When I was a child, my granddad used to tell me that there were special farms for growing walking canes. I don’t know if he meant to play a joke, but I imagined fields of green cane with curly tops, waiting to ripen and harden and then be harvested for market. I have never really gotten over my attraction to canes in all shapes and forms. I never was naughty enough to receive a caning at school, so all my experiences with canes have been positive.
Imagine my delight to discover that in the Victorian era, canes were used to secrete items that a gentleman or gentlewoman might not like to parade about in public. Doctors were sometime attacks for the drugs or expensive implements they carried, or a gem merchant for his goods. But if they were hidden away in a cane, an item that nearly everyone carried and might even be used as a weapon, the doctor or merchant became less of a target.
Sometimes the cane were just used as a convenient carry case with emergency supplies. The painter’s cane converted to a small easel and palette, with brushes and tiny pots of colour, which in no was was of any use to paint anything other than miniatures or sketches. Still, if a painter needed to make a quick sketch for future reference, the cane supplied her with all she needed – I wonder if Beatrix Potter had a painter’s cane for when she was hunting fungi to study.
When I started to investigate canes as a possible gadget for my Steampunk novel, I actually discovered the reality was much more interesting than my imaginings. The amount of stuff that can be hidden inside a cane is amazing. The Ophthalmologist Medical Cane hid away twenty items, including a small pair of spectacles. The variety of canes amazed me.
The best part of all these different sorts of canes is that they can be used in the construction of characterizations. A scientist would have a different sort of cane to an assassin. A surgeon has a different sort of can to a deaf old woman. The amount of amazing items and gadgets that can be incorporated into a cane is exciting. I am toying with having an engineer with tools hidden in his cane as a major plot point.
So, get creative! Don’t look at canes and walking sticks as old fashioned paraphernalia. They can be both decorative and functional … which is a very Victorian concept. And they add a touch of elegance as well as hiding secrets.