Page:A book of myths.djvu/307

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253
BEOWULF

From his fastnesses in the fens, the Grendel had heard the shouts of revelry, and as the Goths closed their eyes to sleep, knowing they might open them again only to grapple with hideous death, yet unafraid because of their sure belief that "What is to be goes ever as it must," the monster roused himself. Through the dank, chill, clinging mists he came, and his breath made the poisonous miasma of the marshes more deadly as he padded over the shivering reeds and trembling rushes, across the bleak moorland and the high cliffs where the fresh tang of the grey sea was defiled by the hideous stench of a foul beast of prey. There was fresh food for him to-night, he knew, some blood more potent than any that for twelve years had come his bestial way. And he hastened on with greedy eagerness, nightmare incarnate. He found the great door of the banqueting-hall bolted and barred, but one angry wrench set at naught the little precautionary measures of mere men.

The dawn was breaking dim and grey and very chill when Beowulf heard the stealthy tread without, and the quick-following crash of the bolts and bars that gave so readily. He made no movement, but only waited. In an instant the dawn was blotted out by a vast black shadow, and swifter than any great bear could strike, a scaly hand had struck one of the friends of Beowulf. In an instant the man was torn from limb to limb, and in a wild disgust and hatred Beowulf heard the lapping of blood, the scrunching of bones and chewing of warm flesh as the monster ravenously devoured him. Again the loathsome hand was stretched out to seize and to