The bells of the monks of Burceña were ringing for prayers, and Catharina was weeping bitterly in despair on seeing that the time was fast speeding away, and the hour approached in which Martino was to depart, perhaps never to return, and never more to see him. In vain did she look at the flowing water, waiting to discover the stones which served as a bridge; the stones remained concealed beneath the swollen currents which every moment swept down with greater power and roared with greater fury.

 

“What have I done, Holy Virgin,” she would cry out in her deep sorrow, “that Martino should thus doubt me, and be going away to die in the wars which are destroying the bravest knights and the most honoured youths of Biscay? Some dreadful misunderstanding or some calumny has no doubt taken place which has made us both wretched. A single word from me would at once undeceive Martino and dissuade him from his sad resolve, yet I cannot approach him, nor even speak to him, because the river, wild and swollen, interposes between us. Ah! I would give my life to be able to cross this furious current before the bells of Burceña chime the hour of midnight, and each stroke of the hour tells me that no longer will there be any happiness, either for Martino or myself, in this world!”

 

Thus spoke the hapless Catharina, as she wept at the foot of the chestnut tree, and looked towards the river in hopes of its subsiding, and of discovering the stones, over which she had so often merrily passed, and which now were under water, and then turning towards the house and fields of Iturrioz sought the well-known form of Martino, who, alas! did not appear as was his wont to do, frequenting the river shore to exchange a loving word with his beloved Catharina.

 

Suddenly she heard footsteps behind, and on turning round she saw coming up to her the mysterious visitor of the previous night, he who had sought a shelter at her mother’s house. A hope, wild, because it was founded on an absurdity, beamed over the soul of Catharina.

 

“From this,” she said to herself, “up to Aranguren, which is on the boundary of the valley of Salcedo, there is no bridge whatever, yet this man has crossed the river at no great distance from here. Perhaps some of the gigantic trees growing on the shores have been wrenched by the storm and fallen down across the stream, and, enabled the man to cross over as though it were a bridge.

 

Should it be so, this man can tell me, and then I shall be able to cross over and see Martino in time to prevent him from going to the wars.”

 

All this did Catharina turn over in her mind during the brief moments of surprise occasioned by the appearance of the man.

 

“By what part of the river did you cross?” she anxiously asked of the stranger.

 

“I crossed over by the bridge of Aranguren,” he replied,

 

“How could that be, for the bridge of Aranguren stands some three leagues from here?”

 

“By making prodigious efforts!” he cried.

 

“Prodigies indeed! Ah, would that I could work them as you have done!”

 

“Which would you wish to do first?”

 

“I would wish to cross the river.”

 

“In that case it would be necessary to have a bridge to be able to cross the river.”

 

“Most certainly.”

 

“I can make one.”

 

“How? perhaps by felling some of the trees and placing them across on both sides of the river?”

 

“That would be impossible: because the river is very wide, and none of the trees, however high, would reach across to the opposite shore.”

 

“How then?”

 

“By constructing a stone bridge.”

 

“That would take too long a time, for I must cross over, at latest, when the bells of Burceña strike the hour of midnight.”

 

“I can easily erect it by that hour.”

 

“Do it then.”

 

What will you give me if I do?”

 

“My life.”

 

“Your life is not enough payment for me.”

 

“What more do you require?

 

“I must have your soul!”

 

“Well, then, have it, so that you erect the bridge without delay.”

 

Catharina seemed to be under some irresponsible influence when she uttered these words, and knew not what she said. But scarcely had she spoken these wild words than reason asserted itself in her mind, and she clearly comprehended the grave import of her words, and she then wished to recall them, or at least to explain them; but the mysterious stranger had already departed far from that spot; while on the river shores, obscured by the shades of night, which was a very dark one, nothing was heard but the noise of hatchets, pickaxes, spades, saws, and hammers, as though a multitude of workmen, stonemasons, carpenters, and other artificers, were digging, sawing wood, cutting huge blocks of granite and stone, and laying the foundation, erecting the pillars, and forming the arch of the bridge.

 

The idea that this man dressed in black was the evil one began to take possession of the imagination of Catharina, and what more terrified her than the thought of losing her lover was the conviction that she was going to lose her soul. Catharina in her distress cried out to that man, “Do not erect that bridge at the expense of my soul, because I do not wish to give it to you!” But her voice was drowned in the noise of the rushing waters of the Cadagüa, and the uproar of hammers and pickaxes which continued to be heard on the river banks, as though an invisible legion of carpenters and stonemasons were working there; while amid that unearthly roar the hapless girl seemed to hear a voice rising above it all which replied to her, “It is too late! It is too late!”

 

The night advanced, and Catharina amid the gloom saw rising on either side of the river white columns, which were no doubt the base or buttress to sustain the arch of the bridge. A gleam of hope suddenly strengthened the fainting heart of Catharina, and she at once started towards the coast of Castrejana, and on reaching to the foot of the chestnut tree of Altamira, she fell on her knees, and, looking in the direction of the temple of Begoña, she invoked the protection of the Virgin, saying, “Holy Mother of God! save my soul which is in peril of losing its eternal salvation

 

The valley of Ibaizabal was as darksome as the depths of Cadagüa; but scarcely had Catharina said these words of fervent prayer, than it appeared to her that a soft resplendency illumined the valley, which for a thousand years has been protected and watched over by the Mother of God from the heights of the hills of Artagan. What light could it have been? Ah! perchance it was that of hope! Enlightened and strengthened by this light, Catharina descended the slope of Castrejana. The soft light which shone over the valley of the Ibaizabal 3 was spreading also along the valley of the Cadagüa, and by its gleams Catharina saw that the two buttresses which she had seen, or imagined she saw, rising up on both shores of the river, and the erection proceeding on either side, were meeting in the centre to form a perfect arch. Towards the side of Iturrioz there shone a light similar to a flaming torch, which began to descend to the chestnut wood and disappeared among the leafy branches. The heart of Catharina beat fast in anguish. That light appeared to her to indicate that midnight was fast approaching, and Martino must be quitting the paternal home, and was about to forsake, perhaps for ever, his native valley.

 

Catharina looked steadfastly before her, never removing her eyes from the bridge, which now was almost finished, and nothing was wanting for its completion but the key-stone. Suddenly a form was seen ascending the almost finished bridge. It was the form of a beauteous lady, who carried in her hand a branch of lovely white lilies, and as she reached to the open gap between the two sides of the arch she laid the stem across the opening and disappeared, leaving a luminous trail, which extended to a great distance, until it eventually became lost in the depths of the valley of Ibaizabal.

 

When Catharina turned her gaze away from the east, where that singular vision had disappeared, and looked towards the bridge which was constructed in such a, marvellous manner, she saw the man in the black suit holding in his hands an enormous block of stone, which he carried as easily as though it were a light ball, and running up along the arch was about to place the heavy slab in the opening and thus complete the bridge. However, in spite of all the efforts of the artificer to fix the slab or block in the opening, the slab did not fit in. The man hammered desperately at the stone, accompanying, each blow with an oath, but the stone resisted all his efforts, as though it were prevented fitting in by a strong bar of iron laid beneath. And the man in black redoubled his furious efforts as he heard the sound of the bells of the monastery of Burceña vibrating through the valley announcing the midnight hour, and on hearing the chimes he uttered a cry of desperation, and cast himself headlong into the river, and was carried away in the furious currents and disappeared altogether. At the moment when he flung himself into the seething waters a sound was heard on the bridge like the noise of a branch snapping in two, and in that instant the key-stone, or huge slab which the man in black had been unable to fit in, fell gently into its place, and the bridge remained perfect; while a huge cataract of water now descended roaring along the windings of Alonsótegui, carrying down towards the Zubileta all the scaffolding and temporary erections employed in building the bridge. Catharina then rapidly crossed over by the bridge which had been so marvellously constructed, and ran to the chestnut wood of Iturrioz.

 

Half an hour later a number of youths, clad in mail and armed with war weapons, ascended along the Cadagüa, lamenting that Martino de Iturrioz should prefer the effeminate blandishments of love to the manly and glorious exercise of war.

 

Martino, leading Catharina by the hand, accompanied her to the house of Castrejana, where he bade her an affectionate farewell, passed over the Devil’s Bridge, sped across the lands, and returned to the house of Iturrioz.

THE END

 

NOTE: Between the joints of the enormous blocks of stone which constitutes the key-stone and the lateral slabs of the bridge, there used to spring up every year some beautiful white lilies, which the damsels of the valley of Ibaizabal gathered on the morning of St. John’s Day, and these flowers were called Cataloros, a name derived from the Basque word Catalenlorac, which means “flowers of Catharina,” but owing to the great fall of rain and inundation which occurred on the 22nd of September, 1523, the foundations of the bridge were shaken and the buttresses unsafe, and it was found necessary to substitute smaller stones to replace the massive key-stone, which it was feared would fall down and destroy one of the noblest and most elegant bridges of the Basque provinces.

 

 

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From LEGENDS and POPULAR TALES of the BASQUE PEOPLE by Mariana Monteiro

ISBN: 978-1-907256-32-5

URL: http://www.AbelaPublishing.com/Basque.html

 

Legends and popular tales of the Basque people

 

 

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