THERE was once a man who had fine houses, both in town and country, a deal of silver and gold plate, embroidered furniture, and coaches gilded all over with gold. But this man was so unlucky as to have a blue beard, which made him so ugly that all the women and girls ran away from him.
One of his neighbors, a lady of quality, had two daughters who were perfect beauties. He asked her for one of them in marriage, but neither of them could bear the thought of marrying a man who had a blue beard. Besides, he had already been married several times, and nobody ever knew what became of his wives.
In the hope of making them like him, Blue Beard took them, with their mother and three or four ladies of their acquaintance, and other young people of the neighborhood, to one of his country houses, where they stayed a whole week.
There were parties of pleasure, hunting, fishing, dancing, mirth, and feasting all the time. Nobody went to bed, but all passed the time in merry-making and joking with one another. Everything succeeded so well that the youngest daughter began to think the master of the house was a very civil gentleman. And his beard not so very blue after all.
As soon as they returned home, the marriage took place. About a month afterward Blue Beard told his wife that he was obliged to take a journey for six weeks, about affairs of great consequence, desiring her to amuse herself in his absence, to send for her friends and acquaintances, to carry them in to the country if she pleased, and to have a good time wherever she was.
"Here," said he, "are the keys of the two great wardrobes wherein I have my best furniture; these are of my silver and gold plate, which is not every day in use; these open my strong boxes, which hold my money, both gold and silver; these my caskets of jewels; and this is the master key to all my apartments. This little one here is the key of the closet at the end of the great gallery on the ground floor. Open them all; go into all and every one of them, except that little closet, which I forbid you; if you happen to open it, there's nothing but what you may expect from my just anger and resentment."
She promised to observe exactly whatever he ordered; so, having embraced her, he got into his coach and proceeded on his journey.
Her neighbors and good friends did not wait to be sent for, so great was their impatience to see all the rich furniture of her house. They ran through all the rooms, closets, and wardrobes, which were all so fine and rich that they seemed to surpass one another.
After that they went up into the two great rooms, where were the best and richest furniture; they could not sufficiently admire the number and beauty of the tapestries, beds, couches, cabinets, stands, tables, and looking-glasses, in which you might see yourself from head to foot; some of them were framed with glass, others with silver, plain and gilded, the finest and most magnificent ever seen.
They ceased not to compliment and envy their friend, but she was so much pressed by her curiosity to open the closet on the ground floor that, without considering that it was very uncivil to leave her company, she went down a little back staircase with such haste that she had twice or thrice like to have broken her neck.
Arriving at the closet door, she hesitated, thinking of her husband's orders and considering what unhappiness might attend her if she was disobedient; but the temptation was so strong she could not overcome it. She took the little key and opened it, trembling, but could not at first see anything plainly because the windows were shut. After some moments she began to perceive that the floor was all covered with blood, in which lay the bodies of several dead women, ranged against the walls. (These were the wives whom Blue Beard had married and murdered, one after another.) She thought she would die for fear, and the key, which she pulled out of the lock, fell out of her hand.
After having somewhat recovered from the shock, she took up the key, locked the door, and went upstairs to her bedroom to rest. Having observed that the key of the closet was stained with blood, she tried two or three times to wipe it off, but the stain would not come out; in vain did she wash it, and even rub it with soap and sand, the blood still remained, for the key was magical; when the blood was removed from one side it came again on the other.
Blue Beard returned from his journey the same evening, and said he had received letters upon the road informing him that the affair he went about was ended to his advantage. His wife did all she could to convince him she was extremely glad of his speedy return.
Next morning he asked her for the keys, which she gave him, but with such a trembling hand that he easily guessed what had happened.
"What!" said he, "is not the key of my closet among the rest?"
"I must certainly," said she, "have left it above upon the table."
"Fail not," said Blue Beard, "to bring it to me presently."
After several goings backward and forward she was forced to bring him the key. Blue Beard attentively considered it and said to his wife:
"How comes this blood upon the key?"
"I do not know," cried the poor woman, paler than death.
"You do not know!" replied Blue Beard. "I very well know. You were resolved to go into the closet, were you not? Very well, madam; you shall go in and take your place among the ladies you saw there.
Upon this she threw herself at her husband's feet, and begged his pardon with all the signs of a true repentance, vowing that she would never again be disobedient. She would have melted a rock, so beautiful and sorrowful was she; but Blue Beard had a heart harder than any rock!
"You must die, madam," said he, "and that; very soon."
"Since I must die," answered she, her eyes bathed in tears, "give me some little time to say my prayers."
"I give you," replied Blue Beard, "half a quarter of an hour, but not one moment more."
When she was alone she called out to her sister:
"Sister Anne, go up, I beg you, on top of the tower and see if my brothers are not coming; they promised me that they would come to-day, and if you see them, give them a sign to make haste."
Sister Anne went up on the top of the tower, and the poor afflicted wife cried out from time to time:
"Anne, sister Anne, do you see anyone coming?"
And sister Anne replied:
"I see nothing but the sun, which makes a dust, and the grass, which looks green."
In the meanwhile Blue Beard, holding a great saber in his hand, cried out as loud as he could bawl to his wife:
"Come down instantly, or I shall come up after you."
"One moment longer, if you please," said his wife; and then she cried out softly: "Anne, sister Anne, dost thou see anybody coming?"
And sister Anne answered:
"I see nothing but the sun, which makes a dust, and the grass, which is green."
"Come down quickly," shouted Blue Beard, "or I will come up after you."
"I am coming," answered his wife; and then she cried: "Anne, sister Anne, dost thou not see any one coming?"
"I see," replied sister Anne, "a great dust, which comes on this side."
"Are they my brothers?"
"Alas! no, my dear sister, I see a flock of sheep."
"Will you not come down?' roared Blue Beard.
"One moment longer," said his wife, and then she cried out: "Anne, sister Anne, dost thou see nobody coming?"
"I see," said she, "two horsemen, but they are yet a great way off."
"God be praised!" replied the poor wife joyfully; "they are my brothers; I will make them a sign, as well as I can, for them to make haste."
Then Blue Beard bawled out so loud that he made the whole house tremble. The distressed wife came down and threw herself at his feet, all in tears, with her hair about her shoulders.
"That will not help you," says Blue Beard; "you must die;" then, taking hold of her hair with one hand, and lifting up the sword with the other, he was going to cut off her head. The poor lady, turning to him and looking at him with dying eyes, begged him to give her one little moment more.
"No, no," said he; "say your prayers," and was just about to strike...
At this very instant there was such a loud knocking at the gate that Blue Beard looked up in alarm. The gate was opened and two horsemen entered, who drew their swords and ran directly at Blue Beard. He knew them to be his wife's brothers, one a dragoon, the other a musketeer; so that he quickly ran to save himself; but the two brothers pursued so close that they overtook him before he could get to the steps of the porch, and ran their swords through his body and left him dead. The poor wife was almost as dead as her husband, and had not strength enough to rise and welcome her brothers.
Blue Beard had no heirs, and so his wife became mistress of all his estate. She made use of one part of it to marry her sister Anne to a young gentleman who had loved her a long while; another part to buy captains' commissions for her brothers, and the rest to marry herself to a very worthy gentleman, who made her forget the unhappy time she had passed with Blue Beard.