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EMPEROR OF THE OCCIDENT,
Compiled by Lucius, Keeper of the Imperial Archives at Iscapolis.
TRANSLATED AND EDITED
BY RICHARD JEFFERIES.
Ir incidentally appears from notices scattered over the pages of Lucius, that the Occident in which Maximin arose was a continent of vast extent. We are not informed in what precise quarter of the world it was situated, except that in a general sense it was somewhere towards the west, but it must, in its southern extremity have been shone upon by an almost tropical sun. Knowing, as we do now from the labours of celebrated geologists, that continents have arisen from the waves in one era and disappeared in the succeeding one, there can be no great difficulty in accepting the records here presented. The continent described by Lucius was bounded by a freshwater sea of unknown extent, and contained large rivers, immense forests, deserts, and ranges of mountains. was inhabited by various races of men acquainted with some of the arts of civilisation, but in the main ignorant, superstitious, and cruel. Among these Maximin arises, and though his progress is necessarily attended with bloodshed his chief object is the abolition of slavery and superstition, and the improvement of the race. book now at last translated and given to the world, does not represent all that remains of the literature of the Occident. There remain in the possession of the Editor a variety of memoirs and archives, private and public, full of interesting information, and extraordinary adventure, which may perhaps one day be published.
Maximin's improved match-lock gun-Starts to visit the duke's daughterWatches an engagement between troops from Sandover and BrucesterMaximin's books-First workings of ambition-Burning of Sycamore Farm-Final decision.
MAXIMIN tells us himself, in one of his "Notes and Memoranda," that the first idea of a possible rise to power occurred to him upon witnessing an engagement between a column of troops from Sandover and a detachment of the soldiers of Charles VI. (of Brucester) some time in May, Y.F. 744. He started from the
old farmhouse on the banks of Sycamore Creek to visit the Penshursts at Pennavon, with a daughter of which family he was deeply enamoured.
He carried a matchlock upon his shoulder which had been made in accordance with his own instructions. The barrel of this gun was three feet nine inches in length, and the stock about fifteen inches additional; so that the whole weapon measured about five feet, and came up to his shoulder. At that date almost all the guns in use were very short and heavy, made to throw a large ball a small distance. As the gunpowder in use was badly mixed, and the due proportions of sulphur, charcoal, and saltpetre not understood, the consequence was that they would kill only when at close quarters, and were quite harmless at any distance. The touch-hole was covered with a sliding thin sheet of metal, to protect the priming from rain or damp, and this had to be pushed forward by the nail of the thumb before firing. The thumb was commonly placed over the touch-hole for some few moments before the object to be fired at was approached, so as to shoot more rapidly. The match was a piece of tarred rope wound round the stock of the gun, and one end of it passed through a hole in the top of the curved piece of brass which formed the lock. This brass simply turned upon an axle-there was no spring, and what kept it upright and suspended above the touch-hole was the tarred rope, which was taut. The fore-finger pulling the trigger stretched the tarred cord, while at the same moment the thumb was removed from the open touch-hole, and the lighted end of the match dropped into the priming. There was no trigger-guard. The barrel of this weapon, or hackbut, was about two feet in length, and it threw a ball of two ounces some forty yards with tolerable accuracy. When loaded with buck shot or slugs it was a dangerous instrument to face at that distance. But it was at all times liable to get out of order-the damp got at the priming, or the wind, if it blew hard, carried away the priming as soon as the thumb was removed from the touch-hole. The match burnt irregularly, and could not be brought down into the touch-hole at the exact moment when the aim was taken. There was no sight, and the stock was simply curved-not unlike a pistol handle, but a larger curve. So rude a weapon was but a slight improvement upon the bow-and-arrow, if indeed, it was any improvement at all, for the wild Jipz could many of them make sure of their man with their arrows at one hundred yards, and now and then an archer could strike the mark at two hundred yards. The barrels of these guns were generally of cast metal, and hence would not stand a strong charge without fear of bursting, so that if they had had good gunpowder they could not have used it without danger.
The gun Maximin had had made was very much longer in the barrel, and was constructed of a tube of wrought metal strengthened with concentric circles of that material. These rings were formed by heating a long rod of the very toughest iron to nearly a white heat, and then twisting it round the tube spirally and hammering it into position. As the rod cooled it contracted and clasped the tube firmly. The interior of the tube was then case-hardened or made into steel, so as to withstand the friction of the bullet. At the breech there was a sight, intended to guide the eye for the proper elevation to carry the ball one hundred yards—point blank the gun was supposed to be effective at sixty to seventy yards. The bullet was not precisely round, but somewhat egg-shaped, and in loading the thicker end of the bullet was placed in the barrel, which it fitted as nearly as possible exactly. The ram-rod, in driving it home, slightly beat down the thinner upper end of the bullet, so that it more nearly approached the spherical shape, and the force of the explosion was supposed to expand the lower part of the bullet, so that it left the muzzle nearly round. A bullet which was quite round when placed in the barrel would have been rammed out of shape in driving it home, and would leave the gun a flattened piece of lead. The touch-hole was protected by a slot, which was kept in its place by a spring. The cock was kept in position by a spring, and on pulling the trigger the slot of metal over the touch-hole moved forwards just as the lighted end of the match dropped in and ignited the powder. The match itself was soaked in an improved composition, and burnt regularly and extremely slowly. The trigger was protected by a guard. The end of the stock which was placed against the shoulder was broad and thick, so as to save the shoulder from the recoil, and also to give a steadier aim. This weapon was heavy, but far more effective than the common gun of that day, and it was much more so by the stronger gunpowder which Maximin, after many experiments, contrived to make. With this gun it was possible to strike a comparatively small object at fifty yards, and a tree trunk or larger object at one hundred. It could also be used as a shot-gun with good results. Maximin carried together with his matchlock a long twoedged knife, used in hunting, a steel, flint, and tinder-box, and a small hatchet slung in his girdle.
Passing beyond the strong stockade into which cattle were driven at night at the Sycamore Farm, he walked slowly along the edge of the creek, and noted as he had so often noted before, how well it was adapted for shipping. It ran nearly a mile up into the land, winding sinuously, and was sheltered at the mouth, where it opened upon the great fresh-water sea, on the east side by a cliff or headland, and on the west by the
hilly peninsula of Sandover, and the waves which swept towards it from the north were broken by a sandbank which narrowed the entrance. He had often wondered why the inhabitants of a great city like Sandover did not utilise so noble a haven lying within a mile of their walls, but preferred the open and exposed coast to the west, where in a northern or westerly wind the shipping was always liable to be driven on shore. He had even ventu red to write a letter to the government of Aurelius IX., King of Sandover and The Marches, calling their attention to so many natural advantages; but it had, of course, been entirely disregarded, for he had neither money nor position to give it weight, and was, moreover, a suspected person. The real reason why the government prevented the latter, however, from being used was a feeling of insecurity arising from a consciousness of their own weakness. The western port was close under the walls of the town, and was commanded by the cannons, so that they felt any ships arriving there were under their control. It was true they might have built a fort to command the eastern creek; but whom could they trust in command of such a fort, so near to the town and yet distant enough to form a centre of hostile action in case of revolution? "A cruel, tyrannical, short-sighted government," thought Maximin, as he passed beside the creek. "Surely such a dynasty cannot last for ever." His own little boat was moored upon the strand under the shadow of some willows that grew just at the line of high. water; for the tide rose about three feet perpendicularly here, being no doubt forced up by the motion of the greater tides of the distant salt ocean. It was long, slender, light, carrying one fellucca or triangular sail, and capable of great speed. He had made voyages of great length and duration in it-voyages that gave him a reputation, and which exposed him to the suspicion of the government. Leaving the creek upon the right, Maximin followed a narrow track through a long wood of ash, and emerged after an hour's walking at the foot of the chain of hills-the Blue Mountains-which here came within five miles of the sea.
It was towards the close of the sultry day that, while resting on the edge of a combe or narrow valley, he became aware of the movement of troops. There came up from the plain a faint sound of music, which swelled louder and louder, and burst into a full march. The narrow combe, widening as it went, opened upon the plain, and near the entrance was fall of ozier-beds growing in a small streain fed by the springs which burst out higher up the hill. His eye travelling down the gorge caught a shimmer of colour among the willow-beds, and as the music came nearer the willows parted, and he saw a goldier armed with a gun creep forwards to the edge of the plain and as quickly return-evidently a scout. It
was clear that an ambuscade had been concealed in the willows and hawthorn bushes at the mouth of the gorge, and instinctively he drew back from the edge of the combe, concealing himself in a small thicket, and behind a stunted ash-tree; for soldiers were in those days little better than bandits, and much better hands at robbing a helpless passer-by than in attacking the foe. By the colour of the scout's tunic, a deep orange, Maximin knew the party must belong to Brucester, for orange was the colour of King Charles. There had long been a war between Sandover and Brucester, which places were barely twenty miles apart, Brucester lying inland on the edge of the great forest; but it had been conducted so carelessly and negligently that no great successes had been obtained on either side, and people travelled about as before. Now, it would seem as if the forces of Sandover were on their way to Brucester, and this valley was, as Maximin well knew, on the road or track that they must follow. Not a little excited at the approaching fight, Maximin rapidly cut a bush with his huntingknife and protruded it on to the edge of the combe, so as to get a better view behind it. As he did so he looked on his left and saw three horsemen armed with lances ride over the ridge of the hill, from which he concluded that the party in ambush were supported by a larger detachment, and perhaps by the whole army of Charles. The hot sun poured his rays with concentrated heat into that narrow gulley, and the dried-up grass upon the slippery slopes proved how intense the summer heat had been. The birds were still, except a hawk which was whirling in circles overhead, there was not a breath of air. The music grew louder, and now he could hear another band and a third-it was evident that an army was drawing near. Suddenly a man on horseback rode past the entrance to the valley carrying a pennon on a lance, and immediately afterwards came the foot-soldiers, spearmen in parties of three or four, then a gap, and then more, walking as their fancy dictated. Many had their grey cloaks off and carried them on their shoulders, and the officers had given their helmets and swords to their servants to carry. These spearmen kept passing for at least a quarter of an hour, every moment of which he expected to hear a discharge of firearms from the ozier-beds. Then came a band, silent now, and even at his distance he could hear them talking and joking, and could see the flasks of liquor passed from hand to hand. Following the band came ten or twelve horsemen, and after these matchlock men in the same disorder as the spears, but before many of these had marched by a large body of horse arrived. At this moment, Maximin, gazing intently at the willows, saw a flame of red fire run, as it were, among the green leaves, and a long loud report echoed all up the valley,