Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
This tale, which was told to the narrator, Geoffrey Crayon, during a peaceful afternoon of fishing, begins with a local legend concerning treasure buried by the notorious pirate Captain Kidd in a swamp not far from Boston. Near this swamp, in 1727, lives a miserly fellow named Tom Walker and his wife, a woman as miserly as he. These two, so greedy that they even try to cheat each other, are constantly fighting, and Tom’s face shows the physical marks of their arguments.
One day, cutting through the swamp, Tom comes across the remains of an old Indian fortification and discovers a skull with a tomahawk still buried in it. As Tom kicks at the skull, he hears a voice and looks up to see a black man, “neither negro nor Indian” seated on a stump. The man, wearing a red sash around his body, has a soot-stained face, which makes it appear as if he works in some fiery place. Tom soon recognizes the stranger as the devil, Old Scratch. The devil confirms the story of Kidd’s buried treasure and offers it to Tom but only on a certain condition, a condition that the story does not state but that is surely the possession of Tom’s soul. Old Scratch proves his identity by leaving the imprint of his finger burned into Tom’s forehead.
When Tom tells his wife of the encounter, she greedily urges him to accept the bargain, but to spite her he refuses. Unable to change Tom’s mind, she decides to make her own pact with the devil, keeping the profits for herself. After an initial inconclusive meeting with Old Scratch, Tom’s wife sets out again for the Indian fort, this time taking with her all the household valuables she can carry. When she does not return for several days, Tom, uneasy for his valuables, goes to find her. After a long afternoon’s search, he sees...
(The entire section is 728 words.)
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