Professor Pownall's Oversight
A Scary Chess Story
By H. R. Wakefield
I was looking for a chess story to read so I picked up the fantastic book ” The Chess Companion by Irving Chernev. In that book it had this little story by H.R Wakefield (a famous writer in the ghost genre tradition). I found the story fascinating and so decided to bring it to my audience at Chess for Children.
We have decided to publish it in several parts so as to give you something to look forward to every month.
This chess story is interesting but a just little scary just like me, Mr. C!
So, dear reader proceed at your own risk we are not responsible for knightmares! (pun intended)
If you would like to see more of our chess comics you might want to consider going to here.
There are two ways to enjoy this story One will be the actual text which will be printed below and the second way will be with the slideshow on the right.
A good little article on this story can be seen here.
A Chess Story
Professor Pownwall’s Oversight
An Unusual Package
A NOTE BY J.C. Cary, M.D.: About sixteen years ago I received one morning by post a parcel, which, when I opened, I found to contain a letter and a packet.
The latter was inscribed, ‘To be opened and published fifteen years from this date.’ The letter read as follows: Dear Sir, Forgive me for troubling you, but I have decided to entrust the enclosed narrative to your keeping. As I state, I wish it to be opened by you, and that you should arrange for it to be published.
I enclose five ten-pound notes, which sum is to be used, partly to remunerate you, and partly to cover the cost of publication, if such expenditure should be found necessary. About the time you receive this, I shall disappear. The contents of the enclosed packet, though to some extent revealing the cause of my disappearance, give no index as to its method.—E.P.
The receipt of this eccentric document occasioned me considerable surprise. I attended Professor Pownall (I have altered all names, for obvious reasons) in my professional capacity four or five times for minor ailments.
He struck me as a man of extreme intellectual brilliance, but his personality was repulsive to me. He had a virulent and brutal wit, which he made no scruple of exercising at my and everyone else’s expense.
He apparently possessed not one single friend in the world, and I can only conclude that I came nearer to fulfilling this rôle than anyone else.
The Story Begins
I kept this packet by myself for safe keeping for the fifteen years, and then I opened it, about a year ago. The contents ran as follows. * * * * * The date of my birth is of complete unimportance, for my life began when I first met Hubert Morisson at the age of twelve and a half at Flamborough College.
It will end tomorrow at 6.45 p.m.
I doubt if ever in the history of the human intellect there has been so continuous, so close, so exhausting a rivalry as that between Morisson and myself. I will chronicle its bare outline.
We joined the same school at Flamborough — two grades higher, I may say, than that in which even the most promising new boys are usually placed. We were promoted every term till we reached the Upper Sixth at the age of 16.
Morisson was always top, I was always second, always 1 points behind him. We both got scholarships at Oxford, Morisson just beating me for Balliol.
Before I left Flamborough, the Head Master sent for me and told me that he considered I had the best brain of any boy who had passed through his hands.
I thought of asking him, if that were so, why I had been so consistently second to Morisson all through my school career; but even then I thought I knew the answer to that question. He beat me, by 1 point for all the great University prizes for which we entered.
I remember one of the examiners, impressed by my papers, asking me to lunch with him.
‘Pownall,’ he said, ‘Morisson and you are the most brilliant under-graduates who have been at Oxford in my time.
I am not quite sure why, but I am convinced of two things; firstly, that he will always finish above you, and secondly, that you have the better brain.’
Chess is Discovered
By the time we left Oxford, both with the highest degrees, I had had remorselessly impressed upon me the fact that my superiority of intelligence had been and always would be neutralized by some constituent in Morisson’s mind which defied and dominated that superiority — save in one respect: we both took avidly to chess, and very soon there was no one in the University in our class, but I became,and remained, his master.
Chess has been the one great love of my life. Mankind I detest and despise. Far from growing wiser, men seem to me, decade by decade, to grow more inane as the means for revealing their ineptitude become more numerous, more varied, and more complex.
Women do not exist for me — they are merely variants from a bad model: but for chess, that superb, cold, infinitely satisfying anodyne to life, I feel the ardour of a lover, the humility of a disciple.
Chess, that greatest of all games, greater than any game! It is, in my opinion, one of the few supreme products of the human intellect, if, as I often doubt, it is of human origin.
Morisson’s success, I realize, was partly due to his social gifts; he possessed that shameless flair for making people do what he wanted, which is summed up in the word ‘charm’, a gift from the gods, no doubt, but one of which I have never had the least wish to be the recipient.
Did I like Morisson? More to the point, perhaps, did I hate him? Neither, I believe. I simply grew profoundly and terribly used to him.
His success fascinated me. I had sometimes short and violent paroxysms of jealousy, but these I fought, and on the whole conquered. He became a Moral Philosophy Don at Oxford: I obtained a similar but inevitably inferior appointment in a Midland University.
We used to meet during vacations and play chess at the City of London Club. We both improved rapidly, but still I kept ahead of him.
After ten years of drudgery, I inherited a considerable sum, more than enough to satisfy all my wants. If one avoids all contact with women one can live marvelously cheaply: I am continuously astounded at men’s inability to grasp this great and simple truth.
I have had few moments of elation in my life, but when I got into the train for London on leaving that cesspool in Warwickshire, I had a fierce feeling of release. No more should I have to ram useless and rudimentary speculation into the heads of oafs, who hated me as much as I despised them. Directly I arrived in London I experienced one of those irresistible impulses which I could never control, and I went down to Oxford. Morisson was married by then, so I refused to stay in his house, but I spent hours every day with him. The louts into whom he attempted to force elementary ethics seemed rather less dingy but even more mentally costive than my Midland half-wits, and, so far as that went, I envied him not at all. I had meant to stay one week; I was in Oxford for six, for I rapidly came to the conclusion that I ranked first and Morisson second among the chess players of Great Britain. I can say that because I have no vanity: vanity