The Devil's Bridge





You may say what you please, but it is certain that the Evil One

never appeared in the Philippines until after the Spanish had taken

possession of the islands. At least, this applies to Luzon. And,

strange to tell, he has not been seen there since the Spanish

left. Some will have it that he was smitten into a despairing

bashfulness during Weyler's administration, and that when the governor

went home with a couple of million dollars in his valise--the savings

from his salary--the Devil went home likewise, awe-struck. His Satanic

Majesty's last recorded exploit occurred in the view of three men,

of whom one may still be alive to vouch for it. They were farmers

of Wild Laguna, a few miles above Manila, and on one memorable day

were cutting wood in the ravine near by,--a deep gulch through which

babbles a stone-choked stream. This glen has precipitous sides, but is

so thickly overhung with green that it is almost like a verdant cave.



While they were resting--and the Filipino's ability to rest is one of

his striking qualities--they were startled by the hurried advance of

something, or somebody, on the bank. There was a swish and crash of

undergrowth, a hobbling stamp, and something that sounded like the

smiting of leaves with a club. At first the farmers thought that a

water buffalo had run away from some plantation and was angry because

he could not descend the craggy sides and reach the water. Then came

a volley of expletives in an unknown tongue, and in a voice so deep

and harsh that the hair of the three heads bristled, and three pairs

of eyes goggled with fright. The farmer who was good crossed himself;

the one who was bad turned white and tried to remember how prayers

were said; the one who was betwixt-and-between clung to the stone on

which he was seated and held his breath; for a tall, lank personage,

with overhanging brows, slanting eyes, long chin and nose, and

wrathful aspect, was striding to and fro on the edge of the ravine,

looking at the opposite bank as if trying to decide whether or not

he could leap that distance. He was scowling, gnashing his teeth,

and brandishing his arms. Any Spaniard might have done as much,

and brandished a sword besides; but the terrible thing about this

gentleman was the great length of tail, with a dart at its tip, that

he was flourishing among the bushes, for only one being, on the earth

or under it, was known to have a toil like that.



As if to leave no doubt, the stranger, in stamping on the ground,

lifted his leg so high that the watchers could see that it ended,

not in a foot, but a hoof. It was Satan himself! The farmers did

not dare to tremble, but each shrank within himself as far as he

could and thought upon his sins, the worst of the trio with the least

compunction, because he was not conscious of any immorality in robbing

Spaniards. As he tramped back and forth, the devil now and then looked

up into the branches, as if guessing the height of the trees. Presently

he stopped before the tallest, levelled his finger at it, and cried

with a stentorian voice a command in words that belong to none of the

forty or fifty languages and dialects of the islands. Then the souls of

the spectators fell, like chilling currents, and their hearts swelled

like balloons and arose into their throats, and there was no joy in

them; for the great tree bent slowly down and swung itself entirely

across the chasm. Its reach was great, and Satan skipped along the

trunk as spryly as a cat on a fence, his arms and tail held out for

balance and twitching nervously. Half-way over he spied the three

spectators and stopped. Their circulation stopped also. He grinned

from ear to ear, showing two rows of tusk-like teeth, shook his fist

playfully, and shouted a laugh so loud, so awful, that they believed

their last moment had come. But it had not. Their hair turned white,

to be sure, and they took on fifty years' growth of wrinkles; but the

Devil was after bigger game. He scampered over the arching trunk,

disappeared on the farther side, and hurried off at a run toward

Manila, where a certain rich lawyer was rumored to be dying. From

later whisperings it appears that His Majesty was not late.



The strange part of the incident is that, although the tree was thus

ill-used to serve the Devil's convenience, and is marked along its

bark by his cloven feet, it was not blasted, but to this hour is

green and flourishing. The Devil's Bridge, as everybody calls it,

is an arboreal wonder, curving lightly and gracefully over the chasm,

its branches resting on the bank opposite to its root, some of them

growing upside down, but all as green and healthy as those of any

tree that the Devil spared when he was looking for a way to cross

the ravine. Had he waded the stream he not only would have wet his

feet, which would have been unpleasant, but would have touched water

that had once been blessed, and that would have been torture. The bad

farmer did not survive this spectacle by many years, though it is not

related that he reformed. The fair-to-middling one lasted for a while

longer. The good one may yet be in the land of the living, unless he

enlisted under Aguinaldo, which is not likely, because old men cannot

run fast enough to be effective members of the Filipino army.





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