Once upon a time there was a man who was very rich. He had a fine house in town and another in the country; in the houses were costly furniture and gold and silver plate; when he drove out it was in a coach covered with gilding. But for all that not a woman or girl would look at him, he was so ugly and terrible. Yes, this man had a blue beard. Now there was in the neighborhood a lady of quality who had two daughters, who were perfectly beautiful. Blue Beard wished to marry one of these and left it to the mother to say which she would give him, but neither of them would have him, for they could not bear to marry a man with a blue beard, and, besides, he had been married several times already, and no one knew what had become of his wives.
Blue Beard, in order to become well acquainted with these young ladies, invited them, their mother, and a few of their particular friends to visit his country seat, where they passed an entire week. Nothing was thought of but jaunts, hunting and fishing, parties, balls, and dinners. Nobody went to bed; the whole night was spent in merry-making. In short, all went off so well that by the end of the week the younger daughter began to think the master of the house an agreeable man, and that his beard was not so very blue, after all. So it was that shortly after the return to town she was married to him.
About a month afterward Blue Beard told his wife that he was forced to take a journey, and should be gone six weeks; he had business of importance to attend to; but she was to amuse herself in his absence, to have all her young friends about her, and to fare as sumptuously as if he were present. "Here," he said, "are the keys of my two large store-rooms; these are for the chests in which the best gold and silver plate are kept; these are for the strong boxes in which I keep my money; these open the caskets that contain my jewels; this is the pass-key to all the apartments. And this," he added, looking at her fixedly, "is the key to the closet at the end of the long gallery on the ground floor. Open everything and go everywhere except into that closet, which I forbid you to enter, and I forbid you so strictly that if you dare to open the door you will have everything to dread from my anger." She promised faithfully to obey him, and when he had embraced his obedient wife he got into his coach and drove away.
The neighbors and friends of the young bride scarcely waited for an invitation, so eager were they to see all the treasures which the house contained, for never before had they dared to enter it, being much afraid of the blue beard of the owner. Now they made haste to run through all the apartments and to peep into all the closets to which they had entrance. They went into the store-rooms and chambers and admired the elegance of the tapestries, the beds, the sofas, the cabinets, the tables, the lightstands; there were mirrors so large that in them they could see themselves from top to toe, and the mirrors had frames, some of glass, some of silver and some of gold, all more beautiful and magnificent than any they had ever before seen. They never ceased exclaiming upon the wonderful riches of this wonderful man, and they looked with envy upon the fortunate bride. But she heard and saw all with impatience, for she could think of nothing but the closet at the end of the gallery on the ground floor. At length her curiosity became so great to see what it contained that she slipped away from her friends, though that was very rude, and hastened down a secret staircase, nearly falling from the top to the bottom in her excitement. She came to the door of the closet and stopped, remembering what her husband had solemnly said to her, but the tempta- tion was so strong that she could not overcome it. She therefore took the key and opened with trembling hand the door of the closet.
At first she could make out nothing, for the windows were closed there and it was dark; after a short time she began to see that there was blood on the floor, and then that there were dead bodies hung upon the walls. They were the wives of Blue Beard. She was ready to die with fright, and the key of the closet, which she had withdrawn from the lock, fell from her hand. She picked it up, locked the door again, and went up to her chamber to compose herself, but she was too agitated. She looked at the key of the closet, and it was stained with blood. She wiped it and wiped it but the blood would not come off. In vain she washed it, and scrubbed it with sand and freestone, the blood was still there, for the key was enchanted, and there was no means of cleaning it completely; when the blood was washed off one side it came back on the other.
Blue Beard came home that evening. He said that he had received letters on his way telling him that the business on which he was going was already settled. His wife did her best to persuade him that she was delighted at his early return. When morning came he called for his keys. She gave them to him, but her hand trembled. The he said:—
"Where is the key of the closet at the end of the long gallery? It is not with the rest."
"I must have left it," she replied, "up-stairs on my table."
"Then go at once and bring it to me." She made excuses but they would not serve, and she went and brought the key. Blue Beard looked at it and asked his wife:—
"Why is there blood on this key?"
"I do not know," said the poor woman, paler than death.
"You do not know?" replied Blue Beard. "I know. You wished to enter the closet. Very well, madam, you shall enter it and take your place among the ladies whom you saw there." She flung herself at her husband's feet, weeping and begging pardon for having disobeyed him. Her beauty and grief would have melted a rock, but Blue Beard's heart was harder than rock.
"You must die, madam; you must die at once."
"If I must die," she replied, looking up at him with streaming eyes, "give me a little time to say my prayers."
"I will give you half a quarter of an hour," answered Blue Beard, "but not a minute more." As soon as he had left her she called her sister and said,—
"Sister Anne" (for that was her name) "go up, I pray thee, to the top of the tower and see if my brothers be not coming. They have promised to come to me to-day; if you see them, sign to them to make haste." Sister Anne mounted to the top of the tower and the poor distressed creature called to her every few moments,—
"Anne! Sister Anne! dost thou not see anything coming?" and Sister Anne would answer,—
"I see nothing but the sun making dust, and the grass growing green." In the mean time Blue Beard, with a great cutlass in his hand, called out from below to his wife,—
"Come down quickly, or I will come up to thee!"
"One minute more," replied his wife, and then in a low voice,—
"Anne! Sister Anne! dost thou not see anything coming?" and Sister Anne replied,—
"I see nothing but the sun making dust and the grass growing green."
"Come down quickly," shouted Blue Beard, "or I will come up to thee."
"I come, answered his wife, and then cried, "Anne! Sister Anne! dost thou not see anything coming?"
"I see," said Sister Anne, "a great cloud of dust moving this way."
"Is it my brothers?"
"Alas, no, sister! it is a flock of sheep."
"Wilt thou not come down?" roared Blue Beard.
"I am coming now. Anne! Sister Anne! dost thou not see anything coming?"
"Yes. I see two horsemen coming this way, but they are a great way off. God be praised!" she added in a moment. "They are my brothers. I am beckoning to them to hasten."
"Come down!" and Blue Beard roared so loudly that the house shook. The poor wife went slowly down-stairs, and when she came to her husband she threw herself, all weeping and with disheveled hair, at his feet.
"It is in vain," said Blue Beard, "thou must die," and seizing her hair with one hand, he held his cutlass with the other to strike off her head. The poor wife lifted her weeping eyes up to him and implored him to give her one moment in which to collect her thoughts.
"No, no," said he, "commend thyself to God." He raised his arm—at this moment there was a loud knocking at the gate and Blue Beard stopped short. The gate flew open and two horsemen sprang in and ran with drawn swords upon Blue Beard. He knew them at once, they were the brothers of his wife, one was a dragoon, the other a musketeer, and Blue Beard ran to the house to save himself. But they were upon him in a moment and before he could reach the door they had slain him with their swords. The poor wife was almost dead herself with fear, and could scarcely rise to embrace her brothers.
It was found that Blue Beard had no heirs, and so his young wife became mistress of all his riches. She spent part of it in marrying her sister Anne to a young gentleman whom she had long loved, another part in buying captains' commissions for her two brothers, and with the rest she married herself a very worthy man, who made her forget her wretchedness with Blue Beard.