|She braided the rushes into a cap.|
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 the apple of his eye, and he loved them exceedingly." So strong was this love that it drove him to try and learn if it was returned, in equal strength. He called his daughters to him one at a time, and asked each one," How much do you love me, my dear?" Well, the first girl said, "As I love my life." The second one said,"Better than all the world beside." And the third girl told her father,"I love you as fresh meat loves salt." Her father was furious when he heard this. How dare she give such an answer, to make such a trifle of his worth. So "he turned her out of the home where she had been born and bred, and shut the door in her face." The girl had no choice but to wander on, and she "came to a big fen where the reeds grew so tall and the rushes swayed in the wind like a field of corn." And down she sat, and cut an armful, and "plaited herself an overall of those rushes and a cap to match." She was a maiden as clever as she was beautiful, and she feared the attention which her fine clothes and silken tresses would bring in the world. While she braided the grass, she sang,"Hide my hair, O cap o' rushes, Hide my hair, O cap o' rushes, Sure! my answer had no fault, I love him more than he loves salt." The little birds who lived amongst the rushes heard this song, and chirped in response. " Cap O' Rushes, shed no tear, Robe O' Rushes, have no fear, With these words if fault he'd find, Sure your father must be blind." When she had completed her outfit, she put on the cape, tucking it over her dress in every place. Then she stuffed her hair, which was "set with milk-white pearls" under the rush cap, and not a wisp could be seen. She looked like a country lass, not a King's daughter, to be sure. Now she was ready to meet her fortune, so she walked on down the road. At length, she came to a "great house on the edge of the fen". She thought things over, then walked around to the kitchen garden, to see what she could see. And there was the sculllion, grunting and swearing over a pile of greasy dishes. And Cap O'Rushes said, "If I may have a night's lodging, I will scrub the pots and pans for you." And the scullion readily agreed, but warned her to scour them well. And the girl in the rush cape scoured them so well, that when Cook saw them, she dragged the scullion by the ear and made her tell who had done her work. Then Cook turned the old scullion out and told Cap O'Rushes to take her place. But so keen was this one's sense of justice that she would "stay without wage and do the dirty work". And that is what she did. Soon, the master of the house gave a feast with a dance besides, to celebrate his oldest son's coming of age. Well, the party was quite grand, and "after the supper was served, the servants were allowed to go and watch the quality from the gallery of the ballroom." Such a fine dancer was the master's son, that no partner was his match. And Cap O'Rushes dared not go to watch for she, too, was a fine dancer and "she was afraid that when she heard the fiddles starting a merry jig, she might start dancing." She feigned tiredness from dish scrubbing, and went to bed. "But alas! And alack-a-day! The door had been left open,and as she lay in bed, she could hear the fiddlers fiddling, and the tramp of dancing feet." The girl could not help herself, and the next thing she knew, there she was. slipping of the cape of rushes and joining in the dance. And the prince danced with her, and her gown was finer than anyone else's, too. Clever as she was, she left quickly, and was in bed with her rush cap on when the other servants got back. And when they all bragged of the strange dancer's beuaty, Cap O'Rushes said,"I should like to see her, but I don't think I ever shall." The cook and the scullion said, oh yes, she would see the lady for certain, for there was to be another dance the following night. Again, the strange servant girl said she did not care to watch, and again, took to her bed. But when the music started, she "upped and offed with her cap and robe of rushes, there he was at the door waiting for her to come; for he had determined to dance with no one else." But again the nimble girl left early, and again, the servants bragged of how the girl had danced with the prince. Though they wondered at Cap O'Rushes, because though she seemed asleep, "her cheeks were all flushed and her breath came fast. So they said,'She is dreaming. We hope her dreams are happy." And in the morning they could not stop exclaiming. "Never was such a beautiful young lady! Never was such beautiful dancing." Then they told her that there was to be a third, and final ball that very night, and teased Cap O'Rushes about coming to watch. Now, Capo O'Rushes tried as hard as she might to resist temptation, but "the moment she heard the fiddlers fiddling, she just upped and offed with her rushes, and there she was, as fine and tidy as ever!" But though she danced with the prince all evening long, came the time the music ended. Then she said to him"that she never, never, never, would come to dance anymore, and that he must say goodbye." There was a struggle then, for the prince did not want the maiden to leave, and yet herself wanted this very badly. In the end, she got away but not before "lo! and behold! his ring came off his finger, and as she ran up to her bed there it was in her hand!" She had scarce time to duck under her rushes before the cook came in, crying her eyes out for the poor prince, who was sworn to die of love if he did not find the girl who danced like a dream. "Then Cap O'Rushes laughed, 'Young men don't die of love. He will find someone else.' But he didn't." Soon he had wasted to a shadow, and was taken to bed. Now "the housekeeper came to the cook and said, 'Cook the nicest dinner you can cook, for young master eats nothing." So the cook made many roasted meats, and vegetable pies, and sugared fruits and jelly creams. The prince ate no bite. It was Cap O'Rushes that scrubbed the dishes after, but she said nothing about the prince. Now the housekeeper said,"Prepare some gruel for young master. Mayhap he'd take that. If not, he will die for love of the beautiful dancer." And Cap O' Rushes came over and listened, leaving her dirty suds. And when cook turned her head —quickly! just like that!—Cap O'Rushes dropped the ring into the pot of gruel. It was taken to the prince, and at first he would accept no taste, but "the butler with tears begged him to taste it. To satisfy the man, the prince thrust his spoon into the dish of gruel, and gave it a good stir. Immediately, he felt something was there. "And when he fished it up — lo! it was his own ring!" And he sent for the cook, and made her tell who had cooked the gruel, and when she said that it was she, he called her a liar. Then she confessed that she had turned her back for a moment, and perhaps it happened that Cap O'Rushes had added something to the gruel. So the prince called for her to come, with his faint voice, "for he really was very near dying." And when the strange girl came, and he saw her dirty face and poor attire, "he turned his face to the wall; but he asked in a weak little voice,'From whom did you get that ring?" And now Cap O'Rushes heart melted, and she said gently,"From him that gave it to me." And then he looked again, and "saw her from the tail of his eye" and knew that it was the same dancer, and "drew her to him and gave her a great big kiss." And there was feasting and dancing, and much, much merrymaking, by all who came, except for one particular guest. This man sat alone, and kept trying bite after bite of food on the table with him. Yet each bite, he must choke down, and from no dish did he take a second spoonful. The hours passed and this man groaned with hunger, yet manners kept him from complaining. It seemed that the cook had forgotten to salt every dish upon the laden table, for though each shone with color, and delicious aromas wafted from them, the taste was dull as dirt. To compound this gentleman's distress, he was blind, and so could neither call on his host for assistance, nor be sure of his absence to criticize his plight. At great length the bride, whose tresses were strewn with milk-white pearls, bent over the old man and asked what was the matter. And then "the old man sobbed. 'I had a daughter whom I loved dearly, dearly. And I asked her how much she loved me and she replied, 'As fresh meat loves salt.' And I was angry with her and turned her out of house and home, for I thought she didn't love me at all. But now I see she loved me, best of all." Like a miracle, his sight returned to him as he spoke these words, and gazed on the face of his own dearest child. "And she gave him one hand, and her husband, the young master, the other, and laughed, saying ,'I love you both as fresh meat loves salt.' And after that, they were happy for evermore."
From English Fairy Tales, Retold by A.F. Steele , Illustrated by Arthur Rackham. (1918) London: McMillan & Co.
Notes: This story has elements of a Catskin tale, (the unlawful casting the girl out, the dressing in a cape or gown made of an unusual material, the 3 balls, the token of recognition being the ring). Yet it parallels the Meat Loves Salt/Dear As Salt/ How Much Do You Love Me? tales of Russia, Poland, Italy, and other countries.
Montessori Connection: Fine Arts/Handcrafts/Crocheting and Knitting
1. Read this story, and notice what Cap O' Rushes made her cap out of.
2. Pretend that you must make your self a hat to cover your hair, for some very important reason. What could you make it out of?
3. If you have the chance, pick long grasses, or thin twigs, and try to braid them together. See if you and some friends can make enough for a hat. Find out how long this takes.
4. Try something that is a bit more practical: Learn to crochet a hat. Try:Kids Crochet: Projects for Kids of All Ages or Way to Crochet!: 20 Cool, Easy Projects for Kids of All Ages or Finger Knitting 1 (v. 1).