Re: P Humber....




>>
> You can call me whatever you like: You're the one looking at eternal
> damnation.


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 look out 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 when 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 shrunk within himself at the
horrid clamour 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 neighbourhood,
he took what he considered a short cut homewards 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
neighbourhood. 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, and
where 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 piece of firm
ground, which ran out like a peninsula into the deep bosom of the swamp.
It had been one of the strong holds 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 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 swamp.

It was late in the dusk of evening that Tom Walker reached the old fort,
and he paused there for a while 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 time
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 the skull 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 seen nor heard 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, half Indian garb, and had a red belt or sash swathed round his body,
but his face was neither black nor copper colour, 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 in 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 d——d," said the stranger, "as I flatter myself he
will be, if he does not look more to his own sins and less to his
neighbour's. 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 below it down. On the bark of the tree was scored the name of
Deacon Peabody. He now looked round and found most of the tall trees
marked with the name of some great men 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 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 neighbourhood I am known by the name of the
Black Woodsman. I am he to whom the red men devoted this spot, and 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 homewards. The black man told him
of great sums of money which had been 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 favour. 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
easily be 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 where 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 is 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 burnt, 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 towards 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 forebore 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 teapot 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 that have become confounded by a variety
of historians. Some asserted that she lost her way among the tangled mazes
of the swamp and sunk 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 assert that the tempter had decoyed her into
a dismal quagmire on 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 sat
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 no where to be heard. The
bittern alone responded to his voice, as he flew screaming by; or the bull
frog croaked dolefully from a neighbouring 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 clamour of carrion
crows that were hovering about a cypress tree. He looked 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 endeavour 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 check
apron, but, woful sight! found nothing but a heart and liver tied up in
it.

Such, according to the 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 several handsful 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 a 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
towards the black woodsman, who he considered had done him a kindness. He
sought, therefore, to cultivate a farther 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 calling for; 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 any thing rather than not gain the
promised treasure, he met the black man one evening in his usual woodman
dress, with his axe on his shoulder, sauntering along the edge of the
swamp, and humming a tune. He affected to receive Tom's advance 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 favours; 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 traffick; 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
dealer.

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 merchant to
bankruptcy—"

"I'll drive him to the d——l," cried Tom Walker, eagerly.

"You are the usurer for my money!" said the 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. Every body remembers the
days 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
every body 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 every body 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 a
usurer in Boston. His door was soon thronged by customers. The needy and
the adventurous; the gambling speculator; the dreaming land jobber; the
thriftless tradesman; the merchant with cracked credit; in short, every
one driven to raise money by desperate means and desperate sacrifices,
hurried to Tom Walker.

Thus Tom was the universal friend of the needy, and he acted like a
"friend in need;" that is to say, he always exacted good pay and good
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 fullness 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 on 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 clamour
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 neighbours, 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 on 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.

On one hot afternoon in the dog days, just as a terrible black thundergust
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 day.

"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 shrunk 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 forclose: never was sinner taken more unawares. The black man
whisked him like a child astride the horse and away he galloped in the
midst of a 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 borders 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 that when he ran to the window he just 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 towards
the old Indian fort; and that shortly after a thunderbolt fell in that
direction which 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 found 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 burnt to the ground.

Such was the end of Tom Walker and his ill gotten wealth. Let all griping
money brokers lay this story to heart. The truth of it is not to be
doubted. The very hole under the oak trees, from whence he dug Kidd's
money is to be seen to this day; and the neighbouring swamp and old Indian
fort is often haunted in stormy nights by a figure on horseback, in a
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, prevalent throughout New-England, of "The
Devil and Tom Walker."
.



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