Once on a time, there was a widow who lived with her daughter at the edge of a village. The widow baked bread for people in the village, and she had to work hard. Every day, she tried to get her daughter to help, but Molly, for that was her name, was always running off to play.
“If only,” cried the widow, “I had a daughter who was of some use in the kitchen!”
But Molly wasn’t any use in the kitchen or out of it. She would take her prized possession, a small golden ball, and she would run out to the forest to play.
One day, Molly came upon a pool in the forest. It was deep and clear, surrounded by rocks and ferns, and she bent over to have a look. And with a plop, her golden ball disappeared into the pool.
“Woe is me!” cried Molly. “What will I do? I’ve lost my golden ball in the pool!” And she sat down and began to cry.
“What’s troubling you, little maid?” asked a voice.
Molly stopped blubbering long enough to look up, and there, sitting at the edge of the pool, was a hideous old frog.
Molly didn’t mind frogs, and she blinked away her tears and stared at him curiously. “I’ve never met a talking frog before,” she said.
“I’m actually a prince under an enchantment,” said the frog, impressively. “If you promise to take me home, let me eat from your little plate, and let me sleep in your little bed, I will fetch your golden ball from the depths of this pool.”
“A prince,” said Molly, a little doubtfully. She had only ever heard of such things in fairy tales. And sleep in her bed? She wasn’t sure if her mother would want that.
She stared hard at the frog. “If you fetch my golden ball, then I promise to take you home. We’ll see about the sleeping arrangements.”
“Fair enough,” gulped the frog. And with a kick and a splash, he dove into the pool.
He was a long time under the water, so long that Molly began to wonder if he were ever going to come back. And then, with a splash and a splat, the frog was sitting on one of the stones. Giving a great croak, he spat the golden ball into Molly’s lap. And she was so delighted, she sprang up and ran all the way home, forgetting her promise to the frog. She might have remembered, but as soon as she came in the door, her mother put her to work.
“Fill the wood box, you lazy thing,” she scolded. “And when you are done that, you can set the table for dinner.”
Molly set to work, and in no time at all, she had the wood box filled, and she and her mother were sitting at the table eating soup and breaking off chunks of steaming, crackling bread.
Just then, there came a knocking at the door. “Young maid,” cried a voice. “Keep your promise. Let me sit at the table and eat from your plate.”
Molly ran to the door, and there was the frog, bobbing and puffing.
“What is that slimy thing?” asked her mother, peering over Molly’s shoulder.
“It’s a prince under an enchantment,” said Molly. “I promised that I would let him eat from my plate if he got my golden ball from the pool.”
“Well,” said the widow, “a promise is a promise. Bring the silly thing into the house, but keep it out of my way.”
Molly let the frog eat from her plate, but when it came time for bed, she found a box, and she stuffed the frog inside.
“Young maid,” cried the frog, plaintively. “You promised to let me sleep in your bed, so keep your promise.”
“You are a slimy frog, wet and icky,” said Molly. “You can sleep in the box.”
After that, the frog would sit and the table and eat from Molly’s plate, but at night she stuffed him back in his box. He complained and complained.
“You promised,” he would say. “You promised to let me sleep in your bed. I found your golden ball, and you must keep your promise.”
“Do you ever shut up!” cried Molly. And she got so tired of hearing him complain, she covered the box with a quilt to muffle his voice. And after a week, she’d had enough. She took the frog in his box into the forest where she found the pool.
“Back you go,” she said, “enchanted prince, or no.”
And upending the box, she dumped the frog into the water. Just as she did, a great fish came up from the depths, and swallowed the frog with a snap.
“Oh,” cried Molly. “That wasn’t very nice.” And she grabbed the fish and heaved him out of the pool.
The fish landed on the ground with a great splat. “Young maiden, young maiden,” cried the fish. “If you put me back into the water, I will grant you three wishes.”
“Three wishes,” said Molly doubtfully. “Are you something enchanted as well?”
“Yes, yes!” cried the fish. “I will grant you three wishes, any wishes you like, as long as you put me back in the pool.”
But listening to enchanted creatures had got Molly into trouble from the start. “Cough up the frog, and then we can talk,” said Molly.
With a great, belching heave, the fish coughed up the frog. For his part, the frog was a little worse for wear having been in the stomach of the fish, and he just lay there on the ground, looking pathetic and half-dead.
“Now,” said Molly. “Yu owe me some wishes.”
“Fair enough,” gasped the fish. “But make it quick. I have to get back into the pool.”
“First,” said Molly, “if that frog is a prince, then change him back. And second, give my mother enough money so she doesn’t have to work so hard. And finally, I want a pet, and I don’t want it to be a frog. Perhaps a nice dog?”
Maybe the fish didn’t entirely understand. He was lying there gasping out his life, so he might not have heard correctly. At any rate, he took a shortcut. With a popping flash, the frog disappeared, but in its place, there wasn’t a prince, but a great, droopy-eared red setter. He panted once and gave a wine, and Molly was delighted. She picked up the fish, and dropped him back into the pool.
Molly went home with her new pet, and she found that her mother had suddenly come into some money, enough to open a bakery and hire some help. The widow became the most famous baker in the kingdom, and one day, when the King and Queen and their little daughter came to visit the bakery, Molly made a present of her golden ball to the princess.
After that, Molly spent her time with her new dog, whom she called Prince. He was gentle and loyal, and he never complained about a thing. She still had to help out around the bakery, but it was much nicer. And it could be said that Molly got her happily ever after after all, for she found her prince, and they lived together, very happily, indeed. Prince never spoke a single word, but he was the best of friends, and every night, Molly would let him sleep on her bed.