Alfred (Alfie) Stevens was born in 1856 at Ballybeg Glebe House, Co Galway, Ireland son of the Reverend Edmund Stevens and his wife Martha. His sister, Isobel, was born the following year. Theirs was not a happy household. Edmund Stevens ruled his wife and children with an iron fist. Alfie has always wanted to be a doctor but his father wanted Alfie to follow him into the church. When Alfie refused time and again, he was beaten time and again. Alfie also bravely stood between his father and his mother and sister on many occasions and took the beatings so they wouldn’t have to.
Alfie is gay but kept his sexuality a secret from everyone but Peter Shawcross, the son of a neighbour, who is also gay. When Alfie and Peter were caught together by Peter’s brother, James, he blackmailed Alfie into making sure Isobel is left alone with him. James seduced Isobel and when she told him she was pregnant, he left Ireland for America. Isobel was forced to tell her father who whipped her, disowned her and threw her out of the Glebe House.
Naturally, Alfie blamed himself but when his father dies suddenly of a heart attack in January 1880, he and his mother seize the opportunity to move to Dublin in the hope of finding Isobel and so he can study medicine at Trinity College. His mother marries solicitor Ronald Henderson and they move into number 55 Fitzwilliam Square but Ronald dies a few months later. His mother’s hysterical reaction to discovering her husband died in a brothel he owned and that he had been there with another man, makes Alfie swear to himself never to tell her he is gay, too.
Alfie and his mother are reunited with Isobel and, shortly afterwards, Isobel marries Dr Will Fitzgerald and they move into number 30 Fitzwilliam Square. At Trinity College, Alfie meets David Powell, who is also a medical student but in his final year, and they fall in love. When Will and Isobel accidentally find them together, Alfie makes them promise never to tell anyone.
When Will needs to employ another doctor at the Merrion Street Upper medical practice, Isobel suggests David even though he is less than a year qualified. Will takes him on and David proves to be an excellent doctor and even assists in the births of Will and Isobel’s children.
When Alfie and David are attacked outside a club for gay men and Will’s father hears a delirious Alfie calling out for David, he puts two and two together and is furious. Isobel persuades John to turn a blind eye and he reluctantly agrees. But can John Fitzgerald be trusted to keep Alfie and David’s relationship a secret?
Dublin, Ireland, 1881. Isobel Fitzgerald’s mother, Martha, marries solicitor James Ellison but an unexpected guest overshadows their wedding day. Martha’s father is dying and he is determined to clear his conscience before it is too late. Lewis Greene’s confession ensures the Ellisons’ expectation of a quiet married life is gone and that Isobel’s elder brother, Alfie Stevens, will be the recipient of an unwelcome inheritance.
When a bewildering engagement notice is published in The Irish Times, the name of one of the persons concerned sends Will and Isobel on a race against time across Dublin and forces them to break a promise and reveal a closely guarded secret.
Read an Excerpt from Chapter Two…
Isobel was shown into number 55’s morning room at just after three o’clock the following afternoon. The room was empty and she turned to the butler with a frown.
“Is my mother not at home?”
“Mrs Ellison – and then Mr Ellison – have gone to call upon Mr Greene,” Gorman told her. “Mr Stevens is upstairs in the library.”
“Oh, I see. Thank you.”
The butler closed the door after him and Isobel grimaced as she went to the window, wishing her mother had not called to number 7 so soon. Hearing voices in the hall, she glanced at the door as it opened and Alfie came in.
“Why didn’t you go with Mother and then James to number 7?” she asked.
“Because until James asked me – and then we asked Gorman – where Mother was, we didn’t realise she had gone out,” he replied. “I thought it best that James go after her to number 7. We had been discussing Miles. James has asked me to become Miles’ legal guardian. I had expected for it to be James but he explained why he should not. And why it should be me.”
“You sound as if you don’t want to do it.”
“I will do it—” Alfie stopped abruptly and spread his hands helplessly. “But James has told me he wants the Greene Hall estate to pass to me and not Miles when the time comes. Yes, it would be better not to have Miles be made a ward of court but, even so, I can’t help but think the Greene Hall estate should be his – not mine.”
“Alfie, we shall all be on hand to help and advise you.”
“Isobel, I will never be married – I will never have a son…”
“And neither will Miles.”
“But, unlike Miles, I shall be expected to marry and – when I don’t – my bachelor status will be commented on.”
“You will be a doctor with a busy Dublin practice with no time for marriage. There are plenty of bachelor doctors—”
“Who probably all have a ‘secret friend’ as I do.”
Two cabs stopped outside and Will got out of the first. Seeing her at the window, he smiled and she waited for him to be shown into the room.
“Mother and James are at number 7,” she told him before he could ask where they were and he rolled his eyes before peering past both her and Alfie at the street. “Have you asked the cabmen to wait?”
“Yes, and I hope your mother won’t stay too long – not because of the cabs – but because seeing your mother again will be upsetting for your grandfather. I wish she hadn’t called on him without my being present and I wish she hadn’t called on him until after visiting Miles.”
“Mother went first without telling James and I and James had to follow her,” Alfie explained and Will swore under his breath. “Is Mother going be too emotional for Miles?” Alfie added. “Especially as Miles needs a quiet home?”
“I need to speak to James and – oh – there they are now.”
Her mother and James were crossing the street, her mother waving her hands in the air in an agitated manner as she spoke to him while James simply shook his head before stopping and holding his arms out from his sides then letting them drop.
“Let’s go outside.” Will opened the door and then the front door for her. “James?” he called as the three of them left the house and James held up a hand to acknowledge him.
“I’m sorry, Will, but Martha took it upon herself to call to number 7, despite my having told her to wait until this evening.”
“Do I need to call on Mr Greene?” Will asked.
“No, he is as well as can be expected. Despite having to deal with the unexpected caller.”
“My father was delighted to see me,” Mrs Ellison announced proudly.
“Did you or he mention Miles?” Isobel inquired.
“I had to,” her mother replied and Isobel’s heart sank. “James told me the hospital requires written consent from my father for Miles to come and live here – which I now have,” she continued triumphantly, holding up an envelope.
“Did you see Grandmother?” Isobel added as Will opened the door of the first cab and James helped his wife inside and she sat down.
“Mother was ‘resting’. Whether she does or does not wish to see me is entirely up to her but Father – oh, Will – that contraption – the face mask – the oxygen cylinder…”
“Your father needs it,” Will replied. “To be blunt, Martha, your father cannot now live without inhaling oxygen and he must not be upset or agitated unnecessarily and I would have preferred that you had not called on him this first time without my being present.”
Mrs Ellison flushed at Will’s stern tone but raised her chin defensively. “So James told me – but he is my father – I had to visit him.”
“And he is my patient – and I am trying to ensure he receives the best of care – please consider his needs in future and not your own.”
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Cover photo credit: Wilhelm Roentgen (1845-1923), German physicist, received the first Nobel Prize for Physics, in 1901, for his discovery of X-rays in 1895: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com and Portrait of a man in a top hat and morning suit holding a cane: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com
Cover photo credit: Florence Court, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland: phb.cz/Depositphotos.com