“The Footfalls Within” was first published in the September, 1930 issue of Weird Tales. It’s a pretty straight-forward story, but one that has some depth if you know where to look. It seems to take place after the previous tale, “Wings in the Night” (reviewed here). Solomon Kane has continued his eastward trek.
The story opens with Kane coming across the body of a young black woman. The corpse is fresh, and there are marks where whips and shackles have torn her flesh. It doesn’t take long for Kane to catch up with the slavers who killed her. He sees a train of blacks being led away by a group of armed Arabs and other blacks who have allied with them. They’re taking their captives to a slave market. They’re also driving them hard, neither giving them rest breaks nor providing them with ample water.
When another young woman collapses and can’t get up, the slavers decide to skin her rather than give her water or put her out of her misery. It’s more than Kane can stomach, and he shoots the man with the skinning knife. This brings the rest down on him, but he kills several before they can subdue him. The leader of the group, Hassim, realizes he can get a great deal of money from Kane after he learns his captive’s identity, so Kane is treated better than the rest of the slaves. As they march, Kane is approached by an old man named Yusef, who has retrieved Kane’s ju-ju stick from where Hassim had discarded it.
Yusef tells Kane that the stick was once used in worship in ancient Egypt and later another Solomon, king of Israel, had imprisoned the djinn with it. He chastises Hassim for discarding it. Hassim merely scoffs.
That night after the caravan has set up camp, one of the men returns from scouting in the jungle babbling about finding a mausoleum. Most of the slaves and black slavers are agitated by this to such an extent that Hassim agrees to move the camp, but along the way, he wants to stop off at the mausoleum and check it out. When they get there, he finds an ancient structure with the door still sealed and Hebrew written on the lintel. Hassim decides to break in. Everyone else thinks this is a bad idea. Kane insists he can hear the footfalls of something pacing on the other side of the door.
Once again I’m struck by how much sympathy Howard, who has been called a racist, shows for the oppressed blacks through the character of Solomon Kane. He feels guilty when at the camp, he is given all the water he wants while the slaves are barely given any. Kane also risks his life to protect them, starting with intervening on behalf of the girl who is about to be flayed.
But Howard’s views on race relations are not really what I want to focus on. I was more interested in the role the ju-ju stick played in the story, especially its history. Howard emphasized, using both the words of Yusef and Kane’s thoughts, how otherworldly the stick is. It’s carved from wood not of this world, and it has a long and illustrious history. Kane will ultimately use it to defeat the djinn Hassim releases from its prison. Howard also provides a bit of mystery when he mentions that the head of the stick had been recarved from what it was originally and leaves us wondering what had first been depicted there.
All in all, I really liked “The Footfalls Within”. I think the title alone portrays an air of menace. Solomon Kane’s character is well portrayed. He’s heroic, but he does have flaws, such as his sudden impulse to rescue the girl. The supporting characters of Hassim and Yusef are well developed. The dialogue both moves the story along and reveals something about the people speaking. In short, although there was nothing groundbreaking or particularly innovative about “The Footfalls Within”, it’s a tale well told.