Tuesday, April 27, 2021

the last book I ever read (Chess Story by Stefan Zweig, excerpt two)

from Chess Story by Stefan Zwieg:

I soon found the man who had fled so hurriedly. He was on the promenade deck, reading in a deck chair. Before presenting myself I took the opportunity to study him. The angular head rested in an attitude of mild fatigue on the cushion; I was again especially struck by the remarkable pallor of the comparatively young face, framed at the temples by blindingly white hair. I had the feeling, I don’t know why, that this man must have aged abruptly. I had hardly approached him when he rose politely and introduced himself, using a name which was immediately familiar to me as that of a highly regarded old Austrian family. I recalled that one of the bearers of this name had been part of Schubert’s most intimate circle and that one of the old Kaiser’s personal physicians had descended from the same family. When I conveyed to Dr. B our request that he accept Czentovic’s challenge, he was visibly astonished. As it turned out, he had had no idea that it was a world champion, in fact the reigning one, against whom he had so magnificently held his own in that game. For some reason this information seemed to make a special impression on him, for he asked over and over if I was sure his opponent really was the acknowledged world champion. I soon found that this state of affairs made my task easier and, aware of his sensitivity, considered it advisable to conceal from him only that the financial risk of possible defeat was being borne by McConnor. After hesitating for quite a while, Dr. B. finally declared himself ready for a match, though not without expressly asking me to warn the other gentlemen that it was imperative nto to place exaggerated hopes in his abilities.

“You see,” he added with a pensive smile, “I honestly don’t know if I can play a proper chess game according to all the rules. Please believe me, it was absolutely not out of false modesty that I said I hadn’t touched a chess piece since grammar school—that was more than twenty years ago. And even then I wasn’t considered a player of any particular talent.”

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