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   Chapter 15 THE NEW CHESSMEN.

Winter Fun By William Osborn Stoddard Characters: 14183

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Porter Hudson did not feel like going to the woods the following morning. He had a pretty clear idea that they were empty, that the bears were asleep in their trees, that the wolves had mostly been killed, that the deer had run away, and that the cougars and wildcats had gone after them. He was quite willing to go to the village with Susie, when she told him she must go and see if she could find some tidy-yarn, and some more colored wool for the last few inches of the fringe for the fur of the Mink-lake trophy.

"There's three stores," said aunt Judith, "and you'll be sure to find what you want at one of 'em. I can remember when old Mr. McGinniss kept the only store in Benton, and it did seem sometimes as if he never had nothing in it that you wanted to buy. It was always something else that he'd picked up at a bargain, and was asking two prices for, and it didn't make him rich neither."

The walking in the road was good enough now, and from the very outskirts of the village the paths were all that could be asked for; but Port looked at them several times with remarks about Broadway.

"If we were there now," he said, "we'd find all the flagging clear and clean of snow."

"I almost wish I could be there for an hour or so," replied Susie. "There'd be a better chance of finding just what I want than there is here."

The stores of Benton Village, however improved they were since aunt Judith was a girl, bore no resemblance whatever to those of the great city. There was a cheese on the counter over which Susie first asked for colored wool; and the young man she spoke to took down a large pasteboard box of crewel and other stuff, and politely carried it to the front window. He set it down on a pile of home-made sausages, and lifted a bag of flour out of her way, so that she could make a search. She found one skein that would do, and only one, and she bought it.

"Now, Port, we will try the next. I've made a beginning."

"That's more than I thought you would do," said he. "It's a mixed-up sort of place."

So was store No. 2, but it had a long showcase for that description of goods, and for fishing-tackle and candies, and for a lot of stuff that looked as if it might have been intended for Christmas presents to the heathen.

"It must have been some accident," said Susie almost as soon as she looked into that collection. "Here are the very things. We needn't go any farther."

The merchant, who was smiling across the showcase at her, knew that she was "that young lady from the city that's visiting with Deacon Farnham's folks, and she can skate like a bird."

He had never seen a bird skate, but he knew she was pretty, and he was sincerely proud of the fact that she found the right wool in his establishment. He was doing it up satisfactorily, when Port pointed at a box in the showcase, and asked,-

"What's that, Mr. Rosenstein?"

"Dot is chessmen. I show you."

The box was lifted out in a twinkling, and pulled open.

"I thought as much," said Port.

They had evidently been on hand a long time, and had a forlorn and forsaken look. The white king was in two pieces, and so was one of the black horse-men; but Mr. Rosenstein said encouragingly,-

"I zell dose chessmen for two shilling. Dey cost me four. You joost dake a leetle glue"-

"Guess I can," said Port. "I'll buy 'em.-That's what I've been thinking of, Susie. Vosh can beat me at checkers, but he never played a game of chess in all his life. I'll show him something."

Mr. Rosenstein was again very much pleased, for that box had been a bad speculation; and Port and Susie were bowed out of the store a great deal.

There was not much to see in the village after that, but they strolled around for a little while. There were many people in from the surrounding country; and the jingle of sleigh-bells, and the continual coming and going of teams, made things lively.

One large double sleigh, with extravagant goose-necks, pulled up almost in front of them, and a lady's voice called to Susie,-

"Miss Hudson!"

"Mrs. King! Good-morning. I've been doing some shopping."

"Hope you succeeded better than I can do. Glad I've met you. There are your invitations, and your aunts' and uncle's; and if you'll be kind enough to send over Mrs. Stebbins's to her"-

"I'll attend to that with pleasure," said Port, reaching out his hand for the white envelopes her own was offering.

"And you must all come," said Mrs. King. "I'm going to have my house full. You will not disappoint me? Most of 'em will be young folks, but I'll have a few grown-up people on my own account."

Susie promised faithfully, and Mrs. King drove on.

"I'd like it first-rate," said Port, as he read his own invitation to the party. "We must go, Susie. It'll be fun."

"Of course I'll go. Don't you think she has a very pleasant face?"

He spoke strongly of Mrs. King's face, and they turned to go home. The fact that a young-people's party was getting ready to be announced at Squire King's was a secret pretty well known and carefully kept by all Benton; but everybody was glad to get an invitation, just the same. Twenty-three people, or perhaps twenty-four, remarked that they were very glad Squire King's house was so large, or there wouldn't be room in it to walk around after the folks got there. That was not all; for some of the Benton people found out, for the first time, that they were no longer considered "young people," and some of them felt as if Mrs. King had made a mistake in her reckoning. Mrs. Bunce, the doctor's wife, asked her where she drew the line; and she said,-

"I don't exactly know, but if they've got gray hair, or their children go to school"-

"That'll do," said Mrs. Bunce. "It hits me in both places. My Sam and his sisters'll be there, and I'll come after them. I hope you'll have a good time."

There was some stir at the Farnham and Stebbins homesteads over those invitations. Both houses had been swept by Mrs. King's list in order to make sure of Susie and her brother, and it came as both a triumph and a trial to Mrs. Stebbins and Vosh.

"They wear white silk neckties to parties," said she to him, "and I'll see that you hev one. They say it'll be the largest young-folks' party there ever was in Benton Valley."

Some of the young folk expecting to go were very large, truly, but not all of them; for Penelope had a special invitation. That was old Squire King's work; for he knew Pen, and he declared that he wouldn't miss hearing what she had to say about the company, and things in general.

That had been a busy day for Mrs. Stebbins, but her cake had turned out splendidly.

"They're all coming over after tea, Lavawjer," she said to him, "and we must see to it that they have a good time. If you and Porter Hudson play checkers, you needn't mind a-letting of him beat you for once. He hasn't won a game on you yet."

That was a fact; but there was something in store for Vosh that evening. He had every thing around the house attended to in prime good season; and his fireplace wore as bright a g

low, for its size, as did Deacon Farnham's own. The weather called for that sort of thing; but everybody was now so accustomed and hardened to it, that there was less difficulty in understanding how the Russians can make out to be happy after their frosts begin to come.

The entire Farnham family, Ponto and all, turned out in a procession soon after supper, and they made a noisy walk of it to their neighbor's gate.

"There they come!" exclaimed Mrs. Stebbins; "and they're all talking at once, and it sounds as if they were in good sperrets, and we must keep 'em a-going, and you mustn't talk too much yourself, and give 'em a fair chance, and"-

The door flew open at that moment, and Pen's voice shouted,-

"They're all a-coming, Mrs. Stebbins!-O Ponto! I never ought to have let you get in.-Vosh, turn him out before he has time to shake himself."

It was too late for that, and Mrs. Stebbins would not have had a dog of the Farnham family turned out of her house at any time. Ponto was made at home by everybody but the cat; and even she showed very plainly that she knew who he was, even if she could not call him by name.

"Here we are," said aunt Judith. "Did your cake come up? Hope it didn't fall."

"Fall! No. It's just the lightest kind. Now, do get your things off, all of ye, and sit down. I'm to your house often enough, and I'm right glad to hev the whole of you in mine at once, and not scattering along."

The room looked all the cosier for not being large; and, as soon as everybody had found a chair, Vosh was justified in saying to Port and Corry,-

"Now, if this isn't first-rate, I'd like to know what is."

Port's reply was,-

"I got me a set of chessmen down in the village to-day, and I brought them over with me. It's worth all the checkers."

Everybody seemed disposed to take an interest in that matter. The chessmen were turned out of their box, and showed signs of recent discipline. They had a bright and much-rubbed look. A little glue had remounted the knight, and set up the broken king; and when Corry remarked, "Didn't he get 'em cheap?" he expressed the general opinion.

Vosh looked at them eagerly, and began to set them in their places. He had never played a game of chess; but he had watched the playing of several, and that was something to a good checker-player. It was not all new ground. From the moment he had heard about Port's purchase, by way of Corry, his mind had busied itself with his memories of the games he had watched; and he was at this hour crammed full of enthusiasm for the royal game.

"Vosh," said Port, "suppose Susie and I play a game, and you look on and learn the moves."

"No," said Susie: "you and Vosh play, and I'll be his adviser. I can play as well as you can."

"Better too, if I make blunders in the opening."

"Lavawjer," remarked his mother, "that's what you'd better do; and I don't suppose you can learn much in one evening, but you can make a start at it. They say it's an awful hard thing to get into, and there was a man over in Scoville's Corners that went crazy just a-studying over it."

The chessmen were in place by that time, and so were the players; and Susie began to explain to Vosh the different powers of the pieces. He listened politely, but it seemed to him as if he already began to see into the matter. He was only too confident of what he saw, for a trifling neglect by him of Susie's advice enabled her brother to announce what players call "the scholar's mate" in a very few moves.

"I told you so, Lavawjer," said his mother. "She knew jest what she was about, and you didn't." But there was no danger that her son would ever again be defeated by so simple a combination. The second game, with Susie's help, was more protracted; and then it was aunt Judith's keen eyes that detected the state of mind Vosh had arrived at.

"Susie," she said, "let him alone this time. He's got a-going now. Don't say one word to him, and let's see how he'll work it out."

"I won't speak, Vosh," said Susie. "Go right ahead now.-It won't be long, Port, before he'll catch up with you."

Vosh was not a conceited young fellow, but he had a fair degree of self-confidence. He was not afraid of any reasonable undertaking at any time, but he had a queer experience coming to him just now. He found his imagination running away ahead, and placing those men on the board in new positions, and then understanding what would be the consequences of those arrangements. It was the power to do that very thing which had made him so good a checker-player; but he had never used it so vividly as now, and it almost startled him. All the brains in the world are not made upon the same pattern, and not many boys with good heads on their shoulders know what is in them.

The older people were having a good time in their own way, but every now and then they turned to watch that third game of chess. Susie was in a fever several times, and came very near breaking in with advice, as her pupil seemed running into dangers. Each time she checked herself; and each time Vosh discovered the snags ahead of him, and avoided them. Port himself was getting more deeply interested than he had expected, and called up all he had ever learned. He was not a bad player for so young a one, and he had worked out problems, and studied printed games. He remembered one of the latter now, that seemed to fit his present case very well, and he tried to make it serve as a trap for Vosh Stebbins. It seemed a success at first, but it was just like Joshua Farnham's bear-trap exactly: the fellow that was caught in it destroyed it altogether. There was a way out of the proposed defeat which had not been seen by the newspaper problem-maker, and Vosh found it.

That was the end of the game; and, in a few moves more, Port was himself in a tangle from which he could not escape. He was beaten. He was tremendously exercised by the laugh that went around the room, and by Susie's patting him on the head and advising him to wake up. He had not dreamed of any such result, and called for another trial. That game he managed to win, and one more; but beyond that neither he nor any other but a really good player was likely to go with Vosh Stebbins.

"I declare, Sarah!" exclaimed the deacon at last: "we've staid too late. We must go home at once."

Mrs. Stebbins protested that it was early; but the game of chess was over, and go they did. Every slice of all that remarkable cake had been eaten, and all declared that they had had an uncommonly pleasant evening. Pen improved it by remarking,-

"Port's had a pretty hard time, but he'll get over it."

After the company were gone, and the house was quiet, and Vosh could go to bed, it seemed to him as if he should never get to sleep. It was not exactly the fact that chess-problems were troubling his brains: it was more the yet greater fact that he had discovered brains in his head that he had not known of. With that also came the idea that he must find some better use for them than any kind of game could give him.

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