Once upon a time there was a man who owned splendid town and country houses, gold and silver plate, tapestries and coaches gilt all over. But the poor fellow had a blue beard, and this made him so ugly and frightful that there was not a woman or girl who did not run away at the sight of him.
Amongst his neighbors was a lady of high degree who had two surpassingly beautiful daughters. He asked for the hand of one of those in marriage, leaving it to their mother to choose which should be bestowed upon him. Both girls, however, raised objections, and his offer was bandied from one to the other, neither being able to bring herself to accept a man with a blue beard. Another reason for their distaste was the fact that he had already married several wives, and no one knew what had become of them.
In order that they might become better acquainted, Blue Beard invited the two girls, with their mother and three or four of their best friends, to meet a party of young men from the neighborhood at one of his country houses. Here they spent eight whole days, and throughout their stay there was a constant round of picnics, hunting and fishing expeditions, dances, dinners, and luncheons; and they never slept at all, through spending all the night playing merry pranks upon each other. In short, everything went so gaily that the younger daughter began to think the master of the house had not so very blue a beard after all, and that he was an exceedingly agreeable man. As soon as the party returned to town their marriage took place.
At the end of a month Blue Beard informed his wife that important business obliged him to make a journey into a distant part of the country, which would occupy at least six weeks. He begged her to amuse herself well during his absence, and suggested that she should invite some of her friends and take them, if she like, into the country. He was particularly anxious that she should enjoy herself thoroughly.
"Here," he said, "are the keys of the two large storerooms, and here is the one that locks up the gold and silver plate which is not in everyday use. This key belongs to the strongboxes where my gold and silver is kept, this to the caskets containing my jewels; while here you have the master which gives admittance to all the apartments. As regards this little key, it is the key of the small room at the end of the long passage on the lower floor. You may open everything, you may go everywhere, but I forbid* you to enter this little room. And I forbid you so seriously that if you were indeed to open the door, I should be so angry that I might do anything."
She promised to follow out these instructions exactly, and after embracing her, Blue Beard stepped into his coach and was off upon his journey.
Her neighbors and friends did not wait to be invited before coming to call upon the young bride, so great was their eagerness to see the splendors of her house. They had not dared to venture while her husband was there, for his blue beard frightened them. But in less than no time there they were, running in and out of the rooms, the closets, and the wardrobes, each of which was finer than the last. Presently they went upstairs to the storerooms, and there they could not admire enough the profusion and magnificence of the tapestries, beds, sofas, cabinets, tables, and stands. There were mirrors in which they could view themselves from top to toe, some with frames of plate glass, others with frames of silver and gilt lacquer, that were the most superb and beautiful things that had ever been sees. They were loud and persistent in their envy of their friend's good fortune. she, on the other hand, derived little amusement from the sight of all these riches, the reason being that she was impatient to go and inspect the little room of the lower floor.
So overcome with curiosity was she that, without reflecting upon the discourtesy of leaving her guests, she ran down a private staircase, so precipitately that twice or thrice she nearly broke her neck, and so reached the door of her little room. There she paused for a while, thinking of the prohibition which her husband had made, and reflecting that harm might come to her as a result of disobedience. But the temptation was so great that she could not conquer it. Taking the little key, with a trembling hand she opened the door of the room.
At first she saw nothing*, for the windows were closed, but after a few moments she perceived dimly that the floor was entirely covered with clotted blood, and that in this there were reflected the dead bodies of several women that hung along the walls. These were all the wives of Blue Beard, whose throats he had cut, one after the other.
She thought to die of terror, and the key of the room, which she had just withdrawn from the lock, fell from her hand.
When she had somewhat regained her senses, she picked up the key, closed the door, and went up to her chamber to compose herself a little. But this she could not do, for her nerves were too shaken. Noticing that the key of the little room was stained with blood, she wiped it two or three times. But the blood did not go. She washed it well, and even rubbed it with sand and grit. Always the blood remained. For the key was bewitched, and there was no means of cleaning it completely. When the blood was removed from one side, it reappeared on the other.
Blue Beard returned from his journey that very evening*. He had received some letters on the way, he said, from which he learned that the business upon which he had set forth had just been concluded to his satisfaction. His wife did everything she could to make it appear that she was delighted by his speedy return.
On the morrow he demanded the keys. She gave them to him, but with a so trembling a hand that he guessed at once what had happened.
"How comes it," he said to her, "that the key of the little room is not with the others?"
"I must have left it upstairs upon my table," she said.
"Do not fail to bring it to me presently," said Blue Beard.
After several delays the key had to be brought. Blue Beard examined it, and addressed his wife.
"Why is there blood on this key?"
"I do not know at all," replied the poor woman, paler than death.
"You do not know at all?" exclaimed Blue Beard; "I know well enough. You wanted to enter the little room! Well, madam, enter it you shall--you shall go and take your place among the ladies you have seen there."
She threw herself at her husband's feet, asking his pardon with tears, and with all the signs of a true repentance for her disobedience. She would have softened a rock, in her beauty and distress, but Blue Beard had a heart harder than any stone.
"You must die, madam," he said; "and at once."
"Since I must die," she replied, gazing at him with eyes that were wet with tears, "give me a little time to say my prayers."
"I give you but one quarter of an hour," replied Blue Beard, "but not a moment longer."
When the poor girl was alone, she called her sister to her and said:
"Sister Anne"--for that was her name--"go up, I implore you, to the top of the tower, and see if my brothers are not approaching. They promised that they would come and visit me today. If you see them, make signs to them to hasten."
Sister Anne went up to the top of the tower, and the poor unhappy girl cried out to her from time to time:
"Anne, Sister Anne, do you see nothing coming?" And Sister Anne replied:
"I see nought but dust in the sun and the green grass growing."
Presently Blue Beard, grasping a great cutlass, cried out at the top of his voice:
"Come down quickly, or I shall come upstairs myself."
"Oh please, one moment more," called out his wife.
And at the same moment she cried in a whisper:
"Anne, Sister Anne, do you see nothing coming?"
"I see," replied sister Anne, "a great cloud of dust which comes this way."
"Is it my brothers?"
"Alas, sister, no; it is but a flock of sheep."
"Do you refuse to come down?" roared Blue Beard.
"One little moment more," exclaimed his wife.
Once more she cried:
"Anne, Sister Anne, do you see nothing coming?"
"I see," replied her sister, "two horsemen who come this way, but they are yet a long way off. . . . Heaven be praised," she exclaimed a moment later, "they are my brothers. . . . I am signaling to them all I can to hasten."
Blue Beard let forth so mighty a shout that the whole house shook. The poor wife went down and cast herself at his feet, all disheveled and in tears.
"That avails you nothing," said Blue Beard; "you must die."
Seizing her by the hair with one hand, and with the other brandishing the cutlass aloft, he made as if to cut off her head.
The poor woman, turning towards him and fixing a dying gaze upon him, begged for a brief moment in which to collect her thoughts.
"No! no!" he cried; "commend your soul to heaven." And raising his arm--
At this very moment there came so loud a knocking at the gate that Blue Beard stopped short. The gate was opened, and two horsemen dashed in, who drew their swords and rode straight at Blue Beard. The latter recognized them as the brothers of his wife--one of them a dragoon, and the other a musketeer--and fled instantly in an effort to escape. But the two brothers were so close upon him that they caught him ere he could gain the first flight of steps. They plunged their swords through his body and left him dead. The poor woman was nearly as dead as her husband, and had not the strength to rise and embrace her brothers.
It was found that Blue Beard had no heirs, and that consequently his wife became mistress of all his wealth. She devoted a portion to arranging a marriage between her sister Anne and a young gentleman with whom the latter had been for some time in love, while another portion purchased a captain's commission for each of her brothers. The rest formed a dowry for her own marriage with a very worthy man, who banished from her mind all memory of the evil days she had spent with Blue Beard.