THE VALUE OF SALT.
THEY say there was a king who had three daughters. He was very anxious to know which of them loved him most; he tried them in various ways, and it always seemed as if the youngest daughter came out best by the test. Yet he was never satisfied, because he was prepossessed with the idea that the elder ones loved him most.
One day he thought he would settle the matter once for all, by asking each separately how much she loved him. So he called the eldest by herself, and asked her how much she loved him.
'As much as the bread we eat,' ran her reply; and he said within himself, 'She must, as I thought, love me the most of all; for bread is the first necessary of our existence, without which we cannot live. She means, therefore, that she loves me so much she could not live without me.'
Then he called the second daughter by herself, and said to her, 'How much do you love me?'
And she answered, 'As much as wine!'
'That is a good answer too,' said the king to himself. 'It is true she does not seem to love me quite so much as the eldest; but still, scarcely can one live without wine,  so that there is not much difference.'
Then he called the youngest by herself, and said to her, 'And you, how much do you love me?'
And she answered, 'As much as salt!'
Then the king said, 'What a contemptible comparison! She only loves me as much as the cheapest and commonest thing that comes to table. This is as much as to say, she doesn't love me at all. I always thought it was so. I will never see her again.'
Then he ordered that a wing of the palace should be shut up from the rest, where she should be served with everything belonging to her condition in life, but where she should live by herself apart, and never come near him.
Here she lived, then, all alone. But though her father fancied she did not care for him, she pined so much at being kept away from him, that at last she was worn out,  and could bear it no longer.
The room that had been given her had no windows on to the street, that she might not have the amusement of seeing what was going on in the town, but they looked upon an inner court-yard. Here she sometimes saw the cook come out and wash vegetables at the fountain.
'Cook! cook!' she called one day, as she saw him pass thus under the window.
The cook looked up with a good-natured face, which gave her encouragement.
'Don't you think, cook, I must be very lonely and miserable up here all alone?'
'Yes, Signorina!' he replied; 'I often think I should like to help you to get out; but I dare not think of it, the king would be so angry.'
'No, I don't want you to do anything to disobey the king,' answered the princess; 'but would you really do me a favour, which would make me very grateful indeed?'
'O! yes, Signorina, anything which I can do without disobeying the king,' replied the faithful servant.
'Then this is it,' said the princess. 'Will you just oblige me so far as to cook papa's dinner to-day without any salt in anything? Not the least grain in anything at all. Let it be as good a dinner as you like, but no salt in anything. Will you do that?'
'I see!' replied the cook, with a knowing nod. 'Yes, depend on me, I will do it.'
That day at dinner the king had no salt in the soup, no salt in the boiled meat, no salt in the roast, no salt in the fried.
'What is the meaning of this?' said the king, as he pushed dish after dish away from him. 'There is not a single thing I can eat to-day. I don't know what they have done to everything, but there is not a single thing that has got the least taste. Let the cook be called.'
So the cook came before him.
'What have you done to the victuals to-day?' said the king, sternly. 'You have sent up a lot of dishes, and no one alive can tell one from another. They are all of them exactly alike, and there is not one of them can be eaten. Speak!'
The cook answered:
'Hearing your Majesty say that salt was the commonest thing that comes to table, and altogether so worthless and contemptible, I considered in my mind whether it was a thing that at all deserved to be served up to the table of the king; and judging that it was not worthy, I abolished it from the king's kitchen, and dressed all the meats without it. Barring this, the dishes are the same that are sent every day to the table of the king.'
Then the king understood the value of salt, and he comprehended how great was the love of his youngest child for him; so he sent and had her apartment opened, and called her to him, never to go away any more.