There was once a rich man called Bluebeard who possessed grand houses in the town and country, and everything his heart could desire, but no wife. A noble lady living nearby had three daughters, and Bluebeard asked her if one of them would consent to be his wife. When he called for them, they refused to go to his house; they were frightened of his beard with it’s odd indigo blue colour. Nevertheless the girls agreed to go to his house in the country for a party that was to last a whole week, with nothing to do but hunt, fish, dance and picnic, and play games. By the end of the week, they began to think that Bluebeard was not so bad after all. But later, the two eldest sisters decided that there was still something about him that they did not like, and decided to never see him again. The youngest sister thought that he had been quite charming and decided to pay no attention to any doubts so had formerly had; when Bluebeard asked for her hand in marriage, she accepted. They were quickly married, and he took her to his castle deep in the woods.
After only a week, Bluebeard told his wife that he had to go away on business, ‘But there is no need for you to get bored,’ he said ‘ask your sisters to come and stay with you, you may ride in the woods, charge the cooks to set a feast, you may do anything you like, here, have my ring of keys. You may any and every door to the store-rooms, the money-rooms, any room in the castle; but this tiny little key, the smallest on the ring, do not use.’ She promised to do as he said, and he went on his way.
Her sisters came to stay and were instructed that they could explore the castle and enter any room except one. ‘I have no idea which door that is, all I know is that this small key fits the lock,’ said the young wife. Quite naturally, the sisters were all curious as to what lay behind the door and decided to try to find it. The castle was a labyrinth of passages and there were hundreds of doors and as many keys on the ring. The rooms contained treasures, fine clothes, food and money stores, it was just more and more wonderful. At last, after seeing all the treasures, they descended to the cellar, and at the end of a long dark corridor that took them down to the depths of the castle, they found a door into which the small key fitted. The wife was overcome with curiosity and turned the key in the lock. The door swung open. Inside the room it was inky black so one of the sisters went to get a candle which was duly lit and held inside the room. The floor seemed sticky, they soon realised what made it thus; looking around they were struck dumb with horror to see that the room was covered in blood. Peering closer, they discovered the source of the blood; there were corpses littered about the room. Some were hanging on the walls, still recognisable as women, who must have died in a most tortuous manner. Skulls were stacked in corners and blackened bones were flung everywhere.
The young wife thought she would die with fear. The sisters pushed the door too and the key fell from the lock and onto the floor . The wife picked it up, noticing that it had blood upon it. Horrified, she used her dress to wipe the key clean, but it was of no use; the blood prevailed. ‘Oh no!’ she cried. ‘Do not fear,’ said the eldest sister, ‘I will wipe it clean.’ It was of no use, the blood would not come off. The wife placed the key in the pocket of her dress and ran to the kitchen to get some horsehair. She used this to scrub the key, but it would not stop the bleeding. Next she ran into the garden and pressed it into the ashes and scrubbed some more. And still deep red blood dripped slowly from the key, as if it were weeping. Next she took spider’s webs, and laid these over the key, but to no avail. She then held it over a flame to dry it out but alas, nothing could make the bleeding stop. She thought, ‘I’ll hide the key amongst my dresses in the wardrobe, perhaps it will stop bleeding and in the morning this will all seem like a bad dream.
The very next morning her husband arrived back quite unexpectedly, and called for his wife. Her face was pale and she was trembling. ‘Are you well wife?’ he asked. ‘I am well, sir,’ she replied. ‘And how is my castle?’ he asked, ‘how are the storerooms?’ She replied, ‘They are all very interesting, sir.’
‘Well then,’ he said leaning close to her, ‘I’ll have my keys back!’ She handed him the large ring of keys; he immediately noticed that one of the keys was missing. ‘Where is the smallest key?’ he demanded. ‘I’m sorry, I must have left it upstairs,’ she replied. ‘Bring it to me,’ he ordered. She ran upstairs and flung open her wardrobe door. To her horror, the key hid up on the top shelf had bled so much, it had soaked down all her beautiful silk gowns. Bluebeard was now standing behind her ; she jumped with fright when he spoke. You couldn’t resist going into that room could you, when you were instructed not to. Well, now it is your turn wife, you shall hang alongside the others!’ He took her by the arm and pulled her down the stairs to the cellar. He only had to look at the door and it opened for him. She flung herself at his feet, begging for mercy, but Bluebeard had a heart that was harder than any stone . ‘You must die,’ he declared, ‘Your last hour has come.’ She began to plead for her life; ‘Please, please, just give me a quarter of an hour so that I can say my prayers and prepare for death .’ ‘If you must,’ growled Bluebeard, ‘you have but a quarter of an hour, then be ready.’ The wife ran to her room and called to her sisters to go to the castle ramparts and look out for their brothers who had promised to visit that day. She knelt as if to pray, but instead called out; ‘Sisters, sisters! Do you see our brothers coming?’ The sisters replied, ‘Nothing, but the dust made golden by the sun, and the green of the grass.’ Bluebeard set foot on the first stair, the huge cutlass in his hand. She cried again; Sisters, sisters! Do you see our brothers coming?’ They replied, ‘We see a cloud of dust in the distance.’ Bluebeard set foot on the third stair. She called again, ‘Sisters, sisters! Do you see our brothers coming?’ Her sisters called out, ‘Yes! We see them, our brothers are here, they are entering the castle!’ Bluebeard entered the room. His wife once more begged for mercy. ‘Be quiet,’ he said ‘you will die now.’ At the moment he put the sword to her throat, her two brothers burst in, swords in their hand and ran him through the heart. Bluebeard staggered out onto the parapet where he fell down dead. The buzzards swooped down and picked his body away right down to the bone.