(…) It was on these solid foundations that the first bridge was built, at a cost of 1,824 crowns. It would be later swept away by a flash flood, causing the mayor to declare that only the devil himself would be able to build a bridge which could survive the ravages of nature and time.
No sooner had he put down his quill, a servant proclaimed: “By Jove, it’s Lucifer! My master knows him by reputation alone. He is not bold enough to accept such a visit, but as a servant of the public he would want to act with the dignity that his position demands. The retainer therefore dutifully introduced the stranger. (…) With the formalities over, each man took a seat, the bailiff resting his feet on the fire-dog, while the devil placing his directly on top of the burning coals. “Well, well, my friend!”, said the Devil. “It would appear that you need my help.” “Indeed, kind sir.” “With this cursed bridge, I presume.” “Precisely”, answered the mayor. “But please spare the poor peasants. I could petition their Excellencies in Fribourg for help, but these gentlemen from the city know little of the needs of us country folk.” “Worry not. Your wish is my command. All that remains for us to do is to agree a price”, said Satan, fixing the mayor with a singularly malevolent stare. (…)
Satan thought for a moment. “In return for my efforts, all I ask is for you to let me have the first living creature to cross this bridge.” (…) Taking his finest quill, the mayor carefully committed this pact to paper. The devil pledged to build a bridge that very night, which would last for five hundred years. The mayor, for his part, agreed to let the devil have the soul of the first living creature to cross the bridge.
By sunrise the next day, the bridge had been built. In the early hours of the morning, the mayor set out to see if the devil had honoured the agreement. At the other end of the bridge was the Devil, perched on a milestone awaiting his reward. “I told you, I am a man of my word”. “As am I”, replied the canny bailiff. “Let’s see. Are you prepared to sacrifice yourself for the good of you people?” “I know my duty, my lord. One does not take on the office of mayor lightly.”
At that point, the mayor brought the conversation to an abrupt halt and opened the two sacks that he had carefully carried. The first was full of the finest rats to be had, while the second concealed a litter of snarling cats from Arconciel! As the rats scrambled over the bridge, the cats set off in hungry pursuit. The devil looked on, horrified. “Here is the reward you asked for – the soul of the first living creature to cross the bridge”, exclaimed the mayor. As the first rat crossed the bridge, Satan flew into a rage and set about destroying his work. As he turned his head, he caught sight of a procession, led by the local priest and chaplain, heading in his direction. Consumed by fury, he vanished into thin air. As for the mayor, his exploits earned him great respect. But the first time he rummaged in his money bag, he badly singed his fingers! (…)
Extract from “Légendes fribourgeoises” by Joseph Genoud, Collection Contes et légendes, 2000