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How the Devil Married Three Sisters

There yet remains a large and interesting class of stories to be examined. The class may conveniently be termed "Bluebeard," although, as we shall see, there are three versions of this story, to only one of which the above name properly belongs. These three versions are well represented by the three Grimm stories of "The Feather Bird" (No. 46), "The Robber Bridegroom" (No. 40), and "The Wood-cutter's Child" (No. 3). In the first version, which is, properly speaking, the Bluebeard story, two sisters are married in turn and killed by their husband, because they open the forbidden chamber. The youngest sister, although she opens the forbidden door, manages to escape and deliver her sisters, whom she restores to life. In the second version a robber marries several sisters, whom he kills for disobeying his commands (the trait of forbidden chamber is usually wanting); the youngest sister again manages to escape and restores her dead sisters to life. Generally in this version the husband makes a desperate effort to be revenged on the sister who has escaped from him, but fails in this also. In the third version a young girl is under the guardianship of some supernatural being, who forbids her to open a certain door. The child disobeys, denies her fault, and is sent away in disgrace; she afterward marries and her children are taken from her one by one until she confesses her fault, or, as is the case in an Italian version, persists in her denial to the very end. We shall examine these three versions separately, and first give an example of the first, or Bluebeard, class. It is from Venice (Widter-Wolf, No. 11, Jahrb. VII. 148), and is entitled:


ONCE upon a time the Devil was seized with a desire to marry. He therefore left hell, took the form of a handsome young man, and built a fine large house. When it was completed and furnished in the most fashionable style, he introduced himself to a family where there were three pretty daughters, and paid his addresses to the eldest of them. The handsome man pleased the maiden, her parents were glad to see a daughter so well provided for, and it was not long before the wedding was celebrated.

               When he had taken his bride home, he presented her with a very tastefully arranged bouquet, led her through all the rooms of the house, and finally to a closed door. "The whole house is at your disposal," said he, "only I must request one thing of you; that is, that you do not on any account open this door."

               Of course the young wife promised faithfully; but equally, of course, she could scarcely wait for the moment to come when she might break her promise. When the Devil had left the house the next morning, under pretence of going hunting, she ran hastily to the forbidden door, opened it, and saw a terrible abyss full of fire that shot up towards her, and singed the flowers on her bosom. When her husband came home and asked her whether she had kept her promise, she unhesitatingly said "Yes;" but he saw by the flowers that she was telling a lie, and said: "Now I will not put your curiosity to the test any longer. Come with me. I will show you myself what is behind the door." Thereupon he led her to the door, opened it, gave her such a push that she fell down into hell, and shut the door again.

               A few months after he wooed the next sister for his wife, and won her; but with her everything that had happened with the first wife was exactly repeated.

               Finally he courted the third sister. She was a prudent maiden, and said to herself: "He has certainly murdered my two sisters; but then it is a splendid match for me, so I will try and see whether I cannot be more fortunate than they." And accordingly she consented. After the wedding the bridegroom gave her a beautiful bouquet, but forbade her, also, to open the door which he pointed out.

               Not a whit less curious than her sisters, she, too, opened the forbidden door when the Devil had gone hunting, but she had previously put her flowers in water. Then she saw behind the door the fatal abyss and her sisters therein. "Ah!" she exclaimed, "poor creature that I am; I thought I had married an ordinary man, and instead of that he is the Devil! How can I get away from him?" She carefully pulled her two sisters out of hell and hid them. When the Devil came home he immediately looked at the bouquet, which she again wore on her bosom, and when he found the flowers so fresh he asked no questions; but reassured as to his secret, he now, for the first time, really loved her.

               After a few days she asked him if he would carry three chests for her to her parents' house, without putting them down or resting on the way. "But," she added, "you must keep your word, for I shall be watching you." The Devil promised to do exactly as she wished. So the next morning she put one of her sisters in a chest, and laid it on her husband's shoulders. The Devil, who is very strong, but also very lazy and unaccustomed to work, soon got tired of carrying the heavy chest, and wanted to rest before he was out of the street on which he lived; but his wife called out to him: "Don't put it down; I see you!" The Devil went reluctantly on with the chest until he had turned the corner, and then said to himself: "She cannot see me here; I will rest a little." But scarcely had he begun to put the chest down when the sister inside cried out: "Don't put it down; I see you still!" Cursing, he dragged the chest on into another street, and was going to lay it down on a doorstep, but he again heard the voice: "Don't lay it down, you rascal; I see you still!" "What kind of eyes must my wife have," he thought, "to see around corners as well as straight ahead, and through walls as if they were made of glass!" and thus thinking he arrived, all in a perspiration and quite tired out, at the house of his mother-in-law, to whom he hastily delivered the chest, and then hurried home to strengthen himself with a good breakfast.

               The same thing was repeated the next day with the second chest. On the third day she herself was to be taken home in the chest. She therefore prepared a figure which she dressed in her own clothes, and placed on the balcony, under the pretext of being able to watch him better; slipped quickly into the chest, and had the maid put it on the Devil's back. "The deuce!" said he; "this chest is a great deal heavier than the others; and to-day, when she is sitting on the balcony, I shall have so much the less chance to rest." So by dint of the greatest exertions he carried it, without stopping, to his mother-in-law, and then hastened home to breakfast, scolding, and with his back almost broken. But quite contrary to custom, his wife did not come out to meet him, and there was no breakfast ready. "Margerita, where are you?" he cried; but received no answer. As he was running through the corridors he at length looked out of a window, and saw the figure on the balcony. "Margerita, have you gone to sleep? Come down. I am as tired as a dog, and as hungry as a wolf." But there was no reply. "If you do not come down instantly I will go up and bring you down," he cried, angrily; but Margerita did not stir. Enraged, he hastened up to the balcony, and gave her such a box on the ear that her head flew off, and he saw that the head was nothing but a milliner's form, and the body, a bundle of rags. Raging, he rushed down and rummaged through the whole house, but in vain; he found only his wife's empty jewel-box. "Ha!" he cried; "she has been stolen from me, and her jewels, too!" and he immediately ran to inform her parents of the misfortune. But when he came near the house, to his great surprise he saw on the balcony above the door all three sisters, his wives, who were looking down on him with scornful laughter.

               Three wives at once terrified the Devil so much that he took his flight with all possible speed.

               Since that time he has lost his taste for marrying. [1]

*  *  *  *  *

               We have already mentioned, in the class of "Bride Won by Solving Riddle," the story in Gonzenbach of "The Robber who had a Witch's Head." In this story, after the robber has married the first princess, he takes her home, and learns from the witch's head, which hangs over the window in a basket, what his wife says of him in his absence. The counterpart of the witch's head is found in several very curious Italian stories. In these a magician is substituted for the robber, and marries, in the same way, several sisters. In the version in Gonzenbach, No. 23 ("The Story of Ohimè"), Ohimè, the magician, leaves his wife for a few days, and before he goes gives her a human bone, telling her she must eat it before his return. The wife throws the bone away; but when the magician returns he calls out: "Bone, where are you?" "Here I am." "Come here, then." Then the bone came, and the magician murdered his wife because she had not done her duty. The second sister is married and killed in the same way. Then the youngest becomes the magician's bride. In her perplexity and grief at her husband's command to eat a human arm during his absence, she invokes her mother's spirit, which tells her to burn the arm to a coal, powder it, and bind it about her body. When the magician returns and asks the arm where it is, it replies: "In Maruzza's body." Then her husband trusted her, and treated her kindly, showing her, among other things, a closet containing flasks of salve which restored the dead to life. He forbade her, however, to open a certain door. Maruzza could not restrain her curiosity, and the first opportunity she had she opened the door, and found in the room a handsome young prince murdered. She restored him to life, heard his story, and then killed him again, so that her husband would not notice it. Then she extracted from her husband the secret of his life: "I cannot be killed, but if any one sticks a branch of this herb in my ears I shall fall asleep, and not wake up again." Maruzza, of course, throws her husband, as soon as possible, into this magic sleep, restores the prince, flies with him, and marries him.

               Some years after, the branch in the magician's ears withered and fell out, and he awakened. Then he desired to be revenged, and travelled about until he found where his wife lived. Then he had a silver statue made in which he could conceal himself, and in which he placed some musical instruments. He shut himself up in it, and had himself and the statue taken to the palace where Maruzza and her husband lived. In the night, when all were asleep, the magician came out of the statue, carried Maruzza to the kitchen, kindled a fire, and put on some oil to boil, into which he intended to throw poor Maruzza. But just as he was about to do it, the flask which he had laid on the king's bed, and which had thrown him into a magic sleep, rolled off, and the king awoke, heard Maruzza's cries, saved her, and threw the magician into the boiling oil. In spite of his assurances he seems to have been very thoroughly killed. [2]

               A Florentine story (Nov. fior. p. 290), called "The Baker's Three Daughters," is a combination of the Bluebeard and Robber Bridegroom stories. The husband forbids his wife to open a certain door with a gold key, saying: "You cannot deceive me; the little dog will tell me; and, besides, I will leave you a bouquet of flowers, which you must give me on my return, and which will wither if you enter that room." The two sisters yield to their curiosity, and are killed. The third sister kills the treacherous little dog, delivers the prince, as in the last story, flies with him, and the story ends much as the last does. In a Milanese version of this story, with the same title (Nov. fior. p. 298), the robber bridegroom takes his wife home, and informs her that it is her duty to watch at night, and open the door to the robbers when they return. The poor wife falls asleep, and is murdered. So with the second sister. The third remains awake, rescues the prince, and flies with him. The rest of the story is as above.

               Of the third version of the Bluebeard story there are but two Italian examples: one from Sicily (Gonz. No. 20), and one from Pisa (Comparetti, No. 38). The former is entitled "The Godchild of St. Francis of Paula," and is, briefly, as follows: A queen, through the intercession of St. Francis of Paula, has a girl, whom she names Pauline, from the saint. The saint is in the habit of meeting the child on her way to school, and giving her candy. One day the saint tells her to ask her mother whether it is best to suffer in youth or old age. The mother replies that it is better to suffer in youth. Thereupon the saint carries away Pauline, and shuts her up in a tower, climbing up and down by her tresses, as in other stories we have already mentioned. In the tower the saint instructed Pauline in all that belonged to her rank. One day a king climbs up by the hair, and persuades Pauline to fly with him. She consents and becomes his bride. When her first child was born St. Francis came and took it away, rubbed the mother's mouth with blood, and deprived her of speech. Three times this happened, and then the queen was repudiated and confined in a remote room, where she spent her time in praying to St. Francis.

               Meanwhile the queen-mother arranged another marriage for her son; but during the banquet the saint brought Pauline royal robes, and restored her three children to her. Then he led all four to the banquet-hall, and the happy family lived thereafter in peace and happpiness.

               The "forbidden chamber" is omitted in the above version, but is found in the Pisan story, "The Woodman." The main idea of the story, however, is curiously distorted. A woodman had three daughters whom he cannot support. One day a lady met him in the wood, and offered to take one of his daughters for a companion, giving him a purse of money, and assuring him that he would always find enough wood. The lady took her home, and told her she must not open a certain door during her absence. The girl did so, however, and saw her mistress in a bath, with two damsels reading a book. She closed the door at once; but when the mistress returned and asked her whether she had disobeyed, and what she had seen, she confessed her fault, and told what she saw. Then the lady cut her head off, hung it by the hair to a beam, and buried the body.

               The same thing happened to the second sister, who opened the door, and saw the lady sitting at a table with gentlemen. The lady killed her, too, and then took the third sister, who, in spite of having seen her two sisters' heads, could not control her curiosity, and opened the door. She saw her mistress reclining in a beautiful bed. In the evening the lady returned and asked her what she had seen; but she answered: "I have seen nothing." The lady could extort no other answer from her, and finally clothed her in her peasant's dress, and took her back to the wood and left her.

               The king of the neighboring city happened to pass by, and fell in love with her, and married her. When her first child was born the lady appeared at her bedside, and said: "Now it is time to tell me what you saw." "I saw nothing," replied the young queen. Then the lady carried away the child, having first rubbed the mother's mouth with blood. This happened a second time, and then the king put her away, and prepared to marry again. The first wife was invited to the wedding feast. While at the table the lady appeared under it, and pulled the first wife's dress, and said: "Will you tell what you saw?" The reply was twice: "Nothing." Then the queen fainted. At that moment a carriage drove up to the palace with a great lady in it, who asked to see the king. She told him that it was she who had carried away his children, and added that from her childhood she had been subjected to an enchantment that was to end when she found a person who should say that she had seen nothing in that room. She then brought back the children, and all lived together in peace and joy. [3]


[1] Another Venetian version is in Bernoni, No. 3. See also Nov. fior. p. 290; Gradi, Vigilia, p. 53; Fiabe Mant. No. 39; and Schneller, No. 32.

               For other European versions, see Grimm, No. 46 ("Fitcher's Bird"), Köhler's notes to Widter-Wolf, No. 11 (Jahrb. VII. 148); and Ralston, R. F. T. p. 97.

[2] See Pitrè, No. 19, Nuovo Saggio, No. 4; Nov. fior. pp. 7, 12; and Nerucci, No. 49. Compare also Gonz., Nos. 10 and 22 (already mentioned, "The Robber who had a Witch's Head"), and Comparetti, No. 18 (Pisa).

               For other references to this class, see Grimm, No. 40 ("The Robber-Bridegroom") and Romania, No. 22, p. 236.

[3] See Chap. II., note 4. For other references to this class, see Grimm, No. 3 ("Our Lady's Child"), and Romania, No. 28, p. 568.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: How the Devil Married Three Sisters
Tale Author/Editor: Crane, Thomas
Book Title: Italian Popular Tales
Book Author/Editor: Crane, Thomas Frederick
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin and Company
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1885
Country of Origin: Italy
Classification: ATU 312: Maiden-Killer (Bluebeard)

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