The old stories said that Captain Kidd the pirate buried his treasure somewhere near Boston. Those old stories also said that the devil was there when Kidd hid his treasure and now looks after it.
In 1727 a miserly fellow named Tom Walker lived with a miserly life. They live alone in a house that has fallen into disrepair. They argue and are known in the town by bad names.
One day he takes a short cut through a swamp and he finds himself upon an Indian old Indian fort.
Anyone 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 doesn’t care for superstition and so he rests in the old fort. He digs up an old skull with a tomahawk in it. He kicks the skull and a voice calls out to him. It is a dark man sitting on a stump.
He asks Tom what he is doing on his grounds and Tom says they don’t belong to the stranger. The stranger calls his attention to the trees which bear the names of wealthy men, and one of the trees has just been felled by the stranger’s axe.
“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 races put foot upon the soil.”
Tom calls him out as Old Scratch, the Devil. He is a hard man and so isn’t scared of the devil because of his life living with his wife.
The Devil tells Tom of Kidd’s buried treasure and they make a deal.
Tom returns home and finds that a rich old pirate has just died, the name of the man was the same as the name on the tree the black woodsman had just cut down. This convinces Tom that what he saw was no illusion. He shares with his wife his meeting and she urges him to take the devils deal.
“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”
So, the wife decides to make the deal with the devil herself. She sets off to find the devil and returns saying that she must give him an offering before they bargain. She sets off the next day, but she does not return. Tom wonders about her after she discovers she took their valuables with her, but she never returns.
Some say she died in the swamp, others say she eloped with the valuables, and other say Tom went after her and found a heart and liver tied up in her apron in a tree. It was said that she tried to make a deal with a devil not meant for her and she died for her trouble.
Tom shrugs off the misfortune and is rather pleased his wife is gone. And so, he meets the woodsman one day and they haggle over the treasure. The devil insists that the money found must help him. The devil wants Tom to become a slave trader, but tom will have none of it. Then he says to become a money lender and Tom is all for it.
“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.
Tom becomes known as a money lender very eager to help, and everyone was ready to spend credit money at the time, and speculating was at high, but while there was credit, few had money, and so people took Tom’s money.
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.
But the more they needed money, the harder he made the terms. And he always made sure he would gain from his lending. He becomes a rich and powerful man because of this. He builds a mansion and purchases a carriage and grows old. He beings to regret his bargain and that he sold his soul for the treasure, he becomes a church goer, a devout church goer and is religious to a fault.
One day Tom is ruining some poor fools’ life and says
Tom lost his patience and his piety. “The devil take me,” said he, “if I have made a farthing!”
And there is a knock at the door. And the black man whisks Tom away.
People who go to see to Tom’s fortune find that his mortgage papers have been burned and that where his gold and silver were that there is nothing but wood shavings. The day after he is taken his mansion burns 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.”