The Secret Room
New York, USA
Once upon a time there lived a mother with three daughters, whose duty it was to guard the cabbage patch in front of the cottage in which they lived. One day they were all sitting in the sun, spinning, when they saw a bull in the cabbage-patch. “Take your distaff and run, child, run!” said the mother to the eldest daughter. So the girl took her distaff and ran. The bull ran and she ran, and she ran and the bull ran, until they came to a great house standing on the edge of a wood.
There the bull gave her a large bunch of keys, and told her that she could go anywhere in the house she liked except one room. He showed her the key to this room, and told her that she must not unlock the door to which it belonged. Then the bull went away and left her. The girl took the keys and roamed from one beautiful room to another, until she had seen all except the forbidden room. This she wanted to see more than she had any of the others. At last her curiosity became so great that she opened the door and went inside. What was her horror to discover that the room was full of headless bodies hung on all sides. Quickly she locked the door and ran downstairs. But she had some blood on the key, on her hand, and on her shoes.
As she was trying the best she knew how to get the blood off, along came a big black cat, which said to her, “Mew, mew, mew! Give me a dish of bread and milk, and I will tell you how to get the blood off your shoes.”
“Go away, you old black thing! I am not going to bother with you.”
So the cat went away, and pretty soon the bull came. “Let me see your keys!” said he. “How came the blood on this one?” Then he asked to see her hands and her shoes. When he saw blood on them too, he knew that she had disobeyed him; so, as he had done with all the others who had disobeyed him, he cut her head off and hung her body up with the others in the forbidden room.
The next day, when the mother and her two remaining daughters again sat spinning in the sun, they again saw the bull in the cabbage-patch. The mother sent the second daughter just as she had sent the first, and exactly the same things happened to her.
The third day the mother and the youngest daughter sat spinning in the sun, when the mother looked up and saw the bull a third time in the cabbage patch. “Take your distaff and run, child, run!” cried the mother.
So the youngest daughter ran, and the bull ran. The bull ran and she ran until they came to the great house on the edge of the wood. There the bull gave her a bunch of keys, and told her that she might open every door in the house except the one whose key he showed her. Then the bull went away. The youngest daughter did just as her sisters had done, and went into all the rooms except the forbidden one. She kept wondering what could be in there, until her curiosity became so great that she unlocked the door and went in. She, too, was so horrified that she quickly shut the door and ran downstairs, but with the tell-tale blood on the key, on her hand, and on her shoes.
To her came the big black cat, who said, “Mew, mew, mew! Give me a dish of bread and milk, and I will tell you how to get the blood off your shoes.”
Instead of telling the cat to go away, as her sisters had done, she went and got some bread and milk for him. When the cat had finished eating, he said, “If you will go into the attic, you will find there a sickle. Take it, rub it on the key, on your hand, and on your shoes, while you say, ‘Blood, be gone! Blood, be gone!”‘
The girl went to the attic, found the sickle, and did with it as the cat had told her to do, saying, “Blood, be gone! blood, be gone!” Even as she spoke the last word, the blood-stains disappeared.
Then the girl went downstairs, where she found the bull waiting for her. “Let me see your keys,” he said, “and your hands and your shoes!”
When he saw that she had no blood-stains upon her, he suddenly changed from a bull into a beautiful prince. “I was bewitched,” he said, “by a girl who loved me, but whom I wouldn’t marry because I didn’t love her. I killed many a girl when I was a bull; but now we will have the bodies taken care of, and then we will be married.”
So they buried the bodies, and then were married and lived happily ever after.
* Source: Emelyn E. Gardner, “Folk-Lore from Schoharie County, New York,” Journal of American Folklore, vol. 27, no. 105 (July-September, 1914), pp. 310-11.
* Gardner’s source: Mrs. William Buell. Mrs. Buell heard the story from her mother, believed to be from Germany.
* This story is unusual in that the heroine marries her erstwhile captor. This turn illustrates a “contamination” of a traditional animal bridegroom tale with a type 311 (How the Devil Married Three Sisters) or type 312 (Bluebeard) tale.
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