A few months ago we heard from checkerist and champion problem composer Ed Atkinson, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who wrote:
"While doing background research on a new problem I came across some information which might be of interest to you. On page 59 of Boland's Border Classics there is a problem credited to F. C. Hopkinson. According to Boland this problem was originally published under the name "Martin" in 1857.
The charming story 'A Midnight Encounter', which has been reproduced a number of times, is also attributed to 'Martin'. This information strongly suggests that it was F. C. Hopkinson who wrote the story. Has this ever been pointed out?
While doing a google search I came across 'A Midnight Encounter' on a Checker Maven page published in January 2007. That is why I am contacting you."
Yes, Ed, we ourselves also republished 'A Midnight Encounter' some years ago, and, inspired by additional correspondence with you, we wrote a sequel, which we present below.
It was thirty years ago today that Joshua Sturges appeared to me, on a Monday evening in April in the year 1820. Having read of his passing in 1813, I realized I had seen an apparition. It caused me to forsake my trip to England, where I was to study draughts with the masters, and indeed, to give up the game altogether.
Now I am fifty years old, with a wife, four grown boys, and numerous grandchildren. In this, the year 1850, the boys now run my hardware business and I have taken my retirement, all in that same New England town which I nearly left so long ago.
I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and my life would have been very different, and likely much less content, had I gone on to England to become a draughts master.
So, tonight, as I have every year for some while on this April date, I thank Mr. Sturges for his intervention.
Of course, it is a story I tell to no one, not even my wife Elsabeth, for she and all others might think me insane. So I keep my silent thanks between myself and the spirit of Mr. Sturges, may he be resting in peace in that world beyond the draughtsboard.
My wife does not mind that sometimes of an evening I visit the public house that now stands on the site of the long-gone inn in which Mr. Sturges appeared to me. I enjoy an hour of visiting with old friends and neighbors and the ale tastes especially good on a warm spring evening. Some of the old boys play at draughts, and often they invite me, but I always decline. I have set my path and I have hewn to it.
At least, until last night.
Nothing seemed at all different. I went down to the familiar establishment at my usual hour, and lingered about as long as I did on most such visits. The usual folk were there and some games of draughts were contested amid such merriment, jesting, and laughter as was to be expected when the ale is good and the company is better.
It must have been approaching midnight when, suddenly conscious of the need to be up for work in the morning, everyone decided it best to return home. Our host, too, was ready to close up and turn in for the night.
I must have been the last to leave, or at least so it seemed, as I buttoned my overcoat and made my way to the door.
Before I could pull upon the handle, however, the door sprang open in front of me. Gusts of wind blew rain through the door and lightning eerily lit the street in front.
Strange; a storm had not been expected, yet this was a tempest of the first order! I turned to remark of it to my host, but he was nowhere to be seen. All the lamps had blown out and the empty interior of the tavern was lit only by flashes of lighting.
A bright flash illuminated a table near to the bar, and there, silhouetted in black, sat one whom I had hoped to never see again.
The lanky figure stood. "It is I," he said, raising a bony finger. "Be not afraid, for I have come to seek your help."
Despite his reassurances, I was paralyzed with fear and could not move or speak. Neither could I understand what was happening. Full thirty years had passed, what was the meaning of this?
The figure seemed to read my mind. "All those years ago I kept you from going astray, from becoming victim of your pride and arrogance. Did I not?"
I tried to nod my head and managed only a motion of an inch.
"And yet, you truly were great at draughts, but that was not to be your path, for had you traveled to England that morning, you would have faced a life of endless poverty, for no draughts-player, not even you, can ever make his way."
I understood the truth of his words. No one earned a living through draughts.
"But yet, I cannot rest, for one thing remains." Lightning flashed again, brightly enough for me to see the pain in those long dead eyes.
"There is one situation, crafted by a great master yet to be born, that even I have not be able to resolve. No, do not ask how I have come into possession of something that does not exist in this world, for the ways of the world to come obey not our rules."
Finally, I found my voice. "You want ... me ... to resolve this situation ... solve this problem," I said in a ragged whisper.
"Yes, so that I may rest at last," Joshua Sturges said. "White captures all of the Black men in ten moves. I cannot see the way of it." And then, at once, he was gone. The lamps were lit and my host stood behind the bar, looking at me in a most strange manner.
"Are you all right, sir?" he asked. "I thought you were leaving but you've been standing, completely motionless by the door for the last several minutes."
"Oh ... I don't ... yes, I'm fine," I said. "Just a momentary lapse of memory."
My host looked at me as if I had suffered something far worse, but I didn't notice, for I was looking at the draughts board at the table in front of the bar.
"Quick, a sheet of paper and a pen!" I cried.
"But sir, it's late, and I wish to close up and seek my bed."
"Never mind your bed!" I shouted. "Paper and pen at once!"
My host, now looking more frightened than tired, complied.
As rapidly as I could, I took down the position on the draughts board.
"Thank you, and good night," I said, folding the paper and leaving the pen on the table. I departed at once, leaving my astonished host still staring with mouth agape.
My wife was of course abed when I arrived home. I lit a lamp in my study and set up the position I had written down. When morning came, she found me asleep in my chair.
I still have not resolved the situation, and I feel that until I do, I shall be condemned to fretful days and restless nights.
How long shall I be able to endure? I can only pray that I find the solution before my mind or my body is gone and I face the same eternal fate as the ghost of Joshua Sturges.
Can you help our story's narrator avoid a fate literally worse than death? Solve the problem and give rest to the souls of the checkerists in our little tale. Click on Read More to verify your solution.
A---3-17 leads to very similar play.
This problem, of course, was composed by Mr. Atkinson and generously provided to us for publication.