Frances Ann Roper.


8 Stoke Abbott Court



(Approximately 2,000 words)



By Frances Ann Roper.

                                  8 stoke Abbott Court, Worthing.


Charon, the age-old ferryman of the Styx, crouched motion­less over his oars.  His hoary head was sunk upon his breast, his ragged cloak trailed in the water which lapped sullenly against the sides of the boat.  The dead wind of the Underworld moaned among the reeds on the banks of the river, and sighed away down the dim valleys of the shadowy realm of Pluto.

Far above the river towered the dark mountains which form the boundary between the upper and the under world.  Grim, black and terrible they stand, these impregnable guardians of the dead. The only place at which they can be passed is the Gate of Death, which stands at the head of the narrow defile down which the shudder­ing ghosts must pass to the banks of the dread river Styx.

On the heights above the Gate of Death stood the Watch­man, his rugged figure outlined against the faint light that filters over the mountains from the upper world.  Ever and anon sounded his monotonous challenge which heralded the arrival of yet another new-released spirit from the upper world:

“What is thy name?  And whence comest thou?

The hollow echo carried the words down into the shadowy land beyond the river, and the pale ghosts crowded, whispering and fluttering, up to the river bank, to meet and perchance, recognise, the trembling new-corner.

As he landed each one upon the shore, Charon sank wearily over his oars, and wished from the depths of his withered old heart, that he might cease this endless rowing, and that he too might sink down with the muttering spirits into the mists of the land where all things are forgotten.  Since time immemorial this had been his work, back and forth, crossing and re-crossing the river, with never a hope of death to put an end to his weariness.  Since time immemorial had the watchman's challenge sounded, at intervals of every few minutes, in his ears, announcing the arrival of another passenger on the dread journey to the land of shadows. So would it continue till the end of time. 

Love - Life - Hope - what were these but meaningless terms?  Love was but a memory of an earthly Joy never more to be experienced by those who had crossed the river of death.  What could Hope mean to those before whom the future stretched out in a never-ending vista of grey existence which could never be called Life?   

So the centuries passed by.

It began as a whisper - a murmur - hardly more than the stirring of the reeds on the river bank. Gradually - gradually, it came through from the upper world, this faint, hardly recognizable rumour.  One spirit would breathe a word, and the next new-comer would repeat it, till word by word, whisper by whisper, the news was at length borne throughout the length and breadth of the underworld. 

Charon, the personification of death, shunned and feared by all, was the last to whom the word came. 

What did it mean?  What could it mean?  This rumour of a Deliverer, a Redeemer, a Saviour?

As the years passed so this rumour gained in strength, till there came to the underworld that which throughout countless centuries had never been known before - Hope. 

But no one knew the object of this undefined Hope.  Who was this Deliverer?  How would they be redeemed?  By what means were they to be saved? The greatest philosophers and thinkers could only conjecture. But though none understood it, yet each felt this hope strong within him.

As each new spirit came to the underworld he was surrounded by eager whispering ghosts, asking for some explanation of this wonderful unknown hope stirring within them. At length the suspense became unbearable.

Again sounded the challenge of the Watchman ­

“What is thy name? And whence comest thou?”

Came the reply in trumpet tones that echoed to the farthest confines of the underworld:

“I am the voice of one that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord! Make straight in the desert a highway for our God!”


As these words thrilled through the air, a. rustling as of leaves stirred by the wind was heard, and crowding up from the shadowy depths came the spirits in their myriads.  Quivering, trembling, muttering, they came; then down from the Gate of Death came he whose words had caused the gathering together of this eager, questioning multitude. He, the Herald and Forerunner of the Dawn, had caught a faint reflection of the glory of Him Whom he came to announce; he was visible in a soft pale phosphorescent glow.  But in that land of shadows light was unknown, save that which filtered over the mountains so faint as only to enhance the shadows; and that terrible dull red horror, far, far below which marked the door of Hell itself.  So the soft glow at first dazzled. and blinded the waiting hosts, but that soon passed, and as Charon landed the Messenger on the shore, the question which he himself had sent to ask the Master, was breathed around him :­

“Art thou He that cometh, or look we for another?”

Was this - could this be the realization of that vague and wonderful hope which had been gaining such hold upon them?

As on the sunny banks of Jordan he had replied to another . questioning multitude, so on the dreary banks of the river of death,. he again replied:

“No - There cometh after me He that is mightier than I, the latchet of Whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.”


And to each heart came the conviction that, radiant and beautiful as the Messenger appeared, He that was to come after would, even at the first sight, inspire them with full complete joy and satisfaction, such as the Messenger himself could not bestow.

Thus the soft light which surrounded the Herald was seen passing up and down, to and. fro, among the mists and shadows of that twilight land; and. ever and. anon could be heard his strong words of hope and encouragement as he prepared the people that dwelt in darkness and in the shadow death, to receive the Light that lighteth every man.

Charon, in his boat, watched the Messenger, and listened to the words that rose from the far-off valleys; and slowly there came to his mind the knowledge that soon he would find the rest for which his heart craved. He knew that as soon as He arrived, Whom the Messenger announced, the office of ferryman on the river of death would fall vacant; his power, and the terror with which he was regarded, would end.

Once the Messenger came up to the river bank to speak to the aged ferryman, but Charon shrank back, covering his eyes with the corner of his ragged. cloak and muttering “What have I to do with Thee?”.

Over the mountains the light was gradually growing brighter; it was as the dawn rising, but far more slowly than any earthly dawn. First the faint, pale light that always showed above the mountains grew almost imperceptibly clearer, then a soft greenish tint appeared merging off into palest grey-blue. Overhead the darkness and mists were slowly rolling back, and for the first time the outlines of the slopes and valleys of the underworld became visible.  The spirits gathered as near the river as they dared, all faces turned towards the black mountains behind which the sky was now changing to dreamiest gold and pink.  The figure of the Watchman was outlined in deepest black against the dawning glory. 

Suddenly he leaped to his feet and, shading his eyes with his hand, cried in accents of strong amazement:

“Who is This That cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?  This That is glorious in His apparel, marching in the greatness of His strength?”


And from beyond the mountains came the answer in low clear tones, ringing with triumph:

“I That speak in righteousness, Mighty to save!”

Again queried the Watchman:

“Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel, and Thy garments like unto him that treadeth in the wine-vat?”


“I have trodden the wine-press alone,. and of the peoples there was no man with me; yea, I trod them in Mine anger and trampled them in My fury, and their life-blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My raiment.”


And behold! the glory of the eternal Sunrise blazed up before the eyes of those weary, waiting multitudes, flooding the sombre mountains with radiance, and at the same moment a quiet Figure stepped down to the brink of the river.  Raising His hand, He beckoned .to the ferryman, who crouching terror-stricken in his boat, made no attempt to approach, but only muttered: “Not Thou, oh Lord!  Not Thou!”.

Again the clear Voice spoke:

“Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.”


Then he suffered Him; and with averted face, as if the ever-increasing glory of that radiant Figure was insupportable to him, he slowly, and with difficulty, rowed across.

As He entered the boat the Messenger, standing with eager, shining face close to the water’s edge, turned to the wondering hosts and said, as he had once before said to another multitude on the banks of another river:

“This is He of Whom I said, After me cometh a Man Which is become before me, for He was before me.”


As the boat slowly drew to the shore, the countless hosts, on whose faces the first light of Hope was dawning, became aware of a second figure, who, keeping close to the Master’s side, followed His every movement with worshipping, adoring eyes. Less than an hour before, this one had begged that he might be remembered while hanging beside the Master on the hill of Calvary. 

As they stepped ashore, Charon watched the glorious radiant Form as He passed among the waiting throng, every face illumined with the glory of that True Light. The long awaited dawn had risen over the mountains, and the dark confines were glowing with the golden splendour.

He knew that the supreme moment of his existence had come. He left the boat and. carrying his oars, advanced through the crowd. As his grim, gaunt figure appeared, with his colourless ragged cloak blowing around him, the spirits drew back. with the old fear and loathing which had ever been their attitude towards him.  Ignoring them, he walked straight to the Master and laid his oars, the emblems of his office, at His feet. Then, prostrating himself, he murmured: 

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

And the Master stooped and laid His Hand, that Hand so newly scarred, on Charon’s shoulder and lo! the ancient, withered Charon, the dread ferryman of the Styx, was transformed, and the radiant Angel of Death stood, illumined with Heavenly beauty, waiting only to obey his Lord’s behest.  And high on the mountains sounded the triumphant clarion call of the Watchman as he sounded his last challenge:

“Oh Death!  Where is thy sting?  Oh Grave! Where is thy victory?”

And back from the ransomed multitudes, radiant with the glory of the Dawn. rolled the glad response:

“Thanks be to God. Which giveth us the Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”.