bennet and the daughters possessed little interest the matter, so they excused themselves in search of other activities. Although Mary was content to seek refuge in the library, her mother insisted she and Kitty should take advantage of the fresh garden air with her instead.
Darcy introduced the topic. "I infer from the extension of our family╠s visit that my proposal for a chess tournament here at Pemberley has met with approval? Indeed, I should have been shocked to discover the contrary!"
"Oh yes, my dear," answered Elizabeth. "I was most happy to learn of your proposal; the prospect of a tournament here at Pemberley is exciting. It has induced me to revisit several books on opening moves. Father has offered to serve as tournament director, if that meets with your satisfaction. He has much experience in that regard."
"That is perfectly agreeable, an excellent suggestion. Mr. Bennet is widely known not only for his chess acumen but also for his diplomatic skill. Have either of you given any thought to the participants of the tourney?"
"I thank you for your compliments," replied Mr. Bennet. "Lizzy and I have settled on several candidates: Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Bingley are excellent players and could hardly be left out. Sir William Lucas is also a student of the game, although perhaps not as proficient as the other gentlemen. He has a son-in-law too who is fond of the game, a certain Mr. Collins, you may recall. Although I have not yet had the pleasure of measuring his playing strength, I would estimate that he is capable of producing some entertaining games."
Observing Darcy's unpleasant reaction to the mention of Mr. Collins, Elizabeth had to speak up. "I have a selfish reason for wishing to include Mr. Collins, my dear. By inviting the Collinses to Pemberley I have wanted to repay Charlotte for her kindness toward me in Kent. I can understand that her husband is not a mutual favorite, but the activities of the tournament and the presence of his father-in-law may serve to minimize our need to engage him in conversation. It may be a long while before a more favorable time presents itself."
The concern on Darcy's face revealed his full understanding of the implication of inviting Mr. Collins. "But that would also entail an invitation to my aunt. We could hardly repay the Collinses and not acknowledge obligation to Aunt Catherine for her attentions to you last spring. Still, the abominable manner in which she has treated you, both before and after our wedding, makes me exceedingly loath to approve it."
"There cannot always remain this rift between Aunt Catherine and ourselves", Elizabeth observed. "The duties of family alone must eventually force one side or the other to rise above hurt and attempt reconciliation. Let us claim the higher ground and make the first move."
"Your generosity is greatly to be admired, Elizabeth," replied Darcy after a reflective pause. "I can do no less than to attempt to match it. Very well, we shall invite the Collinses and Aunt Catherine, although given her strong feelings regarding the unsuitability of chess for women, I think her appearance highly unlikely."
"Does her ladyship take offense that our Lizzy plays?" interjected Mr. Bennet. "Imagine that - objecting to a woman's manipulation of inanimate pawns, while she herself freely manipulates the animated variety!"
Darcy had to grin. "I see you understand my aunt quite well. Let us hope her opinions and behavior are not wholly beyond amendment and can profit from our better example. But returning our attention to the list of attendees, with Lizzy and me included, that makes a total of six. To round the number to eight we can extend invitations to Alexander Blackburn and my good friend Philippe Alain, both resident masters of the London Chess Club."
"Yes," said Elizabeth. "Philippe must come, and perhaps we can persuade his sister Michelle to accompany him."
"Michelle Alain? The opera singer we heard in Carmencita last summer?" her father asked.
"Yes, Papa, the very same", said Elizabeth. "Darcy and I both greatly admire her. In fact, Darcy rarely misses any of her performances when he is in London."
Darcy coughed reflexively and smiled. "Done! Both of the Alains shall receive our special invitation, but considering that Mozart╠s "Marriage of Figaro" has just begun its scheduled run, I believe it highly unlikely that Miss Alain will be able to accept."
"That is a pity", declared Mr. Bennet. "I find it extraordinary that so much talent and beauty should be claimed by one lady. I shall be very happy to make her acquaintance some day."
Returning to the business at hand Darcy continued, "Three rounds would be sufficient to determine a winner. Let us set a prize of 100 pounds for the winner and 50 for the runner up. As we are the hosts, we shall declare ourselves ineligible for the prize money. Agreed?"
"That is quite suitable," said Lizzy. "I recall playing against Mr. Blackburn in London several years ago, but I have not yet had the privilege of playing a game with Philippe Alain. Does he play a formidable game?"
"Yes, he is especially dangerous because he engages in unorthodox methods of attack. Although he is not a student of latest opening fashions, he has tremendous middle and endgames skills. Many players find it difficult to overcome his tenacious defense."
"Then I hope I shall have a chance to play against him. How shall we set the pairings for the first round? The four strongest should begin by playing the four weakest."
"If I may take the liberty, Lizzy," interrupted her father as he composed a list. "I propose the following ranking: Mr. Blackburn, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Alain, Mrs. Darcy, Col. Fitzwilliam, Mr. Bingley, Sir William, and Mr. Collins."
Darcy studied the list. "Yes, that is fairly good, but I would propose some changes. As I have not yet had the pleasure of winning a public game from your daughter, let us exchange our rankings. And let us exchange Mr. Collins and Sir William as well; then Lizzy will play Mr. Collins in the first round. After his rigorous pronouncements about women and chess at Rosings Park last spring, I shall dearly love to see his expression when he discovers his opponent!"
Elizabeth could hardly contain her laughter. "Playing against Mr. Collins! Yes, that would give me great satisfaction indeed!"
The tournament announcements were printed and sent out in the next day's post. As expected, Philippe was able to accept but Michelle sent her regrets. Darcy was happy to receive his good friend several days before the start of the tourney so Elizabeth and her family could become acquainted with him. Indeed, after hunting with the men in the afternoon, and regaling the group in the evening with tales of his itinerant chess caf╗ days and anecdotes about Michelle and her many opera adventures, Philippe was practically adopted as everyone╠s family favorite.
The following Thursday morning found the participants and spectators assembled in the Pemberley dining hall for a pre-tournament luncheon. The Darcys sighed with relief that all of the invited participants were in attendance and that Lady Catherine was not. At the conclusion of the meal, Darcy introduced Mr. Bennet as the tournament director and gave him leave to announce the rules.
Mr. Bennet rose, cleaned his glasses ceremoniously and paused to survey the room. "It is a pleasure indeed to see such fine specimens of ladies and gentlemen gathered to participate in this first Pemberley Invitational Chess Tournament. One round of play is scheduled at one o'clock for this and each of the next two days. Each player shall be equipped with a sand glass measuring exactly one hour per turn. Each player, under penalty of forfeit, shall be required to make 20 moves by the first turn, 40 by the second turn, and so forth. When not on the move, that player's hourglass shall be stopped by placing it on its side while the opponent activates his. Should any disputes arise, both clocks shall be stopped until resolution is achieved. To prevent delay of dinner, if a game is not concluded after six hours of play, the tournament director, that would be me of course, shall assume the role of deity and adjudicate the contest. Naturally, all such godly decisions shall be excellent as well as final.
"I conclude by wishing all players the best of luck. May all your games, which shall be published soon after the conclusion of the tournament, delight us for a long time to come. If there are no questions, Mr. Darcy will lead us to the ballroom, where table and chess sets await. The pairings for the first round are posted on the Tournament Board."
The group moved to the appointed room and gathered around the pairing assignments. The player of the White pieces was listed first: Blackburn vs. Lucas, E Darcy vs. Collins, Bingley vs. Alain, and Col. Fitzwilliam vs. F Darcy. If Mr. Collins was pleased with his pairing, he was proficient in hiding his delight from the entire room. Mr. Bennet could not resist needling Mr. Collins on his predicament.
"I see that you are paired with my daughter at last, Mr. Collins, although not in the manner you originally intended." Mr. Bennet then moved closer and dropped his voice to take him into further confidence. "You are aware, I am certain, how unsuitable the fragile female mind is for this particular sport, yet Lizzy somehow fancies herself an excellent player. I would beg you to demonstrate a little kindness and not trounce my daughter in too humiliating a manner. I would urge you not to lose to her by design, however strong your gentlemanly impulse, for I am quite aware that you shoulder the burden of Rosings' honor and are not at liberty to displease Lady Catherine with a negative result."
"I thank you very much indeed for your thoughtful remarks," exclaimed Mr. Collins in hushed surprise. "That you would close ranks with the male community of chess players against your own daughter is highly commendable and gratifying. I do indeed promise to handle her in an extremely gentle manner, even as I give her a much needed demonstration of the natural strategic superiority of the male mind."
"Splendid! Splendid! Such determination and sound grasp of the situation cannot help but achieve a positive outcome," proclaimed a smiling Mr. Bennet as he slapped him on the back for final best wishes.
The chess players assumed their assigned seats at the long table in the center of the room. Exquisitely carved ebony and maple pieces were perfectly matched to the inlaid walnut and white maple boards. Mr. Bennet directed play to commence and, after opponents shook hands in ceremonial best wishes, only the occasional cough or an emphatic thump of a chess piece punctuated the stillness.
With two hours barely gone the first contest to be decided was that on board two. Elizabeth surprised Mr. Collins with a new gambit to counter his Sicilian defense. His ill-tempered remarks during her game with Darcy at Rosings still nettled her, and she was determined to defeat him quickly and decisively. By offering her queen bishop pawn on the third move, she announced her intent to attack at all costs. Collins obliged by greedily snatching the booty. On the tenth move, Lizzy had already developed five pieces to his three and, more importantly, her king was already castled safely away while his king was stranded in the center, the playground of her active forces. He continued to move without a clue, trading off his good bishop and knight, allowing Lizzy to bring both bishops strongly into the center and chase his queen to the irrelevant side of the board.
Mr. Collins evidently fancied that his queen was ideally placed for a kingside attack, for he began to lean back in his chair as he hummed tunelessly. Several minutes of this woeful noise was all that Elizabeth could endure. She lifted her head and fixed him with a glare, thus enforcing his immediate retreat to silence.
Elizabeth fueled her attack by moving her rook to the third rank. Four of her well-placed pieces then bore down on the Black king and queen, the latter being the only piece moved from its original square. Black's position was critical, but Collins contented himself with chasing Lizzy's bishop to an even more marvelous square, thus nailing his king to the center of the board. By the seventeenth move, the precariousness of his position finally dawned on him. He tried to break free by returning the pawn, but Elizabeth calmly increased the pressure by invading with a bishop and threatening mate in a few more moves. Mr. Collins recognized the hopelessness of it all and reluctantly rose to congratulate his opponent. So rattled had he become by his dismal performance that words refused to condense in coherent sentences - he could only mutter to himself "horrible ¸ ashamed ¸ ladyship" as he scarcely looked up and proffered the weakest of handshakes.
Mr. Collins had to sit down a few moments longer to calm himself. He then left the table and turned to Mr. Bennet, who had been watching the progress of the game with great interest.
"It is indeed most unfortunate that I was so badly surprised by such a novel gambit. It most certainly is unsound. Had I chance to study it beforehand, I am certain I should refute it in a dozen moves or less. Your daughter no doubt was of the mind that it was futile to attempt to defeat me in a straightforward manner, so she stooped to trickery instead. I daresay this sad display does not at all advance the case for admitting women into the circle of chess elite."
"I can well understand your disappointment, Mr. Collins," answered Mr. Bennet. "But let us look at the bright side. After twenty more such ill-gained victories, the weak style in which women play chess will be exposed for all the world to see."
Mr. Collins could only return a perplexed smile as he promptly departed in search of comfort from his beloved Charlotte. Elizabeth, who had stood close enough to hear the exchange, could not keep her composure, and she and her father dissolved into laughter.
Fortune smiled on the higher ranked players on the other three boards as well, although considerably more effort was required than in Lizzy's game. Sir William held his own for a surprisingly long time before blundering away a pawn late in the end game. Bingley fought valiantly for the first thirty moves, but then fell to Philippe's surprising combination of attacking moves. Colonel Fitzwilliam's game with Darcy was evenly fought throughout, and the presence of bishops on opposite colored squares gave him strong hopes for a draw, but the configuration of pawns allowed Darcy to finesse a win.
Mr. Bennet posted the standings at the conclusion of the first round:
Alexander Blackburn 1.0
Elizabeth Darcy 1.0
Philippe Alain 1.0
Fitzwilliam Darcy 1.0
Colonel Fitzwilliam 0.0
Charles Bingley 0.0
William Collins 0.0
William Lucas 0.0
The assembly was still actively engaged in postmortem analysis of the games when an announcement of dinner summoned them to the dining room.
Lizzy's game with Mr. Collins is based on a 1993 playoff game of mine against an expert in the Chicago Industrial Chess League. The CICL consists of 24 teams from various companies, colleges, and research labs in the Chicago area. The CICL has players of all strengths, including a good number of masters and experts.
|Friesema,W - Sullivan,J|
|1.e4 c5||2.d4 cxd4|
|3.c3 dxc3||4.Nxc3 e6|
|5.Bc4 Nc6||6.Nf3 a6|
|7.0-0 Be7||8.Qe2 Qc7|
|9.Rd1 Bf6||10.Be3 Bxc3|
|11.bxc3 Ne5||12.Nxe5 Qxe5|
|13.Bd4 Qg5||14.Rd3! e5|
|15.Bc5 Nf6||16.Rg3 Qh5|
|17.Qd3 d5||18.Bxd5 Nd7|
|19.Ba3 Qh6||20.Rd1 Rb8|
|21.Rf3 f6||22.Be6! 1-0|
Chapter 16 - Middle Game
On the next day, shortly after one o'clock, the chess party convened in the ballroom for the second round of the tournament. Mr. Bennet had made a random selection among opponents of equal score, and the following schedule was posted on the tournament board:
Elizabeth welcomed the challenge of playing against the London champion. She had played against him several times before in London with approximately equal results.
After shaking hands and exchanging best wishes, each player of the White pieces made the first move. William Lucas, by advancing his king bishop pawn two squares, declared his intention to play the rarely seen Bird Opening in the hopes of discombobulating his opponent with an unfamiliar line. Bingley was indeed surprised, but he maintained his poise, adopted a strategy of simple piece development, and steered the game into a sort of Dutch Defense, excepting that the White and Black positions were reversed.
The games on the middle two boards had a more conventional appearance. Mr. Collins initiated a solid, if somewhat slow, variation of the Spanish Opening, while Philippe employed a sharp tactical variation of the Italian Opening against Darcy.
Elizabeth wondered how a strong master would handle the gambit she had sprung on Mr. Collins in the first round. In a few moves it became evident that Mr. Blackburn was as taken by surprise as Mr. Collins had been. After seven moves Black had only moved pawns, while she had positioned a bishop and both knights to excellent squares as well as castled her king to safety. Black's unfortunately exposed queen gave Elizabeth the opportunity to hasten the development of her remaining pieces. After she moved her queen to the third rank in preparation of a direct assault on the Black king, Blackburn lapsed into a protracted analysis of the complicated position.
After convincing herself of the soundness of her attack, Elizabeth rose to check the progress on the other boards. Bingley was clearly getting the better of Sir William, but the other games were approximately equal. Lizzy then walked toward the windows at the end of the hall, where Charlotte, Lady Lucas, and her mother were conversing quietly.
"Charlotte, I see your husband is acquitting himself quite well today against the ColonelË, said Elizabeth. "Apparently yesterday╠s setback has not darkened his spirits."
"Is he doing well?" asked Charlotte. "Oh that is welcome news indeed. He carried on so last night, denouncing your tricks and bewitchments, that I am quite certain you shall be his first and last female opponent. For a few moments he made me wonder if he should ever play again, so I am content to hear of his recovery. But Lizzy, should you not be at the table now? How are you faring against London's finest?"
"Oh, my game is progressing nicely. His king is stuck in the center of the board, and should he manage to survive for a dozen moves more, I shall be very surprised indeed."
"He is not playing well today, then? What secret power do you possess, Lizzy, that forces men to lose their heads?" asked Charlotte with a laugh. "Are you the beneficiary of a pact with the devil, as my husband has suggested?"
"Why of course, Charlotte, how else can a simple country girl stand any chance against the superior strategies of the male mind? Ha! You must agree, though, to keep my admission as our little secret."
"Then I take it you are enjoying this tournament very much?" asked Lady Lucas.
"Yes. Yes, very much indeed. I take great satisfaction in problem solving, and in chess fresh problems keep popping up in a steady stream. I also admit to taking secret delight in observing the mannerisms of other players - some have very interesting quirks, as you can see for yourself."
"You mean to accuse my husband of possessing some idiosyncrasy?" laughed Charlotte. "This I must see. Can you show me something now?"
"Indeed Charlotte, you are in luck. Mr. Collins has an interesting combination of eccentricities: he likes to hum and to hover. His monotonic humming cannot be heard at this distance, but it can drive an opponent straight out of his mind, I assure you. And look now - see how his hand hovers over his bishop as he decides to move it. That is a dangerous habit for a serious chess player to have. Should he accidentally touch a piece he would be obliged by tournament regulations to move or capture it, if legal to do so."
"Yes, Lizzy, I see that too," said Mrs. Bennet. "Have you observed any oddities among the other players?"
"Well, Mr. Blackburn, although not smoking now, is very fond of cigars. During our game in London last year, he kept an unlit cigar next to the board, and it distracted me terribly. I was constantly in dread of his lighting it. As most chess players are aware, the threat is often stronger than the execution! Ha!
"Mr. Alain suffers from a strong case of 'rattling' - he has a habit of thumping his pieces hard on the board for effect, thus attempting to impart an air of finality with every move. I assume he developed the habit from playing against so many pub players. It is rather disconcerting for an opponent until one gets accustomed to it."
"Has my father any interesting characteristics as well?" inquired Charlotte. "I don't think I have ever observed any."
"Sir William is a gentleman at the board in almost every respect," replied Lizzy. "But on several occasions I have spotted a little trick of his. He likes to bait his opponent when sacrificing a piece. He will make the move and then, as if suddenly aware of committing a monstrous blunder, he will attempt to quickly withdraw it, then change his mind and allow the move to stand because, after all, a 'move played is a move made'. The opponent is only too happy to readily snap up the Trojan horse, and your father proceeds to win with little difficulty. But his tricks are always played within the rules."
"What about the Colonel Fitzwilliam? His manner of play seems above reproach," Lady Lucas remarked.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam is a 'drummer'. He can become so absorbed by a position that he is oblivious of his fingers drumming on the table, on his arm, or even on his neck, depending on his assumed posture."
Charlotte could not restrain a laugh. "Yes, I do recall seeing him do that on occasion, now that you mention it. But, Lizzy, you have left out your husband. Surely the Derbyshire champion is a player without fault - did you not quote something similar about him once?"
"That is not possible for any chess player, Charlotte; surely you must be aware of that!" replied Elizabeth with a grin. "No, my dear. Darcy is what I would call a 'swayer'. He has the propensity to lean back in his chair, sometimes rocking on the chair's back legs, sometimes on just one leg. I have called it to his attention on numerous occasions, but the worse the habit, the harder it is to break."
"It certainly does appear that chess players are quite an eccentric lot," said Lady Lucas. "Why do you suppose that is, Elizabeth?"
"I am certain the mental tension of the game and a complete lack of physical release combines to produce such comical side effects. I have seen a master stand on his head in a corner to get more blood supply to his head; it seemed to improve his game, strangely enough! Playing a tournament game is best likened to undergoing a five or six hour examination. One has to be constantly on guard; one momentary slip can ruin the work of many hours. And masters are like sharks. They can almost smell weaknesses in a position, so a keen intuition is invaluable. In addition, courage, imagination and a great confidence in your ability to calculate and evaluate positions correctly are prerequisites for success."
"It is indeed a wonder that anyone desires to play the game at all," cried Mrs. Bennet. "My head should spin and burst should I even think of playing chess."
"You now have only yourself left to describe, Lizzy" observed Charlotte. "Have you no kinks in your chess armor?"
"If I have, I am sure I am completely unaware of them. So, my dear Charlotte, if I have any quirks, you must observe closely and discover them. And speaking of observation, you must excuse me. I notice that my hourglass has been activated and I am at move. I promise to rejoin you in a little while."
Elizabeth returned to discover that her opponent had moved his queen off the file controlled by her powerful rook. With all the preparations for the attack completed, she attacked the pawns surrounding the Black king with her knight. The master tried to deflect the knight with his rook pawn, but Lizzy merely pinned it against his rook, simultaneously attacking his weak king pawn. Black pulled his bishop back in support; clearly assuming that this would surely force White to withdraw the irksome knight immediately.
All this was in accordance with the plans of both players, but Elizabeth had seen further ahead. She sacrificed the knight for Black's pawns, leaving the Black king helpless in the center. After she brought her rook down to the seventh rank, the fight was practically over. Mr. Blackburn tried to move his knight out of harm's way, but she immediately captured his exposed bishop and threatened mate on the move. Recognizing the futility of further resistance, the chess master sighed heavily, turned over his king and extended his hand in congratulation.
"A wonderful performance, young lady. Yes, indeed, a most marvelous attack. You have played an inspired gambit; I shall have to study that one myself someday. What is it called?"
"The Morra gambit, sir. It is rather new; I have encountered only a few such published games. But I have a fondness for the lively play it produces."
The gentlemanly master agreed and remarked again on her crisp play. After both parties signed the score sheet, Elizabeth gave her copy to her father and then walked over to watch the conclusion of the other games.
Several more hours of concentrated effort finally gave Bingley a win over Sir William. Neither side had made any obvious missteps, but Bingley had found ways to increase the pressure on White's center. After much sly maneuvering, he gained the advantage and marched his extra pawn down the board and promoted it to a decisive queen.
The remaining two games ended as draws. Darcy held the upper hand for most of the contest but squandered the advantage through a plausible, though slightly inferior, plan. Philippe was able to establish equality with an attack on the opposite side of the board, and after 40 moves, both he and Darcy agreed to the draw.
In Colonel Fitzwilliam╠s game against Mr. Collins, he had only himself to blame. He had overlooked a check followed by a knight fork of his two rooks. The Colonel was incredibly fortunate to escape with a draw.
With the penultimate round completed, the tournament standings were:
Elizabeth Darcy 2.0
Philippe Alain 1.5
Fitzwilliam Darcy 1.5
Alexander Blackburn 1.0
Charles Bingley 1.0
Colonel Fitzwilliam 0.5
William Collins 0.5
William Lucas 0.0
The players and some spectators engaged in the lively banter of post-mortem analysis, while Mr. Bennet repaired to the library to set the pairings for the final round. Elizabeth wondered which opponent would stand in the way of her triumph - Philippe or her beloved Darcy. She wasn't sure which opponent she preferred, but her father was absolutely of no help in that regard; he simply winked and smiled at all her entreaties to divulge the final pairings.
Lizzy's game with Mr. Blackburn is based on one of my better games against a master in the Chicago Industrial Chess League.
|Friesema,W - Benesa, A|
|1.e4 c5||2.d4 cxd4|
|3.c3 dxc3||4.Nxc3 d6|
|5.Bc4 e6||6.Nf3 a6|
|7.0-0 b57||8.Bb3 Bb|
|9.Qe2 Nc6||10.Rd1 Rc8|
|11.Bf4 Qc7||12.Rac1 Rd8|
|13.Qe3 Qb8||14.Ng5 h6|
|15.Qh3 Bc8||16.Nxe6 Bxe6|
|17.Bxe6 fxe6||18.Qxe6+ Be7|
|19.e5 Nxe5||20.Nd5 Kf8|
|21.Rc7 Nf7||22.Nxe7 1-0|
Chapter 17 - End Game
Early the next day a delicate fog floated over Pemberley, lending an elegant tranquility that concealed the nervous anticipation inside. Within an hour the sun rose high enough to evaporate the mist, and several guests emerged to take advantage of the cool morning air. Before the Darcys began their customary circumambulation of the garden they stopped in the ballroom to preview the day's pairings. Mr. Bennet, accompanied by his wife, had just posted the list on the tournament board.
Board 1: Mr. Darcy vs. Mrs. Darcy
Board 2: Mr. Bingley vs. Mr. Alain
Board 3: Col. Fitzwilliam vs. Mr. Blackburn
Board 4: Mr. Collins vs. Mr. Lucas
"Well, Lizzy," began Mr. Bennet, "you are no doubt disappointed to be paired with an opponent whom you can engage whenever you choose, but it is purely the luck of the draw, I assure you."
"No, father, my opponent suits me well in every respect," she replied with good cheer. "I have been putting off a rematch since we last played at Rosings, not wanting to prematurely resign my title of family champion, and Darcy has been pestering me about it ever since. Now it appears that I can no longer avoid it."
"Oh, I should think newlyweds would find much better things to do than to constantly play that boring game," exclaimed Mrs. Bennet as she fidgeted with her bonnet.
"You comprehend our sentiments perfectly," said her son-in-law with a grin. He offered his arm to Elizabeth and they departed for their constitutional.
The games began promptly at one o'clock. The import of the match between the Darcys was such that even Mrs. Bennet preferred to remain with the spectators rather than absent herself with Lady Lucas, as she had done in previous rounds. After an hour of play, each of the games had developed a distinct character. Bingley attempted a particularly risky form of the King's Gambit, completely unaware that the opening was a favorite of Philippe's as well. Bingley was soon punished with uncompensated loss of material. The Colonel Fitzwilliam - Blackburn match was still fairly even; the Reverse King's Indian Defense deployed by the Colonel provided sufficient resources to withstand his opponent╠s ferocious attack. The familial contest on the fourth board, meanwhile, had all the traits of a strategic struggle, although Mr. Collins' White army clearly possessed the initiative over Sir William's forces.
Most of the spectators, however, were consumed by the classic battle unfolding on board one. Darcy chose to open with a Queen's Gambit, not a true gambit as it involved no material sacrifice, but he felt its strategic nature was more to his advantage as Elizabeth excelled at the tactical aspects of the game. She proceeded to develop her position harmoniously, but Darcy's crisp maneuvers were causing her some difficulty. By the seventeenth move she was saddled with the defense of hanging pawns, a configuration of adjacent unsupported pawns that are particularly vulnerable to enemy rooks.
Darcy adroitly increased his advantage by exploiting various temporary pins, exchanging away Black╠s best defensive pieces, and inducing weaknesses in Black's central mass of pawns. Within the half-hour his bishop bore down beautifully on her backward king pawn. Black's position was difficult, but Elizabeth continued to choose responses that offered the greatest resistance.
After two hours of energetic play Philippe was able to decisively refute Bingley's gambit. The end was also near in the Colonel's game, and the spectators gathered to view the denouement. Mr. Blackburn was clearly ahead in material, having an extra knight to White's extra pawn, and the precarious position of the Colonel's king, trapped in an airtight mating net, clearly pointed to the Colonel's imminent doom. Without too much care the London champion captured the loose king knight pawn with his queen and threatened mate on the move. He leaned back in satisfaction to await the Colonel's resignation.
The Colonel, however, was determined to make the best of things and as he hunkered over the board in deep concentration, he spotted an unbelievably brilliant resource. He sacrificed his queen as it gave check to the Black king. At first Blackburn thought it a diversionary and somewhat humorous way for the Colonel to resign, so he smiled indulgently as his king captured the White queen. Colonel Fitzwilliam immediately followed by sacrificing his rook, his last piece. The master's expression froze as he discovered the import of the Colonel's plan: the rook was untouchable because of stalemate, yet if not captured, the Black king could never escape its checks. The Colonel had outfoxed him, and the old master stood up and roared with laughter.
"My dear sir, that is by far the most brilliant swindle I have ever seen on the chessboard! Such a magnificent and imaginative draw is worth dozens of victories. I congratulate you on your wonderful conception; it is an ending I shall never forget!"
The Colonel thanked him and smiled modestly, happy indeed to snatch such a favorable result from so illustrious an opponent.
The conclusion of the Collins - Lucas game, although not nearly so dramatic, still had its interesting points. Only kings and pawns remained in their endgame, and Sir William noticed that his son-in-law had but one narrow path to victory: Collins had to immediately advance his strong queen pawn. As was his habit, Mr. Collins' hand was hovering over the decisive pawn. Sir William realized that he had to act quickly to disrupt his opponent's plan.
"That is a touch move, sir" called out Sir William loudly and sharply. "Mr. Collins, your hand has touched your queen pawn and you are obliged to move it!"
"My dear sir, you are mistaken!Ë protested the astonished Mr. Collins. "My hand has not so much as brushed the pawn",
"That is not correct sir; not at all correct. I distinctly observed you touch the pawn with your hand, and you must move it now, sir."
The commotion immediately brought the tournament director and the gallery to their board.
"A touch move dispute, is it?" asked Mr. Bennet. After observing Mr. Collins' flustered countenance, and Sir William's piqued expression, he had no firm basis on which to rule. "I regret that I was not observing your board during the incident, so I shall not enforce the touch rule on this complaint. But, Mr. Collins, I have noticed you permit your hand to linger as you select your moves. Should you continue to move in such an indecisive manner, I shall be forced to resolve future disputes in your opponent's favor."
Mr. Collins mumbled assurances that he would repair his deficiencies. Sir William was pleased that his extracurricular gambit had achieved its intended effect. After Mr. Collins prevailed against his strong protest, he was not about to give Sir William the moral victory by actually making the disputed move. He moved his irrelevant king rook pawn instead, thus presenting his father-in-law with sufficient time to consolidate his position and clinch a victory. Mr. Collins, smarting by the sudden reversal, congratulated the victor in disgust.
The attention of the spectators then shifted to the remaining contest. The game was in its thirty-third move and Elizabeth found it increasingly difficult to hold off White's strong attack. She continuously twirled a lock of her hair as she searched the position deeply for a way out of her dilemma. Darcy had advanced his king pawn to a powerful outpost on the sixth rank, and his strong rooks on the king bishop file and his beautifully centered queen had forced her into a purely defensive posture. Elizabeth was not accustomed to playing passively, but she could find no way to improve her position. The only available plan was simply shuttling her queen along the back rank as Darcy steadily optimized his forces for the attack.
Elizabeth did not have to wait long. In a few more moves Darcy broke through her defense with a rook exchange sacrifice. A few moves later his queen attacked her indefensible rook pawn, and Elizabeth knew that the time for resignation had arrived. She looked up to meet Darcy's gaze. His expression was not one of self-satisfied triumph; rather, it projected empathy and respect. The tender aspect of his eyes spoke of the many times he had been in her position when stakes were equally high. Elizabeth was fiercely proud of Darcy at that moment. He had paid the high compliment of taking her game seriously and never flinching. His play was simply masterful from start to finish. To be outplayed in such a manner by such a worthy opponent engendered a feeling of deep satisfaction that most victories could scarcely approach. Elizabeth finally turned over her king, smiled, and then stood and joined the gallery in applauding his fine performance. Darcy walked over to her side of the table and hugged her, and together they turned to acknowledge the cheers.
The feeling of easy camaraderie carried over to the concluding banquet that immediately followed. Mr. Bennet was pleased to announced the official standings at the conclusion of the banquet:
Philippe Alain 2.5
Fitzwilliam Darcy 2.5
Elizabeth Darcy 2.0
Alexander Blackburn 1.5
Charles Bingley 1.0
Colonel Fitzwilliam 1.0
William Lucas 1.0
William Collins 0.5
As the Darcys had removed themselves from the prize list, Mr. Bennet awarded the first place trophy and purse to Philippe, and the second place equivalents to Mr. Blackburn. All declared the tournament to be a great success and hopes were expressed all around that the event would become an annual fixture.
The crowd then scattered homeward, leaving Darcy and Elizabeth to leisurely sip their wine and analyze their game. As the hearth fire and bottle of wine diminished in proportion, a feeling of pleasant tiredness overcame them. Darcy helped his wife to her feet and took her in his arms.
"William, you are very good to me," Elizabeth said softly. "Thank you for making the arrangements for this marvelous tournament. These last three days have been a pure delight."
"My dear Lizzy, what would I not do to see you happy?" Darcy smiled warmly. "Now that I think of it, I do have one more surprise for you - something I brought back from London. I had the servants install it in your bedchamber while we played our little game. Shall we have a look?"
"A gift? For my bedroom? This is most surprising and exciting. I cannot imagine what it could be."
Darcy offered his arm, took the candle with his other, and the two walked down the hall to Elizabeth's room. There, above the fireplace, lighted by candles on either side, hung a new painting.
"Darcy - how lovely, how absolutely lovely! The willow tree on the left, sheltering a couple caught in embrace, with a horse not far off in the distance, all in silhouette below a full moon - how charming! And the river winding alongside on the right -- I can only guess where I have seen the place before. It wouldn't be anywhere near Rosings Park, would it? But tell me, Darcy, where did you find the time to have such an intricate work completed?"
"I confess I had it commissioned during our engagement, while I was away on errand in London. But you have not seen it all. Here, take this candle and look more closely at the river in the foreground."
Lizzy did as he suggested. "Why, it is a leaf of paper floating downstream, and the writing, although fine, is legible." She took a few moments to read and ponder the inscription. "Oh, Darcy, what a simply beautiful poem! Your own words?"
"Yes, my dear. Your poem and the events of our courtship provided such sweet inspiration that the words seemed to flow by themselves."
"Truly a most wonderful and unexpected present," said Lizzy as tears of happiness glided down her cheek.
They caressed passionately. No further communication was necessary. Lizzy took his hand and led him to her bed as the words of his poem danced in her thoughts:
Ensconced beneath sheltering tree,
Charmed lovers embrace ardently.
In moon glow cool white and serene,
Bold knight softly kisses his queen.
United in pure ecstasy,
Two hearts retell dreams silently.
Darcy and Lizzy's game is the Fischer-Spassky game referred to in the Appendix of Chapter III. It was their sixth match game for the World Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1973. It is a game of classic elegance that some have deemed equivalent to works of Mozart.
|Fischer,R - Spassky, B|
|1.c4 e6||2.Nf3 d5|
|3.d4 Nf6||4.Nc3 Be7|
|5.Bg5 0-0||6.e3 h6|
|7.Bh4 b6||8.cxd5 Nxd5|
|9.Bxe7 Qxe7||10.Nxd5 exd5|
|11.Rc1 Be6||12.Qa4 c5|
|13.Qa3 Rc8||14.Bb5 a6|
|15.dxc5 bxc5||16.0-0 Ra7|
|17.Be2 Nd7||18.Nd4 Qf8|
|19.Nxe6 fxe6||20.e4 d4|
|21.f4 Qe7||22.e5 Rb8|
|23.Bc4 Kh8||24.Qh3 Nf8|
|25.b3 a5||26.f5 exf5|
|27.Rxf5 Nh7||28.Rcf1 Qd8|
|29.Qg3 Re7||30.h4 Rbb7|
|31.e6 Rbc7||32.Qe5 Qe8|
|33.a4 Qd8||34.R1f2 Qe8|
|35.R2f3 Qd8||36.Bd3 Qe8|
|37.Qe4 Nf6||38.Rxf6 gxf6|
|39.Rxf6 Kg8||40.Bc4 Kh8|
The game between Blackburn and the Colonel is taken from Evans vs. Reshevsky, 1964 U. S. Championship.
The position after White's 48th move is as follows:
|White: King on h1, Queen on c8, Rook on f7, pawns on b4, e4, f3, g3, h4|
|Black has a clear win with:|
|48. ¸Qg6||49. Rf8 Qe6!||50. gxf4 Re1+||51. Kh2 Qa2+ and mates.|
|Instead Black played the plausible but bad:||48¸. Qxg3??||49. Qg8+!! Kxg8||50. Rxg7+||And Black cannot capture the Rook without forcing stalemate; and if it is not captured, the Rook will force a draw by perpetual check.|