"Checkmate," said Weevil triumphantly, smiling across the chess board at his unhappy opponent.

"I must admit," said the snake, "that you have won, but now that you have shown me all the moves of the various pieces, let us try another game."

Weevil was sitting on the ground under his favourite tree, which had once talked to him, but was now silent, and the snake, a quiet, shy, beautiful, smooth, eastern, green grass snake, who usually kept to the ground, was coiled delicately and looking at the chess board.

By the end of their first game the snake had begun to reach forward and move the chess men with his mouth, or push them with his nose.

"Yes, let's try another game," said Weevil, setting out the chess men again.

"I believe I could do better now," said the snake. "It's my turn to be white."

"How did you know that?" asked Weevil.

"It stands to reason," said the snake, "you played white last time. Please turn the board around."

Weevil did so, and the snake quickly moved the King's pawn forward two spaces.

"How did you know that move?" said Weevil. "I always put the Queen's pawn forward first, that is, when I have been practising with my father."

"You will find that most people play King's pawn first move," the snake replied.

Weevil moved his King's pawn forward two spaces.

"What you have been playing is the Queen's Gambit," said the snake, speaking through his teeth with a chess piece in his mouth. "G1 F3," he added.

"What is that?" asked Weevil.

"Well," said the snake, "if you look carefully around the edges of the board you will see letters along the top and bottom, and figures down the sides."

"So I see," said Weevil. "Why," he added incredulously, "you know all about the game, and were just fooling me in our last game." He moved his Queen's pawn forward one space to protect his King's pawn.

"D2 D4," murmured the snake, moving another pawn. "Yes, something like that," he said. "Chess is a very old game, and some say it was brought here by the Immortals whom the ancient Greeks worshipped, thousands of years ago."

"C8 G4," said Weevil, moving his bishop to threaten the snake's knight. "Are you saying," he continued, "that these immortals you mentioned came here from somewhere else?"

"That is something," said the snake, "that mankind have to find out for themselves. D4 E5," and the snake removed Weevil's King's pawn from the board.

"Very well, then," said Weevil, and took the snake's knight with his bishop. "G4 F3." he said. "And how are people supposed to do that?" asked Weevil.

"There are plenty of clues around," replied the snake. "D1 F3," he added, as he took Weevil's bishop with his Queen.

"Clues either not yet recognized, or waiting to be found," said Weevil, and took the snake's pawn with his pawn. "D6 E5," he commented.

"Now if people would stop rushing around so quickly or spending so much time watching a few others performing for them they might have time to think a little, and then they would understand a lot more. F1 C4," and the snake moved his King's bishop forward.

"They even have computers now to play chess," said Weevil. "G8 F6," and he brought his King's knight forward, as he knew this was a proper move to make.

"Really?" said the snake absentmindedly. "F3 B3," and moved his queen across to join his bishop.

Weevil picked up a piece and hesitated with it in his hand.

"How about moving the Queen to protect the King, or you could move your other knight," the snake suggested.

"I'll move the Queen," announced Weevil. "D8 E7. You're as bad as a computer," said Weevil, "you know all the moves."

"Not really," said the snake. "That is not possible. B1 C3," and he brought out the Queen's knight to join the Queen and bishop.

The board looked very empty on Weevil's right, and he moved a pawn forward, being careful to cover it with another pawn and his knight. "C7 C6," he said.

"Who gave you the chess set?" asked the snake. "C1 G5." And he moved his bishop next to Weevil's knight, just as Weevil had done earlier.

"My father," said Weevil, advancing another pawn. "B7 B5." This pawn threatened to take the snake's bishop.

"Well then," said the snake, "if we play a few moves together, in a short while you will be able to surprise your father with what you know. C3 B5." And the snake took Weevil's pawn off the board with his mouth.

"It's you who should be surprised," said Weevil, "look, you have given me your knight. C6 B5," and he took the knight with his pawn, and threatened the snake's bishop, with the pawn.

"C4 B5," said the snake, and took Weevil's pawn with his bishop. "Check," said the snake.

"How," asked Weevil, "can you possibly know how to play chess when you haven't got a chess board? B8 D7," he added, rather pleased with himself, for he had covered the King from check without having to move it, by using his knight.

"E1 C1," said the snake, castling on the Queen's side, and moving his rook over the King to the D squares, threatening Weevil's knight. "That's very true," said the snake, "I do not have a chess board. But it is not difficult at all, I carry all the moves in my head."

"How could that be?" said Weevil. "There are sixty-four squares on the board and sixteen pieces on each side. That's a lot of things to remember. A8 D8," and Weevil moved his rook across next to his King.

"That's not very difficult." said the snake. "I only eat every week or so and I have lots of time to think. D1 D7," and he took Weevil's knight with his rook.

"That wasn't very wise," said Weevil, "a rook is worth more than a knight, isn't it? D8 D7," and he proceeded to take the snake's rook with his rook. "My father said that people in chess clubs use clocks to time their moves."

"There they go again," said the snake. "Always in a rush. What a way to play chess. H1 D1." And he moved his remaining rook across to face Weevil's rook.

"E7 E6," said Weevil moving his Queen to confront the snake's Queen, now that he was ahead on points in pieces taken.

But the snake was not interested in a Queen exchange. "B5 D7," he said, taking Weevil's rook with his bishop. "Check. Such speed," he continued, "Anyone would think the world was going to blow up next week."

"Is it going to blow up?" asked Weevil nervously. Then he saw a good move. "F6 D7, knight takes bishop," he said.

"I tell you," said the snake, pursuing his own line of thought, "it's positively frightening being a reptile or an animal and seeing the things that men are doing these days. Why, it's not even safe to cross a road anymore. At least, not at the speed I care to travel," added the snake. "B3 B8, check," and he moved his Queen to the far end of the board.

"What will be the end of it all," asked Weevil, pondering the problems of the world and his next move, all at the same time. "D7 B8," he called triumphantly, taking the snake's Queen with his knight.

"I think," said the snake, paying strict attention to the business at hand, "the end is already upon us. D1 D8." And the snake moved his rook from one end of the board to the other. "Checkmate," he added, still looking at the board intently with his keen eyes. Then he turned and looked directly at Weevil. "For someone who is still learning, you played a wonderful game. I consider you a worthy opponent."

Then, slowly, unhurriedly, he began quietly moving, gliding effortlessly around a sumach branch and gently along the ground. Once he reached the grass he became invisible almost at once, and though at first Weevil could see blades of grass wave back and forth as the snake glided among them, in a few moments it became impossible to see where he was. He had vanished completely. Weevil sat with his opponent's Queen still in his hand, and now looked back at the chess board with astonishment. But there was no doubt about the ending, which had come so swiftly. The remaining pieces were still on the board, and it was checkmate.