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James Barry, Or, The Modern Agnodike - free ebook

Dear Readers,

This was turned down for Fablecroft's Cranky Ladies Of History anthology because, well, my cranky lady has been claimed by the LGBT community and, well, might not be a woman, even though she was born one and had at least one man in her life, to whom she bore a child. I couldn't even sell it to a LGBT anthology, because I have presented my heroine as a woman without any "but.." about it.

In any case, whatever she felt herself to be, and that was totally her business, I did my research and decided to go with the older theory that she was a girl who dressed as a man because it was the only way she could study medicine, as did Agnodike of Athens, who saved a lot of women's lives because they wouldn't undress in front of a man, but knew what she was. Margaret Bulkely, or whoever she was, also saved lives. Her hospitals were clean, she fed the soldiers in her care as well as treating them. She performed the first caesarean operation in which both mother and child survived. If she HAD been a man, she would have become known as the Father of Army Medicine or some such title, as her good friend Josias Cloete became known as the Father of the British Army. But she wasn't. So she got a quiet burial after a maid washing down the body learned the truth and told the newspapers, and was more or less forgotten for a long time.

Rather than let this languish in a bottom drawer, I'm going to place it here, where you can have it, at least until I do find a home for it.

If you'd like it in ePub, here's the Dropbox link:

I've even given it a cover, but it's a rather crude little ebook, made on my CBB app. Hey, it's free!

.If you want it in PDF, which you can open either on your computer or in Kindle, email me at and I'll set up a PDF version and email you the link. Unfortunately, this version of CBB doesn't do mobi - perhaps a future one will.

When you reach Dropbox, it will tell you the ePub file can't be viewed, but don't despair - if you're viewing it in your mobile device, just click the "open in another app" button and that will allow you to open it. If you're on a computer, email it to yourself and THEN do what I suggested.

Here's the link to Dropbox. Enjoy! PS Let me know if you have trouble opening the file. If you don't tell me, I won't know and I can't fix it.

And here, in case you just want to read the story, is the HTML version. Enjoy!

James Barry: Or, The Modern Agnodike by Sue Bursztynski

My master told me a story once, soon after we first met. He was relaxed after supper, his day's work done, unless an emergency caller knocked.

"There was," he told me, "a lass called Agnodike, in ancient Athens. She gave up all thought of home and hearth, husband and children, disguised herself as a boy and went to Egypt to study medicine - Egypt then was like Edinburgh now: the best. When she returned, she became wildly popular with women, who always sent for her when they were ill. They lived as they do in Mussulman lands today. Many would rather die than be touched by a man other than their husbands. What do you think, Dantzen? Did they know who was tending them?"

"I think they knew, master."

"So do I. But their men didn't. They became jealous, accused this handsome young doctor of seducing their wives. Imagine!" He gave a chuckle, my own handsome young doctor. "She had to prove she was no man. She stripped and showed them her breasts, in a city where women rarely left their homes and never alone. Then she must stand trial for being a woman practising arts only allowed to men."

"Was she convicted?"

"Oh, yes. But the story has a happy ending. Her patients threatened to kill themselves if she suffered harm. Their husbands were embarrassed enough already. So she was allowed to continue her practice, though only to treat women... I suspect there were many men who later said they'd known all the time."

I remembered this story later, after my master's death.

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It was the housemaid, Sophia, who went to the newspapers with the story. If she hadn't had a wages quarrel with her employers, perhaps the truth would have been hidden even now. Despite my master's strict instructions to be buried in what he had died in, with no laying out, a doctor examined the body, signed a death certificate and left Sophia to do the rest.

We'd been back in England for a few years. Dr Barry was simply too frail and ill to continue in that exhausting job. Even so, he'd been forced to retire - without the knighthood that was the usual end-of-career reward. He had worked tirelessly to improve cleanliness in his hospitals, saved thousands of lives and performed the first delivery by surgery in which both mother and child survived, but he was not considered quite enough of a gentleman to receive this award, despite all the others that I cleaned and polished regularly.

 He had, you see, embarrassed that saint Florence Nightingale, heroine of the Crimean War, in public, haranguing her from horseback on the filthiness of her hospital,the unnecessary deaths. She cleaned up, but she did not like it and neither, it seems, did those charged with offering knighthoods. "Cad!" was the politest word they used of my master.

Miss Nightingale is still complaining from her bed about her humiliation, according to the newspapers. She says she knew the truth about my master, but that is unlikely; she would never have taken orders from a woman.

I was standing with a bucket of water, watching it happening, when a woman chuckled behind me. I turned. It was Mary Seacole, who ran the British Hotel and tended the wounded. Like me, she was from Jamaica, though lighter-skinned than I. She had made her own way to the Crimea when the authorities refused her a place among Miss Nightingale's nurses. I liked her.

"Ah, that poor Miss Nightingale! She was kind to me once, so I say nothing bad, but she deserves the scolding. I tell her the same many times. Just as well your master is a man, eh?" She winked at me and walked away. She knew the truth - oh, yes.

We were living in a boarding house for gentlefolk, my master and I and his poodle  Psyche. It was comfortable enough. The food was supplied, the cleaning and laundry done. I only had to arrange for my master's needs, bring him books and newspapers, lay out his clothes - and help him dress. And in South Africa, I washed my master's things and then... I did far more.

Sophia locked me out of the room where she was laying out the body.

"This isn't for men to witness," she snapped.

"I have been his valet for forty-five years!" I protested. "I should do this last service for him, if it must be done. He instructed he should be buried as he was."

"After dying of cholera?" she sneered. "Believe me, I'd be happy to leave you to it, but I have my instructions too, and it's a woman's job."

Truer than she knew.

She stormed out some time later, glaring, but said only,"I have a letter to write. You had best begin arranging the funeral. Dr Barry's fellow officers will help you."

Her letter was to the doctor who had written the death certificate.

Later, we met in the kitchen, where the cook let us drink tea and left us alone, while preparing dinner for the other gentlefolk.

"The utter gall of the man!" she complained. "Do you know what he said? That it wasn't his business and that perhaps the deceased was a hermaphrodite - hermaphrodite indeed! I am a married woman with children. Did he think I don't know a woman when I see one? Or the marks of childbirth? Your Dr Barry had a child. And you - you knew!"

"I knew," I agreed. What use to deny it now? Or that he - no, she - had been a mother. I was there.

She slammed down her cup. " I need a real drink... If you want to share this story and the money it will bring, Dantzen, I give you the chance now. Otherwise, I'm going alone to the newspapers. My employers haven't paid me, but they will. "

I shook my head. Short of murder, there was no way to stop her. I was a stranger in a strange land, and black with it. Now that my employer was gone, I was not sure what to do next. Sophia would probably lose her job, but she had other options.

 I had none.

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There was that man Somerset, the Governor, when we were living in South Africa.  He was a widower with several children, and much older than her. Still, she did love him and he would have married her, I think, but that would have meant losing what made her life worthwhile - and confessing to a shocked community that the Governor's personal physician was a woman. They quarrelled, though I don't know the details, which she didn't share.  So he returned to England for another bride and that ended it.

I remember those days well. Her boyish looks made the men think this doctor too young to trust with their health, but the women sent for her for their illnesses. Did some of them know, as the women of Athens did? If they did they never showed it. In fact, they flirted with "him" at all the balls and parties held by the English community. And she flirted with them in return, though any man who called her effeminate was in danger of a duel.

When a young Dutch officer, Josias Cloete, was out riding with her one day and made the mistake of commenting, "You ride like a girl!" he found himself asked to give satisfaction.

I begged my master not to fight the duel. "You can't use a pistol!" I protested.

"I can't take insolence either, Dantzen," she snarled. "Besides, I have a steady hand or I couldn't practise surgery. I will manage."

So they met at dawn the next day. The whole business was absurd. They both shot badly - intentionally, in my opinion.  Their wounds were minor and she tended her opponent's before turning back to her horse.

I helped Josias Cloete back into his shirt, as he winced.

"Mign god! I've just realised why the good doctor rides like a girl!" he exclaimed suddenly.

"Indeed, sir?" I said politely, dusting him off.

He chuckled. "I think I'm in love. Do you think she will marry me? If I ask nicely?"

"I don't think so, sir."

As it happened, he later married someone else, had children and rose through the ranks to the top. But that's another story.

Cloete was shipped off for some time to a cold Atlantic island as punishment for fighting that duel, but they became friends for life. He was a gentleman, though, and never repeated to her what he'd said to me. I never spoke of it either, so she never knew he had caught her out. They were friends.

She had few enough friends, heaven knows. Women liked her, but they merely flirted; they didn't offer their friendship, for their husbands would never have believed it was friendship alone. She had few male friends among the officers. The duel with Cloete wasn't the only one she fought and usually she was the challenger. How they hated her!

We never found out who  had accused the Governor and his favourite of sodomy. They were cleared, but mud stuck; it was while the Governor was away explaining to his superiors about that and other things that we were called out to a difficult birth.

The lady was Wilhelmina Munnik, a member of a family powerful in the colony. If things went badly, my master would pay dearly. But she cheerfully made me boil her instruments and put them in a bag, along with anything else we might need in an emergency, and we rode off into the night. I went with her to assist at births, injuries and deaths.

This labour went on and on. In the end, my master gently told the lady, "Madam, there is only one way I can help bring forth your child - by surgery. I warn you, the pain will be terrible, though I will give you what I can to ease it. The choice is yours."

The young woman gasped, "Can it be any more painful than this? Do it!"

"You don't wish to discuss it with your husband first?"

"He is not the one suffering this agony!"

But the husband must be consulted as well. There had never been such a birth in which mother or child - or both - had not died. My master left me with the patient and went to speak to her man. I never heard the conversation, but after it we both washed thoroughly and the surgery was performed.

Mother and child both survived. She called her new son James Barry; the boy wrote to his namesake for the rest of my master's life. Also, the persecution stopped; she might not have been well liked, but as I have said, the lady whose life and child had been saved was part of a powerful family.

After we returned to our lodgings that night, my master sat down heavily.

"Well, that was simple!" she declared.

"Sir?" I said, puzzled. "You have just performed a miracle and you say it was simple?"

For answer, she placed hand on belly, against the long, loose shirt she wore under her loose coat, now hung up.

"Simple compared to what I must face now."

It suddenly occurred to me that I had not needed to perform my monthly services for two months, though there could have been other reasons.

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Quite sure, Dantzen. I pray I will not need surgery, though if I think it likely I will give you a name and send you out to fetch him. He is good, very good, though not as good as I. But if that happens, my life is finished, if not in truth then as a doctor and a member of this community."

"You can... There are herbs..."

"And I know them all. No. Because I do know them, no! I would rather take my chances giving birth than use them. But we will have to go away for a time. And then there is the question of what happens to the child. I will think on that later. Thank God I have a trusty, discreet servant!" She smiled at me.

The delivery, which I performed, was hard, but didn't require surgery. She was young and fit. The poor little son she bore was stillborn, though. She named him Charles for his father and somehow managed to arrange for Christian burial.

And that was that. Her career continued. We stayed a few more years, though it was never the same again. Charles Somerset's young children by his first marriage adored their "uncle" James, but it was not advisable for her to visit them once the new wife was there. I attended my master a number of times at official functions and I could see in the lady's eyes that she knew, though she said nothing. The scandal would have affected her and the three children she bore her husband.

Yet when he died in England some years later, they comforted each other, as two women who have loved the same man will do. He must have been special, to have won the love of not one, but two much younger women.

As it happened, the family left South Africa the year before we did.

My master had had enough; she asked to be posted elsewhere. We travelled to many countries. Once, we even went to England and when challenged for being there without leave, my master said lightly, "Oh, I came to get a haircut!"

Only she could have gotten away with that.

She was highly popular with the common soldiers in Canada, where we went after the Crimea. Under this chief doctor, they ate better and the hospitals were cleaner, so there were fewer deaths. She bought a bright red sleigh which everyone came to know well. It was part of her charm. That was a happy time for us.

In 1859, she took her reluctant retirement. There was nothing for her in Ireland any more, so we settled in London.

She now had time, but writing the memoirs of Dr James Miranda Barry was not an option for obvious reasons. She did not even pick up a pen to write something that could be published after her death.

That made me sad. The old Dr Barry would have delighted in the thought of setting the fox in the hen coop after her death. And it would have given my master something to do with the time that lay heavily on her hands. But she was grieving for what she'd lost.

We did have some visits from Josias Cloete. If anyone deserved her confidence it was he, but while she made him welcome and brightened whenever he arrived, she held her tongue. She still didn't know he had discovered her secret, and neither of us would ever tell her. It would have lost him her friendship and she needed a friend.
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Soon, very soon, I will be back in Jamaica, where the officers are sending me to avoid more embarrassment. What I will do there after half a century I do not know, but they will not take no for an answer.

They did allow me to attend the funeral, though there was someone to stand beside me and make sure I didn't speak to the journalists who crowded around the grave.

Fortunately, the someone was Cloete, who winked at me before standing solemnly by my side.

After it was over, Cloete lit a thin cigar and said, "Walk with me, Dantzen?"

I fell into step with him. He opened his mouth to speak, then turned and said sharply, "Dr Barry's servant is not available for interview. Go away!"

"The public has a right to know!" protested one journalist.

"The public has a right to go to the D- , sir. Go away. You have had your interviews with the housemaid. That should be enough for you!"

They glared, but they went.

"Some of them may try again later. Do you wish to speak to them? I wouldn't advise it, but it's your choice."

I shook my head. "It would be disrespectful of her memory."

He grinned. "Good, that gives me an excuse to take you back to my hotel, where we can talk. I can say I'm guarding you from the press. You can stay with me for now. I will come with you to your ship when the time comes. You're booked for the next mail ship from Southampton, I think?" I nodded. "Good, I'll buy our train tickets, then, and we'll go shopping for your food and clothes tomorrow. Can't have you arriving in Jamaica naked and starved, eh?"

I was grateful for that kindness on his part. I'd brought my few belongings from the boarding-house and I'd had no idea where I would spend the night.

My fare had been paid by the officers who were sending me home, but not my food, clothes or anything else for the voyage. My ticket was in my pocket and I carried my small bag of possessions. Otherwise, I had what I stood up in. How I would pay for the goods I needed for an ocean voyage I knew not - and when I reached Jamaica, then what?

He took me to his rooms in the hotel. "I'm in London alone this time. The wife and children are at home." He smiled. "I once met a plucky lass when I was much younger, but she wanted her own life. Who would have thought I would find a young wife in my later years? Yet I did and we're happy together... Be seated, Dantzen. We must speak."


"Oh, for heavens's sake, I need to speak with you and I cannot do it looking up at you. Propriety be d-d, man! Sit! Call it an order if you like."

I sighed and sat in the armchair facing him. Strange, really. I had been content, even comfortable,  to sit with my master in the evenings, once it became clear that was what she wished, but even this man, her dear friend, could not make me easy with ignoring propriety.

"What did you wish to know, sir?"

"Oh, many things I'll never have the chance to ask again. Did you know, by the way, that her tombstone will only give her name as the Army knew it? The newspapers have been full of this story, but the fools act as if it were a deep dark secret."

"I hadn't heard, no, but I'm not surprised, sir. That is, after all, why I'm being shipped back to my country of birth, isn't it?" He chuckled. I added,"It's what she would have wanted, not to have her secret revealed, so I'm content."

He threw back his head and laughed out loud. "Ironic, isn't it? That she wanted the same thing as those she embarrassed? Well, she has it. No memoirs?"

I shook my head. "No,sir."

"Yet I think you know whatever there is to know about her. Who was she, this mysterious doctor?"

"Her name was Margaret Bulkely. She was Irish..."

"Yes, that accent was distinctive. And how did she get away with what she did? Not without her family's help, I think."

"True," I agreed. "Her father was dead, but her mother helped her, as did relatives in England. Mrs Bulkely left Ireland with her young daughter Margaret and arrived in Edinburgh with a nephew: James Miranda Barry."

"It must have been hard on the lady, but I see where young Margaret got her pluck. And so she got her medical qualifications as a boy ... and then you came into her life. Forty-five years is a long time to keep a secret that would make you a lot of money - if you revealed it. Were you never tempted?"

"No, sir. Never. She trusted me, with good reason."

He cocked his head. "Really, Dantzen? What good reason would that be? Oh, I know you were loyal, a faithful servant, but it must have been hard for you. It was not only keeping your mouth shut, but sometimes you must have had to lie actively to keep that secret. I'm a good master to my own servants, at least I like to think so, but no one, surely, deserves the kind of loyalty you showed. Why?"

Well, I would be gone from these shores soon enough, and if he'd kept her secret all these years, why would my own matter to him?

But I had to explain first.

"In some parts of Africa, there are ... men, women and ... others. They are accepted as a third sex."

"Others? Did you mean eunuchs?"

"No. I mean those who are born one thing and feel that they are the other. "

"You mean like your master?"

"Perhaps. Although, in her case it was not entirely so. She wanted to be a doctor. She was willing to give up her life as a woman to do that. She loved a man, once, as you may have guessed." He nodded, though still not sure where I was going with this. "But there are others who live as something other than they were born. My master once bought and freed a slave, a beautiful girl who wasn't a girl."

"Oh." He hadn't known that.

"She believed that if she could be a man, that young man had the right to be a woman... I don't know what happened to the girl after. I hope she was happy." I took a deep breath."But I wasn't talking about my master, sir. I was talking about myself."

His jaw dropped. Whatever he'd been expecting, it wasn't that. He looked into my face, the face of an elderly black man, and couldn't see the woman beneath. Oh, yes. I had done as well as my master. Better. Not even Mary Seacole, who'd seen immediately the woman on horseback where others only saw a cranky man, had thought that it might apply to his servant as well.

"You're a woman?"

"I'm ... other. Please don't ask me to explain further, sir. It was always the way with me, from childhood. I left my home and went where no one knew, and lived as I wanted to.  So ... Do you understand why I was willing, even happy, to keep my master's secret?"

He shook his grizzled head. "To think I've lived so long and only now learned such things!  I thought you might have loved her as I did."

"I did love her - but not as you did. Never that."

"Understood," he said softly. Then he grinned, and the young man I remembered emerged from his old face. "Well, no one shall know from me! Now, we'd best start preparing your shopping list for tomorrow. I'll pay. My brother officers have done poorly by you. We'll need to go from Waterloo Station by the London and South Western Railway, if you're travelling from Southampton. You have your steamer ticket with you?"

"Yes, for Tuesday. Thank you - I have no money to buy anything for the journey."

"Surely she left you something in her will?"

"Yes, but I won't be here when it's read, sir."

He was angry, now, but not with me. "Blast them all! Have someone  write to me when you reach Kingston and let me know where you are. I'll go to the will reading and make sure you receive what's yours."

Who would have thought when my master challenged this man to a duel that it would lead to such a friendship? I smiled for the first time since her death.

There is little to tell from then. We bought my food supplies and packed them into a new trunk, with a few clothes we'd bought second hand. Cloete and I travelled from Waterloo to Southampton. He saw me aboard, to make sure I was not cheated, but didn't wait to see me off; his family was waiting for him. He did wish me a safe journey and a happy life to come. I watched his straight soldierly form stride away and felt sad.

I don't know what awaits me in my first home, or who will be there when I knock on the door of my family's house. But I don't regret the life I've lived. I have been who I really am, thanks to my master. I like to think that she, too, was her real self.

Sleep well, my dearest Agnodike. Sleep well.


Author's note: the paternity of Dr Barry's child is just a guess and what Dantzen tells Cloete is my own idea. But I'd be amazed if he didn't know the truth about his employer. Josias Cloete became known as the Father of the British Army. I like to think he might have been there to help Dantzen.

Dr James Barry, aka Margaret Bulkely, has been claimed for the LGBT community. It's been a long time and we may never know. I have chosen to keep it simple. No correspondence will be entered into.

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