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The Bluebeard
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ONCE upon a time — but it was a long while ago; so long, indeed, that the oldest oaks in our forests were not yet acorns on the bough — there was a man who lived in a splendid house and had dishes of gold and silver, chairs and sofas covered with flowered satin, and curtains of the richest silk. But, alas! this man was so unlucky as to have a blue beard, which made him look so frightfully ugly that the first impulse of every woman and girl he met was to run away from him.

In the same vicinity lived a lady of quality who had two beautiful daughters, and he wished to marry one of them. He was even willing to let the lady decide which of the two it should be.

Neither of the daughters, however, would have him, and the lady sighed to think of her children’s obstinacy in refusing to become the mistress of such a magnificent mansion. But they were not able to make up their minds to marry a man with a blue beard. Their aversion was increased by the fact that he already had had several wives, and no one knew surely what had become of them, though many were the excuses he made to account for their disappearance.

At length Bluebeard, in order to cure the dislike of the lady’s daughters, invited them and their mother and some young friends to spend a whole week at his house. They came, and nothing was thought of but feasting, dancing, and music, and parties for hunting and fishing.

The guests were loaded with costly gifts and were so delightfully entertained that before many days had passed, Fatima, the younger of the two sisters, began to imagine that the beard, which she had thought was dreadfully ugly was not so very blue after all. By the end of the week the kindness of her host had made such an impression that she concluded it would be a pity to refuse to become his wife on account of the trifling circumstance of his having a blue beard.

So they were married shortly afterward, and at first everything went well. A month passed, and one morning Bluebeard told Fatima that he must go on a journey which would take him away for at least six weeks. He kissed her affectionately, gave her the keys of the whole mansion, and bade her amuse herself in any manner that she pleased while he was gone.

“But, my dear,” he added, in concluding, “I would have you notice among the keys the small one of polished steel. It unlocks the little room at the end of the long corridor. Go where you will and do what you choose, except in the matter of that one room, which I forbid your entering.”

Fatima promised faithfully to obey his orders, and she watched him get into his carriage while she stood at the door of the mansion waving her hand to him as he drove away.

Lest she should be lonesome during her husband’s absence, she invited numerous guests to keep her company. Most of them had not dared to venture into the house while Bluebeard was there, but now they came without any urging or delay, eager to see its splendors.

They ran about upstairs and downstairs, peeping into the closets and wardrobes, admiring the rooms, and exclaiming over the beauties of the tapestries, sofas, cabinets, and tables, and of the mirrors in which they could see themselves from head to foot. With one consent they praised what they saw, and envied the good fortune of their friend, the mistress of all this magnificence. She went around unlocking the doors for their convenience until the only door that remained untouched was that of the obscure room at the end of the long corridor. She wondered why she had been forbidden to enter that room. What was there in it? Even if she did go in, her husband need never know that she had done so.

The more she thought about it the more curious she became. Finally she left her guests and hurried along the dark narrow passage that led to the forbidden room. At the door she hesitated, recalling her husband’s command, and fearful of his anger; but the temptation was too strong, and she tremblingly opened the door.

The window shutters were closed and the light was so dim that at first she could see nothing. However, her eyes gradually became used to the dusk and she discovered that on the floor lay the bodies of all the wives Bluebeard had married.

Fatima uttered a cry of horror, her strength left her, and she thought she would die from fear. The key of the room fell from her hand, but she picked it up, hastily retreated to the corridor, and locked the door.

Yet she could not forget what she had seen, and when she returned to her guests her mind was too disturbed for her to attend to their comfort, or to attempt to entertain them. One by one they bade their hostess good-by and went home, until no one was left with her but her sister Anne.

When all the guests had gone, Fatima noticed a spot of blood on the key of the fatal room. She tried to wipe it off, but the spot remained. Then she washed the key with soap and scoured it with sand, but her efforts were in vain, for it was a magic key, and only Bluebeard himself had the power to remove the stain. At last she decided not to put it with the other keys, but to hide it, hoping her husband would not miss it.

Bluebeard returned unexpectedly that very evening. He said a horseman had met him on the road and told him that the business which had taken him from home had been satisfactorily settled so there was no need of his making the long journey.

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