CHAPTER I ONCE upon a time there were a King and a Queen who were very unhappy because they had no children. Everything else that the heart could wish for was theirs. They were rich; they lived in a wonderful palace full of the costliest treasures; their kingdom was at peace, and their people were prosperous. Yet none of these things contented them, because they wanted a little child of their own to love and to care for, and though they had been married several years, no child had come to them.
Every day the King would look at the Queen and say: "Ah, if we only had a little child," and the Queen would look at the King and sigh, and they were both very miserable about it. Then they would put on their golden crowns and sit side by side on their thrones, while lords and ladies and ambassadors from other lands came to pay them homage, and they had to smile with their lips for the sake of politeness, but there was no joy in their hearts. And that is one of the greatest disadvantages of being a King or a Queen, that one has always to hide one's feelings.
Now it happened one day that the Queen went to her bath, and having dismissed her ladies, she descended the marble steps into the water and began idly to play with some wild rose-petals which had fallen into the water. All of a sudden she heard a croaking voice that said: "O Queen, be cheerful, for the dearest wish of your heart will be granted you."
"Who is that?" cried the Queen, a little frightened, for she could see nobody.
"Look behind you," croaked the voice, "and do not be afraid, for I come only to bear you good tidings."
So the Queen looked behind her, and there was a great frog who looked at her with its big round eyes.
Now the Queen was afraid of frogs, because they are cold and clammy, but she was very polite by nature as well as breeding, so she did not show her dislike, though she could not help shrinking back a little.
"And do you tell me, Master Frog," said she, "that I shall have the wish of my heart, and do you know what that wish may be?"
"It is to have a little small child of your own," said the Frog; and the Queen nodded.
"Very well," the Frog went on, "do you see the green leaves of that almond tree on the branch by the window?"
"I do," replied the Queen wonderingly.
"Those green leaves will fade," said the Frog, "and the winter winds will blow them away. Then the branch will be bare, but in spring-time, before the leaves come again, it will be covered with pink blossom, and that blossom you shall show to a baby lying at your breast."
The Queen gave a cry of joy. A ray of sunlight came through the trees, dazzling her eyes so that she had to close them for a moment. When she opened them again the frog had gone, and nothing was to be seen but the dainty rose-petals floating on the surface of the water.
CHAPTER II THOSE were wonderful tidings to be spoken by a frog who came no one knew whence and went no one knew whither. But the Queen believed that the prophecy would prove true, and she was right, for when the Spring time came again and the almond blossom was pink upon the bough, she gave birth to a little daughter who was so beautiful that nobody had ever seen her like.
Now what joy there was in the hearts of everybody in the palace!...