Once long ago there was a peasant woman who had three sons. Though they were peasants they were well off, for the soil on which they lived was fruitful, and yielded rich crops. One day the sons told their mother they wished to get married.
“Do as you like”, said their mother, “but see that you choose good housewives.” To make certain of this, she gave each a skein of flax for their intended wives to spin saying, “Whoever spins the best will be my favorite daughter-in-law.”
Now the two eldest sons had already chosen the girl they would marry so they took the flax from their mother and carried it off with them to have it spun by their intended wives. But the youngest son didn’t know what to do with his skein, for he was shy and a little slow and had never spoken to a girl. He wandered hither and thither, shyly asking girls that he met if they would spin the flax he carried. But they laughed in his face and mocked him. In despair he left the village and went into the countryside. He sat down on the bank of a pond and began to cry.
Suddenly there was a splash beside him, and a frog (a female, talking frog, of course) jumped out of the water onto the bank beside him.
“Why are you crying?” she asked. The youth told her how his brothers would bring home linen spun by their promised wives, but that he could find no one to spin his flax.
“Do not weep,” said the frog kindly. “Give me the thread and I will spin it for you.” She took the flax and flopped back into the water. The youngest son didn’t know what to make of this so he went back home.
A few days later the two eldest brothers returned with the linen that had been spun by their chosen wives. The youngest brother didn’t know what else to do but run back to the pond and start to cry again.
Flop! The frog splashed out of the water close beside him. (She was a compassionate, as well as a talking frog.) “Here is the linen that I have spun for you,’ she said. Wow! What a frog! The linen was beautiful. The youngest ran straight to his mother who declared she had never seen linen so beautifully spun, better by far than the linen spun by the other two.
At that she turned to her sons and said, “I need more proof of the sort of wives you have chosen, my sons. We have three new puppies. I want each of you to take one, and give it to the woman you mean to marry. She must train it and bring it up. Whichever dog turns out the best, its mistress will be my favorite daughter-in-law.”
So all three young men set out with their puppies in their different directions. The youngest, not knowing where else to go, returned to the pond and sat there puzzled. Flop! Up beside him splashed the frog. “Why are you here?” she asked. He told her of his mother’s newest challenge.
“Give the puppy to me,” she said, “and I will bring it up for you.” When she saw that the young man hesitated she simply took the puppy out of his arms and flopped back into the pond with it. The youngest son was somewhat surprised. But, as he did not know what else to do, he went home.
Weeks and months passed, till one day the mother said she would like to see how the dogs had been trained by her future daughters-in-law. The two eldest sons departed and returned shortly, leading two great mastiffs who growled so fiercely and looked so savage, that the mere sight of them made the mother tremble with fear.
The youngest son ran to the pond and called the frog. Flop! Up splashed the frog holding the most adorable little dog. It sat up and begged with its paws and did pretty tricks. In high spirits the young man ran off to his mother.
As soon as she saw it, she exclaimed, “This is the most beautiful little dog I have ever seen. You are indeed fortunate, my son. You have found a pearl of a wife. But there must be one more test. Take these three shirts to your chosen wives. Whoever creates the loveliest embroidery on them will be my favorite daughter-in-law.”
So once more the three set out. And of course, this time, the work of the frog was by far the most beautiful.
“Now that I am content with the tests,” said the mother, “fetch home your brides, and I will prepare the wedding-feast.”
What was the youngest son to do? Where would he find a bride? Perhaps the frog could help him again. He went to the edge of the pond and called her. Flop! Once more the faithful frog splashed up beside him.
“What is troubling you?” she asked him. The youth told her he needed a wife.
“Well, marry me,” she said.
“What should I do with you as a wife?” he replied. (He didn’t mean to be rude but it was, after all, a strange proposal even for a fairy tale.)
“Will you have me or will you not?” she demanded.
“I will neither have you, nor will I refuse you,” he answered politically. At this the frog disappeared.
The next minute a charming little chariot, drawn by two tiny ponies stood in the road. The frog was in the chariot, lounging against velvet pillows. “Hop in!” she said. So he did.
As they drove along the road they met three witches. The first of them was blind, the second was hunchbacked, and the third had a large thorn in her throat. When the three witches saw the little chariot drawn by the tiny horses, with the frog seated pompously on the cushions, they broke into such fits of laughter that the eyelids of the blind one burst open and she recovered her sight; the hunchback rolled about on the ground in such merriment her back became straight; and, in a roar of laughter the thorn was thrust out of the throat of the third witch.
Their first thought was to reward the frog, who had been the means of their cures, after all.
The first witch waved her magic wand over the frog, and changed her into the loveliest girl that had ever been seen.
The second witch waved the wand over the tiny chariot and ponies, and they were turned into a beautiful large carriage with prancing horses and a coachman. The third witch gave the girl a magic purse filled with money.
Having done this, the witches disappeared, and the youth with his lovely bride drove home. Great was the delight of the mother at the good fortune of her youngest son whose wife, incidentally, became the favorite daughter-in-law (of course).
And did they all live happily ever after? Well, that’s another frog story.