Once upon a time, there lived a very powerful and rich man, the owner of estates, farms, and a magnificent castle. He was called Bluebeard. It was a nickname given to him because he had a long black beard that glimmered blue. He was very handsome and considered throughout the land to be quite charming, but he also made people feel a bit nervous.
Bluebeard often went away to wage war; when he did, he left his wife in charge of the castle.
He had had many wives, all young, pretty, and of royal blood. As bad luck would have it, though, they all died, one after the other. So Bluebeard found himself in the position of getting married again and again.
“Sire,” someone would ask now and again, “what did your wives die of?”
“Oh, my friend,” Bluebeard would answer, “one died of smallpox, one of a hidden sickness, another of a high fever, and still another of a terrible infection. It's been most unfortunate. They're all buried in the castle chapel.”
Nobody found anything strange about that. Nor did the sweet and beautiful young girl whom Bluebeard took next as a wife. She went to the castle with her sister Anna, who said, “Aren't you lucky marrying a lord like Bluebeard?”
“He really is very nice, and when you're up quite close, his beard doesn't look as blue as they say!” said the bride, and the two sisters giggled.
A month later, Bluebeard had the carriage brought to the front of his castle. He said to his wife, “Darling, I must leave you for a few weeks. But keep cheerful during that time. Invite whomever you like and look after the castle. Here,” he added, handing his bride a bunch of keys, “you'll need these — the keys to the safe, the armory, and the library. Oh, and this one, which opens all the room doors. Now, this little key here” — he pointed to a key that was much smaller than the others — “opens the little room at the end of the great ground floor corridor. You may go wherever you want, open any door you like, but not this one! Is that quite clear?” repeated Bluebeard. “Nobody at all is allowed to enter that little room.
“Don't worry,” said Bluebeard's wife as she took the keys, “I'll do as you say.”
After a big hug, Bluebeard got into his carriage and went on his way.
The days passed. The young girl invited her friends to the castle and showed them all the rooms except the one at the end of the corridor. “Why shouldn't I see inside the little room? Why? Why is it forbidden?” she asked herself. Well, she thought about it so much that she was bursting with curiosity. One day she just had to open the door and walk into the little room.
There, she found something too horrible to imagine. It was a list of Bluebeard's wives and the poisons he had used to kill them all! Terror-stricken, the girl ran out of the room, but the bunch of keys slipped from her grasp. She picked them up without a glance and hurried to her room, her heart thumping wildly in her chest.
So that is what had happened to Bluebeard's other wives!
The girl finally gathered her composure. That is when she noticed that one of the keys — the very key to the little room — was stained with fresh ink from the book.
“I must wipe it clean before my husband comes back!”she said to herself. But try as she would, the ink stain wouldn't wash away. She washed, she scrubbed, and she rinsed — all without results.
That very evening, Bluebeard came home to find his wife — as you can imagine — very upset! Bluebeard did not ask his wife for the keys, but he said, “You look a little upset, darling. Has anything nasty happened?”
“Oh, no! No!”
“Are you sorry I came back so soon?”
“Oh, no! I'm delighted!” But that night, the bride didn't sleep a wink.
The next day, Bluebeard said, “Darling, give me back the keys,” and his wife hurriedly did so. Bluebeard remarked, “There's one missing, the key to the little room!”
“Is there?” said the young girl shaking. “I must have left it in my room!”
“All right, go and get it.” As she put the key in his hand, Bluebeard turned white and, in a deep hoarse voice, demanded, “Why is this key stained with ink?”
“I don't know,” stammered his wife.
“You know very well!” he retorted. “You went into the little room, didn't you? Now you must die!”
“Oh no! I pray you!”
“You must die!” he repeated. Just then, there was a knock at the door, and Anna, the wife's sister, entered the castle.
“Good morning,” she said, “you seem rather pale.”
“Not at all, we're quite well,” replied Bluebeard.
His wife whispered in his ear, “Please, please give me ten minutes to live!”
Bluebeard replied, “Not more than ten!”
The girl ran to her sister Anna, who had gone up to one of the towers and asked her, “Anna, do you see our brothers coming? They promised they would come and see me today!”
But Anna replied, “No, I don't see anyone. What's wrong? You look upset.”
“Anna, please,” said the shaken girl, “look again! Are you sure you can't see someone?”
“No,” said her sister, “only one or two peasants.”
Just then the voice of Bluebeard boomed up to them. “Wife, your time is up! Come here!”
“I'm coming!” she called, but then said to her sister, “Oh Anna, aren't our brothers coming?”
“No,” replied Anna.
Again Bluebeard shouted, “Come down at once! Or I'll come up!”
Trembling like a leaf, his wife went downstairs. Bluebeard was clutching a glass filled with a bubbling potion.
“Sister, I can see two horsemen coming!” called out Anna from the tower at that very moment. Bluebeard made a horrible face. “Then they too will die!”
His wife begged, “Please, please don't kill me. I'll never tell anyone what I saw! I'll never say a word!”
“Yes, you'll never say a word for eternity!” snarled Bluebeard, raising the glass of poison to her lips.
The poor girl screamed, “Have pity on me!”
But he fiercely replied, “No! You must die!” Just as he was about to force her to drink the poison, two young men burst into the room: a dragoon and a