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Bluebeard

Classic Fairy Tale
Illustrated by Edmund Dulac

Bluebeard with his bride, by Edmund Dulac

Once upon a time, in the fair land of France, there lived a very powerful lord, the owner of estates, farms and a great splendid castle, and his name was Bluebeard. This wasn’t his real name, it was a nickname, due to the fact he had a long shaggy black beard with glints of blue in it. He was very handsome and charming, but, if the truth be told, there was something about him that made you feel respect, and a little uneasy…

Bluebeard often went away to war, and when he did, he left his wife in charge of the castle. He had had lots of wives, all young, pretty and noble. As bad luck would have it, one after the other, they had all died, and so the noble lord was forever getting married again.

“Sire,” someone would ask now and again, “what did your wives die of?”

“Hah, my friend,” Bluebeard would reply, “one died of smallpox, one of a hidden sickness, another of a high fever, another of a terrible infection… Ah, I’m very unlucky, and they’re unlucky too! They’re all buried in the castle chapel,” he added. Nobody found anything strange about that. Nor did the sweet and beautiful young girl that Bluebeard took as a wife think it strange either.
She went to the castle accompanied by her sister Anna, who said:

“Oh, aren’t you lucky marrying a lord like Bluebeard?”

“He really is very nice, and when you’re close, his beard doesn’t look as blue as folk say!” said the bride, and the two sisters giggled delightedly. Poor souls! They had no idea what lay in store for them!

A month or so later, Bluebeard had the carriage brought round and said to his wife, “Darling, I must leave you for a few weeks. But keep cheerful during that time, invite whoever you like and look after the castle. Here,” he added, handing his bride a bunch of keys, “you’ll need these, the keys of the safe, the armoury and the library keys, and this one, which opens all the room doors.
Now, this little key here,” and he pointed to a key that was much smaller than the others, “opens the little room at the end of the great ground floor corridor. Take your friends were you want, open any door you like, but not this one! Is that quite clear?” repeated Bluebeard. “Not this one! Nobody at all is allowed to enter that little room. And if you ever did go into it, I would go into such a terrible rage that it’s better that you don’t!”

“Don’t worry, husband,” said Bluebeard’s wife as she took the keys, “I’ll do as you say.” After giving her a hug, Bluebeard got into his carriage, whipped up the horses and off he went.

The days went by. The young girl invited her friends to the castle and showed them round all the rooms except the one at the end of the corridor.

“Why shouldn’t I see inside the little room? Why? Why is it forbidden?” Well, she thought about it so much that she ended up bursting with curiosity, until one day she opened the door and walked into the little room… Of all ghastly horrors! Inside, hanging on the walls were the bodies of Bluebeard’s wives: he had strangled them all with his own hands!

Terror stricken, the girl ran out of the room, but the bunch of keys slipped from her grasp. She picked them up without a glance and hurried to her own room, her heart thumping wildly in her chest. Horrors! She was living in a castle of the dead! So that is what had happened to Bluebeard’s other wives!

The girl summoned up her courage and she noticed that one of the keys – the very key to the little room – was stained with blood.

“I must wipe it clean, before my husband comes back!” she said to herself. But try as she would, the blood stain wouldn’t wash away. She washed, she scrubbed and she rinsed it; all in vain, for the key was still red. That very evening, Bluebeard came home. Just imagine the state his poor wife was in!

Bluebeard did not ask his wife for the keys that same evening, but he remarked, “You look a little upset, darling. Has anything nasty happened?”

“Oh, no! No!”

“Are you sorry I came back so soon?”

“Oh, no! I’m delighted!” But that night, the bride didn’t sleep a wink. Next day, Bluebeard said:

“Darling, give me back the keys,” and his wife hurriedly did so. Bluebeard remarked, “There’s one missing, the key to the little room!”

“Is there?” said the young girl shaking,

“I must have left it in my room!”

“All right, go and get it.” But when Bluebeard’s wife put the key into his hand, Bluebeard turned white and in a deep hoarse voice demanded:

“Why is this key stained with blood?”

“I don’t know…” stammered his wife.

“You know very well!” he retorted. “You went into the little room, didn’t you? Well, you’ll go back again, this time for good, along with the other ladies in there. You must die!”

Bluebeard with sword, by Edmund Dulac

“Oh no! I pray you!”

“You must die!” he repeated. Just then, there was a knock at the door and Anna, Bluebeard’s wife’s sister, entered the castle.

“Good morning,” she said, “you seem rather pale.”

“Not at all, we’re quite well,” replied Bluebeard.

His wife whispered in his ear, “Please, please give me ten minutes to live!”

Bluebeard replied, “Not more than ten!”

The girl ran to her sister Anna who had gone up to one of the towers and asked her,”Anna, do you see our brothers coming? They promised they would come and see me today!”

But Anna replied, “No, I don’t see anyone. What’s wrong? You look agitated.”

“Anna, please,” said the shaken girl, “look again! Are you sure you can’t see someone?”

“No,” said her sister, “only one or two peasants.”

Just then the voice of Bluebeard boomed up to them, “Wife, your time is up! Come here!”

“I’m coming!” she called, but then said to her sister: “Oh Anna, aren’t our brothers coming?…”

“No,” replied Anna. Again Bluebeard shouted up.

“Come down at once! Or I’ll come up!” Trembling like a leaf, his wife went downstairs. Bluebeard was clutching a big knife and he grabbed his bride by the hair

“Sister, I can see two horsemen coming!” called out Anna from the tower that very moment.

Bluebeard made a horrible face, “They too will die!”

His wife knelt to implore, “Please, please don’t kill me. I’ll never tell anyone what I saw! I’ll never say a word!”

“Yes, you’ll never say a word for eternity!” snarled Bluebeard, raising his knife.

The poor girl screamed, “Have pity on me!”

But he fiercely replied, “No! You must die!” He was about to bring the knife down on the girl’s delicate neck, when two young men burst into the room: a dragon and a musketeer. They were his wife’s brothers.

Drawing their swords, they leapt towards Bluebeard, who tried to flee up some stairs, but was caught and killed. And that was the end of the sad story. Bluebeard’s poor wives were given a Christian burial, the castle was completely renovated and the young widow, some time later, married a good and honest young man, who helped her to forget the terrible adventure. And that young lady completely lost all her sense of curiosity.

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