<< Предыдущий рассказ
Следующий рассказ >>
The Wild Swans
Far, far away where the swallows fly when we
have winter, there lived a King who had eleven sons and one
daughter, Elisa. The eleven brothers, Princes all, each went to
school with a star at his breast and a sword at his side. They wrote
with pencils of diamond upon golden slates, and could say their
lesson by heart just as easily as they could read it from the book.
You could tell at a glance how princely they were. Their sister,
Elisa, sat on a little footstool of flawless glass. She had a
picture book that had cost half a kingdom. Oh, the children had a
very fine time, but it did not last forever.
Their father, who was King over the whole
country, married a wicked Queen, who did not treat his poor children
at all well. They found that out the very first day. There was
feasting throughout the palace, and the children played at
entertaining guests. But instead of letting them have all the cakes
and baked apples that they used to get, their new step mother gave
them only some sand in a teacup, and told them to make believe that
it was a special treat.
The following week the Queen sent little Elisa
to live in the country with some peasants. And before long she had
made the King believe so many falsehoods about the poor Princes that
he took no further interest in them.
"Fly out into the world and make your own
living," the wicked Queen told them. "Fly away like big birds
without a voice."
But she did not harm the Princes as much as
she meant to, for they turned into eleven magnificent white swans.
With a weird cry, they flew out of the palace window, across the
park into the woods.
It was so early in the morning that their
sister, Elisa, was still asleep when they flew over the peasant hut
where she was staying. They hovered over the roofs, craning and
twisting their long necks and flapping their wings, but nobody saw
them or heard them. They were forced to fly on, high up near the
clouds and far away into the wide world. They came down in a vast,
dark forest that stretched down to the shores of the sea.
Poor little Elisa stayed in the peasant hut,
and played b 00 with a green leaf, for she had no other toy. She
made a little hole in the leaf and looked through it at the sun.
Through it she seemed to see her brothers' bright eyes, and whenever
the warm sunlight touched her cheek it reminded her of all their
One day passed like all the others. When the
wind stirred the hedge roses outside the hut, it whispered to them,
could be prettier than you?" But the roses shook their heads and
answered, "Elisa!" And on Sunday, when the old woman sat in the
doorway reading the psalms, the wind fluttered through the pages and
said to the book, "Who could be more saintly than you?" "Elisa," the
book testified. What it and the roses said was perfectly true.
Elisa was to go back home when she became
fifteen but, as soon as the Queen saw what a beautiful Princess she
was, the Queen felt spiteful and full of hatred toward her. She
would not have hesitated to turn her into a wild swan, like her
brothers, but she did not dare to do it just yet, because the King
wanted to see his daughter.
In the early morning, the Queen went to the
bathing place, which was made of white marble, furnished with soft
cushions and carpeted with the most splendid rugs. She took three
toads, kissed them, and said to the first:
"Squat on Elisa's head, when she bathes, so
that she will become as torpid as you are." To the second she said,
"Squat on her forehead, so that she will become as ugly as you are,
and her father won't recognize her." And to the third, she
whispered, "Lie against her heart, so that she will be cursed and
tormented by evil desires.
Thereupon the Queen dropped the three toads
into the clear water, which at once turned a greenish color. She
called Elisa, made her undress, and told her to enter the bath. When
Elisa went down into the water, one toad fastened himself to her
hair, another to her forehead, and the third against her heart. But
she did not seem to be aware of them, and when she stood up three
red poppies floated on the water. If the toads had not been
poisonous, and had not been kissed by the witch, they would have
been turned into red roses. But at least they had been turned into
flowers, by the mere touch of her head and heart. She was too
innocent and good for witchcraft to have power over her.
When the evil Queen realized this, she rubbed
Elisa with walnut stain that turned her dark brown, smeared her
beautiful face with a vile ointment, and tousled her lovely hair. No
one could have recognized the beautiful Elisa, and when her father
saw her he was shocked. He said that this could not be his daughter.
No one knew her except the watchdog and the swallows, and they were
humble creatures who had nothing to say.
Poor Elisa cried and thought of her eleven
brothers, who were all away. Heavy-hearted, she stole away from the
palace and wandered all day long over fields and marshes, till she
came to the vast forest. She had no idea where to turn. All she felt
was her sorrow and her longing to be with her brothers. Like
herseIf, they must have been driven out into the world, and she set
her heart upon finding them. She had been in the forest only a
little while when night came on, and as she had strayed from any
sign of a path she said her prayers and lay down on the soft moss,
with her head pillowed against a stump. All was quiet, the air was
so mild, and hundreds of fireflies glittered like a green fire in
the grass and moss. When she lightly brushed against a single
branch, the shining insects showered about her like falling stars.
She dreamed of her brothers all night long.
They were children again, playing together, writing with their
diamond pencils on their golden slates, and looking at her wonderful
picture book that had cost half a kingdom. But they no longer
scribbled sums and exercises as they used to do. No, they set down
their bold deeds and all that they had seen or heard. Everything in
the picture book came alive. The birds sang, and the people strolled
out of the book to talk with Elisa and her brothers, but whenever
she turned a page they immediately jumped back into place, to keep
the pictures in order.
When she awoke, the sun was already high. She
could not see it plainly, for the tall trees spread their tangled
branches above her, but the rays played above like a shimmering
golden gauze. There was a delightful fragrance of green foliage, and
the birds came near enough to have perched on her shoulder. She
heard the water splashing from many large springs, which all flowed
into a pool with the most beautiful sandy bottom. Although it was
hemmed in by a wall of thick bushes, there was one place where the
deer had made a path wide enough for Elisa to reach the water. The
pool was so clear that, if the wind had not stirred the limbs and
bushes, she might have supposed they were painted on the bottom of
the pool. For each leaf was clearly reflected, whether the sun shone
upon it or whether it grew in the shade.
When Elisa saw her own face she was horrified
to find it so brown and ugly. But as soon as she wet her slender
hand, and rubbed her brow and her eyes, her fair skin showed again.
Then she laid aside her clothes and plunged into the fresh water. In
all the world there was no King's daughter as lovely as Elisa. When
she had dressed herself and plaited her long hair, she went to the
sparkling spring and drank from the hollow of her hand. She wandered
deeper into the woods without knowing whither she went. She thought
of her brothers, and she thought of the good Lord, who she knew
would not forsake her. He lets the wild crab apples grow to feed the
hungry, and he led her footsteps to a tree with its branches bent
down by the weight of their fruit. Here she had her lunch. After she
put props under the heavy limbs, she went on into the depths of the
forest. It was so quiet that she heard her own footsteps and every
dry leaf that rustled underfoot. Not a bird was in sight, not a ray
of the sun could get through the big heavy branches, and the tall
trees grew so close together that when she looked straight ahead it
seemed as if a solid fence of lofty palings imprisoned her. She had
never known such solitude.
The night came on, pitch black. Not one
firefly glittered among the leaves as she despondently lay down to
sleep. Then it seemed to her that the branches parted overhead and
the Lord looked kindly down upon her, and little angels peeped out
from above His head and behind Him.
When she awoke the next morning she did not
know whether she had dreamed this, or whether it had really
A few steps farther on she met an old woman
who had a basket of berries and gave some of them to her. Elisa
asked if she had seen eleven Princes riding through the forest.
"No," the old woman said. "But yesterday I saw
eleven swans who wore golden crowns. They were swimming in the river
not far from here."
She led Elisa a little way to the top of a
hill which sloped down to a winding river. The trees on either bank
stretched their long leafy branches toward each other, and where the
stream was too wide for them to grow across it they had torn their
roots from the earth and leaned out over the water until their
branches met. Elisa told the old woman good-by, and followed the
river down to where it flowed into the great open sea.
Before the young girl lay the whole beautiful
sea, but not a sail nor a single boat was in sight. How could she go
on? She looked at the countless pebbles on the beach, and saw how
round the water had worn them. Glass, iron ore, stones, all that had
been washed up, had been shaped by the water that was so much softer
than even her tender hand.
"It rolls on tirelessly, and that is the way
it makes such hard things smooth," she said. "I shall be just as
untiring. Thank you for your lesson, you clear rolling waves. My
heart tells me that some day you will carry me to my beloved
Among the wet seaweed she found eleven white
swan feathers, which she collected in a sheaf. There were still
drops of water on them, but whether these were spray or tears no one
could say. It was very lonely along the shore but she did not mind,
for the sea was constantly changing. Indeed it showed more changes
in a few hours than an inland lake does in a whole year. When the
sky was black with threatening clouds, it was as if the sea seemed
to say, 'I can look threatening too." Then the wind would blow and
the waves would raise their white crests. But when the wind died
down and the clouds were red, the sea would look like a rose petal.
Sometimes it showed white, and sometimes
green, but however calm it might seem there was always a gentle
lapping along the shore, where the waters rose and fell like the
chest of a child asleep.
Just at sunset, Elisa saw eleven white swans,
with golden crowns on their heads, fly toward the shore. As they
flew, one behind another, they looked like a white ribbon floating
in the air. Elisa climbed up and hid behind a bush on the steep
bank. The swans came down near her and flapped their magnificent
As soon as the sun went down beyond the sea,
the swans threw off their feathers and there stood eleven handsome
Princes. They were her brothers, and, although they were greatly
altered, she knew in her heart that she could not be mistaken. She
cried aloud, and rushed into their arms, calling them each by name.
The Princes were so happy to see their little sister. And they knew
her at once, for all that she had grown tall and lovely. They
laughed, and they cried, and they soon realized how cruelly their
stepmother had treated them all.
"We brothers," said the eldest, "are forced to
fly about disguised as wild swans as long as the sun is in the
heavens, but when it goes down we take back our human form. So at
sunset we must always look about us for some firm foothold, because
if ever we were flying among the clouds at sunset we would be dashed
down to the earth.
"We do not live on this coast. Beyond the sea
there is another land as fair as this, but it lies far away and we
must cross the vast ocean to reach it. Along our course there is not
one island where we can pass the night, except one little rock that
rises from the middle of the sea. It is barely big enough to hold
us, however close together we stand, and if there is a rough sea the
waves wash over us. But still we thank God for it.
"In our human forms we rest there during the
night, and without it we could never come back to our own dear
homeland. It takes two of the longest days of the year for our
journey. We are allowed to come back to our native land only once a
year, and we do not dare to stay longer than eleven days. As we fly
over this forest we can see the palace where our father lives and
where we were born. We can see the high tower of the church where
our mother lies buried. And here we feel that even the trees and
bushes are akin to us. Here the wild horses gallop across the moors
as we saw them in our childhood, and the charcoal-burner sings the
same old songs to which we used to dance when we were children. Tbis
is our homeland. It draws us to it, and here, dear sister, we have
found you again. We may stay two days longer, and then we must fly
across the sea to a land which is fair enough, but not our own. How
shall we take you with us? For we have neither ship nor boat."
"How shall I set you free?" their sister
asked, and they talked on for most of the night, sparing only a few
hours for sleep.
In the morning Elisa was awakened by the
rustling of swans' wings overhead. Her brothers, once more
enchanted, wheeled above her in great circles until they were out of
sight. One of them, her youngest brother, stayed with her and rested
his head on her breast while she stroked his wings. They spent the
whole day together, and toward evening the others returned. As soon
as the sun went down they resumed their own shape.
"Tomorrow," said one of her brothers, we must
fly away, and we dare not return until a whole year has passed. But
we cannot leave you like this. Have you courage enough to come with
us? My arm is strong enough to carry you through the forest, so
surely the wings of us all should be strong enough to bear you
across the sea." "Yes, take me with you," said Elisa.
They spent the entire night making a net of
pliant willow bark and tough rushes. They made it large and strong.
Elisa lay down upon it and, when the sun rose and her brothers again
became wild swans, they lifted the net in their bills and flew high
up toward the clouds with their beloved sister, who still was fast
asleep. As the sun shone straight into her face, one of the swans
flew over her head so as to shade her with his wide wings.
They were far from the shore when she awoke.
Elisa thought she must still be dreaming, so strange did it seem to
be carried through the air, high over the sea. Beside her lay a
branch full of beautiful ripe berries, and a bundle of sweet-tasting
roots. Her youngest brother had gathered them and put them there for
her. She gave him a grateful smile. She knew he must be the one who
flew over her head to protect her eyes from the sun.
They were so high that the first ship they
sighted looked like a gull floating on the water. A cloud rolled up
behind them, as big as a mountain. Upon it Elisa saw gigantic
shadows of herself and of the eleven swans. It was the most splendid
picture she had ever seen, but as the sun rose higher the clouds
grew small, and the shadow picture of their flight disappeared.
All day they flew like arrows whipping through
the air, yet, because they had their sister to carry, they flew more
slowly than on their former journeys. Night was drawing near, and a
storm was rising. In terror, Elisa watched the sinking sun, for the
lonely rock was nowhere in sight. It seemed to her that the swans
beat their wings in the air more desperately. Alas it was because of
her that they could not fly fast enough. So soon as the sun went
down they would turn into men, and all of them would pitch down into
the sea and drown. She prayed to God from the depths of her heart,
but still no rock could be seen. Black clouds gathered and great
gusts told of the storm to come. The threatening clouds came on as
one tremendous wave that rolled down toward them like a mass of
lead, and flash upon flash of lightning followed them. Then the sun
touched the rim of the sea. Elisa's heart beat madly as the swans
shot down so fast that she thought they were falling, but they
checked their downward swoop. Half of the sun was below the sea when
she first saw the little rock below them. It looked no larger than
the head of a seal jutting out of the water. The sun sank very fast.
Now it was no bigger than a star, but her foot touched solid ground.
Then the sun went out like the last spark on a piece of burning
paper. She saw her brothers stand about her, arm in arm, and there
was only just room enough for all of them. The waves beat upon the
rock and washed over them in a shower of spray. The heavens were lit
by constant flashes, and bolt upon bolt of thunder crashed. But the
sister and brothers clasped each other's hands and sang a psalm,
which comforted them and gave them courage.
At dawn the air was clear and still. As soon
as the sun came up, the swans flew off with Elisa and they left the
rock behind. The waves still tossed, and from the height where they
soared it looked as if the white flecks of foam against the dark
green waves were millions of white swans swimming upon the waters.
When the sun rose higher, Elisa saw before her
a mountainous land, half floating in the air. Its peaks were capped
with sparkling ice, and in the middle rose a castle that was a mile
long, with one bold colonnade perched upon another. Down below, palm
trees swayed and brilliant flowers bloomed as big as mill wheels.
She asked if this was the land for which they were bound, but the
swans shook their heads. What she saw was the gorgeous and ever
changing palace of Fata Morgana. No mortal being could venture to
enter it. As Elisa stared at it, before her eyes the mountains,
palms, and palace faded away, and in their place rose twenty
splendid churches, all alike, with lofty towers and pointed windows.
She thought she heard the organ peal, but it was the roll of the
ocean she heard. When she came close to the churches they turned
into a fleet of ships sailing beneath her, but when she looked down
it was only a sea mist drifting over the water.
Scene after scene shifted before her eyes
until she saw at last the real country whither they went. Mountains
rose before her beautifully blue, wooded with cedars, and studded
with cities and palaces. Long before sunset she was sitting on a
mountainside, in front of a large cave carpeted over with green
creepers so delicate that they looked like embroidery.
"We shall see what you'll dream of here
tonight," her youngest brother said, as he showed her where she was
"I only wish I could dream how to set you
free," she said.
This thought so completely absorbed her, and
she prayed so earnestly for the Lord to help her that even in her
sleep she kept on praying. It seemed to her that she was flying
aloft to the Fata Morgana palace of clouds. The fairy who came out
to meet her was fair and shining, yet she closely resembled the old
woman who gave her the berries in the forest and told her of the
swans who wore golden crowns on their heads.
"Your brothers can be set free," she said,
"but have you the courage and tenacity to do it? The sea water that
changes the shape of rough stones is indeed softer than your
delicate hands, but it cannot feel the pain that your fingers will
feel. It has no heart, so it cannot suffer the anguish and heartache
that you will have to endure. Do you see this stinging nettle in my
hand? Many such nettles grow around the cave where you sleep. Only
those and the ones that grow upon graves in the churchyards may be
used - remember that! Those you must gather, although they will burn
your hands to blisters. Crush the nettles with your feet and you
will have flax, which you must spin and weave into eleven shirts of
mail with long sleeves. Once you throw these over the eleven wild
swans, the spell over them is broken. But keep this well in mind!
From the moment you undertake this task until it is done, even
though it lasts for years, you must not speak. The first word you
say will strike your brothers' hearts like a deadly knife. Their
lives are at the mercy of your tongue. Now, remember what I told
She touched Elisa's hand with nettles that
burned like fire and awakened her. It was broad daylight, and close
at hand where she had been sleeping grew a nettle like those of
which she had dreamed. She thanked God upon her knees, and left the
cave to begin her task.
With her soft hands she took hold of the
dreadful nettles that seared like fire. Great blisters rose on her
hands and arms, but she endured it gladly in the hope that she could
free her beloved brothers. She crushed each nettle with her bare
feet, and spun the green flax.
When her brothers returned at sunset, it
alarmed them that she did not speak. They feared this was some new
spell cast by their wicked stepmother, but when they saw her hands
they understood that she laboured to save them. The youngest one
wept, and wherever his tears touched Elisa she felt no more pain,
and the burning blisters healed.
She toiled throughout the night, for she could
not rest until she had delivered her beloved brothers from the
enchantment. Throughout the next day, while the swans were gone she
sat all alone, but never had the time sped so quickly. One shirt was
made, and she set to work on the second one.
Then she heard the blast of a hunting horn on
the mountainside. It frightened her, for the sound came nearer until
she could hear the hounds bark. Terror-stricken, she ran into the
cave, bundled together the nettles she had gathered and woven, and
sat down on this bundle.
Immediately a big dog came bounding from the
thicket, followed by another, and still another, all barking loudly
as they ran to and fro. In a very few minutes all the huntsmen stood
in front of the cave. The most handsome of these was the King of the
land, and he came up to Elisa. Never before had he seen a girl so
beautiful. "My lovely child," he said, "how do you come to be here?"
Elisa shook her head, for she did not dare to
speak. Her brothers' deliverance and their very lives depended upon
it, and she hid her hands under her apron to keep the King from
seeing how much she suffered.
"Come with me," he told her. "You cannot stay
here. If you are as good as you are fair I shall clothe you in silk
and velvet, set a golden crown upon your head, and give you my
finest palace to live in." Then he lifted her up on his horse. When
she wept and wrung her hands, the King told her, "My only wish is to
make you happy. Some day you will thank me for doing this." Off
through the mountains he spurred, holding her before him on his
horse as his huntsmen galloped behind them.
At sundown, his splendid city with all its
towers and domes lay before them. The King led her into his palace,
where great fountains played in the high marble halls, and where
both walls and ceilings were adorned with paintings. But she took no
notice of any of these things. She could only weep and grieve.
Indifferently, she let the women dress her in royal garments, weave
strings of pearls in her hair, and draw soft gloves over her
She was so dazzlingly beautiful in all this
splendor that the whole court bowed even deeper than before. And the
King chose her for his bride, although the archbishop shook his head
and whispered that this lovely maid of the woods must be a witch,
who had blinded their eyes and stolen the King's heart.
But the King would not listen to him. He
commanded that music be played, the costliest dishes be served, and
the prettiest girls dance for her. She was shown through
sweet-scented gardens, and into magnificent halls, but nothing could
make her lips smile or her eyes sparkle. Sorrow had set its seal
upon them. At length the King opened the door to a little chamber
adjoining her bedroom. It was covered with splendid green
embroideries, and looked just like the cave in which he had found
her. On the floor lay the bundle of flax she had spun from the
nettles, and from the ceiling hung the shirt she had already
finished. One of the huntsmen had brought these with him as
"Here you may dream that you are back in your
old home," the King told her. Here is the work that you were doing
there, and surrounded by all your splendor here it may amuse you to
think of those times."
When Elisa saw these things that were so
precious to her, a smile trembled on her lips, and the blood rushed
back to her cheeks. The hope that she could free her brothers
returned to her, and she kissed the King's hand. He pressed her to
his heart and commanded that all the church bells peal to announce
their wedding. The beautiful mute girl from the forest was to be the
The archbishop whispered evil words in the
King's ear, but they did not reach his heart. The wedding was to
take place. The archbishop himself had to place the crown on her
head. Out of spite, he forced the tight circlet so low on her
forehead that it hurt her. But a heavier band encircled her heart,
and; the sorrow she felt for her brothers kept her from feeling any
hurt of the flesh. Her lips were mute, for one single word would
mean death to her brothers, but her eyes shone with love for the
kind and handsome King who did his best to please her. Every day she
grew fonder and fonder of him in her heart. Oh, if only she could
confide in him, and tell him what grieved her. But mute she must
remain, and finish her task in silence. So at night she would steal
away from his side into her little chamber which resembled the cave,
and there she wove one shirt after another, but when she set to work
on the seventh there was not enough flax left to finish it.
She knew that the nettles she must use grew in
the churchyard, but she had to gather them herself. How could she go
"Oh, what is the pain in my fingers compared
with the anguish I feel in my heart!" she thought. "I must take the
risk, and the good Lord will not desert me."
As terrified as if she were doing some evil
thing, she tiptoed down into the moonlit garden, through the long
alleys and down the deserted streets to the churchyard. There she
saw a group of vampires sitting in a circle on one of the large
gravestones. These hideous ghouls took off their ragged clothes as
they were about to bathe. With skinny fingers they clawed open the
new graves. Greedily they snatched out the bodies and ate the flesh
from them. Elisa had to pass close to them, and they fixed their
vile eyes upon her, but she said a prayer, picked the stinging
nettles, and carried them back to the palace.
Only one man saw her-the archbishop. He was
awake while others slept. Now he had proof of what he had suspected.
There was something wrong with the Queen. She was a witch, and that
was how she had duped the King and all his people.
In the confessional, he told the King what he
had seen and what he feared. As the bitter words spewed from his
mouth, the images of the saints shook their heads, as much as to
say, He lies. Elisa is innocent." The archbishop, however, had a
different explanation for this. He said they were testifying against
her, and shaking their heads at her wickedness.
Two big tears rolled down the King's cheeks as
he went home with suspicion in his heart. That night he pretended to
be asleep, but no restful sleep touched his eyes. He watched Elisa
get out of bed. Every night he watched her get up and each time he
followed her quietly and saw her disappear into her private little
room. Day after day his frown deepened. Elisa saw it, and could not
understand why this should be, but it made her anxious and added to
the grief her heart already felt for her brothers. Her hot tears
fell down upon her queenly robes of purple velvet. There they
flashed like diamonds, and all who saw this splendor wished that
they were Queen.
Meanwhile she had almost completed her task.
Only one shirt was lacking, but again she ran out of flax. Not a
single nettle was left. Once more, for the last time, she must go to
the churchyard and pluck a few more handfuls. She thought with fear
of the lonely walk and the ghastly vampires, but her will was as
strong as her faith in God.
She went upon her mission, but the King and
his archbishop followed her. They saw her disappear through the iron
gates of the churchyard, and when they came in after her they saw
vampires sitting on a gravestone, just as Elisa had seen them.
The King turned away, for he thought Elisa was
among them -Elisa whose head had rested against his heart that very
"Let the people judge her," he said. And the
people did judge her. They condemned her to die by fire.
She was led from her splendid royal halls to a
dungeon, dark and damp, where the wind whistled in between the
window bars. Instead of silks and velvets they gave her for a pillow
the bundle of nettles she had gathered, and for her coverlet the
harsh, burning shirts of mail she had woven. But they could have
given her nothing that pleased her more.
She set to work again, and prayed. Outside,
the boys in the street sang jeering songs about her, and not one
soul came to comfort her with a kind word.
But toward evening she heard the rustle of a
swan's wings close to her window. It was her youngest brother who
had found her at last. She sobbed for joy. Though she knew that this
night was all too apt to be her last, the task was almost done and
her brothers were near her.
The archbishop came to stay with her during
her last hours on earth, for this much he had promised the King. But
she shook her head, and by her expression and gestures begged him to
leave. This was the last night she had to finish her task, or it
would all go for naught-all her pain, and her tears, and her
sleepless nights. The archbishop went away, saying cruel things
against her. But poor Elisa knew her own innocence, and she kept on
with her task.
The little mice ran about the floor, and
brought nettles to her feet, trying to help her all they could. And
a thrush perched near the bars of her window to sing the whole night
through, as merrily as he could, so that she would keep up her
It was still in the early dawn, an hour before
sunrise, when the eleven brothers reached the palace gates and
demanded to see the King. This, they were told, was impossible. It
was still night. The King was asleep and could not be disturbed.
They begged and threatened so loudly that the guard turned out, and
even the King came running to find what the trouble was. But at that
instant the sun rose, and the eleven brothers vanished. Eleven swans
were seen flying over the palace.
All the townsmen went flocking out through the
town gates, for they wanted to see the witch burned. A decrepit old
horse pulled the cart in which Elisa sat. They had dressed her in
coarse sackcloth, and all her lovely long hair hung loose around her
beautiful head. Her cheeks were deathly pale, and her lips moved in
silent prayer as her fingers twisted the green flax. Even on her way
to death she did not stop her still un-finished work. Ten shirts lay
at her feet and she worked away on the eleventh. "See how the witch
mumbles," the mob scoffed at her. "That's no psalm book in her
hands. No, there she sits, nursing her filthy sorcery. Snatch it
away from her, and tear it to bits!"
The crowd of people closed in to destroy all
her work, but before they could reach her, eleven white swans flew
down and made a ring around the cart with their flapping wings. The
mob drew back in terror.
"It is a sign from Heaven. She must be
innocent," many people whispered. But no one dared say it aloud.
As the executioner seized her arm, she made
haste to throw the eleven shirts over the swans, who instantly
became eleven handsome Princes. But the youngest brother still had a
swan's wing in place of one arm, where a sleeve was missing from his
shirt. Elisa had not quite been able to finish it.
"Now," she cried, "I may speak! I am
All the people who saw what had happened bowed
down to her as they would before a saint. But the strain, the
anguish, and the suffering had been too much for her to bear, and
she fell into her brothers' arms as if all life had gone out of her.
"She is innocent indeed!" said her eldest
brother, and he told them all that had happened. And while he spoke,
the scent of a million roses filled the air, for every piece of wood
that they had piled up to burn her had taken root and grown
branches. There stood a great high hedge, covered with red and
fragrant roses. At the very top a single pure white flower shone
like a star. The King plucked it and put it on Elisa's breast. And
she awoke, with peace and happiness in her heart.
All the church bells began to ring of their
own accord, and the air was filled with birds. Back to the palace
went a bridal procession such as no King had ever enjoyed before.
<< Предыдущий рассказ
Следующий рассказ >>