Once upon a time, there lived a young French girl who feared she would never, in all of her life, find a husband.
For some reason, even though many considered her quite lovely, the young men of her village did not flock to her in droves as they did her sister. Instead, she was, more often than not, ignored.
So she waited and pined away for loneliness. Then, one dark cold day approaching winter, a strange man rode up to the gates of her family estate, and asked to see her father. He as, perhaps, the strangest man the servants had ever seen, as he was terribly ugly, and, to crown this, he possessed a long, pointed beard of deep, dark blue!
“I am here to see the Monsieur De B!” he stated emphatically, and the little maid winced just to look at him, but she turned on one foot and went down the hall to fetch the Master.
It was not many hours hence when the two young girls were called into their father’s study, and their father, seated comfortably in his chair with his pipe, rose and announced the visitor to his two daughters. He then went on to inform them, much to their shock and amazement, that this man was an old friend and business associate’s of their father, and that this man had come seeking the hand of one of his daughter’s…in marriage!
At this both of the girls were aghast! Even though the man looked like he was exceedingly wealthy, neither of them could fancy becoming the wife of so hideous a specimen. What to do?
“Oh, you don’t want me for a wife,” said one. “I’m a vain, petty, and constant woman! Take my sister, instead; she’s truly agreeable.”
The other replied, “Oh, sister, you flatter me! Why, I’m one of the most atrocious shrews who ever lived! Why, I’d hound and henpeck any man I marry to an early grave! Don’t believe anything my sister says about me, sir. It’s really her you want to marry, not I.”
And both of them continued in that vein for several minutes, until the strange, blue-bearded man cried, “Enough! Listen to me: I’m going to throw a tremendous banquet for some friends of mine in a fortnight, and both of you must attend. However decides to marry me can decide then and there, and I will announce it at the feast. However, one of you MUST choose, as your father owes it to me based on a very old favor I once performed for him. Now, I must bid you adieu!”
And, with a dramatic swish of his long black cloak, the strange man was gone.
Well, the sisters waited on pins and needles for the fateful day, al the time being groomed carefully by their father to be proper ladies. he went so far as to have special dresses made for them, and spent lavishly on their accoutrements for the party.
Then, the day of the grand feast was upon them, and the girls were taken by a special coach through the dark, ghastly forest and into the jagged peaks, until, finally, in a remote section of the country they had never before seen, they came upon what at first appeared to be the ruins of an old castle.
“Oh, it’s not a ruins, though,” said one of the sisters, “listen, and you can hear the sound of voices and music coming from within!”
Indeed, they knew they had finally reached the ancestral home of the man with the ugly blue beard. They disembarked from the coach and entered the gates, were greeted by a servant in livery, and ushered inside.
They were dazzled at what they saw: here, unmistakably, was the sign of great wealth and station. Famous faces darted in and out from behind masks, costumed exquisitely for a masquerade ball. An enormous table was heaped with every sort of choice delicacy, and enough wine flowed to wet the valleys and deserts of the world.
A full orchestra entertained as costumed revelers danced to and fro across the glittering ballroom.
“Oh sister, look! Have you ever seen such a grand spectacle?”
The unpopular sister was quite obviously impressed. Finally, the blue bearded “Master of Ceremomies” put in his appearance, wearing a mask that covered his eyes but left his blue beard swinging in the wind for all to see.
“Ah! How good of you to come!”
The sullen sister started to say, “I didn’t think we had a choice in the matter,” but decided to keep her mouth closed. (Which, on the whole, is oftentimes the best course of action for anyone.)
As the hour drew late, the blue-bearded man took them aside and asked them pointedly, “Well, have either of you come to a final decision as to which one of you will be my wife?”
Well, one sister looked at the other, and both of them hung their heads in shame. The man had been so generous and kind, and they both now felt obligated to him. Doubly so, because they knew their father wanted that at least one of them should betrothed to the rich stranger.
The eldest sister looked the blue-bearded man over and, quit softly and truthfully answered, “Were it in my power to say yes, after all the kindnesses shown to us tonight, i would certainly do so. Alas! I find I simply cannot bring myself to be your wife.”
At that, the blue-bearded man crossed his arms across his chest, looked disdainful of the honest sister, and then looked at the younger. He asked, “Well, do you feel the same way, or, shall you consent to be my wife?”
At this, the younger sister hung her head in sorrow, disheartened that she should be forced to marry a man so repulsive to her sensibilities. Finally, she peeped, in a tiny, tearful little voice, “Yes, m’lord, I shall be your wife.”
At this, the blue-bearded man was overjoyed. He laughed maniacally, danced about the room, clapped his hands together, and kicked his legs up high, exclaiming, “I’m going to be married! I’m going to be married! Hurrah! Hurrah! Hooray! Soon comes my wedding day!”
Many months went into the preparation of the wedding, and no expense was spared by the very rich man. He was determined to make it an occasion that would be talked of for years and years to come.
In truth though, many of the local villagers began to grumble that this was not the first wedding the strange nobleman had thrown, and, where in the world had his other wives disappeared to? Certainly, as ugly as he was, they didn’t all leave him for errant knights? but, these grumblings were soon quashed, and locals were just pleased to be invited to a free party, where rich, sumptuous food and good wine would flow.
After the wedding, the couple went on a lavish tour of Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna…all the capitals of Europe. As exotic and luxuriant as it was, however, the young wife always found herself melancholy and out-of-sorts; though, to her credit, she always tried to put on the best face for her increasingly exasperated husband.
Returning to the castle, the man took his wife aside one day and said, “Here are the keys to all the rooms of this castle. Use them whenever you like! I must go away for a little while. Now, inside each room, you’ll find my vast, vast hoard of riches, spread out all over the floors and flowing out of every cupbard and closet and shelf. I am a man rich beyond your wildest dreams! So, don’t be so downcast all the time!”
He continued, “er, however, there is ONE room, down below the basement stairs, that you are NEVER to enter, under any circumstances. Do you understand? Never. if you disobey me in this, I shall know, and you will be out the door, and your father will hate you forever! Understand?”
And he grabbed her roughly, and peered into her eyes with his own burning, white-hot orbs. And she nooded meekly, saying, “Y-yes! I…understand.”
He smiled, an expression that did nothing to alter his unsavory appearance.
“Good,” he said. “Now, I must be off. Remember, you may enter any room, except the one at the bottom of the cellar stairs. Never enter that room, for any reason. Now, my love, I must bid you adieu!’
And with a swish of his cloak, he was gone.
Well, day after day, the yon wife entertained what guests as she could convince to come calling. However, it all rather bored her, and her life fell into a dismal pattern of teas and mild parties and little visits from frumpy dames with more money than wit. The servants were a dull, quiet lot, and provided scant companionship.
Finally, one riny day, the Devil himself must have crept inside of her, as she found herself wandering down the cellar stairs to the door hidden beneath; and, as she crept, she also found herself fidgeting with the key ring.
Should she open that door? How would he ever know? what could it hurt to take a little peek inside? She didn’t know, but, her heart hammering in her chest, she finally found herself inserting the key in the lock, turning it, hearing the faint, bone-rattling sound of the tumblers creaking and giving way. She rattled the little door knob in her quivering fingers, pushed open the creaking door, and, her candle held high over her head, entered into the stifling darkness.
What she saw there was, truly, hideous beyond description!
It was a mad, charnel house, a place belched up from the depths of Hell itself.
The bodies of the blue-bearded man’s former wives were hanging from hooks on the wall. They looked as if they had been gutted, like animals, and hung up to dry. Their faces, frozen forever in the rictus of death, told the stories of their tragic, violent ends.
The floor was awash, in fact, with slick pools of blood. She stopped herself from screaming and alerting the servants, but, she did manage to drop the door key in the blood.
Bending over quickly, she snatched up the bloody key, and, going out of the room, closed the door behind her, her breath short with terror and shock.
Then, as if in a daze, she went to the basin in her room to wash the key.
Shr thought for a moment about what to do. just then, her sister came to the gates of the castle, and was allowed entrance by the wicked servants.
She greeted her sister with a meek smile, before relating to her, in a torrent of tears, the terrible truth of what she had found.
“Oh, my dear,” said her sister. “You must flee from this terrible place at once, and alert the authorities to what he has done!”
It was, however, too late. Just as the two women were about to quickly gather some possessions, the blue-bearded fiend came riding up on his quicksilver stallion, his long black cloak and pointed blue beard seemingly more terrible now than ever she beheld them before.
He surmised the scene and guessed, right away, what had occurred. As if to prove it to himself, he held out his long, bony hand and demanded, “Give me that key!”
he carefully examined it while the two women held their breath, terrified. His careful gaze scrutinized evey inch of it. Finally, he noticed the stain of blood that wouldn’t wash away.
“So,” he began, his voice turning icy cold while his bloodshot eyes bulged and blazed with fury, “you have discovered my secret. Alas! Now I shall have to kill you both, and hang you besides the others in my special room!”
And with that, he turned to fetch his axe. While he dove into a nearby clost, though, the two women broke their spell of shock and ran, charging up the stairs to the tower, and slamming rhe door behind them.
Crying and gasping in fear, they then piled up chairs and dressers in front of the door, while the killer husband laughed as loudly as he could.
“I’ll get you, I’ll get you my pretties! You can’t cower in there forever, after all. It’s only a matter of time!”
And so both of the women went to the only window in the tiny room, and began to cry for help. But the castle was so remote, and the surrounding forest so vast and empty, it seemed they would cry in vain!
Just then, though, as luck would have it, a troop of soldiers who were passing along the dark woodland road heard the pitiful screams for help, and followed them to their source. They looked up at the woman hanging from the window, and asked what was the matter.
“Quickly!,” she cried, “you must come inside and rescue my sister and I! My husband is a maniac and is going to take our lives as he has done to women before!”
At this, the handsome young officer and his men went riding through the gates. Then, forcing their way inside, they pushed past the servants until they found the maniac, pacing at the bottom of the stairs, foaming at the mouth, his eyes blazing as he swung his axe at the shadows on the wall. He turned and looked at the invaders, and cried out.
The young officer struck him in the face, knocking his axe from his hand. This the young officer picked up himself, and, swinging it with all his might, cut the head from the blue-bearded fiend, sending it rolling across the stone floor. Blood splattered the walls in a gruesome fashion, but at last the evil ogre was destroyed.
The men charged up the steps, freeing the women from the tower room.
The widowed sister rushed forward, threw her arms around the neck of the handsome young officer, and said, “Oh, my savior! How lucky we are that such a strong, handsome young officer and his men should have been risign by right as we needed them!”
And the young officer was so impressed by the beauty of the young girl that he proposed marriage to her then and there. And, this time, she assented happily.
The dead fiend, though, went down in legend, where, because of his awful appearance, he was forever after known as BLUEBEARD.
(Source: French fable, possibly based upon crimes of Gilles De Rais.)