The Bloody Footstep
On the threshold of one of the doors of Smithills Hall there is a bloody
footstep impressed into the door-step, and ruddy as if the bloody foot
had just trodden there; and it is averred that, on a certain night of
the year, and at a certain hour of the night, if you go and look at the
door-step you will see the mark wet with fresh blood. Some have
pretended to say that this appearance of blood was but dew; but can dew
redden a cambric handkerchief? Will it crimson the finger-tips when you
touch it? And that is what the bloody footstep will surely do when the
appointed night and hour come round....
It is needless to tell you all the strange stories that have survived to
this day about the old Hall, and how it is believed that the master of
it, owing to his ancient science, has still a sort of residence there
and control of the place, and how in one of the chambers there is still
his antique table, and his chair, and some rude old instruments and
machinery, and a book, and everything in readiness, just as if he might
still come back to finish some experiment.... One of the chief things to
which the old lord applied himself was to discover the means of
prolonging his own life, so that its duration should be indefinite, if
not infinite; and such was his science that he was believed to have
attained this magnificent and awful purpose....
The object of the Lord of Smithills Hall was to take a life from the
course of Nature, and Nature did not choose to be defrauded; so that,
great as was the power of this scientific man over her, she would not
consent that he should escape the necessity of dying at his proper time,
except upon condition of sacrificing some other life for his; and this
was to be done once for every thirty years that he chose to live, thirty
years being the account of a generation of man; and if in any way, in
that time, this lord could be the death of a human being, that satisfied
the requisition, and he might live on....
There was but one human being whom he cared for--that was a beautiful
kinswoman, an orphan, whom his father had brought up, and dying, left to
his care.... He saw that she, if anyone, was to be the person whom the
sacrifice demanded, and that he might kill twenty others without effect,
but if he took the life of this one it would make the charm strong and
good.... He did slay this pure young girl; he took her into the wood
near the house, an old wood that is standing yet, with some of its
magnificent oaks, and there he plunged a dagger into her heart....
He buried her in the wood, and returned to the house; and, as it
happened, he had set his right foot in her blood, and his shoe was wet
in it, and by some miraculous fate it left a track all along the
wood-path, and into the house, and on the stone steps of the threshold,
and up into his chamber. The servants saw it the next day, and wondered,
and whispered, and missed the fair young girl, and looked askance at
their lord's right foot, and turned pale, all of them....
Next, the legend says, that Sir Forrester was struck with horror at what
he had done ... and fled from his old Hall, and was gone full many a
day. But all the while he was gone there was the mark of a bloody
footstep impressed upon the stone door-step of the Hall.... The legend
says that wherever Sir Forrester went, in his wanderings about the
world, he left a bloody track behind him.... Once he went to the King's
Court, and, there being a track up to the very throne, the King frowned
upon him, so that he never came there any more. Nobody could tell how it
happened; his foot was not seen to bleed, only there was the bloody
track behind him....
At last this unfortunate lord deemed it best to go back to his own Hall,
where, living among faithful old servants born in the family, he could
hush the matter up better than elsewhere.... So home he came, and there
he saw the bloody track on the door-step, and dolefully went into the
Hall, and up the stairs, an old servant ushering him into his chamber,
and half a dozen others following him behind, gazing, shuddering,
pointing with quivering fingers, looking horror-stricken in one
another's pale faces....
By and by he vanished from the old Hall, but not by death; for, from
generation to generation, they say that a bloody track is seen around
that house, and sometimes it is traced up into the chambers, so fresh
that you see he must have passed a short time before.
This is the legend of the Bloody Footstep, which I myself have seen at
the Hall door.
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