“‘Luke,’ said my mother timidly,
“‘I know it,’ said I quietly.
“She seemed surprised, and interrogated me with her eyes.
“‘She died at twilight yesterday,’ I stated; ’as the first candles were lit in the lodge and the earliest star appeared—I heard her footsteps.’
“‘At that time she passed away,’ sobbed my mother. ’Oh, Luke! you were cruel to the poor girl. Her parting prayer was made for you. To the last you stood between Heraine and heaven.’
“’At that time, mother, I was sitting at my window. Tears and thrills haunted me during the afternoon, and I was frightened in the silence and darkness. And I heard Heraine’s footsteps come up the road, pass the lodge, ascend the stairs, and cross my threshold. They were like echoes rather than sounds—hollow and ghostly; and mingled with them were the deeper footfalls of my other spectre, her husband.’
“I could not inhabit my chamber now. These awful sounds drove me into the open world, where I hoped to lose them in the tread of multitudes. I wandered to the old church on the day of the funeral, and looked upon the bier with dry and burning eyes. The pastor read of the holy Jerusalem, and said that her pure feet were walking the golden streets. But in the hushes of the sobbing I heard them close beside me, and while children were strewing her grave with flowers they followed me over the stile and through the village till I gained the fields and took to my heels in fright.
“I sought the resort of crowds, and lived amid turbulences. In busy hours I baffled my pursuers; but in the dark midnights, when only the miserable walked, I suffered the agonies of remorse and penance. The ever-flowing stream of life on London Bridge became my solace. My apartments are here, and I sit continually at an open window, leaning far forward, to catch the thunder of the tramp. I know the footfalls as of old. I see the suicide pace to and fro, to nerve herself for the deed. I hear her sleek betrayer, and detect their wretched offspring as he first essays to filch a handkerchief or a purse.
“Oh, the footfalls! the footfalls! Each tread marks a good or a wicked thought. A fiend or an angel starts beneath every heel. They write an eternal record as they go. Their voices float forever to witness against or for us. We people space as we cleave it. The ground that is dumb as we spurn it has a memory and a revenge. I am more sensitive than my kind; and my penance to these monitors of my sin is but a realization of the terror which all must feel at the accusation of their footfalls.”
Through a narrow, ravelled
valley, wearing down the farmer’s soil,
The Patuxent flows inconstant, with a hue of clay and oil,
From the terraces of mill-dams and the temperate slopes of wheat,
To the bottoms of tobacco, watched by many a planter’s seat.