Sunday, July 31, 2011
The Starling from Segringen by Hebel
A starling may find it useful to have learnt something, but a man even more so.
The barber in a very reputable village – I shall call it Segringen, though it didn’t happen there, but hereabouts, and the one that it happened to (the man, not the starling) is perhaps reading this right now – the barber at Segringen had a starling, and his apprentice, who’s well-known in the district, taught him to speak. The starling not only learnt all the words set in these language lessons but also on his own accord copied what he had heard his master say, for example, ‘I’m the barber in Segringen.’ His owner had other expressions as well that he repeated on every occasion, for example, ‘So so, la la’, or ‘par compagnie’ (that means in company with others); or ‘God’s will be done!’ or ‘You fool!’ You see, that’s what he used to call the apprentice when he poured half the plaster on to the table instead of the cloth, or sharpened the back of the razor instead of the edge, or broke the medicine glass. In time the starling learnt all these phrases.
The barber also sold brandy, so there were many customers in his shop every day, and often there was much to laugh about when they were talking among themselves and the starling threw in a phrase and it fitted just as if he knew what it meant. And sometimes when the apprentice called to him, ‘What are you doing, Johnny?’ he answered, ‘You fool!’ and everyone in those parts could tell you about Johnny! Then one day when his clipped feathers had grown again and the window was open and the weather fine the starling thought: ‘I know enough by now to get by in the big world outside’, and he was out the window in a flash.
His first flight took him to the fields where he joined a flock of other birds, and when they flew up he went with them, for he thought, ‘They know the lie of the land better than I do.” But unfortunately they all flew together into a net. The starling said, ‘God’s will be done!’ When the birdcatcher came and saw what a big catch he had made he took the birds out carefully one by one, wrung their necks and threw them on the ground. But when all unsuspectingly he stretched his murdering hands towards one more catch, that catch cried, ‘I’m the barber of Segringen.’ Just as if he knew it would save his neck! The birdcatcher was scared at first, thinking something really weird was happening, but then when he recovered from his shock he laughed so much he nearly died. And when he said, ‘Johnny, I didn’t expect to find you here, how did you get into my net?’ Johnny replied, ‘Par compagnie.’
So the birdcatcher took the starling back to its owner and was well rewarded for his find. The barber’s business prospered, for everyone wanted to see the remarkable Johnny, and now everyone from miles around who wants to be bled goes to the barber at Segringen.
Remember: such things seldom happen to starlings. But many a young fellow who felt like spreading his wings and getting away from home has got into a mess ‘par compagnie’ and not got out of it.