THE WILD SWANS 147
bundle of nettles which she had collected : on this she could lay her head ; and the hard burning coats of mail which she had woven were to be her coverlet. But nothing could have been given her that she liked better. She resumed her work and prayed. Without, the street boys were singing jeering songs about her, and not a soul comforted her with a kind word.
But towards evening there came the whirring of swans' wings close by the grating—it was the youngest of her brothers. He had found his sister, and she sobbed aloud with joy, though she knew that the approaching night would probably be the last she had to live. But now the work was almost finished, and her brothers were here.
Now came the archbishop, to stay with her in her last hour, for he had promised the King to do so. But she shook her head, and with looks and gestures she begged him to depart, for in this night she must finish her work, or else all would be in vain, all her tears, her pain, and her sleepless, nights. The archbishop withdrew uttering evil w7ords against her ; but poor Eliza knew she was innocent, and continued her work.
The little mice ran about on the floor, and dragged nettles to her feet in order to help her ; and the thrush perched beside the bars of the window and sang all night as merrily as it could, so that she might not lose heart.
It was still twilight ; not till an hour afterwards would the sun rise. And the eleven brothers stood at the castle gate, and demanded to be brought before the King. That could not be, they were told, for it was still almost night; the King was asleep, and might not be disturbed. They begged, they threatened, and the sentries came, yes, even the King himself came out, and asked what was the meaning of this. At that moment the sun rose, and no more were the brothers to be seen, but eleven wild swans flew away over the castle.
All the people came flocking out at the town gate, for they wanted to see the witch burned. An old horse drew the cart on which she sat. They had put upon her a garment of coarse sackcloth. Her lovely hair hung loose about her beautiful head ; her cheeks were as pale as death ; and her lips moved silently, while her fingers were