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View Full Version : Things In A House: 60+ year old retired army officer in 1889



MurderOfCrows
02-28-2017, 10:09 AM
Murder Victim, currently known as Horace:

1889, England. Well off, single, confirmed bachelor and gay as hell (but is obviously closeted.) Living at the edge of Belgravia, so he's well off between family inheritance and pension. Suffering from gout in both feet and one hand, housebound. Writes best as he is able, requires finest pens and paper. Reads extensively and has a sunroom for his botanical exploits since it's a hobby that doesn't require a lot of moving around and he can just sit and enjoy the plants.

Fought in wars from Anglo-Sikh to Zulu, traveled extensively, but not nearly as into the past victories and glory days. (Dad bought him a commission to get him away from the rentboys, and he just waited for the old bugger to kick off before coming home. He was not military by choice but by necessity.) Only child, no children of his own, last of his line and does not care one whit about it. Will be leaving any remaining fortune to his church.

What books might he have? What plants might he cultivate enjoy? Pen brands - high quality (Cross, Waterman, Wirt and Faber were around at that time, I know that much.) Anything else I might include to ground him in the period and give hints to his life?

M Louise
02-28-2017, 01:12 PM
I like this. He fought then at the battle of Ulundi and possibly Rorke's Drift in 1879 in what is now KwaZulu-Natal, came home not with looted Zulu trophies of assegai throwing spears or knobkerries, but with a dead friend's tobacco caddy.

Back in Belgravia, he has a smallish glass conservatory (that sunroom) on one side of the house where he can sit in the sunshine, protected from winds or cold snaps. Pots of pelargoniums from South Africa which he knows as geraniums. He places the pots of scarlet geraniums next to lady palms and his maidenhair fern collection. The aspidistra his aunt gave him when he came back, along with a lilac heliotrope he found overpowering -- the intense fragrance of cherry pie in an airless space. That he gave to his retired manservant, a discreet old friend.

Siri Kirpal
02-28-2017, 10:50 PM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

He'd have brought silk textiles back from India for his curtains and cushions. Maybe some jeweled knickknacks also from India over the fireplace. (Remember this is the era for LOTS of knickknacks.)

He may well have a taste for curried food; many Victorians did, even those that didn't go to India.

Seconding the maidenhair fern collection. He might have orchids too. Most of the showy ones grown now are hybrids of American plants, but the Paphiopedilums come from India through the Southeastern Asian islands.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

MurderOfCrows
02-28-2017, 11:25 PM
These are all beautiful suggestions, thank you so much! I feel really bad that those glorious plants are going to end up dead, but that's a major clue to who his killer was. (Spooky supernatural stuff!)


I also had a cigarette case/tobacco caddy show up in a previous scene - Corbin ended up trading it away to a spirit for his information and as a kindness. (Horace will eventually end with his spirit joining the other spirit in lingering in The Grenadier, which is a haunted pub.)


I had a case with various items -- I'll add some more description later to those, and the silks are going to meet a very terrible fate since a violent search was conducted in his home after his death.


I definitely think Orchids, as they can be challenging to tend, would be of interest to him, and may remind him of stolen moments with lovers in lands not at all like home.

waylander
02-28-2017, 11:49 PM
Maybe he dressed in Indian clothes while at home.

lonestarlibrarian
02-28-2017, 11:55 PM
I want to say steel pens began being mass-produced in the 1820's, but in 1834, you still have nearly 19 million quills being imported into England. It's not until the 1870's and the 1880's that the fountain pen really starts dominating the market (http://www.vintagepens.com/FAQhistory/FAQhistory.htm). So the point being, if he's 60+ in 1889, what pen would he have used as a schoolboy? Is he the sort of man of habit who would stick to old-fashioned quills and take pride in his ability to cut it just right? Or who would have acquired a really amazing steel pen back in the day, and refuses to write with anything else? Or is he someone who will latch on to the latest and greatest in writing implements?

I only bring it up because, just as people say the ballpoint pen destroyed handwriting when they became popular post-WWII (because you no longer needed rhythm), in the 19th century, people also said that the steel nib (and no longer needing the skill to cut your pens) destroyed handwriting. So for someone who loves pens and handwriting, it's likely something he'll have an opinion on, one way or the other.

MurderOfCrows
03-01-2017, 01:12 AM
With his gout, since he had in his hands as well as feet, I imagine he can't cut his quill as he used to. So pens may be a grim necessity.

PeteMC
03-01-2017, 02:24 AM
I have no idea but I really want to read this guy's story, he sounds fascinating :)

MurderOfCrows
03-01-2017, 02:37 AM
Sadly he's super dead. :( But I tend to build my background characters as richly as my leads. Though he's probably going to become a ghostly resource since I like him a lot too.

frimble3
03-01-2017, 03:37 AM
When I think of an ex-soldier of that era with a widely travelled past, I think of that Victorian fondness for bits of dead animals. Not PC these days, (and it doesn't really sound like your man) but perhaps a tiger-skin rug or (less endangered) wild boar tusks?
He doesn't sound like a trophy hunter, if he didn't like the military in the first place, but perhaps as a memento of something he's proud of - killing a boar who was attacking another soldier, or ripping up the camp? Not a tiger skin or an elephant tusk, obtained by hunting down an animal with a group of people and killing it, but tusks from an impromptu shot taken in defense of another?
He might be amused that he'd done something his family would approve of.

Siri Kirpal
03-01-2017, 03:56 AM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Cymbidiums are another possible orchid, and they're large plants as orchids go.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

PeteMC
03-01-2017, 09:46 PM
Sadly he's super dead. :(

Ah, yes. Murder victims usually are, aren't they?

FFS I'm thick sometimes... :)

stephenf
03-01-2017, 10:10 PM
Hi
I think it would be unlikely that your man would be living in Belgravia . This area is mostly very big houses and was a favourite of aristocratic families, that had an even bigger house in the country. I would move him over to the adjacent area of Pimlico . Still an expensive area , but there are smaller houses and the population was a bit more cosmopolitan.
A sun room , or conservatory would be very unusual in the city. The interest a gent would have in things Botanical would be academic. Actual gardening would be done by a gardener . If he doesn't need to be housebound , being pushed through one of the many squares or parks would be a normal activity and his interest in plants would see him visiting Kew Gardens
The fountain pen was an american invention and at your period , still new . So he would probably be using unbranded steel nibs and he might be cutting a quill . The house plants that were popular at that time were mostly plants that could stand low levels of light and cool surroundings. Flowers was not common as house plants , it was mostly ferns , palms and the most common was the Aspidistra.

MurderOfCrows
03-01-2017, 11:18 PM
Ah, yes. Murder victims usually are, aren't they?

FFS I'm thick sometimes... :)

Well, he is in a world where the dead walk among the living, so he could come back in some form... just not a very solid one.

MurderOfCrows
03-01-2017, 11:26 PM
Hi
I think it would be unlikely that your man would be living in Belgravia . This area is mostly very big houses and was a favourite of aristocratic families, that had an even bigger house in the country. I would move him over to the adjacent area of Pimlico . Still an expensive area , but there are smaller houses and the population was a bit more cosmopolitan.
A sun room , or conservatory would be very unusual in the city. The interest a gent would have in things Botanical would be academic. Actual gardening would be done by a gardener . If he doesn't need to be housebound , being pushed through one of the many squares or parks would be a normal activity and his interest in plants would see him visiting Kew Gardens
The fountain pen was an american invention and at your period , still new . So he would probably be using unbranded steel nibs and he might be cutting a quill . The house plants that were popular at that time were mostly plants that could stand low levels of light and cool surroundings. Flowers was not common as house plants , it was mostly ferns , palms and the most common was the Aspidistra.

His family should be reasonably well off, but I'll definitely investigate this other neighborhood. It might better suit my needs, so long as he can occasionally be assisted over to the The Grenadier (a major haunting spot for my piece) to soothe the local spirits. (Though I may have Cedric his 'companion' in haunting 11 months out of the year, until September rolls around and things get weird.)
Good to know about the plants and pens. But my research still turns up other pens at the time of European make, though they are VERY new. Maybe he has a friend come to cut his quills since he finds it difficult due to the gout in his hands?
I need plants in the house for evidence of supernatural activity and would prefer that as a somewhat eccentric man, he had the sunroom attached to the house as an addition, maybe? He's weird, rich and a former officer, he can probably get away with having something like that -- maybe something that makes him unique among his neighbors who probably find him a bit odd. (Add to the fact he's queer and he's probably regarded as the neighborhood weird uncle.)

MurderOfCrows
03-01-2017, 11:28 PM
When I think of an ex-soldier of that era with a widely travelled past, I think of that Victorian fondness for bits of dead animals. Not PC these days, (and it doesn't really sound like your man) but perhaps a tiger-skin rug or (less endangered) wild boar tusks?
He doesn't sound like a trophy hunter, if he didn't like the military in the first place, but perhaps as a memento of something he's proud of - killing a boar who was attacking another soldier, or ripping up the camp? Not a tiger skin or an elephant tusk, obtained by hunting down an animal with a group of people and killing it, but tusks from an impromptu shot taken in defense of another?
He might be amused that he'd done something his family would approve of.

I love the idea of the boar shot! A good knickknack item without getting out of the way and crazy huge.

And yes, his father would approve and he'd be kind of bitter about that.

- - - Updated - - -


Maybe he dressed in Indian clothes while at home.

I think this is very likely - ease of dress, very comfortable. Also could leave a clue as to mysterious guest that he laid out his English clothing after his gout was mended, since he wanted to go finally be less housebound.

stephenf
03-02-2017, 02:03 AM
hi
Plants as evidence of supernatural activity, can you plese give some details on that . Gout is not a permanent thing. You have bouts of gout that last for a couple of weeks and the affected limbs can return to normal . You could chose Chelsea as your mans location. Not far from your pub, and in your period ,was an artist area with studios.

MurderOfCrows
03-02-2017, 05:04 AM
hi
Plants as evidence of supernatural activity, can you plese give some details on that . Gout is not a permanent thing. You have bouts of gout that last for a couple of weeks and the affected limbs can return to normal . You could chose Chelsea as your mans location. Not far from your pub, and in your period ,was an artist area with studios.

Chelsea's another good choice!

Basically the plants are going to be evidence that entropic power occurred in a large burst here. (Someone took a lot of wounds, and then passed that damage on to the nearest living things to heal himself.) Every plant in the house dead is evidence of that magic sweeping through the house.

blacbird
03-02-2017, 06:45 AM
.
What books might he have?

This is actually a pretty easy question to answer. The popular writers of the day were Dickens, Thackeray, Collins, Trollope, George Eliot, the Sisters Bronte, and some not much heard of today, such as the best-seller of the day, Robert Elsmere, by Mrs. Humphry Ward, which was published in 1888 to great success. Scientific books, including Darwin's On the Origin of Species might be on a bookshelf. Along with older classics, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Fielding, etc. If your character was well-educated, he may have been fluent in another language, particularly French, and had original-language editions of things by Dumas, Voltaire, Rabelais, Diderot, etc. One of the most popular early crime novelists, also little read today, was Emile Gaboriau.

Mention of such titles and authors would be a nice way of showing his level of erudition, if that is desired.

caw

Tsu Dho Nimh
03-02-2017, 06:25 PM
Well, there are also "Wardian Cases" that were popular for delicate plants.

I've seen mention of dedicated plant rooms in detective fiction of the late 1800s. We'd call it a sunporch or Florida room perhaps, but an enclosed area with lots of windows and maybe even a glass roof for growing plants that can't survive in a London climate was known and was thought eccentric. (I don't remember the books, I'm on a reading jag).

http://www.valegardenhouses.co.uk/period-conservatories.html

=========
Ex-Army might not have any military memorabilia, might have a lot. He might have continued his spartan lifestyle, might have gone posh.

Maps, lots of maps of the places he's been.

Real "campaign furniture"? Those nifty bookcases that turn into packing crates without moving the books?

========
Staff? Can live in or out as your plot requires.

A gardener to do the grunt work in the conservatory - repotting, mixing soils, cleaning windows (endless task in London).

Cook (perhaps a non-British one from his campaigns) and scullery maid
Housekeeper and a couple of parlor maids.
Laundress (almost always lived out)

Valet or batman? Officers were assigned them to free the officer's time for military stuff, not self-care.

Tsu Dho Nimh
03-02-2017, 06:46 PM
He would also have ALL the catalogues from the seedsmen and plant specialists, books of botanical prints, maybe even some paintings by the well-known botanical artists.

waylander
03-02-2017, 08:35 PM
Many stately homes had orangeries or glasshouses that were kept heated to grow fruit that doesn't usually grow in G Britain (oranges, pineapples etc). He could possibly have one.

MurderOfCrows
03-03-2017, 05:20 AM
Well, there are also "Wardian Cases" that were popular for delicate plants.

I've seen mention of dedicated plant rooms in detective fiction of the late 1800s. We'd call it a sunporch or Florida room perhaps, but an enclosed area with lots of windows and maybe even a glass roof for growing plants that can't survive in a London climate was known and was thought eccentric. (I don't remember the books, I'm on a reading jag).

http://www.valegardenhouses.co.uk/period-conservatories.html

This is actually 100% what I meant. I guess sunroom isn't the right term for them, but this is it. This thing right here. He needs one.

stephenf
03-03-2017, 01:39 PM
Many stately homes had orangeries or glasshouses that were kept heated to grow fruit that doesn't usually grow in G Britain (oranges, pineapples etc). He could possibly have one.

After the great exhibition , 1850, in Hyde Park green houses did become popular among the very rich . The exhibition moved to Sydenham hill and is now know as Crystal Palace. It was the invention of cast glass that made the Crystal Palace possible . Green houses have been around for hundreds of years but the exhibition moved them from functional to decorative. The Victorian rich were very wealthy and could own anything . I believe it would be unlikely the a retired army office , living in central London would own such a thing . But this is a work of fiction, if the story needs to have a lovely domed palm house , then let him have one .
On the subject of the things he might own. Everybody at that time wore hats and a gent would only have the finest . Shoes and boot were also important and an army officer would go to John Lobb for made to measure boots . john Lobb is still in 88 Jermy Street and the shop looks unchanged from the date of your story.

M Louise
03-04-2017, 10:06 AM
The Murder Victim's gout is interesting too. A famous case of someone who suffered badly with gout was Prime Minister Disraeli. Queen Victoria heard he was treating his gout with arsenic and insisted he see her homeopath, Dr Kidd, who suggested Disraeli give up port and drink claret instead. The expert on gout at that time was Sir Alfred Garrod who treated severe cases with lithium and a change of diet.

Our Murder Victim is not a port tippler or gourmand. He has had this mysterious gout, inflammation of the joints, since his early 30s, starting in the big toes and later affecting his knees and hands. Gout flare-ups in the knuckle joints of the hands last for up to three weeks: he has reddish inflamed swellings the sizes of quail's eggs on the fingers of his right hand.

M Louise
03-04-2017, 10:23 AM
One of Horace the Undying Murder Victim's favourite novels is The Story of an African Farm (published 1883), written by Ralph Iron, a male pseudonym for a young governess named Olive Schreiner. It is the story of three gifted children growing up on a lonely farm in the Karoo in South Africa. There are also audacious freethinking references to feminism, pregnancy out of wedlock, premarital sex and transvestitism.

Horace has made enquiries about this surprising woman and found that she is a close friend of the outspoken sexologist Havelock Ellis as well as Edward Carpenter. Carpenter, who lives openly with a working man named George Merrill, has published fascinating (to Horace) theories on the Intermediate Sex or Uranians. Carpenter, like Horace, loves the work of the man-loving American poet Walt Whitman. Horace, terrified of being associated in any way with the unfortunate Oscar Wilde, keeps a copy of Leaves of Grass hidden in a drawer of his writing desk.

Horace has met the discreet, charming bachelor Henry James at a soiree in London but can't read his novels without falling asleep.

MurderOfCrows
03-04-2017, 10:42 AM
Irony - one of the investigators is a woman and must cross-dress to avoid trouble in her work. The other is a bisexual man who was not romantically linked to Horace, but a fellow 'medium' of sorts and so they shared more bonds then merely the queerness of their sexuality. So I may have to check up on The Story of An African Farm ​and these other works for my own reasons!

Ironically, said investigator, who is somewhat immortal, alludes to a very brief liaison with Wilde, and encouraged Horace to give the man's work a chance. He needn't go buy it, Corbin could supply him a discreet copy of his plays, perhaps. He, on the other hand, will enjoy (with an odd pang) The Picture of Dorian Gray and try not to think about be foibles of being semi-immortal.

M Louise
03-04-2017, 11:07 AM
In about 1896, Oscar Wilde, a hugely popular and admired aesthete and playwright, goes on trial for gross indecency with men and is sentenced to two years hard labour. All kinds of shocking and salacious details about the hidden lives of gay men like the son of the Marquess of Queensberry came out at the trial, and gay men across Britain retreated further into the closet or left to live in Italy or France where attitudes were more tolerant. My own understanding here has been informed by Colm Tóibín's fictionalised biography of Henry James, The Master, where the repressed, ambiguous James is shown to be acutely sensitive to any suggestion he might be 'like Wilde' and fond of his own sex. If this exposure, humiliation and criminal prosecution could happen to someone as admired and wealthy as Wilde, it could happen to anyone. I do recommend you have a look at that book too.

MurderOfCrows
03-04-2017, 11:18 PM
Corbin, the gentleman in question, is not really thrilled with the state of affairs. However, the privileges of being an undead monster of sorts allows him to not fear capture. It is very fresh in his mind, though - seeing that it's three years out and someone who might've been a friend is in misery elsewhere.

(Studied Wilde in college, actually, but definitely need that book for further period reading.)

Also, James Henry seems amazing fascinating, and I've definitely got to allude to him at some point, or at least have his books about. Apparently he wasn't as repressed as the The Master suggests, though, as his letters to colleague were definitely erotic with men, and lavishly affectionate with women. I'm going to have to find some of those, too.