A Word for Wednesday

Jambee - n. A name formerly given to a fashionable cane

Canes are like top hats, coat tails, waistcoats, and pocket watches to me. They immediately bring to mind Victorian Era gentlemen. Like these:

It was a time when both dress and behaviour was much more formal, courtly even. Men, particularly in the upper classes, were expected to be gentlemen in both manner and appearance. Jambees were part of that appearance, a fashion essential, as it were. William Tomicki, in his article "The Good Life" for Hotel Belair Magazine said, "Victorian walking sticks were a part of the "correct" attire of the elegantly dressed gentleman, who would change a cane as often as they changed their clothes." 

The Gentlemen's Emporium says this: "[In the Victorian Era] Unless they were a workman or laborer, every gentleman was expected to wear a coat, vest, and hat.  To walk around in shirtsleeves without vest or coat would be the modern-day equivalent of traipsing about in one’s underwear. Very unseemly, and most ungentlemanly!" Cravats, watches, and walking sticks were used as a means of adding class and style to otherwise ordinary suit outfits.

Leila Nelson of The World of the Walking Stick has some fascinating articles on her site that chronicles the history of the cane. Here's a few snippets: "In ancient Egypt everyone from royalty to peasants used a cane. These ancient sticks and staffs, now displayed in museums worldwide, were often carved and decorated elaborately. Their shape and form dictated whether the owner was a shepherd, soldier, dignitary, priest, Pharaoh, or even a god. These walking sticks were also used to identify the status of the deceased within their society for afterlife identification. King Tutankhamen had no less than 132 sticks buried with him. [...] It was during the 16th century that the walking stick was widely accepted an an accessory of elegance and social prominence among the aristocracy. Special etiquette dictated the use of the cane during this period. In Europe, a king's power came to be symbolized by the scepter carried in the right hand, while a second staff known as the "Hand of Justice" was carried in the left. [...] The 19th century was the hey-day of walking sticks in Europe. They were a status symbol because it was one way you could judge how much money a man had. [...] Some walking sticks performed dual functions, serving as flasks or as a place to hide cameras, swords, guns, or umbrellas. [...] Anyone who called himself a gentleman owned at least three; an evening cane, a country or day cane, and a system cane. System canes hide something inside or convert into other objects like seats, music stands and hammers."

Now all the gadgety canes you see in movies don't seem too far fetched ;) I read an article from a modern-day cane collector. He had one cane with embedded binoculars that he took to the opera. And another, called a friendship cane, that had silver shot glasses in the knob and a glass cylinder for holding liquor that slid inside the body of the cane. Does anyone else want to go buy a cane with hidden compartments and apparatus'? I know I do. But then I love old things and old ways and old times, so it could just be me.

So, now that you know more than you probably ever wanted to know about walking sticks, onto the narrative. I wrote this one in third person. This is odd. I don't write in third person. I always feel so far away from my characters and whatever they're going through if I'm in the third person. But this story demanded the third person point of view. So here goes...

"It was a night much like any other in London. The bells chimed the hour and a lone man walked the cobbled streets, hazy patches of light springing up in his trail where the lamps responded to his work. Two figures disturbed the deserted silence, spilling out of one of the grand buildings in laughter. The one leaned his companion against a lampost and returned to close the door.

"Ah, you worry too much, Carlys," the one on the lampost said.

"And you too little," Carlys said, taking his friend's weight upon himself again.

"The morrow will dawn and all with be right in the world."

"The only thing that will dawn with you, Halton, is the effects of your drink."

Halton pulled himself up and pointed an unsteady finger at the side of Carlys' face. "I've missed you, cousin."

"Indeed. Come, you are in dire need of chambers."

Halton collapsed back onto Carlys' shoulder in laughter. Carlys brought him to one of several carriages waiting outside the building and helped him in. He gave the driver Halton's address and took his own way down the street. 

The night was cool and crisp and dark. He breathed it in like a drought of wine. This is where he belonged, on the open road awaiting adventure. Not choking on the stuffy conversation and polite contempt that sullied the very air of his grandfather's gentlemens' club. He gave his cane a few artful spins in the air and lengthened his stride. He kept on, going nowhere in particular, following his whims whenever he came upon a crossroad. At one corner, he turned directly into a party of five men lounging in the shadows.

"Well, well, what have we here?" the tallest of them stepped toward Carlys while the rest fell in behind him. "A proper little gentleman, I see. Complete with top hat and jambee."

"The name is Carlys."

"Carlys." The man smiled, a wide dirty smile. "And what is a fine gentleman like yourself doing alone on these streets at this unholy hour?"

"I, sir, am enoying the simple pleasures of an evening stroll." He stepped back into the open space where the roads crossed and stood in a manner of perfect casualty, resting lightly on his cane.

Five mouths opened at once in raucous laughter.

"An evening stroll?" The mirth hardened on the man's face. "I say you came looking for trouble."
Carlys said nothing, only watched the men whip out knives and surround him. He took off his hat and laid it on the cobbles. The men edged closer as he continued simply to stand there, both hands resting on his cane now, never taking his eyes off the leader. They didn't see him twist the knob of his jambee, or hear the click of a latch unlocking as he did.

"For a thousand pounds, I'll leave you alive," the man said.

"A generous offer," Carlys said. "Unfortunately, I cannot accept."

He seemed to rip his cane in two then. Now he held a slender blade in his right hand, and the body of a cane in his left. "Perhaps it is you I will leave alive."

The man snarled and rushed at Carlys. So did the other four.

Carlys smiled. This, this is what he lived for. To dance with danger.


  1. Oooh, very nice. I especially love the last line: To dance with danger. Go Carlys! ;)

  2. Me too. I really like Carlys :) I'll definitely be finishing his story someday.

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