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The 'Ship of Girls' (Moidle-Schiff)

by Adam Müller-Guttenbrunn
Translated by Nick Tullius

From Chapter 8. Die Völkerwanderung hebt an (pages 157 – 161) of the novel
Der große Schwabenzug by Adam Müller-Guttenbrunn; Verlag L. Staackmann, Leipzig 1914

Whitsunday [1719 NT] brought a joyous surprise. Towards evening, a barge from Ulm flying a Württemberg flag arrived, with hundred and fifty girls on board. All were Swabian girls from the Black Forest! Duke Karl Alexander made good on the promise of Ludwig von Baden, called Türkenlouis, to send to the good non-commissioned officers of the German regiments, all single and resettled in the empty reclaimed lands [the Banat NT], a shipload of brides for their choosing. It was not done as quickly as the settlers had wished and hoped, but it was finally accomplished. He made public the names of the men from his regiments who became settlers, and invited young girls from their home villages to venture on a trip. He promised to each free travel, a dowry of fifty Kronentaler, and a hundred suitors able to support a wife. Each girl would be able to choose by following her heart.

As the “ship of girls” arrived in Regensburg, hundreds of people were attracted by the singing of the girls. And it seemed to be a merry song that they presented in chorus, as if they were sitting in their spinning room:

There once was a margrave above the Rhine,

Who had three beautiful young daughters;

Two of them early left home,

The third one put him in his grave,

Then she went singing at her sister’s door,

“Do you need a servant girl here?”

“You girl are looking much too pretty,

You probably go with the gentlemen.”

“Oh no! Oh no! I don’t do that,

I don’t go out with gentlemen.”

She hires the girl for half a year,

The girl serves her for seven years

And when the seven years were done,

The girl was sick each day.

“So tell me girl, if you are sick,

Tell me who your parents are?”

“My father was a margrave above the Rhine,

And I am his youngest daughter.”

“Oh no! Oh no! I don’t believe

That you are the youngest sister of mine.”

“If you don’t believe a word I say,

Go see that little coffer of mine,

There you will find it written down.”

And when she looked at that chest

The tears were running down her cheeks:

“Let’s get a loaf, let’s get some wine,

This is the young sister of mine!”

“I want no bread, I want no wine,

I want just a little wooden box,

In which I want to be buried.”

This is how the Swabian girls were singing their song from home, while the ship’s master carried out the landing, so that the ship could stay there overnight. It was still early, but a better place than Regensburg could not be reached that evening.

As soon as the story that an emigrant ship full of girls spread through the city was docked at the lower Wörth, more and more people came out of the gate to see the miracle. But none of the young Swabian girls got off the boat, only the hired rowers and their masters left the ship, to meet their guild brothers at the inn. The girls were soon surrounded by a merry bunch of fellows, trying to engage them in a teasing conversation, and jokingly making them proposals of marriage. They suggested that the girls come and see the beautiful city of Regensburg a try a little of its famous beer. Afterwards the kisses taste twice as good, they said. But the girls only laughed at them, and the old helmsman from Ulm stood guard in front of the paradise.

“But you could at least sing a song for us, a happy song” they shouted from the shore. “Yes, a song!”

“Well, why not?” said the girls and discussed it among themselves. Some were actually cooking, others were cleaning, and still others were carrying out blankets and whatever else was needed for the night, from the little shack, to be divided among the girls.

A large, well-built young woman, standing near the steering seat, asked the overly eager ones to stop. She carefully selected eight girls and gathered them around her.

“See, the clucking hen! The clucking hen!” shouted the fellows from the shore. “Something is going to happen!” And something did happen. “Be on guard!” the blond young woman said to the girls with a smile.

And they started singing the song called “Be on guard!”

I know a girl so pretty and cute.

Be on guard!

She can be both pretty and insincere.

Be on guard! Be on guard!

Don’t trust her, she fools you.

She has a pair of brown eyes,

Be on guard!

They’ll look at you cross-eyed,

Be on guard! Be on guard!

Don’t trust her, she fools you.

She has light golden hair,

Be on guard!

And what she says is untrue.

Be on guard! Be on guard!

Don’t trust her, she fools you.

She has two little white breasts,

Be on guard!

She half-shows them and you get hot.

Be on guard! Be on guard!

Don’t trust her, she fools you.

She’ll reject you in a flash,

Be on guard!

You will be seen as a fool.

Be on guard! Be on guard!

Don’t trust her, she fools you.

That produced a lot of cheerfulness on the shore. But is was starting to get dark, and the fun came to an end as the city gate was being closed. They would come the next day, the fellows promised, to sprinkle some Whitsuntide water on the girls. “Sleep well!”

But before Regensburg was out of its bed on Whit Monday, the ship of girls was gliding down the Danube, with a cheerful choir-song in the air. Its presence appeared to have been a dream to all those who had seen its landing in the evening.


[Published at DVHH.org by Jody McKim Pharr]


 

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