Works, by Guy de Maupassant

The Accursed Bread

Daddy Taille had three daughters: Anna, the eldest, who was scarcely ever mentioned in the family; Rose, the second girl, who was eighteen; and Clara, the youngest, who was a girl of fifteen.

Old Taille was a widower, and a foreman in M. Lebrument’s button-manufactory. He was a very upright man, very well thought of, abstemious; in fact a sort of model workman. He lived at Havre, in the Rue d’Angoulême.

When Anna ran away the old man flew into a fearful rage. He threatened to kill the seducer, who was head clerk in a large draper’s establishment in that town. Then, when he was told by various people that she was keeping very steady and investing money in Government securities, that she was no gadabout, but was kept by a Mons. Dubois, who was a judge of the Tribunal of Commerce, the father was appeased.

He even showed some anxiety as to how she was getting on, asked some of her old friends who had been to see her how she was getting on; and when told that she had her own furniture, and that her mantelpiece was covered with vases and the walls with pictures, that there were clocks and carpets everywhere, he gave a broad, contented smile. He had been working for thirty years to get together a wretched five or six thousand francs. This girl was evidently no fool.

One fine morning the son of Touchard, the cooper, at the other end of the street, came and asked him for the hand of Rose, the second girl. The old man’s heart began to beat, for the Touchards were rich and in a good position. He was decidedly lucky with his girls.

The marriage was agreed upon, and it was settled that it should be a grand affair, and the wedding dinner was to be held at Sainte–Adresse, at Mother Lusa’s restaurant. It would cost a lot certainly; but never mind, it did not matter just for once in a way.

But one morning, just as the old man was going home to breakfast with his two daughters the door opened suddenly, and Anna appeared. She was elegantly dressed, wore rings and an expensive bonnet, and looked undeniably pretty and nice. She threw her arms round her father’s neck before he could say a word, then fell into her sister’s arms with many tears, and then asked for a plate, so that she might share the family soup. Taille was moved to tears in his turn and said several times:

“That is right, dear; that is right.”

Then she told them about herself. She did not wish Rose’s wedding to take place at Sainte–Adresse, — certainly not. It should take place at her house, and would cost her father nothing. She had settled everything and arranged everything, so it was “no good to say any more about it, — there!”

“Very well, my dear! very well!” the old man said, “we will leave it so.” But then he felt some doubt. Would the Touchards consent? But Rose, the bride-elect, was surprised and asked, “Why should they object, I should like to know? Just leave that to me, I will talk to Philip about it.”

She mentioned it to her lover the very same day, and he declared that it would suit him exactly. Father and Mother Touchard were naturally delighted at the idea of a good dinner which would cost them nothing, and said:

“You may be quite sure that everything will be in first-rate style, as M. Dubois is made of money.”

They asked to be allowed to bring a friend, Mme. Florence, the cook on the first floor, and Anna agreed to everything.

The wedding was fixed for the last Tuesday of the month.

II

After the civil formalities and the religious ceremony the wedding party went to Anna’s house. Among those whom the Tailles had brought was a cousin of a certain age, a M. Sauvetanin, a man given to philosophical reflections, serious, and always very self-possessed, and Mme. Lamonoois, an old aunt.

M. Sauvetanin had been told off to give Anna his arm, as they were looked upon as the two most important persons in the company.

As soon as they had arrived at the door of Anna’s house she let go her companion’s arm, and ran on ahead, saying, “I will show you the way,” and ran upstairs while the invited guests followed more slowly; and, when they got upstairs, she stood on one side to let them pass, and they rolled their eyes and turned their heads in all directions to admire this mysterious and luxurious dwelling.

The table was laid in the drawing-room as the dining-room had been thought too small. Extra knives, forks, and spoons had been hired from a neighboring restaurant, and decanters full of wine under the rays of the sun which shown in through the window.

The ladies went into the bedroom to take off their shawls and bonnets, and Father Touchard, who was standing at the door, squinted at the low wide bed, and made funny and suggestive signs to the men, with many a wink and a nod. Daddy Taille, who thought a great deal of himself, looked with fatherly pride at his child’s well-furnished rooms, and went from one to the other holding his hat in his hand, making a mental inventory of everything, and walking like a verger in a church.

Anna went backwards and forwards, ran about giving orders and hurrying on the wedding feast. Soon she appeared at the door of the dining-room, and cried: “Come here, all of you, for a moment,” and when the twelve guests did as they were asked they saw twelve glasses of Madeira on a small table.

Rose and her husband had their arms round each other’s waists, and were kissing each other in every corner. Mons. Sauvetanin never took his eyes off Anna; he no doubt felt that ardor, that sort of expectation which all men, even if they are old and ugly, feel for women of a certain stamp, as if they owed a little of themselves, professionally, to all males.

They sat down, and the wedding-breakfast began; the relations sitting at one end of the table and the young people at the other. Mme. Touchard, the mother, presided on the right and the bride on the left. Anna looked after everybody, saw that the glasses were kept filled and the plates well supplied. The guests evidently felt a certain respectful embarrassment at the sight of all the sumptuousness of the rooms and at the lavish manner in which they were treated. They all ate heartily of the good things provided, but there were no jokes such as are prevalent at weddings of that sort; it was all too grand, and it made them feel uncomfortable. Old Madame Touchard, who was fond of a bit of fun, tried to enliven matters a little, and at the beginning of the dessert she exclaimed: “I say, Philip, do sing us something.” The neighbors in their street considered that he had the finest voice in all Havre.

The bridegroom got up, smiled, and turning to his sister-inlaw, from politeness and gallantry, tried to think of something suitable for the occasion, something serious and correct, to harmonize with the seriousness of the repast.

Anna had a satisfied look on her face, and leaned back in her chair to listen, and all assumed looks of attention, though prepared to smile should smiles be called for.

The singer announced, “The Accursed Bread,” and extending his right arm, which made his coat ruck up into his neck, he began.

It was decidedly long, three verses of eight lines each, with the last line and the last line but one repeated twice.

All went well for the first two verses; they were the usual commonplaces about bread gained by honest labor and by dishonesty. The aunt and the bride wept outright. The cook, who was present, at the end of the first verse looked at a roll which she held in her hand with running eyes, as if they applied to her, while all applauded vigorously. At the end of the second verse the two servants, who were standing with their backs to the wall, joined loudly in the chorus, and the aunt and the bride wept outright. Daddy Taille blew his nose with the noise of a trombone, and old Touchard brandished a whole loaf half over the table, and the cook shed silent tears on the crust which she was still holding.

Amidst the general emotion M. Sauvetanin said:

“That is the right sort of song; very different to the nasty, risky things one generally hears at weddings.”

Anna, who was visibly affected, kissed her hand to her sister, and pointed to her husband with an affectionate nod, as if to congratulate her.

Intoxicated by his success, the young man continued, and unfortunately the last verse contained the words about the bread of dishonor gained by young girls who had been led astray from the paths of virtue. No one took up the refrain about this bread, supposed to be eaten with tears, except old Touchard and the two servants. Anna had grown deadly pale, and cast down her eyes, while the bridegroom looked from one to the other without understanding the reason for this sudden coldness, and the cook hastily dropped the crust as if it were poisoned.

Mons. Sauvetanin said solemnly, in order to save the situation: “That last couplet is not at all necessary;” and Daddy Taille, who had got red up to the ears, looked round the table fiercely.

Then Anna, with her eyes swimming in tears, told the servants, in the faltering voice of a woman trying to stifle her sobs, to bring the champagne.

All the guests were suddenly seized with exuberant joy, and all their faces became radiant again. And when old Touchard, who had seen, felt, and understood nothing of what was going on, and, pointing to the guests so as to emphasize his words, sang the last words of the refrain:

“Children, I warn you all to eat not of that bread,” the whole company, when they saw the champagne bottles, with their necks covered with gold foil appear, burst out singing, as if electrified by the sight:

“Children, I warn you all to eat not of that bread.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09