by William Makepeace Thackeray (1843)
FOR some time after the fatal accident
which deprived her of her husband, Mrs. Bluebeard was, as may be imagined,
in a state of profound grief.
There was not a widow in all the country
who went to such an expense for black bombazeen. She had her beautiful
hair confined in crimped caps, and her weepers came over her elbows.
Of course she saw no company except her sister Anne (whose company was
anything but pleasant to the widow); as for her brothers, their odious
mess-table manners had always been disagreeable to her. What did she
care for jokes about the major, or scandal concerning the Scotch surgeon
of the regiment? If they drank their wine out of black bottles or crystal,
what did it matter to her? Their stories of the stable, the parade,
and the last run with the hounds, were perfectly odious to her; besides,
she could not bear their impertinent mustachios and filthy habit of
They were always wild vulgar young men
at the best; but now, oh! their presence to her delicate soul was horror!
How could she bear to look on them after what had occurred? She thought
of the best of husbands ruthlessly cut down by their cruel heavy cavalry
sabres; the kind friend, the generous land lord, the spotless justice
of peace, in whose family differences these rude comets of dragoons
had dared to interfere, whose venerable blue hairs they had dragged
down with sorrow to the grave!
She put up a most splendid monument to
her departed lord over the family vault of the Bluebeards. The rector,
Doctor Sly, who had been Mr. Bluebeard's tutor at college, wrote an
epitaph in the most pompous yet pathetic Latin:-"Siste, viator!
moerens conjux, heu! quanto minus est cum reliquis versari quam tui
meminisse"; in a word, everything that is usually said in epitaphs.
A bust of the departed saint, with Virtue mourning over it, stood over
the epitaph, surrounded by medallions of his wives, and one of these
medallions had as yet no name in it, nor (the epitaph said) could the
widow ever be consoled until her own name was inscribed there. "For
then I shall be with him. In coelo quies," she would say, throwing
up her fine eyes to heaven, and quoting the enormous words of the hatchment
which was put up in the church and over Bluebeard's Hall, where the
butler, the housekeeper, the footman, the housemaid, and scullions,
were all in the profoundest mourning. The keeper went out to shoot birds
in a crape band; nay, the very scarecrows in the orchard and fruit-garden
were ordered to be dressed in black.
Sister Anne was the only person who refused
to wear black. Mrs. Blue- beard would have parted with her, but she
had no other female relative. Her father, it may be remembered by readers
of the former part of her Memoirs, had married again; and the mother-in-law
and Mrs. Bluebeard, as usual, hated each other furiously. Mrs. Shacabac
had come to the Hall on a visit of condolence; but the widow was so
rude to her on the second day of the visit that the stepmother quitted
the house in a fury. As for the Bluebeards, of course they hated the
widow. Had not Mr. Bluebeard settled every shilling upon her? and, having
no children by his former marriage, her property, as I leave you to
fancy, was pretty handsome. So sister Anne was the only female relative
whom Mrs. Bluebeard would keep near her, and, as we all know, a woman
must have a female relative under any circumstances of pain, or pleasure,
or profit-when she is married, or when she is in a delicate situation.
But let us continue our story.
"I will never wear mourning for that
odious wretch, sister!" Anne would cry.
"I will trouble you, Miss Anne, not
to use such words in my presence regarding the best of husbands, or
to quit the room at once!" the widow would answer.
"I'm sure it's no great pleasure to
sit in it. I wonder you don't make use of the closet, sister, where
the other Mrs. Bluebeards are."
"Impertinence! they were all embalmed
by Monsieur Gannal. How dare you repeat the monstrous calumnies regarding
the best of men? Take down the family Bible and read what my blessed
saint says of his wives-read it written in his own hand:-
"'Friday, June 20. - Married my beloved
wife, Anna Maria Scrogginsia.
"'Saturday, August 1. - A bereaved
husband has scarcely strength to write down in this chronicle that the
dearest of wives, Anna Maria Scrogginsia, expired this day of sore throat.'
"There! can anything be more convincing
than that? Read again:
"'Tuesday, Sept. 1. - This day I led
to the hymeneal altar my soul's blessing, Louisa Matilda Hopkinson.
May this angel supply the place of her I have lost!
"'Wednesday, October 5. - Oh, heavens!
pity the distraction of a wretch who is obliged to record the ruin of
his dearest hopes and affections! This day my adored Louisa Matilda
Hopkinson gave up the ghost! A complaint of the head and shoulders was
the sudden cause of the event which has rendered the unhappy subscriber
the most miserable of men.
"Every one of the women are calendared in this delightful, this
pathetic, this truly virtuous and tender way; and can you suppose that
a man who wrote such sentiments could be a murderer, miss?"
"Do you mean to say that he did not
kill them, then?" said Anne.
"Gracious goodness, Anne, kill them!
they died all as naturally as I hope you will. My blessed husband was
an angel of goodness and kindness to them. Was it his fault that the
doctors could not cure their maladies? No, that it wasn't! and when
they died, the inconsolable husband had their bodies embalmed, in order
that on this side of the grave he might never part from them."
"And why did he take you up in the
tower, pray? and why did you send me in such a hurry to the leads? and
why did he sharpen his long knife, and roar out to you to COME DOWN?"
"Merely to punish me for my curiosity-the
dear, good, kind, excellent creature!" sobbed the widow, overpowered
with affectionate recollections of her lord's attentions to her.
"I wish," said sister Anne, sulkily,
"that I had not been in such a hurry in summoning my brothers."
"Ah!" screamed Mrs. Bluebeard,
with a harrowing scream, "don't-don't recall that horrid fatal
day, miss! If you had not misled your brothers, my poor dear darling
Bluebeard would still be in life, still-still the soul's joy of his
Whether it is that all wives adore husbands
when the latter are no more, or whether it is that Fatima's version
of the story is really the correct one, and that the common impression
against Bluebeard is an odious prejudice, and that he no more murdered
his wives than you and I have, remains yet to be proved, and, indeed,
does not much matter for the understanding of the rest of Mrs. B.'s
adventures, And though people will say that Bluebeard's settlement of
his whole fortune on his wife, in event of survivorship, was a mere
act of absurd mystification, seeing that he was fully determined to
cut her head off after the honeymoon, yet the best test of his real
intentions is the profound grief which the widow manifested for his
death, and the fact that he left her mighty well to do in the world.
If anyone were to leave you or me a fortune,
my dear friend, would we be too anxious to rake up the how and the why?
Pooh! pooh! we would take it and make no bones about it, and Mrs. Bluebeard
did likewise. Her husband's family, it is true, argued the point with
her, and said, "Madam, you must perceive that Mr. Bluebeard never
intended the fortune for you, as it was his fixed intention to chop
off your head! it is clear that he meant to leave his money to his blood
relations, therefore you ought in equity to hand it over." But
she sent them all off with a flea in their ears, as the saying is, and
said, "Your argument may be a very good one, but I will, if you
please, keep the money." And she ordered the mourning as we have
before shown, and indulged in grief, and exalted everywhere the character
of the deceased. If anyone would but leave me a fortune, what a funeral
and what a character I would give him!
Bluebeard Hall is situated, as we all very
well know, in a remote country district, and, although a fine residence,
is remarkably gloomy and lonely. To the widow's susceptible mind, after
the death of her darling husband, the place became intolerable. The
walk, the lawn, the fountain, the green glades of park over which frisked
the dappled deer, all-all recalled the memory of her beloved. It was
but yesterday that, as they roamed through the park in the calm summer
evening, her Bluebeard pointed out to the keeper the fat buck he was
to kill. "Ah!" said the widow, with tears in her fine eyes,
"the artless stag was shot down, the haunch was cut and roasted,
the jelly had been prepared from the currant-bushes in the garden that
he loved, but my Bluebeard never ate of the venison! Look, Anna sweet,
pass we the old oak hall; 'tis hung with trophies won by him in the
chase, with pictures of the noble race of Bluebeard! Look! by the fireplace
there is the gig-whip, his riding-whip, the spud with which you know
he used to dig the weeds out of the terrace-walk; in that drawer are
his spurs, his whistle, his visiting-cards, with his dear dear name
engraven upon them! There are the bits of string that he used to cut
off the parcels and keep because string was always useful; his button-hook,
and there is the peg on which he used to hang his h-h-hat!"
Uncontrollable emotions, bursts of passionate
tears, would follow these tender reminiscences of the widow; and the
long and short of the matter was, that she was determined to give up
Bluebeard Hall and live elsewhere; her love for the memory of the deceased,
she said, rendered the place too wretched.
Of course an envious and sneering world
said that she was tired of the country and wanted to marry again; but
she little heeded its taunts, and Anne, who hated her stepmother and
could not live at home, was fain to accompany her sister to the town
where the Bluebeards have had for many years a very large, genteel,
old-fashioned house. So she went to the town-house, where they lived
and quarrelled pretty much as usual; and though Anne often threatened
to leave her and go to a boarding-house, of which there were plenty
in the place, yet after all to live with her sister, and drive out in
the carriage, with the footman and coachman in mourning, and the lozenge
on the panels, with the Bluebeard and Shacabac arms quartered on it,
was far more respect able, and so the lovely sisters continued to dwell
For a lady under Mrs. Bluebeard's circumstances, the town-house had
other and peculiar advantages. Besides being an exceedingly spacious
and dismal brick building, with a dismal iron railing in front, and
long dismal thin windows with little panes of glass, it looked out into
the churchyard where, time out of mind, between two yew-trees, one of
which is cut into the form of a peacock, while the other represents
a dumb-waiter-it looked into the churchyard where the monument of the
late Bluebeard was placed over the family vault. It was the first thing
the widow saw from her bedroom window in the morning, and 'twas sweet
to watch at night from the parlour the pallid moonlight lighting up
the bust of the departed, and Virtue throwing great black shadows athwart
it. Polyanthuses, rhododendra, ranunculuses, and other flowers with
the largest names and of the most delightful odours, were planted within
the little iron railing that enclosed the last resting-place of the
Blue- beards; and the beadle was instructed to half-kill any little
boys who might be caught plucking these sweet testimonies of a wife's
Over the sideboard in the dining-room hung
a full-length of Mr. Bluebeard, by Ticklegill, R.A., in a militia uniform,
frowning down upon the knives and forks and silver trays. Over the mantelpiece
he was represented in a hunting costume on his favourite horse; there
was a sticking-plaster silhouette of him in the widow's bedroom, and
a miniature in the drawing room, where he was drawn in a gown of black
and gold, holding a gold tasselled trencher-cap with one hand, and with
the other pointing to a diagram of Pons Asinorum. This likeness was
taken when he was a fellow-commoner at Saint John's College, Cambridge,
and before the growth of that blue beard which was the ornament of his
manhood, and a part of which now formed a beautiful blue neck-chain
for his bereaved wife.
Sister Anne said the town-house was even
more dismal than the country-house, for there was pure air at the Hall,
and it was pleasanter to look out on a park than on a churchyard, however
fine the monuments might be. But the widow said she was a light-minded
hussy, and persisted as usual in her lamentations and mourning. The
only male whom she would admit within her doors was the parson of the
parish, who read sermons to her; and, as his reverence was at least
seventy years old, Anne, though she might be ever so much minded to
fall in love, had no opportunity to indulge her inclination; and the
townspeople, scandalous as they might be, could not find a word to say
against the liaison of the venerable man and the heart-stricken widow.
All other company she resolutely refused.
When the players were in the town, the poor manager, who came to beg
her to bespeak a comedy, was thrust out of the gates by the big butler.
Though there were balls, card-parties, and assemblies, Widow Bluebeard
would never subscribe to one of them; and even the officers, those all-conquering
heroes who make such ravages in ladies' hearts, and to whom all ladies'
doors are commonly open, could never get an entry into the widow's house.
Captain Whiskerfield strutted for three weeks up and down before her
house, and had not the least effect upon her. Captain O'Grady (of an
Irish regiment) attempted to bribe the servants, and one night actually
scaled the garden wall; but all that he got was his foot in a man- trap,
not to mention being dreadfully scarified by the broken glass; and so
he never made love any more. Finally, Captain Blackbeard, whose whiskers
vied in magnitude with those of the deceased Bluebeard himself, although
he attended church regularly every week-he who had not darkened the
doors of a church for ten years before-even Captain Blackbeard got nothing
by his piety; and the widow never once took her eyes off her book to
look at him. The barracks were in despair; and Captain Whiskerfield's
tailor, who had supplied him with new clothes in order to win the widow's
heart, ended by clapping the captain into gaol.
His reverence the parson highly applauded
the widow's conduct to the officers; but, being himself rather of a
social turn, and fond of a good dinner and a bottle, he represented
to the lovely mourner that she should endeavour to divert her grief
by a little respectable society, and recommended that she should from
time to time entertain a few grave and sober persons whom he would present
to her. As Doctor Sly had an unbounded influence over the fair mourner,
she acceded to his desires; and accordingly he introduced to her house
some of the most venerable and worthy of his acquaintance,-all married
people, however, so that the widow should not take the least alarm.
It happened that the Doctor had a nephew,
who was a lawyer in London, and this gentleman came dutifully in the
long vacation to pay a visit to his reverend uncle. "He is none
of your roystering dashing young fellows," said his reverence,
"he is the delight of his mamma and sisters; he never drinks anything
stronger than tea; he never missed church thrice a Sunday for these
twenty years; and I hope, my dear and amiable madam, that you will not
object to receive this pattern of young men for the sake of your most
devoted friend, his uncle."
The widow consented to receive Mr. Sly.
He was not a handsome man certainly. "But what does that matter?"
said the Doctor; "he is good, and virtue is better than all the
beauty of all the dragoons in the Queen's service."
Mr. Sly came there to dinner, and he came
to tea; and he drove out with the widow in the carriage with the lozenge
on it; and at church he handed the psalm-book; and, in short, he paid
her every attention which could be expected from so polite a young gentleman.
At this the town began to talk, as people
in towns will. "The Doctor kept all bachelors out of the widow's
house," said they, "in order that that ugly nephew of his
may have the field entirely to himself." These speeches were of
course heard by sister Anne, and the little minx was not a little glad
to take advantage of them, in order to induce her sister to see some
more cheerful company. The fact is, the young hussy loved a dance or
a game at cards much more than a humdrum conversation over a tea-table;
and so she plied her sister day and night with hints as to the propriety
of opening her house, receiving the gentry of the county, and spending
To this point the widow at length, though
with many sighs and vast unwillingness, acceded; and she went so far
as to order a very becoming half- mourning, in which all the world declared
she looked charming. "I carry," said she, "my blessed
Bluebeard in my heart,-that is in the deepest mourning for him, and
when the heart grieves there is no need of outward show."
So she issued cards for a little quiet
tea and supper, and several of the best families in the town and neighbourhood
attended her entertainment. It was followed by another and another;
and at last Captain Blackbeard was actually introduced, though, of course,
he came in plain clothes.
Doctor Sly and his nephew never could abide
the Captain. "They had heard some queer stories," they said,
"about proceedings in barracks. Who was it that drank three bottles
at a sitting? who had a mare that ran for the plate? and why was it
that Dolly Coddlins left the town so suddenly?" Mr. Sly turned
up the whites of his eyes as his uncle asked these questions, and sighed
for the wickedness of the world. But for all that he was delighted,
especially at the anger which the widow manifested when the Dolly Coddlins
affair was hinted at. She was furious, and vowed she would never see
the wretch again. The lawyer and his uncle were charmed. O short-sighted
lawyer and parson, do you think Mrs. Bluebeard would have been so angry
if she had not been jealous?-do you think she would have been jealous
if she had not-had not what? She protested that she no more cared for
the Captain than she did for one of her footmen; but the next time he
called, she would not condescend to say a word to him.
"My dearest Miss Anne," said
the Captain, as he met her in Sir Roger de Coverley (she was herself
dancing with Ensign Trippet), "what is the matter with your lovely
"Dolly Coddlins is the matter,"
said Miss Anne. "Mr. Sly has told all"; and she was down the
middle in a twinkling.
The Captain blushed so at this monstrous
insinuation that anyone could see how incorrect it was. He made innumerable
blunders in the dance, and was all the time casting such ferocious glances
at Mr. Sly (who did not dance, but sat by the widow and ate ices), that
his partner thought he was mad, and that Mr. Sly became very uneasy.
When the dance was over, he came to pay
his respects to the widow, and, in so doing, somehow trod so violently
on Mr. Sly's foot that that gentleman screamed with pain, and presently
went home. But though he was gone the widow was not a whit more gracious
to Captain Blackbeard. She requested Mr. Trippet to order her carriage
that night, and went home without uttering one single word to Captain
The next morning, and with a face of preternatural
longitude, the Reverend Doctor Sly paid a visit to the widow. "The
wickedness and blood thirstiness of the world," said he, "increase
every day. O my dear madam, what monsters do we meet in it-what wretches,
what assassins, are allowed to go abroad! Would you believe it, that
this morning, as my nephew was taking his peaceful morning meal, one
of the ruffians from the barracks presented himself with a challenge
from Captain Blackbeard?"
"Is he hurt?" screamed the widow.
"No, my dear friend, my dear Frederick
is not hurt. And oh, what a joy it will be to him to think you have
that tender solicitude for his welfare!"
"You know I have always had the highest
respect for him," said the widow; who, when she screamed, was in
truth thinking of somebody else. But the Doctor did not choose to interpret
her thoughts in that way, and gave all the benefit of them to his nephew.
"That anxiety, dearest madam, which
you express for him emboldens me, encourages me, authorises me, to press
a point on you which I am sure must have entered your thoughts ere now.
The dear youth in whom you have shown such an interest lives but for
you! Yes, fair lady, start not at hearing that his sole affections are
yours; and with what pride shall I carry to him back the news that he
is not indifferent to you!"
"Are they going to fight?" continued
the lady, in a breathless state of alarm. "For Heaven's sake, dearest
Doctor, prevent the horrid horrid meeting. Send for a magistrate's warrant;
do anything; but do not suffer those misguided young men to cut each
"Fairest lady, I fly!" said the
Doctor, and went back to lunch quite delighted with the evident partiality
Mrs. Bluebeard showed for his nephew. And Mrs. Bluebeard, not content
with exhorting him to prevent the duel, rushed to Mr. Pound, the magistrate,
informed him of the facts, got out warrants against both Mr. Sly and
the Captain, and would have put them into execution; but it was discovered
that the former gentleman had abruptly left town, so that the constable
could not lay hold of him.
It somehow, however, came to be generally
known that the widow Bluebeard had declared herself in favour of Mr.
Sly, the lawyer; that she had fainted when told her lover was about
to fight a duel; finally, that she had accepted him, and would marry
him as soon as the quarrel between him and the Captain was settled.
Doctor Sly, when applied to, hummed and ha'd, and would give no direct
answer; but he denied nothing, and looked so knowing, that all the world
was certain of the fact; and the county paper next week stated:-
"We understand that the lovely and
wealthy Mrs. Bl-b-rd is about once more to enter the bands of wedlock
with our distinguished townsman, Frederick S-y, Esquire, of the Middle
Temple, London. The learned gentleman left town in consequence of a
dispute with a gallant son of Mars which was likely to have led to warlike
results, had not a magistrate's warrant intervened, when the Captain
was bound over to keep the peace."
In fact, as soon as the Captain was so
bound over, Mr. Sly came back, stating that he had quitted the town
not to avoid a duel,-far from it, but to keep out of the way of the
magistrates, and give the Captain every facility. He had taken out no
warrant; he had been perfectly ready to meet the Captain; if others
had been more prudent, it was not his fault. So he held up his head,
and cocked his hat with the most determined air; and all the lawyers'
clerks in the place were quite proud of their hero.
As for Captain Blackbeard, his rage and
indignation may be imagined; a wife robbed from him, his honour put
in question by an odious, lanky, squinting lawyer! He fell ill of a
fever incontinently; and the surgeon was obliged to take a quantity
of blood from him, ten times the amount of which he swore he would have
out of the veins of the atrocious Sly.
The announcement in the Mercury, however,
filled the widow with almost equal indignation. "The widow of the
gallant Bluebeard," she said, "marry an odious wretch who
lives in dingy chambers in the Middle Temple! Send for Doctor Sly."
The Doctor came; she rated him soundly, asked him how he dared set abroad
such calumnies concerning her; ordered him to send his nephew back to
London at once; and, as he valued her esteem, as he valued the next
presentation to a fat living which lay in her gift, to contradict everywhere,
and in the fullest terms, the wicked report concerning her.
"My dearest madam," said the
Doctor, pulling his longest face, "you shall be obeyed. The poor
lad shall be acquainted with the fatal change in your sentiments!"
"Change in my sentiments, Doctor Sly!"
"With the destruction of his hopes,
rather let me say; and Heaven grant that the dear boy have strength
to bear up against the misfortune which comes so suddenly upon him!"
The next day sister Anne came with a face
full of care to Mrs. Bluebeard. "Oh that unhappy lover of yours!"
"Is the Captain unwell?" exclaimed
"No, it is the other," answered
sister Anne. "Poor, poor Mr. Sly! He made a will leaving you all,
except five pounds a year to his laundress: he made his will, locked
his door, took heart-rending leave of his uncle at night, and this morning
was found hanging at his bed-post when Sambo, the black servant, took
him up his water to shave. 'Let me be buried,' he said, 'with the pincushion
she gave me and the locket containing her hair.' Did you give him a
pincushion, sister? did you give him a locket with your hair?"
"It was only silver-gilt!" sobbed
the widow; "and now, oh heavens! I have killed him!" The heart-rending
nature of her sobs may be imagined; but they were abruptly interrupted
by her sister.
"Killed him?-no such thing! Sambo
cut him down when he was as black in the face as the honest negro himself.
He came down to breakfast, and I leave you to fancy what a touching
meeting took place between the nephew and uncle."
"So much love!" thought the widow.
"What a pity he squints so! If he would but get his eyes put straight,
I might perhaps-" She did not finish tile sentence: ladies often
leave this sort of sentence in a sweet confusion.
But hearing some news regarding Captain
Blackbeard, whose illness and blood-letting were described to her most
pathetically, as well as accurately, by the Scotch surgeon of the regiment,
her feelings of compassion towards the lawyer cooled somewhat; and when
Doctor Sly called to know if she would condescend to meet the unhappy
youth, she said, in rather a distrait manner, that she wished him every
happiness; that she had the highest regard and respect for him; that
she besought him not to think any more of committing the dreadful crime
which would have made her unhappy for ever; but that she thought, for
the sake of both parties, they had better not meet until Mr. Sly's feelings
had grown somewhat more calm,
"Poor fellow! poor fellow!" said
the Doctor, "may he be enabled to bear his frightful calamity!
I have taken away his razors from him, and Sambo, my man, never lets
him out of his sight."
The next day Mrs. Bluebeard thought of
sending a friendly message to Doctor Sly's, asking for news of the health
of his nephew; but, as she was giving her orders on that subject to
John Thomas the footman, it happened that the Captain arrived, and so
Thomas was sent downstairs again. And the Captain looked so delightfully
interesting with his arm in a sling, and his beautiful black whiskers
curling round a face which was paler than usual, that at the end of
two hours the widow forgot the message altogether, and, indeed, I believe,
asked the Captain whether he would not stop and dine. Ensign Trippet
came, too, and the party was very pleasant; and the military gentlemen
laughed hugely at the idea of the lawyer having been cut off the bed-post
by the black servant, and were so witty on the subject, that the widow
ended by half believing that the bed-post and hanging scheme on the
part of Mr. Sly was only a feint-a trick to win her heart. Though this,
to be sure, was not agreed to by the lady without a pang, for entre
nous, to hang oneself for a lady is no small compliment to her attractions,
and, perhaps, Mrs. Bluebeard was rather disappointed at the notion that
the hanging was not a bona fide strangulation.
However, presently her nerves were excited
again; and she was consoled or horrified, as the case may be (the reader
must settle the point according to his ideas and knowledge of womankind)-she
was at any rate dreadfully excited by the receipt of a billet in the
well-known clerk-like hand of Mr. Sly. It ran thus:-
"I saw you through your dining-room
windows. You were hob nobbing with Captain Blackbeard. You looked rosy
and well. You smiled. You drank off the champagne at a single draught.
"I can bear it no more. Live on, smile
on, and be happy. My ghost shall repine, perhaps, at your happiness
with another-but in life I should go mad were I to witness it.
"It is best that I should be gone.
"When you receive this, tell my uncle
to drag the fish-pond at the end of Bachelor's Acre. His black servant
Sambo accompanies me, it is true. But Sambo shall perish with me should
his obstinacy venture to restrain me from my purpose. I know the poor
fellow's honesty well, but I also know my own despair.
"Sambo will leave a wife and seven
children. Be kind to those orphan mulattoes for the sake of
The widow gave a dreadful shriek, and interrupted
the two Captains, who were each just in the act of swallowing a bumper
of claret. "Fly-fly- save him," she screamed; "save him,
monsters, ere it is too late! Drowned!- Frederick!-Bachelor's Wa-"
Syncope took place, and the rest of the sentence was interrupted.
Deucedly disappointed at being obliged
to give up their wine, the two heroes seized their cocked-hats, and
went towards the spot which the widow in her wild exclamations of despair
had sufficiently designated.
Trippet was for running to the fish-pond
at the rate of ten miles an hour. "Take it easy, my good fellow,"
said Captain Blackbeard; "running is unwholesome after dinner.
And if that squinting scoundrel of a lawyer does drown himself, I shan't
sleep any the worse." So the two gentlemen walked very leisurely
on towards the Bachelor's Walk; and, indeed, seeing on their way thither
Major Macabaw looking out of the window at his quarters and smoking
a cigar, they went upstairs to consult the Major, as also a bottle of
Schiedam he had.
"They come not!" said the widow,
when restored to herself. "Oh, heav ens! grant that Frederick is
safe! Sister Anne, go up to the leads and look if anybody is coming."
And up, accordingly, to the garrets sister Anne mounted. "Do you
see anybody coming, sister Anne?"
"I see Doctor Drench's little boy,"
said sister Anne, "he is leaving a pill and draught at Miss Molly
"Dearest sister Anne, don't you see
anyone coming?" shouted the widow once again.
"I see a flock of dust,-no! a cloud
of sheep. Pshaw! I see the London coach coming in. There are three outsides,
and the guard has flung a parcel to Mrs. Jenkins's maid."
"Distraction! Look once more, sister
"I see a crowd-a shutter-a shutter
with a man on it-a beadle-forty little boys-Gracious goodness! what
can it be?" and downstairs tumbled sister Anne, and was looking
out of the parlour-window by her sister's side, when the crowd she had
perceived from the garret passed close by them.
At the head walked the beadle, slashing
about at the little boys.
Two scores of these followed and surrounded
A SHUTTER carried by four men.
On the shutter lay Frederick! He was ghastly
pale; his hair was draggled over his face; his clothes stuck tight to
him on account of the wet; streams of water gurgled down the shutter
sides. But he was not dead! He turned one eye round towards the window
where Mrs. Bluebeard sat, and gave her a look which she never could
Sambo brought up the rear of the procession.
He was quite wet through; and, if anything would have put his hair out
of curl, his ducking would have done so. But, as he was not a gentleman,
he was allowed to walk home on foot, and, as he passed the widow's window,
he gave her one dreadful glance with his goggling black eyes, and moved
on pointing with his hands to the shutter.
John Thomas, the footman, was instantly
despatched to Doctor Sly's to have news of the patient. There was no
shilly-shallying now. He came back in half-an-hour to say that Mr. Frederick
flung himself into Bachelor's Acre fish-pond with Sambo, had been dragged
out with difficulty, had been put to bed, and had a pint of white wine
whey, and was pretty comfortable. "Thank Heaven!" said the
widow, and gave John Thomas a seven-shilling piece, and sat down with
a lightened heart to tea. "What a heart!" said she to sister
Anne. "And, oh, what a pity it is that he squints!"
Here the two Captains arrived. They had
not been to the Bachelor's Walk; they had remained at Major Macabaw's
consulting the Schiedam. They had made up their minds what to say. "Hang
the fellow! he will never have the pluck to drown himself," said
Captain Blackbeard. "Let us argue on that, as we may safely."
"My sweet lady," said he, accordingly,
"we have had the pond dragged. No Mr. Sly. And the fisherman who
keeps the punt assures us that he has not been there all day."
"Audacious falsehood!" said the
widow, her eyes flashing fire. "Go, heart less man! who dares to
trifle thus with the feelings of a respectable and unprotected woman.
Go, sir, you're only fit for the love of a-Dolly-Coddlins!" She
pronounced the Coddlins with a withering sarcasm that struck the Captain
aghast; and sailing out of the room, she left her tea untasted, and
did not wish either of the military gentlemen good-night.
But, gentles, an' ye know the delicate
fibre of woman's heart, ye will not in very sooth believe that such
events as those we have described-such tempests of passion-fierce winds
of woe-blinding lightnings of tremendous joy and tremendous grief-could
pass over one frail flower and leave it all unscathed. No! Grief kills
as joy doth. Doth not the scorching sun nip the rose-bud as well as
the bitter wind? As Mrs. Sigourney sweetly sings-
"Ah! the heart is a soft and a delicate
Ah! the heart is a lute with a thrilling string;
A spirit that floats on a gossamer's wing!"
Such was Fatima's heart. In a word, the
preceding events had a powerful effect upon her nervous system, and
she was ordered much quiet and salvolatile by her skilful medical attendant,
To be so ardently, passionately loved as
she was, to know that Frederick had twice plunged into death from attachment
to her, was to awaken in her bosom "a thrilling string" indeed!
Could she witness such attachment, and not be touched by it? She was
touched by it-she was influenced by the virtues, by the passion, by
the misfortunes of Frederick; but then he was so abominably ugly that
she could not-she could not consent to become his bride!
She told Doctor Sly so. "I respect
and esteem your nephew," said she, "but my resolve is made.
I will continue faithful to that blessed saint, whose monument is ever
before my eyes" (she pointed to the churchyard as she spoke). "Leave
this poor tortured heart in quiet. It has already suffered more than
most hearts could bear. I will repose under the shadow of that tomb
until I am called to rest within it-to rest by the side of my Bluebeard!"
The ranunculuses, rhododendra, and polyanthuses, which ornamented that
mausoleum, had somehow been suffered to run greatly to seed during the
last few months, and it was with no slight self-accusation that she
acknowledged this fact on visiting the "garden of the grave,"
as she called it; and she scolded the beadle soundly for neglecting
his duty towards it. He promised obedience for the future, dug out all
the weeds that were creeping round the family vault, and (having charge
of the key) entered that awful place, and swept and dusted the melancholy
contents of the tomb.
Next morning the widow came down to breakfast
looking very pale. She had passed a bad night; she had had awful dreams;
she had heard a voice call her thrice at midnight. "Pooh! my dear;
it's only nervousness," said sceptical sister Anne.
Here John Thomas the footman entered, and
said the beadle was in the hall, looking in a very strange way. He had
been about the house since daybreak, and insisted on seeing Mrs. Bluebeard.
"Let him enter," said that lady, prepared for some great mystery.
The beadle came; he was pale as death; his hair was dishevelled, and
his cocked-hat out of order. "What have you to say?" said
the lady trembling.
Before beginning, he fell down on his knees.
"Yesterday," said he, "according
to your Ladyship's orders, I dug up the flower-beds of the family vault-dusted
the vault and the-the coffins" (added he, trembling) "inside.
Me and John Sexton did it together, and polished up the plate quite
"For Heaven's sake, don't allude to
it," cried the widow, turning pale.
"Well, my Lady, I locked the door,
came away, and found in my hurry- for I wanted to beat two little boys
what was playing at marbles on Alderman Paunch's monyment-I found, my
Lady, I'd forgot my cane. I couldn't get John Sexton to go back with
me till this morning, and I didn't like to go alone, and so we went
this morning, and what do you think I found? I found his honour's coffin
turned round, and the cane broke in two. Here's the cane!"
"Ah!" screamed the widow, "take
it away-take it away!"
"Well, what does this prove,"
said sister Anne, "but that somebody moved the coffin, and broke
"Somebody! who's somebody?" said
the beadle, staring round about him. And all of a sudden he started
back with a tremendous roar, that made the ladies scream, and all the
glasses on the sideboard jingle, and cried, "That's the man!"
He pointed to the portrait of Bluebeard,
which stood over the jingling glasses on the sideboard. "That's
the man I saw last night walking round the vault, as I'm a living sinner.
I saw him a-walking round and round, and, when I went up to speak to
him, I'm blessed if he didn't go in at the iron gate, which opened afore
him like-like winking, and then in at the vault door, which I'd double-locked,
my Lady, and bolted inside, I'll take my oath on it!"
"Perhaps you had given him the key?"
suggested sister Anne.
"It's never been out of my pocket.
Here it is," cried the beadle, "I'll have no more to do with
it," and he flung down the ponderous key, amidst another scream
from widow Bluebeard.
"At what hour did you see him?"
"At twelve o'clock, of course."
"It must have been at that very hour,"
said she, "I heard the voice."
"What voice?" said Anne.
"A voice that called 'Fatima! Fatima!
Fatima!' three times as plain as ever voice did."
"It didn't speak to me," said
the beadle, "it only nodded its head and wagged its head and beard."
"W-w--was it a bl-ue beard?"
said the widow.
"Powder-blue, ma'am, as I've a soul
Doctor Drench was of course instantly sent
for. But what are the medicaments of the apothecary in a case where
the grave gives up its dead? Doctor Sly arrived, and he offered ghostly-ah!
too ghostly-consolation. He said he believed in them, His own grandmother
had appeared to his grandfather several times before he married again.
He could not doubt that supernatural agencies were possible, even frequent.
"Suppose he were to appear to me alone,"
ejaculated the widow, "I should die of fright."
The Doctor looked particularly arch. "The
best way in these cases, my dear madam," said he-"the best
way for unprotected ladies is to get a husband. I never heard of a first
husband's ghost appearing to a woman and her second husband in my life.
In all history there is no account of one."
"Ah! why should I be afraid of seeing
my Bluebeard again?" said the widow; and the Doctor retired quite
pleased, for the lady was evidently thinking of a second husband.
"The Captain would be a better protector
for me certainly than Mr. Sly," thought the lady, with a sigh;
"but Mr. Sly will certainly kill himself, and will the Captain
be a match for two ghosts? Sly will kill himself; but ah! the Captain
won't"; and the widow thought with pangs of bitter mortification
of Dolly Coddlins. How, how should these distracting circumstances be
brought to an end?
She retired to rest that night not without
a tremor-to bed, but not to sleep. At midnight a voice was heard in
her room crying "Fatima! Fatima! Fatima!" in awful accents.
The doors banged to and fro, the bells began to ring, the maids went
up and down stairs skurrying and screaming, and gave warning in a body.
John Thomas, as pale as death, declared that he found Bluebeard's yeomanry
sword, that hung in the hall, drawn and on the ground; and the sticking-plaster
miniature in Mr. Bluebeard's bedroom was found turned topsy-turvy!
"It is some trick," said the
obstinate and incredulous sister Anne. "To night I will come and
sleep with you, sister," and the night came, and the sisters retired
'Twas a wild night. The wind howling without
went crashing through the old trees of the old rookery round about the
old church. The long bedroom windows went thump-thumping; the moon could
be seen through them lighting up the graves with their ghastly shadows;
the yew-tree, cut into the shape of a bird, looked particularly dreadful,
and bent and swayed as if it would peck something off that other yew-tree
which was of the shape of a dumb-waiter. The bells at midnight began
to ring as usual, the doors clapped; jingle-jingle down came a suit
of armour in the hall, and a voice came and cried, "Fatima! Fatima!
Fatima! look, look, look; the tomb, the tomb, the tomb!"
She looked. The vault door was open; and
there in the moonlight stood Bluebeard, exactly as he was represented
in the picture in his yeomanry dress, his face frightfully pale and
his great blue beard curling over his chest, as awful as Mr. Muntz's.
Sister Anne saw the vision as well as Fatima.
We shall spare the account of their terrors and screams. Strange to
say, John Thomas, who slept in the attic above his mistress's bedroom,
declared he was on the watch all night and had seen nothing in the churchyard,
and heard no sort of voices in the house.
And now the question came, What could the
ghost want by appearing? "Is there anything," exclaimed the
unhappy and perplexed Fatima, "that he would have me do? It is
well to say 'now, now, now,' and to show himself; but what is it that
makes my blessed husband so uneasy in his grave?" And all parties
consulted agreed that it was a very sensible question.
John Thomas, the footman, whose excessive
terror at the appearance of the ghost had procured him his mistress's
confidence, advised Mr. Screw, the butler, who communicated with Mrs.
Baggs, the housekeeper, who condescended to impart her observations
to Mrs. Bustle, the lady's-maid-John Thomas, I say, decidedly advised
that my Lady should consult a cunning man. There was such a man in town;
he had prophesied who should marry his (John Thomas's) cousin; he had
cured Farmer Horn's cattle, which were evidently bewitched; he could
raise ghosts, and make them speak, and he therefore was the very person
to be consulted in the present juncture.
"What nonsense is this you have been
talking to the maids, John Thomas, about the conjurer who lives in-in---"
"In Hangman's Lane, ma'am, where the
old gibbet used to stand," replied John, who was bringing in the
muffins. "It's no nonsense, my Lady. Every word as that man says
comes true, and he knows everything."
"I desire you will not frighten the
girls in the servants' hall with any of those silly stories," said
the widow; and the meaning of this speech may, of course, at once be
guessed. It was that the widow meant to consult the conjurer that very
night. Sister Anne said that she would never, under such circum stances,
desert her dear Fatima. John Thomas was summoned to attend the ladies
with a dark lantern, and forth they set on their perilous visit to the
conjurer at his dreadful abode in Hangman's Lane.
What took place at that frightful interview has never been entirely
known. But there was no disturbance in the house on the night after.
The bells slept quietly, the doors did not bang in the least, twelve
o'clock struck and no ghost appeared in the churchyard, and the whole
family had a quiet night. The widow attributed this to a sprig of rosemary
which the wizard gave her, and a horseshoe which she flung into the
garden round the family vault, and which would keep any ghost quiet.
It happened the next day that, going to
her milliner's, sister Anne met a gentleman who has been before mentioned
in this story, Ensign Trippet by name; and, indeed, if the truth must
be known, it somehow happened that she met the Ensign somewhere every
day of the week.
"What news of the ghost, my dearest
Miss Shacabac?" said he (you may guess on what terms the two young
people were by the manner in which Mr. Trippet addressed the lady);
"has Bluebeard's ghost frightened your sister into any more fits,
or set the bells a-ringing?"
Sister Anne, with a very grave air, told
him that he must not joke on so awful a subject; that the ghost had
been laid for awhile; that a cunning man had told her sister things
so wonderful that any man must believe in them; that, among other things,
he had shown to Fatima her future husband.
"Had," said the Ensign, "he
black whiskers and a red coat?"
"No," answered Anne, with a sigh,
"he had red whiskers and a black coat."
"It can't be that rascal Sly!"
cried the Ensign. But Anne only sighed more deeply, and would not answer
yes or no. "You may tell the poor Captain," she said, "there
is no hope for him, and all he has left is to hang himself."
"He shall cut the throat of Sly first,
though," replied Mr. Trippet, fiercely. But Anne said things were
not decided as yet. Fatima was exceedingly restive and unwilling to
acquiesce in the idea of being married to Mr. Sly; she had asked for
further authority. The wizard said he could bring her own husband from
the grave to point out her second bridegroom, who shall be, can be,
must be, no other than Frederick Sly.
"It's a trick," said the Ensign.
But Anne was too much frightened by the preceding evening's occurrences
to say so. "To-night," she said, "the grave will tell
all." And she left Ensign Trippet in a very solemn and affecting
At midnight three figures were seen to issue from widow Bluebeard's
house and pass through the churchyard turnstile and so away among the
"To call up a ghost is bad enough,"
said the wizard; "to make him speak is awful. I recommend you,
ma'am, to beware, for such curiosity has been fatal to many. There was
one Arabian necromancer of my acquaintance who tried to make a ghost
speak, and was torn in pieces on the spot. There was another person
who did hear a ghost speak certainly, but came away from the interview
deaf and dumb. There was another-"
"Never mind," says Mrs. Bluebeard,
all her old curiosity aroused, "see him and hear him I will. Haven't
I seen him and heard him, too, already? When he's audible and visible,
then's the time."
"But when you heard him," said
the necromancer, "he was invisible, and when you saw him he was
inaudible; so make up your mind what you will ask him, for ghosts will
stand no shilly-shallying. I knew a stuttering man who was flung down
by a ghost, and-"
"I have made up my mind," said
Fatima, interrupting him.
"To ask him what husband you shall
take," whispered Anne.
Fatima only turned red, and sister Anne
squeezed her hand; they passed into the graveyard in silence.
There was no moon; the night was pitch-dark.
They threaded their way through the graves, stumbling over them here
and there. An owl was too whooing from the church tower, a dog was howling
somewhere, a cock began to crow, as they will sometimes at twelve o'clock
"Make haste," said the wizard.
"Decide whether you will go on or not."
"Let us go back, sister," said
"I will go on," said Fatima.
"I should die if I gave it up; I feel I should."
"Here's the gate; kneel down,"
said the wizard, The women knelt down.
"Will you see your first husband or
your second husband?"
"I will see Bluebeard first,"
said the widow. "I shall know then whether this be a mockery, or
you have the power you pretend to."
At this the wizard uttered an incantation,
so frightful and of such in comprehensible words, that it is impossible
for any mortal to repeat them. And at the end of what seemed to be a
versicle of his chant he called "Bluebeard!" There was no
noise but the moaning of the wind in the trees, and toowhooing of the
owl in the tower.
At the end of the second verse he paused
again and called "Bluebeard!" The cock began to crow, the
dog began to howl, a watchman in the town began to cry out the hour,
and there came from the vault within a hollow groan, and a dreadful
voice said, "Who wants me?"
Kneeling in front of the tomb, the necromancer
began the third verse: as he spoke, the former phenomena were still
to be remarked. As he continued, a number of ghosts rose from their
graves and advanced round the kneeling figures in a circle. As he concluded,
with a loud bang the door of the vault flew open, and there in blue
light stood Bluebeard in his blue uniform, waving his blue sword and
flashing his blue eyes round about!
"Speak now, or you are lost,"
said the necromancer to Fatima. But, for the first time in her life,
she had not a word to say. Sister Anne, too, was dumb with terror. And,
as the awful figure advanced towards them as they were kneeling, the
sister thought all was over with them, and Fatima once more had occasion
to repent her fatal curiosity.
The figure advanced, saying, in dreadful
accents, "Fatima! Fatima! Fatima! wherefore am I called from my
grave?" when all of a sudden down dropped his sword, down the ghost
of Bluebeard went on his knees, and, clasping his hands together, roared
out, "Mercy, mercy!" as loud as man could roar.
Six other ghosts stood round the kneeling
group. "Why do you call me from the tomb?" said the first;
"Who dares disturb my grave?" said the second; "Seize
him and away with him!" cried the third. "Murder, mercy!"
still roared the ghost of Bluebeard, as the white-robed spirits advanced
and caught hold of him.
"It's only Tom Trippet," said
a voice at Anne's ear.
"And your very humble servant,"
said a voice well known to Mrs. Bluebeard; and they helped the ladies
to rise, while the other ghosts seized Bluebeard. The necromancer took
to his heels and got off; he was found to be no other than Mr. Claptrap,
the manager of the theatre.
It was some time before the ghost of Bluebeard
could recover from the fainting fit into which he had been plunged when
seized by the opposition ghosts in white; and while they were ducking
him at the pump, his blue beard came off, and he was discovered to be-who
do you think? Why Mr. Sly, to be sure; and it appears that John Thomas,
the footman, had lent him the uniform, and had clapped the doors, and
rung the bells, and spoken down the chimney; and it was Mr. Claptrap
who gave Mr. Sly the blue fire and the theatre gong, and he went to
London next morning by the coach; and, as it was discovered that the
story concerning Miss Coddlins was a shameful calumny, why, of course,
the widow married Captain Blackbeard. Doctor Sly married them, and has
always declared that he knew nothing of his nephew's doings, and wondered
that he has not tried to commit suicide since his last disappointment.
Mr. and Mrs. Trippet are likewise living
happily together, and this, I am given to understand, is the ultimate
fate of a family in whom we were all very much interested in early life.
You will say that the story is not probable.
Psha! Isn't it written in a book? and is it a whit less probable than
the first part of the tale?
Thackeray, William Makepeace. Bluebeard's