The Friendly Beasts
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The Legend of St. Christopher
O NCE upon a time there lived a great giant named Offerus all alone by the banks of a mighty river. He was so strong that he was able to pull up the forest trees by the roots, and he was so tall that he could easily step from one hill to another. He could have crushed a man with his little finger, but he never hurt so much as a tiny sparrow, for he was a good giant.
It was a wicked river near which Offerus had built his hut. It was wide and deep, and it rushed and tumbled along, ready to break the boats and drown the poor travelers who wished to cross. But Offerus was stronger than the river. He took a huge pine tree for a staff, and whenever it was a dark, stormy night, and he heard cries of distress from the river, he would plunge into the water and carry the travelers safely to the other side. And he was always ready, and never weary.
One night there was a more terrible storm than usual. The forest trees moaned and sighed, and the river roared as it beat against the shore. Offerus sat in his hut, and he heard a tiny voice crying through the storm: "Offerus, Offerus, come forth and carry me over!"
It did not seem as if any one could be out in such a wild storm, but the giant heard the small voice again calling: "Offerus, come forth and carry me across!"
So Offerus took his pine-tree staff and reached for his lantern which hung upon the wall, and he opened the door to go out into the night. It was very dark, and the rain beat into his face so that he could scarcely see, but he looked up and down, holding his lantern high above his head, and he came to a little Child, all drenched with the rain, waiting for him on the bank of the river.
"Offerus, you must carry me over this night," he called.
So Offerus lifted the little Child in his strong arms, and took his staff, and waded into the stream thinking what a light burden he carried.
But the waves rose higher and higher, the waters came up to his shoulder, and the wind blew fiercely. The strangest thing of all was this: at every step the little Child upon his shoulders grew heavier and heavier, until it seemed to Offerus that he would never be able to cross the river—he must turn and go back.
But he was brave, as all giants are, and he struggled on, tottering as he went and staying his steps with his stout staff; and at last he reached the other side. As he set down his burden—safely and gently—he said: "Child, who art thou? The whole world upon my shoulders could not have been heavier than thou hast been!"
And the Child looked up and said, softly, as He laid His little hand in Offerus' great one: "In helping every poor traveler thou hast been helping me. Blessed shalt thou be, St. Christopher! This night thou hast carried over the Christ Child."
Then the Christ Child slipped away into the night and St. Christopher stood and looked after Him, leaning upon his staff and thinking of the wonderful thing which had happened to him.
And the staff suddenly took root in the ground—although it was the bleak winter season—and it flourished and sent forth branches and leaves, and it towered over the other trees in the forest to show to every traveler who should pass that way the place where St. Christopher had carried over the little Christ Child.