Fiction Fridays: The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part I

Hiram Percy Maxim, at the time of his father’s death

“The terms of the will are quite clear.  Unusual, I know, but so was your father.  Good day.”  The solicitor, an elderly man with an abnormally small mouth and beady eyes, pulled the door closed with a snap behind him on the way out. Hiram sat still, staring at the plain lacquered box on the desk in front of him.  Outside, Hiram could hear the people of London bustling up and down the walk in front of his father’s townhome, some of them no doubt wondering what would happen to the house now that the funeral was over. The rest of the family was poking around for keepsakes of the great inventor. The whole atmosphere was tense with the stress of the Great War, which had raged for two years.

Hiram himself was still quite young looking for his age, with dark brown hair brushed up and back and anointed with cream, making him seem taller than he was. His body was lean; he stood strong and straight. He had a significant mustache of the sort popular at the time, and wore his brown suit with dignity. At 47 years, Hiram was already an accomplished scientist in his own right. He had worked mostly in New York instead of following his father to the Old Country, and he had created a gasoline powered automobile that had won the first race ever held in America. Only recently, he had made significant strides in organizing the fledgling wireless communication movement. While not as famous in military circles as his father and uncle, he had also created a silencer that he later fitted to his father’s famous machine guns. Sadly, the invention came too late to save Hiram senior’s hearing, but it was helping many others, even as the thousands of Maxim guns along both fronts became the very last thing heard by hundreds of thousands of young Europeans. Now, Hiram Stevens Maxim was as dead as they and Hiram Percy was left staring at a box he had known nothing about before that very day.

He sighed, took the key the solicitor had left with him, and opened the lock. The lid fell back, revealing some papers of no particular consequence. They were parchment containing some hand-written drawings of his father’s first machine gun. These had long since been logged with the American patent office and were easily available to anyone with a mind to send for them. There were other, smaller scraps that had what seemed like random numbers scrawled on them with a dark, flowing pen. Beneath each of them, he saw a date affixed in pencil in his father’s own hand. They ranged from a figure of about 50 all the way up into the tens of millions. There was a big jump in the numbers since 1914, but beyond that, it seemed to communicate nothing. What sense does this make? he thought to himself. Why was the solicitor so insistent that we meet here and now for a box with no point? As he lifted the contents out, he noticed what at first looked like a small scratch in the veneer at the bottom. The sun was shining in from the window over his shoulder, and it hit the surface at just the right angle to make the marks stand out. In an instant, his mind made sense of them: “H. P.” Hiram smiled. “You always were clever father,” he muttered as he realized that the box wasn’t as deep as it should be. In a few moments, he had found and worked the mechanisms, and the false bottom popped open. Inside he found several thin sheets of rice paper, covered with his father’s scribble. From the state of the ink and the paper, the writing was relatively fresh—there was no sign of fading—and Hiram was sure that his father had completed them only recently. After pulling the shades down and lighting one of his father’s electric lamps, Hiram sat down to read:

Hiram Stevens Maxim

Hiram Stevens Maxim, inventor

My dear son,

I do not know how to begin. If you are reading this, then I am right on two counts—first, that you are as intelligent as I believed you to be and second that I am as dead as I expected to be. I fear that I have placed myself at the mercy of some very bad people, and I wish to make certain that you know them for who they are before they attempt to manipulate you, as they have me, to the general detriment of our species. To that end, I have set a little trap that I expect will spring closed soon.

First, I suppose I should start at the beginning, if I may use that hackneyed expression. Despite the fact that our family name is now so closely associated with death and slaughter, I was not and am not a particularly violent man. In fact, as you may remember from your early years while I still lived with you in America, I initially tried to make my name in electricity. I created the incandescent bulb, as you know, but Edison stole it from me through his superior knowledge of patent law. I knew that my fortune must be made other ways, and I tried as I could to expand my horizons.

You should remember my explaining to you how I conceived the idea of the gas and recoil operated machine gun that has since carried my name literally across the globe with the march of the British Empire. I had told you that I was given the idea by a fellow American on a trip to Vienna. Over drinks one night something he said to me in sarcasm caused me to single-handedly create a weapon that has slain more men than any other in all of human history. I now will tell you the truth….

To be continued next Friday! 

The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part II
The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part III
The Inheritance of Hiram Percy Maxim, Part IV.

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About Brian

I am a history professor and author living with my family in the Virginia Mountains. It's hard to improve on a life like this!

Posted on April 4, 2014, in Brian Melton, History, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, War and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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