General Moulton and the Devil
by Charles M. Skinner
Jonathan Moulton, of Hampton, was a general of consequence in the
colonial wars, but a man not always trusted in other than military
matters. It was even hinted that his first wife died before her time, for
he quickly found consolation in his bereavement by marrying her
companion. In the middle of the night the bride was awakened with a
start, for she felt a cold hand plucking at the wedding-ring that had
belonged to the buried Mrs. Moulton, and a voice whispered in her ear,
"Give the dead her own." With a scream of terror she leaped out of bed,
awaking her husband and causing candles to be brought. The ring was gone.
It was long after this occurrence that the general sat musing at his
fireside on the hardness of life in new countries and the difficulty of
getting wealth, for old Jonathan was fond of money, and the lack of it
distressed him worse than a conscience. "If only I could have gold
enough," he muttered, "I'd sell my soul for it." Whiz! came something
down the chimney. The general was dazzled by a burst of sparks, from
which stepped forth a lank personage in black velvet with clean ruffles
and brave jewels. "Talk quick, general," said the unknown, "for in
fifteen minutes I must be fifteen miles away, in Portsmouth." And picking
up a live coal in his fingers he looked at his watch by its light. "Come.
You know me. Is it a bargain?"
The general was a little slow to recover his wits, but the word "bargain"
put him on his mettle, and he began to think of advantageous terms. "What
proof may there be that you can do your part in the compact?" he
inquired. The unknown ran his fingers through his hair and a shower of
guineas jingled on the floor. They were pretty warm, but Moulton, in his
eagerness, fell on hands and knees and gathered them to his breast.
"Give me some liquor," then demanded Satan, for of course he was no
other, and filling a tankard with rum he lighted it with the candle,
remarked, affably, "To our better acquaintance," and tossed off the
blazing dram at a gulp. "I will make you," said he, "the richest man in
the province. Sign this paper and on the first day of every month I will
fill your boots with gold; but if you try any tricks with me you will
repent it. For I know you, Jonathan. Sign."
Moulton hesitated. "Humph!" sneered his majesty. "You have put me to all
this trouble for nothing." And he began to gather up the guineas that
Moulton had placed on the table. This was more than the victim of his
wiles could stand. He swallowed a mouthful of rum, seized a pen that was
held out to him, and trembled violently as a paper was placed before him;
but when he found that his name was to appear with some of the most
distinguished in the province his nerves grew steadier and he placed his
autograph among those of the eminent company, with a few crooked
embellishments and all the t's crossed. "Good!" exclaimed the devil, and
wrapping his cloak about him he stepped into the fire and was up the
chimney in a twinkling.
Shrewd Jonathan went out the next day and bought the biggest pair of
jack-boots he could find in Hampton. He hung them on the crane on the
last night of that and all the succeeding months so long as he lived, and
on the next morning they brimmed with coins. Moulton rolled in wealth.
The neighbors regarded his sudden prosperity with amazement, then with
envy, but afterward with suspicion. All the same, Jonathan was not
getting rich fast enough to suit himself.
When the devil came to make a certain of his periodical payments he
poured guineas down the chimney for half an hour without seeming to fill
the boots. Bushel after bushel of gold he emptied into those spacious
money-bags without causing an overflow, and he finally descended to the
fireplace to see why. Moulton had cut the soles from the boots and the
floor was knee-deep in money. With a grin at the general's smartness the
devil disappeared, but in a few minutes a smell of sulphur pervaded the
premises and the house burst into flames. Moulton escaped in his shirt,
and tore his hair as he saw the fire crawl, serpent-like, over the beams,
and fantastic smoke-forms dance in the windows. Then a thought crossed
his mind and he grew calm: his gold, that was hidden in wainscot,
cupboard, floor, and chest, would only melt and could be quarried out by
the hundred weight, so that he could be well-to-do again. Before the
ruins were cool he was delving amid the rubbish, but not an ounce of gold
could he discover. Every bit of his wealth had disappeared. It was not
long after that the general died, and to quiet some rumors of disturbance
in the graveyard his coffin was dug up. It was empty.