Beyond the Overpass

St. Eustace and the White Stag

A week or so ago Janet mentioned St. Eustace to me, and when I said I didn’t know anything about him, she sent me this beautiful excerpt from Pilgrim Inn by Elizabeth Goudge. I like it so much I’m posting it. I’ve never read anything by Elizabeth Goudge, but on the basis of this I think I should.

“He lived in Italy,” said Sally the child, telling a tale to Ben the child. “He was a Roman noble, a great huntsman, a rich fairy-tale knight, riding out from the pages of an illuminated missal on his great white horse with its gay trappings, his spurs on his heels, his hunting horn slung over his shoulder, his hunting knife in his belt and his spear in his hand, his garments all bright and gay and richly furred, his dogs bounding about him.

“And one day, in this beauty and this pomp, he went hunting in the forest outside Rome, the dark forest where there were wild beasts in plenty for a brave man to slay, boars and bears as well as the deer and the swift hares. But it was not only because of the good hunting that Placidus rode through the Roman forest; he rode in pursuit of something else besides excitement and danger, something unknown to which his tongue could give no name and of which his imagination could form no image. And he rode alone because the huntsmen of the unknown must follow a path narrow as the confines of his own body, lonely as his own pain, dark as his own ignorance, and his way is his own way and cannot be shared with another.

“But though the forest was dark and dangerous, and the path narrow, it was full of gleams and flashes of beauty that were as candles lit along the way, beckoning Placidus on and on to that something beyond, of whose existence he had no proof except the fact of his own journeying, but which he knew he would surely recognize under whatever guise his quarry would choose to show itself to him at his journey’s end.

“And so he rode, and was glad of the flowers that were singing bright beneath the forest trees, of the melodious birds in the branches, of the streams and the pale stretches of still water, and of the running that could not be seen of skipping beasts. The day wore on and still Placidus rode he did not know where, after he knew not what.

“And then, at last, he saw it: a white deer, the most perfect creature he had ever seen, with great branching antlers, the magnificent head reared proudly, the splendid body poised for flight. For a moment the flashing eyes met his, commanding him, and then the creature was off, silver hoofs spurning the ground, the perfect body a white flash of speed, the antlers swaying this way and that, yet never entangled in the branches, beckoning, challenging, defying. One clear call did Placidus sound upon his horn and then he was off too, his dogs after him, his horse stretched out to full gallop with great hoofs pounding on the forest floor. Placidus bent low in the saddle, whispering threats and cajolements, reckless of time or place, life or death, knowing only that he must follow that deer until the end.

“And so the wild chase went on. But he could not catch up with the creature; it was always a little ahead. The horse was near foundering, his own breath came in gasps, some of the dogs had fallen behind, but still he went on. And then the ground rose steeply and the rocks of a mighty mountain towered up before the failing sight of horse and rider. The deer bounded up it, swift yet unhurried, as though winged. But Placidus could not follow. He reined in his horse, lest it dash itself to death against the rocks, and bowed his head in shame. He, the unconquerable huntsman, was beaten at last.

“And at that moment of his shame the miracle happened. The deer stopped and swung round to face him, lifting its proud head, and the antlers formed themselves into a gleaming cross, with a crucified Figure upon it, that strange symbol of the Christians which he had seen many times and wondered at for a moment or two, and then had turned aside and gone on his way thinking no more about it. But now he could not turn aside, for the deer, the vision sent to him, had led him directly to this end. His way was blocked by this impassable mountain and the challenge of this cross.

“There was only one thing he could do and he did it. He leaped from his horse and fell upon his knees. And a voice cried out loudly, echoing through the forest, ‘Placidus, why dost thou attempt to injure me? I am Jesus Christ whom thou hast long served in ignorance. Dost thou believe in me?’ And Placidus answered, ‘Lord, I believe.’ The voice came again, the words spoken this time very low in his own soul, as though in warning, ‘Many sorrows shalt thou endure for my sake, many temptations will assail thee, but be of good courage, I will always be with thee.’

“A thrill of dismay went through Placidus, yet he did not hesitate, for he knew that he was not yet at his journey’s end; as he had followed the vision of the deer to the vision of the cross, so he must follow the vision of the cross to something beyond again. What it was he still did not know, but in spite of his fear he did know that to attain the goal at last he would give all that he had, down to the last drop of his blood. ‘Lord, I am content,’ he said. ‘Only give me patience to endure all things for Thee.’ When at last he looked up again the deer with the crucifix between its antlers had disappeared and night was falling in the forest.”



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)