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Stories of Beowulf Told to the Children by  H. E. Marshall


 

 

CHAPTER IV

HOW BEOWULF OVERCAME GRENDEL THE OGRE

[34] And now all slept save Beowulf alone. Then out of the creeping mists that covered the moorland forth the Evil Thing strode.

Right onward to the Hall he came, goaded with fearful wrath. The bolts and bars he burst asunder with but a touch, and stood within the Hall.

Out of the dark Grendel's eyes blazed like fire. Loud he laughed, wild-demon laughter, as he gazed around upon the sleeping warriors.

Here truly was a giant feast spread out before him. And ere morning light should [35] come he meant to leave no man of them alive. So loud he laughed.

Beowulf, watchful and angry, yet curbed his wrath. He waited to see how the monster should attack. Nor had he long to wait.

Quickly stretching forth a fang, Grendel seized a sleeping warrior. Ere the unhappy one could wake he was torn asunder. Greedily Grendel drank his blood, crushed his bones, and swallowed his horrid feast.

Again the goblin stretched forth his claws hungry for his feast. But Beowulf raising himself upon his elbow reached out his hand, and caught the monster.

Then had the fell giant fierce wrath and pain. Never before had he made trial of such a hand-grip. In it he writhed and struggled vainly. Hotter and hotter grew his anger, deeper and deeper his fear. He longed to flee, to seek his demon lair and [36] there make merry with his fellows. But though his strength was great he could not win free from that mighty grasp.

Then Beowulf, remembering his boast that he would conquer this ruthless beast, stood upright, gripping the Ogre yet more firmly.

Awful was the fight in the darkness. This way and that the Ogre swayed, but he could not free himself from the clutch of those mighty fingers.

The noise of the contest was as of thunder. The fair Hall echoed and shook with demon cries of rage, until it seemed that the walls must fall.

The wine in the cups was spilled upon the floor. The benches, overlaid with gold, were torn from their places. Fear and wonder fell upon the Dane folk. For far and wide the din was heard, until the king trembled in his castle, the slave in his hut.

[37] The knights of Beowulf awoke, arose, drew their sharp swords, and plunged into the battle. They fought right manfully for their master, their great leader. But though they dealt swift and mighty blows, it was in vain. Grendel's hide was such that not the keenest blade ever wrought of steel could pierce it through. No war-axe could wound him, for by enchantments he had made him safe. Nay, by no such honourable means might death come to the foul Ogre.

Louder and louder grew the din, fiercer and wilder the strife, hotter the wrath of those who strove.

But at length the fight came to an end. The sinews in Grendel's shoulder burst, the bones cracked. Then the Ogre tore himself free, and fled, wounded to death, leaving his arm in Beowulf's mighty grip.

[38] Sobbing forth his death-song, Grendel fled over the misty moorland, until he reached his dwelling in the lake of the Water Dragons, and there plunged in. The dark waves closed over him, and he sank to his home.

Loud were the songs of triumph in Hart Hall, great the rejoicing. For Beowulf had made good his boast. He had cleansed the Hall from the Ogre. Henceforth might the Dane folk sleep peacefully therein. And so the Goths rejoiced. And over the doorway of the Hall, in token of his triumph, Beowulf nailed the hand, and arm, and shoulder of Grendel.

Then when morning came, and the news was spread over all the land, there was much joy among the Dane folk. From far and near many a warrior came riding to the Hall to see the marvel. Over the moor they rode, too, tracking Grendel's gory [39] footsteps, until they came to the lake of the Water Dragons. There they gazed upon the water as it boiled and seethed, coloured dark with the poison blood of the Ogre.

Then back with light hearts they sped, praising the hero. "From north to south," they cried, "between the seas all the world over, there is none so valiant as he, none so worthy of honour."

With loosened rein they galloped in the gay sunshine. And by the way minstrels made songs, and sang of the mighty deeds of the Goth hero, praising him above the heroes of old. In all the land there was song and gladness.

Then from his bower came the aged king, clad in gorgeous robes. Behind him was his treasurer, the keeper of his gold, and a great troop of warriors. With him walked the queen, splendid too, in robes [40] of purple and gold, while many fair ladies followed in her train.

Over the flower-starred meadow they passed, stately and beautiful, until they stood before the Hall.

As Hrothgar mounted the steps, he gazed upon the roof shining with gold in the sun. He gazed too upon the hand and arm of Grendel. Great was his joy and gladness.

Then the king turned to the people gathered there. "For this sight be thanks at once given to the All Wise," he cried. "What sorrow and trouble hath Grendel caused me! When I saw my Hall stained with blood, when I saw my wise men bowed with grief, broken in spirit, I hoped no more. I thought never in this life to be repaid for all the brave men that I have lost.

"Then lo! when my sorrow was dark, there cometh a young warrior, a youth [41] mighty in battle. And he hath done the deed that all our wisdom was not able to perform."

Then turning to Beowulf, the king stretched out his hands and cried, "Now, O Beowulf, greatest of fighters, henceforth will I love thee as a son. No wish of thine but I will grant it to thee, if it be in my power.

"Full oft of yore have I for lesser deeds given great rewards. Treasure and honour have I heaped upon knights less brave than thou, less mighty in war. But thou by thy deeds hast made for thyself a glorious name which shall never be forgotten."

Then Beowulf, proudly humble, answered, "It was joy to do the daring deed. Blithe at heart we fought the Unknown One. But I would that thou thyself hadst seen the Ogre among the treasures of the Hall. I thought to bind him on a bed of [42] death. But in my hand he might not lie. He was too strong for me. His body slipped from my grasp. Nevertheless he left with me his hand and arm and shoulder. It is certain that now he lieth dead and will never more trouble the land."

There was joy among the heroes as Beowulf spoke. But Hunferth hung his head, and bit his lip in silence. He no longer had desire to taunt the hero, or make boast of his own war-craft. Shame held him speechless.

And so through all that day the crowd came and went before the door of Hart Hall. Greatly did all men marvel at the fearful sight, at the war-hand of the Ogre. The nails were like steel, the fingers like daggers, and the whole hide so hard that no sword, however finely welded, might pierce it through.

It was indeed a great marvel.


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