Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Devil and Tom Walker...

"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. It was part of the "Money-Diggers" portion. The story is very similar to that of the ancient German legend of Faust. Stephen Vincent Benet drew much of his inspiration for "The Devil and Daniel Webster" from this tale.

Plot summary:

Tom Walker is a greedy and selfish miser of a man who cherishes money more than he does his equally miserly wife. They lived in a forlorn 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 chopping down trees, each with a prominent and wealthy colonialist name branded on the tree trunk. One rotted and soon to fallen 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 loan shark, although Tom has "scruples" in not becoming a slave trader.

Tom never tires of swindling people out of money, until he suddenly becomes fearful about the afterlife. 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!" 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 and is never seen again. All his assets vanished and his house burned to the ground. The Ghost of Walker then haunts the site of the old fort.

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