Once upon a time, a long, long while ago, when all the world was young and all sorts of strange things happened, there lived a very rich gentleman whose wife had died leaving him three lovely daughters. They were as the apple of his eye, and he loved them exceedingly.
Now one day he wanted to find out if they loved him in return, so he said to the eldest, "How much do you love me, my dear?"
And she answered as pat as may be, "As I love my life."
"Very good, my dear," said he, and gave her a kiss. Then he said to the second girl, "How much do you love me, my dear?"
And she answered as swift as thought, "Better than all the world beside."
"Good!" he replied, and patted her on the cheek. Then he turned to the youngest, who was also the prettiest.
"And how much do you love me, my dearest?"
Now the youngest daughter was not only pretty, she was clever. So she thought a moment, then she said slowly:
"I love you as fresh meat loves salt!"
Now when her father heard this he was very angry, because he really loved her more than the others.
"What!" he said. "If that is all you give me in return for all I've given you, out of my house you go." So there and then he turned her out of the home where she had been born and bred, and shut the door in her face.
Not knowing where to go, she wandered on, and she wandered on, till she came to a big fen where the reeds grew ever so tall and the rushes swayed in the wind like a field of corn. There she sate down and plaited herself an overall of rushes and a cap to match, so as to hide her fine clothes, and her beautiful golden hair that was all set with milk-white pearls. For she was a wise girl, and thought that in such lonely country, mayhap, some robber might fall in with her and kill her to get her fine clothes and jewels.
It took a long time to plait the dress and cap, and while she plaited she sang a little song:
"Hide my hair, O cap o' rushes,
Hide my heart, O robe o' rushes.
Sure! my answer had no fault,
I love him more than he loves salt.