Zénaïde A. (Zénaïde Alexeïevna) Ragozin.

Siegfried, the hero of the North, and Beowulf, the hero of the Anglo-Saxons online

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huge size and strength of blade, larger
than an ordinary man could have carried,
let alone used in battle, the handiwork of
giants. On this Beowulf blindly seized
beside himself, despairing of his life and
struck in his fury ; the blow caught the
beldame in the neck, severed the bone,
she dropped on the pavement, the work
was done.

He was alone. He now had leisure to
scan the apartment with his eye ; he slowly
walked all round it, along by the wall,
the magic weapon swung aloft by the hilt,
for fear of surprises. Suddenly, he came
upon a hideous object- -Grendel, bereft
of life, lying where he fell, as he reached
his lake home on that fatal night. The
hero's blood boiled at the sight; he at



Under the Waters 271

once decided he would bring back to the
upper world a better trophy than a hand
and arm : so, raising high the cutlass, he
struck off the head.

Then, before his eyes, there came to
pass a thing whereat he marvelled much ;
no sooner had the blade touched the mon-
ster's black gore, than it began to melt
away, even as ice when the spring
breathes upon it, dissolving the fetters of
the torrent ; and even as he looked, it
melted all to naught, down to the hilt in
his hand so venomous and consuming
had been the goblin's life-blood !

There were many rare arms and trinkets
in that wondrous water hall ; but Beowulf
only glanced at them and would not bur-
den himself with aught save the head, and
the hilt of the burned-up cutlass, which he
wanted to show and keep as a curiosity.
Nor would he leave Hrunting below, since
the good sword did not belong to him.



IV



THE RETURN

MEANWHILE the hours waxed long
to the watchers above. Hrothgar
and his men sat in the same spot still, in-
tently gazing on the water. The old men
with grizzled locks spoke together in low
tones about the brave etheling, how they
did not expect that he should ever come
back to them ; and when they saw the
waves splashing turbid and tinged with
blood, most of them decided that the she-
wolf of the Mere had torn him to pieces.

It was the ninth hour of the day. The
impetuous Danes gave him up for lost and
quitted the bluff ; King Hrothgar followed
them with heavy heart. They did not
doubt but that they had lost their hero-
friend, and the nightly ravages would

272



The Return 273

commence again. But the Goths would
not go. Sick at heart they sat on, and
gazed upon the dreadful pool. They did
not expect to ever again get sight of their
lord and captain in the body, yet they
kept on wishing, and secretly hoping : for
was he not greater and braver than all
other men ? No other would have even
dreamed of plunging into such an ad-
venture.

And lo ! what was that ? something in
the distance, moving on the water ! Water-
beast it could not be, for they had all
slunk away when man and goblin-wife met,
and kept in hiding, waiting for the end.
It was- -yes, it was the leader ! Soon they
could see him plainly, as he came swim-
ming bravely along. He shouted to them.
They answered with a cry which must have
been heard half-way to Heorot. Then
he came to land, exulting in his lake
spoils. His faithful thanes ran to meet
him, thanking God that they had him
back, whole and sound. They pressed
around, vieing who should relieve him of
his helmet, his mail-shirt. From the mo-



274 Beowulf

ment he stepped on land, the Mere sul-
lenly subsided, grey and heavy, leaden
water under leaden sky.

And now Beowulf and his band pre-
pared to retrace their steps, for they had
quite a long way to march across country
and along the public highways. So they
formed into a triumphal procession, to
bear away Grendel's head from the Mere-
cliff : it took four of the lusty and stal-
wart fellows to carry it on a pole, and the
burden taxed their strength to the ut-
most ; so that, when they reached the
great hall, gold-glittering in the sunshine,
they were glad to lay it down on the
ground. Then others of their comrades
took it up and carried it by the hair into
the midst of the assembled Danes. Their
captain was just greeting the King, but
all sprang to their feet ; even to Hrothgar
and the Queen, startled out of ceremony
by the unexpected sight of the horrible
object.



LAST WORDS

WHEN some sort of order had been
restored, Beowulf, with his wonted
modest dignity, gave the King a brief
account of his last and most deadly en-
counter :

" Lo and behold ! to thee, O Lord of
the Skyldings, we have joyfully brought
these Mere-spoils that thou lookest on,
in token that what we came to do is done.
Not easily did I come out of it with life.
In the battle under water well-ni^h had

o

the struggle gone against me, only that
God shielded me. I could not, in the
final test, accomplish aught with H runt-
ing, though it be a good weapon, too.
But the Ruler of men directed my eye
to the wall, where it was caught by the

275



276 Beowulf

gleam of an old sword of huge size,
whereat I grasped, blindly. Thus oftenest
hath He guided men when they have no
other friend. With that sword - occasion
favouring me,- -I smote the keepers of the
Mere-house, the living and the dead. So
hot and poisonous was that accursed
blood, that it consumed the blade, as thou
canst see. I brought away the hilt as a
trophy. And now that I have avenged
the long agonies of the Danes as was
meet, I promise thee that thou mayest
sleep henceforth in Heorot free from care ;
and so may every one of the thanes, old
and young, and thou needest not fear for
them any kind of danger, as thou didst so
long."

The oldest and wisest among the war-
riors marvelled much to hear so wise a
speech from lips so young. That in the
heat of victory, hard-won, single-handed,
the noble champion should remember to
give thanks where alone man's thanks
are due, and should generously share the
credit with his comrades, pleased King
Hrothgar greatly. With kindly smile he



Last Words 277

took the gilded, bladeless hilt into his
hand and examined it intently. It was
well worth the study, this relic of heathen
times immemorial, the workmanship of
giants. The mystic smiths had graven
much ancient lore on it in quaint old
characters, looking like small staves oddly
thrown together, and long held sacred by
learned men, who called them " Runes."
Hrothgar, who, though himself a fervent
Christian, was well versed in the ancient
heathen lore of his people, easily read the
storied gold of the hilt. Upon it was
written the history of the primeval quar-
rel between the bright, beneficent gods
and the perverse race of giants, and of
the war between them, in which the wicked
giants did their worst, by force and wile,
to destroy the beautiful world, the creation
of the gods, until the latter sent a great
flood, and the giant's brood perished.
Likewise was it set down in runes on a
part of the mounting, for whom that sword
had first been worked with its dragon
ornament.

When he had examined the curious relic



278 Beowulf

at his leisure, King Hrothgar returned it
to the youth, and bending on him his
kindest glance, he spoke to him, while
all around respectfully held their peace, -
out of the fulness of his heart and of his
long-hoarded wisdom, such words as only
a father speaks to a well-beloved son, when
he sends him forth to fare for himself in
the wide and dangerous world. For well
he knew that the hero, his mission done,
would leave him very soon, to continue
his adventurous career, wherever it might
call him, and his heart ached to let him
go ; he would fain have warned him of all
that might befall him on his way, and
given him his own treasure of experience
to guide and to shield him,- -above all
against the dangers and snares of his own
untamed nature.

" Thy fame, friend Beowulf," the King
began, " will spread after this to every
land, over every nation. Thou dost withal
carry thy prowess modestly, with discre-
tion of mind. Thou art fated to prove
a comfort sure and lasting to thy men, a
help to mankind."



Last Words 279

Here the King recalled, as a warning
example, the fate of Heremod, the bad
king, who had lost the people's hearts
through his arrogance and cruelty, and
whom his (Hrothgar's), own ancestor,
Skyld of the Sheaf, had displaced.

" Do thou take warning by that ! ' he
continued. " It is for thy benefit that I,
being old in years and experience, have
told this tale. For, how many a time do
we not see a man of noble race who
dwelleth in prosperity, with nothing to
annoy him, no care nor quarrel on any
side, but all the world seems to move to
his mind. Until, at length, within the
man himself something of arrogancy grows
and develops. Then sleepeth the heavenly
guardian, the soul's keeper ; the foe is
very near, and the man yields to the
crooked counsels of the accursed spirit ;
he fancies that all is too little that he has
so long enjoyed ; he grows covetous and
malignant, and grudges to share his wealth
with his friends. He too lightly considers
how that it was God the Dispenser who
placed him in his post of dignity. And



280 Beowulf

then the end comes ; another fills his room
who makes better use of his wealth- -he
is forgotten. Beware of such a fall, Beo-
wulf, beloved youth, and choose for thyself
the better course. Now is thy strength
in full bloom for a while. Soon it may
betide that sickness or the sword will be-
reave thee of it ; fire or flood, stab of
knife, or flight of spear anything at any
time may mar and darken all, and Death
subdue thee. leader of men though thou

o

art ! Look at me : did I not for fifty
years reign prosperously over the Danes,
and by valour make them secure against
many a nation, insomuch that I dreaded
no rival under the circuit of the sky ?
Yet how suddenly a change came over all
that ; here in my own hall, the abominable
Grendel bearded and despoiled me, and
for years my heart carried its load of grief.
Thanks, therefore, be to the Eternal Ruler
for what I have lived to see- -that I, the
old tribulation past, with mine own eyes
should gaze upon yon severed head ! And
now go, sit thee down, share the festive
joy, crowned with the honours of war.



Last Words 281

To-morrow we must yet have many deal-
ings together."

Beowulf had listened with beseeming
earnestness and reverence, nor did the
a^ed kind's wise instruction fall on barren

o o

soil. But he was very tired : so he moved
briskly off and sat down, nothing loth, on
one of the benches. Then the tables were
cleared and re-spread, and a fair, fresh
banquet served.

Not till the night's dim covering began
to descend over the light-hearted revellers
did the venerable Skylding arise and give
the signal for bed. After him the elders.
Vastly well did the hero of the day like
the thought of repose - he had enough of
adventure for a while ! He was mar-
shalled to his room with much ceremony
by a chamberlain, who supplied him with
all things needful for a luxurious night's
rest. And he slept ! slept till the black ra-
ven announced heaven's glory with blithe
heart, and the light drove the shadows
away, and fiends that prowl of nights
scampered off and hid.

When he came forth from his sleeping-



282 Beowulf

chamber, he found his comrades all ready
for the voyage. They were impatient to
take ship for home.

Beowulf bade courteous farewell to his
Danish friends, and when the turn of Un-
ferth came, he returned Hrunting to him

o

with hearty thanks for the loan ; with
never a word did he blame the blade that
had played him false, but on the contrary
praised it for a good sword, a good friend
in war. Thus are high-souled men ever
courteous and mindful of other men's
feelings.



VI



HOMEWARD BOUND

ONLY when the departing warriors
were fully equipped and ready to
start, did Beowulf approach the raised
platform where Hrothgar sat, to take lov-
ing leave of him.

"Now," he began, "we sea-voyagers
have come to say that we purpose this
very day to return to Hygelac. Here we
have been well entertained, and thou hast
been to us very generous. If I therefore
may in any way be of use to thee, even
though it require labour beyond what I
have yet done, I shall be forthwith on
hand. If they bring me word across the
seas that thou art hard pressed by neigh-
bours, I will at once bring thee a thousand
thanes to help. And Hygelac, I know >

283



284 Beowulf

albeit young in years, will bear me out in
this, and send me over with a forest of
spears, shouldst thou have need of them."

The old King was deeply moved as he
made answer :

" The All-wise Lord himself, puts such
thoughts into thy mind. Never have I
heard one so young in years discourse such
sweet and reasonable speech. I think it
very likely that, should sickness or iron
take thy chief from this life, the seafaring
Goths will find no better man than thy-
self to be their king. Thou hast my best
wishes, beloved Beowulf, for I like thee
more and more. Thou hast done that
which will make the Danes and the Goths
friends forevermore. While I rule this
realm, the two nations shall have all things
in common, and ships shall bring back and
forward, not men armed for war, but pres-
ents and tokens of love."

King Hrothgar rose from his chair of
state and pressed on his young friend
twelve more priceless jewels, bidding him
go with God and visit his people, but
come back again soon. He clasped him



Homeward Bound 285

by the neck, tears coursing down his
cheeks into his long grey beard. To him
the youth was so dear that he could not
restrain the passion of his sorrow at part-
ing from him, for, in spite of his cheery
words, there was that in his breast which
warned him that they two were not to
meet again.

Beowulf, being young, was not much
disturbed by forebodings, and when he left
the hall, his foot trod the grassy earth
with the firm step of conscious power.
As he and his gallant troop neared the
water, where their well-guarded ship
awaited them, the coast-warden marked
their approach, as he had done at their
coming ; but there was no suspicion now
in his mind or manner, as he hailed them
from his high peak and rode down swiftly
towards them. The beach was all alive as
the Goths proceeded, with right good will,
to load the good ship with the war har-
ness, the horses, and all the treasures from
Hrothgar's hoard. Winds and waves
seemed to favour their impatience, and
sail and oars carried them smoothly over



286 Beowulf

the foamy swell, till they were able to
espy the familiar cliffs and headlands of
the Gothic shore. And now the keel
grated on the sand, the wind pushing from
behind she was on land.

The warden was ready to receive the
seafarers at the landing ; he had hardly
left the water's edge, so anxiously had he
been looking for the dear friends who
had left him on so perilous, uncertain a
venture. And now he helped to bind the
ship fast with strong anchor cables, lest a
sudden storm might snatch her away, and
hastened to give orders to carry ashore
the princely cargo.




VII

AT HOME

THEY had not far to go, for King Hy-
gelac, son of Hrethel, had his palace,
where he held court with his peers, within
sight of the sea. There he dwelt happily
with his Queen, fair Hygd, who, though
she was very young, and had lived but few
winters in her lord's castle, was wise and
of excellent discretion, yet not mean-spir-
ited, nor grudging of gifts to the thanes
and ethelings - very different in all her
ways from another young princess of the
Goths, Thrytho, the moody and the proud,
even to savagery ; so arrogant and fierce
that no man, not even her favourites
among the courtiers, durst look in her
eyes, but he was sure to be taken and

287



288 Beowulf

bound by her order, and the knife was
quick to follow arrest. Well did nobles
and people murmur, and whisper among
themselves that such manner was not
queenly, nor womanly, for any lady to
practise, although peerless of form and
feature ; for woman should ever be a peace-
maker, and not a taker of men's lives on
false pretences too. But no one dared to
speak aloud what all thought in their se-
cret hearts. So everybody was glad ex-
ceedingly when Thrytho was sent off to
Angle-land, there to wed the great Offa,
King of Mercia, the most powerful of the
seven kingdoms. Soon after, however,
those who drink at the ale-benches began
to tell a different tale, how that she had
left off her evil ways from the moment
that she reached Offa's hall after her long
sea-voyage and been given, gold-adorned,
into the noble and brave king's keeping ;
and ever since, as long as she lived in her
royal state, she was famed for her kindness
and gentleness ; she won and kept the
love of that most excellent ruler between
the seas for minstrels tell us that OfTa



At Home 289

was as famous for his courtly grace and
knightly accomplishments as for his feats
of war. 1

Beowulf's arrival was promptly made
known to Hygelac. Good news in truth,
he thought, that his dear companion, his
playfellow of yore, was coming back to
him alive and unhurt. Quickly, at his
command, the interior of the hall was
cleared for the home-coming travellers.

Beowulf sat by the King's side, while
his comrades were greeted by their friends,
and the gentle Queen moved about the
hall with beakers of sweet mead ; for she
loved her folk and gladly ministered to
them.

With eager, affectionate words Hygelac
questioned his kinsman about his voyage,
his reception by Hrothgar, the battle for
Heorot. Beowulf satisfied him fully on

1 That these two queens with their contrasting characters
were introduced by the Christian writer of the poem to convey
a moral lesson, is evident from the allegorical names he gives
them : " Hygd," in Anglo-Saxon, means " discretion," and
" Thrytho," "haughtiness, superciliousness." At the same
time it is not improbable that the name of Thrytho may have
been suggested by the actual name of Offa's queen, which was
" Cynethryth."
19



290 Beowulf

all points, and gave him a most detailed
account of all that had befallen him, good
and evil, during his brief but eventful ab-

o

sence - speaking of his deeds, as was his
wont, with heroic simplicity, and dwelling
more on Hrothgar's loving-kindness and
generosity than upon his own prowess.

When he had told his tale, to which all
who were in the hall listened spell-bound,
he ordered all Hrothgar's gifts, including
four of the beautiful horses, matched to
perfection, to be brought into the hall, and
then and there presented all to his kins-
man and liege lord, bidding him use and
enjoy the treasures. As to the carcanet, the
curiously wrought, wonderful jewel, which
Hrothgar's queen had bestowed on him,
he presented that to Queen Hygd, as also
three palfreys, keeping only one of the
eight horses for his own use, in memory
of Hrothgar's friendship. A shining ex-
ample, truly, of a loyal kinsman's fealty
and love, which it were well if all royal
kinsmen took to heart. But how many,
alack, are there who will, instead, spread
the deceitful snare for their trusting com-



At Home 291

rade's feet and secretly, with wicked guile,
contrive his death !

From this time on, Beowulf steadily
grew in honours and in his sovereign's
confidence. He conducted himself on all
occasions wisely and with discretion.
Never did he smite his hearth-fellows in
their cups. For his was no ruffian soul ;
but of all mankind he most wisely con-
trolled the great talents which God had
given him. Men saw and wondered at
him. For they had held him in little es-
teem for a long time, because of his mod-
est, reserved ways, which did not court
attention ; and when he was a lad, he had
often been called slack and unpromising.
Now, however, every rash judgment was
reversed, as the mature man stood radiant
in his glory, the very next to the King,
who girded him with his own father's gold-
mounted battle-sword, King Hrethel's heir-
loom, than which there was no more
renowned weapon among the Goths. At
the same time he conferred on him seven
thousand hides of land, a princely mansion,
and a seat of authority in the Council,



292 Beowulf

Not many years passed thus peacefully.
There was war once more and Hygelac
fell in battle in the distant land of the
sea-going Frisians. Beowulf saved him-
self by a feat of swimming which no man
but he could have performed, and reached
Gothland unharmed. There he found
the young widowed Queen, Hygd, beside
herself with grief and alarm. She prof-
fered him treasure and realm, jewels and
throne ; for she had no confidence in her
young son Heardred, who was scarcely
more than a child, that he would be able
to hold the ancestral seats against the
Frisians, whose invasion was expected
from day to day. But neither she nor
the bereaved people could prevail with
the loyal kinsman and chieftain to break
faith with his dead cousin ; he upheld
young Heardred in the public assembly,
respectfully and with friendly guidance,
until the time that he was of full age, when
he resigned to him the power which he
had wielded only so long as duty bade.
But fortune soon after proved fatal to
young Heardred. He, too, was killed in



At Home 293

war. Then ancient Hrothgar's prophecy
came true, and Beowulf found himself
King of the Goths. He had not sought
or coveted the dignity, giving the elder
line always his whole-hearted, undivided
service. But when the broad realm came
to his hand, he took it as a trust placed
in his charge by God, and governed it
well for fifty winters, a true ethel-warden
noble guardian of the people. But en-
vious fate, which is ever on the lurk, would
not suffer the venerable King to end his
days in undisturbed prosperity.




LAY III



THE DRAGON



THE TREASURE

IN the land of the Goths, high on a
rocky steep above the sea, there stood
a lonely stronghold, built of stone. A
narrow path led to it from the beach be-
neath, but it was unfrequented by people,
because the castle was tenanted by a
Dragon, who had, for three hundred years,
kept guard over a treasure of gold and
silver rings, bracelets, jewelled drinking-
cups, daggers and swords, and armour of
all kinds. This treasure was the legacy of
an ancient band of men, war-companions
long forgotten. Death took them all off,

294



The Treasure 295

one after another, and left one solitary
survivor, to mourn for lost friends and
enjoy for a short while the accumulated
wealth.

There was a forsaken barrow on the
down near by, where a huge cliff hung
sheer over the water. Thither the soli-
tary man carried all the beaten gold and
silver, and having buried it all, spoke a
few farewell words :

" Hold thou now, O Earth, the wealth
of mighty heroes, who cannot guard it
any longer. Death in battle has carried
them all away, my friends, my peers ; they
share the bliss of Woden's heavenly hall,
where only brave warriors slain in the
field are admitted. No one henceforth
will furbish the embossed tankard, the pre-
cious .sword, or the helmet damaskeened
with gold ; the armour will moulder by the
side of the warrior who wore it ! '

Thus the sole survivor of a brave com-
pany lamented his unhappiness, by day
and by night, until the finger of Death
touched his heart also, and it stood still.

The dazzling hoard, now unguarded,



296 Beowulf

was found by the old pest of twilight,
that haunteth barrows, the scaly spiteful
Dragon, that flieth by night, enwrapt in
fire, whom country-folk hold in awe and
dread. His great delight is to sit on un-
derground hoards and gloat there. Thus
it happened that, having discovered this
enormous treasure-house, he held it for
three hundred years, until something oc-
curred which angered him and let him
loose on the unhappy land.

Some unknown man was fleeing in a
feud, houseless and pursued, and in his
flight he stumbled on the barrow and on
the Dragon asleep therein upon the glitter-
ing hoard. Horror-struck, he was turning
to escape while he might, but a jewelled
tankard caught his eye and he just
snatched it before he ran, his heart mis-
giving him at the time that he was bring-
ing woe on many by the deed. But
something impelled him, stronger than
reason so he snatched and ran, hugging
the precious bauble, which he carried to
his liege lord, who pursued him, as a
pledge of peace, and bought his lord's



The Treasure 297

friendship and his own safety therewith.
He also revealed the hiding-place of the
hoard ; the chieftain hastened thither with-
out delay, the barrow was rifled of many
of its jewels, while the Dragon still slept


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Online LibraryZénaïde A. (Zénaïde Alexeïevna) RagozinSiegfried, the hero of the North, and Beowulf, the hero of the Anglo-Saxons → online text (page 12 of 14)