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.
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 't is 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, 't will 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 greatgrandfather 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 't will 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.