The Confidential Secretary: 1880s

lady-bess-male-impersonator

The following story is narrated by the son of an Irish politician whom we will call by the name of O’Brien. The events narrated followed on his return from abroad consequent on his father’s death. In recounting the circumstances of his return to his native land he put on record the following striking occurrences:

My father’s death recalled me from abroad. His letters and MSS. were sealed up, and it was my duty upon my arrival in Ireland to wade through the enormous pile of correspondence. He was a man with literary tastes, he was a strong Home Ruler, a Parnellite, and although he had never made the public a participant in his labours, he left a testamentary instruction for the publication of his essays, etc., on this great political problem.

Now I myself, as one of Her Majesty’s civil servants, was strongly for the Union, and was afraid that I could not do justice to the intentions of the testator.

I had been away from home more than ten years, and I found that my father had been assisted in his work by a young fellow, Louis Sullivan, who seemed to be his only companion, my mother having died when I was quite young. Of course, I was only too glad to retain the services of the young man. I requested him to call, and we soon came to an arrangement satisfactory to both of us. Louis Sullivan. who was about twenty years of age, was slim and fragile, his face was very handsome, of true Irish type, with dark hair and blue eyes. He was well versed in my father’s literary work, and absolved me entirely from any responsibility. I left him fully in charge of all matters referring to Home Rule, and took the sifting and investigating of letters and other papers upon myself.

During some months we were daily together, and I often observed that my young companion looked at me with an expression of fondness which touched me in an inexplicable manner. I came across some letters which showed me that Louis was more than a mere acquaintance to me. My father had years ago formed an intimacy with a woman residing on his estate, who had nursed him through a severe illness, and a child was born as the result of this attachment. The name of the woman was Sullivan, and she was dead. I thought it more than coincidence that Louis Sullivan should have been with my father ever since then, and I could understand why my father should have provided for his young companion by a substantial annuity. He was his own child, though I soon became convinced that Louis was not acquainted with this fact. Nevertheless, I felt that blood spoke loudly, for I saw that Louis loved me, and such a state of things can only be due to a strong sympathy, which, no doubt, is based upon blood relationship.

In a conversation with him one day, I gathered that he was under the impression that his father had died before he was born. I could not undeceive him and let him know that he was an illegitimate child. At last our tasks were finished, and as I was leaving Ireland, a separation became necessary. The night before my departure I asked Louis to dine with me.

It was a sad occasion; little was said, and it was evident we both felt keenly the approaching parting from each other. At last Louis broke the silence, and taking my hand in his, he asked my forgiveness for making a confession. I saw now that I was mistaken, and that he knew our relationship, and I told him that his confession was not needed, that I knew all, and embracing him, kissed him, and called him brother. The result of my action was a great surprise. Louis burst into a fit of the most violent weeping. I told him how I had found out the secret, and entreated him to come with me, and be my brother before the world. I could not understand his subsequent behavior, but he refused point-blank. This was the last I saw of him…

  • • • • •

I was in ___, where I intended to spend some weeks. It was just eight days since I had left Ireland. I was ascending the staircase of the Hotel___in ___. It was the evening twilight. Suddenly I saw standing before me the shape of a woman dressed in white. I stared at her; she bore the face of Louis Sullivan. Too astonished to speak, I stood looking at her in amazement, when she vanished.

  • • • • •

Subsequently I learned the truth. The being who recently had been my companion, and whom I had discovered to be so near a relation, was indeed no brother, but a sister. Why my father had made her wear men’s clothes I never exactly understood, unless it was the fear that the presence of a young girl at his house would have given occasion to gossip. She is now dead. She died the very evening she appeared to me at the hotel in ___. With her own hands she made an end to her life. The letter she left behind her told all: she loved me, and was just on the point on that evening before my departure of confessing her feelings when, misunderstanding her purpose, I told her she was my brother. Her relationship to me had not been known to her, but she found now that she was my sister—she could not bear the situation and she died.

That I should have seen her in the shape of a woman, when her sex was entirely unsuspected, seemed to me the most inexplicable feature of the occurrence.”

The Occult Review November 1912, p. 270-1

 Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Females disguising themselves as males is a well-worn plot device—Shakespeare was particularly fond of it—but rarely has it been deployed to such tragic effect.  

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

 

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