THE fires were burnt out on the hearths when the last of Hrothgar’s train had departed. Then Beowulf and his companions set themselves to fastening tightly the door of the hall. They secured it with wooden bolts and tied it with leathern thongs, and so strong was it that no mortal could have passed through.
Then the warriors of Geatsland unfolded their cloaks upon the benches and laid themselves down to slumber, and Beowulf stretched his great length upon the dais of the king, and resolved that through the long night he would never once close his eyes. Near the door lay the young Hondscio, Beowulf’s favorite earl, who swore that if any one broke through the door of Heorot he would be the first to give the intruder battle.
Silence, crept over the shrouded forms where they lay upon the floor and benches, and there was no sound save their steady breathing and the faint sighing of the night-wind in the trees about the hall.
Beowulf, upon his couch, lay still as death, but his eyes moved here and there in the deepening gloom of the hall, and his breast rose and fell evenly with his breathing.
Outside, a fog was creeping up from the sea, obscuring the moon in milky eclipse, and at last there was not even the sound of the wind in the trees. To Beowulf the deep silence seemed full of moving things invisible to human eyes.
Gradually there came over him a kind of drowsiness that he fought to ward off. His eyelids fluttered against his eyes, and then he swooned with a sleep that lay upon his weary limbs like a heavy garment.
And the fog thickened and wound itself about the vast mead-hall in thick veils of damp gloom. The moon faded in the fog’s depth, and the trees dripped with moisture, and the sound of this dripping was the only sound that came through the night.
But suddenly there was a rustling among the wet trees, and a noise like the deep grunt of a pig, but soft and low, startled the fog-bound night, and the drops of mist-water on the trees fell sharply to the ground like heavy rain. Then the fog parted evenly, and in the wide path it made through the night a Shadow loomed gigantic in all that was left of moonlight.
Slowly, slowly it neared the great hall of Heorot, and the night shuddered at its coming, and behind it, as it moved, the fog closed again with a sucking sound. And the Shadow stood before the great door of the hall, and swayed hideously in the ghastly light.
Within Heorot there was a deep stillness, and Beowulf and the Geatish earls slept soundly, with no knowledge of what stood so evilly beyond the door. For the monstrous Shadow was the fiend Grendel, and standing there in the fog-strewn night he placed a spell upon those who slept in Heorot, and the spell he wove was a spell to make sleep more soundly those who already slept.
But Beowulf hung between sleeping and waking, and while the spell did not completely deaden his senses, it so ensnared his waking dream that he fought desperately against it in his half-sleep and was not quite overpowered. This Grendel did not know as he placed his great shoulder to the door of Heorot, while Beowulf on his couch tossed in the nightmare that possessed him.
Little by little the thongs that secured the door gave way, and the huge wooden bolts yielded under the pressure that was strained against them, but no sound broke upon the silent struggle that went on between Grendel and the door.
Beowulf tossed and turned in waking, but the other earls of Geatsland fell deeper and deeper into the swooning sleep.
Then with a rush, the door flew wide, and the fog and salt-smelling night swept in and filled Heorot with strange odors. And in the doorway, swaying this way and that, stood Grendel, huge and dark against the dark night, the fog weaving about him in white veils, and the door of the hall limp on its hinges.
And Beowulf came out of his dream-spell and saw what stood so vast and evil in the doorway. But his eyes were heavy with the spell that clung to him as the wisps of fog clung about the body of Grendel, and only slowly was he able to distinguish the monster. Through his nightmare, now, there came the sense of what had befallen him, and he strove to cast the last remnant of the magic from him as he saw the great form of Grendel swoop down upon the innocent form of young Hondscio, catch him up in enormous hands, and tear him limb from sleeping limb.
And Beowulf struggled, and on the earthen floor of Heorot Grendel swayed with his prey.
And now at last Beowulf saw what manner of thing this Grendel was. His legs were like the trunks of trees and they were covered with a kind of gray dry scale that made a noise like paper as the fiend moved this way and that. The body of the beast was shaped like that of a man, but such a man as no mortal eyes had ever before beheld, and the size and shape of it were something to be marveled at.
The head was the head neither of beast or man, yet had something of the features of both, and the great jaw was filled with blunt fangs that ground the bones of the unhappy Hondscio to pulp. Shaggy matted hair hung over the low forehead, and the eyes in the face of Grendel were the color of milk.
Horror-struck upon his couch, Beowulf felt his limbs in thrall and could move neither leg nor arm to raise himself as Grendel devoured the body of the young Hondscio.
And when Grendel had finished his horrid meal, the beast straightened a little his vast form and looked now to the left, now to the right, until his gaze fell upon the length of Beowulf. Then the milk-white eyes burned with a dull light that was like the light of the moon, and slowly, slowly Grendel moved toward the dais.
But Beowulf, stung with loathing, leaped from his bed.
From “The Story of Beowulf”