The Devil and Tom Walker

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"The Devil and Tom Walker"
Author Washington Irving
Country United States/England
Published in Tales of a Traveller
Publisher John Murray (UK)
Carey & Lea (USA)
Media type Print
Publication date 1824

"The Devil and Tom Walker" is a short story by Washington Irving that first appeared in his 1824 collection of stories titled Tales of a Traveller,[1] as part of the "Money-Diggers" section. The story is very similar to that of the ancient German legend of Faust.

Stephen Vincent Benét drew much of his inspiration for "The Devil and Daniel Webster" from this tale.

Plot summary[edit]

The story starts with the legend of Kidd the Pirate. It is rumored that Kidd had a large treasure that he buried in a forest in colonial Massachusetts to keep it safe. Kidd made a deal with the devil in return for protection of his money. The devil's conditions are unknown. Kidd died never to return to his money and the devil has protected it ever since.

The short story then continues at around the year of 1727. Tom Walker is a greedy and selfish miser of a man who cherishes money more than his wife. They lived in a tarnished looking house, that had stood long and had an air of starvation. This is until he takes a walk in the swamp at an old Indian fortress and starts up a conversation with the Devil incarnate (referred to as "Old Scratch" in the story). "Scratch" is shown as a lumberjack or a woodsman chopping down trees, each with a prominent and wealthy colonialist name branded on the tree trunk. One rotted and soon to fall tree has the name of a deacon who grew wealthy "trading" with the Indians. Another fallen trunk has that of a wealthy seaman rumored to be a pirate. Old Scratch strikes up a deal with Tom Walker: he offers the riches hidden in the swamp by Captain Kidd in exchange for Tom's soul. Tom agrees to think about it, and returns home.

Burdened with this secret, he mentions it to his wife. When he is not there, Tom's wife takes all the valuables in the house and goes to make a deal with Old Scratch. When Tom goes in search of his wife and property, all he can find of her is her heart and liver in her apron tied to a tree.

Tom Walker then agrees to the deal with Old Scratch, as his wife had been abusive towards him, and he considered her death at the hand of Old Scratch a good thing. Tom agrees to become a "usurer" (a person that loans money at an extremely high interest rate. Known today as a loan shark), although Tom has "scruples" in becoming a slave trader.

Tom never tires of swindling people out of money, until he suddenly becomes fearful about the afterlife. Tom buys a big house but never furnishes it even though he has the money to do so. He then starts to become fiercely dedicated to God, always keeping two Bibles at hand.

When, one day, a person who had borrowed money from him and is asking for clemency blames Tom for taking his money. Tom says, "The Devil take me if I have made but a farthing!" (the smallest currency of the time. 1/4 of a penny) At this time, there are three loud knocks at the door. Tom is drawn towards the black-cloaked figure and realizes, in horror, that he has left his Bibles at his desk.

Tom Walker is then taken away by the Devil on the back of a black horse which rides toward the old fortress and disappears in lightning. Tom is never seen again. All his assets vanish and his house burns to the ground. The money Tom has made turns into woodchips because it was useless. His ghost haunts the site of the old fortress since that day.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Irving, Washington (1824). "The Devil and Tom Walker". Tales of a Traveller. ISBN 9780805785159.