The Feather of Finist the Falcon
Once, in olden times, there was a merchant whose wife had died, leaving him three daughters. The eldest two were plain of face and hard of heart and cared for nothing but finery, while the youngest was a good housekeeper, kind-hearted, and so beautiful that it could neither be told in a tale nor written down with a pen.
One day, when the merchant set out for the Fair, he called his three daughters and asked: "My dear daughters, what do ye most desire me to buy for you ?" The eldest answered: "Bring me a piece of rich brocade for a gown."The second said: "Bring me a fine scarf for a shawl."But the youngest replied: "Little father, bring me only a scarlet flower to set in my window."
The two sisters laughed at her request. "Little fool, "they said, "what dost thou want of a scarlet flower ? Thou wouldst better ask for a new apron."But she paid no heed and when the merchant asked her again, she said: "Little father, buy for me only the scarlet blossom."
The merchant bade them good-bye and drove to the Fair, and whether in a short while or a long while, he came again to his house. He brought the rich brocade for the eldest daughter and the fine scarf for the second, but he quite forgot to bring the little scarlet flower. The eldest daughters were so rejoiced at their gifts that he felt sorry for his forgetfulness, and to comfort her, said to the youngest: "Never mind, I shall soon go again to the Fair, and shall bring thee a gift also. "And she answered: "It is no matter, little father; another time thou wilt remember."And while her sisters, cutting and sewing their fine stuffs, laughed at her, she was silent.
Time passed, and again the merchant made ready to go to the Fair, and calling his daughters, he asked: "Well, my daughters, what shall I buy for you ?" The eldest answered, "bring me a gold chain," and the second, "Buy me a pair of golden ear-rings;" but the third said, "Little father, I want nothing but a scarlet flower to set in my window."
The merchant went to the Fair and he bought for the eldest daughter the chain and for the second the ear-rings, but again he forgot the scarlet flower. When he resumed and the eldest two daughters took joy in their golden jewellery, he comforted the youngest as before, saying: "A simple flower is no great thing. Never mind. When I go again I shall bring thee a gift."And again she answered: "It is no matter, little father; another time perhaps I shall be luckier."
A third time the merchant made ready to go to the Fair, and called his three daughters and asked them what they most desired. The first answered, "Bring me a pair of satin shoes,"the second said, "Buy me a silken petticoat ;" but the youngest said as before, "Little father, all my desire is for the scarlet flower to set in my window."
The merchant set out to the Fair, and he purchased the pair of satin shoes and the silken petticoat, and then he bethought himself of the scarlet flower and went all about inquiring for one. But search as he might, he could find not a single blossom of that colour in the whole town, and drove home sorrowful that he must disappoint his youngest daughter for the third time.
And as he rode along wondering where he might find the flower, he met by the roadside in the forest a little old man whom he had never seen, with a hooked nose, one eye, and a face covered with a golden beard-like moss, who carried on his back a box.
"What dost thou carry, old man ?"he asked.
"In my box,"answered the old man, "is a little scarlet flower which I am keeping for a present to the maiden who is to marry my son, Finist the Falcon."
"I do not know thy son, old man,"said the merchant, "nor yet the maiden whom he is to marry. But a scarlet blossom is no great thing. Come, sell it to me, and with the money thou mayest buy a more suitable gift for the bridal."
"Nay," replied the little old man. "It has no price, for wherever it goeth there goeth the love of my son, and I have sworn it shall be his wife's."
The merchant argued and persuaded, for now that he had found the flower he was loath to go home without it, and ended by ofFering in exchange for it both the satin shoes and the silken petticoat, till at length the little old man said: "Thou canst have the scarlet flower for thy daughter only on condition that she weds my son, Finist the Falcon."
The merchant thought a moment. Not to bring the flower would grieve his daughter, yet as the price of it he must promise to wed her to a stranger.
"Well, old man,"he said, "give me the flower, and if my daughter will take thy son, he shall have her."
"Have no fear," said the little old man. "Whom my son woos, her will he wed!"and giving the box to the other, he instantly vanished.
The merchant, greatly disturbed at his sudden disappearance, hurried home, where his three daughters came out to greet him. He gave to the eldest the satin shoes and to the second the silken petticoat, and to see them they clapped their hands for delight. Then he gave to his youngest daughter the little box and said: "Here is thy scarlet flower, my daughter, but as for me, I take no joy of it, for I had it of a stranger, though it was not for sale, and in return for it I have promised that thou shalt wed his son, Finist the Falcon."
"Sorrow not, little father,"said she. "Thou hast done my desire, and if Finist the Falcon will woo me then will I wed him."And she took out the scarlet flower and caressed it, and held it close to her heart.
When night came the merchant kissed his daughters, made over them the sign of the cross and sent them each to her bed. The youngest locked herself in her room in the attic, took the little flower from its box, and setting it on the window-sill, began to smell it and kiss it and look into the dark blue sky, when suddenly in through the window came flying a swift, beautiful falcon with coloured feathers. It lit upon the floor and immediately was transformed into a young Prince, so handsome that it could not be told in speech nor written in a tale.
The Prince soothed her fright and caressed her with sweet and tender words so that she began to love him with such a joyful heart that one knows not how to tell it. They talked‹ - who can tell of what ? - and the whole night passed as swiftly as an hour in the daytime. When the day began to break, Finist the Falcon said to her: "Each evening when thou cost set the scarlet flower in the window I will come flying to thee. To-night, ere I fly away as a falcon, take one feather from my wing. If thou hast need of anything, go to the steps under the porch and wave it on thy right side, and whatsoever things thy soul desireth, they shall be thine. And when thou hast no longer need of them, wave the feather on thy left side."Then he kissed her and bade her farewell, and turned into a falcon with coloured feathers. She plucked a single bright feather from his wing and the bird flew out of the window and was gone.
The next day was Sunday and the elder sisters began to dress in their finery to go to church. '. What wilt thou wear, little fool ? "they said to the other. "But for thy scarlet flower thou mightst have had a new gown, instead of disgracing us by thy appearance."
"Never mind,"she said; "I can pray also here at home."And after they were gone she sat down at her attic window watching the finely-dressed people going to Mass. When the street was empty, she went to the steps under the porch and waved the bright feather to the right side, and instantly there appeared a crystal carriage with high-bred horses harnessed to it, coachmen and footmen in gold livery, and a gown embroidered in all kinds of precious stones. She dressed herself in a moment, sat down in the carriage, and away it went, swift as the wind, to the church.
When she entered, so beautiful she was that all the people turned to look at her. "Some high-born Princess has come !" they whispered to each other; and in her splendid gown and head-dress even her two sisters did not recognize her as the one they had left in her little attic room. As soon as the choir began to sing the Magnificat she left the church, entered the crystal carriage and drove off so swiftly that when the people flocked out to stare there was no trace of her to be seen. As soon as she reached home she took off the splendid gown and put on her own, went to the porch, waved the bright feather to the left side and the carriage and horses, the coachmen in livery and the splendid gown disappeared, and she sat down again at her attic window.
When the elder sisters returned, they said:
"What a beauty came to-day to church ! No one could gaze enough at her. Thou, little slattern, shouldst have seen her rich gown ! Surely she must have been a Princess from some other Province !"
Now so hastily had she changed her clothes that she had forgotten to take out of her hair a diamond pin, and as they talked her sisters caught sight of it. "What a lovely jewel !" they cried enviously. "Where didst thou get it ?" And they would have taken it from her. But she ran to her attic room and hid it in the heart of the scarlet flower, so that though they searched everywhere they could not find it. Then, filled with envy, they went to their father and said: "Sir, our sister hath a secret lo