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In a wild clearing of the forest he found the devil's altar, built of black cinders; and on it, in the moonlight, gleamed the white skeletons of men and horses. Offerus was in no way terrified, but quietly inspected the skulls and bones; then he called three times in a loud voice to the evil one, and seating himself, fell asleep, and soon began to snore. When it was midnight the earth seemed to crack; and on a coal-black horse he saw a pitchblack rider, who rode at him furiously, and sought to bind him with solemn promises. But Oíferus said, “We shall see.” Then they went together through the kingdoms of the world, and Offerus found him a better master than the emperor; needed seldom to polish his armour, but had plenty of feasting and fun. However, one day as they went along the high-road, three tall crosses stood before them. Then the Black Prince suddenly had a cold, and said, “Let us creep round by the bye-road." Said Offerus, “Methinks you are afraid of those gallows trees," and, drawing his bow, he shot an arrow into the middle cross. “What bad manners !” said Satan, softly; "do you not know that He who in His form as a servant is the Son of Mary, now exercises great power?” “If that is the case," said Offerus, “I came to you fettered by no promise ; now I will seek further for the mightiest, whom only will I serve.”
Then Satan went off with a mocking laugh, and Offerus went on his way asking every traveller he met for the Son of Mary. But, alas! few bare Him in their hearts; and no one could tell the giant where the Lord dwelt, until one evening Offerus found an old pious hermit, who gave him a night's lodging in his cell, and sent him next morning to the Carthusian cloister.1 There the lord prior? listened to Offerus, showed him plainly the path of faith, and told him he must fast and pray, as John the Baptist did of old in the wilderness. But he replied, "Locusts and wild honey, my lord, are quite contrary to my nature, and I do not know any prayers. I should lose my strength altogether, and had rather not go to heaven at all than in that way.” “Reckless man!” said the prior. “However, you may try another way: give yourself up heartily to achieve some good work." "Ah! let me hear," said Offerus; “I have strength for that.” “See, there flows a mighty river, which hinders pilgrims on their way to Rome. It has neither ford nor bridge. Carry the faithful over on thy back.” “If I can please the Saviour in that way, willingly will I carry the travellers to and fro," replied the giant. And thereupon he built a hut of reeds, and dwelt thenceforth among the water-rats and beavers on the borders of the river, carrying pilgrims over the river cheerfully, like a camel or an elephant. But if any one offered him ferry-money, he said, "I labour for eternal life.”
And when now, after many years, Offerus's hair had grown white, one stormy night a plaintive little voice called to him, “Dear, good, tall Offerus, carry me across." Offerus was tired and sleepy, but he thought faithfully of Jesus Christ, and with weary arms seizing the pine trunk which was his staff when the floods swelled high, he waded through the water and nearly reached the opposite bank; but he saw no pilgrim there, so he thought"I was dreaming,” and went back and lay down to sleep again. But scarcely had he fallen asleep when again came the little voice, this time very plaintive and touching, “Offerus, good, dear, great, tall Offerus, carry me across." Patiently the old giant crossed the river again; but neither man nor mouse was to be seen, and he went back and lay down again, and was soon fast asleep; when once more came the little voice, clear and plaintive, and imploring, “Good, dear, giant Offerus, carry me across.” The third time he seized his pine-stem, and went through the cold river. This time he found a tender, fair little boy, with golden hair. In his left hand was the standard of the Lamb; in his right, the globe. He looked at the giant with eyes full of love and trust, and Offerus listed him up with two fingers ; but, when he entered the river, the little child weighed on him like a ton. Heavier and heavier grew the weight, until the water almost reached his chin; great drops of sweat stood on his brow, and he had nearly sunk in the stream with the little one.
However, he struggled through, and tottering to the other side, set the child gently down on the bank, and said, “My little lord, prithee, come not this way again, for scarcely have I escaped this time with life." But the fair child baptized Offerus on the spot, and said to him, “Know all thy sins are forgiven; and although thy limbs tottered, fear not, nor marvel, but rejoice; thou hast carried the Saviour of the world! For a token, plant thy pine-trunk, so long dead and leafless, in the earth; to-morrow it shall shoot out green twigs. And henceforth thou shalt be called not Offerus, but Christopher.” 4 Then Christopher folded his hands and prayed and said, “I feel my end draws nigh. My limbs tremble; my strength fails; and God has forgiven me all my sins." Thereupon the child vanished in light, and Christopher set his staff in the earth. And so on the morrow it shot out green leaves and red blossoms like an almond. And three days afterwards the angels carried Christopher to Paradise.
This is the legend which gives me more hope than any other. How sweet it would be, if, when I had tried in some humble way to help one and another on the way to the holy city, when the last burden was borne, and the strength was failing, the Holy Child should appear to me and say, "Little Else, you have done the work I meant you to do--your sins are forgiven; and then the angels were to come and take me up in their arms, and carry me across the dark river, and my life were to grow young and bloom again in Paradise, like St. Christopher's withered staff !
But to watch all the long days of life by the river, and carry the burdens, and not know if we are doing the right thing after all—that is what is so hard !
Sweet, when the river was crossed, to find that in fulfilling some little, humble, every-day duty, one had actually been serving and pleasing the Mightiest, the Saviour of the world! But if one could only know it whilst one was struggling through the flood, how delightful that would be ! How little one would mind the icy water, or the aching shoulders, or the tottering, failing limbs.
From The Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family.
DARK clouds are shading
The day, the day ;
The key,—the key,
For me,—for me.
Locks of my mother,
So white,-so white,-
Good night,-good night!
I'm free,- I'm free;
O'er me,-o'er me.