Catherine Vendae stumbled into her home, her mind still fixated on the encounter in the marketplace and the small book in her hands. She very much wanted to read it – she was more than curious – but it would have to wait. Her parents and their dinner guest were waiting for her. René Laval, Catherine’s fiancé, was supposed to be eating with them that evening. Catherine left her things in the entryway, with the exception of the journal, and went to freshen up in her room.
As Catherine was changing for dinner she slipped the journal on her already overfilled bookshelves. No one would notice one more book. She also slipped on the ring René gifted her on their engagement. Checking her reflection in her vanity mirror, Catherine’s eyes were drawn back to the ring, which she examined thoughtfully. Catherine had agreed to marry René less than a month ago, and was still ambivalent about the situation. Her parents introduced René to her as a childhood acquaintance, but none of Catherine’s memories of him as a young man were very flattering. Catherine was several years younger than René and only met him a few times. But her parents emphasized that he had matured in the years since she had known him. Growing up, and widowing several times over, had changed him, they said. It seemed to be true as Catherine acquainted herself with him. He was kind, and her parents approved. Agreeing to marry him when he proposed seemed very sensible. Although… Catherine did sometimes see a strange light in René’s eyes – a cold quality when he thought no one was looking.
Catherine’s thoughts continued down this path throughout dinner as she used her engagement to René to distract herself from the book upstairs. Her preoccupation caused no shortage of tension during the meal, as both her fiancé and parents attempted to coax her into conversation – Catherine never noticed. She was in the middle of deciding yet again that René was kind to her and truly seemed to care about her. Her life with him would be a good one, she thought. Happiness was a choice as much as anything, and she would simply choose to be happy with René.
Satisfied with where her reasoning brought her, and the path it took, Catherine’s attention returned to the meal. She was perturbed by the strained atmosphere of the room, and she watched, confused, as her parents exchanged concerned looks and René glared at his food. They suffered the end of the meal in uneasy silence.
Only much later that evening – after she had seen René out – was Catherine able to sit down with the journal she had distracted herself from all evening. She held the book in her hands and examined it. It looked different, older and more worn, in the dim candlelight. The candle changed more than just the book. If Catherine had been looking, she would have been unable to make out any of the familiar shapes of her belongings. But she was more concerned with reliving the day’s events; it felt as if much more time had passed since she received the journal than the handful of hours it had actually been.
Catherine shook herself from her reverie and opened the journal, determined to learn about the woman’s life that the old man had spoken of.
Father couldn’t get up again this morning, so I had to do all of the housework in addition to the work on the farm. I love him but he’s making both of our lives so much harder than they need to be. I’m not sure what to do. We can’t afford help – we don’t need help – but I can’t keep the farm together if he doesn’t do some of the work. I need him to get back on his feet but I can’t help him if he won’t tell me what’s wrong. I want to leave and start my life with Daniel, but I’m afraid that without my influence, father will become even more of a drunk than he already is. Or, even worse, he’ll just give up on life all together. I don’t want to lose him too.
The entry ended abruptly. The next page told about the farm, a makeshift ledger. The page after that was a shopping list. Catherine sighed as she flipped through the pages, looking for whatever it was the old man thought she should know. She had almost given up, barely glancing at the page before moving on. Maybe this was the old man’s idea of a joke. But then she saw another entry, one that looked to have been written in a hurry.
Daniel’s parents are holding a party for him tonight. They specifically invited me and asked me to bring my father. I think he told them that he wants to marry me! I don’t think I can bring my father though – every day he wakes up with less will to do anything, even a favor for me. But I may have a solution. Daniel told me about a man he has heard of who would probably pretend to be my father, for the right price. I don’t have anything to pay him, but Daniel offered to help. I can’t accept that though. I’ll have to find some way to do this myself.
It’s all arranged. I found the man Daniel told me about and told him what I needed and that I didn’t have anything to pay him with, but when he heard Daniel’s family name he agreed to do it, in exchange for a favor. He didn’t tell me what it was when I asked. He said that I didn’t need to worry about it yet. I don’t think I can trust him, but I also don’t think I really have another choice. He scares me.
Catherine stopped reading and ran her fingers down the page. What was going on?
Continue to Part Two
Author’s Note: This story is a retelling of Bluebeard framing a story that has elements of both Rumpelstiltskin and Cinderella. In the original Perrault Bluebeard tale a young woman from a large family marries an older, very charismatic man. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I won’t say anything else about the Bluebeard plot, but Catherine’s story is definitely inspired by it.
The only change I have made so far in the Bluebeard frame story is I made the age difference between René and Catherine smaller, and Catherine is an only child (and they obviously aren’t married – yet!). For the Cinderella/Rumpelstiltskin hybrid secondary story, I used the Perrault telling of Cinderella, with a fairy godmother and glass slippers, and the Brothers Grimm telling of Rumpelstiltskin. Most of the secondary story is pulled from Cinderella. There is a difficult family, a “prince charming,” and a ball. However, instead of a fairy godmother, “Cinderella” feels as if she has to make a deal with the sinister man. The man is meant to be reminiscent of Rumpelstiltskin, in that he is only willing to help because he will be getting something out of it, and that he has a penchant for making deals.
I chose the names for Catherine Vendae and René Laval based on the life of Giles de Rais, a potential source for the original Bluebeard story. Giles was a member of the house of Montmorency-Laval and he had a younger brother named René, which I preferred to Giles. I shortened the name of his house for the last name for the sake of cadence. Catherine was the name of Giles de Rais’ wife. She was the heiress of La Vendée and Poitou, which I shortened and changed the spelling of in an attempt to make the pronunciation more clear.
“Bluebeard” by Charles Perrault. Website: Dan Ashliman’s Folktexts
“Cinderella” by Charles Perrault. Website: Dan Ashliman’s Folktexts
“Rumpelstiltskin” by the Brothers Grimm. Website: Dan Ashliman’s Folktexts
Giles de Rais. Wikipedia.
Image: Spine by EME. Source: Pixabay