Andrew Lang.

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They were led at the head of the procession, with the
dragon's skin borne before them, heralds proclaiming as
they went : ' These are the brave English dogs, the pre-
servers of the Knight, the conquerors of the dragon.'
Four years afterwards the Grand Master, Elio de Villa-
nova, died ; and Deodatus de Gozon was unanimously
elected as his successor - in the year 1349.



LONG, long ago, perhaps nearly a thousand years before
the adventures of the Knight of Rhodes of whom you
have just heard, there lived a King of Denmark called
Hrothgar. That is a curious name, you may think;
but you can recognise it in our own word ' Eoger,'
which, of course, is common enough. This King lived in
a palace, called Heorot, a princely abode, beyond what
the sons of men had ever heard of ; he had a beautiful
wife called Waltheow, and gold, silver, and riches in
abundance were his ; moreover as his knights, earls,
and retainers were all devotedly fond of him, he seemed
to have everything in the world which could make him
happy. In those days, when feasts were being held in the
great halls, it was customary for one who was called a
'skald ' that is, a poet or minstrel to sing or recite poems
before the assembled company. On one of these occa-
sions the ' skald ' made poems about all sorts of evil
things, wicked spirits, demons who abode in darkness,
giants, ghosts, and sin and wickedness generally. It was,
perhaps, not quite the sort of song to make merry the
hearts of the feasters, and, in fact, it had the opposite
effect, for they broke up ill at ease, as if some deadly peril
were in store ; nor were their pi-esentiments without
reason. That night there came to the Palace a monstrous
and superhuman being named Grendel, who was the very
incarnation of all cruelty and malice. He was a creature


of enormous strength and size ; for we read later in the
story that it required four men to carry his head when
he was dead. He lived an evil life, and wandered
about, a lone dweller in moors, marshes, and in the
wilderness. Savage and fierce as he was, nothing
exasperated him more than that the King and his people
should b3 so happy ; the sound of joy and revelry within
the Palace was to him as gall and wormwood. That
very night, therefore, when the skald recited his ominous
poem, Grendel left his fens and marshes, and came
silently to the Palace, where he found the Danes all asleep.
Thirty of them he killed, devouring fifteen in the hall
itself, and carrying off the rest to the marshes. Despair
there was and lamentation in the morning when the other
Danes arose from sleep ; but none knew, or could even
suggest, what was best to be done. For twelve years
were the people grievously afflicted by the cruel Grendel,
' the grim stranger, the mighty haunter of the marshes,
the dwelling of this monster race.' He persecuted them
right sorely, nor would he have peace with any man of
the Danish power. A dark, deadly shadow, he attacked
alike tried warriors and youths, he ambushed and plotted,
roaming the night long over the misty moors, contriving
evil in his heart continually.

Matters, then, were at this pass, when a neighbouring
King caljed Hygelac heard of the Danes' misfortunes.
Hygelac reigned over the Jutes in Gotland, and he had
a nephew called Beowulf, who, in common with the
King and the r^st of the people, was distressed to
think of Hrothgar's troubles. So Beowulf made him ready
a good sea-boat, took fourteen of the bravest men-at-
arms as his comrades, and set sail to help Hrothgar and
the Danes. When the Danish King was told of Beowulf's
arrival, he was, as you may well suppose, only too de-
lighted, and hailad him as a heaven-sent champion, for
he already knew all about him, how valiant he was, and
how strong ; ' for,' said Hrothgar to his people, ' it used to

son warcfceoto &, B ecu/car


be said by seafaring men that this fearless warrior had
in his grip the strength of thirty men.' When Beowulf
came before Hrothgar, he told him, what the King
already knew, that often before he had encountered sea-
monsters, destroyed the Jotun tribe and slain night
Nixes ; and that hitherto all his deeds of prowess had been
successful. ' I hear,' he said, ' that Grendel, from the
thickness of his hide, cares not for weapons ; I therefore
disdain to carry sword or shield into the combat, but with
hand-grips will I lay hold on the foe, and fight for life,
man to man.' Beowulf ended by asking that his ' gar-
ments of battle ' might be sent back to his lord and kins-
man Hygelac, if Grendel proved victorious in the fight.
The King relied with steadfast faith upon his guest ; there
was now joy in the Palace of Heorot, and Queen Wal-
theow herself, golden-wreathed, came forth to greet the
men in the hall ; to each she gave a costly cup to
each his several share ' until it befell that she, the neck-
laced Queen, gentle in manners and mind, bare the
mead-cup to Beowulf,' and thanked God that she might
find any to trust to for relief in her troubles. They all
retired to rest ; but not one of Beowulf's comrades
thought that they would escape alive, or get them thence
in safety to their well-loved homes.

That night from the moor, under the misty slopes,
came Grendel prowling ; in the gloom he came to the
Palace, where the men-at-arms slept, whose duty it
was to guard the battlemented hall ; they slept, all
save one. With his vast strength the monster burst
open the door, and strode forward, his eyes blazing
like fire. With a grim smile of delight he saw the
sleepers, seized one of them and devoured him all but
the feet and hands. Then he reached out at Beowulf,
but the warrior clasped the extended hand and firmly
grappled with the enemy. A battle royal ensued ; the
hall resounded with cries and shrieks, for the Danes were
roused from their slumbers. They tried to help Beowulf



with swords and other weapons, not knowing that they
were of no avail against the monster. But the Jute
yielded never a whit, he pressed Grendel harder and
harder with that mighty hand-grip of his, and by sheer
strength tore off the monster's hand, arm, and shoulder.
Grendel fled; back to the lake he went, to the Nixes'
mere, where the water for days afterwards was troubled
and discoloured with blood.

As for Beowulf, the grateful King could hardly thank
him enough. A feast was prepared, the walls of the
great hall were covered with cloth of gold, and the hero
received a war-banner, helmet, and breastplate, besides
golden cups, a superb golden collar, and many other
precious things. When the banquet was over they all
retired to rest, as they supposed, in safety. But an
avenger was at hand, Grendel's mother, a monstrous
witch, ravenous, wrathful, and cruel as her son. She
burst into Heorot, seized the man who was the King's
favourite amongst all his nobles, and carried him off to
the lake. She also took with her Grendel's blood-stained
hand, which had been put up as a trophy. Beowulf was
not in the Palace at the time, for another lodging had
been given to him ; but he was quickly summoned
after this new disaster. ' Never fear,' said he, ' I
promise thee she shall not escape, neither by water,
nor into the earth, nor into the mountain forest,
nor into the bottom of the sea, let her go where she
will.' So they made ready at once to go to the lake,
which was about a mile from the Palace ; a gloomy
water it was, overhung with trees, and how deep
none had ever found out ; every night, men said, a
strange fire was to be seen on its surface, so none
cared about going there. However, the King's horse
was now saddled, and his men-at-arms were ready ;
Beowulf put on armour to protect his body from the
enemy's grip, and a white helmet guarded his head. One
of Hrothgar's men lent him a short sword that had never



yet failed anyone who had used it in battle. Then the
expedition started: over a steep and stony rise through
narrow roads, past precipitous headlands they went, till
they came to a bare rock and a cheerless wood, below which
lay the water, dreary and troubled. They were maddened
with rage when they saw the head of .ZEschere lying on the
ground ; he was the noble taken by Grendel's mother.

The water of the lake was bubbling with blood ; many
strange creatures of the serpent kind glided over the
surface, and the men could also see Nixes lying on the
headland slopes. Beowulf shot at one of the horrid water
creatures with an arrow, wounding it only ; but the King's
men pursued it with poles and battle-axes, and killed it.
Then Beowulf asked Hrothgar to send back all his
presents to Hygelac, if it should happen that he, Beowulf,
perished in the water. Hastening away, he plunged into
the lake, and it was not very long before Grendel's mother
found out that some man from above had invaded her
dwelling. She grappled with him in her dreadful grasp,
endeavouring to crush him to death, but his chain-mail
protected him. Then she dragged him down to her den
at the bottom ; but meanwhile many strange beasts with
terrible tusks pressed him hard in those depths, one of
them even rent his war-shirt with its talons. Beowulf
found himself in some kind of dreadful hall, where
no water seemed to touch him ; the light of a fire, a
glittering ray, lit up the cavern. He could now clearly
distinguish the mighty iake-witch, and thrust strongly at
her with his war sword, which rang out shrilly on her
head. But, alas ! its edge would not bite ; she had
probably bewitched it with spells, as often happened in old
days. So Beowulf threw away his sword, and came to close
grips with her, trusting in his mighty strength. He seized
her by the shoulder, but unluckily tripped and fell. In
a moment she was upon him, and seized her broad dagger
with deadly intent. Then, indeed, had it gone hard with
Beowulf but for his coat of chain-mail, which protected


his shoulder from the furious blow she gave. Suddenly
he saw lying on the floor a magic sword ; a huge weapon
with finest edge, forged of old in the time of the Jotuns, or
giants, whose work it was. No ordinary man could have
wielded that blade, but Beowulf seized it, and smote the
witch a fearful blow, almost cleaving her body in twain.
A bright light shone up at once in the cavern, which the
warrior now began to explore ; nor had he gone far before
he found Grendel lying on a couch, dead, so Beowulf cut
off his head. Meanwhile Hrothgar and the rest of the
Danes had been sitting watching the water, which
suddenly became thick and stained with blood ; they had
no hope that Beowulf survived. What, then, was their
astonishment and delight to see him swimming towards
them, breasting the waves with mighty strokes, and
bearing the head of Grendel with him. And now a
marvel befell ; the sword with which Grendel's mother
had been slain began slowly to melt away, just like
ice ; for the hag's blood was of such power that it
consumed the blade, until nothing was left but the hilt,
which was of gold, richly chased, and carved with strange
characters called ' runes.' Beowulf swam ashore, and
gave an account of his adventures ; four men, as we have
already said, bore Grendel's head to the Palace, where
the hilt of the magic sword was closely examined. The
characters graven upon it were found to be a description
of the battle between the Gods and the Frost-Giants, in
which the Giants were defeated and overwhelmed in a
flood. There is an account of it in an Icelandic poem,
called the ' Yoluspa,' or the ' Song of the Prophetess,'
which describes the Northern ideas of the creation of the
world ; and tells how evil and death came upon man,
predicts the destruction of the universe, and gives an
account of the future abodes of bliss and misery. Thus
did Beowulf deliver the Danes from their misfortunes,
after which he returned home, and on the death of his
uncle, Hygelac, became King of Gotland.



BEOWULF was a wise King, and had ruled his country
well for fifty years, during which nothing had happened
to mar the happiness of him or his subjects. But now
trouble was about to arise. Hidden away in a mound of
earth was a vast store of treasure, gold, silver, jewels
of great price, and this hoard for three hundred years had
been guarded by a monstrous Fire Drake. One night,
while this dragon slept, a man succeeded in entering
the storehouse, from which he stole a cup and many
valuable jewels. When the serpent awoke its rage knew
no bounds ; it came forth from its cave, endeavouring to
track the man, whose footsteps it could see on the shore,
but without success. So it waited till evening, vowing
that many should pay dearly for that drinking-cup.
Then again it came forth, wandered all over the country
at night, setting every house it could see on fire, for its
scorching breath and the brands it carried with it were
irresistible. Beowulf's own home, in common with others,
was destroyed, whereupon he bethought him of vengeance,
remembering how of old he had been successful in quite
as dangerous undertakings, and how he had outlived
every quarrel, every perilous enterprise. Knowing well
that no ordinary defence would avail him anything
against the Fire Drake, he had fashioned for himself
a curious battle shield, all of iron. Choosing eleven
companions, he went to look for the dragon ; the way


was hard to find, so the man who had been the cause of
all the mischief went with the little band as a guide :
indeed, he was the only one who knew where the dragon's
hoard was to be found ; besides, he was very much
ashamed of himself, and was anxious to do all in his
power to atone for the disasters which his theft had
brought about.

When they arrived at the Fire Drake's lair, which
was near the sea, they saw an arch of stone, and a
stream issuing out of it from the mound. The water
was so hot, by reason of the dragon's flame continually
beating upon it, that a man could not bear his hand in it
for any length of time. Beowulf told his companions to
wait outside, whilst he himself went into the cave. The
Fire Drake, hearing his footfall and his voice, knew at once
that an enemy was near, so it coiled itself up ready to
spring to the attack. Blazing like a live coal, it advanced
with a rush, Beowulf defending himself as best he could
with his shield. He dealt the monster a terrible blow
with his sword, which, however, failed to hurt it, indeed, it
only roused it to greater fury. Breathing flames the Fire
Drake pressed the valiant King to the utmost extremity,
and it seemed as if it was to go ill with him that day.
His companions, too cowardly to help him, watched
the combat in terror, crouching down in the wood near
by to save their lives. Yet there was one among them,
Wiglaf by name, who plucked up courage to try to help
the King, for he remembered how kind Beowulf had been
to him in former days, in granting him a wealthy manor,
and other favours, and besides, he was in a way related
to him. So this brave young \varrior grasped his shield
of yellow linden wood, and drew his sword, rushing
through the smoke to help his liege lord. ' Dear Beowulf,'
cried he, ' have courage ; remember how thou did'st say
aforetime that glory should never depart from thee ; now
must thou defend thy life to the uttermost see, I come
to help thee.' On rushed the serpent against its new


adversary ; from its body and month issued many coloured
flames, which burnt up Wiglaf's wooden shield, so that
for protection he crouched under the iron shield of
Beowulf. The King now struck with all his force at the
dragon, but, alas ! his good old sword shivered in pieces ;
and now for the third time the monster rushed at him,
and succeeded in encircling his neck in its horrid coils.
Still, the King's hands were free, so that he could draw a
dagger which he bore on his corselet ; Wiglaf, meanwhile,
was also hewing at the creature, and before long Beowulf
was able to stab it to death. Thus they slew the
Fire Drake ; but Beow T ulf had received a deadly wound,
which soon began to burn and swell, and though Wiglaf
'brought him water and tended him with all affection, the
King felt his end to be near. Anxious to know of what
the treasure consisted, he sent Wiglaf into the cave to
explore it. Eiches of all descriptions were discovered
jewels, gold, handsome bowls, helmets, armlets, and,
most curious of all, a gilded standard, which was flapping
over the hoard. From this standard there came a ray of
bright light, by which Wiglaf could easily see around
hjm. Nothing was to be seen of the dead Fire Drake,
so Beowulf's messenger plundered the hoard at will.
He piled up bowls and dishes in his bosom, took the
standard, and a sword shod w r ith brass, hastening with
them back to the King, who, he was half afraid, might
die during his absence. Beowulf was alive, however,
though in sorry plight, so Wiglaf fetched more water
wherewith to refresh him. Then spake the brave old King
his last words on earth, the while he looked sadly on the
gold : ' I give thanks for these beautiful things, w r hich hei'e
I gaze on, to the Lord of all, to the King of Glory, the
eternal Lord, for that I have been able before my death-
day to gain so much for my people. Fulfil ye now with
this hoard my people's needs, for here I may no longer
be. Let the warriors build a mound at the headland
which juts out into the sea. Bear it that it may tower


high up on Hronesness, and so perchance my people
may bear me in mind. Yea, let it be for a landmark
to seafaring men, who may call it Beowulf's Mound
a beacon of safety for such as are in stress on the storm-
tossed sea.' Thus died Beowulf. When the news spread
the people flocked out in hundreds to the spot where the
fight took place. Sadly they looked on the lifeless body
of their chief lying on the sand, and with astonishment
they saw the carcass of the Fire Drake, full fifty feet long,
and the hoard of treasure beside it. They loaded the
treasure on a wain and bore it away ; the dragon's body
was pushed over the cliff into the sea. Then they made
ready a vast funeral-pyre for their beloved King, even as
he had wished. Black over the blaze rose the wood smoke ;
while sad and dejected in spirit sat the people, mourning
their lord's fall, bewailing the death of him who among
world Kings had been the mildest, the kindest of men,
and the most gracious to his people.



WHEN I ask children to tell me what they know about a
fox, they almost always reply : ' He is a little red beast,
very cowardly and cunning : he kills hens, and has a very
bushy tail.'

This is all quite true ; but Eenard lives a very hard and
extremely uncertain life ; yet all the while is so dashing
and gentlemanly, so quick and clever, that you must forgive
him one or two faults.

He begins his life in a nice warm nest of hay, dry
leaves and rnoss, at the bottom of a deep burrow, generally
in a sandy bank. His mother tends him, fondles him,
plays with him, as only a mother can ; her one ambition
being to keep him concealed from human sight. Once a
man came by a particular burrow with his dog, hung
about for some time near by, and then went away again.
That night, Mother Fox took her little one up in her mouth
by the nape of his neck, and set off to find a safer home.
Hardly had she gone ten yards from her burrow when a
dog jumped out of some bushes and gave chase.

Mother Fox flew like the wind over hill and dale, on
and on, till her breath began to come in short, sharp
gasps, and she felt she would soon have to turn and
face her pursuer; But never once did she dream of
dropping her little one and thereby saving herself ; oh,
no ! cowardly as foxes are ever said to be, the mothers
will alway die fighting for their young.

Happily for this mother, however, a long stretch of



whin bushes just then hove in sight, and, summoning up all
her strength, she made a last spurt, and crept into the
thick of them. The dog followed for a short distance,
but evidently found the thorns too sharp for his thick nose
and long flapping ears, for he soon retired, leaving Mother
Fox gasping, but triumphant, with her little one safe and
sound. She crept some way farther into the bushes to
guard against pursuit, and there lay hidden till nightfall,
when once more she stole stealthily out with her cub in
her mouth, and made tracks for a hollow tree which she
knew of in the neighbourhood. Reaching it in safety, she
soon had a warm nest made in the dark recesses of the
tree trunk, where little Renard lay for weeks eating and
sleeping by turns, till he grew into quite a respectable fox.
And what a merry little fellow he was ! As playful as a
kitten, and quite as active ; gambolling all round and
over his poor patient mother, burying his face in the furry-
depths of her brush, or, if she refused him that huge
enjoyment, flying round and round in a mad race after
his own, till he looked for all the world like a woolly
spinning top !

But life is not all play, even to little foxes, and young
Renard was awakened every night by a poke in the back
from his father, who wanted his company on all noc-
turnal expeditions ; for, strange as it may seem to us,
foxes have lessons at night and sleep through the day,
instead of having lessons through the day and sleeping
at night. And sometimes little Renard was good at his
lessons, and sometimes he was not. Very often, on
catching sight of a pheasant or a partridge, instead of
trailing his hind legs out behind him, as his father did, he
would forget, and gallop full tilt at his prey, and yelp with
excitement, expecting the bird to sit still and be caught !
and not till the pheasant was whirring away high in the
air would he remember that stealth and cunning alone
will win a fox his daily bread.

Hitherto little Renard had known no sorrow, and it


came to him very suddenly one night when he was out
foraging with his father. They were creeping along
together, keeping as much under cover of the long grass
as possible, when Mr. Fox struck on a hare's trail, and
off the two set with their noiseless gliding motion, their
noses well to the ground, and their ears alive to every
sound under the moon. All at once, when Mr. Fox was
slinking under a gate, he began to back and wriggle as
if trying to escape from some unseen power. Young
Kenard pulled up, watched the old fox anxiously for a
moment, and then, seeing a dark form approach, he fled,
thinking only of the safety of his own red skin.

Truth to tell, it was a poacher's net into which the old
fox had fallen, and the more he struggled to free himself
the tighter he became entangled. Instinctively feeling
this, and hearing the poacher himself approaching, the
cunning creature lay perfectly still in the hope, no doubt,
of escape by feigning death. But the wary old netter was
quite up to Renard's tricks ; and seeing that his nets would
be torn to pieces if he did not free the animal at once, he
tried to loosen one end off the gate. Mr. Fox, however,
thought the trap had been set for him, and was determined
not to be taken in that way ; so he snarled and bit at the
man every time he came near the gate. Again and again
the poacher tried, but at last, losing patience, he seized
some heavy stones off a dyke close by, and pelted Mr.
Fox till he died. ' And,' said the poacher afterwards,
when telling the tale to his friend, 'it went sore against me
killing that animal, for never a so and did it make from
first to last.'

Young Eenard had witnessed his father's fate from
a safe distance, and ran off as soon as all w r as over to tell
his mother. He found her busily scratching up their
morning meal from the various larders round about : for
foxes, you know, always bury their prey, and never keep
more than one ' joint ' (be it of bird or beast) in the same
larder at the same time ; they have game safes scattered

F, 2


for miles round in all directions, so that if one is dis-
covered, they still have two or three other breakfasts or
dinners waiting for them somewhere else.

Mrs Fox did not seem to take her loss very much to
heart-merely told young Eenard that he would have to

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Online LibraryAndrew LangThe red book of animal stories → online text (page 3 of 22)