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The Starling of Segringen, edited by Andrew Lang

Translated from the German of Johann Peter Hebel.

In a little German village in Suabia, there lived a barber, who combined the business of hair-cutting and shaving with that of an apothecary; he also sold good brandy, so that he had no lack of customers, not to speak of those who merely wished to pass an hour in gossiping.

Not the least of the attractions, however, was a tame starling, named Hansel, who had been taught to speak, and had learnt many sayings which he overheard, either from his master, the barber, or from the idlers who gathered about the shop. His master especially had some favourite sayings, or catchwords, such as, ‘Truly, I am the barber of Segringen’—for this is the name of the village—‘As heaven will,’ ‘By keeping bad company,’ and the like; and these were most familiar to the starling.

Everybody for miles round had at least heard of Hansel, and many came on purpose to see him and hear him talk, for Hansel would often interpose a word into the conversation, which came in very aptly.

But it happened one day, Hansel’s wings—which had been cut—having grown again, that he thought to himself: ‘I have now learnt so much, I may go out and see the world.’ And when nobody was looking, whirr!—away he went out of the window.

Seeing a flock of birds, he joined them, thinking: ‘They know the country better than I.’

But alas! this knowledge availed them little, for all  of them, with Hansel, fell into a snare which had been laid by a fowler, who soon came to see what was in his net. Putting in his hand, he drew out one prisoner after another, callously wringing their necks one by one.

But suddenly, when he was stretching out his murderous fingers to seize another victim, this one cried out: ‘I am the barber of Segringen!’

The man almost fell backwards with astonishment and fright, believing he had to do with a sorcerer at least; but presently recovering himself a little, he remembered the starling, and said: ‘Eh, Hansel, is it you! How did you come into the net?’

‘By keeping bad company,’ replied Hansel.

‘And shall I carry you home again?’

‘As heaven will,’ replied the starling.

Then the fowler took him back to the barber, and related the manner of his capture, receiving a good reward.

The barber also reaped a fine harvest, for more people came to his shop on purpose to see the clever bird, who had saved his life by his ready tongue.