The Devil has a dog, you know.
I know he has, because I’ve seen the bridge.
I’ve spied the strange bridge-upon-bridge-upon-bridge , 300 feet above the Mynach River, where the little mutt skittered across the stones to join his master for the first time, centuries ago. How the paws must have clattered, somewhere outside Aberystwyth, in an impossibly green vale while the men of the village toiled in the nearby lead mines and highwaymen hid in the cave hidden by the nearby, cascading, tumultuous waterfall.
Who builds a bridge on top of a bridge? And who comes along and builds another one on top? And yet there they are, hastily patched one over the other, the route for the old rattling carriages which took ore from the mines.
There are two conflicting stories about who built the first bridge. One story attributes the bridge to Heaven, and the other to Hell.
The heavenly tale says Cistercian monks built it, stone by stone, across the river in the 1100s. The hellish one, like someone who has made a faux pas at a dinner party, blames the dog.
The bridge is called, in Welsh, Pont-y-gwr-Drwy; or Bridge of the Evil One.
Once upon a time, a long long time ago, there was this old woman.
And you know how old women are for making pacts with the devil. Old women lose their first bloom and gain an unsettling knowing, a ravishing wisdom flowing deep beneath the surface, and of course they consider and weigh every offer.
This particular old woman was wise, and wily too; and she knew deep in her marrow that, though her skin was wrinkled and her figure sagging, she could outwit the Prince of Darkness himself.
She had this cow. And it was thin and bony because it could not reach the lush pasture on the other side of the Mynach as it carved its way through the crevice hundreds of feet below.
So she conjured up the Prince. It’s not difficult to do; but you have to know what you are doing because Satan is adept at ensuring your invitation backfires on you.
Evil incarnate sat in the rocking chair and rocked back and forth, savouring his next move.
But it seemed his next move was not his own.”I have a job for you, My Lord, and a fat reward at the end,” she directed, simple and straightforward. “Build me a bridge over the Mynach, and you may have the first animal who walks over it.”
Satan smirked. The first animal was bound to be the cow, and he fancied roast beef for supper.
And so with a flick of his princely wrist he fashioned a sturdy bridge. And watched, as the cow turned and began to lumber towards the green grass on the other side.
But the old woman took in her hand a great and fearsome weapon indeed: a bread roll. And not today’s but yesterday’s. For she knew every player in this story and each one’s motives.
And suddenly, with a great joyous shout, she hurled the bread roll across the bridge to the other side.
Through the air it arced, and a keen nose picked up both its content and its trajectory.
And the small hairy terrier who lived with the woman positively flew across the bridge, to his new life as the mutt who belonged to Lucifer himself.
He was not unhappy; Satan was firm but fair, and was not inclined to be beastly to this lowliest of beasts.
But the woman had miscalculated. For she may have gained a well-fed cow, and meals on the table for the duration of the cow’s life.
But she had lost her constant companion.
Since her house crumbled they built another stone bridge in 1753, and an iron one in 1901. I expect it has taken many terriers in its time.
But none as momentous as that first little soul who followed a bread roll all the way to Hades.