The Pride and the Sorrow is a novel about a famous New Orleans chess player, Paul Morphy, and his passionate but destructive love for a prostitute, Clara Young. The novel depicts the high life and the underbelly of New Orleans, London and Paris. It may be previewed at www.mattfullerty.com or www.paulmorphychess.com
Paul Morphy is a child chess prodigy born into a wealthy Creole family in the French Quarter, 1837. While only twenty-one years old he becomes world champion, defeating the established European masters on their home soil. No one dares play him...so he tours Europe performing miraculous feats of blindfold chess. After astounding Paris and London he returns to New Orleans lionized but misunderstood. Rooted inside Paul is his obsession for red-light crib-girl Clara, a Basin Street trickster and professional working girl who cannot understand his world or he hers.
Paul grows up in the Vieux Carré where his mother Telcide is a self-obsessed musician and his father Alonzo a Louisiana Supreme Court judge. Performing chess for his family's love, Paul defeats Hungarian chess master Johann Löwenthal and American General Winfield Scott. Reluctantly he travels to New York for the American Chess Congress, the first national tournament. He wins, but the private side-room games propel him to challenge the whole world on behalf of his country and family pride. And so to London where he meets famous English chess master and Shakespeare scholar, Howard Staunton, but Staunton refuses to be challenged. So Paul plays Daniel Harrwitz resident player of the Café de la Régence in Paris where Napoleon once played. These matches reveal a shady world of chess gambling, bartering and back-stabbing in defense of reputation and honor. Prestige is paramount!
By now Paul is undefeated and famous, garnering an audience from Napoleon III and gifts from Queen Victoria. At a showing of The Barber of Seville at the Paris Opera House, he plays the most famous historical games of all time, a match against the Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard, two against one. But the esteemed "royal game" of chess now, slowly, becomes a burden...
Paul's life is ultimately tragic. As a child he meets the New Orleans crib-girl-to-be, young Clara, when his uncle Alex takes him down on Basin Street. Despite his long European tour Paul cannot ever forget Clara, his muse and taunting memory. He returns to New Orleans to find her, to outrun his fame, bad dreams and his family's wishes for his career as an attorney. But no one - neither friends family nor legal clients - will let Paul escape his past.
At the Civil War breaks out in the Crescent City, Paul lives out his last, troubled days haunted by the chess he played and never played, and the life he could have lived.
Paul Charles Morphy is today remembered as "the pride and the sorrow" of chess, a short-lived genius. His extraordinary chess ability, wonderful in itself, set him apart. His accidental and sudden fame was his downfall. Clara and her fellow tricksters of Basin Street, New Orleans, have been forgotten by history. Clara's world and upbringing were too different, her background too strange and dangerous, her splendor too baffling to the young man. He was a strict amateur for honor, she a professional for survival.
The Pride and the Sorrow creates disastrous passions on and off the chessboard...from the Deep South's sunken Crescent City to the dark lights of London...to the music and duels of Napoleon III's Parisian playground!
Let the games begin!
Paul Charles Morphy, a gentleman chess player
Edward Morphy, Paul's brother
Alonzo Morphy, Paul's father
Telcide Morphy, Paul's mother
Ernest Morphy, Paul's uncle
Helena and Malvina Morphy, Paul's sisters
John Sybrandt, Malvina's husband
Joseph Le Carpentier, Paul's grandfather
Alex Le Carpentier, Paul's uncle
The Chess Players
Eugene Rousseau; General Winfield Scott; Johann Löwenthal; Charles H. Stanley; Louis Paulsen; Howard Staunton; Daniel Harrwitz; William Steinitz
New Orleans and Europe
Clarabelle Young, a crib-girl
Violet Young, Clarabelle's mother
LuLu White, Hattie Hamilton, Kate Townsend, Minnie Ha Ha, New Orleans madams
Charles Le Maurian, Paul's friend
Fred Edge, Paul's manager
Dr. Camille Rizzo, Italian fencing master
Léona Queyrouze, a suitor for Paul
Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard
Napoleon III and Queen Victoria
The Funeral Parade of Jean Lafitte
In the courtyards of New Orleans the heart of the old French Quarter has stopped beating. The narrow cobbled streets are hushed. In a saloon doorway stands the old man Joseph Le Carpentier, auctioneer, slave-trader, respectable citizen of the city, and his small grandson Paul Charles Morphy. The old man is smoking a cheroot pipe and the young boy is sucking a toffee drop. The heat trembles in the air between them.
"Now wait Paul, the procession will be here," the tall figure says. "I know these things can be ex-as-perating. But the patience of the devil is wanted and you'll see something my boy! Quite a something to behold!" Le Carpentier takes out his pipe and begins blowing in the glowing embers, cheeks swelling and reddening. Paul stares at the burning tobacco, curious. "But grandpapi..."
"Ha!" escapes from the old man. "Humph! Oh! That's better." He grins down at his charge, careening smoke, and nudges the boy a mite hard in the ribs. "I split the cracks in m' own teeth!" A robust slave-trader, he rolls his head and laughs at the wantonness of the world. "Ah, Paul my boy, one day you'll know the pleasure of a good pipe." Paul is solemn and replies "yes grandpapi" and together they stare into the dusty street.
They don't have to wait long. From St. Philip and Bourbon a host of unwashed human forms emerge. Shapes half drunk and merry with mourning drift into the heat of the day. Pitch-black and streaming with colour, the funeral is here. One man stumbles, and comically waving his hat, disappears under the weight of the crowd. Another is squeezed along the iron grilles of the saloon and sucked back into rolling bodies.
Meanwhile Le Carpentier has fallen inside The House of Good Drinking and is busy topping up his fortitude with a twist of rum in a dirty brown glass. For the time being Paul is alone. With the noise of thundering feet, singing snarls and trombones torturing a New Orleans melody from a balcony, the procession painfully sways and scrapes the corner without splitting its morose and ebullient snakehead. "Grandpapi..." Paul whispers. "Where..." but he cannot look away. There is no fear but a strange steadiness in his eyes. Paul is self-contained, with awe unusual in a small boy, and his face blank. He steps back and finds a groove in the wall where the plaster has come away. Pressing his shoulder into the masonry, hidden from the saloon doorway, he observes the funeral opera.
"The pirate is dead!" Le Carpentier declares double fisting glasses of tequila. He appears in the half-door and feigns a whisper. "They killed him at last. The devil of the seas! Look my lad, an ad-mir-ab-le rascal!" Over the crowd of children and dogs, hauling its way along Bourbon Street, arises the pirate Lafitte floating on a wave of human fingers, lifelike and tomblike and strapped to a long wooden coffin. His head is raised on a glossy red cushion with jewels, flashing stones of emeralds and sapphires with a necklace of diamonds adorning his neck. "Fakes," says the old man, "or his own men would tear him down!" Paul shivers and stares, quiet and stony-faced at the hoisting up and down of the body. The mourners celebrate their leader; bursts of frenetic dancing begin. Women with painted hair grin and leap, sliding fingers on washboards, ribbons in their skirts and stray chickens at their feet. At the fringes of the hullabaloo the spectators, American and Spanish, Creole and Cajun alike are pinned to the walls by turns sympathetic and hostile to the passing parade.
Le Carpentier edges Paul back into the street and hoists him on his shoulders. The funeral, a mix of colours and austere black, glides along in dire joy at the death of its long-rebellious leader Jean Lafitte. "Look!" Le Carpentier calls. "See Jean Lafitte! Scourge of the seas, captain of the swamps, the brushwood and bayou. There is a man who dares, young Paul! There is a man who will go a step further!"
Le Carpentier's moustache bounces gleefully on his top lip. He readjusts Paul on his neck and gulps tequila limón. For several minutes they watch the passing parade as raucous and dishevelled and happily uncouth, it thins to a trickle. The brass band "The Bold Boys of the Warehouse" brings up the rear with the tunes "No Pirate Curse Ails My Heart" and "Bury My Gold Deep In The Hole." The music carries a two-fingered pomposity and swagger that even the mayor of New Orleans, currently regulating the city's red-light district with tax-boosting legitimization, would shadily appreciate.
After the noise fades into Royal, Le Carpentier deposits Paul on the banquette, poised and drained in his little suit of black. Proudly dressed by the old man in new mourning clothes, Paul sports a black tie, black gloves and black shoes in the latest fashion. A delicate red handkerchief with black felt borders peeks from his top pocket.
"Did you see?"
"In French my boy."
"Oui grandpapi, I saw him on top of the coffin. The pirate-man."
"Exactly. Now let me tell you of the past!" and Le Carpentier starts to toddle along Bourbon. They are only five blocks from Le Carpentier's house and a further block to Paul's. Retired from his profession as slave-dealer for Louisiana plantations, as auctioneer in the buying and selling of people, by inclination Le Carpentier prefers his memory of high times and past adventures to his reputation as card-carrying member of the Creole aristocracy. A mode other than shady scoundrel does not suit the colour of his cloak. "I knew Captain Lafitte. I'd know that swagger anywhere – he even swung it dead! But your folks want me to keep that past a secret!" The old pirate-lover is uproarious as though nothing is funnier than revealing the family secrets to the young boy. "They want me to drop into senility like a polite old man smiling into his dessert. A-hah-ha!" Le Carpentier taps his moustache and winks solicitously. "You want to know? My name was Double-Tongue with the Baratarians. Ha, how they hated me, Creoles and pirates both. I would tell the laggards one tale and the Creoles another. Always the same happy merchant, the one and only Le Carpentier!" One by one he recites his connections with the pirates but Paul is no longer listening. Lost in thought the boy walks placidly beside his grandfather, palm cupped trustingly in the fist of the old man.
Paul cannot get the image of the pirate out of his mind, Lafitte strung out on the coffin in the open heat of the day. Louisiana came from all over in pagan worship, gawping people like thirsty flies, just for a glimpse of the body.
"The Baratarians were once brave and noble people, Paul. That is what you must remember. We would trade in the summer whenever I could get to the islands or Lafitte to the mainland." He wags his finger comically. "Don't judge them for their ways or for lying outside New Orleans. The law is a flexible thing, my boy, a flex-ib-le thing, as you will come to see. Your own Barataria Bay is out there! You will go one day!" Exultant, he pulls the boy to his chest and looks directly in his eyes. "No more than twenty-five leagues are those islands, Grande Terre, Cheniere Caminada and Grande Isle. Sandy beaches, marshes and lagoons. Pelicans, shrimp and delicious crabs! All you can eat! A choice paradise with..."
Paul is really no longer listening. All he can remember is the macabre grin on Lafitte's dead body. He knows that Lafitte was unwanted by the city. Yet they came to worship him like a god at his death. His thousand followers and the Creoles of the Vieux Carré all paid their respects. He meant something in the world.
"Why was he bad?"
Le Carpentier is struck by Paul's strange earnestness. "He was a genius who met a fitting but tragic end. You'll be nothing like him, my boy. You will prosper and drink with your grandpapi when you are old enough. Maybe in five years when Alonzo will let you! Then you'll see me off! There will be a special circle of hell for old men like me. Lafitte leads the way!" He scoops up Paul and swings him back and forth in the sunshine. "When I am gone you will remember me!" But a saloon catches his eye and the old entertainer, skipping over a bread basket, declares himself a pirate and performs a little jig for his grandson. Then he disappears inside promising just a few minutes.
Paul is again alone. His mind slips back to the pirate's grinning face and the mayhem of the funeral pyre. Cross-legged and head nodding, Paul feels a mixture of uncertainty and yearning. At eight years old, he is a gentleman with a gentleman's attraction to the wilder side of life. He has a curious look, pale and ephemeral, his eyes glazing under a reverie's spell. Half an hour passes. He imagines himself a pirate on the high seas, his face one long scar, his brother Edward walking the plank. But smoke from a cheroot starts to tease his eyes. Balancing his tequila, Le Carpentier picks him up from the curb. "You're a good lad for joining me Paul, especially when Alonzo doesn't know." Crouching again with a twinge of pain, the old man stares into Paul's pupils. "Let Lafitte's memory coldly burn in the hearts of pirates – they will forget – and hot in the heart of New Orleans!" He matches a tipple with a little sway. "Lafitte knew men's hunger. Now it is your turn, Paul my boy."
"I will try."
"Time of your life! Roll up, roll up!"
Paul coughs from a pat on the back, resembling a push, and hops down Bourbon Street away from his enthusiastic relative. The church bells of the Crescent City proudly ring out. The brass band of Lafitte's parade has entered St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 for the graveyard burial. The mournful toll of each bell is pleasantly audible over the crowd. Through the city the chimes pierce the pretty iron grilles of the French Quarter. The death bells rise over boudoirs and shops, elevating the afternoon prayers of the Convent of St. Ursuline nuns, and continue long after a small boy's feet enter the Morphy home.
The Quiet Surprise of Alonzo Morphy
That night a dream keeps Paul asleep. He is walking through a mist looking down at his fingers appearing and disappearing. He is very cold. He is not afraid though, only slightly bewildered following his hand into the night. He is suddenly lost and outside the French Quarter, crossing over Rampart Street and among the shackled row houses, wooden-made and incestuously leaning. He shivers at the warmth of a red moon overhead. From a window a cooing voice is heard, a woman's voice, but more like a mermaid's than a human voice. He thinks of fishtails. "Paul," whispers the voice. "Come inside. I need you!" He is puzzled but looks up at the window, diffused in a red glow, and sees a woman's face. She is grinning widely but her half crooked mouth is somehow appealing; her teeth are uneven but the smile is warm and welcoming. He smiles back and the woman waves a lock of blonde hair. At that moment the mist rolls by and the dream is over. But Paul does not awaken. He turns in his cot-bed and finds his way back to the fringe of the French Quarter and suddenly he is down by the river. A boat has just landed and along the wharf appears a man, all dressed in black. He is a religious man and offers a twisted rosary entwined around his fingers. Paul feels drawn to the figure but in a different way, a colder attraction, uneasy and inverted. A moment later he is awake. In the half-light, the image of a black-robed bishop rolling his fingers over and over, flickers on the ceiling then fades.
Downstairs his father Alonzo and his uncle Ernest are playing chess. It is early. Paul descends the spiral staircase to the ballroom and wipes the sleep away twisting knuckles in eye sockets. Before the dizziness settles his mother appears and sweeps him into her arms. Over her shoulder he can see his father and uncle and a game of chess.
"My cherubim! Oh Paul, how delightful you look! We are so happy to see you." She is wearing a white bonnet and a flowing pink dress with felt sashes looped at the waist.
"Good morning maman," Paul says and Telcide clings on him intently before releasing him with equal gusto. His young maman, nom complet Louise Thérèse Thelcide Le Carpentier Morphy, is a talented musician and lady composer, a theatricalist and home-enricher. She draws away from her boy, tenderly but without eye contact, and disappears into the ballroom. Her white shirts trail in her wake, thinning in the light.
Paul wanders quietly into the salle de compagnie. The atmosphere changes and he senses the studied seriousness of the two players, Alonzo Morphy and the kind, suspicious and mysterious Ernest. The previous year Alonzo was appointed Consul for Georgia and both Carolinas, and more recently a judge at the Supreme Court of Louisiana. His brother, a former gambler and career drop-out, Ernest is now involved in the shipping deals or "market shipments" that occur daily at the harbour. No one really knows what he trades. Both men are silent, focused on the glass chessboard in front of them. They are ready to spring into a duel if disturbed.
Paul doesn't want to be discovered so he stays near the door. A strong smell of French brandy and Havana cigars fetters the air. Paul watches a plume curl to the cream-coloured dome, displaying a carved deer hunt, where trimmed in silver, a single oval window permits the fine morning. The skylight opens a shaft of mellow light over the chessboard. For a small boy, confused between half-hearted affection from his mother and boisterousness from his grandfather, the atmosphere is tense, electric.
Ernest looks up. "Ah Paul, come sit by me. I think I have your father."
Alonzo says nothing, hunched with head in his hands looking desperate. As Paul approaches the table the pieces come into focus. Alonzo's ivory-white and Ernest's purple pieces, knights and rooks and bishops, settle on the squares. Paul feels his spine tingle. There is something magical in the contest, a strange quality of determination and flexibility. He cannot look away. A fairy-tale battle is taking place in hushed stillness. "If he escapes up the right flank," Ernest says, gesturing to Alonzo's king, "I trap him on that side. And if he breaks into the middle I fork his rook. See?" Ernest is so animated his bushy eyebrows crook into an 'M'. Ignoring him, Alonzo taps his fingers.
Ernest fills his cheeks expansively, holds, and lets out a pleasurable sigh. "There's nothing he can do," he whispers to Paul and winks like a contented magician. Ernest's wicker chair creaks as he reclines his heavy frame. On this late Monday morning, the warm tobacco and nip of liquor are soothing him for the workday ahead. One hand is wrapped in his long brown breeches. He is about to head to the wharf when he plucks a piece to freedom: "I've got him!"
Paul senses what will happen but does not speak.
"Well, well," Alonzo says pointedly. "Good for you."
Ernest frowns, checks the board again. Eyes unfavourably pinning his own pieces, he senses Alonzo's words could be a trick.
"Well, well, well."
"Take your time," Ernest says.
Alonzo prefaces his move, "No, I think I must resign," and yet he does not move. His fingertips touch his wide forehead. Dark wisps of hair tumble to his ears, a gift from his Spanish heirs. His eyes are smaller and deeper than Ernest's. They flit over the chessmen, looking for an imaginary hole in which to tip his brother's pieces, to prize visible the invisible square. The delay is short. Alonzo puzzles in suspense of a new position, a new tactic, any opportunity. But nothing comes. Black sleeve dangling low to the board, the judge is in court and gesturing a prosecution witness to the stand. Meaningfully he moves.
Paul stands at the table edge for better elevation, to see the move, the change, the decision. Alonzo sits up. The large clock in the room makes the initial chimes for nine o' clock, leaving fifteen minutes before both men must be gone, one to the office, the other to the river. Ernest thins his gaze; he takes a sip of brandy. Alonzo's palm closes around the king, and he looks up at his brother with a half smile and a mock twinge of pain – all too serious. "I hate to lose Ernest. But you won this one. This one! And winning the last of three! A good game my brother! Good game!" They shake hands over the table like brothers should. Only now Alonzo notices the small boy.
"You didn't have to lose father," Paul says.
Alonzo regards his son, squints and takes a slow drag on his Havana. He replaces it on a silver clam-shell where it glows and crumbles some ash.
"Of course not," Alonzo says.
"You could have drawn the game."
"Impossible," interjects Ernest. "A clean victory!"
Alonzo smiles softly. "The boy doesn't know how to play. "But we will teach him."
"I know, papa," Paul adds quietly.
"How to play?" laughs Ernest.
"Your uncle is just too good," laughs Alonzo. "He has been practicing by night, I swear." They sit in their chairs contemplating the table as the chimes ring out on the clock. "He is growing so fast," and Alonzo points to pictures of Paul and his older brother Edward on the mantelpiece. In the austere photograph taken at the Chartres house, their birthplace of a few blocks away, the two brothers are kneeling on silk cushions, a sleeping dog at their feet. The photograph is damaged by smoke from the old chess room. Paul is five, Edward seven. In the Creole fashion for boys under six, Paul is dressed in the skirts and frocks of a girl's babyhood; Edward wears a sailor suit and is straining his neck in pursuit of greater height and looks proud of his man's short haircut granted the same day. Paul's hair hangs childishly long over a smile of innocence and charming vulnerability.
"He is older now," Ernest says. "Let the boy try."
They watch as Paul sets up the pieces. Neither comments but they can see he is doing it wrong by intersecting the colours. Alonzo stands, but now something unexpected happens. Paul moves the pieces onto squares they recognize, bishop here and rook there, recreating the final position. It takes only a moment and the stage is set, down to the three white pawns in a line before Alonzo abdicated.
"I can remember," says Paul.
The two men reach for their brandies and drink simultaneously.
"And what should I do?" is the question.
"Move the black bishop, papa," Paul answers. Instinctively he reaches onto the table and moves pieces minutes ago he was forbidden to touch. The black bishop takes up its new position while Alonzo tips backs the rest of his drink. Cigars are no longer touched and softly, ridiculously, Ernest makes his next move. Paul counters with a pawn and threatens the white knight. Ernest pushes the pawn. Paul moves his own knight and the board is locked.
"How do you know the moves?" Alonzo asks, draining his glass. "Your mother has been teaching you?"
"No papa. I learn from watching."
The moves continue, four on each side, polite exchanges. Pawns and pieces disappear. Suddenly Paul takes a single step backwards. "Stalemate," he says, fingers together. The two men stand and puzzle for honour over the chessboard. Ernest fills his cheeks but retains the laugh. He clears the cigars away, the water decanter, a vase of bougainvillea and carries them to the mantelpiece. He looks down on Royal Street and the people shuffling through the hot morning air to work in shops and hotels and other places away from this house, this room, this moment.
"The boy might have some talent," Ernest says. "He taught himself? Another chess player in the family..."
"To challenge us both!"
Alonzo is genuinely surprised and has not moved from the table. His hunched shoulders cast a shadow over the remaining position: a trio of black pawns blockaded behind a single white pawn. The trap is successful and clearly foreseen by the small boy. More remarkably both kings stand idly by, useless and mutually bound in non-defeat. Alonzo squints and struggles to understand.
"I missed it," he says. "And the boy saw it. The game is tied." He turns to his brother, clips his thumbs in his black waistcoat and smiles for the first time. "I believe the cigars and brandy were too much for the hour. But the boy has convinced me. Bring the decanter, will you, Ernest! Let us have one more game."
But before the conspirators can fix Paul on the cushion Telcide appears, draped in the doorway. "No more chess," she says. "The time for a musical rehearsal is here. Paul, you must return to your room and kiss your uncle goodbye."
Alonzo says nothing. Paul gathers himself together and exits the salle de compagnie. Already he feels something bright and nervous, the promise of something stirring his stomach, a little fearfully.
"I wonder how talented he can become," Ernest says.
"More talented than you or me," replies the judge and walks to the window.
"Quelle bonne chance!" says Ernest and contemplates the women shimmering under their parasols on the street below.
That evening, Paul returns to his room and discovers a present on the bed courtesy of his grandfather Joseph Le Carpentier. A note is scrawled in loopy handwriting on yellowed parchment. I heard about your talent from your father. Paul regards the small wooden box and thinks of pirate treasure. Solemnly he removes the note and twists the metal clip revealing a miniature surprise in lemonwood and ebony, a regal beauty, polished and pristine, his own personal chess-set.
But there are no pieces. The old man has forgotten the players, the chessmen, in this genteel war-game. Paul bites his nails. It does not matter. In his imagination he places translucent pieces on the back ranks and plays his first game, amused to find himself his own opponent, against himself.
About the author:
Dr. Matt Fullerty is originally from England where he received a B.A. from Oxford University and an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia (where he studied with the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion). The Pride and the Sorrow is his first novel, a story about New Orleans chess world champion Paul Morphy and his rise and fall against the chess players of Paris and London. It can be previewed at www.mattfullerty.com and is contracted to London agent www.watsonlittle.com. Matt also recently graduated from the George Washington University English Ph.D. program in Washington, DC. He has published fiction and poetry reviews for the New York magazine The Saint Ann's Review, and poetry for Fire and Island magazines. Matt is now writing a second novel, The Murderess and the Hangman, a London murder story about an Irish maid who kills her landlady for a few pieces of furniture.
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