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Ostap bowed, stretched out his hands as though restraining the public from undeserved applause, and went up on to the dais.
"Comrades and brother chess players," he said in a fine speaking voice: "the subject of my lecture today is one on which I spoke, not without certain success, I may add, in Nizhni-Novgorod a week ago. The subject of my lecture is 'A Fruitful Opening Idea'.
"What, Comrades, is an opening? And what, Comrades, is an idea? An opening, Comrades, is quasi una fantasia. And what, Comrades, is an idea? An idea, Comrades, is a human thought moulded in logical chess form. Even with insignificant forces you can master the whole of the chessboard. It all depends on each separate individual. Take, for example, the fair-haired young man sitting in the third row. Let's assume he plays well. . . ." The fair-haired young man turned red.
"And let's suppose that the brown-haired fellow over there doesn't play very well."
Everyone turned around and looked at the brown-haired fellow.
"What do we see, Comrades? We see that the fair-haired fellow plays well and that the other one plays badly. And no amount of lecturing can change this correlation of forces unless each separate individual keeps practising his dra-I mean chess. And now, Comrades, I would like to tell you some instructive stories about our esteemed ultramodernists, Capablanca, Lasker and Dr Grigoryev."
Ostap told the audience a few antiquated anecdotes, gleaned in childhood from the Blue Magazine, and this completed the first half of the evening.
The brevity of the lecture caused certain surprise. The one-eyed man was keeping his single peeper firmly fixed on the Grossmeister.
The beginning of the simultaneous chess match, however, allayed the one-eyed chess player's growing suspicions. Together with the rest, he set up the tables along three sides of the room. Thirty enthusiasts in all took their places to play the Grossmeister. Many of them were in complete confusion and kept glancing at books on chess to refresh their knowledge of complicated variations, with the help of which they hoped not to have to resign before the twenty-second move, at least.
Ostap ran his eyes along the line of black chessmen surrounding him on three sides, looked at the door, and then began the game. He went up to the one-eyed man, who was sitting at the first board, and moved the king's pawn forward two squares.
One-eye immediately seized hold of his ears and began thinking hard.
A whisper passed along the line of players. "The Grossmeister has played pawn to king four."
Ostap did not pamper his opponents with a variety of openings. On the remaining twenty-nine boards he made the same move-pawn to king four. One after another the enthusiasts seized their heads and launched into feverish discussions. Those who were not playing followed the Grossmeister with their eyes. The only amateur photographer in the town was about to clamber on to a chair and light his magnesium flare when Ostap waved his arms angrily and, breaking off his drift along the boards, shouted loudly:
"Remove the photographer! He is disturbing my chess thought!"
What would be the point of leaving a photograph of myself in this miserable town, thought Ostap to himself. I don't much like having dealings with the militia.
Indignant hissing from the enthusiasts forced the photographer to abandon his attempt. In fact, their annoyance was so great that he was actually put outside the, door.
At the third move it became clear that in eighteen games the Grossmeister was playing a Spanish gambit. In the other twelve the blacks played the old-fashioned, though fairly reliable, Philidor defence. If Ostap had known he was using such cunning gambits and countering such tested defences, he would have been most surprised. The truth of the matter was that he was playing chess for the second time in his life.
At first the enthusiasts, and first and foremost one-eye, were terrified at the Grossmeister's obvious craftiness.
With singular ease, and no doubt scoffing to himself at the backwardness of the Vasyuki enthusiasts, the Grossmeister sacrificed pawns and other pieces left and right. He even sacrificed his queen to the brown-haired fellow whose skill had been so belittled during the lecture. The man was horrified and about to resign; it was only by a terrific effort of will that he was able to continue.
The storm broke about five minutes later. "Mate!" babbled the brown-haired fellow, terrified out of his wits. "You're checkmate, Comrade Grossmeister!'
Ostap analysed the situation, shamefully called a rook a "castle" and pompously congratulated the fellow on his win. A hum broke out among the enthusiasts.
Time to push off, thought Ostap, serenely wandering up and down the rows of tables and casually moving pieces about.
"You've moved the knight wrong, Comrade Grossmeister," said one-eye, cringing. "A knight doesn't go like that."
"So sorry," said the Grossmeister, "I'm rather tired after the lecture."
During the next ten minutes the Grossmeister lost a further ten games.
Cries of surprise echoed through the Cardboardworker club-room. Conflict was near. Ostap lost fifteen games in succession, and then another three.
Only one-eye was left. At the beginning of the game he had made a large number of mistakes from nervousness and was only now bringing the game to a victorious conclusion. Unnoticed by those around, Ostap removed the black rook from the board and hid it in his pocket.
A crowd of people pressed tightly around the players.
"I had a rook on this square a moment ago," cried one-eye, looking round, "and now it's gone!"
"If it's not there now, it wasn't there at all," said Ostap, rather rudely.
"Of course it was. I remember it distinctly!"
"Of course it wasn't!"
"Where's it gone, then? Did you take it?"
"Yes, I took it."
"At which move?"
"Don't try to confuse me with your rook. If you want to resign, say so!"
"Wait a moment, Comrades, I have all the moves written down."
"Written down my foot!"
"This is disgraceful!" yelled one-eye. "Give me back the rook!"
"Come on, resign, and stop this fooling about."
"Give me back my rook!"
At this point the Grossmeister, realizing that procrastination was the thief of time, seized a handful of chessmen and threw them in his one-eyed opponent's face.
"Comrades!" shrieked one-eye. "Look, everyone, he's hitting an amateur!"
The chess players of Vasyuki were aghast.
Without wasting valuable time, Ostap hurled a chessboard at the lamp and, hitting out at jaws and faces in the ensuing darkness, ran out into the street. The Vasyuki chess enthusiasts, falling over each other, tore after him.
It was a moonlit evening. Ostap bounded along the silvery street as lightly as an angel repelled from the sinful earth. On account of the interrupted transformation of Vasyuki into the centre of the world, it was not between palaces that Ostap had to run, but wooden houses with outside shutters.
The chess enthusiasts raced along behind.
"Catch the Grossmeister!" howled one-eye.
"Twister!" added the others.
"Jerks!" snapped back the Grossmeister, increasing his speed.
"Stop him!" cried the outraged chess players.
Ostap began running down the steps leading down to the quay. He had four hundred steps to go. Two enthusiasts, who had taken a short cut down the hillside, were waiting for him at the bottom of the sixth flight. Ostap looked over his shoulder. The advocates of Philidor's defence were pouring down the steps like a pack of wolves. There was no way back, so he kept on going.
"Just wait till I get you, you bastards!" he shouted at the two-man advance party, hurtling down from the sixth flight.
The frightened troopers gasped, fell over the balustrade, and rolled down into the darkness of mounds and slopes. The path was clear.
"Stop the Grossmeister !" echoed shouts from above.
The pursuers clattered down the wooden steps with a noise like falling skittle balls.
Reaching the river bank, Ostap made to the right, searching with his eyes for the boat containing his faithful manager.
Ippolit Matveyevich was sitting serenely in the boat. Ostap dropped heavily into a seat and began rowing for all he was worth. A minute later a shower of stones flew in the direction of the boat, one of them hitting Ippolit Matveyevich. A yellow bruise appeared on the side of his face just above the volcanic pimple. Ippolit Matveyevich hunched his shoulders and began whimpering.
"You are a softie! They practically lynched me, but I'm still happy and cheerful. And if you take the fifty roubles net profit into account, one bump on the head isn't such an unreasonable price to pay."
In the meantime, the pursuers, who had only just realized that their plans to turn Vasyuki into New Moscow had collapsed and that the Grossmeister was absconding with fifty vital Vasyukian roubles, piled into a barge and, with loud shouts, rowed out into midstream. Thirty people were crammed into the boat, all of whom were anxious to take a personal part in settling the score with the Grossmeister. The expedition was commanded by one-eye, whose single peeper shone in the night like a lighthouse.
"Stop the Grossmeister!" came shouts from the overloaded barge.
"We must step on it, Pussy!" said Ostap. "If they catch up with us, I won't be responsible for the state of your pince-nez."
Both boats were moving downstream. The gap between them was narrowing. Ostap was going all out.
"You won't escape, you rats!" people were shouting from the barge.
Ostap had no time to answer. His oars flashed in and out of the water, churning it up so that it came down in floods in the boat.
Keep going! whispered Ostap to himself.
Ippolit Matveyevich had given up hope. The larger boat was gaining on them and its long hull was already flanking them to port in an attempt to force the Grossmeister over to the bank. A sorry fate awaited the concessionaires. The jubilance of the chess players in the barge was so great that they all moved across to the sides to be in a better position to attack the villainous Grossmeister in superior forces as soon as they drew alongside the smaller boat.
"Watch out for your pince-nez, Pussy," shouted Ostap in despair, throwing aside the oars. "The fun is about to begin."
"Gentlemen!" cried Ippolit Matveyevich in a croaking voice, "you wouldn't hit us, would you? "
"You'll see!" roared the enthusiasts, getting ready to leap into the boat.
But at that moment something happened which will outrage all honest chess players throughout the world. The barge listed heavily and took in water on the starboard side.
"Careful!" squealed the one-eyed captain.
But it was too late. There were too many enthusiasts on one side of the Vasyuki dreadnought. As the centre of gravity shifted, the boat stopped rocking, and, in full conformity with the laws of physics, capsized.
A concerted wailing disturbed the tranquillity of the river.
"Ooooooh!" groaned the chess players.
All thirty enthusiasts disappeared under the water. They quickly came up one by one and seized hold of the upturned boat. The last to surface was one-eye.
"You jerks!" cried Ostap in delight. "Why don't you come and get your Grossmeister? If I'm not mistaken, you intended to trounce me, didn't you? "
Ostap made a circle around the shipwrecked mariners.
"You realize, individuals of Vasyuki, that I could drown you all one by one, don't you? But I'm going to spare your lives.
Live on, citizens! Only don't play chess any more, for God's sake. You're just no good at it, you jerks! Come on, Ippolit Matveyevich, let's go. Good-bye, you one-eyed amateurs! I'm afraid Vasyuki will never become a world centre. I doubt whether the masters of chess would ever visit fools like you, even if I asked them to. Good-bye, lovers of chess thrills! Long live the 'Four Knights Chess Club'!"


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