Once upon a time, there was a fine young King who was married to the loveliest of Queens. They were exceedingly happy, all but for one thing—they had no children. And this often made them both sad, because the Queen wanted a dear little child to play with, and the King wanted an heir to the kingdom.
One day the Queen went out for a walk by herself, and she met an ugly old woman. The old woman was just like a witch: but she was a nice kind of witch, not the cantankerous sort. She said, “Why do you look so doleful, pretty lady?” “It’s no use my telling you,” answered the Queen, “nobody in the world can help me.” “Oh, you never know,” said the old woman. “Just you let me hear what your trouble is, and maybe I can put things right.”
“My dear woman, how can you?” said the Queen: and she told her, “The King and I have no children: that’s why I am so distressed.” “Well, you needn’t be,” said the old witch. “I can set that right in a twinkling, if only you will do exactly as I tell you. Listen. To-night, at sunset, take a little drinking-cup with two ears” (that is, handles), “and put it bottom upwards on the ground in the north-west corner of your garden. Then go and lift it up to-morrow morning at sunrise, and you will find two roses underneath it, one red and one white. If you eat the red rose, a little boy will be born to you: if you eat the white rose, a little girl will be sent. But, whatever you do, you mustn’t eat both the roses, or you’ll be sorry,—that I warn you! Only one: remember that!” “Thank you a thousand times,” said the Queen, “this is good news indeed!” And she wanted to give the old woman her gold ring; but the old woman wouldn’t take it.
So the Queen went home and did as she had been told: and next morning at sunrise she stole out into the garden and lifted up the little drinking-cup. She was surprised, for indeed she had hardly expected to see anything. But there were the two roses underneath it, one red and one white. And now she was dreadfully puzzled, for she did not know which to choose.