On occasion a reader will insist that the main premise of this story is not credible (a young woman chooses to dress in men’s clothes and declare herself to be a young man). Their reasoning being that surely people would realize she was a woman.
Evidently, Victorians were not terribly observant people, for in real life, quite a few women dressed and pretended to be men. Not surprising, given how limited life was for Victorian women.
Here is a very fine example: Margaret Bulkley took her uncle’s name: James Barry and dressed as a man so she could attend medical school and become a doctor:
Picture of James Barry (AKA Margaret Bulkley)
She not only became a doctor, she became the highest ranked doctor in the British army. She was also the first doctor to perform a successful Cesarean in which both mother and child lived. It was not until she died, that the charwoman hired to clean Barry for burial discovered ‘she’ was not a man, but a woman. His regular doctor suggested he was a hermaphrodite. The charwoman strongly disagreed, pointing out the evidence (stretch marks) that Margaret/James had born a child. (Given Margaret’s age at the time, it was more likely from sexual assault than consensual. Historians now believe the child was raised as her younger ‘sister’ with only her older siblings and, of course, her mother knowing the truth.)
Even when the charwoman took her story to the press, all information about Margaret/James Barry was quickly sealed with plans to keep it so for a hundred years. A researcher gained access to the documents in 1950.
Margaret/James became a man when she went to medical school. Spent her entire life as a surgeon in the British Army, and reached the highest rank possible for a surgeon. It was not until she retired from the Army and died of dysentery that her gender was discovered. So clearly, women could pass themselves off as men in the Victorian era.
As for my character, Vic, I chose a model for my cover that visually could pass for either sex.
I attribute her with a low voice and provided her with chest compressor so she doesn’t appear to have breast. She even pins a filled sock to her pants’ crotch.
Also, Vic is tall for a woman with a boyish lanky body. In fact, her hips refused to spread during the birth of their child, Cannon. Dr. Connors had to perform a Cesarean to save both her and her baby’s life. Fortunately, he had read up on Dr. Barry’s Cesarean and knew what to do.
So my premise is not only reasonable, but has been proven so Margaret/James in real life, not to mention a great many wives who chose to dress as men and go to war with their husbands.
Determining whom to trust is getting very hard, indeed. This may be the most trying cases imaginable. Director Stone has gone missing and it appears Ministers of Parliament are involved. Xavier is arrested and placed in a jail meant to kill him, while Vic, disguised as a woman, attempts to locate the Minister of External Affairs and ask for his help.
Everyone is called in to assist: Jacko, his wife Alice, their son, Pete, Samson, the Crime Lord, David and Claire, Tubs and his wife, Sara, the boys: Cannon and Ham, plus the bloodhound, Arroo.
The Wasp who escaped punishment for her attempts to murder her bigamist husband’s first wife last year is back. Vic discovers love letters between Ben, their terrible secretary, and the Wasp. Worse yet, he shared Xavier’s financial advice with the Wasp, making her and her husband very wealthy.
With Stone missing, and Barns and Meyers stretched to their limits, Vic decides it’s time to train more of the Scotland Yard officers in intuitive and deductive reasoning. While only half the class makes it through her two-day course, everyone is pleased with her results.
Finally, be warned: Vic’s sister, Claire, is becoming more difficult than ever. Gregory thinks she is going mad.
Two in the morning, Vic and Xavier were surreptitiously following a drunken spy. Not an easy task, given Xavier had not been allowed to have Davy, his carriage driver, accompany them. This meant he and Vic had to take turns following the young man while the other one drove the carriage up side roads to keep pace with the drunken fool. Even a fool, deep in his cups, would catch on that something was afoot if the same carriage either lurked behind him or constantly passed him and then pulled to the side of the road.
Finally, the boy stopped and stared at a warehouse by the docks. Before the young man could enter, a young girl stepped out of the shadows. Had Barringbarn sent him on a fool’s errand? Was the boy only looking for female company?
Then Xavier heard what sounded like a muted explosion and the young man collapsed to the ground.
Xavier pulled his gun and looked around for trouble, but the dock appeared empty. Even the young girl had run off when she heard the gun shot. Women in the docks would risk their lives for a coin, but otherwise, they looked out for themselves.
Just then Vic pulled up with the carriage and jumped down. “Why did you shoot him?”
“I didn’t,” Xavier snapped, “I’m not sure what happened. There was a young woman who stepped out of the darkness, blonde, I think, but I couldn’t tell you more. An odd explosion came from somewhere close to her location, then the boy collapsed. Any chance you saw where the girl went.”
Vic snorted. “Dock women know to run when trouble starts. I didn’t even see her, so there’s no way we’ll catch her. Let’s just grab the body and drop it off at the Minster’s house. The man’s so stupid, he will probably bellow at the corpse for an hour before he even realizes the fellow is dead.”
“No, he’ll, no doubt, demand I find the girl.” Xavier sighed heavily. This was supposed to be a simple grab and interrogate. In fact, they were not even the ones who were supposed to interrogate. The minister of Internal Affairs made it very clear they were to gag the fellow and bring him directly to his house.
Musings from Michigan