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- Journeys Through Bookland V2 - 6/71 -
report was true, that the man had been married several times before, and no one knew what had become of his wives.
In order to become better acquainted with the women, Bluebeard invited them and their mother to visit him at one of his castles in the country. They accepted the invitation, and for nine delightful days they hunted and fished over his vast estates, and for nine wonderful evenings they feasted and danced in his magnificent rooms.
Everything went so much to their liking, and Bluebeard himself was so gracious, that the younger girl began to think that after all his beard was not so very blue; and so, soon after their return to town, the mother announced that the younger daughter was ready to marry him. In a few days the ceremony was performed, and Bluebeard took his wife to one of his castles, where they spent a happy month.
At the end of that time Bluebeard told his wife that he was obliged to make a long journey and would be away from home about six weeks. He added that he hoped his wife would enjoy herself, and that he wished her to send for her friends if she wanted them, and to spend his money as freely as she liked in their entertainment.
"Here," he said, "are the keys of my two great storerooms, where you will find everything you need for the house; here are the keys of the sideboards, where you will find all the gold and silver plate for the table; here are the keys of my money chests, where you will find gold and silver in abundance [Illustration: a key] and many caskets containing beautiful jewels which you have not yet seen; and here is a pass key which will open all the rooms in the castle excepting one.
"But here is a little key which fits the lock in the door of the little room at the end of the long gallery on the first floor. This little room you must not enter. Open everything else, go everywhere you like, treat everything as though it was your own; but I strictly forbid you to enter the little room. If you even so much as put the key in the lock you may expect to suffer direfully from my anger."
The young wife promised faithfully to observe her husband's wishes to the letter, and he, pleased with the readiness with which she consented to obey him, kissed her fondly, sprang into his carriage and departed on his journey.
[Illustration: SHE SLIPPED SILENTLY AWAY]
No sooner had Bluebeard left than the friends of his wife began to arrive. Many of them did not wait for an invitation, but came as soon as they heard that her husband had gone with his terrible blue beard. Then was there great merrymaking all over the house, and it was overrun from top to bottom with the excited guests, for all were consumed with the desire to see the treasures the castle contained. These were truly wonderful. Rich tapestries hanging on the walls, great mirrors that reflected the whole image of a person from head to foot, wonderful pictures in frames of pure gold, gold and silver vessels of graceful shape and elegant design, cabinets filled with curiosities, lights gleaming with crystals, caskets filled with sparkling diamonds and other precious stones without number, all served to charm and delight the guests so that they had little time to think about their hostess.
The wife, however, soon wearied of the splendor of her home, for she kept continually thinking about the little room at the end of the long gallery on the first floor. The more she thought about it the more curious she became, and finally, forgetting her good manners, she left her guests, slipped silently away from them, and in her excitement nearly fell the whole length of the secret stairway that led to the long gallery. Her courage did not fail her till she reached the door of the little room. Then she remembered how false she was to her trust, and hesitated. Her conscience, however, was soon silenced by her curiosity, and with a beating heart and trembling hand she pushed the little key into the lock, and the door flew open.
The shutters of the window in the little room were closed, and at first she could see nothing; but as her eyes became accustomed to the dim light she saw that clotted blood covered the floor, and that hanging from the walls by their long hair were the bloody heads of Bluebeard's other wives, while on the floor lay their dead bodies.
When the young wife realized at what she was looking, the key fell from her shaking hand, her heart stopped beating, and she almost fell to the floor in horror and amazement. Recovering herself after a while, she stooped and picked up the key, locked the door and hurried back to her chamber. In vain she tried to compose herself and meet her guests again. She was too frightened to control herself, and when she looked at the little key of that awful little room at the end of the long gallery on the first floor, she saw that it was stained with blood. She wiped the key and wiped it, but the blood would not come off. She washed it, and scrubbed it with sand and freestone and brick dust, but the blood would not come off; or, if she did succeed in cleaning one side and turned the key over, there was blood on the other side, for it was a magic key which a fairy friend of Bluebeard's had given him.
That night the wife was terrified to hear Bluebeard returning, though she tried to welcome him with every show of delight and affection. He explained his sudden change of plans by saying that he had met a friend on the road who told him that it was unnecessary for him to make the long journey, as the business he was intending to transact had been all done.
It was a very unhappy night she passed, but Bluebeard said nothing to disturb her until morning, and then he presently asked her for his keys. She gave them to him, but her hand trembled like an old woman's. Bluebeard took the keys and looked them over carelessly.
"I see the key of the little room at the end of the long gallery on the first floor is not with the others. Where is it?"
"It must have fallen off in the drawer where I kept the keys," she said.
"Please get it for me at once," said Bluebeard, "as I wish to go to the room."
The wife, as white as a sheet, and almost too faint to walk, went back to her chamber and returned, saying she could not find the key.
"But I must have it," said Bluebeard; "go again and look more carefully for it. Certainly you cannot have lost it."
So back to the chamber went the terrified woman, and, seeing no hope of escape, she carried the key down to her waiting husband.
Bluebeard took the key, and looking at it closely, said to his wife, "Why is this blood spot on the key?"
"I do not know," said the wife, faintly.
"You do not know!" said Bluebeard. "Well, I know. You wanted to go to the little room. Very well; I shall see that you get there and take your place with the other ladies."
In despair the young woman flung herself at his feet and begged for mercy, repenting bitterly of her curiosity. Bluebeard turned a deaf ear to all her entreaties and was not moved in the least by her piteous beauty.
"Hear me, madam. You must die at, once," he said.
"But give me a little time to make my peace with God," she said. "I must have time to say my prayers."
"I will give you a quarter of an hour," answered Bluebeard, "but not a minute more."
He turned away, and she sent for her sister, who came quickly at her summons.
"Sister Ann," she said excitedly, "go up to the top of the tower and see if my brothers are coming. They promised to come and see me to-day. If they are on the road make signs to them to hurry as fast as they can. I am in awful despair."
[Illustration: SISTER ANN WATCHING FROM THE TOWER]
Without waiting for an explanation the sister went to the top of the tower and began her watch.
She was scarcely seated when her sister called up, "Sister Annie, do you see any one coming?"
Annie answered, "I see nothing but the sun on the golden dust and the grass which grows green."
In the meantime, Bluebeard, who had armed himself with a sharp, curved scimitar, stood at the foot of the stairs waiting for his wife to come down.
"Annie, sister Annie, do you see any one coming down the road?" cried the wife again.
"No, I see nothing but the golden dust."
Then Bluebeard called out, "Come down quickly now, or I will come up to you."
"One minute more," replied his wife; and then she called softly, "Annie, sister Annie, do you see any one coming?"
"I think I see a cloud of dust a little to the left."
"Do you think it is my brothers?" said the wife.
"Alas, no, dear sister, it is only a shepherd boy with his sheep."
"Will you come down now, madam, or shall I fetch you?" Bluebeard bawled out.
"I am coming,--indeed I will come in just a minute."
Then she called out for the last time, "Annie, sister Annie, do you see any one coming?"
"I see," replied her sister, "two horsemen coming, but they are still a great way off."
"Thank God," cried the wife, "it is my brothers. Urge them to make haste." Annie replied, "I am beckoning to them. They have seen my signals. They are galloping towards us."
Now Bluebeard called out so loudly for his wife to come down that his voice shook the whole house. His lady, not daring to keep him waiting any longer, hurried down the stairs, her hair streaming about her shoulders and her face bathed in tears. She threw herself on the floor
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