Explore: For another story in which the devil appears, see John Gethin and the Candle. You can compare the building of this bride to the building of a castle in Why the Red Dragon is the Emblem of Wales.
[notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Welsh Fairy Tales unit. Story source: The Welsh Fairy Book by W. Jenkyn Thomas with illustrations by Willy Pogány (1908).
The Devil's Bridge
ONE day in the olden time old Megan of Llandunach stood by the side of the river Mynach feeling very sorry for herself.
The Mynach was in flood, and roared down the wooded dingle in five successive falls, tumbling over three hundred feet in less than no time. Just below the place where Megan was standing, there was a great cauldron in which the water whirled, boiled and hissed as if troubled by some evil spirit: from the cauldron the river rushed and swirled down a narrow, deep ravine, and if the old woman had had an eye for the beauties of nature, the sight of the seething pot and the long shadowy cleft would have made her feel joyous rather than sorrowful.
But Megan at this time cared for none of these things, because her one and only cow was on the wrong side of the ravine, and her thoughts were centred on the horned beast which was cropping the green grass carelessly just as if it made no difference what side of the river it was on. How the wrong-headed animal had got there Megan could not guess, and still less did she know how to get it back. As there was no one else to talk to, she talked to herself. "Oh, dear, oh, dear, what shall I do?" she said.
"What is the matter, Megan?" said a voice behind her. She turned round and saw a man cowled like a monk and with a rosary at his belt. She had not heard anyone coming, but the noise of the waters boiling over and through the rocks, she reflected, might easily have drowned the sound of any footsteps. And in any case she was so troubled about her cow that she could not stop to wonder how the stranger had come up.
"I am ruined," said Megan. "There is my one and only cow, the sole support of my old age, on the other side of the river, and I don't know how to get her back again. Oh, dear, oh, dear, I am ruined."
"Don't you worry about that," said the monk, "I'll get her back for you."
"How can you?" asked Megan, greatly surprised.
"I'll tell you," answered the stranger. "It is one of my amusements to build bridges, and if you like I'll throw a bridge across this chasm for you."
"Well, indeed," said the old woman, "nothing would please me better. But how am I to pay you? I am sure you will want a great deal for a job like this, and I am so poor that I have no money to spare, look you, no, indeed."
"I am very easily satisfied," said the monk. "Just let me have the first living thing that crosses the bridge after I have finished it, and I shall be content."
Megan agreed to this, and the monk told her to go back to her cottage and wait there until he should call for her.
Now, Megan was not half such a fool as she looked, and she had noticed, while talking to the kind and obliging stranger, that there was something rather peculiar about his foot. She had a suspicion, too, that his knees were behind instead of being in front, and while she was waiting for the summons she thought so hard that it made, her head ache. By the time she was haloed for, she had hit upon a plan. She threw some crusts to her little dog to make him follow her, and took a loaf of bread under her shawl to the river-side.
"There's a bridge for you," said the monk, pointing proudly to a fine span bestriding the yawning chasm. And it really was something to be proud of.
"H'm, yes," said Megan, looking doubtfully at it; "yes, it is a bridge. But is it strong?
"Strong?" said the builder, indignantly. "Of course it is strong."
"Will it hold the weight of this loaf?" asked Megan, bringing the bread out from underneath her shawl.
The monk laughed scornfully. "Hold the weight of this loaf? Throw it on and see. Ha, ha!"
So Megan rolled the loaf right across the bridge, and the little black cur scampered after it.
"Yes, it will do," said Megan, "and, kind sir, my little dog is the first live thing to cross the bridge. You are welcome to him, and I thank you very much for all the trouble you have taken."
"Tut, the silly dog is no good to me," said the stranger, very crossly, and with that he vanished into space. From the smell of brimstone which he had left behind him Megan knew that, as she had suspected, it was the Devil whom she had outwitted.
And this is how the Bad Man's Bridge came to be built.
Next: The Martyred Hound