Far and near did Offero wander, asking all he met if they could tell him where he might find the Christ—this man who once hung upon a cross and who was greater and more powerful even than Satan, the King of Evil. And some said one thing and some another, but no one could aid him in his quest, until at last in his wanderings he came to a little hut in the midst of a desert.
Here a holy man dwelt, with no living soul near him, serving God day and night.
Most gladly did he welcome Offero, but gladder still was he when Offero eagerly asked him the question that had been upon his lips so long:
"Good hermit, canst thou tell me where I may find the King called Christ, He who once hung upon a cross, and who is stronger even than the King of Evil?"
"That can I," answered the hermit, "for He is the Master whom I serve, and in His name thou art welcome indeed."
And taking Offero into his hut, the hermit gave him food and made him rest. Then in the cool of the evening, when the red sun was sinking behind the belt of distant palm-trees, and a mellow glow turned the sands of the desert into grains of gold, the hermit sat without the hut and told the wonderful Christ story to the listening ears of the giant who lay upon the ground at his feet.
Never had Offero heard words like these before. Even the vision had not prepared him for this. With all his soul in his eyes he listened. Filled with wonder was he at the thought that the King of all heaven should have deigned to come to earth in the form of a little helpless child. But as the hermit went on and told of His power and majesty, His infinite compassion for the weak and helpless, His courage and fearlessness in the face of His foes, ending with the great sacrifice of the cross, Offero sprang to his feet, and grasping his sword in his hand, he raised it to heaven and vowed he would be Christ's faithful soldier and servant unto his life's end, and would fight under no other banner but His, the King of Heaven and Earth.
The hermit was startled as he looked at the gleaming sword, upheld by that strong arm, and in his calm, kind voice, he said:
"My son, the Lord Christ seeketh not to be served as an earthly king. His soldiers fight not with earthly swords, but with the weapons of prayer and fasting."
"But, father," said Offero, "how can I fight with weapons I know nothing of? If He has given me this great strength, surely there must be a way that He would have me use it in His service."
Then the hermit was troubled, for he saw that Offero must needs serve Christ in some other way.
All night he pondered, and in the morning he bade Offero come with him, and together they journeyed forth for many days until they came to the banks of a river. There the hermit stayed his steps.
It was a very deep and dangerous river and, because there was no bridge across it and the current was strong, many travellers lost their lives in trying to ford it.
This the hermit told Offero, and bade him stay and watch there, so that he might help those who wished to cross, and save the lives of those who might otherwise perish without his aid.
"And in helping others," said the hermit, "thou wilt be helping Christ, and it may be He will accept thy service, and will one day come unto thee and take thee for His servant."
So Offero built a hut on the river bank, and pulling up a palm-tree that was growing there, he used it as a staff to lean upon when he waded through the deep water. He was so tall and strong that no matter how high the river rose he could always wade across it. He was ever ready to help the weary footsore travellers, and often when they were too weak to stand against the current, even with the support of his strong arm, he would take them up upon his broad shoulders and carry them safely across.
For a long time did Offero live in his little hut on the river-bank, doing his work well, in the hope that his Master might come to him as the hermit had promised. But weeks and months went by, and still the King did not come, and Offero began to fear that He never would pass that way.
Then one night a terrible storm began to rage. The wind howled round the lonely little hut, and the waters roared as they rushed past in the darkness.
"I need not watch to-night," thought Offero, "for no one will seek to cross the river in such a storm as this."
But as he sat listening to the roll of the thunder and the clashing of the hail on the roof, he fancied he heard, above the noise of the storm, a little voice crying outside and a faint knocking at the door.
It sounded like the cry of a child, and Offero hastily rose up and, unbarring the door, looked out. For a moment he could see nothing in the thick darkness and blinding rain, but presently he heard the cry again, sounding quite close to where he stood, and looking down he saw something small and white, and heard the little voice sounding clear above the storm:
"Kind Offero, wilt thou carry me across the river to-night?"
Then Offero saw it was a little child who was standing out there upon the threshold—a child who looked up at him with pleading eyes, his golden curls lying wet against his cheek, and his little white robe drenched with the driving rain.
Very tenderly Offero stooped down and lifted the little one in his kind, strong arms, and asked him how it came that he was out alone on such a stormy night.
"I must cross the river to-night," said the child in his soft, clear voice, "and the water is deep and I am afraid. I saw thy hut and thought perchance one might dwell here who would help me."
"That will I gladly do," said Offero, as he felt the little arms clinging round his neck. "The night is dark, and the river runs high indeed, but thou art such a tiny child, I shall scarcely feel thy weight. I will place thee high upon my shoulder, so that the water may not reach even thy feet."
So Offero took his great staff in his hand, and placed the child upon his shoulder and stepped down into the roaring flood.
Higher and higher rose the water, stronger and stronger grew the current, as Offero waded on. Never before had his strength been put to such a test. And not only did the torrent threaten to sweep him off his feet, but the child upon his shoulder seemed to grow heavier and heavier with every step, until he could scarcely stagger on under the tremendous weight. But on he went, fighting for each step. And now he was past the worst and into the shallower water beyond. Putting forth all his remaining strength, with one last great effort he struggled up the farther side and with a sigh of relief he climbed upon the bank, and gently set the little child upon the grass.
Then Offero stood looking at him in great wonder and astonishment and said:
"How is it that thou, who seemest but a feather-weight, hast yet become heavier than any burden I ever bore in all my life before?"
And as Offero spoke, the child looked up into his face, and lo! a strange light seemed to shine round the golden head, and his white robe became bright and glistening as the light. And the wonderful look of majesty in those eyes drew Offero down to his knees. And as he knelt there, scarce daring to lift his eyes before that wonderful gaze, he heard the sweet, clear voice of the little child again, and knew it for the same that had guided him since the vision of his boyhood.
"No wonder that I seemed to thee a heavy burden, for I bear upon my shoulders the sins and sorrows of the whole world. I am Christ, whom thou hast sought to serve. I came to thee in the form of a little helpless child, that I might prove thee, if thou wert indeed my faithful servant. And because thou hast been faithful in helping others, thou shalt be counted worthy to enter my service, and I will give thee the new name of Christopher, because thou hast borne Christ upon thy shoulders. Take now thy staff and strike it into the earth, and thou shalt know by a sign that I am indeed thy King."
Then the light faded away, and the child was gone. But where Christopher struck his staff, behold, it took root and budded out into leaves of tender green.
And Christopher knelt on there in the darkness with a great joy in his heart, for he had seen the face of his King, and had found his Master at last. He knew that his search was ended, and that henceforth he would serve only the highest. And all the trouble and perplexity had vanished away, for he understood now that in ministering to others he would always be serving his King, even if the work seemed but small and mean.
So Christopher learned to be Christ's true soldier and servant even unto death, and because he fought manfully under His banner unto his life's end, he is called a saint. His old name of Offero has been long forgotten, and we know him only by that new name which the Christ-child gave him that stormy night, and call him Saint Christopher.