“OH, there you are, Paul! How do you do? I’m so glad to
see you again.” Mrs Vibart beamed delightfully upon me.
“I hear you have quite settled Mr Rollison’s affair—so
clever of you.”
“I had very little—”
“What a bother it has been, hasn’t it? But I can’t have
my best young man doing nothing,” continued my charming hostess.
“Now there’s such a dear little thing over there, by the window.
Come along at once—I have a thousand people to arrange yet.
And some of them are so uneven.”
“Why don’t you say ‘odd,’ and be done with it? What
does the dear little thing do? And will any pecuniary advantage
accrue to me if—”
“Don’t argue—I haven’t a minute to lose. Here come the
Ponsonbys, with an artist man whose name I have entirely for-
gotten. Be quick.”
“I must know whether she paints, or writes, or sculpts—”
“She doesn’t do anything now, beyond being very good and
sweet—and she’s all alone. She comes from Devon. It’s too far
off for me to remember if she has any precise métier; but you’ll
soon find out, Paul—you’re so intelligent.”
“Lead on, dear lady. The fatted calf is ready for the
“It won’t be any sacrifice, I’m positive.” Mrs Vibart, with-
out permitting me another word, steered us both marvellously
across the wide studio. Then I heard her usual introduction—
quite unintelligible, until my own name was reached. “My
Paul, he has been been begging for an introduction! Do be kind
to him, and excuse my rushing away at once. I see a heap more
I turned dutifully towards the “dear little thing.” I instantly
rather liked her; and had a vague feeling that we had met before.
I said, carefully: “I have been hearing how frightfully good you
are, and that you come from Devon—”
“From Dartymoor,” she particularized, prettily. Her voice
was so beautifully contralto that I made haste to secure the seat
next to hers. It was a positively secluded corner of the studio.
“But I’m not frightfully good,” she added, gently—stirring
familiar chords chaotically again within me.
“Honour bright?” I questioned.
She nodded. “I’m only a country cousin of Mrs Vibart’s.
She’s awfully kind. Introduces me to every one.”
“Whether you like it or not? That’s just what she has done
to me; only I’m not so dissatisfied with my partner.”
“Please, I never said that. I meant that Cousin Amy was
always troubling and fussing over me. Now, of course, you’re a
somebody? Artist, author, or—”
Philosopher,” said I, taking a surreptitious peep at her.
Surely that straight, defiant, little nose, that slightly self-conscious
trick of flushing—. But she was expecting a full definition of
myself. “I’ll tell you a secret—quite a dear, true little secret.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to be a philosopher, and the
best paying. You merely have to wear a high forehead, and look
profound. Nature most obligingly has permitted me to achieve
the former—I rather want her to stop just where she is; whilst I
have acquired a sphinx-like look through attending Cousin Amy’s
“Cousin Amy? Then I suppose we’re cousins, too?”
“Indubitably. But I’m a town cousin, which only counts
since she has been a widow—four, or is it five years? As regards
philosophy, however—but do you like hearing me talk?”
“It’s—heavenly,” she breathed, with shy conviction.
“Thank you. I rather enjoy it, too, when I have such an
equally Beecenly auditor. That’s quits, isn’t it? How young
“What a direct question! However, to a philosopher, I’ll
“Don’t. I’ll guess instead. It will make the time seem so
short. Then I’ll get tea; and we’ll eat it—and then we can go.”
“I shan’t go,” my companion announced. “I’m stay-
“I’ll ask Amy to invite me to dinner,” I retorted. “ Pray
silence for the guess. Two-and-twenty?”
“Four-and-twenty. It’s a lot, isn’t it—to be still a nobody?
“Don’t worry. I’m half as old again—and simply a philo-
sopher. Plenty of men are quite famous at my age; but I’ve never
had time. What’s your name? I’m sorry to have to ask these
things; but Amy didn’t say clearly.”
A Game of Confidences
“I’m called Muriel.”
“It becomes you,” I remarked. “My name is Paul, which
means ‘little or small.’ Your opportunity.”
“I don’t perceive that you’re little or small, anyway,” said
Muriel, enigmatically. ‘What form does your philosophy take?”
“Telling stories to nice girls.”
“Oh, but any one can do that.”
“Pardon me—not philosophic stories, with morals and all
that sort of thing.”
“Let me judge.”
“I had a heap of questions to ask,” said I, regretfully.
“I wanted to know what colours you liked, and whether your
eyes are really dark grey. And whether that tiny heart-shaped
locket on the end of that extraordinarily long chain contains a
“A picture of a friend.”
“Lucky friend. But you had to cut him.”
She glanced up, surprisedly. “How did you know?” she
“Not even a midget photo would go in there. You must
have beheaded him.”
“Oh, of course. I didn’t understand.” She paused. “Tell
me your story, please.”
“I was at that moment thinking where I had heard your
name before. I mean the Muriel part of it,” I explained, as I
hadn’t heard the other. “ However, it has just come back to me,
and thereby hangs a tale. It’s about a Muriel, and is quite re-
spectable. You might be able to advise me about it, since it’s
“Myself indirectly; and a friend chiefly. He’s a decent
fellow. I meet him at dinner. Middle Temple, you know. He’s
eating his terms, and occasionally I go to help. Well, in the
course of his lunches he encountered a girl.”
“Do they allow girls at the dinners?”
“I said lunches. She was a governess
girl, at a shop. I
must make myself clear. The shop is a very nice luncheon place,
and the people live over it. They have children and a governess.
I have seen her.”
“There’s not the least doubt as regards her existence. One
time they were shorthanded—at the busiest part of the day; and
this girl was shot into the cashier’s box. You know—little pay-
place near the door. Well, my friend saw her.”
“Yes?” My partner was flushing again in her delicious
“Fell over head and ears in love. Rum story, isn’t it?
Chance willed it that the girl should be imprisoned in that box
day after day, for a week or more. Then, occasionally. Then
chance meddled still further, and allowed meetings in the Temple
Gardens, when she had the children with her. . . . All the while
I never guessed a word.”
“How did you find out.”
“Just sheer braininess. I perceived that Wally was not
well. He seemed altogether peculiar. Ethereal and poetic. He
left off swearing when dinner was late; studied harder than ever.
After a little inward cogitation I drew him on one side. I said
quietly, but distinctly: ‘My boy, it won’t do. What is her name,
and how did you discover that she was an angel?’ Wally—his
real name is Wallace Rollison, by the way—turned pale as the
Law Courts themselves.”
“What did he say?” asked Muriel in a queer sort of voice.
“The whole miserable story burst forth, as from a volcano.
I sat down heavily on the nearest seat—we were in Temple Gar-
dens—and gasped. He clung to me, and instructed me that she
was a dear. … They always are, you know. That her name
was Muriel. . . . I’m sorry to drag you into it.”
“Never mind that. Please go on. I’m so anxious to hear
“Don’t be impatient. I talked about his career and about
marrying in haste. I expounded that he hadn’t known her long
“That she was primarily only a governess girl; and that
she had been in a shop?”
“No, Those facts were patent—and didn’t so much matter.
I thought of the spoiling of the boy’s life. ‘In a wife’s lap, as in
a grave, Man’s airy notions mix with earth,’ as the poet singeth.
But he was infatuated.”
A Game of Confidences
“At my earnest request, he kept away from her for a week.
I said that he would get her into a row and make her lose her
place. That, no doubt, she was poor—and had relatives. I was
quite a father to him.”
“Didn’t it strike you that the girl might have had feelings?”
“Not at that moment. After a week he broke out worse
than ever. I said: ‘Go, then, and ask her to marry you.’ He
answered, to my surprise, for I imagined I had played a master
card: ‘I will go—and this very day.’ And he added a quite
extraordinary and unnecessary remark. He said: ‘It’s only love
that matters, after all.’”
“You don’t believe that?”
“Providence made me essentially normal. Everything I
eat digests, you know. But pray hear the dénouement—if I’m not
boring you. Shall I get some tea?”
“Please no. I would rather hear the end.” The strange
little creature was white as a ghost over it. Or, perhaps the fail-
“Wally came back at four o’clock. He had seen the
girl, and had asked her the great question. And she…. had
I paused to give this effect. My companion was looking
away. Her small hands were restless in her lap. She spoke to
me presently, very soft and low. “Were you surprised?” she en-
“Very. But my respect for Miss Muriel went up at a
bound. I began to be angry with Rollison. I told him he hadn’t
asked her properly. He protested miserably that he had im-
plored …. until she had told him that there was some
“Some one else?”
“More in her own position, she had declared. And then
had incontinently commenced to cry. Quietly and pathetically
Wally said. He couldn’t understand anything but the NO.
“Was there anything else to understand?”
“Now you are touching the problem. Of course there
wasn’t ‘some one else.’ I saw through that after ten minutes
hard thinking. The plucky little beggar had viewed the case as
I had. She really loved him, and so wouldn’t let him take
“And possibly she thought that he would lose his friends,
as well as his chance. That his mother would, perhaps—”
“How well you see it!” I interrupted. “His mother….
you would never credit it; but she actually told Wally to try
again! Said that she was sure no boy of hers would ever ask her
to love a new daughter who wasn’t worthy. I felt awfully mean
and small when I heard him answer that fair play was a jewel.
That he wasn’t going to ask the little girl to be disloyal.”
“Why did you feel mean?”
“Because I only had to tell him what I had guessed,
which, mind you, I’m as certain of as I am of anything in
life; and he would have gone back, and would have persuaded
her, in time.”
“Yes, I made a few inquiries, discreetly, myself. She
had left the shop place, and had gone home: and, all the while, I
knew in my heart that she would make him the best little wife
in the world. She would have helped him. . . . Don’t you think
I’m a beast?”
“Perhaps you were wrong. About the guess, I mean. She
might have had another lover.”
“She hadn’t, absolutely.”
“If they had married, would you, as one of his friends,
have cared to still know him? They would have been poor, and
through it all—the worry, I mean—he might have failed, and
not ever have been ‘called.’ Again, she mightn’t have been
“I feel a culprit,” I protested. “Whenever I see his face,
it comes home to me. I ought to tell him.”
“Would you… . be best man at his wedding?
“The problem again! I have seen so many unhappy mar-
riages; and yet—”
My companion turned towards me once more, and her grey
eyes seemed to hold tears. It was full dusk in the studio, the gab-
bling riot going on—pictures and shows, and mediums and man-
ners—all were curiously remote. I felt myself strangely drawn
A Game of Confidences
towards this little girl. . . . She put out her hand as if to take
something from mine.
“Don’t you feel that she was right?” she asked, gently and
patiently. Then, altering her tone, she concluded, abruptly, “I’ll
take your check, please.”
I knew her, then. I knew that I had known her all along.
Of course, of course! That true contralto voice; those unforget-
able eyes. I answered her soberly.
“I shall be very proud,” said I, emphatically, “very
honoured, if I may be best man at your wedding. We have both
been wrong; and Wally was right. It is only love that matters in
this poor little world. . . . Let me get you some tea?”
On my way I almost ran into Amy Vibart. “You have
been good,” she whispered. “Do you see who is by the door?
It’s Mr Rollison, looking everywhere for you.”
“Not for me,” I said, decidedly. “So you put it into my
head, did you? You clever thing, how ingeniously it was sug-
gested! I’m about to get Muriel some very nice tea—two cups—
and then I’m going to let Rollison carry the tray.”
Amy squeezed my arm, affectionately. “You’re quite my
best young man,” she murmured.
Creswick, Paul. “A Game of Confidences.” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 2, 1905, pp. 154-160. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2022. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Toronto Metropolitan University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2022, https://1890s.ca/vv2-creswick-confidences