THE DEVIL DOES A GOOD DEED
Folk story from the State of Sonora
One evening, while having dinner with don Evaristo and doña Almanda, I asked our guest if he knew any stories from the state of Sonora. “You see, Emily and I are planning to drive to Sonora for the holidays,” I said.
“Now, let me think,” don Evaristo said and thought for a while. “Ah, yes. I’ve just thought of a good one. ‘The Devil Does a Good Deed’, it’s called.”
“The Devil.” said Emily, “Are you going to frighten us?”
“Not quite. This story is about an old lady named Eulogia, who lived all alone on a small ranch, in a forgotten corner in the middle of the Sonora desert. Eulogia had very few visitors. Maybe once or twice a year, a muleteer would take a wrong turning and come across the ranch by accident. And these chance visits were the only times Eulogia received any news from the outside world.” Don Evaristo began.
“Her husband had been a member of an infamous gang of bandits, feared throughout the territory. After one particularly dangerous raid against federal troops, the leader of the gang presented Eulogia’s husband with a dramatic painting of a devil. This was his way of thanking Eulogia’s husband for saving his life during the bitter encounter. Though he was not at all happy about the subject of the painting, Eulogia’s husband could not, of course, refuse a gift from his leader and friend. That day, when he arrived home, he placed the picture behind a door, and there it stayed. Even after his death, the picture stayed there; being one of the few things he left his solitary wife to remember him by.
“Now, when our story begins, Eulogia was still in good health, though advanced in years. She still kept her own house and did her own housework, and, whenever she went through the door on which the strange painting hung, she used to say, ‘Poor thing! You never see the face of God, do you?’ Then she would take a cloth and gently sweep off the dust from the painting. This daily ritual repeated itself, day after day and year after year. After her husband’s death, she even moved the painting closer to her room, so she would not forget to dust it off.
“All flesh is weak, and so it happened that, strong as she was, one day Eulogia fell ill. Now very old indeed and all alone in the desert, she made up her herbal remedies and tried to take care of herself the best she could. But it was all to no avail. As each day passed, she grew weaker and weaker, until finally, she just lay motionless on bed, unable to move a finger. Homero Adame’s folk stories.
“When the devil in the painting saw her sad condition, he materialized, came out of the picture and approached Eulogia’s bed. She knew very well that death was near. ‘Good-bye, old friend,’ she said to the devil. When the devil heard this, he rushed out of the house as fast as he could and ran and ran down the lonely desert road towards the nearest town.
“Once in town, he rushed inside the first church he came to. When the priest saw the devil, he recoiled in horror. ‘What do you want of me?’ he demanded, in a rage. ‘I just want you to come with me and give the last rites to someone who is dying,’ replied the devil. Homero Adame’s folk stories.
“The priest found very hard to believe the devil’s words, but the idea of saving a poor soul seemed more important to him than any devil’s trickery. So, he agreed to go with the devil, but not without carefully packing a holy cross, holy water, incense and all the materials he needed for the sacrament.
“Priest and devil together hitched the horses to a carriage and hurried off back to Eulogia’s ranch. When they arrived, they found the old lady smiling tranquilly. ‘I’ve just seen a beautiful lady dressed all in white,’ she whispered. ‘She was coming down a long tunnel to meet me and little children with wings were flying all around her.’ Leyenda sonorense en un blog de Homero Adame.
“The priest then gave the old lady confession, and soon after, Eulogia passed away peacefully, and well accompanied.
“Moments later, the priest asked the devil to leave, but first he remembered to thank him for his good deed. Before they parted, the holy man said to the devil, ‘Tell me, what made you want to save a soul? Why on earth did you do a good deed? Is this a devil’s work?’
‘Well, you know, that woman was extraordinarily kind to me. She even saved me from my prison in the picture! Besides, I already have her husband’s soul,’ the devil smiled and vanished. The priest, for his part, went back to the town and to all his priestly duties.
“When the authorities and gravediggers came to bury the old lady, they found a strange painting beside her. A painting of a silhouette – the outline of a figure, where the devil’s form had once been…”
“How strange, that the devil should do such a kind thing!” Emily exclaimed. “I can’t believe it.”
“Neither can I, but who knows? Maybe even bad spirits can do good deeds, from time to time.” Don Evaristo laughed. “And it’s only a story, Emily!”
– – – – –
Folk story originally published in the English textbook Orbit 3. By Homero Adame, Pat Grounds and Carol Lethaby. Ediciones Castillo, S.A. de C.V. Monterrey, Mexico. 2000. Pp. 206-207.