Once there was a poor little Moor who was as black as coal but his color was not genuine for he seemed to be slowly losing
it. In the evening his collar was always black, and whenever he touched his mother you could see his five fingers on her
dress. For that reason she could never have him too close and would nudge and shove him away when he came near. And
other people treated him even worse.
When he was fourteen his parents told him it was high time that he learned a trade so he could earn money for a living. He
asked them to let him go out into the world and become a musician; he was unfit for any other trade.
But his father thought that music was a beggar's trade and his mother became quite upset and said nothing other than: “All
nonsense, you can only become something black!”
Finally they agreed that he was best suited to be a chimney sweep. So they took him to a master chimney sweep, and
because they were ashamed of his being a Moor, they told him they had made him black just to see how it suited him.
So now the little Moor was a chimney sweep and day after day he had to crawl into the chimneys. And often they were so
narrow that he was afraid he would get stuck in them. But he always managed to get out on the roof, although he
sometimes had to wiggle hard. Then when he would sit high up on the chimney and breathe God’s good fresh air and see
the swallows flying around his head, his breast would swell until he thought it would burst. Then he would swing his brush
and shout ho-di-ho! ho-di-ho! like chimneys sweeps are wont to do, and the people on the street would stand still and say:
“Look at that little black fellow up there, what a nice voice he has!”
When he had finished his training his master ordered him to go into his room and wash up and put on his best clothes. For
now he was ready to make him a full-fledged chimney sweep.
On hearing that, the poor little Moor was frightened to death said to himself: “Now people will find out!” And that is what
happened; for as soon as he stepped into his master's quarters in his best clothes, there where all the apprentices and
journeymen had gathered, he was still quite black, even though lighter spots were shimmering through where the black
areas had been scratched while in the chimneys. No one could believe it. And then his master explained that he could not
make him a journeyman, for he was not even a real Christian. The young apprentices started to fight with him, tore his
clothes off his back and carried him out to the courtyard. He tried to fight them off , but they held him under the water
spout and started to pump vigorously and rubbed him with straw and sand until their arms were sore. And when they saw
that in spite of all their efforts they could rub only a little bit off they called him names and took him to the gate and shoved
There he stood now in the middle of the road, helpless, just like God had created him, the poor little Moor, and he did not
know what to do. By chance a man came by and looked him over from top to bottom and when he saw that he was a Moor
he told him he was a member of the polite society and would like to have him in his service. All he would have to do would be
to stand on the back of his carriage when he went out for rides with his wife. That way people would notice that upper class
people were passing by.
The little Moor accepted immediately and went with the gentleman, and at the beginning all went well. For the gentleman’s
wife took a liking to him and when she saw him she would always pat him on the head. That was something that had never
experienced before. Then one day when they were out in the carriage and he was standing behind them there came an awful
storm and the rain came down in torrents. When they returned home the gentleman saw black water running off the
He snapped at the little Moor and asked what that meant. The boy was frightened to death and because he could think of
nothing better to say he answered that the clouds were so dark that the rain had come down black.
"Larifari", replied the gentleman who seemed to know already what it was, so he took his handkerchief, moistened one end
of it and drew it down across the little Moor’s brow. The spot on the linen was black.
"I knew right from the beginning”, he shouted, "you are not even genuine! What a discovery! Now, go look for another job.
I have no more use for you!"
With tears in his eyes the poor little Moor packed up his belongings and was about to leave. But the gentleman's wife called
him back and said: it was truly a shame that her husband had noticed it, because she had known it all along. Indeed, what
an unfortunate thing to be a Moor, and especially one whose color rubs off. Now he should not give up but remain honest
and good because with the passing of time he would become just as white as other people. What is more, she presented
him with a violin and a mirror so he could see himself once a week.
So the little Moor went out into the world and became a musician. Of course he had no teacher who could show him how to
play. But he listened to the sounds of the birds and the sounds the bushes and streams made and tried to imitate them.
Later he realized that the flowers in the woods and the stars in the midnight darkness had their own special music, even
though it was such a quiet music that not everyone could hear it. That music he found he found much harder to play. But
the most difficult music he learned last of all: to play like the human heart beats. He had to travel far and wide and
experience so much before he was able to play that.—
Sometimes while on his wanderings all went well, but there were bad times too. When evening darkness came and he would
stop in front of a house and play a favorite song and ask for a place to stay for the night and the people would take him in.
But next morning when they saw how black he was they thought it was better not to have anything to do with him because
he was losing his color and so they would start to call him names and box his ears. But in spite of that he did not lose
courage but thought about the words the gentleman's wife had said to him and he went on playing his violin in town after
town, in one country after the other. Every Sunday he would take out his mirror to see how much color he had lost. It was
not that much from Sunday to Sunday because the color was deep, but still, some color was missing. But after he had been
on the road for five years one could see the white color shimmering through. At the same time he had become such a
master violinist that wherever he went, young and old alike would come to hear him play.—
One day he came to a town he had never heard of where a golden princess reigned; she had golden hair and a golden face
and hands and feet were of gold. She ate with a golden knife and fork from a golden plate, drank golden wine and wore
golden clothes. In short, everything she had and everything around her was of gold. And likewise she was exceedingly
proud and arrogant, and although her subjects hoped she would marry a prince, because they did not care to be ruled by a
woman for the rest of their lives, there was no prince who was handsome and noble enough to please her.
Every morning six or seven princes who had arrived the evening before would call on her and present themselves as
marriage candidates. For people everywhere spoke of nothing but Goldprincess and how beautiful she was.
The six princes had to line up, one behind the other, in front of her throne and she would look them over from all sides. But
in the end she would inevitably turn up her nose and say:
"The first one is fat
The second is filthy,
The third is bald,
The fourth is half-baked,
The fifth is perplexed,
And the sixth is ugly!
Had enough now.
Away with all of them!"
With that said, twelve huge strong men wearing oversized birch-branch hoods appeared and herded them out of the city.
Now that has been going on every day for years.—
When the little Moor saw how wonderful the princess was he was unable to think of anything but her. He went to the palace,
sat down on the stairs, took out his violin and started to play his favorite song. "Maybe she would look out of the window,
he thought, and then I could see her."
It did not take long before Goldprincess ordered her three chambermaids to find out who was playing the violin so skillfully.
They informed her it was a man whose face was of such a strange color, a color they had never seen before. One of them
claimed he was gray like a mouse; the second, gray like a fish, and the third, that he was gray like a donkey.
Then the princess said she had to see for herself, and that they should bring him to her.
So the chambermaids went down again and brought him up, and when he caught sight of her, all in gold and shining like the
sun, he was so blinded at first that he had to close his eyes. But when he recovered and saw how the princess really looked,
he could no longer help himself and fell down on his knees at her feet and said:
"Most beautiful Princess! You have no idea how beautiful you are. And even if you did know, you are still a hundred thousand
times more beautiful. I am just a little Moor who is always getting whiter; and the song that I was playing is by far not my
best. You will indeed be in need of a husband; if you would like to take me I would be so overjoyed that I would jump over
When the princess heard that she at first made a face like the geese make when a storm is raging and lightning flashing,
because she was not overly intelligent in spite of her beauty, and then she began to laugh so loud that she had to hold her
sides. And the three chambermaids thought they had to laugh with her, and all at once the twelve strong men came in and
when they saw who was on his knees before the princess they, too, began to laugh so loud that all the people in the town
could hear them.
The little Moor was frightened, for he soon understood that he had said something stupid. He took his violin, opened the
door and ran down the stairs, three at a time. Then without looking he ran down the street and across the field into the
nearby woods. There he threw himself down on the grass, completely exhausted, and cried so pitifully that he could have
been carried away on a flood of tears.—
After he had calmed down he said to himself: "If the coach driver is drunk, the horses go wild! Are you smart or are you
stupid? Did you want to marry Goldprincess? How stupid can you be! Don’t be surprised if people laugh at you."
With that he slung his violin over his shoulder and started to whistle and went on his way from town to town, from one
country to the other. And year by year his skin became whiter and people took a liking for him because the songs he made
kept getting better and he was by far the best violinist that the people had ever heard. And as he got older and matured he
did in fact look like a white man, whiter and purer than other people. Nobody could believe that he had been a Moor.—
It happened that one day he came to a place where a fair was being held. He saw a booth with a red curtain hung before it.
There was a time when that curtain was new, but now it was all spotted and tattered. In front of it stood a rakish fellow
wearing a colored jacket blowing his trumpet and inviting people to enter his booth to see the greatest wonders in the
world: a calf with two heads that chewed with both but digested in one stomach, or a pig that could spread out the playing
cards and tell the future, and above all the most famous, the magnificent Goldprincess whom all the men were crazy about.
"That cannot be my Goldprincess?" he said to himself, but he went in, nevertheless, just to see.
He was so astonished that he felt as if he would sink into the ground; for it really was she. But she had lost a lot of her gold
and he could see that she was only made of tin.
"Heavenly Father" he called out, "how did you get here and what happened to you?"
"What is wrong with you?" she replied as if it were nothing. But after she realized that he had seen her once when she was
golden all over, she said with anger in her voice: "Do you think that a person keeps it forever, you stupid fellow? Grow up!"
He almost broke out in laughter because he saw that she did not recognize him. But he felt so sad for her and could only
ask under his breath if she had any idea who he might be. He was the little Moor whom she once had ridiculed so mercilessly.
Now it was her turn to be silent and ashamed and with tears in her eyes she told how her gold had peeled off, first on a few
places and then just about everywhere; how she had tried for a long time to hide it from her subjects and how they became
fully aware of it and drove her out of the castle. And now she was traveling with the fair and had her fill of it and, but if he
still thought the way he used to, she would be glad to marry him.
He answered her in a serious tone saying that he was sincerely sorry for her, but he knew all too well that he should not
marry a tin princess. He hoped to find a much better person than she. With that he left the booth and left her standing
there in a rage and she shouted viciously: "Young Moor, Young Moor! Coal-black Moor who loses his color!" But no one
knew whom she meant because he did not have one spot of black on his body.
He went his virtuous way and did not turn around to look, and he was happy that he would never hear anything more about
that horrible person. And for a long while he continued with his wanderings; but when he had seen almost the whole world
and was getting tired of travelling it happened that the king heard about his violin playing and sent for him.
Until late at night he had him play one song after the other until finally the king rose from his throne, embraced him and
asked if he would like to be his best friend. When he said yes the king had him driven around the town in his golden coach
and gave him a house and enough money to last him for the rest of his life. And he found a wife. She was not a princess
and was far from being a person who was gold all over, but she was a wife who had a golden heart. And with her he lived a
long life happily and was respected by all.
As time passed the tin princess got harder to look at and when the last bits of gold had peeled off she had been mishandled
so badly that she was all dents and scratches.
She ended up being sold to a junk dealer. In a corner amidst all kinds of scrap and bric-a-brac she stands to this very day
and she now has all the time in the world to learn that things rub off in life, the pretty and the ugly things, and that what
really matters is what is underneath.
|The Little Moor and the Golden Princess
Richard von Volkmann-Leander
Illustrations: Hans von Volkmann (Son)
|Reveries at French Firesides