The Devil and Tom Walker

A few miles from Boston, in Massachusetts, there is a deep inlet winding several miles into the interior of the country from Charles Bay, and terminating in a thickly wooded swamp or morass. On one side of this inlet is a beautiful dark grove; on the opposite side the land rises abruptly from the water's edge into a high ridge, on which grow a few scattered oaks of great age and immense size. Under one of these gigantic trees, according to old stories, there was a great amount of treasure buried by Kidd the pirate. The inlet allowed a facility to bring the money in a boat secretly, and at night, to the very foot of the hill; the elevation of the place permitted a good lookout to be kept that no one was at hand; while the remarkable trees formed good landmarks by which the place might easily be found again. The old stories add, moreover, that the devil presided at the hiding of the money, and took it under his guardianship; but this, it is well known, he always does with buried treasure, particularly when it has been ill-gotten. Be that as it may, Kidd never returned to recover his wealth; being shortly after seized at Boston, sent out to England, and there hanged for a pirate.

About the year 1727, just at the time that earthquakes were prevalent in New England, and shook many tall sinners down upon their knees, there lived near this place a meagre, miserly fellow, of the name of Tom Walker. He had a wife as miserly as himself; they were so miserly that they even conspired to cheat each other. Whatever the woman could lay hands on she hid away; a hen could not cackle but she was on the alert to secure the new-laid egg. Her husband was continually prying about to detect her secret hoards, and many and fierce were the conflicts that took place about what ought to have been common property. They lived in a forlorn-looking house that stood alone and had an air of starvation. A few straggling savin-trees, emblems of sterility, grew near it; no smoke ever curled from its chimney; no traveller stopped at its door. A miserable horse, whose ribs were as articulate as the bars of a gridiron, stalked about a field, where a thin carpet of moss, scarcely covering the ragged beds of pudding-stone, tantalized and balked his hunger; and sometimes he would lean his head over the fence, look piteously at the passer-by, and seem to petition deliverance from this land of famine.

The house and its inmates had altogether a bad name. Tom's wife was a tall termagant, fierce of temper, loud of tongue, and strong of arm. Her voice was often heard in wordy warfare with her husband; and his face sometimes showed signs that their conflicts were not confined to words. No one ventured, however, to interfere between them. The lonely wayfarer shrank within himself at the horrid clamor and clapper-clawing; eyed the den of discord askance; and hurried on his way, rejoicing, if a bachelor, in his celibacy.

One day that Tom Walker had been to a distant part of the neighborhood, he took what he considered a short-cut homeward, through the swamp. Like most short-cuts, it was an ill-chosen route. The swamp was thickly grown with great, gloomy pines and hemlocks, some of them ninety feet high, which made it dark at noonday and a retreat for all the owls of the neighborhood. It was full of pits and quagmires, partly covered with weeds and mosses, where the green surface often betrayed the traveller into a gulf of black, smothering mud; there were also dark and stagnant pools, the abodes of the tadpole, the bull-frog, and the water-snake, where the trunks of pines and hemlocks lay half-drowned, half-rotting, looking like alligators sleeping in the mire.

Tom had long been picking his way cautiously through this treacherous forest, stepping from tuft to tuft of rushes and roots, which afforded precarious footholds among deep sloughs, or pacing carefully, like a cat, along the prostrate trunks of trees, startled now and then by the sudden screaming of the bittern, or the quacking of a wild duck, rising on the wing from some solitary pool. At length he arrived at a firm piece of ground, which ran like a peninsula into the deep bosom of the swamp. It had been one of the strongholds of the Indians during their wars with the first colonists. Here they had thrown up a kind of fort, which they had looked upon as almost impregnable, and had used as a place of refuge for their squaws and children. Nothing remained of the old Indian fort but a few embankments, gradually sinking to the level of the surrounding earth, and already overgrown in part by oaks and other forest trees, the foliage of which formed a contrast to the dark pines and hemlocks of the swamps.

It was late in the dusk of evening when Tom Walker reached the old fort, and he paused there awhile to rest himself. Any one but he would have felt unwilling to linger in this lonely, melancholy place, for the common people had a bad opinion of it, from the stories handed down from the times of the Indian wars, when it was asserted that the savages held incantations here and made sacrifices to the Evil Spirit.

Tom Walker, however, was not a man to be troubled with any fears of the kind. He reposed himself for some time on the trunk of a fallen hemlock, listening to the boding cry of the tree-toad, and delving with his walking-staff into a mound of black mould at his feet. As he turned up the soil unconsciously, his staff struck against something hard. He raked it out of the vegetable mould, and lo! a cloven skull, with an Indian tomahawk buried deep in it, lay before him. The rust on the weapon showed the time that had elapsed since this death-blow had been given. It was a dreary memento of the fierce struggle that had taken place in this last foothold of the Indian warriors.

"Humph!" said Tom Walker, as he gave it a kick to shake the dirt from it.

"Let that skull alone!" said a gruff voice. Tom lifted up his eyes and beheld a great black man seated directly opposite him, on the stump of a tree. He was exceedingly surprised, having neither heard nor seen any one approach; and he was still more perplexed on observing, as well as the gathering gloom would permit, that the stranger was neither negro nor Indian. It is true he was dressed in a rude Indian garb, and had a red belt or sash swathed round his body; but his face was neither black nor copper-color, but swarthy and dingy, and begrimed with soot, as if he had been accustomed to toil among fires and forges. He had a shock of coarse black hair, that stood out from his head in all directions, and bore an axe on his shoulder.

He scowled for a moment at Tom with a pair of great red eyes.

"What are you doing on my grounds?" said the black man, with a hoarse, growling voice.

"Your grounds!" said Tom, with a sneer; "no more your grounds than mine; they belong to Deacon Peabody."

"Deacon Peabody be damned," said the stranger, "as I flatter myself he will be, if he does not look more to his own sins and less to those of his neighbors. Look yonder, and see how Deacon Peabody is faring."

Tom looked in the direction that the stranger pointed, and beheld one of the great trees, fair and flourishing without, but rotten at the core, and saw that it had been nearly hewn through, so that the first high wind was likely to blow it down. On the bark of the tree was scored the name of Deacon Peabody, an eminent man who had waxed wealthy by driving shrewd bargains with the Indians. He now looked around, and found most of the tall trees marked with the name of some great man of the colony, and all more or less scored by the axe. The one on which he had been seated, and which had evidently just been hewn down, bore the name of Crowninshield; and he recollected a mighty rich man of that name, who made a vulgar display of wealth, which it was whispered he had acquired by buccaneering.

"He's just ready for burning!" said the black man, with a growl of triumph. "You see I am likely to have a good stock of firewood for winter."

"But what right have you," said Tom, "to cut down Deacon Peabody's timber?"

"The right of a prior claim," said the other. "This woodland belonged to me long before one of your white-faced race put foot upon the soil."

"And, pray, who are you, if I may be so bold?" said Tom.

"Oh, I go by various names. I am the wild huntsman in some countries; the black miner in others. In this neighborhood I am known by the name of the black woodsman. I am he to whom the red men consecrated this spot, and in honor of whom they now and then roasted a white man, by way of sweet-smelling sacrifice. Since the red men have been exterminated by you white savages, I amuse myself by presiding at the persecutions of Quakers and Anabaptists; I am the great patron and prompter of slave-dealers and the grand-master of the Salem witches."

"The upshot of all which is, that, if I mistake not," said Tom, sturdily, "you are he commonly called Old Scratch."

"The same, at your service!" replied the black man, with a half-civil nod.

Such was the opening of this interview, according to the old story; though it has almost too familiar an air to be credited. One would think that to meet with such a singular personage in this wild, lonely place would have shaken any man's nerves; but Tom was a hard-minded fellow, not easily daunted, and he had lived so long with a termagant wife that he did not even fear the devil.

It is said that after this commencement they had a long and earnest conversation together, as Tom returned homeward. The black man told him of great sums of money buried by Kidd the pirate under the oak-trees on the high ridge, not far from the morass. All these were under his command, and protected by his power, so that none could find them but such as propitiated his favor. These he offered to place within Tom Walker's reach, having conceived an especial kindness for him; but they were to be had only on certain conditions. What these conditions were may be easily surmised, though Tom never disclosed them publicly. They must have been very hard, for he required time to think of them, and he was not a man to stick at trifles when money was in view. When they had reached the edge of the swamp, the stranger paused. "What proof have I that all you have been telling me is true?" said Tom. "There's my signature," said the black man, pressing his finger on Tom's forehead. So saying, he turned off among the thickets of the swamp, and seemed, as Tom said, to go down, down, down, into the earth, until nothing but his head and shoulders could be seen, and so on, until he totally disappeared.

When Tom reached home he found the black print of a finger burned, as it were, into his forehead, which nothing could obliterate.

The first news his wife had to tell him was the sudden death of
Absalom Crowninshield, the rich buccaneer. It was announced in the
papers, with the usual flourish, that "A great man had fallen in
Israel."

Tom recollected the tree which his black friend had just hewn down, and which was ready for burning. "Let the freebooter roast," said Tom; "who cares!" He now felt convinced that all he had heard and seen was no illusion.

He was not prone to let his wife into his confidence; but as this was an uneasy secret, he willingly shared it with her. All her avarice was awakened at the mention of hidden gold, and she urged her husband to comply with the black man's terms, and secure what would make them wealthy for life. However Tom might have felt disposed to sell himself to the devil, he was determined not to do so to oblige his wife; so he flatly refused, out of the mere spirit of contradiction. Many and bitter were the quarrels they had on the subject; but the more she talked, the more resolute was Tom not to be damned to please her.

At length she determined to drive the bargain on her own account, and, if she succeeded, to keep all the gain to herself. Being of the same fearless temper as her husband, she set off for the old Indian fort toward the close of a summer's day. She was many hours absent. When she came back, she was reserved and sullen in her replies. She spoke something of a black man, whom she had met about twilight hewing at the root of a tall tree. He was sulky, however, and would not come to terms; she was to go again with a propitiatory offering, but what it was she forbore to say.

The next evening she set off again for the swamp, with her apron heavily laden. Tom waited and waited for her, but in vain; midnight came, but she did not make her appearance; morning, noon, night returned, but still she did not come. Tom now grew uneasy for her safety, especially as he found she had carried off in her apron the silver tea-pot and spoons, and every portable article of value. Another night elapsed, another morning came; but no wife. In a word, she was never heard of more.

What was her real fate nobody knows, in consequence of so many pretending to know. It is one of those facts which have become confounded by a variety of historians. Some asserted that she lost her way among the tangled mazes of the swamp, and sank into some pit or slough; others, more uncharitable, hinted that she had eloped with the household booty, and made off to some other province; while others surmised that the tempter had decoyed her into a dismal quagmire, on the top of which her hat was found lying. In confirmation of this, it was said a great black man, with an axe on his shoulder, was seen late that very evening coming out of the swamp, carrying a bundle tied in a check apron, with an air of surly triumph.

The most current and probable story, however, observes that Tom Walker grew so anxious about the fate of his wife and his property that he set out at length to seek them both at the Indian fort. During a long summer's afternoon he searched about the gloomy place, but no wife was to be seen. He called her name repeatedly, but she was nowhere to be heard. The bittern alone responded to his voice, as he flew screaming by; or the bull-frog croaked dolefully from a neighboring pool. At length, it is said, just in the brown hour of twilight, when the owls began to hoot and the bats to flit about, his attention was attracted by the clamor of carrion crows hovering about a cypress-tree. He looked up and beheld a bundle tied in a check apron and hanging in the branches of the tree, with a great vulture perched hard by, as if keeping watch upon it. He leaped with joy, for he recognized his wife's apron, and supposed it to contain the household valuables.

"Let us get hold of the property," said he, consolingly, to himself, "and we will endeavor to do without the woman."

As he scrambled up the tree, the vulture spread its wide wings and sailed off, screaming, into the deep shadows of the forest. Tom seized the checked apron, but, woful sight! found nothing but a heart and liver tied up in it!

Such, according to this most authentic old story, was all that was to be found of Tom's wife. She had probably attempted to deal with the black man as she had been accustomed to deal with her husband; but though a female scold is generally considered a match for the devil, yet in this instance she appears to have had the worst of it. She must have died game, however; for it is said Tom noticed many prints of cloven feet deeply stamped about the tree, and found handfuls of hair, that looked as if they had been plucked from the coarse black shock of the woodsman. Tom knew his wife's prowess by experience. He shrugged his shoulders as he looked at the signs of fierce clapper-clawing. "Egad," said he to himself, "Old Scratch must have had a tough time of it!"

Tom consoled himself for the loss of his property, with the loss of his wife, for he was a man of fortitude. He even felt something like gratitude toward the black woodsman, who, he considered, had done him a kindness. He sought, therefore, to cultivate a further acquaintance with him, but for some time without success; the old black-legs played shy, for, whatever people may think, he is not always to be had for the calling; he knows how to play his cards when pretty sure of his game.

At length, it is said, when delay had whetted Tom's eagerness to the quick and prepared him to agree to anything rather than not gain the promised treasure, he met the black man one evening in his usual woodsman's dress, with his axe on his shoulder, sauntering along the swamp and humming a tune. He affected to receive Tom's advances with great indifference, made brief replies, and went on humming his tune.

By degrees, however, Tom brought him to business, and they began to haggle about the terms on which the former was to have the pirate's treasure. There was one condition which need not be mentioned, being generally understood in all cases where the devil grants favors; but there were others about which, though of less importance, he was inflexibly obstinate. He insisted that the money found through his means should be employed in his service. He proposed, therefore, that Tom should employ it in the black traffic; that is to say, that he should fit out a slave-ship. This, however, Tom resolutely refused; he was bad enough in all conscience, but the devil himself could not tempt him to turn slave-trader.

Finding Tom so squeamish on this point, he did not insist upon it, but proposed, instead, that he should turn usurer; the devil being extremely anxious for the increase of usurers, looking upon them as his peculiar people.

To this no objections were made, for it was just to Tom's taste.

"You shall open a broker's shop in Boston next month," said the black man.

"I'll do it to-morrow, if you wish," said Tom Walker.

"You shall lend money at two per cent. a month."

"Egad, I'll charge four!" replied Tom Walker.

"You shall extort bonds, foreclose mortgages, drive the merchants to bankruptcy—"

"I'll drive them to the devil," cried Tom Walker.

"You are the usurer for my money!" said black-legs with delight. "When will you want the rhino?"

"This very night."

"Done!" said the devil.

"Done!" said Tom Walker. So they shook hands and struck a bargain.

A few days' time saw Tom Walker seated behind his desk in a counting-house in Boston.

His reputation for a ready-moneyed man, who would lend money out for a good consideration, soon spread abroad. Everybody remembers the time of Governor Belcher, when money was particularly scarce. It was a time of paper credit. The country had been deluged with government bills; the famous Land Bank had been established; there had been a rage for speculating; the people had run mad with schemes for new settlements, for building cities in the wilderness; land-jobbers went about with maps of grants and townships and Eldorados, lying nobody knew where, but which everybody was ready to purchase. In a word, the great speculating fever which breaks out every now and then in the country had raged to an alarming degree, and everybody was dreaming of making sudden fortunes from nothing. As usual, the fever had subsided, the dream had gone off, and the imaginary fortunes with it; the patients were left in doleful plight, and the whole country resounded with the consequent cry of "hard times."

At this propitious time of public distress did Tom Walker set up as usurer in Boston. His door was soon thronged by customers. The needy and adventurous, the gambling speculator, the dreaming land-jobber, the thriftless tradesman, the merchant with cracked credit—in short, everyone driven to raise money by desperate means and desperate sacrifices hurried to Tom Walker.

Thus Tom was the universal friend to the needy, and acted like "a friend in need"; that is to say, he always exacted good pay and security. In proportion to the distress of the applicant was the hardness of his terms. He accumulated bonds and mortgages, gradually squeezed his customers closer and closer, and sent them at length, dry as a sponge, from his door.

In this way he made money hand over hand, became a rich and mighty man, and exalted his cocked hat upon "Change." He built himself, as usual, a vast house, out of ostentation, but left the greater part of it unfinished and unfurnished, out of parsimony. He even set up a carriage in the fulness of his vain-glory, though he nearly starved the horses which drew it; and, as the ungreased wheels groaned and screeched on the axle-trees, you would have thought you heard the souls of the poor debtors he was squeezing.

As Tom waxed old, however, he grew thoughtful. Having secured the good things of this world, he began to feel anxious about those of the next. He thought with regret of the bargain he had made with his black friend, and set his wits to work to cheat him out of the conditions. He became, therefore, all of a sudden, a violent church-goer. He prayed loudly and strenuously, as if heaven were to be taken by force of lungs. Indeed, one might always tell when he had sinned most during the week by the clamor of his Sunday devotion. The quiet Christians who had been modestly and steadfastly travelling Zionward were struck with self-reproach at seeing themselves so suddenly outstripped in their career by this new-made convert. Tom was as rigid in religious as in money matters; he was a stern supervisor and censurer of his neighbors, and seemed to think every sin entered up to their account became a credit on his own side of the page. He even talked of the expediency of reviving the persecution of Quakers and Anabaptists. In a word, Tom's zeal became as notorious as his riches.

Still, in spite of all this strenuous attention to forms, Tom had a lurking dread that the devil, after all, would have his due. That he might not be taken unawares, therefore, it is said he always carried a small Bible in his coat-pocket. He had also a great folio Bible on his counting-house desk, and would frequently be found reading it when people called on business; on such occasions he would lay his green spectacles in the book, to mark the place, while he turned round to drive some usurious bargain.

Some say that Tom grew a little crack-brained in his old days, and that, fancying his end approaching, he had his horse new shod, saddled, and bridled, and buried with his feet uppermost; because he supposed that at the last day the world would be turned upside-down; in which case he should find his horse standing ready for mounting, and he was determined at the worst to give his old friend a run for it. This, however, is probably a mere old wives' fable. If he really did take such a precaution, it was totally superfluous; at least so says the authentic old legend, which closes his story in the following manner:

One hot summer afternoon in the dog-days, just as a terrible black thunder-gust was coming up, Tom sat in his counting-house, in his white linen cap and India silk morning-gown. He was on the point of foreclosing a mortgage, by which he would complete the ruin of an unlucky land-speculator for whom he had professed the greatest friendship. The poor land-jobber begged him to grant a few months' indulgence. Tom had grown testy and irritated, and refused another delay.

"My family will be ruined, and brought upon the parish," said the land-jobber.

"Charity begins at home," replied Tom; "I must take care of myself in these hard times."

"You have made so much money out of me," said the speculator.

Tom lost his patience and his piety. "The devil take me," said he, "if
I have made a farthing!"

Just then there were three loud knocks at the street door. He stepped out to see who was there. A black man was holding a black horse, which neighed and stamped with impatience.

"Tom, you're come for," said the black fellow, gruffly. Tom shrank back, but too late. He had left his little Bible at the bottom of his coat-pocket and his big Bible on the desk buried under the mortgage he was about to foreclose: never was sinner taken more unawares. The black man whisked him like a child into the saddle, gave the horse the lash, and away he galloped, with Tom on his back, in the midst of the thunder-storm. The clerks stuck their pens behind their ears, and stared after him from the windows. Away went Tom Walker, dashing down the streets, his white cap bobbing up and down, his morning-gown fluttering in the wind, and his steed striking fire out of the pavement at every bound. When the clerks turned to look for the black man, he had disappeared.

Tom Walker never returned to foreclose the mortgage. A countryman, who lived on the border of the swamp, reported that in the height of the thunder-gust he had heard a great clattering of hoofs and a howling along the road, and running to the window caught sight of a figure, such as I have described, on a horse that galloped like mad across the fields, over the hills, and down into the black hemlock swamp toward the old Indian fort, and that shortly after a thunder-bolt falling in that direction seemed to set the whole forest in a blaze.

The good people of Boston shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders, but had been so much accustomed to witches and goblins, and tricks of the devil, in all kinds of shapes, from the first settlement of the colony, that they were not so much horror-struck as might have been expected. Trustees were appointed to take charge of Tom's effects. There was nothing, however, to administer upon. On searching his coffers, all his bonds and mortgages were reduced to cinders. In place of gold and silver, his iron chest was filled with chips and shavings; two skeletons lay in his stable instead of his half-starved horses, and the very next day his great house took fire and was burned to the ground.

Such was the end of Tom Walker and his ill-gotten wealth. Let all gripping money-brokers lay this story to heart. The truth of it is not to be doubted. The very hole under the oak-trees, whence he dug Kidd's money, is to be seen to this day; and the neighboring swamp and old Indian fort are often haunted in stormy nights by a figure on horseback, in morning-gown and white cap, which is doubtless the troubled spirit of the usurer. In fact, the story has resolved itself into a proverb, and is the origin of that popular saying, so prevalent throughout New England, of "The devil and Tom Walker."

Footnotes

  1. Irving wrote this story in the style of a folktale, and these types of stories are usually allegories that symbolize larger conditions of human nature. Tom's pact with the devil, his sinful actions, and his religious hypocrisy, all reveal how Irving believes such behavior will be punished, and he has his narrator end the tale with an appropriate warning.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The old Indian fort is not only where Tom first made a deal with the devil but is also the gateway to hell. Irving is likely suggesting that sinful behavior always comes full circle and ends in punishment.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Simply having the Bible around the house doesn't help hypocrites like Tom when the devil comes knocking at his door. Irving captures this idea perfectly by having the Bible buried under the land jobber's mortgage that Tom is about to foreclose, revealing Tom's real priorities.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. In the Christian Church, the "parish" refers to a small administrative district with its own church and run by a local pastor. The land jobber means that because he will have lost all of his money to Tom, his family will have to rely on the charity of the church for support.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. One of the reasons Tom has been so effective at driving people into inescapable debt is that he pretends to be their friends and have their best interests at heart. While the land jobber and others are not entirely blameless in their attempts to get rich quickly, Tom has actively manipulated his relationships with others to maximize his profits.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. If this fable were to be taken seriously for a moment, it illustrates just how "crack-brained," obsessed, and misguided Tom had become with death. To save himself, he needs to genuinely repent and change his ways. Instead, these actions represent how spiritually blind he truly has become.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. "Zion" has different meanings in the Jewish and Christian faiths. In this context, "zionword" refers to the spiritual journey these "quiet Christians" are making to try and access the heavenly kingdom of God in the afterlife.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. "Parsimony" means an extreme unwillingness to part with one's money. Tom may have a higher quality of life than he did prior to becoming a usurer, but he remains a greedy miser who doesn't even use the wealth he's acquired.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Irving shows that Tom and his wife are not the only people in the area who are greedy. In fact, it seems that many in New England are looking for ways to get rich quick regardless of the moral cost. The resulting economic depression makes people more desperate for money, which works in Tom's favor. He's able to lend money at even more exorbitant rates because people are willing to deal with him even on bad terms.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. "El Dorado" is the name of a fictitious country or city in the Americas rumored to be overflowing with gold. The land-jobbers would likely have been either eagerly searching for such a place or selling false information on its whereabouts in order to make money off of other speculators' gullibility.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. The Massachusetts Land Bank was a paper-money experiment for poor debtors, particularly farmers, to get out of paying their debts and taxes by creating cheap paper currency based on land instead of gold or silver. This rush for money in a time of economic depression provides the perfect situation for Tom walker to work as a usurer.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. Readers might wonder why the devil didn't deal with Tom's wife, especially considering how she was just as greedy, if not more so, than Tom. An explanation might be that the devil wants to ruin as many people as possible, and so letting Tom use Kidd's treasure to become a usurer would make him a socially influential person that could cause a lot of harm. Tom's wife wouldn't have been able to hold such a position due to the social restrictions enforced on women at the time.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. Even though Tom appears to not have any moral qualms about dealing with the devil out of greed, he refuses to engage in the slave trade. This suggests just how morally outrageous and awful such a profession is, and it is one of the story's most obvious moral accusations. Interestingly, Tom's refusal here is also his only act of grace in the tale.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. A "black-leg" refers to a swindler, a gambler, or someone who tries to deceive someone of their possessions. Since the devil has a reputation for making deals for people's souls, this choice of words is apt.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. Demonstrating that there was never any love in his marriage, Tom heartlessly feels better about losing his property because the devil rid him of his wife. Irving uses this moment to again satirize marriage by drawing attention to Tom's behavior and providing dark humor around the event.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. The narrator offers several different versions of what possibly happened to Tom's wife. A couple of these have no moral lesson associated with them, but notice how the one he chooses has the most prominent moralistic message of all: the punishment for greed and dealing with the devil is damnation. This is an example of how the narrator is using the storytelling medium to relay messages about moral lessons to the readers.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. The narrator has described Tom and his wife as fearless when facing the devil. However, this does not mean that they are heroic; rather, it is further evidence of how unaware they are of spiritual matters and how little they value their own lives.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. Tom's wife is perfectly content to allow her husband to sacrifice himself for the sake of financial gain, and she pressures him to do it. This willingness to let her husband damn himself represents a complete lack of concern for morals or spiritual well-being and reinforces the dangers of greed and moral corruption.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  19. Readers familiar with a Faustian bargain and/or church doctrine understand that the only possession that the devil typically wants to barter for are human souls. It's possible that the narrator doesn't say this explicitly because the very thought of someone being so greedy that he'd sell his soul for treasure or material gain is too horrific.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  20. Since the Quakers and Anabaptists are particularly strict sects of Christianity, the devil would find it amusing to see these groups persecuted by other Christians because they would be some of the least likely to commit sinful offenses. The devil's pleasure at this persecution emphasizes how hypocritical the actions of Christians against one another are, because they only serve the devil's evil will rather than the good of the community.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  21. The idea behind this statement (and, perhaps, the story itself) is that ownership is an illusion. Only the devil truly possesses these things in the physical world, and he uses them to tempt humans to eternal damnation, like he's done with Peabody and Crowninshield. The devil's swamp shows the moral corruption of society's leaders and foreshadows their damnation. The fact that many of the names on the trees are powerful figures reinforces the notion that power and wealth invariably leads to moral corruption.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  22. The Salem witch trials occurred in colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693. Twenty people were executed after being convicted of witchcraft. These people, predominantly women, were accused of consorting with the Black Man of the Woods (the devil) and using their black magic for evil purposes. Many American authors like Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne used or referenced the witch trials in their stories.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  23. This American name for the devil derives from old Norse/Germanic roots of the words skratte and skraz, both of which either refer to a "wood-demon", "satyr", or a type of "goblin." Notice the relationship between the "wood-demon" from the origin of the name and the woodcutting profession Irving gives the devil in this story.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  24. While Deacon Peabody may own the physical swamp, it's clear that the devil has spiritual ownership of the accursed grounds. The devil reveals that Deacon Peabody actually belongs to the devil because of how he hypocritically scrutinizes his neighbors’ sins and doesn't look after his own. The tree with Peabody's name on it demonstrates how on the outside the man might appear successful while on the inside he is rotten and corrupt.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  25. Tom's surprise is a good example of irony since he has lived his whole life in sin and shouldn't be so startled to see the devil, the very embodiment of sin, in front of him. His surprise also conveys the idea that either Tom has very little self-awareness about his own spiritual self, or he simply doesn't care.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  26. War is a very violent expression of human greed because it is often committed for the desire of another's material possessions. The presence of the fort attests to how war (and therefore greed) ultimately results in nothing but ruin and loss.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  27. In addition to the bluffs and swamps that New Englanders at the time would have recognized, Irving also situates Tom's meeting with the devil in an old American Indian fort. Since this fort served as a stronghold during a war with the Europeans, it adds to the uniquely American context of the story.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  28. A "squaw" refers to an American Indian women or wife. Until the mid 20th century, this word, derived from an Algonquian language, was used neutrally by anthropologists and other social scientists in research contexts. While Irving uses the word in this neutral sense, it is worth noting that after the Cultural Revolution and the changes in the political climate in the US in the later 20th century, the word can no longer be used inoffensively.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  29. While this word typically refers to a woman's breasts or chest, "bosom" can also be used in a figurative sense to refer to the heart of a place. In this context, Tom finds himself standing on a peninsula that goes deep into the center of the swamp.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  30. While in Europe the hemlock plant is highly poisonous with fern-like leaves, in North America the hemlock fir or spruce is a large coniferous tree with dark green foliage. The hemlock fir shares the same name with the hemlock plant because it supposedly smells similar to the plant when its foliage is crushed up.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  31. This simile illustrates how the horse has been starved to the point where its ribs are incredibly prominent. Such details reinforce just how miserly Tom and his wife are because they wish to save their money rather than buy proper food for their animals.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  32. The character of Tom Walker is established from the very beginning as someone who is first and foremost extremely, even to the point of self destruction, greedy. The use of the adjectives "meagre" and "miserly" further illustrates how Tom Walker not only values wealth above all else, but that he also does not spend it, preferring simply to possess wealth.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  33. Irving presents one of his themes with the devil's presence at the burying of Kidd's treasure: greed and the moral harm it causes. By saying that the devil is always guarding money, particularly stolen money, Irving uses the devil to show how temptation and greed ruin the lives of those who seek wealth above all else.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  34. On November 10th, 1727, a large earthquake with many aftershocks struck New England, a region where earthquakes are not common occurrences. Modern estimates suggest that its magnitude was between a 5.0 and a 6.0 on the Richter scale.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  35. Irving essentially created the genre that "The Devil and Tom Walker'' is written in—a fictional sketch. The fictional narrator, Geoffrey Crayon, relates and views local legends with good-natured skepticism. This devices performs several functions: First, it allows Irving to create more distance between himself and his readers. Second, Irving can tell fantastic stories and present the supernatural as actual beings without needing to explain them as natural phenomena. Finally, readers do not have to believe that Tom Walker actually deals with the devil; they can simply believe that the legend says it happened.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  36. Washington Irving wanted to establish a uniquely American style of literature, so he set "The Devil and Tom Walker" near Boston in the New England area. In the early 18th century, New England was one of the largest and most-established metropolitan areas in North America. Irving's descriptions of the landscapes and the cultural references would have been familiar to the area's inhabitants. Furthermore, the New England setting provides background for Irving's interest in Walker's morality. Puritans, Quakers, and Anabaptists, all strict Christian orders concerned with moral consciousness, populated the area.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  37. Washington Irving composed this short story while he was living in Germany and was particularly interested in the folktales of the region and the Faust legend. For this reason, some critics consider “The Devil and Tom Walker” to be the “New England Faust.” However, the primary difference between the two is that while Faust craved many things, including love, Tom Walker's sole desire is wealth.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  38. While horse's shoes can make sparks when they hit the pavement, the image of fire from this action reinforces the demonic nature of the steed and the eternal hellfire and damnation Tom is going to suffer.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  39. Governor Jonathan Belcher's notoriously corrupt administration of the then-British colony of Massachusetts created an economic depression around 1740. These poor economic conditions forced many people to seek out usurers so that they could obtain loans to make ends meet.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  40. A "usurer" is another word for a money-lender; however, this word usually means this person charges excessively high rates of interest. That the devil is interested in usurers represents the unfavorable view many people have of those who practiced this profession.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  41. Tom earned his wealth and house through sinful and greedy behavior, and so the burning of his house serves as a symbolic reminder of Tom’s eternal damnation in the fires of hell.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  42. Even though Tom was carried off by the devil in a spectacular way, the Bostonians don't seem to react very strongly to this event. Irving is likely suggesting, through a bit of dark humor and satire, that even in this town of Puritan Christians, dealing with the devil is not altogether an uncommon occurrence and there are many sinful and hypocritical people in this society.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  43. In a perfect display of irony, Tom maintains his miserly attitude at the very end, even so far as to deny that he has profited from his work as a usurer. It is fitting that the devil arrives in this moment at Tom's "invitation" to take him away to hell.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  44. Recall how the buccaneer Absalom Crowninshield was heralded as a respectable and noble man upon his death even though he led a sinful life. It is quite ironic and a little disturbing that this society praises and rewards the actions of people like Tom with wealth and social status. Irving is likely making a satirical commentary on the American obsession with wealth and powerful figures.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  45. The fact that Tom's shrewish wife was so vicious with the devil, and the fact that Tom somewhat pities "Old Scratch," shows how Irving not only uses the story to provide moral instruction, but he also believes that by adding humor, literature can be morally instructive and entertaining at the same time.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  46. The devil has Tom’s wife sacrifice the things that are of the highest value to her: the household’s silver and other valuable items. In another darkly humorous example of greed corrupting one's morals, Tom cares not for his wife's well-being and misses the silver far more than his wife.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  47. The dark and humorous irony in this passage is that normally nobody would willingly wish to sell her soul to the devil, and that the only reason Tom does not go through with the deal is simply to spite his wife rather than any concerns for his own welfare. Greed and spite have made these two characters completely perverse in their actions and motives.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  48. Ironically, these people in this story that get the devil's mark are not outcasts but leaders of society, which suggests how spiritually corrupt society is. The actually sinful Absalom Crowninshield was praised as a pious man at the time of his death despite his vulgar displays of the wealth that he acquired through disreputable means.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  49. The mark of the devil has significance in many stories and likely comes from the biblical story of Cain and Abel, in which Cain was punished by God with exile and a permanent mark for killing his brother, Abel. Old Scratch's mark on Tom’s forehead perhaps alludes to this story.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  50. Irving depicts the devil as a woodsman who cuts down living sinners like trees to burn them in the forge and fires of hell. Many of these trees that represent the sinners and "great men" of the area appear strong on the outside, but on the inside they are corrupt and rotten, demonstrating the moral corruption in their lives and the power that the devil has over them.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  51. The idea that the American Indians worship the devil conforms to the racist perception of Native Americans when the story was written. However, it is worth noting that the story depicts European Americans as devil worshippers because they act on their greed and corrupt themselves. From this perspective, it's clear that the colonists are no more moral than the Native Americans; they are simply better about lying to themselves about their own immorality.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  52. The description of the inlet and swamp as well as the inclusion of the devil introduce the story's themes of moral corruption and greed while simultaneously helping establish a dark and mysterious tone for the story. The swamp is dark and dangerous, but it also has a seductive allure with the promise of wealth and hidden treasure.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  53. This line implies that the earthquake served as a reminder for many sinners of how temporary and unstable physical life is. That the sinners were shaken down to their knees suggests that many of them realized that their spiritual lives needed attending to and that the afterlife and the value of their souls were more valuable than worldy things.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  54. Irving has Tom Walker take a shortcut to comment on cheating or seeking the quickest way to wealth—providing another example of how Tom is so greedy that he cuts corners for his own gain when others wouldn't. The shortcut in the swamp symbolizes these shortcuts people try to use to get ahead in the world. However, such paths often contain risks and complications, in this case not only economic ones, but perhaps ones that lead to eternal damnation.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  55. In his old age, Tom finally fears the devil. However, instead of becoming genuinely remorseful for his sins, Tom becomes a violent church-goer who makes brash displays in church and criticizes others rather than looking after his own sins. In this way, Irving satirizes those who turn to religion and make public shows of devotion while retaining their meanness of spirit. Tom's selfish reasons for becoming a church goer represent the hypocrisy of his actions.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  56. In another example of satire, Irving ironically calls Tom a "friend in need." As a usurer, Tom is truly no one's friend because he takes advantage of the situation by exploiting the debtors vulnerability and ruthlessly driving them to bankruptcy.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  57. In this context, "celibacy" refers to the state of not being married. Irving appears to be satirizing marriage in this paragraph by showing how Tom and his wife have such a terrible marriage that those who walk by are thankful that they themselves are not married.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  58. Irving's choice of "green" here is deliberate. The color green often has associations with envy, money, and avarice, or greed. The fact that Tom literally looks at the world through green lenses reinforces Tom's moral corruption and lust for wealth.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  59. Geoffrey Crayon, a character created by Irving, narrates this story as well as others in Tales of a Traveller. Crayon's reference to the old stories enhances this tale's status as a "legend." Irving uses this second-hand narration to give his short story a long, local history, which is a primary trait of a folktale. By using Crayon as a first-person narrator, Irving gives the impression that the reader is being told a story in the same way most folktales are passed down from generation to generation.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  60. A "land-jobber" is a real-estate investor or speculator; someone who makes his or her living by buying and selling land on speculation.

    — Blake Douglas
  61. "Rhino" in this context is British slang for money, in much the same way that Americans use the word "buck."

    — Blake Douglas
  62. This line refers to 2 Samuel 3:38 in the Bible, where King David mourns the death of Abner. It is used to inform the public that a notable and good person had died.

    — Blake Douglas
  63. The Quakers and Anabaptists are Christian denominations which denounced liquor and promoted simple lives. The Amish are cited as a modern example of Anabaptists. The point here is that the devil enjoys persecuting the people who seem least likely to have committed a crime.

    — Blake Douglas
  64. The Crowninshields were a famous and wealthy American family who formed part of the upper class of Boston society. Many members of the family were prominent in political and military leadership, ocean trade, and literature.

    — Blake Douglas
  65. In the context of this story, told from a Christian perspective, the "Evil Spirit" is Satan. It was common for colonists to assume that the Native American religions, being non-Christian, must have been worshipping the devil instead.

    — Blake Douglas
  66. "Termagant" (with a capital T) refers to a character from in medieval plays that represented an angry, overbearing god that Muslims supposedly worshipped. Eventually the word came to mean a harsh, overbearing, or violent-tempered person, and it takes the adjective form with a lowercase t.

    — Blake Douglas
  67. A puddingstone is a type of composite stone, with thicker pebble-sized stones embedded in a fine, sand or mud-grained stone of a different color, like raisins in pudding. The puddingstone around Boston is called Roxbury, and it is around 500 million years old.

    — Blake Douglas
  68. Juniperus sabina (savin) is a small, busy juniper tree, similar to pines but shorter, bushier and less "stately." Junipers don't have any historical association with sterility; the author may simply be referring to their appearance.

    — Blake Douglas
  69. Captain William Kidd was a Scottish sailor charged and executed for piracy in 1701. He became famous for his sensational trial, and for the treasure that he supposedly buried somewhere on the east coast of North America.

    — Blake Douglas