THE WILD SWANS 145
heart, and caused the marriage feast to be announced by all the church bells. The beautiful dumb girl out of the wood became the Queen of the country.
Then the archbishop whispered evil words into the King's car, but they did not sink into the King's heart. The marriage was to take place ; the archbishop himself was obliged to place the crown on her head, and with wicked spite he pressed the narrow circlet so tightly upon her brow that it pained her. But a heavier ring lay close around her heart—sorrow for her brothers ; she did not feel the bodily pain. Her mouth was dumb, for a single word would cost her brothers their lives, but her eyes glowed with love for the kind, handsome King, who did everything to rejoice her. She loved him with her whole heart, more and more every day. Oh that she had been able to confide in him and to tell him of her grief ! But she was compelled to be dumb, and to finish her work in silence. Therefore at night she crept away from his side, and went quietly into the little chamber which was decorated like the cave, and wove one shirt of mail after another. But when she began the seventh she had no flax left.
She knew that in the churchyard nettles were growing that she could use ; but she must pluck them herself, and how was she to go out there ?
' Oh, what is the pain in my fingers to the torment my heart endures ? ' thought she. ' I must venture it, and help will not be denied me ! '
With a trembling heart, as though the deed she purposed doing had been evil, she crept into the garden in the moonlight night, and went through the long avenues and through the deserted streets to the churchyard. There, on one of the broadest tombstones, she saw sitting a circle of lamias. These hideous wretches took off their ragged garments, as if they were going to bathe ; then with their skinny fingers they clawed open the fresh graves, and with fiendish greed they snatched up the corpses and ate the flesh. Eliza was obliged to pass close by them, and they fastened their evil glances upon her ; but she prayed silently, and collected the burning nettles, and carried them into the castle.
Only one person had seen her, and that was the arch-