The Starling of Segringen, edited by Andrew
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
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.