Read CHAPTER IV of The Seven Wives Of Bluebeard 1920 , free online book, by Anatole France, on ReadCentral.com.

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.