The Legend of Bluebeard
Once upon a time, there was a wealthy man who owned a grand estate. His home was filled with the finest riches and he himself was a grand specimen of man. But the man was cursed with a blue beard that made his visage so terrible that there was not a woman or a girl who upon seeing him would not flee with fright.
One of his neighbors, a widow, had two beautiful daughters. Bluebeard asked for the hand of one in marriage and left it up to the widow to choose.
Neither of the girls wanted to marry Bluebeard. One of the things that most frightened the young women was that Bluebeard had taken seven wives before this and no one knew what had happened to them.
To sway them, Bluebeard invited the family to his estate in the country so that they could come to know him and to love him. They remained in his home for a week and a day and everyone spent the visit in enjoyable pastimes.
Finally, Fatima, the younger and more beautiful of the two daughters, began to find that Bluebeard was not so terrifying. As soon as they returned to the city, Bluebeard and Fatima were wed.
Soon, Bluebeard told his wife that he had an important business trip. He suggested she leave the city and return to the country estate with her sister.
"Here," said Bluebeard, handing her keys to the estate. "This is the key to my safe, where I have stored my gold and my precious stones. And here is a key that opens every room in the estate.
"But this small key," Bluebeard said, his face suddenly turning stern, "is the key to the closet at the end of the basement. Open any room you wish, but do not venture into the basement and unlock that closet."
The husband drew his wife near to him, so close she could feel the bristles of his blue beard.
"If you should ever open it," he said. "Then you shall feel my wrath."
Fatima promised to obey this simple wish. They embraced, and Bluebeard left.
The dust from his carriage wheels was barely settled when, with the curiosity that comes with youth, Fatima took the key and rushed to the basement, determined to find what lay behind the closet door.
Seized with curiosity, she reached the basement and crossed to the imposing cabinet. It was not a piece of furniture in the usual sense, but was a door built into the stone wall of the cellar, thick as a tree trunk and sturdy as a bull.
Fatima stood there in front of the door for some time, thinking about the words her husband had left with her. But Fatima was too curious and the temptation that filled her head was stronger even than her fear of Bluebeard.
She took the small key and with trembling hand opened the door.
At first she could not see anything. But soon her eyes began to adjust to the dim light and she was able to see the contents of this terrible place. The room was like an abattoir; the floor was awash in curdled blood and in the blood lay the bodies of the seven wives of Bluebeard. Their throats had been cut from ear to ear.
Stunned, Fatima dropped the key into the blood on the floor. When she regained her senses, she recovered the key and quickly left the room, fleeing as though Bluebeard himself pursued her.
Fatima saw the key was stained with blood and tried to clean it. But the key was a magic key and it would not be cleansed. No matter how hard she wiped, the blood did not go away. She washed it in bleach, but the stains would not fade. She scrubbed it with the roughest brush from the kitchen, but still the blemish remained on the key. Even sandstone would not remove the horrible taint.
As the fates would have it, Bluebeard returned from his voyage that evening, having learned that his business affair had been resolved in his favor. With great joy he returned to his beautiful wife.
Fatima was pale with fear as Bluebeard entered their rooms and she shivered as he took her hands.
"Why do you tremble at my touch, madam?" the treacherous husband asked.
"My lord, it is not fear, but gladness," Fatima replied. "I have missed you so that my heart was filled with the cold of longing. But now that you are returned to me, I quiver with joy."
"I see," said the murderous Bluebeard. "And have you my keys?"
"Why yes, husband."
"I am going down to warm myself by the fire. Bring them to me there," said Bluebeard, leaving poor Fatima alone in her chamber.
In desperation, she hid the magic key in among her clothes and went to return the others to her husband.
"Tell me, my beloved. Why is the key to the basement cabinet not with the others?" He asked.
"My Lord, it must be there," poor Fatima avowed, knowing her words to be false.
"Wife! It is not here. Fetch it for me, now." Bluebeard's voice rose in anger.
Fatima left the hall and returned to her chambers, taking the key from whence she had hidden it.
"Why," he asked in a voice that chilled her to her bones. "Why is there blood on this key?"
"I do not know anything of it!" cried the girl, paler than death.
"You do not know anything of it," Bluebeard roared, taking his wife by the wrist. "But I know it well! You wanted to enter the cabinet. Well then, madam, you will enter there and take your place with the ladies that you saw there!"
Fatima threw herself at the feet of the perfidious Bluebeard and cried out for forgiveness. Her pleas should have softened a rock. But Bluebeard had a heart harder than stone.
"Give me a little time to make my peace with God, since it is necessary that I die," she begged.
"I give you a quarter hour, but no more," he said, leaving her in her chamber.
Fatima called to her sister, Anne.
"I pray you, go to the top of the tower, to see whether our brothers come; they promised to visit me, and if you see them, make signs to them to hasten," said poor Fatima.
Soon Bluebeard called her to come down to him and accept her fate.
"Anne, my sister, don't you see anything coming?" Fatima pleaded to her sister.
"I see," answered Anne, "two riders who are coming this way, but they are still far away."
"God be praised," wept Fatima. "They are my brothers. Tell them to hasten."
Now Bluebeard cried out in a voice loud enough to shake the entire house and Fatima was left with no other course but to go down to him. Outside the house, Fatima again threw herself to the ground.
"That does not serve you well, woman," growled the man as he pulled her up by her hair. "It is necessary that you die."
His hand came down to slice, but before the blade touched her alabaster throat, the gate to the chateau opened. Bluebeard saw two riders approaching with swords in hand. The coward recognized them as his wife's brothers and he dropped his wife and fled for his life. But the brothers continued to chase him and upon catching him, ran him through with their swords and left him for dead.
When they returned to their sister, she was near death, but with the help of their sister Anne, they revived fair Fatima.
It turned out that Bluebeard had no heirs, so his fortune was left to Fatima. She used some of it to make a dowry for her sister, Anne, who married a man she had loved for a long time. Fatima used another part to reward her brothers, and the rest she kept for herself.
Fatima later married a strong, good man, and in time, they filled the estate with children, the fiend Bluebeard was soon forgotten and they all lived happily ever after.
"La Barbe bleue," from
Contes de ma mère l'oye
Tales of Mother Goose by Charles Perrault (1697)
Translated by Mark C. Gribben