from some curious historical notes which were found about the year 1730 among the papers of an Augustinian monk of Bilbao; nevertheless the people maintain that the said Mestre did no more than appropriate to himself a work which had cost the evil one many labours, as it was this dire enemy (that never beholds the countenance of God) who was the real constructor of the bridge of Castrejana.
We shall relate this curious story just as it was told to us by the dwellers of Irauregui and Zubileta, who affirm that ever since Mestre Pedro Ortiz de Lequetio usurped from the devil the glory of having constructed the bridge of Castrejana, the evil one had been so furious with the plagiarists that, whenever he can catch them in a lonely spot, he subjects them to great barbarities.
About the year 1485 there existed on the right margin of Cadagüa a humble dwelling-house, surrounded by a splendid market-garden, and protected by a circle of fine fruit-trees; while behind the house there was an apple orchard, which stretched along the base of Pagazarri. In the house of Castrejana, for such was the dwelling called, there resided a poor widow, and her daughter Catharina, who was about eighteen years of age. Catharina was the pride and charm of the valley, and from Burceña down to Alonsótegui there was no one but loved her for her goodness and admired her for her beauty. Her mother was advanced in years, and little able to attend
to household duties; but the industrious daughter perfectly supplied the deficiency of hands in cultivating the market-garden, the care of the orchard, and tending to the herds. Moreover she conducted the sales, in the markets of Bilbao, of the fruit, milk, and vegetables, which formed the principal resources for the support. of the humble dwellers of Castrejana. Catharina was always at work and always cheerful. She would go singing to draw water from the fountain close to the chestnut wood on the river side, and with a song on her lips she would return. To the market of Bilbao she proceeded, singing all the way, and also returned singing until she passed the chestnut plantation of Altamira, when she always hushed her song for a few moments. Singing she worked in the garden, and gathered the fruit from the trees, or led the cattle to drink on the banks of Pagazarri.
On the other side of the river stood the house of Iturrioz, whose lands extended to close upon the fountain of the chestnut wood, from which no doubt it derived the name of Fonte fria--the cold fountain. Whenever Catharina went to the fountain to draw water, the lads of Iturrioz, who worked on his estate, used to start a lively chat with her, and Martino, the oldest of the lads, hastened down to the valley to offer her the best fruit of the trees on the estate.
Martino and Catharina had loved one another almost
from childhood, and their parents had arranged a marriage between them which would be celebrated when the sowing of the maize, which takes place in May, should be ended, as Martino wished to help his father and brothers before leaving them to reside on the lands of Castrejana.
On a dark stormy night a man knocked at the door of the widow's house, and Catharina, taking a candle, opened the wicket window of the door and asked the stranger what he wanted.
"I have come from Bilbao, and am going towards Galdemes," replied the traveller, who by the candlelight appeared to be a youth dressed in a black suit. "The river is no doubt swollen, and the night is too stormy to be able to cross in safety the high rocky mountains through which I have to journey. Give me shelter for this night, and by daybreak I shall proceed on my journey safely."
Catharina consulted with her mother, and, with her advice, she opened the door to admit the stranger. He was a young man with a handsome face and a very sweet voice, yet there was something in his voice and in his countenance which destroyed all the charm; and his bright eyes, his constant smile, and his measured, low
tones and melodious accentuation rather annoyed than pleased. While the widow conversed with the traveller, the daughter was busy preparing the supper.
When the stranger finished his supper, the old woman said to him, "We have not yet said our night prayers, and if you are willing we shall be happy if you join us."
The youth made a sign of displeasure, and replied that he was very tired, and as he had to be up very early he would prefer to retire.
The widow lit a candle and led the way to a chamber, where they hastily made up a bed for him, and arranged the room as well as they could in their humble way. The window of this chamber was open, and through it came the perfume of the flowers in the garden after the rain, and more particularly was the scent perceived, above all the other flowers, of a fine plant of white lilies which grew just beneath the window, and the long stem of blossom almost reached the window-sill.
"What a rich perfume that white lily is shedding!" said the mother of Catharina, as she approached the window.
"What lily is it?" asked the traveller, with a sneer on his lips.
"One which my Catharina cultivates every spring to place on the lady altar of Begoña." 1
The stranger made a rude gesture, and the old woman, perceiving that he was in no humour for talking, bade him good-night and retired.
The chamber occupied by mother and daughter had a window which also looked out on the garden, and was on the same side of the house as the room occupied by the stranger. Before closing the window Catharina put out her head to breathe the night breeze laden with the scent of flowers, and great was her dismay and surprise to see that the stranger was drawing out his right hand in which he held a hook with which he was endeavouring to reach the lily, no doubt to break the stem.
"Oh! what is he going to do?" asked Catharina, in alarm. "That man must be the evil one!"
The hand armed with the hook instantly was withdrawn. The mother then related to her daughter how displeased the stranger had manifested himself when he knew that the lily was destined to deck the Virgin's altar; and Catharina, fearing lest she should find her beautiful lily destroyed, which she had tended and watched over with such loving care, were she to leave it on the plant until the morning, quietly went down to the garden and cut the lily stem from the plant and brought it up to her room with the greatest care lest it. should become broken.
The rain, which had partly subsided during the night, quite ceased at daybreak, and the traveller rose early, saying that he must try and cross the river before the currents should swell it, and he be unable to cross over. Catharina had a great wish to ask him why he had attempted to destroy her beautiful lily, but she did not dare to do so, as there was something in the face and looks and voice of the stranger which instilled fear and terror--she knew not why. Catharina and her mother besought him to stay a few moments until they prepared breakfast for him, but he insisted on departing at once and asked what he was indebted to them for the supper and accommodation.
"You owe us nothing but a good will," both the women replied.
"Very well, I am much obliged to you, and wish you very good health," said the stranger, and he departed, fording the Cadagüa along some enormous stones laid across, which then stood in the place of a bridge, and on the very spot where at the present day stands the bridge of Castrejana.
The fears of the stranger were well founded that he might find the river quickly impassable, for when he forded it the water was already beginning to cover the huge stones.
Catharina looked out from the side of the house which faced the river, and divided her attention between the traveller, who was hastening to take the road to Iturrioz, and Martino, who was mending a broken paling at the further end of the garden, and through which some goats had made their way into the field. This paling was on the side of the high road along which the stranger had to pass. This unknown visitor stopped to speak to Martino as he passed him. The distance and the noise of the river rushing down prevented Catharina from hearing what they said, but she noticed that Martino grew wrathful, and looked towards the house of Castrejana with menacing gestures. We know not whether it was from want of water in the house, or to have a chat with Martino, that Catharina lifted a pitcher to her head, and, telling her mother that she was going for water before the river should become so swollen that it would be impossible to cross it, she started off; but on reaching to the bank she had to turn back, as the water completely hid the stones, and the current was fearfully rapid.
A little later, Catharina, with a basket of vegetables on her head and the branch of white lilies in her hand started from home, taking the road to Bilbao, as she did every morning, to sell her goods in the market; but this morning she did not trip along with a light heart, nor did she sing as usual, but went her way silently and
sad. In going and returning from Bilbao, on passing Altamira, she always stopped singing and knelt at the foot of the giant chestnut tree from whence could be descried the church of Begoña. On that morning she knelt as usual, and prayed more fervently than ever, and she even wept while she prayed. What change was this that had been worked in poor Catharina? She could not tell; but she felt in her heart a deep sadness as though some great misfortune was threatening her.
She reached the market-place of Bilbao, and while she sold her vegetables she watched her lily so that no one should break her branch. Many persons, charmed by the lovely flowers, wanted to purchase them, but Catharina would reply that she could not part with her flowers at any price, because she had brought them with her, not for sale, but to take them to the church of Begoña and deck the Virgin's altar with them as her offering.
When she had finished her sale, she went to the church, placed her beautiful lilies on the altar of Our Lady, and crossing again the Ibaizabal by the only bridge which then existed--which is the one called now the bridge of Saint Anthony--she went towards Castrejana. The river Cadagüa continued rising, because during the morning it had rained in torrents all over the Encartaciones.
Catharina kept looking towards the fields and house
of Iturrioz, but did not see Martino. What was her surprise and terror, when the sun was sinking behind the mountains, to perceive the youth ascending the slope towards Baracaldo, above Zubileta, which is on the opposite bank of the Cadagüa, and that he was furnished with weapons, and clad in a coat of mail such as was worn by warriors in that epoch by various bands.
The bands called Onhacino and Gamboino were not then devastating the seigniority of Biscay and the Encartaciones, but were contending with out ceasing against the districts of Castile, particularly on all the land along the Ebro from Puentelarra to Valdivielso, commanded by the Salazares and Velascos, and they had constantly in Biscay agents who were charged to enlist men, who, allured with flattering promises of much glory and renown, had found to their cost nothing certain but a probable grave amid the rocks.
Catharina ran to the river shore and waited for Martino to reach the opposite margin; and in truth Martino did arrive, but it was to fling a folded parchment fastened to a stone across the water to Catharina, and continued to walk towards the house of Iturrioz, while Catharina in dismay read the following lines which had been written by Martino upon the folded parchment:
"I would sooner die far from hence, fighting against the enemies of the Salazares, than die here combating
against your faithlessness and want of love. At midnight I join other young men beneath the chestnut tree of Iturrioz, and with them shall depart to the suburbs of Castile, where I hope death or absence will make me forget you."
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.
[paragraph continues] 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."
"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."
"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?"
"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 1 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.
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.
166:1 See Cadagüa, in Glossary.
170:1 Begoña. See Glossary.
181:1 Ibaizabal. See Glossary.