Bluebeard | The Cobbler and His Three Daughters (A Basque Tale)

The following is an annotated version of the fairy tale. I recommend reading the entire story before exploring the annotations, especially if you have not read the tale recently.

LIKE many others in the world, there was a cobbler who had three daughters. They were very poor. He only earned enough just to feed his children. He did not know what would become of him. He went about in his grief, walking, walking sadly on, and he meets a gentleman, who asks him where he is going, melancholy like that. He answers him,

"Even if I shall tell you, I shall get no relief."

"Yes, yes; who knows? Tell it,"

"I have three daughters, and I have not work enough to maintain them. I have famine in the house."

"If it is only that, we will manage it. You will give me one of your daughters, and I will give you so much money."

The father was very grieved to make any such bargain; but at last he comes down to that. He gives him his eldest daughter. This gentleman takes her to his palace, and, after having passed some time there, he said to her that he has a short journey to make--that he will leave her all the keys, that she might see everything, but that there is one key that she must not make use of--that it would bring misfortune on her. He locks the door on the young lady. This young girl goes into all the rooms, and finds them very beautiful, and she was curious to see what there was in that which was forbidden. She goes in, and sees heaps of dead bodies. Judge of her fright! With her trembling she lets the key fall upon the ground. She trembles for the coming of her husband. He arrives, and asks her if she has entered the forbidden chamber. She tells him "Yes." He takes her and puts her into an underground dungeon; hardly, hardly did he give her enough to eat (to live on), and that was human flesh.

This cobbler had finished his money, and he was again melancholy. The gentleman meets him again, and says to him,

"Your other daughter is not happy alone; you must give me another daughter. When she is happy, I will send her back; and I will give you so much money."

The father did not like it; but he was so poor that, in order to have a little money, he gives him his daughter. The gentleman takes her home with him, like the other. After some days he said to her too,

"I must take a short journey. I will give you all the keys of the house, but do not touch such a key of such a room."

He locks the house-door, and goes off, after having left her the food she needed. This young girl goes into all the rooms, and, as she was curious, she went to look into the forbidden chamber. She was so terribly frightened at the sight of so many dead bodies in this room, that she lets the key fall, and it gets stained. Our young girl was trembling as to what should become of her when the master should come back. He arrives, and the first thing he asks--

"Have you been in that room?"

She told him "Yes." He takes her underground, like her other sister.

This cobbler had finished his money, and he was in misery; when the gentleman comes to him again, and says to him,

"I will give you a great deal of money if you will let your daughter come to my house for a few days; the three will be happier together, and I will send you the two back again together."

The father believes it, and gives him his third daughter. The gentleman gives him the money, and he takes this young girl, like the others. At the end of some days he leaves her, saying that he is going to make a short journey. He gives her all the keys of the house, saying to her--

"You will go into all the rooms except this one," pointing out the key to her. He locks the outside door, and goes off. This young girl goes straight, straight to the forbidden chamber; she opens it, and think of her horror at seeing so many dead people. She thought that he would kill her too, and, as there were all kinds of arms in this chamber, she takes a sabre with her, and hides it under her dress. She goes a little further on, and sees her two sisters almost dying with hunger, and a young man in the same condition. She takes care of them as well as she can till the gentleman comes home. On his arrival, he asks her--

"Have you been in that room?"

She says, "Yes;" and, in giving him back the keys, she lets them fall on the ground, on purpose, and at the instant that this gentleman stoops to pick them up, the young lady cuts off his head (with her sword). Oh, how glad she was! Quickly she runs to deliver her sisters and that young man, who was the son of a king. She sends for her father, the cobbler, and leaves him there with his two daughters, and the youngest daughter goes away with her young gentleman, after being married to him. If they lived well, they died well too.

Webster's Comments on the Tale:

In another version, by Estefanella Hirigaray, we have the more ordinary tale of "Blue Beard"--that of a widower who has killed twenty wives, and marries a twenty-first, who has two brothers. She drops the key in the forbidden chamber, and is detected by the blood on it. She manages to write to her brothers, and the dialogue by which she endeavours to gain time is rather spirited. She is allowed to put oh her wedding-dress, etc., to die in. She goes to get ready, and she hears the cries of her husband, "Are you ready?" "I am putting on my dress." He bawls out again, "Are you ready?" "Give me a moment more." "Are you ready?" "I am fastening my dress." "Are you ready yet?" "I am putting on my stockings." And she kept constantly looking out of window to see if her brothers were coming. "Are you ready?" "Stop one moment; I am putting on my shoes." "Are you ready?" "I am brushing my hair." "Are you ready?" "Let me put on my wreath." And she sees her brothers coming on horseback in the forest, but a very long way off. She hears again, "Are you ready?" "I am coming in an instant." "You are coming?" "I'll come, if you do not come down." "Don't come; I will come down myself, without you." He seizes her on the stairs to kill her; but the brothers rush in just in time to prevent her death, and they put him in prison.

We heard, also, another version, which, unfortunately, we did not take down. It had something about a horse in it, and was like "The Widow and her Daughters," in Campbell, Vol. II., Tale xli., p. 265.

Webster, Wentworth. Basque Legends. London: Griffith and Farran, 1877. Buy the book in paperback.

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