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The Bluebeard
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Fatima tried to welcome her husband with every appearance of pleasure, but all the time she was dreading the moment when he should ask for the keys. This he did not do until the following morning. Then she gave them to him with such a blanched face and shaking hand that he easily guessed what had happened.

“Why have you not brought me the key of the little room?” he asked sternly.

“I must have left it on my table upstairs,” she faltered.

“Bring it to me at once,” Bluebeard said, and she was forced to go and make a pretence of searching for it.

When she dared delay no longer, she went to her husband and surrendered the key. He immediately demanded the cause of the stain on it, and she hesitated, at a loss what reply to make.

“But why need I ask?” he shouted. “I know the meaning of it right well. You have disobeyed my commands and have been into the room I ordered you not to enter. So you shall go in again, madam, but you will never return. You shall take your place among the ladies you saw there.”

Fatima fell on her knees at his feet weeping and begging for mercy, but the cruel man had a heart like a stone, and he told her to prepare for death.

“Since I must die,” she said, “at least grant me a little time to say my prayers.”

“I will give you ten minutes, but not one moment more,” Bluebeard responded.

Poor Fatima hastened to a little turret chamber whither her sister had fled in terror and grief. “Sister Anne!” she cried, “go up to the top of the tower and see if our two brothers are coming. They promised to visit me today. If they should be in sight beckon them to come quickly.”

So the sister climbed the narrow staircase that led to the top of the tower. No sooner did she finish the ascent than Fatima called from below, “Anne, Sister Anne, do you see any one coming?”

Anne replied sadly, “I see nothing but the sun shining and the grass growing tall and green.”

Several times Fatima put the same question and each time she received the same answer.

Meanwhile Bluebeard was waiting with a scimitar in one hand and his watch in the other. At length he shouted in a fierce voice: “The ten minutes are almost gone! Make an end to your prayers!”

“Anne, Sister Anne!” Fatima called softly, “look again. Is there no one on the road?”

“I see a cloud of dust rising in the distance,” Anne answered.

“Perchance it is made by our brothers,” Fatima said.

“Alas! no, my dear sister,” Anne responded. “The dust has been raised by a flock of sheep.”

“Fatima!” Bluebeard roared, “I command you to come down.”

“One moment — just one moment more!” the wretched wife sobbed.

Then she called, “Anne, Sister Anne, do you see any one coming?”

“I see two horsemen riding in this direction,” Anne replied, “but they are a great way off.”

“They must be our brothers,” Fatima said. “Heaven be praised! Oh, sign to them to hasten!”

By this time the enraged Bluebeard was howling so loud for his wife to come down that his voice shook the whole mansion. Fatima dared delay no longer, and she descended to the great hall, threw herself at her wicked husband’s feet, and once more begged him to spare her life.

“Silence!” Bluebeard cried. “Your entreaties are wasted! You shall die!”

He seized her by the hair and raised his scimitar to strike. At that moment a loud knocking was heard at the gates, and Bluebeard paused with a look of alarm.

Anne had run down to let the brothers in, and they hurried to the hall, flung open the door, and appeared with swords ready drawn in their hands. They rushed at Bluebeard, and one rescued his sister from her husband’s grasp while the other gave the wretch a sword-thrust that put an end to his life.

So the wicked Bluebeard perished, and Fatima became mistress of all his riches. Part of her wealth she bestowed on her sister, Anne, and part on her two brothers. The rest she retained herself, and presently she married a man whose kind treatment helped her to forget her unfortunate experience with Bluebeard.

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