The Same Old Story by A. A. Milne

We stood in a circle round the parrot’s cage and gazed with interest at its occupant. She (Evangeline) was balancing easily on one leg, while with the other leg and her beak she tried to peel a monkey-nut. There are some of us who hate to be watched at meals, particularly when dealing with the dessert, but Evangeline is not of our number.

“There,” said Mrs. Atherley, “isn’t she a beauty?”

I felt that, as the last to be introduced, I ought to say something.

“What do you say to a parrot?” I whispered to Miss Atherley.

“Have a banana,” suggested Reggie.

“I believe you say, ‘Scratch-a-poll,’” said Miss Atherley, “but I don’t know why.”

“Isn’t that rather dangerous? Suppose it retorted ‘Scratch your own,’ I shouldn’t know a bit how to go on.”

“It can’t talk,” said Reggie. “It’s quite a baby–only seven months old. But it’s no good showing it your watch; you must think of some other way of amusing it.”

“Break it to me, Reggie. Have I been asked down solely to amuse the parrot, or did any of you others want to see me?”

“Only the parrot,” said Reggie.

Evangeline paid no attention to us. She continued to wrestle with the monkey-nut. I should say that she was a bird not easily amused.

“Can’t it really talk at all?” I asked Mrs. Atherley.

“Not yet. You see, she’s only just come over from South America, and isn’t used to the climate yet.”

“But that’s just the person you’d expect to talk a lot about the weather. I believe you’ve been had. Write a little note to the poulterers and ask if you can change it. You’ve got a bad one by mistake.”

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“We got it as a bird,” said Mrs. Atherley with dignity, “not as a gramophone.”

The next morning Evangeline was as silent as ever. Miss Atherley and I surveyed it after breakfast. It was still grappling with a monkey-nut, but no doubt a different one.

“Isn’t it ever going to talk?” I asked. “Really, I thought parrots were continually chatting.”

“Yes, but they have to be taught–just like you teach a baby.”

“Are you sure? I quite see that you have to teach them any special things you want them to say, but I thought they were all born with a few simple obvious remarks, like ‘Poor Polly,’ or–or ‘Dash Lloyd George.’”

“I don’t think so,” said Miss Atherley. “Not the green ones.”

At dinner that evening, Mr. Atherley being now with us, the question of Evangeline’s education was seriously considered.

“The only proper method,” began Mr. Atherley—-“By the way,” he said, turning to me, “you don’t know anything about parrots, do you?”

“No,” I said. “You can go on quite safely.”

“The only proper method of teaching a parrot–I got this from a man in the City this morning–is to give her a word at a time, and to go on repeating it over and over again until she’s got hold of it.”

“And after that the parrot goes on repeating it over and over again until you’ve got sick of it,” said Reggie.

“Then we shall have to be very careful what word we choose,” said Mrs. Atherley.

“What is your favourite word?”

“Well, really—-“

“Animal, vegetable, or mineral?” asked Archie.

“This is quite impossible. Every word by itself seems so silly.”

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“Not ‘home’ and ‘mother,’” I said reproachfully.

“You shall recite your little piece in the drawing-room afterwards,” said Miss Atherley to me. “Think of something sensible now.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Atherley. “What’s the latest word from London?”

“Kikuyu.”

“What?”

“I can’t say it again,” I protested.

“If you can’t even say it twice, it’s no good for Evangeline.”

A thoughtful silence fell upon us.

“Have you fixed on a name for her yet?” Miss Atherley asked her mother.

“Evangeline, of course.”

“No, I mean a name for her to call you. Because if she’s going to call you ‘Auntie’ or ‘Darling,’ or whatever you decide on, you’d better start by teaching her that.”

And then I had a brilliant idea.

“I’ve got the very word,” I said. “It’s ‘hallo.’ You see, it’s a pleasant form of greeting to any stranger, and it will go perfectly with the next word that she’s taught, whatever it may be.”

“Supposing it’s ‘wardrobe,’” suggested Reggie, “or ‘sardine’?”

“Why not? ‘Hallo, Sardine’ is the perfect title for a revue. Witty, subtle, neat–probably the great brain of the Revue King has already evolved it, and is planning the opening scene.”

“Yes, ‘hallo’ isn’t at all bad,” said Mr. Atherley. “Anyway, it’s better than ‘Poor Polly,’ which is simply morbid. Let’s fix on ‘hallo.’”

“Good,” said Mrs. Atherley.

Evangeline said nothing, being asleep under her blanket.

. . . . .

I was down first next morning, having forgotten to wind up my watch overnight. Longing for company, I took the blanket off Evangeline’s cage and introduced her to the world again. She stirred sleepily, opened her eyes and blinked at me.

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“Hallo, Evangeline,” I said.

She made no reply.

Suddenly a splendid scheme occurred to me. I would teach Evangeline her word now. How it would surprise the others when they came down and said “Hallo” to her, to find themselves promptly answered back!

“Evangeline,” I said, “listen. Hallo, hallo, hallo, hallo.” I stopped a moment and went on more slowly. “Hallo–hallo–hallo.”

It was dull work.

“Hallo,” I said, “hallo–hallo–hallo,” and then very distinctly, “Hal-lo.”

Evangeline looked at me with an utterly bored face.

“Hallo,” I said, “hallo–hallo.”

She picked up a monkey-nut and ate it languidly.

“Hallo,” I went on, “hallo, hallo … hallo, hallo, HALLO, HALLO … hallo, hallo—-“

She dropped her nut and roused herself for a moment.

“Number engaged,” she snapped, and took another nut.

. . . . .

You needn’t believe this. The others didn’t when I told them.

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