Morphy-Lowenthal story, part four
New Orleans, May 22, 1850--Monday
When Löwenthal awoke this morning, it was the first time in four days he felt well enough to travel. He had a letter of introduction from Charles Stanley, former Englishman and winner of the first match for Chess Champion of the United States, whom he had met in Cincinnati a few months before. He was to deliver it to Eugene Rousseau, former Frenchman, local chess master, and loser of the match to Stanley. But Löwenthal had quickly succumbed to the oppressive heat and humidity of the Gulf, and he hadn't been up to leaving his hotel room since his arrival.
He hadn't needed any introduction, as Rousseau had certainly heard of him. They had had mutual chess friends in Europe, and some had sent Rousseau copies of games that Löwenthal had played, and he replied to the Hungarian warmly. The stifling heat had passed and Löwenthal sent word that he was well. Rousseau had sent a reply telling him to wait at the hotel at 2PM, so he sat in the lobby sipping the strong local coffee called chickory and reading the local paper. It had been a lovely morning, and he finally felt up to the challenge of meeting the players of New Orleans, and perhaps to test this Rousseau Stanley had told him so much about.
Rousseau, a man of average height and weight who wore expensive suits, had arrived in an open-air hansom driven by a black man in dark clothes and white gloves, pulled by a fine bay mare. From the hotel, they traveled the road made of crushed white seashells and shaded by cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss. The road followed the contours of the Mississippi River, and through the gaps in the foliage barges and rafts could be seen, the activity of the local river trade. A large paddle wheel streamer splashed and puffed as it passed them heading upriver, the acrid black coal smoke lingering after the ship had passed. They chatted about some of the players they had both known in Europe and had met here in the States. He was a pleasant conversationalist, telling Löwenthal about the local history along the way--the routes the armies had taken on the way to the battle of New Orleans, the exploits of local legend Jean LaFitte, pirate; the great earthquakes of 1811. For the first time since arriving Löwenthal was enjoying the day, the fine company, the great houses of the leading citizens of the city--the Slidells, the Le Carpentiers, the Beauregards--and the new fragrances of the local fauna--orange-blossom, honesuckle.
The road merged with North Peters Street and the horse's hooves clopped loudly on the cobblestone streets. They began to see flamboyantly painted two-story houses, the upper stories lined with cast iron railings and balconies that appeared to be no more than decoration but seemed to function well despite their apparent fragility. All the windows and doors were framed by wooden shutters painted in contrasting colors to the houses, and everywhere were hanging brightly flowering potted plants, the style of Le Vieux Carré--the French Quarter. They soon turned onto Saint Louis Street and crossed Chartres Street, continuing on until they came to the next intersection, then turned left and traveled half-way down the block. They pulled up to a massive porte-cochere in the front wall of the residence, a front which Lowenthal estimated to be over seventy feet long.
"89 Royal Street, Massa Eugene. They be 'specting y'all. Y'all be needing some hep, suh?" The black man waited.
"No,we'll be fine, boy. Take the carriage and pass by the stables out back, then wait in the quarters 'til I call you." They both exited the hansom and entrered a large walled corridor.
The corridor opened to a paved stone pathway that led through a spacious courtyard, an impressive area filled with magnolias, peaches, and figs, the air filled with scent of basil mixing with the fragrences of jasmine and of various roses in bloom. Löwenthal said, in flawless French, "You have a magnificent courtyard here, Monsieur. You are to be complimented."
Rousseau relied, in flawless German, "Oh, but this is not my house, mein Herr. This belongs to the Morphy family."
"Then I am mistaken? I thought you were taking me to your house to play."
"Then perhaps it is I who am mistaken. I thought you wanted to play the best player in New Orleans."
"And that is not you? But it was you who played Stanley in the match for the championship. Morphy was just your second, no?"
"My second was Ernest Morphy, that's true, sir, but I wanted to introduce you to Paul, his young nephew. I must confess I'm intrigued by the match, and think that you will be pleasantly surprised. Though you will see that he doesn't look like an imposing player, I think you will find that he is quite a handful."
They came to the side of the garden where it opened to a stairway, wide at the bottom and tapering up to a latticed door. Through the door they entered the glass rotunda and then the huge parlor. Rousseau noticed that Löwenthal was visubly impressed. This is more magnificent than the garden, he thought. A group of about a dozen well-dressed people chatted near the center of the room.
From the middle of the group a man strode up to the visitor and extended his hand. "Herr Löwenthal, this is a great honor. Allow me to welcome you to my home. I am Alonzo Morphy." He shook Löwenthal's hand warmly. "Let me introduce you to the small part of my family that is here today. This is my lovely wife, Telcide, my younger brother Ernest, and my son Edward."
"You are as lovely as this beautiful house, Mademoiselle," he said to her while kissing her hand, "and Mr. Stanley and Mr. Rousseau have both spoken highly of you, sir," Löwenthal said to the brother. He nodded politely at the sixteen year-old boy.
"And your fame has preceded you, sir. Your skill as a player is well known in this household." Alonzo waved his hand toward the others. "There are some other relatives and local players here who have come to meet you. Allow me to introduce you to them."
After a round of introductions and formal pleasantries were exchanged, servants brought in pitchers of various drinks and trays of food, silver platters loaded with bread and cheese, fruits, salads, fish, shrimp, crabs, vegetables, yams, and venison. Bottles of wine were opened, and the guests ate and relaxed, making light talk of various subjects.
A chess set was brought out and Löwenthal was surprised as he didn't recognize the design. When he asked, he was told that it was the new Staunton design. He had heard of it, but had never seen one before. It took only moments to see and feel the pieces to fall in love with them, and he decided that it was the most beautiful style of chess set he had seen. He consented to play games against Rousseau and Ernest Morphy, winning them both, then played several of the other weaker players at odds games, quickly winning those games, as well. But the strain of the climate began to get to him again, and he asked to return to his hotel.
After calling for Rousseau's carriage to be brought around, Alonzo turned to Löwenthal and said, "This has been an honor, sir, indeed an honor to have you here tonight. You are an extraordinary gentleman and as a chess player I believe you won your every game played. Will your stay in New Orleans allow you to return for another night of chess? There is another player I would like you to meet, sir; my son Paul."
"Yes, I believe Monsieur Rousseau made mention of his name earlier. I'm afraid that this climate will render me unable to commit to anything at the moment, but I would be delighted to return here and play; only, when I am capable of play."
"Yes, of course, sir. Send either Mr. Rousseau or myself a post when you feel up to the exertion." He shook Löwenthal's hand and bid him good night.
Morphy residence, 10 P.M., May 22, 1850--Monday
The trays had all been removed, the dishes carted away. Although he had already dismissed everyone, still Alonzo patrolled the parlor for something that had been missed, but he knew his staff was as meticulous as they were efficient, and he didn't expect to find anything out of place. He wasn't disappointed.
He crossed the broad room to get to the stairs leading out to the courtyard. There was a spot right in the corner by the magnolia tree that was always cool at this time of night, and he knew Ernest would be there. He decided he would finish the last half of his cigar while having a talk with his younger brother.
Ernest sat in one of the chairs that circled the modest round table, in the dark and smoking his cigar to cut down on the insects. There were two glasses on the table, frosty and dripping an icy sweat. "I took the liberty of anticipating your arrival and your need, sir. Before she left I had Tata raid the ice cellar and mix us a couple of those frozen drinks she makes so well." He handed a glass to his brother as he sat down. "I have no idea what she puts in them, but God, these things are delicious."
Alonzo sipped; the frozen concoction had lime, lemon, sugar, and of course, rum. But there were other ingredients, things he couldn't quite identify, that made it taste exotic, wonderful. He said, "So, what do you think about our guest? That way quite a showing tonight, eh?"
Ernest was leaning back, relaxed. "He is very strong. In my game against him, I felt like I was still in it for a while, and never in much actual danger from him. But he plays so correctly! I was tied up, step by step, and then he stabbed me in the heart." He gestured toward his chest with his cigar. "You saw the game with Rousseau; our friend never regained his gambit pawn. The master killed him with that pawn."
There was a moment of silence, then Alonzo said, "He won all of his games. Even some of the odds games were cute."
"Yes, they were."
"Sounds familiar, doesn't it?"
"Yes, it does."
Alonzo sat forward. "How do you think he'll do?"
Ernest pulled on his cigar thoughtfully, the tip glowing red in the dark. "Well, it's only one night, and he is getting over the heat, but you and I both have seen Paul beat everyone in that room, same players, same odds, and win much more convincingly."
"So all things considered, I think Paul will do what he always has done--something that will amaze us. He might even win a game. You know, one of those games like he has in the odds games, where the taker has a rook, bishop, knight, and pawns, and Paul has a knight and two pawns, but they are posted on the crical squares, you're dead, there's no way out. The way he makes it seem so elegant, so easy." He took a moment, sipping his drink, puffing on his cigar. "I think your son will be a match for our guest, but will our guest be a match for your son?"
Alonzo took a drink from the glass; the cold liquid was sweet, fruity, delicious. "We will have two players who win all their games playing in my parlor that day. A star from the Old World will challenge a star from the New World, my son." Even in the dark, Ernest could tell his brother's face was beaming with pride. "I wouldn't miss this for a king's ransom."