The Devil and Tom Walker (Irving)

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The Devil and Tom Walker
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A miserly man made a deal with the Devil to gain wealth through usury. As he grew older, he worried about his eternal fate and tried to repent. Ultimately, the Devil claimed his soul.

In a small town near Boston, Massachusetts, there was a deep inlet that led to a thickly-wooded swamp. On one side of the inlet was a dark grove, and on the other side, the land rose abruptly into a high ridge with a few scattered, gigantic oak trees. It was said that under one of these trees, a great amount of treasure had been buried by the pirate Kidd. The treasure was believed to be guarded by the Devil himself.

Around the year 1727, a miserly man named Tom Walker lived near this place with his equally miserly wife.

Tom Walker — miserly man; married to a termagant wife; becomes a wealthy usurer after making a deal with the Devil; grows fearful of his eternal fate in old age.
Tom's Wife — tall, fierce-tempered, and miserly; constantly quarrels with Tom; attempts to make her own deal with the Devil and disappears mysteriously.

They were so greedy that they would even try to cheat each other. They lived in a forlorn-looking house, and their property was in a state of disrepair. Their marriage was marked by constant quarrels and fights, which often turned violent.

One day, Tom took a shortcut through the swamp and came across a skull with an Indian tomahawk buried in it. As he examined it, a gruff voice told him to leave the skull alone. Tom looked up and saw a large black man sitting on a tree stump. The man was dressed in a half-Indian garb, with a red sash around his waist, and his face was sooty and begrimed. He introduced himself as the black woodsman, the guardian of the buried treasure, and the one who presided over the persecution of Quakers and Anabaptists.

The Devil (Old Scratch, Black Woodsman) — supernatural being; appears as a black man with sooty face, coarse black hair, and an ax on his shoulder; tempts Tom with buried treasure and ultimately claims his soul.

Tom was not afraid of the Devil and engaged in a conversation with him. The Devil told Tom about the buried treasure and offered to give it to him, but only under certain conditions. Tom needed time to think about these conditions and eventually agreed to them. The Devil marked Tom's forehead with his finger as a sign of their agreement.

When Tom returned home, he learned that a wealthy man named Absalom Crowninshield had suddenly died. This convinced Tom that the Devil's words were true. He told his wife about the treasure, and she urged him to accept the Devil's conditions. However, Tom refused, just to spite her. His wife then decided to make her own deal with the Devil, but she disappeared mysteriously, leaving only her heart and liver tied up in her apron.

Tom, now a widower, sought to make a deal with the Devil himself. They agreed that Tom would become a wealthy usurer, lending money at high interest rates and driving people to bankruptcy. Tom set up a successful business in Boston and became very rich. However, as he grew older, he began to worry about his eternal fate. He started attending church and praying loudly, hoping to save his soul.

One hot summer afternoon, as Tom was about to foreclose on a mortgage, he heard three loud knocks at his door.

"The devil take me," said he, "'if I have made a farthing!"

He opened it to find the Devil waiting for him with a black horse. The Devil told Tom that his time had come, and despite Tom's attempts to escape his fate, the Devil whisked him away on the horse. Tom was never seen again, and his house burned down the next day.

The story of Tom Walker and his ill-gotten wealth became a cautionary tale for the people of New England, serving as a reminder of the dangers of greed and the consequences of making deals with the Devil.

"Let all griping money-brokers lay this story to heart."

This quote is from the closing lines of the story, serving as a warning to the readers about the dangers of greed and the consequences of making deals with the Devil.