(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Two friends who have in the past worked together at trivial jobs meet on a day when a storm threatens. Complaining about his various physical ailments that will worsen if he is caught in a storm, the man who has been working regularly as a piece in living chess games asks the narrator to substitute for him. He describes the life-sized chess game as a public spectacle in which people dressed as pieces move about on a great outdoor board controlled by players sitting on elevated platforms. He regards it as a relatively easy way to make money—so long as the weather cooperates, which it rarely does. The people serving as chess pieces are not volunteer chess aficionados—who tend to quit when they dislike how the game is going—but disinterested people who are paid for doing a job. The narrator’s friend has worked his way up to playing the white Bishop, for which he gets more money and does more work than the pawns. The narrator agrees to fill in for his friend when the latter assures him that the chess match is just the private sport of two old men and that the white Knight will give him practical advice.

When the narrator arrives at the courtyard, he is put off by its ominous and gloomy atmosphere, the pathetic tattered shoes that the chess pieces are wearing beneath their monstrous papier-mâché cardboard costumes, and by the threats of a black Rook. Nevertheless, he locates the white Knight, who shows him how to dress, how to smoke and eat...

(The entire section is 592 words.)