148 THE WILD SWANS
engaged with the green flax. Even on the way to death she did not interrupt the work she had begun ; the ten shirts of mail lay at her feet, and she wrought at the eleventh. The mob derided her.
' Look at the witch, how she mutters ! She has no hymn-book in her hand ; no, there she sits with her ugly sorcery—tear it in a thousand pieces ! '
And they all pressed upon her, and wanted to tear up the shirts of mail. Then eleven wild swans came flying up, and sat round about her on the cart, and beat with their wings ; and the mob gave way before them, terrified.
1 That is a sign from heaven ! She is certainly innocent! ' whispered many. But they did not dare to say it aloud.
Now the executioner seized her by the hand ; then she hastily threw the eleven shirts over the swans, and immediately eleven handsome Princes stood there. But the youngest had a swan's wing instead of an arm, for a sleeve was wanting to his shirt—she had not quite finished it.
' Now I may speak ! ' she said. ' I am innocent! '
And the people who saw what happened bowed before her as before a saint; but she sank lifeless into her brothers' arms, such an effect had suspense, anguish, and pain had upon her.
' Yes, she is innocent,' said the eldest brother.
And now he told everything that had taken place ; and while he spoke a fragrance arose as of millions of roses, for every piece of faggot in the pile had taken root and was sending forth shoots ; and a fragrant hedge stood there, tall and great, covered with red roses, and at the top a flower, white and shining, gleaming like a star. This flower the King plucked and placed in Eliza's bosom ; and she awoke with peace and happiness in her heart.
And all the church bells rang of themselves, and the birds came in great flocks. And back to the castle such a marriage procession took place as no King had ever seen.