the source of      all things

 

  

 

A Reimagining of Bluebeard, a French Folktale

          A man with a vast family fortune married a woman whose family was also affluent.  In time, they were blessed with two beautiful daughters.  However, between ships lost at sea and other investments, the style in which they were used to living vanished. Instead of spending lavishly, the husband found himself owing large amounts of money.
     His joy decreased yet again when his wife died giving birth to yet another baby girl. A boy would have insured the survival of the family name, and perhaps a recouping of the family fortune.  The father loved his daughters, yet also felt they were like sponges to liquid, for when each wed they would further decrease his financial resources. For this reason, though the eldest had many suitors, he deferred accepting their proposals.  

     One day a man called Redbeard, for the thistly red beard which hung to his waist, arrived at their door in a carriage encrusted in jewels with solid gold door handles.  The harnesses of his horses were festooned in the precious metal. He was looking for a wife, her only dowry, exquisite beauty.  As part of the marriage contract, Redbeard would in addition, give a sum of money to make the family more comfortable.
    The father could not believe his luck.  The neighbors were surprised, for Redbeard was said to be cruel and monstrous. How could a father who loved his daughters agree to such a marriage? But who is to say who was the crueler, the father who sold his daughters or the man who claimed each for his wife.  For one after the other died an untimely death which Redbeard said he had been unable to prevent.  The father, seeing his life improve with each daughter’s service to him, did not question his son-in-law.

     Finally, only the youngest, Teaona, remained.  To cease the constant demands of his creditors, the father gave Redbeard Teaona’s hand in marriage.      
    Teaona was the prettiest of her fair sisters, with a simple and sweet disposition.  Unlike her older siblings, she had spent most of her life with her grandmother, her mother’s mother, and the old woman was extremely fond of her.   So when the grandmother heard of the father’s intentions, she sat Teaona down saying, “I will tell you the secret of life, and in this way you may yet be spared the fate of your sisters.”  
    Then taking Teaona’s hands in hers and looking directly into those innocent young eyes, she told her, “All life is from one source.”  She could see a puzzled look pass over her granddaughter’s eyes.  “We see differences, yet those differences are like waters which run to the ocean.  Some are from streams, others from rivers or lakes or drops that fall from the sky. Yet, all are water.  So it is with life.”  The old woman could tell Teaona had not yet understood, for new ideas sometimes take time.
    Noticing the gold bracelet that had been a gift from mother to daughter the grandmother tried again,  “Think of it this way my child,” and she slipped the gold bracelet off the slim wrist.  “Your bracelet is gold, as are the rings on my fingers, the crown on the king’s head, and the goblets he drinks from.  Gold remains gold even though we see it as bracelets, rings, crowns, and goblets.  From one come many.  Remember that one, rather than being distracted by its forms.  Teaona, nodded slightly, and the grandmother, resting her hands on either side of her granddaughter’s face, continued, “So, dear one, do not be greedy to have what is not offered or to feel any lack.  There is always more from where that one came.  This is my wedding gift to you.  Never forget.”  Then she kissed her tenderly on the brow.
    The next morning, Redbeard and Teaona  were married.  For many days Redbeard stayed home attentive to his new bride.  She began to think that perhaps it was only his outer appearance that had brought his reputation, for he was courteous and attentive.  Then after three months, one morning Redbeard came to tell her he must leave on business, “Here are the keys to the house.  You are free to go in every room except the one at the top.  This one is for me alone.”  She accepted the keys into her hands and waved as he rode off. 

     “I will return in four days,” Redbeard shouted over his shoulder, as he rode away.  She watched him until he was a speck against the sky, then turned and went into their home.
    It was large and rambling with many rooms she hadn’t seen.  The keys, though, pulled on her so when she reached the drawing-room which was her favorite, she removed them and busied herself with other projects for the rest of the day.  
    On the second day, having finished a sampler and bored with the time that stretched before her, Teaona noticed the keys.  She picked them up curious to know what was behind each door.
    Redbeard was a wealthy man and each room was more luxuriant than the next.  Walls were covered with silks and brocades.  The chairs were plush, in velvets of blue or red, gold or green.  In one room mirrors were the walls and chandeliers of crystal teardrops graced the ceiling with sconces of gold and crystal.  It was the ballroom; and Teaona imagined herself whirling in and out of throngs of dancers.
    Finally, she reached the top floor, there was only one room left.  The one her husband had said not to open.  She stared at the door.  The wood was unpainted, unadorned, curved, instead of elegant with sharp corners like the other doors.  Teaona stood poised in thought, her hand grasping the key that opened that door, remembering her husband’s departing words. “That room is for me alone.” Why would he share every room, but one? What was behind this plain simple door?, she wondered.  Desire drew Teaona closer, and seemingly, of its own volition, the key slid into the keyhole. She watched her hand move to turn it. First the resistance, then the catch and click. But the lock never caught, for her grandmother’s words came clearly as if standing beside her,  “From one come many. Do not be greedy to have what is not offered or to feel any lack.”  
    Teaona jerked the key from the lock. What had happened?  She had no memory of placing the key in the lock. A door was naught but wood carved into a shape and a room but empty space.  “I do not need to open this one and betray the trust given me,” she whispered, and slid the keys back into the pocket of her dress.

                                                   ....

Soft insistent voices were pulling Teaona from sleep into the world. She turned sinking back momentarily into that space of silence and dreams. Then opened her eyes. It was early, light just visible would soon reveal day. There was an urgency in the whispers. Then, her name. At least it sounded like her name. Pushing back the covers, sliding her feet into pink satin slippers, Teaona reached for her dressing gown. The whispers paused, then began again, more distinct now that they had her attention. “Save us. Free us,” they pleaded. Teaona opened the door, and the pleas became louder, more insistent. Stepping into the hall she followed them. Down the stairs, to the left, past family portraits. Down the hallway, the voices beseeching her. “Teaona, help us, help us. You must rescue us.” She stopped in front of wedding portraits of her sisters. Each so beautiful, so full of hope and expectation. The voices ceased and she stood staring, trying to comprehend how pictures could speak. “Were her sisters truly alive; were they in desperate circumstances?” Her status had changed from single to married because of their deaths and she had seen their graves, but someone was calling, pleading.
    Marie, her maid, found Teaona gaze fixed, unwavering, concentrated on her sisters portraits. “Mistress? Mistress, are you all right?” But there was no reply.  Turning Teona towards her, Marie put her hands on her shoulders, gently shaking, then taking Teaona’s hand, pulled her away. She went, not knowing what had happened and how she had come to be in the hallway. Tea, toast, a blanket spread on her lap and Marie talking nonsense - the weather, what dress Teaona might like to wear, how they would fix her hair, until slowly light came back into her eyes. “Are you all right?” Marie asked. Teaona nodded.  Marie, “Is there anyone here but us?”
    “No, no one. We’re alone.”

   "Are there ghosts?” The maid paled ever so slightly, and faltered before replying. “Only those of an empty house and things that rattle and pop.”
    “So there is no one but us?”
    “No, no one, mistress.”
    “This morning I heard my sisters calling. Pleading for help.”
    “The house is so big, so new to you. Maybe it was just a dream or your imagination,” suggested Marie. “Are you better now?  Would you like more tea, some fruit, another piece of bread toasted?”
    The windows before them showed a day fresh and clear. The sun was bright dispelling shadows, birds chirped, twittering and singing. “I think I'll go for a long walk or a ride.” replied Teaona.
    When she returned with the blush of roses on her cheeks, Teaona’s smile had reappeared.  The wind had pulled loose tendrils of hair that framed her face. She was relaxed and happy.
    Lingering in the afternoon sun her thoughts of her sisters, Teaona lifted her head to look toward the uppermost window, to the room for her husband alone. Ghostly faces stared down at her. Hands banged and pressed against the panes.
    Her face paled like the moon in the night sky, Teaona picked up her skirts, shouting for her Marie as she ran.  “Marie, Marie!”  
    “What’s wrong, madame?  Are you all right?”  Teaona grabbed Marie tightly with both hands.  “Are you sure no one is in this house but you and me?"  A slight shiver passed to the hands encircling the arms, but the maid calmly replied, “There is none but us.”
    “This morning I thought I heard my sisters calling, and now faces appeared at the top most window, banging and screaming.”
    “It was nothing, just imagination, madame. The house is large and empty except for you and I. Come, you are shivering.  Shall I bring tea or perhaps hot chocolate to calm and sooth you.”  Then she led Teaona to a chair, wrapped a shawl around her, saying firmly, “There is no one here but us. It was just your imagination.”
    Teaona, however, could not let go of the fear that something dreadful lay in that room.  When her heart stopped pounding, twice she ran up to the door, but heard nothing on the other side.  Before the sun set, Teaona went again sitting, waiting and staring, but there were no sounds, no voices.  It was her promise and her grandmother’s gift that finally drew her down stairs, for from wood any shape can be created, yet this shape, she had promised not to touch.
    The next day Redbeard returned, and into his hands she placed the keys to the house.  He questioned her carefully.  Then asked, “Have you abided by my wishes?”  
    “Yes,” she replied, and then told him about the strange sounds and the faces in the window.  “When you are alone in a house, it can sometimes tease you into believing things that aren’t there, was his only reply.”
     Two more times Redbeard left and handed the keys into Teaona’s keeping, and each time when he returned, she had not opened the door.  Yet, she noticed, this seemed to irritate, rather than please him.
    One morning, having finished breakfast, Redbeard rose. Turning to Teaona, he said, “I regret, my dear, that I must leave, again, on business.  Someone will come on the morning of the fourth day to pick up a box.  I had thought I would be here, but please convey my apologies and see that the box is placed into his hands.”
    He took her to the drawing room where a box encrusted with rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, and secured with a red silk bow had been placed on one of the tables.     
    “It’s, it’s beautiful,” she stammered, her hand reaching to touch it.  Redbeard stopped her, taking her hand in his.  Looking into her eyes he uttered these instructions, “Do not move or touch the box until it is time to place it into the hands of the one to whom it belongs.”  And she promised.  Then he added, as he handed her the keys, "and, do not open the room on the top floor.”
    “It shall be as you wish.” Teaona replied.  He smiled and bending over, kissed her on the cheek.
    After Redbeard was gone she returned to the drawing-room and sat to gaze upon the box.  It was a feast for her eyes.  “What could be inside,” Teaona wondered?  
    She tucked her knees up under her and rested her chin upon folded arms that rested upon those knees and stared mesmerized by the beauty of the box.  After some time, she sighed. What could the box contain more beautiful than itself?  While she could imagine what might be inside, she could not deny that to know exactly what that was, was her heart’s desire.  
    The second day, she refused to go into the room, but busied herself around the house, yet the box was always with her, whether she looked upon it or not.
    On the morning of the third day, Teaona’s first thought was of the box.  Like a child on Christmas day, she stole downstairs and opened the door where it sat on an ebony table that formed into claws at the base of the legs.  The room was still dark, for Marie had not yet pulled back the curtains.
    Yet even in the dark, the whiteness of the box stood out.  Walking to the window, Teaona grabbed the curtains and securing them in place let the first light of day, fall onto the box.  
    In the dark, it had been a contrast to the blackness around it, and in the light, its beauty overwhelmed every other object in the room.  As if in a dream, Teaona, saw her fingers reach to pull the strand of red silk that lay over the edge of the box.  Yet, in the instant before the meeting of hand with ribbon, her grandmother’s voice whispered sweetly to her,  “From one come many.  Do not be greedy to have what is not offered or to feel any lack.”  Drawing back as if singed, the right hand instinctively went to comfort the left.  “The box is made of paper from which so many things come and this is but one,” sighed Teaona, grateful that once again her grandmother’s gift had saved her from foolishness.
    As Redbeard had said, on the morning of the fourth day, a lanky rakishly dressed young man came for the box. Then, as instructed, Teaona, picked up the jewel-encrusted wonder, and handed it to him, surprised to find it light as a cloud.

     When Redbeard returned, he looked at his wife so trustworthy, and seemingly dispassionate and lacking in curiosity.  But did not share these thoughts.  Instead after she had responded to his questions about the box, he took her hands in his and said, “You should be rewarded for your  trustworthiness, my dear.”  
     Then he led her to a room where there were three dresses, each of equal and incomparable beauty.  “Oh my husband,” she gasped, “these are too exquisite for anyone to wear, yet she yearned to try on each.  “Ah, nothing can be more beautiful than you, my beloved,” said Redbeard.  “Yet, I must leave one more time, and would not want to miss seeing you in each.  You must promise to wait until I return before you try them on.”  Which, of course, she did.

     The next morning Teaona woke from a dream of dresses and sat up in bed thinking, if she could, which would she choose.  The purple velvet with flowers embroidered around the neck then running down the seams to the hem where they ended in a flourish, looping and leaping over each other, or the simple silk of pink with puffed sleeves that gathered at the elbows. When you moved, the light shifted the tones of pink. She knew for she had Marie take the dress to the ballroom, so she could walk past the mirrors watching the play of dark to light and back again. She pulled back the covers, she would have to wait for Redbeard to try each, but now, how dull her other dresses seemed.
    Opening the doors of her wardrobe to select what she would wear she stood transfixed.  Only the three dresses her husband had bid her not wear remained.  Ringing the bell that summoned Marie, she demanded, “Where are all of my dresses?”
    “Oh, the master said they were unworthy of you and told me to throw them in the room at the top of the stairs.”  
    “But what shall I wear?” The maid shrugged. “ There are still three in your closet, one for each day the master is away.”
     “But I’ve promised not to wear those. Would you have me break my promise?” exclaimed Teaona.  Marie, remained silent,” increasing Teaona’s anxiety and frustration. “Leave,” she told her sharply. “I’ll ring when I need you.“

     "I can’t just stay in my room, or wander in a dressing gown. What am I to do?”  
    The house keys, waiting patiently on her chest of drawers, gave her an idea.  Perhaps there was hope. What if she partially opened the forbidden door, reached inside and took out one dress?  That could surely not be seen as going inside.  The maid could then wash the one she had worn the day before.  The second day she could wear it, then repeat the first again and have it washed and back to the room before her husband returned.
           Teaona picked up the keys, clutching her dressing gown around her.  Turning one more time to look for a solution, her eyes fell on the dress she had worn the night before.  It was still draped over the chair.  The sun dancing  created patterns of light on it. It seemed for a moment new and fresh.  “What did I do all day but sit and move about the house?”
    “The dresses removed from my closet and the three remaining, all came from different bolts of material, but all are from fabric cut and sewn.  It is only I prefer one over the other.”  This thought made her pause.  
    Her grandmother’s words gave her courage, “From one come many.  Do not be greedy to have what is not offered or to feel any lack.”  Teaona closed the door and rang for Marie.  “Help me into the dress I wore yesterday, she instructed, when she arrived.”  
    “You cannot do that, protested the maid. “You already wore this one, why not wear one of the three in the closet,” she urged.

     “I will wear this one and not break the promise I made,” Teaona said with finality.  All are but cloth fashioned in different ways.  It is not my wish to rewear what has been worn, but I must find a way to keep my promise.  Tomorrow, you will wash and iron the one I am wearing and bring it fresh to me in the morning.  What did I do but sit in it all day?”
    The second day the maid knocked at the door. “Oh Madame, she exclaimed breathlessly, I did as you instructed, but the dress I washed has been snatched from the line and I cannot find it anywhere.”  
    “How is that possible?  Now, what shall I wear?” Teaona demanded of the stupefied maid.                  
    “I am sorry, said Marie, but you do have three fine dresses. Your husband left them when he had me take away all the others.”
    “I cannot wear those,” said Teaona feeling frantic and annoyed by the woman’s response.  
    That morning Teaona sat in her room the dresses tempting her.  Sometimes she would brush her hand against the fabric or hold one up to her, but she had promised.  “Yet, why did he try her so?”
    She was standing on her balcony looking out onto the day, wishing to be outside, when a thought sent her rushing to the door.  “Bring me a seamstress,” she called to Marie.  
    When the woman arrived, Teaona, explained her situation.  “My husband has requested that I not wear these dresses in the closet until he is present.  My other dresses he removed, and the one I was wearing the day before was snatched from the line where it was drying.  Then I remembered my dressing gowns.  “Can you take this fabric which is now for sleeping and transform them into dresses?  I will pay you when my husband returns.”
    “Why not choose new fabric,” suggested the seamstress.
    “I dare not without my husband’s permission. I think he would not mind if I remade what has already been given.”
     The seamstress hearing Teaona’s predicament, agreed, for the town knew the husband’s reputation.  “We will create something quick, and simple, but fashionable for today, tomorrow I can send a more elaborate dress.  The dresses were delivered as promised.  One Teaona put on immediately, the other would arrive the next day when her husband returned.  Still, the dresses in the closet teased and taunted with their eloquence, reminding her of the simplicity of the two she’d had made.  But Teaona refused to listen. “ Tomorrow when my husband returns, I’ll try you on.”      
    Instead of being pleased to have married such a trustworthy creative woman, Redbeard, upon his return, demanded of her,  “Have you no curiosity?  Have I married someone dull and stupid?”   Then he stormed from the room, leaving behind an astonished Teaona.  Had he not forbid her trying on the dresses?
    In his study Redbeard paced and muttered.  He had given Teaona every temptation?” Why hadn’t curiosity or beauty entrapped or tempted her.  Being the youngest and most innocent, he had thought she would quickly become a victim of desire.  
    While her husband brooded, Teaona took quill to paper and wrote her grandmother of what had happened.  
    The next afternoon, a large blue silk sack arrived bound by a plain gold cord, with a tag hanging from it - 
For Redbeard Open in three days.
    When he saw the bundle, Redbeard was pleased.  Here was an unexpected gift.  But when he read the message his face formed into a dark thunderous cloud.  Who would send such a package?
     “Teaona,” his voice exploded through the house.  
    He grabbed her roughly by the arm when she entered the room, pulling her toward the blue silk sack.  “Have you done this to provoke me?” he asked, showing her the card.  
    “No,” stammered Teaona, not comprehending Redbeard’s anger.  
    “You’re telling me you did not write this tag and have this package sent?”
    “It’s the first I have seen it, husband.”  
    Dropping Teaona’s arm, Redbeard grabbed the cord, yanking it so the silk fell away.  Inside was hand blown glass in swirls of green and yellow, and another tag with the same message.
    “Who dares?” he shouted. Lifting the glass he dropped it hard, where it lay in smithereens on the floor.  A cylindrical box rolled out and as Redbeard bent to pick it up, it scurried away from him.  He stepped forward, the box eluded him again and rolled out the open door where it waited patiently for him, to stoop and pick it up.  As his thumb and second finger moved together to capture it, it shifted from his grasp.  In earnest, the pursuit began.  
    Each time Redbeard stooped to grab the box or to crush it beneath his feet, it rolled away.  Easily it evaded and infuriated.  
    The more Redbeard ran, the redder and angrier he became until his face matched his beard.
    Teaona and Marie moved to the door watching as husband and master  shrunk from view. But once Redbeard stepped outside of the house his mind intent on the cylindrical box, the spell of fear that had hung over the maid evaporated and she turned with compassion and intensity toward her mistress.
    “Your sisters are locked in the top room of the house.  We must save them.  For fear of my life and yours, I couldn’t tell you before, for surely you would have opened the door.”  
    Grabbing the keys and pulling the maid with her, Teaona ascended the stairs and unlocked the door.  Her sister’s eyes bulging, skin clinging to skulls, their bodies as slim as fallen reeds lay sprawled on the floor.  Dirt clung to their emaciated frames, and they writhed and twisted to be free of the dresses Teaona had refused to wear, for they pricked and scratched, clinging tight to the wearer.
    “Run, get scissors!” commanded Teaona.  The maid fled down the stairs.
    A knocking and pounding at the door stopped her.  Trembling Marie crept close, hesitated, then timidly opened the door.  “Don’t faint child.  This is not the time.  Where’s Teaona?,” said her grandmother.
    The maid pointed up the stairs, unable to speak.  
     Gently, slowly, they cut the garments off each sister.  In places they were almost melded to flesh. Then they carried the feather weight bodies down the stairs, and placed them in a warm bath of healing herbs.  Each sister was given a few drops of vegetable broth before tucked lovingly under lightweight warm quilts.
    Time heals and gradually hints of pink began to return to their cheeks and their eyes lost their sorrow.  Then the grandmother taught them and the maid, the lesson about the source of all things.  They, in turn, taught their children and grandchildren, who passed it on.  So in that family and the ones they married into, they remembered the grandmother’s words.  “From one come many.  Be grateful for what is offered. Do not be greedy to have what is not or to feel any lack.