THERE was once in the world a king, and he had a Useless Wagoner who never and never did anything but frolic in the tavern. The whole standing day and all the ocean-great night there was nothing for him but singing and dancing, eating and drinking. The king had money of course.
But the king began to grow tired of this thing. He called up the Useless Wagoner, and gave him a terrible scolding. But 'tis vain to seat a dog at table, and when the Devil gets into a man he stays there; so it was labor lost to drive the Useless Wagoner to work, for he went his way, and frolicked as before. At last the king resolved to take his life, and calling him up, said,--
"Dost hear me, work-shunning Useless Wagoner! I revile thy mother, if within the turn of four and twenty hours thou dost not make for me a three-hundred-gallon cask; and though one joint or seam is not much, if it has that, I'll empale thee on a stake."
The Useless Wagoner said not a word to all this, but put a hamper on his back, took a cutting-axe in his hand, and strolled off to the forest to find a tree fit to make a three-hundred-gallon cask.
When he came to the forest, being hungry and tired, he sat down under a large shady tree, opened his hamper, and began to eat lunch. He ate and ate, till all at once, from some corner or another, a little fox stood before him and begged food to eat.
"Of course I'll give thee something. The food came here, 'twill stay here;" and with that he threw a slice of bread and a bit of sausage to the fox.
When the fox had finished eating she said: "Dost hear, Useless Wagoner? As thou hast taken pity on me, I will take pity on thee; in place of a good deed look for a good deed. Though thou hast not told me, still I know why thou hast come to this forest. I know, too, that the king is breaking his head to kill thee; but he'll not be in time, for I will help thee out of thy trouble and make thee the three-hundred-gallon cask. And though one seam or joint is not much, even that will not be in it. Now lie down and rest."
And so it was. The Useless Wagoner lay down and rested. Meanwhile the little fox got such a three-hundred-gallon cask ready, that although a joint or seam is not much, even that was not to be seen in it.
When the cask was finished the Useless Wagoner took it home and gave it to the king, who, after looking at it, dropped his eyes and his lip like a sheep; for neither his father, his grandfather, nor his great-grandfather had ever seen such a cunningly made cask, for not a seam nor a joint could be seen in it for gold.
Well and good for the moment; but soon the king summoned the Useless Wagoner to his presence again, and cried out,--
"Dost thou hear me, work-shunning Useless Wagoner! I revile thy soul if within the turn of four and twenty hours thou dost not make for me a chariot which will go itself, without horses. I'll break thee on a wheel!"
The Useless Wagoner said nothing, but put his hamper on his back, took his cutting-axe in his hand, and wandered off to the forest to find a tree fit to make the chariot.
When he came to the forest he was hungry, and tired too; therefore he sat down under a large, shady tree, opened his hamper, and began to eat lunch.
He ate and ate till all at once, from some corner or another, the little fox stood before him again, and begged food to eat.
"Of course, my dear little fox, I'll give thee something. It came here, and 'twill stay here."
With that he threw a piece of bread and a slice of ham to the little fox, who after she had eaten, said:
"Well, Useless Wagoner, in place of a good deed look for a good deed. Though thou hast not told me, still I know why thou art here. I know, too, that the king is breaking his head to kill thee; but he won't, for I shall help thee out of trouble. I'll make for thee the chariot which will go of itself, without horses; but do thou lie down and rest."
And so it was. The Useless Wagoner reclined his head in rest; and meanwhile the little fox fashioned a chariot beautifully. When all was ready she roused the Useless Wagoner, and said,--
"Here is the chariot which runs of itself; thou hast but to step in and command it to stop in the king's court-yard. But I would tell thee this: Here is a whistle that will serve thee; shouldst thou fall into trouble, just blow,--it will help thee."
The Useless Wagoner thanked the fox for her kindness, and entered the chariot, which stopped not till it reached the king's court-yard.
When the king saw the chariot he said nothing, but shook his head, turned on the Useless Wagoner in a rage, and cried,--
"Useless Wagoner, I revile thy mother! In my stable there are a hundred hares; and if thou dost not herd them three days, if thou dost not drive them a-field in the morning and bring them back at night so that not one shall be missing from the hundred, I'll strike off thy head."
What was the poor Useless Wagoner to do? Against his will, and of need, he let the hundred hares out of the stable and drove them a-field. They had barely touched the edge of the field when they ran in as many directions as there were hares. Who could bring them together again? The poor Useless Wagoner ran first after one and then after another hare; he chased the whole day, but could not bring back a single hare. It was already growing late, time to go home, but the hundred hares were in a hundred places; therefore the Useless Wagoner became terribly sad, and wished to make an end of his own life,--it was all the same whether he or the king took it; there was no salvation for him anyhow. So he put his hand in his bosom to take out his clasp-knife and strike himself in the heart, but instead of the knife he found the whistle which the little fox had given him. That was all he wanted; he drew out the whistle, sounded it, and, behold! all the hares ran up to him,--as tame as pet lambs fed from the palm of the hand.
When all the hares had come together he drove them home.
The king stood at the gate and let them in singly, counting, "One, two, three ... ninety-nine, a hundred." Not one was missing.
Next day the Useless Wagoner drove the hares out again, and when they had barely touched the edge of the field they ran off in as many directions as there were hares.
But this time the Useless Wagoner took no thought of running and chasing after them; he thought to himself that he would take his whistle and blow, and they would come. So he lay down in a nice shady place, and slept to his liking.
But the king did not sleep; he was racking his brain to destroy the Useless Wagoner. So he called his only and dearly beloved daughter, and said to her, "My darling daughter, I have a great favor to ask of thee."
"What may it be, my father the king?"
"Of a truth nothing but this,--that thou dress in peasant's clothes, and go out to the field where the Useless Wagoner is herding the hundred hares, and beg one of him. If he gives it not for a good word, mayhap he will give it for a sweet kiss; but come not home to me without the hare, even if he asks a piece of thy body for it."
The princess granted her father's request. She gathered her wits about her, dressed up in peasant's clothes, and went in the field to the Useless Wagoner, who was sleeping at his leisure under a shady tree. The princess pushed him with her foot; he woke, and saw in a moment with whom he had to deal.
"God give thee a good-day, hareherd!"
"God save thee, king's daughter! What good dost thou bring the poor hareherd?"
"I have brought nothing but this, that I have come because I would like to get one little hare. Wouldst thou not give even one for good money?"
"High princess, I will not give one for money; but if thou wilt give me three kisses, I can give them back. Then I don't mind; I'll give thee a hare."
So the princess got a hare for three pairs of kisses, and ran home very joyfully; but just as she was touching the latch to open the gate, the hareherd sounded his whistle, the hare jumped like lightning from her bosom, and stopped not till it reached the flock.
The hareherd drove home his flock; the king was waiting for him at the gate, and let them in one by one, counting till he came to a hundred.
Next day the hareherd drove out his hares the third time, and left them to go their way.
The king now called his wife to the white chamber, and spoke thus to her: "My heart's beautiful love, I have a great favor to ask of thee."
"And what may it be, my dear husband?"
"Of a truth, nothing but this,--that thou dress in peasant's clothes, go to the hareherd in the field, and ask a hare of him. If he will not give it for fair words, he may for a sweet kiss; but come not home to me without a hare, even if he asks a piece of thy flesh."
Well, the queen yielded to her husband's request, put on a peasant's dress, and went to the field, where she found the Useless Wagoner sleeping in the shade. She roused him with her foot; he knew at once who was in the peasant's dress.
"God give thee a good-day, hareherd!"
"God save thee, kind queen! What good hast thou brought the poor hareherd? Why hast thou come, may I ask?"
"I have only come to ask if thou wilt give me a hare for good money."
"I will not give a hare for money, my queen; but if thou wilt give me three kisses, I will return them again. Then I don't mind; I'll risk my head, and let thee have a hare."
So the queen got a hare for three pairs of kisses, and took her way home joyously; but just as she was putting her hand on the latch to open the gate, the hareherd sounded the whistle, the hare jumped like a flash from the queen's bosom, and stopped not till it joined its companions.
When the hares were all together, the hareherd drove them home. The king was waiting for him at the gate, let each in singly, counting till he reached a hundred,--not one missing from the round number.
Next morning the hares were driven out as before; but the king now put on a peasant's dress, and went to the field himself. When he came to the hareherd he said: "God give thee good-day!"
"God save thee, poor man!" answered the hareherd. "What art thou looking for?"
"Well, what's the use in delay or denial? I have come to buy a little hare of thee for good money. Of course thou wilt part with one."
"I will not give one for money; but if I can wear out twelve rods on thy back, I don't mind; I'll risk my head on it."
What was the king to do? He stretched himself out with face and hands on the grass, and the hareherd flogged him as a corporal does a soldier; but he endured it all, gritting his teeth, and thinking to himself, "Wait a bit, thief of a Useless Wagoner, thou wilt have a dose when I get at thee!"
But all to no use, for when the king had reached home, and was just putting his hand on the latch to open the gate, the whistle sounded, and the hare sprang away from him like a flash, and ran till it joined the flock.
Then the Useless Wagoner drove home the hundred hares a fourth time. The king was standing at the little gate; he counted them one by one, but could find no fault, for they were all there.
The Useless Wagoner drove out the hares the fifth time to pasture; but the king mounted the chariot which went wherever the owner commanded, and drove to the Useless Wagoner, taking three empty bags with him. "Dost hear me, thou!--this-and-that-kind-of-work-shunning? Hareherd, I revile thy soul! If thou wilt not fill these three bags with truth, I will strike off thy head."
To all this the Useless Wagoner answered in words: "The king's daughter came out; I gave her, and she gave me. The queen came; I gave her, and she gave me. The king came; I gave him, and he--"
"Stop! stop!" cried the king, "the three bags are full; and I'd rather be in hell than hear thy words."
At this speech the chariot started off with the king, and never stopped till it took him to the bottom of hell.
Then the Useless Wagoner went home, married the king's daughter, became king, and reigns yet with his queen, unless he is dead.