This section is from the book "Myths And Folk-Tales Of The Russians, Western Slavs, And Magyars", by Jeremiah Curtin. Also available from Amazon: Myths and Folk-Tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and the Magyars.
WHERE there was, where there was not, it is enough that there was once a merchant, there were also a king, and a poor man.
One day the merchant went out to hunt, and he travelled and journeyed till, oh! my lord's son, he found himself in such a thick forest that he saw neither the sky nor the earth; he just groped around like a blindman. Here, 'pon my soul! whether the merchant tried to free himself by turning to the left or the right, he only went into a thicker place. When he was there five days, in hunger and thirst, stumbling about in the great wild wood without liberation, the merchant called out: -
"Oh, my God, if any one would take me out of this great wild thicket to the right road, I would give him the best of my three daughters, and as a wedding gift three sacks of coin".
"I 'll lead thee out right away," said some one before him.
The merchant looked to the right, to the left, but not a soul did he see.
"Don't look around," said the certain one again, "look under thy feet".
The merchant then looked in front and saw that near his feet was a little hedgehog, and to him he directed then his word and speech. "Well, if thou wilt lead me out, I will give thee my best daughter and three sacks of coin; the first will be gold, the second silver, and the third copper".
The hedgehog went on ahead, the merchant walked after. Soon they came out of the great wild wood. Then the hedgehog went back, and the merchant turned his wagon-tongue homeward.
Now the king went to hunt, - went in the same way as the merchant; and he too was lost in the great wild wood. The king went to the right and the left, tried in every way to free himself; all he gained was that he came to a thicker and a darker place. He too stumbled around five days in the thick wood, without food or drink. On the sixth morning the king cried out: "Oh, my God! if any one would free me from this dense wood, even if a worm, I would give him the most beautiful of my daughters, and as a wedding gift three coaches full of coin".
"I 'll lead thee out right away," said some one near him.
The king looked to the right, to the left, but saw not a soul.
"Why stare around? Look at thy feet; here I am".
The king then looked at his feet and saw a little hedgehog stretched out, and said to him: "Well, hedgehog, if thou wilt lead me forth, I 'll give thee the fairest of my daughters and three coaches full of coin, - the first gold, the second silver, the third copper".
The hedgehog went ahead, the king followed, and in this way they soon came out of the great wild wood. The hedgehog went back to his own place; the king reached home in safety.
Very well, a poor man went out for dry branches. He went like the merchant and king, and he got astray, so that he wandered dry and hungry for five days in the great wild wood; and whether he turned to the right or the left he gained only this, that he went deeper into the denseness.
" My God," cried the poor man at last, "send me a liberator! If he would lead me out of this place, as I have neither gold nor silver, I would take him as a son, and care for him as my own child".
"Well, my lord father, I 'll lead thee out; only follow".
"Where art thou, dear son?"
"Here, under thy feet; only look this way, my lord father".
The poor man looked near his feet, and saw a little hedgehog stretched out.
"Well, my dear son, lead me out and I 'll keep my promise".
The hedgehog went ahead, the poor man followed, and soon they came out of the great wild wood. The hedgehog then went back to his own place, and the poor man strolled home.
Well, things remained thus till once after bedtime there was a knocking at the poor man's door. "My lord father, rise up, open the door." The poor man, who was lying on the stove, heard only that some one was knocking at the door.
"My lord father, rise up, open the door".
The poor man heard, and heard that some one was knocking and as he thought calling out: "My lord father, rise up, open the door;" but in his world life he had never had a son. The third time he heard clearly, "My lord father, rise up, open the door".
The poor man did not take this as a joke. He rose up and opened the door. My lord's son, who came in to him? No one else than the little hedgehog.
"God give a good evening to my lord father and to my mother as well," said the hedgehog.
"God receive thee, my dear son. Hast thou come then?"
"I have indeed, as thou seest, my lord father; but I am very tired, therefore wake up my mother and let her make a bed for me in my chamber".
What was the poor man to do? He woke up his wife; she made a towering bed, and the hedgehog lay in it. In the morning the poor man and his wife sat down to breakfast. They did not wish to forget their adopted son, but gave him food on a wooden plate under a bench by the fire. The hedgehog did not touch it. "Well, my son," asked the poor man, "why not eat?"
"I do not eat, my lord father, because it is not proper to treat an adopted son like some orphan or another; therefore it beseems me not to eat all alone from a wooden plate under a bench at the fire. Seat me nicely at the table by thy side, put a tin plate before me, and place my food on it".
What was the poor man to do? He seated the Hedgehog at his side, put a tin plate before him, and measured out food on it; then the Hedgehog ate with his father and mother. When they had finished breakfast the Hedgehog spoke thuswise: "Well, my lord father, hast thou a couple of thalers?"
"I suppose thou art keeping them to buy salt and wood with?"
"Yes, my son".
"I speak not of that, I am speaking of this: lend me the money; I will return it a thousand-fold. Set not thy mind much on salt and wood now; but go, my lord father, to the market. In such and such a place an old woman has a black cock for sale; buy him of her. If she asks a small price, give her double; for that will be my steed. When thou hast bought the cock for two prices, in such and such a place is a saddler; go to him. In a corner of his shop is a castaway, thrown-away, ragged, torn saddle; buy that for me, but give him two prices also. If he asks little, give him double".