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Title: The Seven Wives Of Bluebeard - 1920
Author: France, Anatole
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE SEVEN WIVES OF BLUEBEARD & OTHER MARVELLOUS TALES

By Anatole France

Edited By James Lewis May And Bernard Miall

Translated by D. B. Stewart

John Lane Company MCMXX



THE SEVEN WIVES OF BLUEBEARD



CHAPTER I

THE strangest, the most varied, the most erroneous opinions have
been expressed with regard to the famous individual commonly known as
Bluebeard. None, perhaps, was less tenable than that which made of
this gentleman a personification of the Sun. For this is what a certain
school of comparative mythology set itself to do, some forty years ago.
It informed the world that the seven wives of Bluebeard were the Dawns,
and that his two brothers-in-law were the morning and the evening
Twilight, identifying them with the Dioscuri, who delivered Helena when
she was rapt away by Theseus. We must remind those readers who may
feel tempted to believe this that in 1817 a learned librarian of Agen,
Jean-Baptiste Pérés, demonstrated, in a highly plausible manner, that
Napoleon had never existed, and that the story of this supposed great
captain was nothing but a solar myth. Despite the most ingenious
diversions of the wits, we cannot possibly doubt that Bluebeard and
Napoleon did both actually exist.

An hypothesis no better founded is that which Consists in identifying
Bluebeard with the Marshal de Rais, who was strangled by the arm of
the Law above the bridges of Nantes on 26th of October, 1440. Without
inquiring, with M. Salomon Reinach, whether the Marshal committed the
crimes for which he was condemned, or whether his wealth, coveted by a
greedy prince, did not in some degree contribute to his undoing, there
is nothing in his life that resembles what we find in Bluebeard’s;
this alone is enough to prevent our confusing them or merging the two
individuals into one.

Charles Perrault, who, about 1660, had the merit of composing the first
biography of this _seigneur_, justly remarkable for having married seven
wives, made him an accomplished villain, and the most perfect model of
cruelty that ever trod the earth. But it is permissible to doubt, if
not his sincerity, at least the correctness of his information. He may,
perhaps, have been prejudiced against his hero. He would not have been
the first example of a poet or historian who liked to darken the colours
of his pictures. If we have what seems a flattering portrait of Titus,
it would seem, on the other hand, that Tacitus has painted Tiberius much
blacker than the reality. Macbeth, whom legend and Shakespeare accuse
of crimes, was in reality a just and a wise king. He never treacherously
murdered the old king, Duncan. Duncan, while yet young, was defeated in
a great battle, and was found dead on the morrow at a spot called the
Armourer’s Shop. He had slain several of the kinsfolk of Gruchno, the
wife of Macbeth. The latter made Scotland prosperous; he encouraged
trade, and was regarded as the defender of the middle classes, the true
King of the townsmen. The nobles of the clans never forgave him for
defeating Duncan, nor for protecting the artisans. They destroyed him,
and dishonoured his memory. Once he was dead the good King Macbeth was
known only by the statements of his enemies. The genius of Shakespeare
imposed these lies upon the human consciousness. I had long suspected
that Bluebeard was the victim of a similar fatality. All the
circumstances of his life, as I found them related, were far from
satisfying my mind, and from gratifying that craving for logic and
lucidity by which I am incessantly consumed. On reflection, I perceived
that they involved insurmountable difficulties. There was so great a
desire to make me believe in the man’s cruelty that it could not fail to
make me doubt it.

These presentiments did not mislead me. My intuitions, which had their
origin in a certain knowledge of human nature, were soon to be changed
into certainty, based upon irrefutable proofs.

In the house of a stone-cutter in St. Jean-des-Bois, I found several
papers relating to Bluebeard; amongst others his defence, and an
anonymous complaint against his murderers, which was not proceeded with,
for what reasons I know not. These papers confirmed me in the belief
that he was good and unfortunate, and that his memory has been
overwhelmed by unworthy slanders. From that time forth, I regarded it
as my duty to write his true history, without permitting myself any
illusion as to the success of such an undertaking. I am well aware that
this attempt at rehabilitation is destined to fall into silence and
oblivion. How can the cold, naked Truth fight against the glittering
enchantments of Falsehood?



CHAPTER II

SOMEWHERE about 1650 there lived on his estate, between Compiègne and
Pierrefonds, a wealthy noble, by name Bernard de Montragoux, whose
ancestors had held the most important posts in the kingdom. But he dwelt
far from the Court, in that peaceful obscurity which then veiled
all save that on which the king bestowed his glance. His castle of
Guillettes abounded in valuable furniture, gold and silver ware,
tapestry and embroideries, which he kept in coffers; not that he hid
his treasures for fear of damaging them by use; he was, on the contrary,
generous and magnificent. But in those days, in the country, the nobles
willingly led a very simple life, feeding their people at their own
table, and dancing on Sundays with the girls of the village.

On certain occasions, however, they gave splendid entertainments, which
contrasted with the dullness of everyday life. So it was necessary
that they should hold a good deal of handsome furniture and beautiful
tapestries in reserve. This was the case with Monsieur de Montragoux.

His castle, built in the Gothic period, had all its rudeness. From
without it looked wild and gloomy enough, with the stumps of its
great towers, which had been thrown down at the time of the monarchy’s
troubles, in the reign of the late King Louis. Within it offered a much
pleasanter prospect. The rooms were decorated in the Italian taste,
as was the great gallery on the ground floor, loaded with embossed
decorations in high relief, pictures and gilding.

At one end of this gallery there was a closet usually known as “the
little cabinet.” This is the only name by which Charles Perrault refers
to it. It is as well to note that it was also called the “Cabinet of the
Unfortunate Princesses,” because a Florentine painter had portrayed on
the walls the tragic stories of Dirce, daughter of the Sun, bound by the
sons of Antiope to the horns of a bull, Niobe weeping on Mount Sipylus
for her children, pierced by the divine arrows, and Procris inviting
to her bosom the javelin of Cephalus. These figures had a look of life
about them, and the porphyry tiles with which the floor was covered
seemed dyed in the blood of these unhappy women. One of the doors of the
Cabinet gave upon the moat, which had no water in it.

The stables formed a sumptuous building, situated at some distance from
the castle. They contained stalls for sixty horses, and coach-houses
for twelve gilded coaches. But what made Guillettes so bewitching a
residence were the woods and canals surrounding it, in which one could
devote oneself to the pleasures of angling and the chase.

Many of the dwellers in that country-side knew Monsieur de Montragoux
only by the name of Bluebeard, for this was the only name that the
common people gave him. And in truth his beard was blue, but it was blue
only because it was black, and it was because it was so black that it
was blue. Monsieur de Montragoux must not be imagined as having the
monstrous aspect of the threefold Typhon whom one sees in Athens,
laughing in his triple indigo-blue beard. We shall get much nearer the
reality by comparing the _seigneur_ of Guillettes to those actors or
priests whose freshly shaven cheeks have a bluish gloss.

Monsieur de Montragouz did not wear a pointed beard like his grandfather
at the Court of King Henry II; nor did he wear it like a fan, as did
his great-grandfather who was killed at the battle of Marignan. Like
Monsieur de Turenne, he had only a slight moustache, and a chin-tuft;
his cheeks had a bluish look; but whatever may have been said of him,
this good gentleman was by no means disfigured thereby, nor did he
inspire any fear on that account. He only looked the more virile, and
if it made him look a little fierce, it had not the effect of making
the women dislike him. Bernard de Montragoux was a very fine man, tall,
broad across the shoulders, moderately stout, and well favoured; albeit
of a rustic habit, smacking of the woods rather than of drawing-rooms
and assemblies. Still, it is true that he did not please the ladies
as much as he should have pleased them, built as he was, and wealthy.
Shyness was the reason; shyness, not his beard. Women exercised an
invincible attraction for him, and at the same time inspired him with an
insuperable fear. He feared them as much as he loved them. This was the
origin and initial cause of all his misfortunes. Seeing a lady for the
first time, he would have died rather than speak to her, and however
much attracted he may have been, he stood before her in gloomy silence.
His feelings revealed themselves only through his eyes, which he
rolled in a terrible manner. This timidity exposed him to every kind
of misfortune, and, above all, it prevented his forming a becoming
connection with modest and reserved women; and betrayed him,
defenceless, to the attempts of the most impudent and audacious. This
was his life’s misfortune.

Left an orphan from his early youth, and having rejected, owing to this
sort of bashfulness and fear, which he was unable to overcome, the very
advantageous and honourable alliances which had presented themselves, he
married a Mademoiselle Colette Passage, who had recently settled down in
that part of the country, after amassing a little money by making a bear
dance through the towns and villages of the kingdom. He loved her with
all his soul. And to do her justice, there was something pleasing about
her, though she was what she was a fine woman with an ample bosom, and a
complexion that was still sufficiently fresh, although a little sunburnt
by the open air. Great were her joy and surprise on first becoming
a lady of quality. Her heart, which was not bad, was touched by the
kindness of a husband in such a high position, and with such a stout,
powerful body, who was to her the most obedient of servants and devoted
of lovers. But after a few months she grew weary because she could no
longer go to and fro on the face of the earth. In the midst of wealth,
overwhelmed with love and care, she could find no greater pleasure than
that of going to see the companion of her wandering life, in the cellar
where he languished with a chain round his neck and a ring through his
nose, and kissing him on the eyes and weeping. Seeing her full of care,
Monsieur de Montragouz himself became careworn, and this only added to
his companion’s melancholy. The consideration and forethought which
he lavished on her turned the poor woman’s head. One morning, when he
awoke, Monsieur de Montragoux found Colette no longer at his side. In
vain he searched for her throughout the castle.

The door of the Cabinet of the Unfortunate Princesses was open. It was
through this door that she had gone to reach the open country with her
bear. The sorrow of Bluebeard was painful to behold. In spite of the
innumerable messengers sent forth in search of her, no news was ever
received of Colette Passage.

Monsieur de Montragoux was still mourning her when he happened to dance,
at the fair of Guillettes, with Jeanne de La Cloche, daughter of the
Police Lieutenant of Compiègne, who inspired him with love. He asked her
in marriage, and obtained her forthwith. She loved wine, and drank it
to excess. So much did this taste increase that after a few months she
looked like a leather bottle with a round red face atop of it. The worst
of it was that this leather bottle would run mad, incessantly rolling
about the reception-rooms and the staircases, crying, swearing, and
hiccoughing; vomiting wine and insults at everything that got in her
way. Monsieur de Montragoux was dazed with disgust and horror. But he
quite suddenly recovered his courage, and set himself, with as much
firmness as patience, to cure his wife of so disgusting a vice, Prayers,
remonstrances, supplications, and threats: he employed every possible
means. All was useless. He forbade her wine from his cellar: she got it
from outside, and was more abominably drunk than ever.

To deprive her of her taste for a beverage that she loved too well, he
put valerian in the bottles. She thought he was trying to poison her,
sprang upon him, and drove three inches of kitchen knife into his belly.
He expected to die of it, but he did not abandon his habitual kindness.

“She is more to be pitied than blamed,” he said.

One day, when he had forgotten to close the door of the Cabinet of the
Unfortunate Princesses, Jeanne de La Cloche entered by it, quite out of
her mind, as usual, and seeing the figures on the walls in postures
of affliction, ready to give up the ghost, she mistook them for living
women, and fled terror-stricken into the country, screaming murder.
Hearing Bluebeard calling her and running after her, she threw herself,
mad with terror, into a pond, and was there drowned. It is difficult to
believe, yet certain, that her husband, so compassionate was his soul,
was much afflicted by her death.

Six weeks after the accident he quietly married Gigonne, the daughter of
his steward, Traignel. She wore wooden shoes, and smelt of onions. She
was a fine-looking girl enough, except that she squinted with one eye,
and limped with one foot. As soon as she was married, this goose-girl,
bitten by foolish ambition, dreamed of nothing but further greatness
and splendour. She was not satisfied that her brocade dresses were rich
enough, her pearl necklaces beautiful enough, her rubies big enough, her
coaches sufficiently gilded, her lakes, woods, and lands sufficiently
vast. Bluebeard, who had never had any leaning toward ambition, trembled
at the haughty humour of his spouse. Unaware, in his straightforward
simplicity, whether the mistake lay in thinking magnificently like his
wife, or modestly as he himself did, he accused himself of a mediocrity
of mind which was thwarting the noble desires of his consort, and, full
of uncertainty, he would sometimes exhort her to taste with moderation
the good things of this world, while at others he roused himself to
pursue fortune along the verge of precipitous heights. He was prudent,
but conjugal affection bore him beyond the reach of prudence. Gigonne
thought of nothing but cutting a figure in the world, being received at
Court, and becoming the King’s mistress. Unable to gain her point, she
pined away with vexation, contracting a jaundice, of which she died.
Bluebeard, full of lamentation, built her a magnificent tomb.

This worthy _seigneur_ overwhelmed by constant domestic adversity, would
not perhaps have chosen another wife: but he was himself chosen for a
husband by Mademoiselle Blanche de Gibeaumex, the daughter of a cavalry
officer, who had but one ear; he used to relate that he had lost the
other in the King’s service. She was full of intelligence, which she
employed in deceiving her husband. She betrayed him with every man of
quality in the neighbourhood. She was so dexterous that she deceived him
in his own castle, almost under his very eyes, without his perceiving
it. Poor Bluebeard assuredly suspected something, but he could not say
what. Unfortunately for her, while she gave her whole mind to tricking
her husband, she was not sufficiently careful in deceiving her lovers;
by which I mean that she betrayed them, one for another. One day she was
surprised in the Cabinet of the Unfortunate Princesses, in the company
of a gentleman whom she loved, by a gentleman whom she had loved, and
the latter, in a transport of jealousy, ran her through with his sword.
A few hours later the unfortunate lady was there found dead by one of
the castle servants, and the fear inspired by the room increased.

Poor Bluebeard, learning at one blow of his ample dishonour, and
the tragic death of his wife, did not console himself for the latter
misfortune by any consideration of the former. He had loved Blanche de
Gibeaumez with a strange ardour, more dearly than he had loved Jeanne de
La Cloche, Gigonne Traignel, or even Colette Passage. On learning that
she had consistently betrayed him, and that now she would never betray
him again, he experienced a grief and a mental perturbation which, far
from being appeased, daily increased in violence. So intolerable were
his sufferings that he contracted a malady which caused his life to be
despaired of.

The physicians, having employed various medicines without effect,
advised him that the only remedy proper to his complaint was to take a
young wife. He then thought of his young cousin, Angèle de La Garandine,
whom he believed would be willingly bestowed upon him, as she had no
property. What encouraged him to take her to wife was the fact that she
was reputed to be simple and ignorant of the world. Having been deceived
by a woman of intelligence, he felt more comfortable with a fool. He
married Mademoiselle de La Garandine, and quickly perceived the falsity
of his calculations. Angèle was kind, Angèle was good, and Angèle loved
him; she had not, in herself, any leanings toward evil, but the least
astute person could quickly lead her astray at any moment. It was enough
to tell her: “Do this for fear of bogies; comes in here or the were-wolf
will eat you;” or “Shut your eyes, and take this drop of medicine,” and
the innocent girl would straightway do so, at the will of the rascals
who wanted of her that which it was very natural to want of her, for
she was pretty. Monsieur de Montragouz, injured and betrayed by this
innocent girl, as much as and more than he had been by Blanche de
Gibeaumex, had the additional pain of knowing it, for Angèle was too
candid to conceal anything from him. She used to tell him: “Sir, some
one told me this; some one did that to me; some one took so and so away
from me; I saw that; I felt so and so.” And by her ingenuousness she
caused her lord to suffer torments beyond imagination. He endured them
like a Stoic. Still he finally had to tell the simple creature that she
was a goose, and to box her ears. This, for him, was the beginning of
a reputation for cruelty, which was not fated to be diminished. A
mendicant monk, who was passing Gulllettes while Monsieur de Montragouz
was out shooting woodcock, found Madame Angèle sewing a doll’s
petticoat. This worthy friar, discovering that she was as foolish as she
was beautiful, took her away on his donkey, having persuaded her that
the Angel Gabriel was waiting in a wood, to give her a pair of pearl
garters. It is believed that she must have been eaten by a wolf, for she
was never seen again.

After such a disastrous experience, how was it that Bluebeard could make
up his mind to contract yet another union? It would be impossible to
understand it, were we not well aware of the power which a fine pair of
eyes exerts over a generous heart.

The honest gentleman met, at a neighbouring château which he was in
the habit of frequenting, a young orphan of quality, by name Alix de
Pontalcin, who, having been robbed of all her property by a greedy
trustee, thought only of entering a convent. Officious friends
intervened to alter her determination and persuade her to accept the
hand of Monsieur de Montragoux. Her beauty was perfect. Bluebeard, who
was promising himself the enjoyment of an infinite happiness in her
arms, was once more deluded in his hopes, and this time experienced a
disappointment, which, owing to his disposition, was bound to make an
even greater impression upon him than all the afflictions which he
had suffered in his previous marriages. Alix de Pontalcin obstinately
refused to give actuality to the union to which she had nevertheless
consented.

In vain did Monsieur de Montragoux press her to become his wife; she
resisted prayers, tears, and objurgations, she refused her husband’s
lightest caresses, and rushed off to shut herself into the Cabinet of
the Unfortunate Princesses, where she remained, alone and intractable,
for whole nights at a time.

The cause of a resistance so contrary to laws both human and divine was
never known; it was attributed to Monsieur de Montragoux’s blue beard,
but our previous remarks on the subject of his beard render such a
supposition far from probable. In any case, it is a difficult subject
to discuss. The unhappy husband underwent the cruellest sufferings. In
order to forget them, he hunted with desperation, exhausting horses,
hounds, and huntsmen. But when he returned home, foundered and
overtired, the mere sight of Mademoiselle de Pontalcin was enough to
revive his energies and his torments. Finally, unable to endure the
situation any longer, he applied to Rome for the annulment of a marriage
which was nothing better than a trap; and in consideration of a handsome
present to the Holy Father he obtained it in accordance with canon law.
If Monsieur de Montragoux discarded Mademoiselle de Pontalcin with
all the marks of respect due to a woman, and without breaking his cane
across her back, it was because he had a valiant soul, a great heart,
and was master of himself as well as of Guillettes. But he swore that,
for the future, no female should enter his apartments. Happy had he been
if he had held to his oath to the end!



CHAPTER III

SOME years had elapsed since Monsieur de Montragoux had rid himself
of his sixth wife, and only a confused recollection remained in the
country-side of the domestic calamities which had fallen upon this
worthy _seigneur’s_ house. Nobody knew what had become of his wives,
and hair-raising tales were told in the village at night; some believed
them, others did not. About this time, a widow, past the prime of life,
Dame Sidonie de Lespoisse, came to settle with her children in the manor
of La Motte-Giron, about two leagues, as the crow flies, from the castle
of Guillettes. Whence she came, or who her husband had been, not a soul
knew. Some believed, because they had heard it said, that he had held
certain posts in Savoy or Spain; others said that he had died in the
Indies; many had the idea that the widow was possessed of immense
estates, while others doubted it strongly. However, she lived in a
notable style, and invited all the nobility of the country-side to La
Motte-Giron. She had two daughters, of whom the elder, Anne, on the
verge of becoming an old maid, was a very astute person: Jeanne, the
younger, ripe for marriage, concealed a precocious knowledge of the
world under an appearance of simplicity. The Dame de Lespoisse had also
two sons, of twenty and twenty-two years of age; very fine well-made
young fellows, of whom one was a Dragoon, and the other a Musketeer. I
may add, having seen his commission, that he was a Black Musketeer.
When on foot, this was not apparent, for the Black Musketeers were
distinguished from the Grey not by the colour of their uniform, but by
the hides of their horses. All alike wore blue surcoats laced with gold.
As for the Dragoons, they were to be recognized by a kind of fur bonnet,
of which the tail fell gallantly over the ear. The Dragoons had the
reputation of being scamps, a scapegrace crowd, witness the song:

     “Mama, here the dragoons come,
     Let us haste away.”

But you might have searched in vain through His Majesty’s two regiments
of Dragoons for a bigger rake, a more accomplished sponger, or a viler
rogue than Cosme de Lespoisset. Compared with him, his brother was
an honest lad. Drunkard and gambler, Pierre de Lespoisse pleased the
ladies, and won at cards; these were the only ways of gaining a living
known to him.

Their mother, Dame de Lespoisse, was making a splash at Motte-Giron only
in order to catch gulls. As a matter of fact, she had not a penny, and
owed for everything, even to her false teeth. Her clothes and furniture,
her coach, her horses, and her servants had all been lent by Parisian
moneylenders, who threatened to withdraw them all if she did not
presently marry one of her daughters to some rich nobleman, and the
respectable Sidonie was expecting to find herself at any moment naked
in an empty house. In a hurry to find a son-in-law, she had at once
cast her eye upon Monsieur de Montragoux, whom she summed up as being
simple-minded, easy to deceive, extremely mild, and quick to fall in
love under his rude and bashful exterior. Her two daughters entered
into her plans, and every time they met him, riddled poor Bluebeard with
glances which pierced him to the depths of his heart. He soon fell
a victim to the potent charms of the two Demoiselles de Lespoisse.
Forgetting his oath, he thought of nothing but marrying one of them,
finding them equally beautiful. After some delay, caused less by
hesitation than timidity, he went to Motte-Giron in great state, and
made his petition to the Dame de Lespoisse, leaving to her the choice
of which daughter she would give him. Madame Sidonie obligingly replied
that she held him in high esteem, and that she authorized him to pay his
court to whichever of the ladies he should prefer.

“Learn to please, monsieur,” she said. “I shall be the first to applaud
your success.”

In order to make their better acquaintance, Bluebeard invited Anne and
Jeanne de Lespoisse, with their mother, brothers, and a multitude of
ladies and gentlemen to pass a fortnight at the castle of Guillettes.
There was a succession of walking, hunting, and fishing parties, dances
and festivities, dinners and entertainments of every sort. A young
_seigneur_, the Chevalier de Merlus, whom the ladies Lespoisse had
brought with them, organized the beats. Bluebeard had the best packs of
hounds and the largest turnout in the countryside. The ladies rivalled
the ardour of the gentlemen in hunting the deer. They did not always
hunt the animal down, but the hunters and their ladies wandered away in
couples, found one another, and again wandered off into the woods. For
choice, the Chevalier de la Merlus would lose himself with Jeanne de
Lespoisse, and both would return to the castle at night, full of their
adventures, and pleased with their day’s sport.

After a few days’ observation, the good _seigneur_ of Montragoux felt
a decided preference for Jeanne, the younger sister, rather than
the elder, as she was fresher, which is not saying that she was less
experienced. He allowed his preference to appear; there was no reason
why he should conceal it, for it was a befitting preference; moreover,
he was a plain dealer. He paid court to the young lady as best he could,
speaking little, for want of practice; but he gazed at her, rolling his
rolling eyes, and emitting from the depths of his bowels sighs which
might have overthrown an oak tree. Sometimes he would burst out
laughing, whereupon the crockery trembled, and the windows rattled.
Alone of all the party, he failed to remark the assiduous attentions of
the Chevalier de la Merlus to Madame de Lespoisse’s younger daughter,
or if he did remark them he saw no harm in them. His experience of women
was not sufficient to make him suspicious, and he trusted when he loved.
My grandmother used to say that in life experience is worthless, and
that one remains the same as when one begins. I believe she was right,
and the true story that I am now unfolding is not of a nature to prove
her wrong.

Bluebeard displayed an unusual magnificence in these festivities.
When night arrived the lawns before the castle were lit by a thousand
torches, and tables served by men-servants and maids dressed as fauns
and dryads groaned under all the tastiest things which the country-side
and the forest produced. Musicians provided a continual succession of
beautiful symphonies. Towards the end of the meal the schoolmaster and
schoolmistress, followed by the boys and girls of the village, appeared
before the guests, and read a complimentary address to the _seigneur_
of Montragoux and his friends. An astrologer in a pointed cap approached
the ladies, and foretold their future love-affairs from the lines of
their hands, Bluebeard ordered drink to be given for all his vassals,
and he himself distributed bread and meat to the poor families.

At ten o’clock, for fear of the evening dew, the company retired to
the apartments, lit by a multitude of candles, and there tables were
prepared for every sort of game: lansquenet, billiards, reversi,
bagatelle, pigeon-holes, turnstile, porch, beast, hoca, brelan,
draughts, backgammon, dice, basset, and calbas. Bluebeard was uniformly
unfortunate in these various games, at which he lost large sums every
night. He could console himself for his continuous run of bad luck by
watching the three Lespoisse ladies win a great deal of money. Jeanne,
the younger, who often backed the game of the Chevalier de la Merlus,
heaped up mountains of gold. Madame de Lespoisse’s two sons also did
very well at reversi and basset; their luck was invariably best at the
more hazardous games. The play went on until late into the night. No
one slept during these marvellous festivities, and as the earliest
biographer of Bluebeard has said: “They spent the whole night in playing
tricks on one another.” These hours were the most delightful of
the whole twenty-four; for then, under cover of jesting, and taking
advantage of the darkness, those who felt drawn toward one another would
hide together in the depths of some alcove. The Chevelier de la Merlus
would disguise himself at one time as a devil, at another as a ghost or
a were-wolf in order to frighten the sleepers, but he always ended by
slipping into the room of Mademoiselle Jeanne de Lespoisse. The good
_seigneur_ of Montragoux was not overlooked in these games. The two sons
of Madame de Lespoisse put irritant powder in his bed, and burnt in his
room substances which emitted a disgusting smell. Or they would arrange
a jug of water over his door so that the worthy _seigneur_ could not
open the door without the whole of the water being upset upon his
head. In short, they played on him all sorts of practical jokes, to the
diversion of the whole company, and Bluebeard bore them with his natural
good humour.

He made his request, to which Madame de Lespoisse acceded, although, as
she said, it wrung her heart to think of giving her girls in marriage.

The marriage was celebrated at Motte-Giron with extraordinary
magnificence. The Demoiselle Jeanne, amazingly beautiful, was dressed
entirely in _point de France_, her head covered with a thousand
ringlets. Her sister Anne wore a dress of green velvet, embroidered
with gold. Their mother’s dress was of golden tissue, trimmed with black
chenille, with a _parure_ of pearls and diamonds. Monsieur de Montragoux
wore all his great diamonds on a suit of black velvet; he made a very
fine appearance; his expression of timidity and innocence contrasting
strongly with his blue chin and his massive build. The bride’s brothers
were of course handsomely arrayed, but the Chevalier de la Merlus, in
a suit of rose velvet trimmed with pearls, shone with unparalleled
splendour.

Immediately after the ceremony, the Jews who had hired out to the
bride’s family and her lover all these fine clothes and rich jewels
resumed possession of them and posted back to Paris with them.



CHAPTER IV

FOR a month Monsieur de Montragoux was the happiest of men. He adored
his wife, and regarded her as an angel of purity. She was something
quite different, but far shrewder men than poor Bluebeard might have
been deceived as he was, for she was a person of great cunning and
astuteness, and allowed herself submissively to be ruled by her
mother, who was the cleverest jade in the whole kingdom of France. She
established herself at Guillettes with her eldest daughter Anne, her
two sons, Pierre and Cosme, and the Chevalier de la Merlus, who kept
as close to Madame de Montragoux as if he had been her shadow. Her good
husband was a little annoyed at this; he would have liked to keep his
wife always to himself, but he did not take exception to the affection
which she felt for this young gentleman, as she had told him that he was
her foster-brother.

Charles Perrault relates that a month after having contracted this
union, Bluebeard was compelled to make a journey of six weeks’ duration
on some important business. He does not seem to be aware of the reasons
for this journey, and it has been suspected that it was an artifice,
which the jealous husband resorted to, according to custom, in order to
surprise his wife. The truth is quite otherwise. Monsieur de Montragouz
went to Le Perche to receive the heritage of his cousin of Outarde, who
had been killed gloriously by a cannon-ball at the battle of the Dunes,
while casting dice upon a drum.

Before leaving, Monsieur de Montragoux begged his wife to indulge in
every possible distraction during his absence.

“Invite all your friends, madame,” he said, “go riding with them, amuse
yourselves, and have a pleasant time.”

He handed over to her all the keys of the house, thus indicating that
in his absence she was the sole and sovereign mistress of all the
_seigneurie_ of Guillettes.

“This,” he said, “is the key of the two great wardrobes; this of the
gold and silver not in daily use; this of the strong-boxes which contain
my gold and silver; this of the caskets where my jewels are kept; and
this is a pass-key into all the rooms. As for this little key, it is
that of the Cabinet, at the end of the Gallery, on the ground floor;
open everything, and go where you will.”

Charles Perrault claims that Monsieur de Montragoux added:

“But as for the little Cabinet, I forbid you to enter that; and I forbid
you so expressly that if you do enter it, I cannot say to what lengths
my anger will not go.”

The historian of Bluebeard in placing these words on record, has fallen
into the error of adopting, without, verification, the version concocted
after the event by the ladies Lespoisse. Monsieur de Montragoux
expressed himself very differently. When he handed to his wife the key
of the little Cabinet, which was none other than the Cabinet of the
Unfortunate Princesses, to which we have already frequently alluded, he
expressed the desire that his beloved Jeanne should not enter that part
of the house which he regarded as fatal to his domestic happiness. It
was through this room, indeed, that his first wife, and the best of
all of them, had fled, when she ran away with her bear; here Blanche
de Gibeaumex had repeatedly betrayed him with various gentlemen; and
lastly, the porphyry pavement was stained by the blood of a beloved
criminal. Was not this enough to make Monsieur de Montragoux connect the
idea of this room with cruel memories and fateful forebodings?

The words which he addressed to Jeanne de Lespoisse convey the desires
and impressions which were troubling his mind. They were actually as
follows:

“For you, madame, nothing of mine is hidden, and I should feel that I
was doing you an injury did I fail to hand over to you all the keys of
a dwelling which belongs to you. You may therefore enter this little
cabinet, as you may enter all the other rooms of the house; but if you
will take my advice you will do nothing of the kind, to oblige me, and
in consideration of the painful ideas which, for me, are connected
with this room, and the forebodings of evil which these ideas, despite
myself, call up into my mind. I should be inconsolable were any
mischance to befall you, or were I to bring misfortune upon you. You
will, madame, forgive these fears, which are happily unfounded, as being
only the outcome of my anxious affection and my watchful love.”

With these words the good _seigneur_ embraced his wife and posted off to
Le Perche.

“The friends and neighbours,” says Charles Perrault, “did not wait to be
asked to visit the young bride; so full were they of impatience to see
all the wealth of her house. They proceeded at once to inspect all
the rooms, cabinets, and wardrobes, each of which was richer and more
beautiful than the last; and there was no end to their envy and their
praises of their friend’s good fortune.”

All the historians who have dealt with this subject have added that
Madame de Montsagoux took no pleasure in the sight of all these
riches, by reason of her impatience to open the little Cabinet. This
is perfectly correct, and as Perrault has said: “So urgent was her
curiosity that, without considering that it was unmannerly to leave her
guests, she went down to it by a little secret staircase, and in such a
hurry that two or three times she thought she would break her neck.” The
fact is beyond question. But what no one has told us is that the reason
why she was so anxious to reach this apartment was that the Chevalier de
la Merlus was awaiting her there.

Since she had come to make her home in the castle of Guillettes she had
met this young gentleman in the Cabinet every day, and oftener twice a
day than once, without wearying of an intercourse so unseemly in a young
married woman. It is Impossible to hesitate, as to the nature of the
ties connecting Jeanne with the Chevalier: they were anything but
respectable, anything but chaste, Alas, had Madame de Montragoux merely
betrayed her husband’s honour, she would no doubt have incurred the
blame of posterity; but the most austere of moralists might have found
excuses for her. He might allege, in favour of so young a woman, the
laxity of the morals of the period; the examples of the city and the
Court; the too certain effects of a bad training, and the advice of
an immoral mother, for Madame Sidonie de Lespoisse countenanced her
daughter’s intrigues. The wise might have forgiven her a fault too
amiable to merit their severity; her errors would have seemed too common
to be crimes, and the world would simply have considered that she was
behaving like other people. But Jeanne de Lespoisse, not content with
betraying her husband’s honour, did not hesitate to attempt his life.

It was in the little Cabinet, otherwise known as the Cabinet of the
Unfortunate Princesses, that Jeanne de Lespoisse, Dame de Montragoux, in
concert with the Chevalier de la Merlus, plotted the death of a kind and
faithful husband. She declared later that, on entering the room, she saw
hanging there the bodies of six murdered women, whose congealed blood
covered the tiles, and that recognizing in these unhappy women the first
six wives of Bluebeard, she foresaw the fate which awaited herself.
She must, in this case, have mistaken the paintings on the walls for
mutilated corpses, and her hallucinations must be compared with those
of Lady Macbeth. But it is extremely probable that Jeanne imagined
this horrible sight in order to relate it afterwards, justifying her
husband’s murderers by slandering their victim.

The death of Monsieur de Montragouz was determined upon. Certain letters
which lie before me compel the belief that Madame Sidonie Lespoisse had
her part in the plot. As for her elder daughter, she may be described as
the soul of the conspiracy. Anne de Lespoisse was the wickedest of the
whole family. She was a stranger to sensual weakness, remaining chaste
in the midst of the profligacy of the house; it was not a case of
refusing pleasures which she thought unworthy of her; the truth was that
she took pleasure only in cruelty. She engaged her two brothers,
Cosme and Pierre, in the enterprise by promising them the command of a
regiment.



CHAPTER V

IT now rests with us to trace, with the aid of authentic documents,
and reliable evidence, the most atrocious, treacherous, and cowardly
domestic crime of which the record has come down to us. The murder
whose circumstances we are about to relate can only be compared to
that committed on the night of the 9th March, 1449, on the person of
Guillaume de Flavy, by his wife Blanche d’Overbreuc, a young and slender
woman, the bastard d’Orbandas, and the barber Jean Bocquillon.

They stifled Guillaume with a pillow, battered him pitilessly with a
club, and bled him at the throat like a calf. Blanche d’Overbreuc proved
that her husband had determined to have her drowned, while Jeanne de
Lespoisse betrayed a loving husband to a gang of unspeakable scoundrels.
We will record the facts with all possible restraint. Bluebeard returned
rather earlier than expected. This it was gave rise to the quite
mistaken idea that, a prey to the blackest jealousy, he was wishful to
surprise his wife. Full of joy and confidence, if he thought of giving
her a surprise it was an agreeable one. His kindness and tenderness, and
his joyous, peaceable air would have softened the most savage hearts.
The Chevalier de la Merlus, and the whole execrable brood of Lespoisse
saw therein nothing but an additional facility for taking his life, and
possessing themselves of his wealth, still further increased by his new
inheritance.

His young wife met him with a smiling face, allowing herself to be
embraced and led to the conjugal chamber, where she did everything to
please the good man. The following morning she returned him the bunch of
keys which had been confided to her care. But there was missing that of
the Cabinet of the Unfortunate Princesses, commonly called the little
Cabinet. Bluebeard gently demanded its delivery, and after putting him
off for a time on various pretexts Jeanne returned it to him.

There now arises a question which cannot be solved without leaving
the limited domain of history to enter the indeterminate regions of
philosophy.

Charles Perrault specifically states that the key of the little Cabinet
was a fairy key, that is to say, it was magical, enchanted, endowed with
properties contrary to the laws of nature, at all events, as we conceive
them. We have no proof to the contrary. This is a fitting moment to
recall the precept of my illustrious master, Monsieur du Clos des Lunes,
a member of the Institute: “When the supernatural makes its appearance,
it must not be rejected by the historian.” I shall therefore content
myself with recalling as regards this key, the unanimous opinion of all
the old biographers of Bluebeard; they all affirm that it was a fairy
key. This is a point of great importance. Moreover, this key is not the
only object created by human industry which has proved to be endowed
with marvellous properties. Tradition abounds with examples of enchanted
swords. Arthur’s was a magic sword. And so was that of Joan of Arc, on
the undeniable authority of Jean Chartier; and the proof afforded by
that illustrious chronicler is that when the blade was broken the two
pieces refused to be welded together again despite all the efforts of
the most competent armourers. Victor Hugo speaks in one of his poems of
those “magic stairways still obscured below.” Many authors even admit
that there are men-magicians who can turn themselves into wolves. We
shall not undertake to combat such a firm and constant belief, and we
shall not pretend to decide whether the key of the little Cabinet was
or was not enchanted, for our reserve does not imply that we are in any
uncertainty, and therein resides its merit. But where we find ourselves
in our proper domain, or to be more precise within our own jurisdiction,
where we once more become judges of facts, and writers of circumstances,
is where we read that the key was flecked with blood. The authority of
the texts does not so far impress us as to compel us to believe this. It
was not flecked with blood. Blood had flowed in the little cabinet, but
at a time already remote. Whether the key had been washed or whether it
had dried, it was impossible that it should be so stained, and what, in
her agitation, the criminal wife mistook for a blood-stain on the iron,
was the reflection of the sky still empurpled by the roses of dawn.

Monsieur de Montragoux, on seeing the key, perceived none the less that
his wife had entered the little cabinet. He noticed that it now appeared
cleaner and brighter than when he had given it to her, and was of
opinion that this polish could only come from use.

This produced a painful impression upon him, and he said to his wife,
with a mournful smile:

“My darling, you have been into the little cabinet. May there result
no grievous outcome for either of us! From that room emanates a malign
influence from which I would have protected you. If you, in your turn
should become subjected to it, I should never get over it. Forgive me;
when we love we are superstitious.”

On these words, although Bluebeard cannot have frightened her, for his
words and demeanour expressed only love and melancholy, the young lady
of Montragoux began shrieking at the top of her voice: “Help! Help!
he’s killing me!” This was the signal agreed upon. On hearing it, the
Chevalier de la Merlus and the two sons of Madame de Lespoisse were to
have thrown themselves upon Bluebeard and run him through with their
swords.

But the Chevalier, whom Jeanne had hidden in a cupboard in the room,
appeared alone. Monsieur de Montragoux, seeing him leap forth sword in
hand, placed himself on guard. Jeanne fled terror-stricken, and met
her sister Anne in the gallery. She was not, as has been related, on
a tower; for all the towers had been thrown down by order of Cardinal
Richelieu. Anne was striving to put heart into her two brothers, who,
pale and quaking, dared not risk so great a stake. Jeanne hastily
implored them: “Quick, quick, brothers, save my lover!” Pierre and Cosme
then rushed at Bluebeard. They found him, having disarmed the Chevalier
de la Merlus, holding him down with his knee; they treacherously ran
their swords through his body from behind, and continued to strike at
him long after he had breathed his last.

Bluebeard had no heirs. His wife remained mistress of his property. She
used a part of it to provide a dowry for her sister Anne, another part
to buy captains’ commissions for her two brothers, and the rest to marry
the Chevalier de la Merlus, who became a very respectable man as soon as
he was wealthy.





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