THE STORY OF BEOWULF
HE SAXONS were fond of singing at their feasts old songs about a hero
named Beowulf. Those of them who left their earlier
home and came to England did not forget these songs. More
incidents were added, and by and by, just as in the case of the
tale of the Nibelungs and that of King Arthur, some one wove
them together into one long story. The following is the
story of "Beowulf."
The old king Hrothgar, who ruled in the land of the Danes,
built a mighty hall in which his heroes might feast
when they returned from their hard-fought battles. Every one who
saw it admired it, but a wicked monster called
Grendel, who prowled about in the darkness, was
angry. He could not bear to hear the merry sounds of music
and feasting; and one night while the men lay asleep, he crept
up to the hall and slew thirty of the warriors,
dragging their bodies away with him to devour.
THE WICKED MONSTER GRENDEL
Night after night this same slaughter went on, and the old king
was almost broken-hearted at the loss of his beloved
heroes. But help was coming. The young champion Beowulf, of the
land of Gotland, had heard of the trouble, and
he determined to free the king and his men. So, with some brave
comrades, he sailed away
 from his home, and soon reached
the land of the Danes. The young warriors had hardly stepped on
shore when the warden of the land, who had been watching
them from the cliffs, demanded sharply who they were, for he
feared they might be enemies. Upon learning Beowulf's name
and the purpose for which he had come, he conducted the
strangers to the hall of Hrothgar. Then the king was glad at
heart, for he had heard of the amazing prowess of Beowulf.
THE ARRIVAL OF BEOWULF IN HROTHGAR'S REALM.
That night, while the warriors lay asleep, Grendel stole up
through the mists, as usual. His eyes shone like fire as he
stretched out his arm to seize the newcomer. But Beowulf caught
his hand and held it in such a grip as the monster had
never known. He was afraid and tried to flee, but he could not.
The heroes awoke and drew their swords, but no weapon
could pierce the skin of Grendel; he must be overcome by
strength alone. At length he escaped, but his arm was torn from
its socket and left in the iron grasp of Beowulf.
In the morning there was great rejoicing. The king loaded the
hero with lavish gifts. The queen brought him handsome
garments and hung about his neck a fair golden collar; and all
were glad and happy.
Alas, on the following night Grendel's mother, another monster
as terrible as he, came up from her cavern,
 beneath a lake,
revenge. She seized and carried away with her one who was very
dear to the aged Hrothgar. The king grieved sorely, but
Beowulf promised vengeance. Then Beowulf and Hrothgar and a
company of chosen men found their way by a lonely path to
the lake in which was the den of the fiends. The head of him
who was dear to Hrothgar lay on a rock, and swimming in the
water were fearful serpents and dragons. Beowulf put on his
armor and sprang into the lake. Down, down he sank through
the gloomy water. Grendel's mother clutched at him and dragged
him into her frightful den. The men by the shore saw the
water become red with blood and they grew very sorrowful; but
after a long, long while they saw Beowulf swimming toward
the land. He had slain Grendel's mother, and he bore with him
the terrible head of Grendel.
Then there was great joy in the beautiful hall of King Hrothgar.
Many costly gifts were bestowed upon him who had
delivered the followers of the king, and then Beowulf bade them
all farewell and set out for his homeland.
Beowulf was soon chosen chief of his people and ruled for many
years. When he was an old man, a fire-breathing dragon
that dwelt in his country came forth by night and went through
the land killing people and burning towns and cities.
This dragon guarded a vast treasure, and King Beowulf said to
himself, "I will win this treasure for my people, and I
will avenge their wrongs." He did slay the dragon, but he
himself was mortally wounded.
His men grieved sorely. They built a great funeral pyre, all
hung about with helmets and shields and coats of mail, and
on it they laid gently the body of their dead
 leader. Afterward
they reared in his honor a mighty mound on a hill beside
the sea, and in it they buried many rings of gold and other
treasures which they had brought forth from the dragon's
cave. In after days they often spoke together of Beowulf,
and they said, "He cared more for glory than did any other
king who dwelt on the earth. He was kind and gentle, too,
and he truly loved his people."